Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Stanley Fish on assertive atheism

From The New York Times Blog:
I have drawn these arguments out of my small store of theological knowledge not because they are conclusive (although they may be to some), but because they are there – in the very texts and traditions Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens dismiss as naive, simpleminded and ignorant. Suppose, says Hitchens, you were a religious believer; you would then be persuaded that a benign and all-powerful creator supervises everything, and that “if you obey the rules and commandments that he has lovingly prescribed, you will qualify for an eternity of bliss and repose.”

I know of no religious framework that offers such a complacent picture of the life of faith, a life that is always presented as a minefield of the difficulties, obstacles and temptations that must be negotiated by a limited creature in his or her efforts to become aligned (and allied) with the Infinite. St Paul’s lament can stand in for many: “The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, I do…. Who shall deliver me?” (Romans, 7: 19,24). The anguish of this question and the incredibly nuanced and elegant writings of those who have tried to answer it are what the three atheists miss; and it is by missing so much that they are able to produce such a jolly debunking of a way of thinking they do not begin to understand.

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