Lightweight Atheists Pummeling A Corpse

Lightweight Atheists Pummeling A Corpse April 18, 2008

The new atheists. Others have called them “soft-core atheists” and “amateur atheists”. What follows is a review of two books by theologians critical of the “new atheism”, and one book by an atheist whose writing and vision have more substance than that of the “new atheists”.

I love reading books simultaneously that complement or contrast with one another, and engage each other in interesting and at times unexpected ways. I recently finished reading two books critical of the “new atheists” (John F. Haught’s God and the New Atheism [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008] and Keith Ward’s Is Religion Dangerous? [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006]), as well as one book that presents a vision of atheism very different than, and in many respects more appealing and with greater depth than, that of the “new atheists” (Andre Comte-Sponville, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality [New York: Viking/Penguin, 2007]).

Both critics of the “new atheists” level many of the same charges, ones that have been leveled before. The new atheism’s level of discourse is that of young-earth creationism (Haught, p.xi). They “substitute rhetoric for analysis” (Ward, p.7). Haught’s perspective is particularly interesting, since he has taught theology classes that cover many classics of atheism, and finds these recent books “hackneyed” by comparison (Haught, p.16). Their atheism which nonetheless leaves the status quo the way it is would have nauseated Nietzshe (Haught, pp.20-21). If there is a key criticism Haught levels against the new atheism that is philosophically profound and challenging, it is their assumption that good and evil are absolute, and religion is clearly evil (Haught, pp.24-26; on the question of whether Al Qaeda is “pure evil” see Ward, pp.29-35, 44-45 and 58-59). Such absolutism remains an unexamined assumption, for the most part, and sits awkwardly (and indeed ironically) in the context of their evangelical atheism. It is the very notion that there is an absolute good (and evil) that leads many to religion. Nietzsche, at least, had the courage to see that his atheism implied that there was no such absolute (note too Sartre’s rethinking of the issue).

Theology has had plenty of positive encounters with atheism, and Haught lists great a number of theologians and the atheists who helped shape their thinking (p.93). The new atheists, however, present so little challenge that such dialogue, and the helpful positive impact that might result, seems unlikely to follow. Some “careless Christian thinkers” reduced God to a hypothesis as “first cause” (Haught, p.43), and helped the atheist cause. “So the new, soft-core atheists have arrived at the scene of God’s murder far too late. On each page of their manifestos we find them pummeling a corpse” (Haught, p.44).

If there is one point that Ward makes that stands out among the many good points in the book, it is his suggestion that the perception with which evolution has endowed human beings may not simply be one that just happened to enable our survival. It may be that this perception enabled our survival because it corresponds in helpful ways to what really is (Ward, p.177; see also Haught, pp.49-50, 74). And if we are not to deceive ourselves about reality, then openness to new input and information is important. “Self-criticism is openness to learn from others, not a practical hesitancy about one’s own deepest commitments” (Ward, p.197). Critical thinking and religion are indeed compatible.

Unlike the new atheists, Comte-Sponville presents an atheism that is not opposed to faith, spirituality or religion per se, but to fundamentalism, dogmatism, and the like (p.ix). Already in the preface one encounters the sorts of provocative and insightful statements that characterize the book as a whole: “Being an atheist by no means entails being an amnesiac” (Comte-Sponville, p.x) – there is no need, he considers, to pretend Christianity has not played an important positive role in our history in order to find oneself content as an atheist. And, on the other hand, “Spirituality is far too important a matter to be left to fundamentalism” (Comte-Sponville, p.x). Comte-Sponville’s atheism, like Ward’s faith, is characterized by the desire for honesty. Ward acknowledges that religion sometimes is dangerous. Comte-Sponville acknowledges that “Some believers are admirable…most are worthy of respect” (p.11). Their faith is not something he feels the need to combat – it is simply something he doesn’t share. Perhaps it is easier to take this outlook in France, where his viewpoint is not under threat, whereas in the U.S. atheists still face harassment (e.g. by shouting senators). Comte-Sponville is attempting to formulate a vision of atheism that makes room for depth and meaning. “To be an atheist is not to deny the existence of the absolute; rather it is to deny its transcendence, its spirituality, its personality. It is to deny that the absolute is God. But to be not-God is not to not be!” (Comte-Sponville, pp.136-137).

While Comte-Sponville has in common with the new atheists his continued adherence to many traditional Western values, he differs from them in not pretending that there was no connection historically between these values and religion. “Renouncing a God who has met his social demise…does not compel us to renounce the moral, cultural and spiritual values that have been formulated in his name (Comte-Sponville, p.21). Indeed, it was once suggested to him that he should refer to himself as a “Christian atheist” and thus explicitly acknowledge this heritage; eventually he settled on “faithful atheist” (Comte-Sponville, pp.32-33). If the concept of God has outlived its usefulness, this is not true of many things humanity learned while the concept was still found to be useful. For instance, “It is possible to do without religion but not without communion, fidelity or love. In these matters, what we share is more important than what separates us…Life is more precious than religion; this is where inquisitors and torturers are wrong. Communion is more precious than churches; this is where sectarians are wrong. Finally – and this is where fine people are right, whether they believe in God or not – love is more previous than hope or despair (Comte-Sponville,pp.65-66). Comte-Sponville renounces two “barbarisms” – that of religious fundamentalists, but also that of nihilists.

Comte-Sponville’s atheism is of the “heavyweight” variety. His viewpoint simply dispenses with God, allowing him to fade out of the picture, rather than trying to kill him. He feels no need to pretend that religion has not made a positive contribution to humanity’s history and thinking. Precisely for these reasons, his perspective is more challenging, and is worth engaging. As someone who shares much with Comte-Sponville’s outlook, and yet ultimately expresses his view of the world in theological terms, I welcome the opportunity to dialogue with this book.

I concur absolutely with Comte-Sponville’s challenge to take the world seriously, and even give the evidence from it priority over sacred texts in important respects. “The world is far more interesting to me than the Bible or the Koran,” Comte-Sponville writes. “It is far more mysterious than they are. It is vaster, since it contains them; more unfathomable; more astonishing; more stimulating, since we can transform it, whereas the holy books are reputed to be untouchable; and, last but not least, it is truer, because it is entirely true, something the Bible and the Koran, with all their inanities and inconsistencies, could never be, except insofar as they are part of the world (there is nothing inconsistent about a human text being inconsistent” (Comte-Sponville, pp.103-104). Being itself, on the other hand, is “at once mysterious and self-evident” (p.104). But the texts in question are attempts to make sense of the world, from a particular angle, and to offer guidance for living in the world, and to transform the world, and to point to the transcendent character of Being. On the one hand, I agree that there is a certain logic to the question “The universe is mystery enough. Why invent another one?” (p.104). Yet the universe itself challenges us to respond appropriately to the awesome mystery of existence. Theologians like Tillich have specified that they are talking about Being itself when talking about God, and so there is a sense in which there is no debate. Being exists! Comte-Sponville whimsically dubs this the panontological proof: “The all of what exists necessarily exists” (p.140). For me, the debate is about the nature and character of Being. [And, as I noticed recently, the term I’ve liked to use may be problematic. Does panentheism make sense? If God is more than the universe, then it is not all that is in God. Perhaps we’ll need to coin new terms, such as cosmoentheism or panallonentheism].

This, it seems, is not the real difference between us. The real difference is how we attempt to speak about the absolute. Comte-Sponville suggests at one point that silence is the best option – and there are of course religious traditions that would agree. “Where the absolute is concerned, all forms of anthropomorphism are naïve or ridiculous. Faced with the ineffable, it is best to remain silent” (p.107). Yet later in the book Comte-Sponville admits “we must try to say something about silence” (p.160). Ultimately, both Comte-Sponville and myself have had a mystical experience (see pp.155-156), we both see the limitations of words, and we both agree that speaking (and writing) about the way we perceive reality is necessary, even if words have their inadequacies. Those seeking to claim to have resolved all the mysteries are being dishonest either about their sacred scriptures or about the limits of science. For those who recognize that ultimately we end up at mystery, it is remarkable how much we can agree on how to live in light of that mystery. What divides us is not even so much our perception of the ultimate, but the degree to which we are willing to use metaphors, or certain kinds of metaphors, as pointers to that reality.

When we attempt to engage those who caricature our own position (see Haught p.36), we are challenged to correct the perception of our position and combat ignorance about it. When we engagethose who understand our point of view, sympathize in places, and disagree for clearly-articulated reasons in others, then we are challenged to engage in self-critical reflection, to analyze our own views and assumptions, and to grow in the process. For those interested in engaging stimulating thinkers on the side of either religion or atheism, there are plenty of heavyweights. If you prefer to poke fun, ridicule, and to never realize that you know not that of which you try to speak, then there are plenty of featherweights out there too, on every side of every debate, usually agreeing with their opponents that there are only two choices and that the matter is simple. If you tackle religion vs. atheism, you can not only fight each other, but also take turns pummeling or propping up the corpse of a concept of God that serious thinkers, whether theologians, philosophers or atheists, left behind for dead long ago.

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  • Another atheist you might enjoy reading is David Sloan Wilson. His book, “Evolution For Everyone”, makes a good case for the historical utility of religion, while not accepting its veracity.Of course, I’d disagree that atheism implies that there are no absolute morals, as would Wilson, I think, but that’s a separate point.

  • Still haven’t adjusted after the domain was hijacked. Here’s the reai link.

  • Anonymous

    Samuel SkinnerAnd they miss the whole point. All atheists want is evidence. Theists can’t offer any- only faith. If a God existed and wanted our devotion, you’d think he’d do a better job of it.That, at its heart is what atheism vs Christianity vs Islam vs Hinduism vs Judism vs Wiccan is all about. Nothing else matters for knowledge about reality except that it is TRUE.These… theologians prance around truth like a bunch of dancers. Do they even bother adressing it? Or are they too sophisticated- to high in the clouds to even think clearly, their mind clutered with nuances and shades of gray. They have forgoten the most salient fact about reality- it doesn’t deal in gray. It deals with absolutes built upon a seething mass of probability. There is no where for them to place their GOd- no stone un turned. Instead they wrap their God in words if only to hide him from reality.

  • Hey,I was just pointed here by a mutual friend. I like this post (haven’t read further yet). While I think it is more dismissive of Dawkins than I think he deserves I also think that atheists elevate his arguments against theism higher than they deserve. He makes many juvenile errors when discussing religion; yet he is a brilliant, passionate, deeply spiritual, and excellent writer and speaker when promoting and reporting science.I wonder, have you read/watched Carl Sagan? I’ve seen some YouTube clips of his Cosmos video series (sort of a history/summary of science and human knowledge) that are unparalleled in the beauty of their vision. I’m currently reading Demon Haunted World, in which he manages to level all of the best arguments that Dawkins later presented against superstitious thinking, without (as far as I can see) ever indulging in excessive or unfair demonizing of religious belief. He is clearly not one of the New Atheists, and may never be as famous, but I think he has greater claim to a real intellectual and social contribution to popular scientific knowledge than any of them do.

  • I would count myself as that type of “mystic-agnostic” that Comte-Sponville is a good example of. Kudos to him.It’s important to remember, however, that the new atheists are reacting against a muscular fundamentalism that seeks to force its neuroses into the public sphere (and even succeeds every once in a while). They are not just being antagonistic for its own sake. Sometimes, when you come across a multitude attempting to feed a dead horse, it’s a good idea to pick up a stick and demonstrate to them that it is indeed dead. It seems that their pastors neglected to tell them the horse died. Why don’t these new more-enlightened theologians seem to have any influence on the pious masses when trying to fix their outdated concepts of God?Would anyone deny that for every atheist trying to beat a dead horse, there are ten thousand idiots trying to feed it?:)Ó

  • Anonymous/Samuel Skinner: I’m glad you mentioned dancers. Can there be any sort of truth in dance? In music? Is there in truth no beauty? In beauty no truth? Do poets capture nothing that cannot be said equally well through an equation?Timothy: Thanks for taking the time to pay a visit! I’ve interacted more directly with Dawkins in the past, and on my old blog I wrote something about Sagan’s The Varieties of Scientific Experience, which I thought was a wonderful book. I decided to repost it on the new blog. Let me know what you think!Quixie: Feeding a dead horse – I love the image! But isn’t the point that both sides are trying so hard to prove to each other that the horse is alive or dead, that they seem to lose sight of other people (and maybe horses too) that are alive and well all around them? 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Samuel SKinnerThere is no truth in beauty, no truth in art. There is only imagery, smoke and mirrors. What you derive from it was already in your head in the first place. The “deep” truths are not given in poems- you must already have it in your mind. They mearly make you put the pieces together. Of course, this is ignoring if they are explicit enough.

  • Sam the Centipede

    This is very muddled thinking! Firstly, atheism isn’t an organised movement or philosophy, and it doesn’t have leaders, it’s just that some folk are noisier than others.Secondly, religion is mainly a social thing, not a system of arguments about “why I believe”. Theologians tend not to understand that.Thirdly, faith on its own has nothing to teach anybody. Faith is belief without reason or knowledge.Fourthly, why would atheists want to argue with you about the nature of non-existent gods or the value of faith, which I prefer to think of as stupidity?There’s no argument about the influence of Abrahamic religions on modern civilisation. There is some argument about how much of that influence is good, and how much bad. Much progress came in spite of the church, not becauses of it.

  • Scientists, like Dawkins, Hawking, Einstein, who have actually uncovered real truths about our world and universe are ‘unsophisticated’ whilst the peddlers of fantasy who appeal to our more wishful and primal nature are the sophisticated thinkers? It is way past time that Atheists started treating religious belief the way it deserves. It should be treated with exactly the same level of respect that any wild and unfounded belief should be treated. People are capable of believing a spectacular number of ridiculous things. From ghosts to horoscopes to crystal magic to communing with trees. Is it unsophisticated to simply point at astrology and say ‘That is made up bullshit.’? Why do the followers of religions think their beliefs are worthy of more? People lean towards wanting to believe in the fantastical. Children believe in this sort of stuff much more than adults. Children grow up and believe in less of it. Some people have grown all the way up. Reality might not be as exciting as fantasy but it is no less real for it. The arguments of ‘new atheists’ might not be full of vague and obscurant gibberish but they no less ‘sophisticated’ for it. Better for it in fact.

  • It is hard to know how to respond to a comment like this. It seems to ignore all distinction between what intellectuals may believe about God (and a great many such well-educated individuals have held and continue to hold such ideas) and popular superstitions. It also fails to note that many who are educated religious believers views horoscopes and ghosts with similar disdain, or at the very least skepticism.Perhaps the best thing to do is ask for clarification, since I’m not sure who you are arguing against and who you understand yourself to be supporting. I did not suggest that Einstein or Hawking was “unsophisticated”. Both also found the language of God useful. Neither meant by it a very large invisible person. But that is not the only concept of God. That is the whole point – to not confuse opposition to a particular antiquated notion of God and opposition to any notion of God.

  • James, It is the various supernatural Gods I am commenting on. I wouldn’t even attempt to seperately address each one or for that matter begin commenting on the various other conceptions of God. There are simply too many. As you say and I wouldn’t disagree, many religious people treat astrology with distain. What would you think of an Astrologer condescending about unsophisticated arguments against his particular flavour of fantasy? How can there be a sophisticated objection to something imagined. Can you for instance give me a sophisticated rebuttal of why people cannot commune with trees. ‘New Atheists’ are essentially dismissing religion in the same manner that most sane people would dismiss astrology. Both are utterly without evidence. If most people in the world believed in Astrology, would that make it any less a ridiculous concept?, would it be worthy of respect? I apologise if my tone has been a little curt, I just get irritated when people accuse the likes of Dawkins, who has ably investigated the biological world in its great complexity of being ‘unsophisticated’ becasue he refuses to show any respect to what is essentially the modern manifestation of cavemen worshipping bears.

  • I’ll join you in making the case against astrology. If someone “communes with trees”, I’d want to ask what they mean by that. If they find that sitting under a tree for half and hour a day, clearing their thoughts and breathing deeply helps them live better lives, I’d be inclined to believe them. If they believed that the tree in question had to have a pixie living in it, then I’d be inclined to disagree, but that wouldn’t necessarily lead me to ridicule the practice or the experience that the person had.I remember seeing a documentary that featured some modern worshippers of the Norse gods. It would be easy to ridicule that (even though they make cool D&D; characters). But when asked about it, none of those individuals was inclined to regard the deities in question as actually existing (they were thoragnostics), and their reasons for participating in the rituals were the sense of community, and the stories connected with the tradition, in which (among other things) elders were respected in a way that is not typical in the U.S. Theologically, these individuals were perhaps more sophisticated than your average fundamentalist Christian. When it comes to the latter, I know the tradition from the inside and so I think I can give an accurate representation as well as critique. On the one hand, there is an experience of being part of something and relating to something greater than oneself, which ought to lead to humility, and certainly often leads to a positive outlook on life. On the other hand, there is a tendency to claim to know things about supernatural entities that neither Christians fundamentalists nor anyone else can know. There is also a tendency to attribute one’s good fortune to divine favor, which inevitably leads to the problematic implication that others are being singled out for divine disfavor.I could go on. But I think that the only way to help people who have had a positive experience of religion to also think critically about their tradition, and to adopt an attitude of humble willingness to acknowledge that they do not know many of the things that they may have claimed to, then one has to approach it in a way that doesn’t simply dismiss the whole package and all they have experienced. How many people have been persuaded to change their mind by being denigrated?My criticism of the “new atheists” is not that they disbelieve in the existence of a personal God who directs human affairs and finds parking spots for Christians. My criticism is that they feel the need to dismiss all forms of religion, all sorts of theological language, and to deny that there is anything positive about these religious traditions. They are free to do so, but if one is working with and within a tradition to encourage critical thinking, then that approach is unlikely to be helpful in accomplishing that. Nevertheless, I can understand your frustration, and theirs, with what fundamentalists claim and the irrational ways they sometimes attempt to justify their beliefs and practices. I’ve felt that way myself (and, fortunately, eventually felt it about myself)! 🙂

  • James, I have absolutely no objection whatsoever to people engaging in any kind of group activity for a sense of community. Those Norse god worshippers wouldn’t bother me in the least. If they were to really believe Thor existed I would have some concerns. They would be entirely free to believe that if they wished but I would be free to dismiss or even ridicule them if I felt like it. Not that I would. I feel compelled almost to ridicule the major religions because of the degree to which they permeate our lives. I think you are being awful vague though about what you mean by religion, I’m not criticizing you here; the term gets thrown about and attached to everything from meditation to seeing visions of gods. I don’t, nor indeed do many ‘new atheists’, have any problem with people seeking spiritual experiences. There is a woeful need of some defining here too though. Spiritual is a word that has been similarly abused. Sam Harris for example, one of the four horsemen of new atheism, talks a lot about spiritual experience without the need to invoke religion. Having a disrespectable, even derisive attitude towards religion is actually necessary, I think. The idea that it is ok to believe in wild fantasies with no evidence has been lauded as a virtue for far too long. As Dawkins et al have often claimed, religion has been given a singular status in public discourse for centuries, completely beyond criticism or derision. There is no other area of life that has been given this privilege. The religiously minded, often arrogant in their dismissal of atheism, need a rude awakening. I think religious beliefs (belief in deities) are ridiculous. Many other people think so to. That is how I honestly feel about it. Imagine what it is like for atheists of my persuasion. To me, the world has been dominated for millennia by beliefs I find exactly as ridiculous as astrology. How would you feel if astrology had and still does influence governments, laws and public attitudes (can you think of a single virtuous attitude you think can convincingly attributed to religion in modern society?) I can think of many negatives ones. What if astrologers were trying to have astrology taught in schools? What if every national address of any kind had to give mention of how Jupiter was in ascension?Where I live, the two largest buildings near me are a mosque and a church. Imagine if it were astrology buildings everywhere. Sometimes I get absolutely sick to the teeth of religion and all its trappings. It is everywhere. I get very angry when religious people do disgusting things and other religious fools condemn it. One guy in an astrology costume condemning what some other guy in a different astrology costume has done in the name of astrology. Give some time to this idea. Really try to imagine it. Astrology everywhere. Permeating every area of life. People flying planes into buildings because of astrology. Wars started over astrology. Idiots on both sides claiming Jupiter is on their side. How in this kind of climate would you react to people making statements like ‘yeah but some people find astrology comforting’ or ‘astrology experiences can be very valuable for people’. How would you feel about the astrologers demanding that you show respect to their ‘sacred’ beliefs? Sometimes I feel like grabbing the religious and giving them a good shake. Telling them to ‘wake the £$%^ up’. Not the best approach I grant you but when I am so steeped in this crap all the time it is occasionally necessary to vent. This has become one of those occasions. I’ll wrap up. I’ll post more on this (might do a post on my own blog on it) when I am in a more patient mood. Apologies for the rabid ranting. I shall return in a more civilized manner!!

  • With some of the things I’ve posted on my blog, I would be hypocritical if I denounced satire or caricature entirely as forms of argument. 🙂 Likewise, your point about the vagueness of what exactly “religion” means is quite right: scholars generally acknowledge that there is no clear definition of “religion”. How does one include traditions focused on a supreme creator God and ones in which there are no such entities under a single heading? Yet most would indeed place both Islam and Jainism under the heading of “religion”. If there is a point I agree with Richard Dawkins about, appeal to religion should not be considered a “get out of rational thought free” card. If one wishes to keep one’s irrational beliefs to oneself entirely, there is nothing to object to. But if you bring your beliefs into the public square and ask for others to share them, or for public policy to take them into account, then I expect you to be able to explain and justify your beliefs. You don’t need to persuade me that you are right. You do need to persuade me that you aren’t using an appeal to religion to side step the things we know with significant degrees of certainty from the sciences, history, and other fields of knowledge. Nothing helps to reinforce religious beliefs than being persecuted for them. The challenge to those who embrace rational inquiry and discourse is how to offer critiques of sloppy thinking and unreason that will help improve education and understanding, rather than simply drive fundamentalists further and further away from reason.I would love your thoughts on the postings of an atheist who seems to genuinely understand where I’m coming from, and often puts what I think better than I manage to myself.

  • Damian

    Hi James, I have to say that I think that it is slightly disingenuous of Haught and Ward to be so dismissive while actually producing books that ride on the back of those that they chastise. The “new atheists” (ugh) never intended to engage religion in a serious philosophical argument, as far I was concerned. There are far, far better books that argue for atheism, and it may be telling that Haught and Ward have decided to bypass those and reply to the books that have had an impact. The “new atheist” books were entirely polemical, and they were designed to motivate non-believers and “fence-sitters”, if you will, to at least take some of the more problematic religious sects more seriously, and to create a kind of equal-and-opposite reaction. In terms of numbers, non-believers have the ability to have an impact in elections, as well as other forums, and it is entirely appropriate to wish to realize that potential, as I am sure that you would agree.I don’t think that the “new atheists” should worry theists in the slightest in terms of their arguments, but it is clear that the 20 odd books have been produced in reply are a reaction to the movement that it has started, and that most certainly worries some religious believers, and particularly the confidence with which they express their views. Of that there is no doubt. Personally, I hope that we can learn from each other and work together to create a better world, and I don’t think that any of the “new atheists” would disagree with that, evidenced by the fact that Dawkins has regularly worked with archbishops on various issues. Sadly, it may have been necessary for atheism to force its way in to the public consciousness as it did, even if that meant — and somewhat still does — that believers are at times unfairly treated. As long as there is no violence involved — and there is no reason why it should — a slightly dismissive attitude might be beneficial to some believers in a perverse kind of way. I am personally persuaded by the idea that faith has been privileged for too long, that believers have been too used to being able to hide behind their faith on too many important issues, and that a clear message that it will no longer be taken seriously by a portion of the population was possibly necessary, and indeed, that it will be a positive thing for believers when all is said and done.Also, and continuing on the theme of the initial method of motivating a movement of non-believers, it is an unfortunate fact about modern society that it is often the case that he who shouts loudest will be heard. That was obviously not of our making, and it is entirely possible, as is evidenced by the numerous, and far more philosophically rigorous tomes about atheism and non-belief, that the movement would have had little or no impact, otherwise. Things to think about, anyway.I must also stick up slightly for the “new atheists” by saying that many of the positive features that you have pointed out in “The Little Book of Atheists Spirituality” are entirely consistent with views of “soft-core atheists”. Indeed, I have heard similar things from virtually all of them, but it may be the case that much of it has been drowned out by other, more controversial, factors.Finally, I am delighted that we are on the same side in evolution debate. Since becoming aware, and subsequently involved in the “controversy”, I have come across a number of religious believers online that are a credit to themselves and their faith. In the end, it is dialogue, understanding, and solidarity when confronting dangers, that will ensure a peaceful future. Living in England and having little or no interaction with religious believers, I have found it immensely useful and humbling to meet people online who I share a great deal with, but who I also differ with in various ways. For that, I would to thank you. 🙂

  • I apologize that I didn’t reply to your comment sooner. Perhaps we can pick up the conversation again, as I am currently having an interesting conversation (spanning multiple blogs) about atheism, progressive Christianity, alternatives to theism, and metaphor. Do join in!

  • Anonymous

    Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas; goofball, fundy, moron.Yep, good luck with that Mr. Chimp and others. We are a truly ignorant culture that knows of no history before the 20th century and nothing of pre-18th century philosophy. But keep patting yourselves on the back for being soooo smart.

  • Nerdsamwich

    You seem to be saying that serious theists see their deity as a metaphor. That the concept of an actual god-person is a relic of the past. By all means, correct me if I’m wrong, but is that not what you’re saying here? If so, why bother with the label of theism?

    • It is a pity that the comments to this post disappeared when my blog moved to Patheos – there used to be a lot of discussion here!

      But at any rate, I found your comment confusing. Who was using the label of “theism”? Some who do so in the mystical tradition would certainly emphasize that all language about the divine is non-literal. But you seem here to be lumping panentheists and others together with classical theists under the heading of “theism” which seems odd and potentially confusing. But certainly even among theists – ancient as well as modern – there are many who view the sort of anthropomorphic depiction one finds in the Bible to be something that cannot and should not be taken literally.

      But it is hard to answer your question, since it seems to be lumping together viewpoints that ought to be distinguished.

      • Nerdsamwich

        I kinda see your point. But while you may think that those who believe in an actual, personified, ego-possessing being that runs the day-to-day cosmos are philosophical lightweights, they are the vast majority of those with whom one will find oneself discussing matters spiritual. They are the ones we have to engage, because theirs are the ideas that predominate in the discussion. Furthermore, their viewpoint is the one taking away my wife’s birth control, and my daughter’s science education. These theological lightweights are community heavyweights, and so they must be engaged, no matter how unrefined and/or unexamined their ideas. If everyone’s idea of God were the same as Einstein’s, I could walk away from the arguing game and never look back.

        • Wouldn’t it make sense to join forces with the religious critics of these forms of religion, which have been working to oppose and argue against them for a very long time in some instances?

  • Kon’n Elricsson

    I can not STAND these Nu-Atheist hacks, and excellent case of people specializing in their weakest area. In large part, their being English (and to a far lesser extent, American) is in itself a cause of philosophical ineptitude, as the Anglophonic world’s positivist nonsense and general ignorance of continental and classical philosophy is nothing new. There’s a reason that Dawkins reads like some hit John Locke with a wrench, he’s just a 3rd rate Low Church John Locke. And yes, I am insulting him, because he’s a wanker and has it coming in spades.

    I don’t believe in god, or morality, nor do I think that a magical nonsense entity would somehow change that. I am not even interested in theism or moral arguments in an ontological sense, because they’re just plain stupid as far as I can tell. Max Stirner beats Nietzsche, but both of these people were pissing on the graves of liberal sissies and crypto-Christians like Hitchens before they were born.