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March 12, 2006

An Atheist Speaks...

...on the opinion pages of the New York Times. Strange times we live in. It has taken an often intolerant religious revival (in the US and abroad) to allow a more open discussion of irreligious ideas in this country than has been seen in at least half a century. (Changes -- democratization? -- in media have also helped.)

A few preliminary thoughts on this piece by Slovoj Zizek:

1. When atheism first dared enter public debate in Europe, in the 18th century in France (with Holbach) and the 19th century in Britain (with Shelley), it did so with a grand claim (founded on a romantic, almost deified view of "Nature") to a higher morality -- a morality that looked a lot like Christian morality. Zizek is making a similar claim: "Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism." More on this later.

2. Zizek is also proposing a new (for me, here in the sheltered US) political analysis of the Cartoons of the Prophet situation: The Christian right initially printed the cartoons to take some digs at Islam but then expressed "understanding" for the hurt felt (and expressed sometimes violently) by true believers. The atheist liberals, on the other hand, reprinted the cartoons only in the spirit of tolerance and open discussion and had little tolerance for violent protest against open discussion. "Atheism," Zizek writes, " is a European legacy worth fighting for, not least because it creates a safe public space for believers."

3. My expertise on these matters is limited, but where Zizek refers to David Hume in the piece ("David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God's existence.") doesn't the point really fit Immanuel Kant? It is, nonetheless, an important point (discussed below) -- though more difficult than Zizek acknowledges.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at March 12, 2006 11:05 AM


Why defend atheist morals by pointing out their similarities to Christian morals. All that matters when considering atheist morals relative to Judeo-Christian morals is the places in which they're different.

Posted by: Noah SD at March 13, 2006 1:44 AM

I suspect stressing similarities to the christian majority is at least partly a matter of public relations.

Posted by: Aesmael at March 13, 2006 2:36 AM

If you use the tool at this site, you can generate New York Times links (such as this one) which do not expire.

Posted by: Dayv at March 21, 2006 1:00 AM

Posted by: Mark Zlomislic at July 26, 2006 3:59 PM

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