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May 1, 2006

Life v. Religion

Those who dis disbelief often switch the argument from whether it is likely true that the heavens have a boss to whether it would be disenchanting to surrender the notion that they do. Here, for example, John Updike:Updike.jpg

Among the repulsions of atheism for me has been its drastic uninterestingness as an intellectual position. Where was the ingenuity, the ambiguity, the humanity of saying that the universe just happened to happen and that when we're dead we're dead?

I have always had difficulty with this argument. (The normally generous Updike, for the record, called for a similar retreat in the face of postmodernism/deconstruction.) Why is it thought to be more compelling, more ingenious, more subtle, more enchanting to reduce the Great Jumble of Being to a fairy tale, a morality play, a feudal romance? What poetry, what interest is gained by such (desperate) attempts to squeeze the gloriously complex --ethically, emotionally, scientifically, philosophically -- into the (inevitably self-contradictory) simple? Is not life richer than religion?

This is one route to a positive notion of atheism.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at May 1, 2006 5:34 PM


I recently read an essay which comprehensively demolishes the idea that atheism takes the awe and wonder out of life. Science reveals vastly more mystery and beauty to us than any primitive screed written by ignorant sheep herders in the desert. Once you have even a cursory knowledge of the stupendous scales of space and time which led from the Big Bang to present-day Earth, the idea that some old man with a beard just waved a magic wand 6,000 years ago is not only infinitely less awe-inspiring, but stupid, childish and insulting.

Posted by: No More Mr. Nice Guy! at May 2, 2006 12:02 AM

But it only shows that the universe is inherently non-humanocentric. We are all alone in our humaness. If Earth was to be wiped out tomorrow, who will cry for our species? If the universe collapsed tomorrow, what is the use of anything? Where is infinity? Where is immortality?

Posted by: Another Man at May 24, 2006 3:37 AM

** Of infinity a good universe (or universes) should have no shortage -- in time, I would think, in space.
** other conscious beings would also seem likely given the amount of places where DNA or the equivalent might coagulate and evolve. just not all-knowing, all-seeing, all-controlling conscious beings.
** immortality? a cure for cancer might help, but no -- probably not the sort that might protect against all unfortunate occurrences or arrive in time to help you or me.
** What is the use of anything? From where I sit stuff -- other people, career, a lovely spring day like this one -- has, if anything, an excess of uses. but might there be an uber-use that makes all these minor uses -- love, accomplishment, pleasure, groovin' -- seem petty? nah. can see why you might long for such, but, in truth, that's probably one of those longings best left unfulfilled. we got enough to worry about.

Posted by: mitch at May 24, 2006 8:02 AM

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