posted on 09.15.2006 at 6:47 PM
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The Authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity's sins and engaged in every creature's life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on "the unfaithful or ungodly," [Baylor's Christopher] Bader says. Those who envision God this way "are religiously and politically conservative people, more often black Protestants and white evangelicals," Bader says. They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall).
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible, [Sociologist Paul] Froese says.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢The Critical God (16% overall, 21.3% in the East) has his judgmental eye on the world, but he's not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort. Those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us," Bader says. Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own.
There's a kind of progression here: toward a more and more "wan" Deity. Perhaps the next steps in the progression would be:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢The We-Need-Some-Sense-of-Meaning God -- otherwise, as Nietzsche puts it, the earth would be "unchained" from the sun.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢God as an Idea -- a beautiful one, Dostoyevsky's Ivan Karamazov insists.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢The Metaphoric God, who may not exist but is a useful way of thinking of certain existential and moral questions.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢The God Who Makes for a Good Story -- life, presumably, seeming more interesting if we pretend He's around.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢The We-Got-to-Hang-On-to-Something-that-Might-Remotely-Qualify-as-a-God God -- otherwise we'd be atheists.
posted on 05.27.2006 at 1:37 AM
Is living well the alternative to religious conviction? Here's James Thrower, a historian of early atheism:
"The earliest recorded critical response to a religious interpretation of life is the cry carpe diem."
The following ancient refrain is attributed to a long-lived Indian group of nonbelievers:
While life is yours live joyously,
None can escape Death's searching eye:
When once this frame of ours they burn,
How shall it e'er return?
A poem inscribed on a tomb in Egypt about five thousand years ago puts it this way:
...since it is impossible to tell how the dead fare in the other world,
What is left for us here? Nothing except to snatch at
the sensual pleasures of the day.
Does this qualify as a positive view of atheism? Or would many atheists reject such a hedonistic, ammoral perspective on the world? Does this mean Ivan Karamazov was right about the consequences of the death of God?
Thinking Through Disbelief (Teleology -- 3)
posted on 04.24.2006 at 11:40 PM
In To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf plays with the notion that human thought can be measured on a scale like the letters in the alphabet -- that some get to P or Q but few if any make it all the way to Z. Were there such a scale, it might be possible to say that Dostoyevsky in Karamazov, with his post-God nihilistic nightmare, is one letter behind Woolf's ruler-less universe, where "we perished each alone" and "loneliness" often seems "the truth about things," but where there is no shortage of love, art and even kindness.
What might take us to the next letter?
The Idea of God
posted on 04.10.2006 at 1:36 PM
"If there were no God, he would have to be invented. And what's strange, what would be marvellous, is not that God should really exist; the marvel is that such an idea, the idea of the necessity of God, could enter the head of such a savage, vicious beast as man. So holy it is, so touching, so wise and so great a credit it does to man."
Perhaps the less savage and vicious you find humankind, the less touching, wise and necessary you find the idea of God. Or is it just that we live in an age when ideals -- notions of the pure, the perfect, the holy -- seem cheap; when the great challenge is to build a morality, a meaningful existence, a civilization on swampier, more natural ground?
The Invention of God
posted on 04.06.2006 at 9:43 AM
More from Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov -- a snippet of a conversation:
"Damn it all, what wouldn't I do to the man who first invented God! Hanging on a bitter aspen tree would be too good for him."
"There would have been no civilization if they hadn't invented God."
Historical and political response: God certainly did play a role in building and bonding societies -- as glue, as moral enforcer -- but was it often a reactionary role -- supporting powers that were? Philosophical response: Hard to overlook the squashing of the spirit of inquiry for all those centuries in the West under a dogmatic, unquestioning faith. Cultural response: Religious themes sure made for some fine painting. Could other themes have stepped in if, somehow, God had not been invented?
Denominations of Disbelief? -- 2. Ivanists
posted on 04.03.2006 at 10:41 AM
The question is whether atheists, too, have sects. I've proposed one possible denomination: The Shelleyans. Here's a second, named (in a considerable oversimplification) after Ivan Karamazov in Dostoyevsky's novel. (The name "Sadists" being already taken.)
-- Ivanists subscribe to a nihilistic, anything-goes view of a world without god:
"Ivan...added...that if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality...nothing would be immoral, everything would be lawful, even cannibalism. He ended by asserting that for every individual, like ourselves, who does not believe in God or immortality...egoism, even to crime, must become not only lawful but even recognixed as the inevitable, the most rational even honorable outcome of his position."
Some Ivanists, especially early Western converts, are tortured by the death of God and what they see as the resulting collapse of all moral scruple. Witness Ivan himself or his "disciple" Smerdyakov in The Brothers Karamazov.
-- Their prophets? An ancient (and not tortured) Indian group known as the Carvaka, one of whose masters observed:
"Can begging, fasting, penance, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦be compared with the ravishing embraces of women with large eyes, whose prominent breasts are compressed with ones arms."
-- There is, of course, a fair amount of Ivanism in contemporary culture, which, shall we say, is considerably more interested in ravishing embraces than in penance.
-- Their saint? The Marquis de Sade?
-- Words to live by -- William Blake:
In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy./ Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead./ The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom./ Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity./ He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
-- Related denominations? Materialists. Carvaka. Libertines. Hedonists. (Nietzsche's relationship to the Ivanists is complex.)
posted on 04.02.2006 at 11:24 AM
You encounter some fine minds as you pour through the often wonderful literature on disbelief and its history. Twice, however, I have been truly blown away: once while reading Nietzsche's Anti-Christ; and then again last week when, about a third of the way into The Brothers Kazamazov, I met (for the third time in my life) the Grand Inquisitor.
The Inquisitor, leader of the local Church, is speaking in Spain in the 16th century to the latest Heretic he has arrested -- a long haired semitic Man with a beard and "a gentle smile of infinite compassion":
Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering.... We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority. And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep and that the terrible gift that had brought them such suffering was, at last, lifted from their hearts.
Nietzsche read and respected Dostoyevsky.
Are Atheists More Moral? -- V
posted on 03.30.2006 at 11:59 PM
The following statement, written when socialism was still (mostly) unborn, has long haunted me. It is from Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov:
"Socialism is not merely the labour question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism today., the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to Heaven from earth but to set up Heaven on Earth."
Well okay, socialism is currently (mostly) dead. But what if you substitute "humanism" for it here? Trying to "set up Heaven on Earth" -- however naive, however Utopian -- seems a rather decent goal. Why wait for God to pitch in? Why content yourself with trying to reach an alleged heaven in the sky? But Dostoyevsky, having outgrown (in Siberia) his left-wing phase, is scoffing.
Maybe the great novelist is wrong and the point is that God paralyzes us, making all human efforts at amelioration seem futile, misguided, a diversion.
Or maybe Dostoyevsky is right and the point is that we dreamy, left-wing mortals waste our time trying to build imitation heavens.