Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter Sunday...

and I see the headline on the cover of the Easter issue of The Spectator is 'The Return of God'. Inside is a double-page piece by Theo Hobson headed 'Atheism's empty tomb', drawing attention to a crisis of faith in the New Atheism as the movement (or some involved in it) begin to realise just how bleak and profoundly problematic the human world can look once you've subtracted God from it. The piece also notes how the New Atheism has led some prominent figures to rediscover their Christian faith - presumably not the intended effect. It's heartening stuff, though there's plenty that could be disputed.
 More interesting, I think, is the companion piece by the excellent Douglas Murray, 'Ethics for Atheists'. Murray has grasped - and presents in a startlingly vivid manner - the kind of ethical problems that confront the atheist. Like Nietzsche, like Kierkegaard, he sees clearly that arguing yourself into atheism is the easy bit; living with the consequences and implications of removing God - that's the hard part. As Kierkegaard puts it in Fear and Trembling:
'If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the foundation of all there lay only a wildly seething power which writhing with obscure passions produced everything that is great and everything that is insignificant, if a bottomless void never satiated lay hidden beneath all–what then would life be but despair?'
Murray is a thinking and feeling atheist, one who is very alive to what religion actually is (rather than the aunt sally set up by the likes of Dawkins) and what it offers, and equally alive to what is lost by its rejection. Indeed one of the best defences of religion I ever heard was delivered by him in a filmed debate in which he was the representative atheist. Having read his Spectator piece, and especially its final paragraph (ending, 'If that does not work, then there is only one other place to go. Which is back to faith, whether we like it or not'), I have a feeling that he might yet return to some kind of belief. He could be just the kind of apologist thinking Christanity needs.
 Incidentally, I am genuinely puzzled by both believers and atheists insisting that the question of 'the existence of God' is the crux of the matter of belief or non-belief. It's surely a philosophical question (and philosophy can stand up neither theism nor atheism but must default to an agnostic position). And it's a question that simply would not have occurred, would not have made sense, to anyone (apart from perhaps a few heterodox believers) until historically recent times, and still makes little or no sense to most of the world's population. It's surely a mistake to see Christianity, or any religion, as a checklist of dogmas to be ticked in full if you're to be a believer. As Marilynne Robinson (and many others, including Coleridge) has pointed out, Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. And, I would add, being a Christian should not depend on the answer given to an unanswerable philosophical question.
 Anyway, that's enough of that - I now wish everyone a very happy Easter.


  1. By the way, a post of mine about George Herbert's Easter Wings is on The Dabbler today...

  2. Murray's article somewhat reminiscent of Swift's "A Modest Proposal" at times. The frightening thing is that Swift's was a joke.

  3. One of the most intellectually honest and logically rigorous atheists I know (virtually) is a professor who argues humans are a scummy, dangerous blight, existence is much less preferable to non-existence and the only sensible political programme is to seek to eradicate humanity---voluntarily of course, and with generous public counselling services. I think he's off his nut, but it is fun watching him make mincemeat out of the sunny Dawkins types and he readily admits the only arguments he can't answer are the ones grounded in theology.

  4. The following statement "and philosophy can stand up neither theism nor atheism but must default to an agnostic position). " is quite hasty and false .

    See the ontological argument as presented by Anselm of Canterbury , and later augmented by Alvin Plantinga and others for a plausible philosophical argument that a Deity (not necessarily the crudely personalized deity of a "Man Upstairs") is likely .