Tag Archives: worldview

Ignorance is More Blissful than Theism

ignorance-is-blissIn his article, Believe it or Not, David Bentley Hart eloquently points out the moral and intellectual superficiality of the New Atheism:

“[Nietzsche’s] famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism. In fact, the madman despairs of the mere atheists—those who merely do not believe—to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.”

As different as their views are, Hart and Nietzsche agree on the simple fact that any worldview worth taking seriously is one that answers life’s greatest questions, rather than simply dismissing them or arrogantly declaring that one (safe in the suburban bubble of economic stability and a set of unquestioned cultural values) is strong enough to live without such answers.

The latter approach, for all its bluster, results only in drifting through one’s life without any clear idea what it is about.

And refusing to see the tragedy in that does nothing to make it less tragic.

The Biases of “Them”

In the context of the religion debates, I think many of us are getting tired of the phrase “rebellion against God” and the term “indoctrination”.

These are, of course, the concepts by which Christians and atheists often explain how a group of otherwise intelligent people can disagree with them over something so “obvious”. The Christian insists that atheists would all see the evidence for God if only they could stomach the idea that they would need to submit to a higher authority. Likewise, the atheist insists that the Christian would reject God’s existence were it not for religious teaching received as a child.

The way in which these ideas are used to dismiss very important arguments on both sides destroys a great deal that we might learn from one another. At the very least, it destroys any real intellectual empathy.

This is not to say that the concepts are entirely vacuous. Personally, I expect that there is truth to both of them. People do tend to believe what we were taught as children, which (in modern culture) usually includes both the idea that God exists and that a monarch (even a divine one) is inherently a bad thing. So long as one realizes that this does nothing to prove or disprove God’s existence, these things are worth noting.

But the trouble is worse than ignorance. Rather, it seems that anyone who engages in this kind of thinking has to continually raise the stakes – to attribute more and more power to these tendencies in order to dismiss opposing arguments. Personally, I’ve seen very sophisticated philosophical positions waved away with a “that’s the power of indoctrination”, and don’t imagine that atheists have not seen the same from theists.

Where can this go, save to the point that any statement with which one disagrees is so categorized? It seems to me that the picture of humanity presented by this kind of thinking should leave one to wonder if rational faculties can be trusted at all.

Really, can those proclaiming that all arguments against God are the lies of Satan really believe that they are not themselves deceived? Can those who attribute all religious thinking to indoctrination believe that they have not been programmed in their own convictions about the nature of reality? Sociology tells us that none of us are objective – but these arguments grow out of the arrogant assumption that one’s own camp is largely immune to this fact. It is “they” who are deluded, who cannot see the “obvious” answer to the big questions of life.

It would be better, I think, to admit that our finite minds cannot claim to understand reality well enough that much of anything should be obvious. Many intelligent people can be found on all sides of this debate. This should humble us all, and make us wary.

Reality is, after all, far more mysterious than we tend to suppose. Whether you see this as the divine mystery (as I do), or imagine an incomprehensible (but still physical) material world, we should agree that glib comments cannot possibly contain an appropriate view of the matter.

Worldview versus Worldview


As of late, I’ve been trying to re-visit the concept of a worldview. That is, I’ve been trying to look at approaches to life as a series of answers to the questions presented all of us, wondering which set is most satisfactory.

This seems to be my point of departure from nearly all of the discussion on religious matters to be found online. It seems to me that the conversation seems to lend itself to religious individuals citing their own scripture as evidence for its truth, to atheists claiming that their position is somehow the default set of answers until others can be so proved, and agnostics claiming that the whole subject is so thoroughly outside the reach of human understanding that we should simply abandon the search for answers.

ImageThere are, of course, thoughtful people within all these groups. Still, I don’t think it is too much to say that the general tone is one of circular reasoning. Yes, if we believed a particular set of scriptures were inspired, we’d accept the religion it describes. If we believed that materialism is the position to take until some other one can be proved, we would be atheists. If I believed it were possible to live life without answering questions of ultimate origin, meaning, ethics, and so forth, we would be agnostics.

However, it seems that very little is being done to show that any of these three basic claims are true. As such, people mostly talk past one another in an increasingly angry fashion. Though I am a strong opponent of scientism, we’d do well to take a cue from science. That is, we should ask the big questions of life, then ask ourselves which “theory” gives the most satisfactory answers to those questions.

If the debate begins here, I expect that there will be much more potential for progress. It would end this process of comparing apples to oranges and encourage each of us to, at the very least, take a look at the potential weaknesses of our view.

Debate Fatigue

Having spent more than five years consistently debating religious topics online, I’ve come to quite a number of conclusions. I’ve realized that debate can stretch the mind, and that I was far too sure of my own expertise, among many other things.

I’ve also realized that there’s little more to be gained from it.
I really don’t mean to be dismissive; there is a great deal of good that has come from the experience. Still, the area of thinking which can be exercised in such debates is highly specific.

Though I am sure an atheist encounters similar problems, that she would label somewhat differently, my experience has slowly become an argument against what I call “perpetual incredulity”.

I do not mean to argue against a general skeptical approach. I fully agree with atheists that we should draw our conclusions carefully. Or, rather, I agree with those atheists who actually do so. As often, I’ve encountered a non-believer who, while ostensibly championing rationality, refuses to admit anything which could be construed as favoring theism – regardless of the actual facts.

While it may seem effective in debate to declare that there isn’t the slightest bit of evidence pointing to theism, or that ignoring a claim can be equated with neutrality toward it, this is where I lose interest. Far from impressing me, I’m left feeling like I’m butting against a mind as closed as any fundamentalist.

Slowly, I’ve come to see that it is only those who realize that there are reasonable people on both sides of the argument, and, by extension, there are reasonable arguments on both sides, that are worth attention. Those who see nothing reasonable about those across the divide can never understand more than the most unreasonable part of the opposition. That is, they can never understand the debate in more than its crudest form.

There, of course, is the balance that reason demands. Judgmentally concluding that the opposition has no rational case is as detrimental as pseudo-intellectually refusing to take a position. These are traps for the intellectually lazy; the greatest minds avoid them.

And this is the last challenge of debate, I think. To abdicate neither to unthinking strife nor unthinking diplomacy. There comes a time, however, where those are the only paths remaining if one wishes to remain involved in such discussions on the web. It does not take a herculean effort to exhaust the intellectual level of a popular debate. While one may occasionally contribute in spite of this, I find the repetitive demands that I undeniably support every statement I make – in the eyes of an opponent determined to deny – a pointless and exhausting one.

Frustrating though this is, I happily endured it until it became boring. That is to say, until I began to ask what alternative view of morality and meaning in life were being supported by my opponents – and was told that there was no answer.

That was the point at which I lost all interest in listening to those individuals’ attacks of my position. We’ve all known relentless critics, and I’ve never known them to contribute nearly so much as they destroy.

What is Your View of Reality?

The simplest, most basic questions tend also to be the deepest and most difficult to answer.
Though many accuse philosophers of pointless rambling on such abstract questions, I think it is a matter of simple fact that what we believe all but dictates how we behave. The man who steps out his front door, and sees a passing crowd of his fellow human beings will not react the same manner as his companion, who sees an ignorant mob.
It could even be argued that the world one sees is the essential part of one’s character. That being the case, it is worth it to dig a little deeper into the question.

In my view, one of the more troubling positions in our culture is materialism. That is, the idea that only the physical exists. When I step out my front door, I don’t see only a crowd of physical people. I see spiritual beings. I think this has an effect on how I treat them.
I also see ethics. The idea that morals are simply what society says is right or wrong doesn’t carry weight with me. I have no experience with that at all. Rather, I see a world where some things are truly good, and some are evil.
Of course, I’m not for a moment saying that one must see things as I do to be a good person. I mean only that I see a world that is not empty, but filled with love and meaning.
It strikes me as odd, then, that we are so quick to try to destroy the views of others. Yes, I can certainly understand the desire to share our own views, to get people to see our truths – this helps us connect to and understand one another. I can also see the basic desire to state what one believes to be the truth.
But neither of these, unfortunately, fully explains the forceful, often vitriolic, nature of debate.
There is definitely an element of pride, on all sides, in arguments over belief. Even more than that, I think, there is a certain justification project. One feels affirmed in a belief after winning a debate, and I don’t expect that the most deeply confident are tempted to mock or scorn opponents. Rather, this is an act for a superficially intense, but shallow, belief.
If this seems a harsh judgment, I can only say that it is made with empathy. I, too, have been in such a place, and I can find no better explanation as to why we might relish the idea of casually, even recklessly, devastating the dearest beliefs of another human being. Even in the unlikely event that we are as right as we think, this is cruel.
And here we have the state of so much of what I have seen across the web. One-upsmanship and attacks abound, and still it is an effort to abstain – to not try to educate, to not try to argue a point.

Looking back at so many failed attempts at convincing others, I wonder if, perhaps, I should have been less interested in trying to convince them of my beliefs, and more concerned with understanding the stakes for both of us. Ultimately, a glimpse of the deepest beliefs of another is a sacred thing.
For me, to deny God would be to deny every part of me that says there is more to this life than atoms slamming against each other.
While one may, perfectly reasonably, disagree, I can’t imagine why someone would wish to rip that idea apart overnight – and can only conclude that those that do simply do not understand how deep the thought goes. It is the frame on which all the greatest part of my soul rest, and I find that I do resent anyone that would hammer at it without respect for those things which it supports.
And, perhaps, this is why respect is so badly needed. Without it, there can be no depth of understanding, and change, if it comes at all, is bound to be catastrophic.