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Also: Atheist Fundamentalism? Really?

I just noticed the blurb quote from The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Devine. It’s on the cover:  “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths [authors of The Dawkins Delusion] show why.”

Atheist fundamentalism? Tell the truth. Have you ever put those words together in a sentence? I sure haven’t.

Updated to add: And divisions in the ranks among the atheists? Who knew that not believing in God would be so divisive among the nonbelievers?

Yes, yes, I know. I’m not making fun of atheists for being atheists. Most likely, as an agnostic, I’m closer to their end of the spectrum than religious folks. It just never occurred to me that there might be different ways to be an atheist, although I suppose it should have. 🙂

Another epiphany, but perhaps not a dumb one

So just so you’ll know, I love libraries. I loooove them. I feel calmer when I’m at a library, and I feel calmer when I’m headed for a library. When I get irritated about paying taxes, I think about libraries. This may make me a nut, but the smell of a library book has always been like smelling salts, or fine wine, to me.

Having said that, the Minneapolis Public Library rocks. I’m thinking of the downtown location, because the building was just finished in 2006 (I think) and it’s such an improvement over the old 1960s building that I don’t care when it was built.

Anyhoo, today I was perusing the new books section and I found a book called The Dawkins Delusion? It’s all about “atheist fundamentalism and the denial of the devine.” Which, I must say, is awesome. I have a friend who is an atheist, but she just kind of doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t feel the need to form societies or write books about how dumb people who believe in God really are. Unlike Richard Dawkins. I posted about The God Delusion once before, noting that he had managed to annoy me within 20 pages, despite the fact that I wasn’t disposed to dismiss his atheist arguments out of hand.

Well. Within a page of The Dawkins Delusion, I had had an epiphany.

So I was born in 1969. So I was only conscious and aware, probably, as of 1974 or 1975. And in The Dawkins Delusion, the introduction mentiosn that in the 1960s, some (many? whatever) people believed that science was going to replace God.  “Back in the 1960s, we were told that religion was fading away, to be replaced by a secular word,” write authors Alister McGrath and Hoanna Collicutt McGrath.

What?

See, here’s the deal. As the child of agnostics and the 1970s, I never heard this sort of thing. Granted, I heard more about science than about religion, but I never heard that science was “replacing” religion. I heard that science was making discoveries, and that religion had made mistakes, but I never heard “screw religion, it isn’t worth bupkis.”

It occurs to me, see, that I might be a member of the first generation to get that science and religion don’t have to be enemies. While older folks might hear a lot of scientific and religious arguemtns in those terms, I just don’t, and I’m guessing that people my age and younger don’t either. At least, not necessarily. I don’t require religion to take a back seat, or science to rule the world. I want to know which is more reliable for one question or another, but I don’t see either as “fading away” or “taking over the world.”

Are there other people who see it this way? If so, why do we constantly hear about how science has failed us all? Science can’t do everything, but it’s the reason we have penicillin, after all. And religion can’t do everything, but hello, the Ten Commandments come in pretty handy from time to time. Why don’t those of us who don’t see the need for a mortal conflict between science and religion speak up more often?

Fallen?

Argh. I just tried to read a book that I was really interested in. Huston Smith is a genius, as far as I’m concerned, and I loved his The World’s Religions. And so last night I started reading The Soul of Christianity, which is intended to describe “a path between culturally rigid, intolerant evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity and nontranscendent, liberal Christianity.” Sounds fascinating, right? Right.

Well, I ran into a snag right away. Smith begins with a discussion I’ve often heard, how science purported to replace religion and turned out not to be able to do that. I actually agree, but I’m of the opinion that science and religion can work together and that proponents of religion don’t need to be all “na na na na na, science, you suck!” any more than proponents of science need to claim that religion is irrelevant.

But the real snag was something he mentioned in passing. He described proponents of science as “conveniently forgetting that humanity is fallen and in need of redemption from its sinful nature.” It occurs to me that this might be Reason # 11 for why I’m an agnostic. I know the Biblical basis for this belief, and I know the historical basis for it. But I simply can’t share it.

I don’t think that human beings need God because they’re fallen. I think we need God because our job in life is to rise. Whatever you think about evolution, history tells us that we’ve been trying for millenia to be better and failing pretty frequently. But it also tells us that our belief in God has made a huge difference. Or our faith in humanity, or innate sense of justice, or the prophets who have come forward to push us forward by a few centuries in terms of justice and compassion.

But I object to the idea that humanity is fallen. A child needs help, instruction, and time to learn to be a good person. They start out with nothing and they improve and fall back, improve and fall back, and do their best to transcend the amoral state they’re born into. Or they don’t, and cause harm. But how deeply negative to think that humanity needs to apologize for some fallen state! We may need to be saved from ourselves, often from a catastrophic failure to transcend ourselves. But fallen? Can’t go there. However, I also can’t be very articulate about why. So I’ll return to this subject later when I’m less spluttery.

Up next: The Temple in Salt Lake City!

Yep, it’s true: I paid a visit to the Mormons while I was in Salt Lake. I went to Temple Square and saw many things. When I get back from my appointment this afternoon, I shall regale you all with my tales.

My last Michael Crichton

On impulse at the airport, I bought a paperback copy of Michael Crichton’s Next. It’s a year old or so, but I’d heard it was a good exploration of the issues around bioengineering, a moral issue if there ever was one.

I used to love his books, but he’s clearly slipped. The last one I read was Airframe, which came out in 1996 (at least, the paperback did; the hardcover may have come out even earlier). That was a great read, a well-plotted story, and an informative bit of entertainment. He clearly had an opinion, but it was similar to Rising Sun, in which he made an effort to present both sides of the issue as well.

It’s not that he didn’t in Next, it’s just that this book feels more like a score settled than an opinion explored in fiction. The characters are cardboard, distinguishable only by their names, and the way the story breaks down is that about ten doomsday scenarios about bioengineering are presented by characters who nobody would like. It’s not so much a story, the way his earlier books were, as it is a rant about something that annoys him presented as fiction.

I haven’t read his State of Fear, which apparently is about how global warming isn’t real. But I heard about it because I heard of a score he apparently settled in that book with a political columnist who reviewed that book – and Chrichton himself – poorly. In Next, he makes up a child-rape case where the perpetrator has nearly the same name, the exact same educational background, and the exact same profession as the political columnist in real life. The article is here if you want to know more about it, but the specificity is disgusting and creepy.

Anyway, bioengineering and biotechnology raise serious moral issues that are worth serious discussion. Based on this book, I think Mr. Crichton has lost the flexibility to even consider an opinion other than his own. It’s too bad, because he used to have it, and it made his work stronger. Oh, well.

FYI

Hey, folks, I’ve been quiet lately and it’s partially because I’m out of town soon. I’ll tell more about my trip and the spiritual insights I came to while I was there when I get back. Be well, enjoy your various holidays, and be at peace.

Terrible

This is awful. I’m sure by now everyone has heard about the shootings in Colorado at a couple of Christian centers in Arvada and Colorado Springs. If not, an article is here. Edited to add: I should have said first thing that my heart goes out to the families of the victims and those who were hurt in the attack. I hope that healing comes swiftly to these folks.

Here’s what impressed me the most, though:

Ashley Gibbs was getting into a car with David Harris when they heard the gunshots….

They stayed in the vehicle and prayed for the gunman.

“It was obvious that he was in some sort of pain and going through a lot,” Gibbs told NBC’s “Today” show. “I just prayed God would bring him peace.”

This is why I’ll never be an atheist. Even if there were no God – and I think there is – moments like this would create one. As long as people of any faith can set their own needs and fears aside to help someone else, we’re not lost.