Thursday, December 20, 2007

Philosophers Without Gods

Written 17 Nov 2007:

Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, edited by Louise M. Antony. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Another book hot off the press and on the shelves. Gave it a scrute yesterday. This book is an anthology of 20 chapters contributed by professional philosophers. Naturally, writing about this topic is likely to be monotonous and repetitive after a while, but this book has its unique charms and could prove to be a valuable contribution. The editor attempts to show off the variety of atheists, from those who were once believers (orthodox Jews, Catholics, etc.) to those who never entertained the existence of God as a serious possibility. There are arguments against the existence of Gods and the authority of sacred texts as well as articles conerning the basis of ethics and spiritual concerns and emotions sans religions and gods. There were three articles that stood out for me:

(1) Anthony Simon Laden, "Transcendence without God: On Atheism and Invisibility", pp. 121-132.

This essay is prefaced with quotes from Thomas Hobbes and . . . Ralph Ellison! There is no mention of Ellison's non-religiosity (now documented by Arnold Rampersad), but Laden borrows Ellison's concept of "invisibility" (which begins with the issue of race but is universalized by Ellison and others) to explain his non-religious sense of transcendence. For me this is definitely the most interesting and original contribution in the book.

(2) George Rey, "Meta-atheism: Religious [Avowal--handwriting illegible] as Self-deception", pp. 243-265.

Seeing as how simple, obvious, and irrefutable the usual arguments against religious beliefs are, and the imperviousness of believers to them, Rey steps back and analyzes belief as a form of willed self-deception. I suppose this is why he coins the term "meta-atheism".

(3) Simon Blackburn, "Religion and Respect", 179-[???].

Blackburn deals with the problem of respecting people and the fact that they hold beliefs which he cannot respect, delineating those aspects of religious expression he can relate to and those he can't. He makes a useful distinction between "onto-theology" and "expressive theology" (or religion), also contrasting transcendence with immanence. Expressive theology can be found in religious art, music, literature, architecture, etc., and Blackburn can appreciate the spirit and enthusiasm that went into it, even though he doesn't take the belief systems seriously. Believing in religious doctrines is what he labels onto-theology. When they become liberalized when putative believers can't swallow them literally any more, they tend to become more and more symbolic and metaphorical, less literally held to be true. I don't recall whether Blackburn says this, but it is just this slipperiness that makes religious liberals so weaselly, as literalism gives way to metaphorization without cutting ties to the tradition as it was originally conceived. Expressive theology is then the hook for the unwary; the difference being that atheists can understand the expression without being tied to tradition and authority, however watered down and concealed.

If the other essays approach being this interesting, you should check out the book.

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