Category Archives: God

The Christian Roots of Marxism (and Secular Thought)

It turns out, Pope Benedict was not so wrong after all.

Excerpts from “A Rescue of Religion” by John Gray, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 15 · October 9, 2008 – reviewing “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers” by Leszek Kolakowski, Basic Books:

It is part of Kolakowski’s achievement as the greatest living intellectual historian to have tracked the ways in which religion has shaped Western thought. His work is, in effect, a sustained argument for the irreducible presence of religion in intellectual life and in society. In Kolakowski’s view the secular movements of the last century, such as communism, […] deployed categories of thought, including a view of history as a narrative having a consummation or end-point, which are inheritances from Western monotheism. […] Religion was not in truth superseded, either in Marx’s thought or in the movements Marx inspired. Instead, the promise of salvation reemerged as a project of universal emancipation.

The renewal of religious categories of thinking in avowedly secular systems of ideas […] continued in the ideology of neoconservatism. The notion of the end of history […] derives from religious traditions of apocalyptic myth. […] Presupposing as they do a teleological view of history that cannot be stated in empirical terms, all such theories are religious narratives translated into secular language. […]

Religion has had a formative influence on our categories of thought, which it is the task of philosophy to examine. Excavating the archaeology of our concepts is a part of philosophical inquiry. For us, that inescapably involves tracing their debts to Judaism and Christianity. Any way of doing philosophy that neglects these traditions is unhistorical and impoverished.

There are some philosophers for whom the only place for religion in philosophical inquiry is that of a bogey, a specter of irrationality that must be exposed and expelled so that philosophy can be an entirely secular discipline. As Kolakowski has argued, however, a good deal of secular thought has been shaped by Western religion. Exorcising religion is harder than it seems.

Richard Dawkins where art thou?

Why We Are Here

The Total Perspective Vortex […] shows its victim the entire
unimaginable infinity of the universe […] in an infinite
universe the one thing sentient life cannot afford to
have is a sense of proportion.

Just as a painter with a canvas, colors, brushes and inspiration is ipso facto bound to paint: so the Creator, having the capabilities and tools created the cosmos. And with no configuration preferred over another, the Creator painted all possible canvasses, and everything that could exist came into existence.

And so here we are, existing because we could.

And many, ever more different copies of ourselves exist in this Cosmos, but in other Universes, covering all the possibilities even beyond our imagination. Each one of them, existing only if but also every time it could.

In the big scheme of things, the existence of each one of us is thus even more irrelevant that anybody has ever dreamed of. But from each one of us’ point of view, it’s all we have: and so in a paradox, it is extremely important, just because such an existence is so singularly precious only to itself, and to a handful of otherwise just as irrelevant people.

and you know that these are the days of our lives
remember

The Atheist’s Goddess (2)

One thing to clarify first. I wrote a blog, not a 100-page tome dissecting the question from all points of view. So it naturally had to come across simplified and blunt.

Anyway, as usual in discussions like this, the main point is not necessarily the topic of the blog. And so the contention, more than the beliefs of professed atheists, is on the exact concept of “Deity”.

Of course, usually “Deity” is associated (in the shared culture of most of the people reading this blog) with a “Personal, Sentient, Omnipotent and Benevolent God”. People are free not to believe in that God. Many of those will then develop the impression that that will qualify them as “atheists”.

According to my reasoning, that is a logical fallacy. And even if one doesn’t believe in Abraham’s God, or the Hindu “Pantheon” or whatever other organized religion, still one is not necessarily an “atheist”.

Actually, one cannot be a “logical atheist“. Since we are here there has to be something that caused us to be. Either we accept the agnosticist’s point, and that “something” is not knowable, or we have to accept the existence of some sort of Deity (or deity).

To explain it further I start with NF: “If ‘luck’ fills the ‘gap’ where you think a ‘god’ should be, it doesn’t mean that person views luck in the same way that you view God, or someone else views their gods, i.e raised to a level of a diety of some sort, to be revered and venerated”.

Well, I made in the blog the point that a deity doesn’t have to be worshiped, venerated, and may be uninterested to the world or completely lacking any conscience. There are plenty of examples one way or the other in hundreds of human traditions. And of course, it could be Nature.

In fact, I suggested that a “logical atheist” can only recur to “Luck” as the Source of Everything. Some people may not like that: call it “chance” then, or “the force of randomness”. Or “Nature” (a slightly different concept). The main argument does not change: there has to be a “Source of Everything

And so to Joe, who writes “There is no reason to suppose that anything other than natural processes are the cause of our existence”; to SL, who says “we can at least conceive plausible explanations that do not require supernatural intervention”, and to MJP, who makes the point of being an “agnostic atheist”, saying “I see no reason to posit a supernatural cause”: my answer is that the rejection of “supernatural” is not necessarily the mark of an atheist.

One can only say that the Creator in that view of the world is “Natural”. There we go with Spinoza again.

Actually, as I wrote in my reply to Joe, a wholly-natural outlook of the Universe is very, very similar to animism. Under that, we are in the hands of Nature and all its constituents. Just substitute subatomic particles with the Spirit of the River, and the Spirit of the Mountain, etc etc.

Interestingly, this is a point that did not escape JB, as per his comment: “So how many quarks can dance on the head of a pin?

And to finish: WV says “I no more consider myself an atheist for not believing in a supernatural being than I consider myself an aphilatelist for not collecting stamps”: but the situation varies considerably, if you believe or not in the nonexistence of stamps. It is one thing to be uninterested to them, another to actively argue they are not there.

The Atheist’s Goddess

Atheists have their Supreme Being too

One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods”: that is the usually-accepted definition for an Atheist.

Paradoxically, though, it cannot be true.

What do Atheists believe in, in fact? By denying the existence of God or gods, they have to assume that the “world” just happen to exist, and that we are here to talk about it due to pure luck.

Or to say it better, due to Pure Luck.

The ancient Greeks themselves recognized the power of Luck, and they worshiped Her as the Goddess Thyke.

And so Atheists have to believe in something: they have to believe in Luck.

Perhaps Luck is not a personal deity. Perhaps She is not interested to the ways of the world (still, can’t resist dabbling into it) and perhaps there is no point in praying to Her.

That is besides the point. The point is that if one exists and there is no God, then Luck must exist, and Luck is the Creator: for all intents and purposes, a God.

This applies also if Luck gets out of the way, and Creation is a property of a Spinozian Nature.

Hence nobody can be a strict, logical “Atheist”.

Agnosticists, on the other hand…

On the Nature of God

“(God) leaves you (on purpose) in doubt… were He to speak out the Truth, stating “I exist” or “I do not exist”, the world would end”
Roberto Benigni

So where is this God (or gods) that can elicit strong passions not only in the believers, but even in those avowedly opposed to the very idea that such a thing as Faith exists? Why doesn’t He (or She) just show up in front of everybody and settle the question once and for all, instead of appearing obsessed on concealing His/Herself?

An answer can be elaborated starting from two basic hypotheses: (1) God actually exists; (2) is the Creator of the Universe (or Multiverse).

As a consequence, God is not part of the Universe/Multiverse, because the Creator obviously cannot create the Creator.

Therefore, there is no way to relate to God in a scientific manner, i.e. objective, observable and measurable under repeatable, controlled conditions: in a word, impersonal.

Hence, it is a waste of time to look into Nature for evidence of the existence of God. Physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology will never show anything of the sort, just as there can be no soup on the fork.

And just as radio waves do not “hide” from the human eye, but simply can only be transformed into images and sound with a TV set: so God does not “hide” from scientific research, but can only be experienced using the appropriate tool.

That tool is Faith, a very personal endeavour made up of belief, trust, commitment and conviction in a combination that is the very opposite of impersonal and objective

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God the Creator, if He/She exists, is extraneous to scientific reality.

Does that mean that for all intents and purposes, God does not exist at all? I would advise against taking such a strong science-is-everything stance.

Science by definition can only deal with scientific stuff. But there is a lot that can and does happen to each one of us, that cannot be repeated nor written about in a scientific article: probably, most of one’s life, and definitely, all of one’s dreams.

I am afraid I cannot repeat my dreams in a controlled situation.

===

How can Faith function then, between a Divinity that is quite literally outside of this world, and the physical brain?

A topic that will deserve its own blog.

The High Priests of Contemporary Atheism

Truly gone are the days of Epicurus.

Gone are the discussions about Free Will and the existence of Evil. Recently, some vocal atheists apper to be thinking it is time for puerile opinions instead.

Sure, many “persons without God” (including agnosticists such as Breaking the Spell”’s author Daniel C. Dennett) have a healthy respect for the experiences and beliefs of fellow human beings, be them atheists or not.

But then what can one say when an otherwise brilliant thinker like Richard Dawkins publishes without a grain of self-awareness the “Ultimate 747” argument, a so-called “definitive proof” that God does not exist?

It is a sort of an updated “who created the Creator” question that anybody with a brain can beautifully, simply and quite obviously take apart (hint: the Creator doesn’t have to be part of the Creation).

In Italy, philosophy Professor Maurizio Ferraris finds it worthwhile to spend his time arguing that Jesus is akin to Santa Claus, whilst mathematician extraordinaire Piergiorgio Odifreddi can’t even think of belief in God as anything else than irrational superstition.

Things look like going even more downhill now, with Christopher Hitchens’ new book “God is Not Great”: apparently, a masterpiece with pearls of wisdom such as asking if the Jews did not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments.

Obviously, the problem is not with Hitchens, a professional polemicist that utters outrageous statements for a living (sort of a male Ann Coulter with just a tad less smell of sulphur). The problem is not even with Dawkins’ anti-fundamentalist crusade that truly throw the baby (Faith) with the bathwater (religious establishments).

There is a much larger issue at hand: the blind acceptance of their half-backed arguments by people evidently in need to justify their atheism to themselves.

Take for example Michael Kinsley’s review of Hitchen’s book (With brio and anger, an atheist takes on religion”, International Herald Tribune , May 12, 2007).

Mr Kinsley finds “entertaining” some blatantly silly questions such as “How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all?” (Answer: please do read at least one Gospel, once).

Worse, Mr Kinsley is “satisfied” with (yet another?) “disproving” of the existence of God. Wow…it’s nice to know that age-old questions can finally be set aside: why don’t Messrs. Hitchens and Kinsley explain to us the Meaning of Life too?

Mr Kinsley is also quite happy to repeat Mr Hitchens’ thoughts on religious ecumenism. “if any one of the major faiths is true, then the others must be false in important respects – an obvious point often forgotten in the warm haze of ecumenism”. Boy, have they “obviously” squared the circle or what?

Do people like Kinsley and Hitchens realize how deeply, reactionarily catholic (with small “c”) is such a limited view of Faith (one God, one Truth, one World)?

How much was the Mahatma a “moron, lunatic or liar” then? That’s their definition of a modern believer. After all he did say “Non-violence requires a double faith, faith in God and also faith in man” and “One’s own religion is after all a matter between oneself and one’s Maker and no one else’s.”

Doesn’t anybody remember Quintus Aurelius Symmachus? One of the last pagans in ancient Rome, Symmachus protested the removal of the Altar of Victory from the floor of the Roman Senate by a Christian Emperor by saying “We contemplate the same stars, the Heavens are common to us all, and the same world surrounds us. What matters the path of wisdom by which each person seeks the truth?”.

(No need to waste your breath on our activist atheists, o civis Symmachus! They wouldn’t even know what you’re talking about).

Anyway, there is just the faintest of hope of some reasoning capability left in the activist atheist’s mind. Mr Hitchens writes that a sustained argument about the (non-)existence of God shouldn’t be either necessary, nor sufficient. I am sure only the most fundamentalist believers and atheists will disagree with that.

What is for atheists then the point of writing books belittling something they do not have?

Perhaps, just perhaps, one day people like Mr Hitchens and Mr Dawkins will realize that they may as well uselessly ponder on mysteries such as why a wonderful person as my wife ever fell in love with a less-than-perfect guy like me. Good luck with that!

Is this really what millennia of debates between believers and atheists have gone down to? Somebody will rightly point out that there are plenty of idiots that believe their Faith should be expressed by insulting, outlawing, threatening and killing others.

Yes, there are!

But two wrongs don’t make one right: weren’t Dawkins et al. supposed to be the Brights, the superiorly intelligent humans capable of shedding silly arguments and superstition from their lives, and from the lives of anybody that would follow them?

Why are they then switching off their brains whenever the conversational topic is Religion?

If theirs is the Light, we live in a very dim world indeed.

Like the Conquistadores in the Americas, these Brights are fighting to destroy what they can’t understand in the belief of improving the human lot. The bringing down of anything spiritual, it has become their spiritual quest. The attitude of the vast majority of their fellow humans, they consider it a primitive relic unworthy of their own perfection. Several thousand years of contributions in logic and philosophy, that doesn’t mean a thing to them.

Having discovered the “definitive arguments” for the double impossibility of proving the non-existence of any Divinity, they put themselves outside of human history. And they even gather around their books of wisdom, to accept with little sense of critique anything that is said to belittle the very idea that human being can believe in God.

It’s a hubris extravaganza.

Contemporary (activist) atheists truly set themselves in competition with God: here’s a hint of why they find so compelling to make however flawed an argument against the scandal represented by anybody not believing in their “religion of atheism”.

The Four Horsemen of Atheism

There is plenty of people more qualified than me to debunk yet another “contribution” to the Atheism-Faith debate, just published on Italian Sunday newspaper  “Domenicale Sole24Ore” (Maurizio Ferraris, “Not knowing What To Believe“, October 29)

Anyway, here I propose a classification, from the point of view of the Person of Faith, of Contemporary Atheism in four categories: Indifferent, Devout, Faraway and Economic

(1) Indifferent Atheist is a person with no interest whatsoever in the Divinity and Religion: and with whom the only meaningful dialogue for the Believer will be about sport, cinema or television

(2) Devout Atheist sees religion as a series of moral precepts useful to manipulate this or that social reform: in a sense, the Devout Atheist resembles more the Antichrist than a person with whom to start a serious conversation on Religion

(3) Faraway Atheist thinks like Ferraris, and whilst not possessing faith, pretends to reduce it to a fairy tale for children and/or idiota. This view of the world makes no distinction between Jesus Christ and Father Christmas; comes out with monstruosities such as “He who believes in an Infinite God, believes in everything“; reduces religious tradition to an accountant’s sheet of dogmas to follow in order not to be “heretical” (a naive point that will sound ancient to Roman Catholics, and completely stranger to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc etc). One would expect Ferraris to burst into laughter at the mere presence of a Person of Faith in the same room as him: hardly the best and most rational attitude (Ferraris is obviously not alone: see Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion” and Daniel C Dennett in “Breaking off the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon”)

(4) Economic Atheist finally, understands that a serious non-indifferent Atheism that aims at least to understand the why Believers exist, must learn from the recent revolution in Economics: where the hyper-rationalist Homo Economicus of the old theories has been replaced with a person who follows a systematic logic, simply not mathematical logic

And it is only with the Economic Atheist that there is any meaning, for the Person of Faith, to discuss Religion. Not having the prejudice of considering Faith as synonymous of irrationality, the Economic Atheist will indeed be open to an exchange of ideas (sadly, not a given as it should be)

Facile discourses in religious topics by Atheists of other types, are worth as much as a women-only bathroom on Mount Athos, the famous Greek monastery on whose territory only men are allowed

Dawkins Inc.’s Hyperrealism Myth

Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Daniel C Dennett “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon ” are both works of awowed atheists somehow intent to speak out about “religion”

And it appears that in both cases, the message is an exhortation to get rid of the divine and the religious sides of one’s life, in order to walk positively free and serene towards a bright future without the weight of legends and superstition

This over-reductive vision of the idea of the Myth (not to mention of the Rituals) is not absurd, is inhuman: because to consider religiosity as a child’s play of fantasies and personal and collective delusion, means to deny the existence not just of a God, but an important part of our human nature

Does anybody really live without a myth? “Myth” in a positive sense, even just the archetypal symbol of our hopes for being or having something better

To those that think that rationalism is the only logical way forward I want to say: even Voltaire had his share of petty behavior: who knows what, perhaps he kept picking his nose

Does that mean that those that want to be guided by Voltaire’s thought, are also all nose-picker? Of course not

The “guide” is not the “true Voltaire”: it’s Voltaire-the-Myth. And that’s just about right. He may never had spoken the famous utterance about fighting to the death to defend somebody’s else right of free speech: who cares? Those words are an integral part of the myth of Voltaire

Paris, was it really worth a mass? Was a kingdom given given away for a horse? To spend time trying to verify those and any other “myth” is an interesting historical exercise but makes one lose sight of the original meaning

Would it not be stupid to throw 2001 – A Space Odissey in the bin because there is no black monolith orbiting Jupiter?

The fantasy of a certain contemporary attitude, hyperrealist to the point of being completely imaginary, was already underlined by Piero Manzoni in his bizarre 1961 “Merda d’Artista

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I am sure even the ancient Greek myths, obscure fairy tales for us, had in origin important meanings and messages

It’s therefore a pity that to the word “Myth” and to the idea of the Divinity, it is now customary to associate the concept of the Great Unwashed, uncultivated, lazy, stupid and easy to fool: “And so from now on we can do without that”

On second thought, that’s a Myth too

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UPDATE: There is a nice review of Dawkins’ book on the New York Times / International Herald Tribune:

A passionate atheist’s case against religion By Jim Holt The New York Times – Published: October 20, 2006

Grab it while you can

I particularly like this passage: “Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience