Sunday, May 21, 2006

Self-importance: a Sunday Sermon

Dr. Myers takes down a self-important and silly response to Zizek's Times Op-Ed in praise of atheism.

Rabbi Shafran concludes his fact-challenged article by arguing that:
if my choice of island partner were between two strangers about whom I know only that one believes there is no higher reason for human life and the other that there is, I know which one I'd choose.
Like Dr. Myers, the one I'd pick is the one who isn't Rabbi Shafran. This sort of self-importance and triviality of these arguments seem more likely to drive people away from religion than Zizek's.

St. Augustine had a similar worry a few hundred years ago:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”
My emphasis.

Obviously, this is a powerful argument against creationism as well. Or, for Zizek and Dr. Myers, perhaps an argument in its favor. I often wonder if creationism's advocates and Sharfran-ish (or Dobsonish) blowhards aren't secret agents of some elegant atheist conspiracy.

Indeed, Zizek's argument is not that people must abandon religion in favor of atheism, but that respect for atheism and a concomitant opposition to fundamentalism of any form are important for the success of modern civilization. A reasonable position.