Thursday, March 15, 2007

The post in which I get people to yell at me in zealous fury

I am reading Richard Dawkins's new book The God Delusion. Here are a couple of lines for you (not quoted exactly, mind you, but paraphrased:

1) I don't know that theology should be considered a subject (for proper academic study.)
2) And on Bertrand Russell being confronted by an angry God after death inquiring why Russell didn't believe: "Not enough evidence, God. Not enough evidence." To wit one would assume that God disappears in a blue puff of blue logic-smoke.

Where I am at in The God Delusion, Dawkins is rather ably taking on various arguments for the existence of God (such as Thomas Aquinas's medieval hair-splitting or Pascal's Wager.) I think I like Dawkins's answer to Pascal's Wager (which runs surprisingly along the lines of a 100% theist's position): if your omniscient god sees that you are just bluffing you're going to hell anyway. Having disposed of the Wager rather quickly that way, Dawkins moves on to the the tougher question: why is god so desperate for us his supposed creation, to believe in him? Dawkins's point touches on something that has long bugged me about the normal cheese-headed view of theology--that God somehow needs us to believe in him. Of course Augustine, Calvin, and Luther all did away with that silly notion, but then opened up the whole problem of predestination and our (lack of) free will. Given the modern American-based penchant for personal freedom, the old-time religion answer (that you are not at all in control of any aspect of your existence) became a nasty burr under our collective saddle and was quickly kicked to the curb. One can hear the confused-religionist slobbering now: "WE'RE AMERICANS, DAMNIT AND WE ARE FREE. WE'LL HAVE NONE OF YOUR PREDESTINATION JUNK, OLD EUROPE! WE'RE FREE! WE'RE FREE! BUT GOD IS ALL POWERFUL BUT WE'RE STILL FREE TO MAKE OUR OWN MISTAKES! IF WE ARE GOOD AND BELIEVE IN GOD HE WILL FAVOR US!"

I think part of the problem with the fundamentalist, Americanized version of God is that that God needs worshipers like a co-dependent husband. No doubt this is based out of their zealous reading of the Old Testament where Yahweh sometimes is portrayed as such. The Old Testament God, however, wasn't always a very savory character, and sometimes just acted out on his worshipers even more than on their enemies (Job.)

The New Testament kind of resolves that tension by showing a loving Jesus who forgives all sins and, in fact, is willing to die for humans. Moderns, nevertheless, have polished Jesus all up. A personal Jesus, in other words, really becomes YOUR OWN PERSONAL JESUS, your BUDDY JESUS and works directly for you, so long as you do your part and believe that he 1) existed, 2) was crucified, 3) arose on the third day, 4) is really one aspect of a 3-faced God (of equal co-substation, co-harmonnious, co-spiritenatious, blah bloo blee), 5) will do you favors like saving you a parking spot when necessary. OK #5 is a snarky example of the case, but I've witnessed plenty of contemporary Christians or quasi-Christians relate such outlandish and childish fantasies to me. The fact is that their Jesus, like his Old Testament Daddy seems to need desperately for people to recognize him and BELIEVE.

Ultimately, however, I see the hand of man at work in this: it is not Jesus or God that needs us to believe in him but the preacher-man or the CLERGY (to use an old-fashioned term ) or, more likely, the people who belong to specific religious group who need US to believe in THEM or their particular brand of religion. They are the one's who are desperately in need of recognition. They are the ones who, say, like some religions and religious people need their belief-mates to CONSTANTLY confirm that the CHURCH is TRUE (with all the requisite sobbing.)

Frankly neither God nor man needs them.

The Theologian responds:

I can't disagree with any of your comments (this is obviously a
preface to a potentially long conversation)--I too have seen the evangelical
"Jesus as my best girlfriend," the "God's got me taking a shit" Jesus, or
the "puppet show Jesus/God/Spirit" of Calvin(ists). The Catholics have
their own problems (don't we all), but the text-focused protestants are a
great experiment in hermeneutics for five centuries...

The point about the clergy--at least some of them--is quite accurate as
well. It has been disturbing to me to see that even many of the 'good'
clergy (or seminarians) tend to be quite ignorant about their own
narcissistic fantasies (some of this must be true for most anyone who seeks
such a central, public and powerful position over others). I actually wrote
a fairly scathing article in the [A. S.] publication about this my
first year (which contributed to my decreasing popularity among many of the
'true' Christians). We narcissists need not be necessarily destructive in
endeavors such as these, but Nietzche's warning in this regard (though I do
not agree with his venomous atheistic conclusions) is well taken. People
with (religious) power who do not consider their own motivations can be
scary as hell (as if this were news!).

Daniel Dennett has a great new anti-God book too...can't remember the title,
but, like Freud, they are a) interesting anyway in a variety of ways, and b)
helpful to believers who want to be rid of their bullshit theology (I
recently did that lecture on Frued and Bonhoeffer addressing this...). What
remains of our 'house of cards' theology is either nothing...or, the
numinous, mysterious, ungraspable, uncomprehensible, (etc.) "G*d."

Dawkins said it well at the end of a Time magazine interview when he stated
that IF there was some sort of God, it would be a hell of a lot more amazing
than any of the theologians have been able to come up with. I don't
disagree. Though I doubt he has done much study in the apophatic
theologies, or the via negativa...

I like the comment on Pascal too (though Pascal has much more to say in his
prayer than the putative 'wager'). ANY theology that reduces faith to a
whimsical 'assent' to a set of propositions is at best immature, and at
worst a tool of hate. Again, Bonhoeffer is a nice contrast. Well, much
more for later--I do love this shit though...

To wit, I respond:

Is Nietzsche or Dennet's positon anti-God or is it anti-religion? Is it impossible to separate God from religion? Is the fetish of the Church so exemplified in Paul? The Church! The Church! I hear them cry. Sounds like a bunch of freaks trying to tell everyone else that they are fucked up to me. That they have the rules of how to get in and how to be and how they and only they have the answer. It still makes me laugh about how much they need to continually reassert their fare by making others agree with them.

Of course, one cannot seperate easily the God from the religion. Dawkins is clearly focussed on doing away with the Western concept of God altogether as a ludicrous, over-complicated construct. In the book he focuses specifically on the problem of such a complicated God (who his critic theologians proclaim must be simple and yet complex at the same time.) I admire his steadfastness to the principal of simplicity and the principal that natural selection itself is, in fact, a counter-action to the rule of simplicity. Natural selection, or Darwinism, as he admits, is a response to the Universe's trenchant ability to try to make everything simple.



  1. Anonymous9:16 PM

    I'm still digesting.

    Do you think there will ever be an answer?

  2. Anonymous9:18 PM

    That sounds trite. I guess I'm saying that some enjoy the eternal debate.

  3. I love Dawkins' response to Pascal's wager--will keep in mind for use later on. I've been meaning to read some of Dawkins' stuff but haven't gotten around to it. I heard that there was talk last yr of bringing Dawkins (or someone like him) in for the Tanner lecturer rather than Michelle Hecht. But Hecht got criticized for being to harsh on believers, so I wonder if Dawkins would have been heckled or booed.

    I also like your idea that the conservative American god is like a co-dependent father who needs worshipers. I mean why exactly would GOD (if one really believed in this kind of thing) *need* worshipers? Wouldn't an omnipotent god have something better to do than worry about how much we humans believe? Many believers liken god's relationship with us to the parent/child relationship, which makes perfect sense on one level, but the correlation doesn't hold up if we think parents (good parents that is) should have their children worship them. It seems to me that an ideal parent would never want worship. Maybe we project onto god the worship we would like to get as parents but no we will never get and should not hope for.

  4. Anonymous3:01 PM

    Dennett and Nietzche are anti-God and anti-religion as far as I can tell. The definitions of the terms can be pretty loose of course...

    --the theologian