These God Pundits Can Give You a Splitting Headache
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And as for the vaunted triumph of liberalism, what about “the misery wreaked by racism and sexism, the sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, the generation of poverty and famine”? Only by ignoring all this and much more can the claim of human progress at the end of history be maintained: “If ever there was a pious myth and a piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world.” -- Stanley Fish's Blog, God Talk - - NYTimes.com.
I’m always on the lookout for religion’s latest counter-arguments, the new rhetorical approaches that God People are constantly fine-tuning for use in pimping the righteousness of faith (and for demonstrating the moral dissoluteness of agnostics like myself). There isn’t an inherently irresolvable metaphysical challenge that comes close to wasting as much of the world’s time and energy as this particular one. It’s the intellectual equivalent of the eternal R&D quest for a baldness cure: you just never stop being surprised at how many different ways men can find to fail at growing hair.
This latest salvo is fired by author/professor Stanley Fish, a prominent religion-peddler of the pointy-headed, turtlenecked genus, who made his case in his blog at the New York Times. Fish was mostly riffing on a recent book written by the windily pompous University of Manchester professor Terry Eagleton, a pudgily superior type, physically resembling a giant runny nose, who seems to have been raised by indulgent aunts who gave him sweets every time he corrected the grammar of other children. The esteemed professor’s new book is called Reason, Faith and Revolution, and it’s sort of an answer to the popular atheist literature of people like Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens. If you ever want to give yourself a really good, throbbing headache, go online and check out Eagleton’s lectures at Yale, upon which the book was based, in which one may listen to this soft-soaping old toady do his verbose best to stick his tongue as far as he can up the anus of the next generation of the American upper class.
Like almost all great defenders of religion, Eagleton specializes in putting bunches of words together in ways that sound like linear arguments, but actually make no sense whatsoever. In one speech he takes issue with what he calls the “Yeti” view of faith as espoused by atheists, i.e. the idea that religion is based upon the belief in an object whose existence, like that of the Yeti or the Tooth Fairy, cannot be verified by observation “in the reasonably straightforward way that we can demonstrate the existence of necrophilia or Michael Jackson” (one of a disturbingly high number of Eagleton jokes that nonsensically reference pop culture figures of at best semi-recent vintage). Eagleton’s response to what he calls this “travesty” of illogic:
For one thing, of course, God differs from Unidentified Flying Objects or the Yeti or the Tooth Fairy in not being even a possible object of cognition… it’s not just we cannot see Him, it is as it were that our not seeing him is inherent to God Himself, which is presumably not true of the Yeti.
Got that? It’s not that we can’t see God — it’s that God is inherently unseen! Take that, atheists! He goes on:
For another thing, faith of course is traditionally regarded as a question of certainty… not as a question of probability or speculation or guesswork, but actually as a question of certainty, which is not to say that it’s not also traditionally regarded as being inferior to knowledge. But only fully paid-up rationalists think that nothing is certain but knowledge. Faith, as the author of the epistle to Hebrews writes, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” Whatever else may define the science of theology, or religion, it is from a theological view certainly not the question of certainty. I don’t think Ditchkins [this is what Eagleton gleefully and repeatedly calls Hitchens/Dawkins] understands that.