History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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God vs secularism??? a false antithesis

May 17th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Truthdig jumps from Hedges’ piece on religion last week to this review of ‘Atheist Delusions’, I will read the book soon:

By Anthony Kenny
Anthony Kenny on ‘Atheist Delusions’

This review originally appeared in The TLS, whose website is www.the-tls.co.uk, and is reposted with permission.

I have a problem here, and this can be seen from the first sentence: ‘the ongoing suit of Secularism vs God’.
this is a completely false antithesis, one that has come into being due to the propaganda of the cult of scientism and the new atheists, et al.
But it is wrong to oppose the two. Secularism began with the Protestant Reformation, and can be as religious as anything else considered to be modern.
The confusion arises because we think only of linear continuous history. But the rise of the modern world was a transition to a new era in history, one in which the religions of the Axial Age were challenged to be transcended, or renewed, perhaps renewed in a society without religion. But in the final analysis secularism only means that a new era of history has dawned. Nothing guarantees its ‘lack of religion’, the more so if such a confusingly limited form of scientism threatens to take over everything. Endless efforts to defend traditional Christianity can be counterproductive, but the New Atheists tend to force it because what they offer, and label secularism, is too limited.

To be sure, Protestantism has long since fallen behind the tide of modernity, but in another way it is key ‘secular’ entity, whatever we think of it.
Thus the New Atheists have confused the issue here, with a take on religion so narrow and confused that people end up trying to defend Christian tradition against secularism, a cusp of confusion.
Thus the article here goes on to expose the ‘myth of secularism’. But it isn’t a myth, despite the distorted versions being put out from some quarters.
The sudden rise of the modern world did show the limits of the medieval Christian world, and a study of the eonic effect might show the dynamics at work.

The modern age is a potential source for a new post-Christian religious consciousness that is an expression of secularism, as a vehicle of man’s evolving self-consciousness.
Frankly, being driven by the stupidities of the New Atheists into having to defend Christian history is counterproductive at this point. It just shows how the New Atheism will backfire. Christain history speaks for itself, as a mighty episode in world history, and the nitpicking of the new atheist humanism almost always misses the point.
I think Christianity is a dead duck at this point, but that means we must be vigilant against the rapidly declining sense of religion, so obvious in the Dawkins cult. I could be wrong, but at least be clear that modern Christianity is a lightyear away from medieval Catholicism. So what religion are you talking about?

In the ongoing suit of Secularism vs God, David Bentley Hart is the most able counsel for the defence in recent years. Though confident in the strength of his case, he does not hesitate to abuse the plaintiff’s attorneys, and he does so in grand style. Richard Dawkins is guilty of “rhetorical recklessness”. Christopher Hitchens’s text “careens drunkenly across the pages” of a book “that raises the wild non sequitur almost to the level of a dialectical method”. Daniel Dennett’s theses are “sustained by classifications that are entirely arbitrary and fortified by arguments that any attentive reader should notice are wholly circular”.

Hart [in his book “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies”] has the gifts of a good advocate. He writes with clarity and force, and he drives his points home again and again. He exposes his opponents’ errors of fact or logic with ruthless precision. He is generous in making concessions on his own side, provided they leave intact his overarching claims. Above all, he has ensured that his brief is modest and manageable.

Thus, no attempt is made to plead in defence of religion as such. “Religion in the abstract”, Hart says, “does not actually exist, and almost no one (apart from politicians) would profess any allegiance to it”. This is a sound and fundamental point. The creeds of the major religions are mutually contradictory, so that the one thing we know for certain about religion is that if any religion is true then most religions are false. Hart’s client is not religion in general—it is traditional Christianity. It is this, he claims, that has been misunderstood and slandered by its cultured despisers.

Again, Hart concentrates on issues of history rather than philosophy. True, he claims that Dawkins’s philosophical arguments are ones that “a college freshman midway through his first logic course could dismantle in a trice”. However, the claim that Dawkins is philosophically illiterate is based on an ontology that would be rejected by many a seasoned professor of philosophy. Hart’s own strengths lie elsewhere, so he is wise to concentrate on narrative and invective.

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies

By David Bentley Hart

Yale University Press, 272 pages

The aim of the first half of the book is to demolish “the mythology of a secularist age”. Secularists invite us to believe the following story. In the medieval ages of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity was enslaved to superstition. The literary remains of antiquity had been consigned to the flames, and the achievements of Greek science lay forgotten until Islam restored them to the West. The age of faith was succeeded by an age of reason and enlightenment, which gave us the riches of scientific achievement and political liberty, and a new and revolutionary sense of human dignity. The modern separation of Church and State has put an end to the blood-steeped intolerance of religion. Western humanity has at last left its nonage and attained to its majority in science, politics and ethics. “This is”, Hart says, “a simple and enchanting tale … its sole defect is that it happens to be false in every identifiable detail.” Six chapters demolish detailed elements of this secularist myth. Chapter Four refutes the allegations that the ancient library of Alexandria was destroyed by Christians and that the pagan philosopher Hypatia was murdered out of hatred for women and learning. Chapter Five shows that far from burning Classical texts, Christian monastic librarians preserved them from decay. Chapter Six argues that Greek science had become sterile long before the Christianization of the Roman Empire. The only innovative physicist of late antiquity, we are told, was the Christian John Philoponus. During the four and a half centuries of its scientific pre-eminence, Islam made “no more progress than a moderately clever undergraduate today could assimilate in less than a single academic year”. Paying tribute to the Oxford calculators of the fourteenth century, Hart illustrates the continuity between medieval and Renaissance science. Pope Urban VIII’s condemnation of Galileo, he claims, was not an index of inherent ecclesiastical hostility to science, but a clash of arrogant personalities.

Tags: atheism · religion · secularism

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marcus Mc'affrey // May 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    “Secularism began with the Protestant Reformation, and can be as religious as anything else considered to be modern. ” No, this is not true by any stretch of the imagination. I’m sorry to see that you have never understood the definition of religion. The definition of religion directly involves theism. Theism, as opposed to deism, means a belief in a god that intervenes in human affairs. One that answers prayers, cares who you have sex with, what you eat, what position you have sex in, etc. To say that “secularism… can be as religious as anything else” is a non-sequitur. Secularism by definition excludes the bizarre assumption of an intervening god, especially one that cares what you write on a forum in some corner of the internet. Take care.

  • 2 nemo // May 16, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Your view is unreasonable: how about non-theistic religions?
    My point was simply that the polarization of culture we see now is recent. Modernity emerged
    in the context of religious change, starting with the Reformation.

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