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atheism | Definition, Philosophy, & Comparison to Agnosticism …

Atheism as rejection of religious beliefs

A central, common core of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is the affirmation of the reality of one, and only one, God. Adherents of these faiths believe that there is a God who created the universe out of nothing and who has absolute sovereignty over all his creation; this includes, of course, human beingswho are not only utterly dependent on this creative power but also sinful and who, or so the faithful must believe, can only make adequate sense of their lives by accepting, without question, Gods ordinances for them. The varieties of atheism are numerous, but all atheists reject such a set of beliefs.

Atheism, however, casts a wider net and rejects all belief in spiritual beings, and to the extent that belief in spiritual beings is definitive of what it means for a system to be religious, atheism rejects religion. So atheism is not only a rejection of the central conceptions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; it is, as well, a rejection of the religious beliefs of such African religions as that of the Dinka and the Nuer, of the anthropomorphic gods of classical Greece and Rome, and of the transcendental conceptions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Generally atheism is a denial of God or of the gods, and if religion is defined in terms of belief in spiritual beings, then atheism is the rejection of all religious belief.

It is necessary, however, if a tolerably adequate understanding of atheism is to be achieved, to give a reading to rejection of religious belief and to come to realize how the characterization of atheism as the denial of God or the gods is inadequate.

To say that atheism is the denial of God or the gods and that it is the opposite of theism, a system of belief that affirms the reality of God and seeks to demonstrate his existence, is inadequate in a number of ways. First, not all theologians who regard themselves as defenders of the Christian faith or of Judaism or Islam regard themselves as defenders of theism. The influential 20th-century Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, for example, regards the God of theism as an idol and refuses to construe God as a being, even a supreme being, among beings or as an infinite being above finite beings. God, for him, is being-itself, the ground of being and meaning. The particulars of Tillichs view are in certain ways idiosyncratic, as well as being obscure and problematic, but they have been influential; and his rejection of theism, while retaining a belief in God, is not eccentric in contemporary theology, though it may very well affront the plain believer.

Second, and more important, it is not the case that all theists seek to demonstrate or even in any way rationally to establish the existence of God. Many theists regard such a demonstration as impossible, and fideistic believers (e.g., Johann Hamann and Sren Kierkegaard) regard such a demonstration, even if it were possible, as undesirable, for in their view it would undermine faith. If it could be proved, or known for certain, that God exists, people would not be in a position to accept him as their sovereign Lord humbly on faith with all the risks that entails. There are theologians who have argued that for genuine faith to be possible God must necessarily be a hidden God, the mysterious ultimate reality, whose existence and authority must be accepted simply on faith. This fideistic view has not, of course, gone without challenge from inside the major faiths, but it is of sufficient importance to make the above characterization of atheism inadequate.

Finally, and most important, not all denials of God are denials of his existence. Believers sometimes deny God while not being at all in a state of doubt that God exists. They either willfully reject what they take to be his authority by not acting in accordance with what they take to be his will, or else they simply live their lives as if God did not exist. In this important way they deny him. Such deniers are not atheists (unless we wish, misleadingly, to call them practical atheists). They are not even agnostics. They do not question that God exists; they deny him in other ways. An atheist denies the existence of God. As it is frequently said, atheists believe that it is false that God exists, or that Gods existence is a speculative hypothesis of an extremely low order of probability.

Yet it remains the case that such a characterization of atheism is inadequate in other ways. For one it is too narrow. There are atheists who believe that the very concept of God, at least in developed and less anthropomorphic forms of Judeo-Christianity and Islam, is so incoherent that certain central religious claims, such as God is my creator to whom everything is owed, are not genuine truth-claims; i.e., the claims could not be either true or false. Believers hold that such religious propositions are true, some atheists believe that they are false, and there are agnostics who cannot make up their minds whether to believe that they are true or false. (Agnostics think that the propositions are one or the other but believe that it is not possible to determine which.) But all three are mistaken, some atheists argue, for such putative truth-claims are not sufficiently intelligible to be genuine truth-claims that are either true or false. In reality there is nothing in them to be believed or disbelieved, though there is for the believer the powerful and humanly comforting illusion that there is. Such an atheism, it should be added, rooted for some conceptions of God in considerations about intelligibility and what it makes sense to say, has been strongly resisted by some pragmatists and logical empiricists.

While the above considerations about atheism and intelligibility show the second characterization of atheism to be too narrow, it is also the case that this characterization is in a way too broad. For there are fideistic believers, who quite unequivocally believe that when looked at objectively the proposition that God exists has a very low probability weight. They believe in God not because it is probable that he existsthey think it more probable that he does notbut because belief is thought by them to be necessary to make sense of human life. The second characterization of atheism does not distinguish a fideistic believer (a Blaise Pascal or a Soren Kierkegaard) or an agnostic (a T.H. Huxley or a Sir Leslie Stephen) from an atheist such as Baron dHolbach. All believe that there is a God and God protects humankind, however emotionally important they may be, are speculative hypotheses of an extremely low order of probability. But this, since it does not distinguish believers from nonbelievers and does not distinguish agnostics from atheists, cannot be an adequate characterization of atheism.

It may be retorted that to avoid apriorism and dogmatic atheism the existence of God should be regarded as a hypothesis. There are no ontological (purely a priori) proofs or disproofs of Gods existence. It is not reasonable to rule in advance that it makes no sense to say that God exists. What the atheist can reasonably claim is that there is no evidence that there is a God, and against that background he may very well be justified in asserting that there is no God. It has been argued, however, that it is simply dogmatic for an atheist to assert that no possible evidence could ever give one grounds for believing in God. Instead, atheists should justify their unbelief by showing (if they can) how the assertion is well-taken that there is no evidence that would warrant a belief in God. If atheism is justified, the atheist will have shown that in fact there is no adequate evidence for the belief that God exists, but it should not be part of his task to try to show that there could not be any evidence for the existence of God. If the atheist could somehow survive the death of his present body (assuming that such talk makes sense) and come, much to his surprise, to stand in the presence of God, his answer should be, Oh! Lord, you didnt give me enough evidence! He would have been mistaken, and realize that he had been mistaken, in his judgment that God did not exist. Still, he would not have been unjustified, in the light of the evidence available to him during his earthly life, in believing as he did. Not having any such postmortem experiences of the presence of God (assuming that he could have them), what he should say, as things stand and in the face of the evidence he actually has and is likely to be able to get, is that it is false that God exists. (Every time one legitimately asserts that a proposition is false one need not be certain that it is false. Knowing with certainty is not a pleonasm.) The claim is that this tentative posture is the reasonable position for the atheist to take.

An atheist who argues in this manner may also make a distinctive burden-of-proof argument. Given that God (if there is one) is by definition a very recherch realitya reality that must be (for there to be such a reality) transcendent to the worldthe burden of proof is not on the atheist to give grounds for believing that there is no reality of that order. Rather, the burden of proof is on the believer to give some evidence for Gods existencei.e., that there is such a reality. Given what God must be, if there is a God, the theist needs to present the evidence, for such a very strange reality. He needs to show that there is more in the world than is disclosed by common experience. The empirical method, and the empirical method alone, such an atheist asserts, affords a reliable method for establishing what is in fact the case. To the claim of the theist that there are in addition to varieties of empirical facts spiritual facts or transcendent facts, such as it being the case that there is a supernatural, self-existent, eternal power, the atheist can assert that such facts have not been shown.

It will, however, be argued by such atheists, against what they take to be dogmatic aprioristic atheists, that the atheist should be a fallibilist and remain open-minded about what the future may bring. There may, after all, be such transcendent facts, such metaphysical realities. It is not that such a fallibilistic atheist is really an agnostic who believes that he is not justified in either asserting that God exists or denying that he exists and that what he must reasonably do is suspend belief. On the contrary, such an atheist believes that he has very good grounds indeed, as things stand, for denying the existence of God. But he will, on the second conceptualization of what it is to be an atheist, not deny that things could be otherwise and that, if they were, he would be justified in believing in God or at least would no longer be justified in asserting that it is false that there is a God. Using reliable empirical techniques, proven methods for establishing matters of fact, the fallibilistic atheist has found nothing in the universe to make a belief that God exists justifiable or even, everything considered, the most rational option of the various options. He therefore draws the atheistical conclusion (also keeping in mind his burden-of-proof argument) that God does not exist. But he does not dogmatically in a priori fashion deny the existence of God. He remains a thorough and consistent fallibilist.

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atheism | Definition, Philosophy, & Comparison to Agnosticism ...

Atheism | Definition of Atheism by Merriam-Webster

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1a : a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods

b : a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'atheism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

1546, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Middle French athisme, from athe atheist, from Greek atheos godless, from a- + theos god

Cite this Entry

Atheism. The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/atheism. Accessed 6 December 2019.

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Atheism | Definition of Atheism by Merriam-Webster

Church of Atheism might worship science, but it is not a religion, court decides – National Post

A self-styled church of atheism has been denied charity tax status after the Federal Court of Appeal agreed with the Minister of National Revenue that it is not actually a religion, even though it claims to have a minister, 10 commandments, and a worshipful relationship to the sacred texts of what it calls mainstream science.

The Church of Atheism of Central Canada put up a determined fight in its appeal. It made a Charter argument that the ministrys denial was discriminatory, which failed because non-profit corporations do not have the same equality rights as people do in Canada.

The Church claimed it should be a charity because its activities contribute to the advancement of religion, which is one of four purposes sufficient to get charity status.

But religion is otherwise undefined, so it was left to the court to decide whether this particular expression of atheism qualifies. A three-judge panel, including Justice Marc Nadon whose appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada was overturned in 2014 on eligibility grounds, found it does not.

For something to be a religion in the charitable sense under the Act, either the Courts must have recognized it as such in the past, or it must have the same fundamental characteristics as those recognized religions, reads the judgment, written by Justice Marianne Rivoalen. These fundamental characteristics are not set out in a clear test. A review of the jurisprudence shows that fundamental characteristics of religion include that the followers have a faith in a higher power such as God, entity, or Supreme Being; that followers worship this higher power; and that the religion consists of a particular and comprehensive system of faith and worship.

Claiming to venerate energy as an unseen power just does not cut it, theruling shows.

The new ruling is a reminder that atheism has never made it very far as a formal religion, and not for lack of trying.

There have been moments in recent history when formal disbelief in a deity seemed to be on the verge of widely adopting the grand trappings of the more familiar religions, such as doctrine, observances, and soul-stirring use of art, literature and music.

Back in 2012, for example, as a promotional stunt for his book Religion for Atheists, the writer Alain de Botton even claimed to be moving ahead with construction of a Temple to Atheism in central London. It was to be a 46-metre-tall, open-air structure representing the age of the Earth, with fossils lining the interior walls, the human genome inscribed on the exterior, and a millimetre-thick band of gold at the bottom to put humanitys lifespan in perspective.

It was a catchy idea for atheists, who then seemed to be on the cultural rise. But the charmingly fire-breathing arch-atheist Christopher Hitchens had just died, and the other Three Horsemen Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins all lacked his charisma. In time, as with many movements enabled by the Internet, New Atheism turned increasingly nasty and lost its cultural momentum. The Templewas never built.

Since then, atheist groups have tended to pitch themselves as the Church of Atheism of Central Canada does, as a self-help club.

In denying it status as a religion, the court did agree with earlier rulings that the Charters section on freedom of conscience and religion does protect the right of atheists to practice their beliefs however they see fit. But it also found that denying this group status as a charity does not interfere with that right in any more than a trivial or insubstantial way.

The Church of Atheism of Central Canada can continue to carry out its purpose and its activities without charitable registration, the court ruled. Charity status is actually a tax subsidy by the government designed to encourage the charitable behaviour. It is not the right of any non-profit group that seeks it.

The Ministry that initially denied the status evidently had some trouble with the churchs professed beliefs, such as our Ten Commandments of Energy are sacred texts because they were created by a wise human being who consists of pure, invisible Energy and has acknowledged Energys existence.

An actual deity is not required to call a group a religion, as Buddhism exemplifies, the court noted. But the Church of Atheism could not even demonstrate that it has a comprehensive system of doctrine and observances.

Mainstream science was not a sufficient system under the law, as it is neither particularly specific nor precise.

The Church of Atheism of Central Canada is hardly a big player in the atheism world. A website once listed for it has gone blank. It has a Twitter account with zero followers. Its address is a rural property with a single family home and a garage in McDonalds Corners, between Kingston and Ottawa. No one was answering the phone there on Wednesday.

The Church was represented by Christopher Bernier, who lives at the property and is identified in an online profile as the Churchs Minister of the Gospel of Atheism. He could not be reached for comment.

Email: jbrean@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

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Church of Atheism might worship science, but it is not a religion, court decides - National Post

Can you be both a Christian and an unbeliever? – The Irish Times

New atheists attract a lot of hostility but, if youre not one yourself, consider how infuriating it must be to see church worship on the rise internationally despite all the scientific evidence undermining religious superstition.

Atheists of whom I count myself as one look upon stubbornly high rates of supernatural belief (84 per cent of the worlds population identifies with a religious group) a bit like the way liberals look upon the electoral success of Donald Trump in the United States. It really is hard to fathom!

Just why has atheism been slow to catch on?

Friedrich Nietzsche famously proclaimed God is dead in 1882. Yet, writes historian Alec Ryrie: The dominant religious story of the past two centuries is surely the spread of Christianity and Islam around the globe, a race in which those two hares have so far outpaced the secular tortoise that it takes a considerable act of faith to believe it might one day catch up.

In a new book, Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt, Ryrie explores the forces behind Western secularism. He reminds us immediately what a unique cultural project it is, describing secularism as an offshoot of European Christendom, and in particular . . . of the Protestant world.

Unbelief has been carried along two main streams, he argues. One is of anger at among other things the hypocrisy of priests and preachers and the abuses of religious leaders. The other is of anxiety, whereby earnest faith turns in on itself and discovers an empty hole.

Though Ryrie is a Church of England lay minister, he is generous to followers of all religions and none. Carefully tracing the many manifestations of unbelief from Martin Luther to Father Ted, he highlights how dissent and doubt are cornerstones of the Christian experience just as much as faith. In the process, he hints at an inherent weakness in the atheist stance.

Christianity may have been its own gravedigger as sociologist Peter Berger once claimed but unbelief also seems to contradict itself because lack of faith is impossible to sustain entirely. Ryrie discusses further as this weeks Unthinkable guest.

Why has atheism been slow to catch on?

Actual hard atheism the assertion that there is no God isnt just, in its own way, an act of faith, and a combative stance. Its also an empty position, an assertion of what someone doesnt believe, not what they do believe.

Some very successful philosophies Marxism for much of the 20th century, humanism in our own times include or can include atheism, but they catch on, or dont, for their own reasons, not chiefly because of their religious or anti-religious claims. In other words, atheism can certainly catch on but only if its tied up with a belief or value system that has its own appeal. The same is of course true of the assertion that there is a God.

On its own, the question of whether or not there is a God is like whether or not parallel universes exist: interesting in the abstract, but not very relevant to daily life. It becomes relevant when its part of a wider system like Marxism, or Christianity.

You highlight the way in which Christianity has always had a current of unbelief. Can you be both a Christian and an unbeliever?

To be a Christian you have to be an unbeliever: you reject belief in Ganesh, Maoism, the Force and lots more. The Bible is full of searing, scornful unbelief directed at the idols of the Gentiles. So to be a Christian or a Jew, or a Muslim, or many other things you have to believe some things and disbelieve others.

Faith has never meant believing anything you are told. The trick is to know what, and why. Most of the great moments of renewal and revival in Christian history have been spurred by unbelief by some Christians refusal to accept the easy answers they were being given, but instead to keep searching.

Were supposed to build houses on rock, and how do you know that youre building on rock unless you do some digging first?

You note that mockery of religion by unbelievers tends to be targeted not at God himself, but his earthly representatives. Should believers view ridicule of their religion as a kind of constructive feedback?

Yes! Churches often perhaps usually deserve it, for the simple reason that they consist of human beings. It seems to me that the appropriate Christian response to mockery is neither to lash out nor even, sometimes, to argue back, but to embrace it with humility and to try to deserve it a little less next time.

Whats the single best argument today in favour of Christianity?

I dont think its really a matter of argument, trading debating points back and forth. The intellectual cases for and against Christianity havent really changed much in the past century. The new atheists are most rehearsing old arguments. In fact, much of the discussion remains the same as in Roman times.

We mostly choose belief or unbelief for intuitive, emotional reasons and then find ways of rationalising our choices after the fact. Thats not a bad thing, as long as were aware of it. Its what human beings do, and our intuition can be surprisingly wise sometimes.

Which is to say: the best argument in favour of Christianity is the account of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. If youre won over by his moral authority, then the rest is just tidying up. If youre not, then theres not much more to be said.

Ask a sage:

Question: What are the odds of there being a God?

Blaise Pascal replies: Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails.

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Can you be both a Christian and an unbeliever? - The Irish Times

Review: Evaluating the Rich Ambiguities of Western Atheism – The Wire

When, in the 11th century, the great Central Asian Islamic philosopher Ibn Sn or Avicenna (as he was known in his Latin reception) composed his commentary on the main works of Aristotle (384-322 BC), he also commented on the latters Meteorology. After summing up Aristotles view that humans inhabited both the northern and the southern hemispheres while the tropical zone in between was too hot for habitation, Avicenna rejected the idea that there were humans in parts of the Earth unknown to Islamic geographers. After him, Ibn Rushd or Averroes (d.1198), another canonical Aristotelian Muslim philosopher, and Ibn Tibbon (d.1232), a Jewish philosopher who wrote Aristotelian commentaries on the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes and translated Averroes from Arabic into Hebrew, would repeat Avicennas rejection.

The scholar Franois de Blois proposes an explanation for why these Muslim and Jewish thinkers, like St. Augustine in the early fifth century AD, rejected what pre-Christian thinkers like Aristotle and Epicurus found an acceptable possibility:

For the monotheist religions of the Abrahamic tradition, for Jews, Christians and Muslims, the idea that there might be people in inaccessible parts of the earth, or indeed of the universe, is a profoundly distressing one. God created Adam and Eve from whom all mankind is descended [] So are the people in inaccessible continents deprived of any hope of salvation? How does this fit in with Gods justice?

He concludes that all these objectors to Aristotle belong to the same tradition in that they share the same aversion of the Abrahamic religions to any notion of religious or cultural pluralism, adding that the circumnavigation of South America and Africa in early modern times not only debunked this Abrahamic attachment to universal Adamic descent, it also heralded the return to, may I say, the cultural relativism that is one of the more endearing traits of the world of ancient paganism. But such early modern cultural relativism did nothing to prevent the European genocide and colonisation on Christian grounds of such circumnavigated lands.

Seven Types of AtheismJohn GrayAllen Lane, 2018

At any rate, this dogma of universal human monogenesis forms one half of the object of John Grays critique in Seven Types of Atheism. The other half is the idea, also the invention of Christian monotheism according to him, of universal progress through history. In acknowledged imitation of William Empsons 1930 study of linguistic-poetic ambiguity,Seven Types of Ambiguity, John Grays book evaluates the rich ambiguities of the word atheism as it figures in modern Europe and America, discerning seven broad types in seven chapters respectively.

The first of these is scientific atheism or the position that sincereligion is bad science it can be debunked and replaced by good science, a position that originated in 19th-century European Positivism. Among its descendants, notes Gray, is the Soviet Union that declared hundreds of thousands of members of former clergies of all religions to be former persons and sent them with their families to their deaths in camps as part of a campaign for scientific atheism.

Also among its descendants are the racist evolutionary humanism of Julian Huxley (d.1975) and the American new atheist Sam Harris who calls for a science of good and evil, assuming without evidence that it would support liberal values of human equality and personal autonomy while defending the practice of torture as being not only permissible but necessary in what he describes as our war on terror.

To Grays genealogy, we must add Chinas ongoing genocidal campaign to remake Uighur Muslim identity on the model of state-mandated scientific atheism. Gray writes: Typically, exponents of scientific ethics have merely endorsed the conventional values of their time. His chapter on this type is brief because he finds it too easily refutable: religions arise as natural human responses to the need for values and science, no matter how good it gets, cannot close the gap between facts and values.

Grays second type concerns secular humanists which include Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell among others. What members of this group share beneath their overt differences is an understanding of historical time as progressive for humanity. Whether through a single apocalyptic upheaval or after the Protestant Reformation gradually over time, they held that humanity could only improve over time.

Whereas for Plotinus (270 CE), the non-Christian founder of Neoplatonism, the ultimate aim of human endeavour was returning to the cosmogonic principle of reason by exiting time, for St. Paul, St. Augustine and their consciously or unconsciously Christian legatees the ultimate aim was collective improvement in time. Marxs philosophy of history is Christian theodicy repackaged as humanist myth, Grays writes. Mill remained a Christian even in his explicit repudiation of Christianity, argues Gray, because he founded the orthodoxy of the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion. Russell held on till the end of his life to his faith in reasons powers to transform humanity even as he earned liberal opprobrium by reporting from Soviet Russia that methodical mass killing was central to the Bolshevik project.

Russell held on till the end of his life to his faith in reasons powers to transform humanity. Credit: Anefo/Wikimedia Commons, CC0

The method by which Gray traces intellectual genealogies is not, as George Scialabbas review of this book characterises it, guilt by somewhat far-fetched association. For what these thinkers share with Paul and Augustine namely the idea of collective human progress is not just a trope and does not form part of other pre-modern religious traditions. However one judges Grays positions on Marx, Mill and Russell or on Nietzsche and his vulgarisation in America by Ayn Rand which forms the focus of this chapters last part acquaintance with even just the broad features of pre-modern Islamic, Hindu, Jain and Buddhist models of historical time confirms the correctness of Grays main contention.

The Jain view of time as a beginningless, endless cycle, writes John E. Cort, scholar of Jainism, does assign privileged place to the human. But neither here nor in Mahayana Buddhist traditions (which reserve Buddhahood for humans), nor even in Hindu ones, do we see any conception of humanity as a whole or of that whole improving over time.

Not even all Islamic universal histories, despite sharing the schema of Adamic descent with Christian and Jewish salvific histories, always conceived of humans as a collective subject progressing through time. Rashiduddin Fazullah, the remarkable early 14th-centuryJewish-Muslim historian to the Mongol Emperors of Iran, composed A Compendium of Histories, a universal history in Persian unlike any of his Persian-Arabic models. Whereas his models had traced human diversity back up to Adam and Eve and triumphally down to the authors own patron dynasty, Rashiduddin followed such a monogenetic account with accounts of spatially dispersed Jewish, Christian and Buddhist communities that were irreducible to the Biblical schema. Evidently, the sheer demographical diversity of the Pax Mongolica and distinctively Mongol nomad heritages combined to undo the dogma of Adamic descent. Something of this seems to have passed into conceptions of historical time among thinkers in the great early modern states of the Islamic world the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal Empires.

For these thinkers, time did indeed contain improvements on previous empires and in various practices. But it contained no sense of collective human improvement towards a goal. The Emperor Akbar (d.1605) thus took personal credit for improved matchlock rifles and getting elephants to mate in captivity among scores of other improvements. But his chief ideologue Abul Fazls Institutes of Akbar, which showcases such improvements, does not yield a cumulative terminus for all humans or even some. The Emperors human and non-human subjects reposed in his justice and justice was a changeless excellence.

Nor does it appear that even all Christian thinkers were in thrall to St. Augustines meliorism. Pseudo-Dionysus, the Christian Neoplatonist of the early 6th century, conceived of human improvement as ascent to divine unity rather than as earthly projects of collective improvement. In this sense, Grays true enemies are Paul, Augustine and their theist and atheist inheritors alone. For Plato and Plotinus, Gray writes, history was a nightmare from which the individual mind struggled to awake. Following Paul and Augustine, the Christian Erigena made history the emerging embodiment of Logos. With their unending chatter about progress, secular humanists project this mystical dream into the chaos of the human world.

Grays third chapter takes aim at the kind of atheism that makes a religion of science, a category that includes evolutionary humanism, Mesmerism, dialectical materialism and contemporary transhumanism. If the first type of atheism aimed to displace the bad science of religion with good science, this type sacralises science. Misinterpreting Darwins theory of evolution that had actually maintained that natural selection was a purposeless drift with no progress, the best-selling German biologist Ernst Haeckel (d.1919) proposed a scientific anthropology according to which the human species was composed of a hierarchy of racial groups, with white Europeans at the top.

Misinterpreting Darwins theory of evolution, German biologist Ernst Haeckel proposed a scientific anthropology. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Whether Julian Huxleys early 20th century defences of scientific racism or A.N. Whiteheads (d.1947) evolutionary theology, such theories depended on a misreading of Darwin that held to the idea of collective human evolution towards a higher purpose. Such misappropriations of science to justify racism, Gray argues, were following in the steps of the leading philosophers of the Enlightenment (we read damning quotes here from Hume, Kant and Voltaire) whose racism was a necessary consequence of their vision of humanity:

Voltaires views of Jews expresses, in an extreme form, a theme that runs throughout the Enlightenment. Human beings become what they truly are only when they have renounced any particular identity to become specks of universal humanity [] Once this is understood the riddle of Enlightenment anti-Semitism is solved.

It was a scientific reformulation of morality in terms of Marxs class struggle that led Leon Trotsky to argue in 1938 that anything that promotes a proletarian revolution is justified including the taking and shooting of hostages, a practice Trotsky pioneered in the Russian Civil War.

Qualifying his admiration for the currently best-selling Yuval Noah Hararis Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Gray notes that while Harari rightly recognises transhumanism as a contemporary version of a modern project of human self-deification, he mistakenly affirms the idea of humanity, a humanist myth inherited from monotheism. Humanity, Grays writes, does not exist. All that can actually be observed is the multifarious human animal, with its intractable enmities and divisions. This disaggregated view of the human animal echoes the aforementioned Rashiduddins vision of humanity as peoples dispersed without design as it does that of thinkers from the ancient world like Lucretius. What would it mean for any human today to adopt such a view as Gray commends?

Yuval Noah Harari. Photo: ynharari.com

Levelling his sights against the millenarian idea that humanity can be transformed in one cataclysmic upheaval, Grays third chapter on Atheism, Gnosticism and Modern Political Religion infers this millenarian pattern in a series of projects. Jan Bockelsons 1534-35 Anabaptist communist state in Munster which involved sexual communism that forced women on pain of execution to be everyones sexual property; Jacobinism of which Gray writes the human cost of the French Revolution runs into hundreds of thousands of lives; Bolshevism in connection with which Gray observes that Lenin aimed to purge Russia of the human remnants of the past and that according to official statistics collected at the time around 80% [of the inmates in the camps of the Soviet secret police] were illiterate or had little schooling; and Nazism which, though a Counter-Enlightenment movement in its rejection of the egalitarian morality professed (if rarely consistently applied) by Enlightenment thinkers, replicated the Enlightenment fantasy of a science of man based in physiology. While acknowledging some differences in motivation, Gray holds that all of these movements fuse a millenarian vision of a universal and sudden transformation of life on earth with the modernised Gnostic notion that dissatisfaction with and salvation from this malformed world could be achieved in history through specialised knowledge held by Gnostic adepts.

A mix of such Gnostic and Pauline-Augustinian progressivism also forms the intellectual core of liberalism, argues Gray. Whether explicitly grounded in the belief in God as in John Locke (d.1704) or implicitly Christian in its overtly non-theistic progressivism, modern liberalisms share an evangelical zeal to impose their values all over the world. In a rare admission of the kind of modern political order he himself validates, Gray closes the chapter by saying that liberalism remains among the more civilized ways in which human beings can live together. But it is local, accidental and mortal like other ways of life human beings have fashioned for themselves and then destroyed. What, then, would a non-imperialist liberalism that is content to remain local rather than impose itself internationally mean for universal human rights? Wouldnt the very idea of such rights have to be abandoned in abandoning the idea of humanity? Might that necessarily be a bad thing if it was accompanied by new worldwide conceptions of justice that included non-human animals among the agents with what the philosopher Hannah Arendt called the right to have rights? Grays book leads us to raise such questions while only gesturing towards answers.

John Gray. Credit: University of Oxford

Those gestures do not appear in the next chapter that he gives to God-haters like the Marquis de Sade who hated God only to resurrect Him in the Nature he embraced; or like Dostoevskys Ivan Karamazov who refuses without positive alternatives the Christian project of theodicy the attempt to reconcile belief in Gods omnipotence, omniscience and perfect goodness with the fact of evil in the world.

Rather, it is in the last two chapters Atheism Without Progress and The Atheism of Silence that Gray upholds kinds of atheism that he approves of. Apart from selectively upbraiding Gray for his anti-Communism, Terry Eagletons review of this book accuses him of lapsing in these final chapters into a kind of transcendence without content, of which there is no finer example than what one might call Hollywood spirituality.

But it is not clear that this is the case. The materialism of at least one Grays exemplary atheists the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana (d.1952) conceived of nature as a creative energy that produces everything in the world, including the human species and all its works. Like Spinozas (d.1677) monism that Gray admires, Santayanas philosophy was a kind of anti-Platonic materialism that, in contrast to modern materialisms, validated religion as one of many natural or material phenomena that conveyed truths that could not be conveyed otherwise. It also has the virtue of refusing any belief in universal progress. In this sense, Santayana consciously echoed the ancient Hindu philosophical tradition of Samkhya that Eagleton would find hard to characterise as Hollywood spirituality. The problem, rather, is that Gray does not tell us by what criteria Santayana asserted these positions. Were they based on science or just individual observation? Insofar as Gray does not tell us, his evaluation of Santayana remains nothing more than the un-tested assertion of a philosophical anthropology.

This is also the problem with Grays validation of the novelist Joseph Conrads (d.1924) atheism that maintained like Bertrand Russell that the human was a machine burdened with consciousness in a godless and progress-less universe symbolised in his fiction by the sea. But Conrads vision reverts to an ancient tragic model without testing it against many models of historical explanation not all of them necessarily meliorist that were unavailable to ancient thinkers but available to him. In this sense, his misanthropic atheism remains falsifiable even with the negative virtue of not subscribing to universal progress.

Grays qualified admiration for Schopenhauers (d.1860) atheism is admiration for his appropriations of the Hindu Vedanta philosophical tradition to assert, against Christian hopes for salvation in history, that redemption lay in exiting time after purposeless striving. The reappearance in this book of Hindu-Buddhist philosophical motifs is telling. They appeal to Grays atheists and to Gray himself because they were indifferent to historical time and non-universalist. This is also possibly why Islamic thinkers make no appearance in Grays worldwide range of references. Pre-modern Islamic historians typically worked in and assumed governments by means of which they or their kings intervened in history.

Gray is not the first thinker to argue that modern understandings of progress are mistakenly secularised versions of Christian salvific history. Of the cluster of German philosophers of history responding to the Second World War and the Holocaust it was Karl Lwith who first argued this at length in his 1949 Meaning in History, writing:

While the lords of the history of the world are Alexanders and Caesars, Napoleons and Hitlers, Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Kingdom of God and therefore of secular history only insofar as the history of the world hides a redemptive meaning.

But the history of the world gives no evidence of such meaning and purpose, Lwith argued, and the world is today as it was when the Visigoths sacked Rome, only our means of oppression and destruction (as well as reconstruction) are considerably improved and are adorned with hypocrisy.

Without saying so, Grays book takes Lwiths misanthropic thesis as a stable assumption on which to mount seven examinations of seven self-professed modern Western atheisms, finding five to be crypto-Christian and two more successfully non-Christian in their non-progressivist indifference towards humanity as a whole. But Grays interventions rest, like Lwiths, on his untested assumption that human nature has been the same mostly just nasty from its beginnings. Does a history that decries most atheisms for being universalisations of Christianity not undermine itself by this unargued universalisation of human nature?

Prashant Keshavmurthy is associate professor of Persian-Iranian Studies, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University.

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Review: Evaluating the Rich Ambiguities of Western Atheism - The Wire

Elizabeth Warren Was Asked About Her Plan to Protect the Rights of Atheists – Friendly Atheist – Patheos

During a rally in Iowa City last night, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren was asked by an audience member, What is your plan for protecting the rights of atheists and other non-believers?

Warren gave a roundabout answer that didnt really answer the question. Instead, she spoke about the importance of religious freedom. Actual religious freedom. Where theres no government discrimination against anybody based what faith they belong to, even if they choose not to have any at all.

Thank you, Anne. So it starts with the Constitution of the United States, right? It protects anyone to worship the way they want, or not to worship at all, and I think that is powerfully important.

You know, the way I see this is, I am a person of faith. I grew up in the Methodist church. Its part of who I am. I was a Sunday School teacher. But I see it as a fundamental question about what it means to be an American. And I think what it means to be an American is that, at core, we recognize the worth of every single human being. Thats part one. And part two, were called to act on that. That we are responsible for our actions consistent with that. That we dont take advantage of people, we dont cheat people, we dont hurt other people. And we do what we can to support other people, and to build opportunity for other people.

If those are the core values, right down at the heart, that make us Americans, I think that leaves us all the room in the world for worshiping differently or for not worshiping at all.

And thats the kind of America I want us to be. Does that work? Good. Thank you.

Her answer last night wasnt controversial. It wasnt even all that newsworthy or, frankly, interesting. But at a time when conservative Christians have so much power, its nice to see a serious presidential candidate address the topic of atheism without any sort of dismissiveness or revulsion.

A little more substance would be helpful. Id love to know how shed integrate non-religious voices into her government, or if shed allow faith-based groups to discriminate using taxpayer money, or if shed include atheists in any kind of religious advisory board. (Neither President Obama or Donald Trump did that.) Id also like some acknowledgment from her as to the sorts of issues atheists actually have to deal with right now, whether were talking about government endorsement of a specific brand of Christianity or younger atheists being pressured to say the Pledge of Allegiance or pray with their coaches.

Its not that I disliked her answer. I just know that was politician-speak for Let me give you an answer that wont ruffle any feathers. But still. It couldve been worse. Maybe the bigger question is how the Religious Right will frame her innocuous response as proof shes a godless liberal hell-bent on destroying Christianity.

***Update***: The woman who asked the question, Anne, tells me she wasnt happy with Warrens response:

I was disappointed in Warrens answer, however. I didnt hear a plan, and I didnt hear recognition of how difficult it can be for nonbelievers in this country. What I heard was an answer that was socially and politically palatable.

(Thanks to Justin for the link)

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Elizabeth Warren Was Asked About Her Plan to Protect the Rights of Atheists - Friendly Atheist - Patheos

Anti-Theism Conference Organizer Defends Sexual Misconduct in Bizarre Rant – Friendly Atheist – Patheos

This April, theres a conference scheduled to take place in Brighton, England called the Anti-Theism International Convention 2020. Okay. Fine. Its not weird to see local organizers setting up conferences with speakers well known to those of us who read about or watch people commenting on atheism online.

This particular event, however, is being co-organized by John Richards, the Publications Director of Atheist Alliance International, the organization that just hired David Silverman, whos been accused of sexual misconduct. One of the main speakers is Lawrence Krauss, whos also been accused (many times over) of sexual misconduct.

Those arent the people you want center stage if youre eager to bring new, diverse people into a movement.

YouTuber David Worley even asked the other organizer, Lance Gregorchuk, about Krauss presence at the event. Why invitehim? Whats the benefit to inviting someone with his tainted reputation to a conference like this? What safety precautions are being put in place to make sure attendees are safe?

During an hour-long interview in which Gregorchuk repeatedly insulted Worley for not asking challenging enough questions, he also dismissed the very notion that Krauss was a problem before defending his own alleged groping of women because, you never got wrong signals from a girl that you thought, she likes me [but] she doesnt like you, and you touched her?

Get ready to cringe around the 5:05 mark in the clip below:

It gets worse:

come on, dude. I did it. You did it something. Look, come on, were not the best looking guys in the world Did you know? Come on! When you were 15, 16, 17, did you get the signals? I didnt get them. I have no fucking idea what girls want andKrauss hes just in the higher limelight. Thats all it is. They couldve nailed me, you, anybody else

Im just being honest. If I dont know the signals, and I put my hand on your knee, what do you want me to say?

So, in summary, its fine to touch women who dont want to be touched, and women who accuse men of unwanted advances are doing it to everybody. (Watch out! Youre next!)

And then Gregorchuk sarcastically joked to Worley about how, if he attends the event, Im gonna put my hand on your knee. Im gonna rub it up your leg. And you can say what you want. (Hilarious, this guy.)

Incidentally, the allegations against Krauss werent just about an unwanted touch or misinterpreted brush-up against someones leg. The main incident looked like this, as explained by the victim:

They made a plan to eat in the restaurant at the Washington, DC, hotel where Krauss was staying, [she] recalled. But first he asked her to come up to his room while he wrapped up some work. He seemed in no rush to leave, she said, ordering a cheese plate and later champagne, despite her suggestion that they go down to dinner.

Then, [she] said, Krauss made a comment about her eye makeup, and got very close to her face. Suddenly, he lifted her by the arms and pushed her onto the bed beneath him, forcibly kissing her and trying to pull down the crotch of her tights. [She] said she struggled to push him off. When he pulled out a condom, [she] said, she got out from under him, said I have to go, and rushed out of the room.

Thats what Gregorchuk is apparently okay with, to the point where he wants Krauss speaking to a group of people on behalf of atheists. Thats also what the other speakers are apparently okay with since theyre still on the website despite Krauss inclusion. Richard Dawkins will even be receiving a Lifetime of Service to Rationalism Award from Krauss.

The Atty Awards [Anti-Theism International Awards] are probably the most prestigious Awards in the Atheist Community and winning a Atty Award will not only get you recognition within the Atheist Community, it will give you a chance to enjoy giving worldwide speaking engagements as well as Keynote presentations at many events around the world. The Awards will be presented by some of the most famous atheist on the planet and the winners will be invited to the VIP area of the after awards ceremony for photo opportunites and press talks.

Thats a lie.

An award thats never been given out before isnt prestigious, and winning an award at a conference that is brand new (or even one that isnt!) doesnt suddenly lead to anything as a result, much less speaking gigs around the world. Its like a participation trophy. It might make the recipient feel nice. No one else really cares.

In any case, if you want to spend 199 for early tickets, or 249 for regular tickets, or 699 for VIP tickets, theyre still available.

Wear pants. Bring mace. It should be an exciting celebration of reason and rationality and laughing off allegations of sexual assault.

I should add that I asked several of the scheduled speakers for comment about their involvement in this conference. Two of them, Aron Ra and Maryam Namazie, told me they will be pulling out of the event. Their names should be removed from the website shortly.

So far, I have not heard back from Dawkins or several of the other speakers.

***Update***: In addition to the featured comment below, co-organizer John Richards has sent me this statement on behalf of the organization, which he asked me to publish (emphases mine):

Unfortunately, my former business partner, Lance Gregorchuk, got a little drunk and had a train wreck of a podcast interview, which has had some fallout on The Friendly Atheist Patheos site.

Some commenters have interpreted his attitude as misogynistic so I have fired him; he no longer holds a position in the Anti-theism International organisation.

I am seeking an interview on the same podcast to make a statement on behalf of the company.

A-T I strongly deplores any form of misogyny or denigration of women.In fact, faith inspired malicious treatment of women is one of the harms that we are very much against and wish to combat.

However, as you are aware, to use Hitchens phrase, religion poisons everything; its not just misogynistic.

Many theists condone the victimisation of homosexuals, the denial of a liberal education for children, the coercion of donations under threat, the mutilation of childrens genitalia, cruel punishments (including death) for disobedience and the committing of acts of terrorism.

There is no doubt that, in the present world, religions cause more harm than good by instigating a spurious reason for division, demonisation and conflict.

Given that there is no evidence for any deity, we should not tolerate religiously inspired human abuse by those who claim power in the name of a god.

Consequently, I am not prepared to be intimidated by a few who have a singular focus, particular as improved female safety is a policy that we support.

The International Convention goes ahead as planned; we already have attendees signed up from the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, the UK, the USA and Canada.We already have many nominees for the Awards and at least two artists wishing to paint the portrait of Christopher Hitchens.

If any of you would like to make suggestions for our celebrity judging panel, please let me know. The task is not onerous, being done online, and the reward is a free ticket for the Banquet.

Just to state the obvious, firing Gregorchuk is fine, but it hardly resolves the underlying problems with this conference, many of which are laid out in the post and in the comments below.

(Screenshot via Facebook)

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Anti-Theism Conference Organizer Defends Sexual Misconduct in Bizarre Rant - Friendly Atheist - Patheos

‘Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt’ Book Review – National Review

Detail of a portrait of Michel de Montaigne, 1570s(Wikimedia Commons)Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt, by Alec Ryrie (Harvard University Press, 272 pp., $27.95)

In his 1580 masterwork Essays, the French writer and statesman Michel de Montaigne drew a straight line between the Protestant Reformation and the execrable atheism that had begun to sweep through Europe. The problem, according to Montaigne, lay in the difficulty of preserving the average mans religious faith in an age that had taught him to question long-established Church doctrines. Once you have thrown into the balance of doubt and uncertainty any articles of [the common peoples] religion, he wrote, they soon cast all the rest of their beliefs into similar uncertainty, having no more authority for them, no more foundation, than for those [beliefs] you have just undermined. That Montaigne, a Roman Catholic famously skeptical of the power of human reason, should lay unhappy consequences at the doorstep of Protestantisms priesthood of all believers is perhaps to be expected. What is more surprising is that Alec Ryrie, a self-proclaimed licensed lay minister in the Church of England, wholly endorses Montaignes thesis.

Which is not to say that this new book by the author of Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World is merely a close examination of one alleged side effect of the Reformation. Rather, Ryrie, a prize-winning historian as well as an ecclesiastic, has broadened his scope to take in nearly 750 years of doubt and disbelief in the professedly Christian West. The continent-roiling movement commenced by Martin Luther gets its fair share of attention Ryrie is, after all, one of our foremost experts on the subject but Unbelievers has a larger story to tell, one whose roots touch medieval Europe and whose fruit still blooms today, whether or not one wishes to taste it. Because Ryrie has written an emotional history, to borrow the language of his subtitle, his concern is with religious unbelief as it has played out in the psyches of the masses across centuries. The result is not only a convincing rejection of what one might call the Great Godless Man theory of history but a stirring glimpse into the souls of everyday citizens, whose struggles to maintain their faith in a complex world feel all too familiar.

In Ryries telling, the traditional narrative concerning the emergence of atheism in the West has long given undue weight to the scientists and intellectuals whose frontal assault on God during the Enlightenment rendered religious sentiment increasingly problematic. Against this standard account, Ryrie puts forward a populist counterargument: that unbelief clearly existed in practice . . . before it existed in theory and that historians of religion have not only been looking at the wrong centuries but profiling the wrong suspects. In furtherance of this claim, Ryrie asks readers to imagine two streams of popular unbelief, each feeding a river of elite opinion that would crest with the publication, in 1670, of Baruch Spinozas Theological-Political Treatise, one of the foundational texts of modern atheism. As a member of a world-bestriding intellectual class, Spinoza is clearly worthy of historical consideration, and his treatises attacks on the credibility of the Bible successfully anticipated the arguments of many of this centurys anti-scriptural polemics. Yet like all philosophical documents, Spinozas work was fed by source waters. It is to those that Ryrie wishes to draw the readers eye.

The first such tributary, Ryrie argues, was a stream of anger flowing from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and comprising an unbelief of suspicion and defiance held by women and (especially) men who refused any longer to be taken in or ordered around by priests and their God. Among the many figures whom Ryrie plucks from medieval obscurity are Durandus de Rufficiaco de Olmeira, a French merchant who was overheard to say, in 1273, that the doctrine of transubstantiation was false and that financial profit was superior to virtue; Uguzzone dei Tattalisina, a moneylender who told Mass-goers in 1299 Bologna that they might as well venerate their dinner as the consecrated bread; and Jacopo Fiammenghi, an Italian monk who, that same year, responded to accusations of debauchery by denying the existence of the soul. What all these men had in common was their hunch, formalized in Niccol Machiavellis The Prince two centuries later, that religion was a political trick played by the powerful. To deny the Churchs precepts was to reject an arbitrary authority governing ones behavior and to free oneself to operate in the world as one wished. Though Ryrie is quick to concede that religious disbelief rooted in anger was insufficiently widespread to become a movement, its existence nevertheless proves that the more complicated doubts that would arise during the Reformation did not sprout in virgin soil in which no seed of unbelief had ever been sown.

Where Reformation-era atheism did represent a new phenomenon was in its unique intellectual tenor, a quality that leads Ryrie to characterize it as an unbelief of anxiety. This second stream of pre-Enlightenment doubt, deplored by Montaigne in his discourse against Protestantism, was the unexpected (though perhaps inevitable) consequence of reformers tendency to make witty mockery of the absurdities of the papists, in the words of John Calvin. Because Protestantism taught that certain Catholic doctrines were simply too ridiculous to be true transubstantiation chief among them the Reformation undermined the ability of the laity to accept any irrationalities where religious dogma was concerned. Thus did the Protestant elite transform doubt into a weapon of mass theological destruction. In the process, Ryrie suggests, they stirred up anxious unbelief like never before.

Though Unbelievers provides example after example in support of this contention, two cases in particular stand out. The first is that of Sarah Wight, a pious young woman in 1640s London who made multiple suicide attempts in an effort to free herself from religious uncertainty, recalling, after one of them, I felt myself, soul and body, in fire and brimstone already. The second is that of Hannah Allen, an English teenager of the same generation, whose doubts regarding the possibility that she could be saved (There was never such a one [as wicked as me] since God made any Creature) led her to the very brink of giv[ing] up all for lost, . . . clos[ing] with the Devil, and forsak[ing] my God. While both cases are extreme, they nevertheless illustrate the anxiety and intensity of Protestant piety. Because that piety necessarily found expression in a religious environment scrubbed clean of Catholicisms institutional certainties, it could no longer be founded upon a simple, unreflective acceptance of universal truths. It had to be built on something else instead.

What that something else looked like in the centuries after the Reformation is the subject of much of the rest of Unbelievers, a tour that includes not only the faithful Protestants who overcame an unprecedented license to doubt but the Schwenckfeldians, Spiritualists, Muggletonians, and Ranters who were corrupted by it. Of the many post-Reformation radicals whom Ryrie examines, the most fascinating by far are the Seekers, whose utter paralysis in the face of doctrinal uncertainty led to the abandonment of any religious practice at all beyond a periodic gathering to discuss what is good for the Commonwealth. Like their spiritual heirs in 21st-century progressive Evangelicalism, Seekers came to the erroneous conclusion that the only way to truly follow God was to abandon dogmatism, striving instead to adhere to a supposedly universal moral law. As Ryrie concludes, and as many an orthodox Christian already knows, that may be magnificent, but it is not religion.

What it is instead is a striking ideological forerunner of what Ryrie calls the inflection point of the 1960s, when a newly muscular secularism appeared in the global West and a linked set of principles about human equality and bodily and sexual autonomy began to displace traditional biblical doctrines. To the extent that Christianity was willing to align itself with these new values, it could retain its place in the public sphere. Yet when Christianity and the new humanism were in conflict with each other, the faithful too often found that their humanist ethics [had] made their religion appear redundant. This is not, of course, a cheering thought. It is merely the most astute diagnosis of post-war irreligiosity that many readers will have encountered.

In February 2014, Adam Gopnik famously took to the pages of The New Yorker to declare that we need not imagine that theres no Heaven; we know that there is none. For those who wish to understand the cultural evolution that made so bold a statement possible, Alec Ryrie has written a necessary book.

This article appears as That You May Disbelieve in the December 22, 2019, print edition of National Review.

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'Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt' Book Review - National Review

Hiring of Accused Atheist Leader Is Reminder That #MeToo Is Still Needed in Organized Atheism – Rewire.News

Its no revelation that the wages of whiteness are real, and that being a straight, white, well-connected male is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to job mobility and privilege. Its also no revelation that white men can lie, cheat, steal, commit serial sexual harassment, and abuse with impunity and still land on their feet. This American-as-apple-pie regime didnt begin or end with Donald Trump, nor with all the predator corporate executives, middle managers, and rank-and-file employees who werent brought down by #MeToo.

The global resonance of the #MeToo movement has obscured the degree to which it remains business as usual for scores of sexual harassment and abuse victims who rarely get second, third or fourth chances to rebound after the devastation of being victimized in the workplace. This pattern of victim silencing and ofrehabbing alleged perps has been on insidious display recently as some prominent male leaders and execs have been able to creep back to respectability with new positions and roles in their respective industries, including, to take just a few examples, John Lasseter (formerly of Pixar), James Rosen (formerly of Fox), and Marcelo Gomes (formerly of the American Ballet Theater).

The recent decision by Atheist Alliance International (AAI) to hirethe former leader of American Atheists, David Silverman, to its executive director position is yet another indication that this business-as-usual rehab strategy also applies to movement atheism, which can be just as corrupt, cronyistic, and swaggeringly hostile to women as corporate America. Last year, Silverman was fired from American Atheists after allegations of sexual misconduct and financial impropriety were made against him. The claims leveled against Silverman by two female accusers were extensively detailed byBuzzFeeds Peter Aldhous, whose 2018 article notes that one of the women was reluctant to use her full name because of concerns about hostility experienced by other women who have made allegations of sexual misconduct against prominent atheists.

As I wrote in a September 2018 piece for RD, Silverman was one of several male atheist leaders whod been accused of sexual misconduct. According to The Friendly Atheist blog, AAI reached out to Silverman via a friendship with a board member, then created a paid executive director position expressly for him. Must be nice. While women of color in all sectors are routinely shut out of entry level, middle, and executive management positions, white males get carte blanche, have positions of authority created for and handed to them; then receive multiple breaks and opportunities for redemption when they screw up.

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These disparities have driven women of color out of organized atheism, spurring the creation of secular humanist feminist of color initiatives like this months Women of Color Beyond Belief conference. The event was a collaboration between the Black Non-Believers organization, headed by Black atheist activist Mandisa Thomas, and the Black Skeptics Los Angeles organization, which I founded. Focusing on racial and gender justice, the conference was the first national gathering by, for, and about secular women of color. It was intended as a safe space and platform for progressive sociopolitical issuessuch as the intersection of sexual violence, domestic abuse, reproductive rights, and the criminalization of Black and brown bodiesthat are frequently marginalized in mainstream atheism and humanism.

At the conference, many women of color presenters spoke of being in the crosshairs of misogynistic, heteronormative religious traditions and racist, sexist atheist and humanist institutions. Far from being a refuge from religious tyranny, mainstream atheism is just another microcosm of American gender and racial hierarchies.

Defining ourselves, for ourselves, as Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde once said, were not content to sit back and let atheism be hijacked by gatekeeping patriarchs. But AAIs appointment of Silverman foregrounds how the cult of charismatic white male atheist leadership makes mainstream atheism an untenable space for women of color, queer folks, and progressive white women pushing back against the ritual silencing of sexual abuse survivors and business-as-usual cosigning.

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Hiring of Accused Atheist Leader Is Reminder That #MeToo Is Still Needed in Organized Atheism - Rewire.News

A lot of people were Googling ‘Ron Reagan’ after his atheism ad aired – WTHR

President Ronald Reagan's son had a lot of people talking during Tuesday night's Democratic debate.

He wasn't among the 12 candidates on the stage in Ohio, but his appearance in a commercial promoting atheism clearly caught folks off guard.

In the commercial, Reagan promotes the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a non-profit organization advocating for atheists and the separation of church and state.

"Hi, I'm Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I'm alarmed by the intrusion of religion into our secular government," Reagan says to begin in the ad.

The ad itself isn't new, as the foundation's press release notes its been around since at least 2014, but how Reagan ends the ad is certainly attention grabbing.

"Please support the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell."

With the spot airing in a national slot, Ron Reagan quickly became the top trending search on Google, according to Google Trends.

According to the FFRF, ABC refused to air the ad during the Sept. 12 Democratic debate and other networks have turned them down, including CBS and NBC, since 2014.

CNN plans to air the ad twice during the Oct. 15 CNN/New York Times debate and it was scheduled to air again several times on Wednesday evening.

The ad received lots of reactions on social media with some people feeling blindsided, including Omarosa, who appeared on "The Apprentice" with President Donald Trump then joined his administration.

Some conservatives shared the ad to criticize Democrats.

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A lot of people were Googling 'Ron Reagan' after his atheism ad aired - WTHR

Franklin Graham: Atheist Ron Reagan Better Be Afraid of Burning in Hell – Friendly Atheist – Patheos

Evangelist Franklin Graham is very disturbed by the Freedom From Religion Foundations ad featuring Ron Reagan, seen during the recent Democratic presidential debate. Thats the one in which the son of the former president said hes a lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.

In a Facebook post this morning, Graham lamented at the idea of President Reagans son saying such a horrible thing:

I was saddened to see the news that President Ronald Reagans son, Ron, Jr., is a self-proclaimed atheist, and proud of it. His father was certainly quite different President Reagan had a deep faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ. Ron, Jr., was in a television advertisement to raise money for the Freedom From Religion Foundation that aired during the Democratic debate this week and got a lot of attention. He boasted in the ad that he was a lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell. Wow. It is, of course, his choice to believe or not to believe in God and His plan of salvation through Christ. But whether an individual believes in God, heaven, or hell doesnt change the reality. The Bible tells us that hell is a place of torment, fire, and separation from God and hell awaits those who do not repent of their sin and put their faith and trust in Christ. Lets pray that Ron will know the saving love of Jesus Christ and turn to Him before it is too late.

Its odd, but not surprising, that Graham is more disturbed by the idea of a proud atheist than he is by anything Donald Trump has done in the past several days (much less years). So dont get thrown off by his supposed concern. This is the same person who thinks transgender people using the proper bathroom is some national crisis. His sense of moral decency needs serious realignment.

Ron Reagans atheism is also not new. He mentioned it in a New York Times interview in 2004. He alluded to it during his mothers funeral. Even the ad that aired during the debate was filmed six years ago. As usual, Graham is just late to the party.

What Graham is saying in his post is far more offensive than anything Reagan said in that ad. Graham makes it clear that an eternity of torture awaits Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Satanists, and atheists anyone who doesnt subscribe to his personal brand of bullshit. The only hope everyone else has is accepting Christian mythology by the time theyre on their deathbeds.

Graham wants to threaten you with hellfire. Reagan just warned people about the intrusions of religion into our secular government and said, colorfully, that hes an atheist.

Only one of those guys deserves condemnation.

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Franklin Graham: Atheist Ron Reagan Better Be Afraid of Burning in Hell - Friendly Atheist - Patheos

Podcast Ep. 292: The Unabashed Atheist Who’s Not Afraid of Hell – Friendly Atheist – Patheos

In our latest podcast, Jessica and I discussed the past week in politics and atheism.

We talked about:

Hemant has a new YouTube channel! Have you subscribed? You should.

Why is Attorney General Bill Barr using his platform to promote Christianity? (0:29)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation got a lot of mileage out of its controversial Ron Reagan ad during the Democratic debate. (7:22)

The Pew Research Center says Christianity is in rapid decline. (15:30)

Theres another Hobby Lobby-linked scandal at the Museum of the Bible. (21:25)

A church exploited the death of an atheist mothers baby. (26:20)

A Florida Democrat (!) wants to force public schools to offer Bible classes again. (37:48)

The Catholic Church is selling smart rosaries. For cold hard cash. (45:32)

A Dutch family has been hidden in the basement for years, apparently waiting for the end of the world. (48:52)

Former congresswoman Michele Bachmann says climate change isnt a problem since God said we wouldnt be flooded again. (54:12)

Wed love to hear your thoughts on the podcast. If you have any suggestions for people we should chat with, please leave them in the comments, too.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Google Play, stream all the episodes on SoundCloud or Stitcher, or just listen to the whole thing below. Our RSS feed is here. And if you like what youre hearing, please consider supporting this site on Patreon and leaving us a positive rating!

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Podcast Ep. 292: The Unabashed Atheist Who's Not Afraid of Hell - Friendly Atheist - Patheos

Religion holds answers to questions of humanity – Monroe Evening News

FridayOct18,2019at1:00PM

The world is going through a major change right now and most people dont even realize that it is happening. The change that is occurring will have lasting effects on our society and the world as a whole.

According to CNN, there are the same amount of non-religious people in America as Catholics and Evangelical Christians, with each group making up 23 percent of Americas religious landscape. For 20 centuries, Christianity has been the guiding force of Western civilization. Even as recently as the childhood of our grandparents, Christianity provided answers to deep questions about ethics and morality. The loss of such a powerful philosophy has the potential to plunge America and the rest of the Western world into complete chaos.

Since the early 1990s, the number of atheists in America has been steadily rising and they are projected to be the largest group within four to six years. The rise of atheism is a relatively new phenomenon. Consider how 200 years ago, blasphemy was a punishable crime. During the 1920s, alcohol and gambling were illegal. When our grandparents were children, divorce almost never occurred (townhall.com). Today, atheism has never been more popular and many of the moral platitudes that guided America throughout its history are diminishing.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian soldier during the Soviet Union years, spent several years despairing in a concentration camp, trying desperately to think of a reason as to why he got in the awful situation he was in. Years of bloody revolution and murder had wrecked his homeland. Eventually, he came up with the reason for his predicament: Men have forgotten God, thats why all this happened, he wrote in his landmark novel Voices From the Gulag.

When people forget there is a power higher than them, what is going to stop them from tearing up the moral fabric of our country? Whats stopping a murder from being a sin? With no guiding philosophy like Christianity, how will we answer the moral questions that we have been asking all throughout our human experience? Every American needs to answer these questions as atheism continues to grow, or else we may find ourselves descending into the same murder and chaos that the Soviet Russians had to live through.

Chancey Boyce, age 16

Boy Scout Troop 579

Monroe

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Religion holds answers to questions of humanity - Monroe Evening News

HARROD: Professor Claims Islam Is Not The Root Of Islamic Terrorism – The Daily Wire

If you want to identify people who are okay with suicide bombing, I can give you a list, including Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Michigan State University Professor Mohammad Hassan Khalil told me at a September Georgetown University lecture. Khalil theorized before an audience of some thirty people at the Saudi-founded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU) that Islams atheistic critics exaggerate the religions role in inciting violence.

While ACMCU Professor Jonathan Brown moderated, Khalils responses ironically reinforced the critique of Islam he sought to refute. For the record, Qaradawis primetime show on Qatars Al Jazeera network drew an estimated 60 million viewers. Even had he been the lone cleric promoting suicide bombing which he was not the size of his viewership reveals the scope of the problem.

At the Georgetown event, Khalil presented his previously recorded discussion of his new book, Jihad, Radicalism, and the New Atheism, in which he disputes claims of many New Atheists, particularly Sam Harris, that Muslim terrorism can be best explained by Islamic scriptures. Harris further labels benign interpretations of Islam as interpretive acrobatics.

Khalil explained his focus on the so-called New Atheists, saying that [m]any of [his] own colleagues and students have been and continue to be more profoundly impacted by the writings of New Atheists than, say, polemical works by far-right religiously-affiliated critics of Islam. Correspondingly, he cited Harriss statement to fellow atheist Bill Maher that we have to be able to criticize bad ideas, and Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas.

Although critics such as the ex-Muslim atheists behind the Awesome Without Allah campaign would affirm Harriss observations, Khalil accused Harris of cherry-picking. Reiterating his previous analysis of Islamic canons to argue that jihadists like Osama bin Laden use interpretative acrobatics to justify attacks on civilians,Khalil asserted that Harriss interpretation of Islam is so obdurate and so extreme that it cannot even be ascribed to the man behind 9/11.

Khalil claimed such jihadists are on the fringes of the jihad tradition in Islam, despite ample precedent of jihadists applying distinctly Islamic doctrines to fight non-Muslims. The attempts of al Qaeda and ISIS to justify terrorism on Islamic grounds typically require the abandonment of both strict literalism and the historically prevailing interpretations of Islamic thought, Khalil said. Before the early 1980s, there was no such thing as a Muslim suicide bomber, Khalil added.

He next criticized the portrayal of a failed suicide bomber in Harriss book The End of Faith. Instead of accepting Harris description of terrorists motives as religiously informed, Khalil cited common, debunked tropes of socioeconomic disadvantage driving men to violent jihad. Khalil concluded, erroneously, that in blaming Islams foundational texts for contemporary terrorism, while downplaying other factors, arguments of the New Atheists are just as facile as those of the apologists they criticize.

This continues a common trend of denying the Islamist roots of jihadi attacks, even as survey data show that a deeply disturbing minority of Muslim believers support terrorism. As Israeli analyst Shmuel Bar wrote in 2004, in leading Islamic clerical circles, radical ideology does not represent a marginal and extremist perversion of Islam, but rather a[n] increasingly mainstream interpretation.

During the audience question and answer session at Georgetown, moderator Jonathan Brown failed to assuage concerns about the religious nature of jihad, even as he assailed New Atheists as the most intense representatives of this sort of white, patriarchal West is best idea. He referenced his 2007 Yemen trip, during which he saw cigarette lighters for sale with themes of Bin Laden and Hassan Nasrallah, the terrorist Hezbollah leader. Brown strained believability to dismiss these images as indicating not support for terrorism, but for individuals who really stuck it to the man of Western imperialism as if mass atrocities were mere protest.

Khalil stated that he is obsessed with 9/11 in a dark way. Yet his obsession hardly obviates valid concerns about radical Islamic jihad. In dismissing historically accurate criticisms of radical Islam and Islamism, Muslims like Khalil undermine their credibility and, by hosting such apologists, ACMCU reaffirms its place as Americas leading center of Islamist propaganda.

Andrew E. Harrod is a Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher, and writer who holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter at @AEHarrod.

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HARROD: Professor Claims Islam Is Not The Root Of Islamic Terrorism - The Daily Wire

Nick Cave says hes repelled by woke cultures self-righteous belief and lack of humility – NME Live

"I am left feeling bored and cornered by the hubris of their own sureness."

Nick Cave has posted his latest edition of The Red Hand Files, in which he writes about his distaste for a number of ideologies including woke culture, atheism and organised religion.

On the service, where Cave answers questions from fans, he was asked about his political views, how woke he thinks he is, and his reasons for writing.

Living in a state of enquiry, neutrality and uncertainty, beyond dogma and grand conviction, is good for the business of songwriting, and for my life in general, he said. This is the reason I tend to become uncomfortable around all ideologies that brand themselves as the truth or the way.

This not only includes most religions, but also atheism, radical bi-partisan politics or any system of thought, including woke culture, that finds its energy in self-righteous belief and the suppression of contrary systems of thought.

Expanding on his criticism of woke culture, Cave said: Regardless of the virtuous intentions of many woke issues, it is its lack of humility and the paternalistic and doctrinal sureness of its claims that repel me.

Nick Cave

Antifa and the Far Right, for example, with their routine street fights, role-playing and dress-ups are participants in a weirdly erotic, violent and mutually self-sustaining marriage, propped up entirely by the blind, inflexible convictions of each others belief systems. It is good for nothing, except inflaming their own self-righteousness. The New Atheists and their devout opponents are engaged in the same dynamic.

Cave also said: This is not to suggest we should not have our convictions or, indeed, that we should not be angry with the state of the world, or that we should not fight in order to correct the injustices committed against it. Conviction and anger can be the most powerful expressions of universal love.

Cave discussed similar issues when asked about Morrisseys recent declarations of far-right support on The Red Hand Files.

While stating that he didnt agree with Morrisseys views, Cave emphasised that he felt it would be dangerous if the former Smiths man wasnt allowed to voice his opinions.

The musician, who released his acclaimed new album Ghosteen earlier this month, has also used the website to offer moving advice on body positivity to a 16 year-old fan, reveal that a third Grinderman album is planned, and to discuss being dumped by PJ Harvey.

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Nick Cave says hes repelled by woke cultures self-righteous belief and lack of humility - NME Live

Despite Misconduct Allegations, David Silverman Is Now Running an Atheist Group – Friendly Atheist – Patheos

David Silverman, the former head of American Atheists, will become the next Executive Director of Atheist Alliance International, once again giving him a formal position within a movement from which he was unceremoniously kicked out last year.

The announcement was made this morning. And while the organizations may seem identical to outsiders or anyone whos watched South Park theres a world of difference between them.

In case you need a refresher, Silverman had been President of American Atheists since 2010 and an employee of the organization since 2004. For a few years, when atheist billboards were making headlines across the country, Silverman made several appearances on FOX News, one of which was forever immortalized in a meme. In 2012, he was the public face of the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. which drew tens of thousands of people. Hes also the author of the book Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World in which he made his case for in-your-face firebrand activism.

In April of 2018, Silverman was temporarily suspended from his position, only to be fired days later.

Initially, the concern was a financial conflict of interest between his personal work (the book) and his public work (for AA). Thats why he was initially suspended by the AA board of directors as they investigated the matter. However, around the same time, the board learned of sexual misconduct allegations against Silverman, documented most extensively in an article for BuzzFeed by reporter Peter Aldhous.

There were two major allegations. One involved a student Silverman met at a conference who said he used his position of power to pressure her into having sex with him. She had asked him for a job (which he said he couldnt provide) and said in her allegation that she was intoxicated during their encounter.

BuzzFeed also quoted another woman who said that, in 2015, Silverman suddenly forced himself on her at American Atheists annual convention during an afterparty. That meeting left bruises on her body. Silverman admitted to the sex, but said both encounters were entirely consensual. He did not think the student was drunk. He may have violated good decision-making, but he maintained that he wasnt some sort of predator.

As for the financial issue, Silverman now quotes an AA board member (on his personal website) who says David did not embezzle from American Atheists. That, however, doesnt address the conflict of interest issue. American Atheists hasnt said anything publicly about the results of their investigation.

Nick Fish, AAs current leader and the person who eventually replaced Silverman, told me in a statement:

Our Board of Directors fully stands behind its decision to terminate Mr. Silvermans employment. After reviewing the allegations and materials presented, the Board concluded that there were violations of American Atheists policies that warranted termination. The results of a review completed by an outside investigator confirmed that decision.

In recent weeks, Silverman has been trying to stage something of a comeback.

After more than a year away from the spotlight, hes been doing interviews with just about any YouTuber willing to speak with him, including some who regularly trash feminism and condemn social justice warriors.

If hes trying to re-endear himself to progressives, its not exactly a wise strategy though its not like he has other options. (Its not like progressives are eager to give him a platform to blame the world for what he says happened to him.)

Silverman, in those interviews, portrays himself as a victim of an outrage mob. He rationalizes his actions. He trashes what various atheist organizations are doing (or not doing), suggesting that someone like him a firebrand is needed to fight religion. While he apologizes for being unethical and immoral, he insists hes not a criminal or the guy depicted in the allegations or in BuzzFeed. To that end, hes filed a defamation lawsuit against the women who accused him of misconduct, BuzzFeed, and American Atheists.

In addition, he has rebranded himself as a firebrand for good. He spoke to the Washington Post to tell his side of the story. He also began selling insurance to make money.

And now, after all that, hell be running an atheist organization once again.

Atheists Alliance International, which was founded in 1991, said in a press release that Silverman will be their new Executive Director. (I was sent an early copy of the release after agreeing to an embargo.)

Its a paid position. As far as I can tell, hes the first person to hold this title for the group and possibly the first salaried staffer theyve ever had. (His salary is not public information.)

David will report to AAI President, Gail Miller. He will oversee campaigns and assume responsibility for growing AAI so the organization can do more to make the world a safer place for atheists.

Wishing David a very warm welcome, Gail Miller, AAIs President said, David is a well-known public atheist, a powerful leader and a compelling public speaker. He has proven management and organizational skills including leadership of national & local organizations in the U.S. He is a personality who makes things happen.

He will grow public awareness of AAI and our campaigns, he will help the board develop strategy and he will help manage campaigns to ensure they deliver for atheists everywhere.

Im thrilled to have him on the team.

During a phone call with Silverman last night the first time Ive spoken to him since the allegations against him became public he told me he was officially hired earlier this week, though its been in the works for roughly two months. He didnt apply for the job, nor was there some formal announcement that AAI was looking for a paid director.

They actually reached out to him.

For a while now, as AAI has become a more stable non-profit organization with a clear vision, theyve been looking for a spark to take them to the next level. Their calculation seems to be that Silverman is the spark they need, both as an outspoken atheist and as a fundraiser for the group. Whatever the negatives are, the positives outweigh them.

Gail Miller, AAIs current president, explained the thought process to me:

We are proud of what we have achieved. We have turned a corner and started to grow again. But despite these achievements, growth is too slow. There is a lot we want to do to help atheists but we need a higher public profile, more volunteers and more income to sustain the programs atheists need.

One of our board members, CW Brown, is friends with David Silverman and they came up with a plan that could change everything. CW proposed to the board that we should take on David as Executive Director.

They knew I was available and I could deliver the growth, Silverman told me, adding, I dont believe there was anybody else in consideration.

Hes eager to take on this role because he sees it as a dream job. Hell be working remotely, with a volunteer team of four other hand-picked individuals, to make AAI a global atheist force for firebrand atheism.

Its not hard to imagine AAI working to end blasphemy laws or helping people persecuted for being open atheists in theocratic nations. Whats more difficult to envision is AAI, with Silverman now at the helm, working with other U.S.-based atheist groups. The people who run many of those organizations cut ties with him immediately after the misconduct allegations.

Yet Silverman says he hopes AAI will eventually becomepart of the Secular Coalition for America, the national group that lobbies in Washington, D.C. on behalf of church/state separation and other atheism-related issues. If that happens, Silverman could once again be in the same room as the people who shunned him. Hes not worried about that. People can keep their distance if they want, he told me, but that wont stop him from speaking out.

He insists the truth is on his side, something he has reiterated in all those recent interviews. Thats also why he plans to continue with his lawsuit (and his fundraising efforts for it).

Throughout our call, he kept telling me what hes said to the YouTubers: He never received due process from American Atheists. Everything was consensual with the women and they know it. He still considers himself a feminist (though that didnt stop him from using the word woke in a pejorative sense).

Bizarrely, he said of the two women who accused him of misconduct, They probably feel bad about it in the back of their minds. After a lengthy silence from me, he added, At least I hope they do.

I asked him what he thought AAI would (or should) do if the same allegations that were made to American Atheists were ever made to them. He wasnt worried about that. Having spoken to the current AAI board and answering their many questions, he believes AAI would exercise due process.

Thats also what Gail Miller told me:

We spent a month thinking about this. All our board members interviewed him. We did our homework as thoroughly as we could. We dont know why American Atheists dismissed David, they made no public statement and David says he was given no reasons. No charges were ever brought against him. AAI takes the view that people are innocent until proven guilty and David has not been proven guilty.

We honestly believe David Silverman has learned from his experience and is a better person for it, so the board voted to give him a chance. If anything similar were to happen in future, we would respect due process but we have strict conduct policies that apply to everyone here and we will enforce them.

Maybe the big question is whether potential pushback against his hiring will sink the organization to the point that donors flee in droves. Its also possible that Silvermans hiring leads to more people giving to the group.

But while AAI is giving Silverman the benefit of the doubt, Sean Hannity wouldnt do that. If Silverman were ever invited back to, say, FOX News Channel, no doubt they would hit him with the allegations regardless of the topic. They would use it as proof that atheists cant be moral, right?

If Hannity wants to bring me on to ambush me, Silverman said, he would welcome it, adding that the reception hes found in the comment sections under those YouTube interviews suggests he has plenty of support.

I dont buy that. Think about whose videos those people are watching Its a lot of empty calories to me. Silverman might feel extremely validated, but getting validation from people who enjoy hearing right-wing talking points hardly seems like a win.

American Atheists is mostly taking a hands-off approach to Silvermans new job, according to Nick Fish:

American Atheists has no comment about Mr. Silverman because he has chosen to file a frivolous lawsuit against our organization rather than move on with his life.

We will not allow this to distract us from our mission protecting the separation of religion from government and ending discrimination against atheists in America.

Maybe its for the best, then, that Silverman will be focusing outside the country, where he plans to get work done and save some lives.

A year and a half after #MeToo allegations drove him out of the atheist movement, hes back in. You could tell he was smiling on the other end of the line as he said he has a positive outlook for the first time in a long freaking time.

(Screenshot via YouTube)

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Despite Misconduct Allegations, David Silverman Is Now Running an Atheist Group - Friendly Atheist - Patheos

Reading Suggestions for Aquinas’ Five Ways – Discovery Institute

Editors note: In a series for Evolution News, Dr. Egnor has been summarizing and analyzing the Five Ways of Thomas Aquinas. See, Introducing Aquinas Five Ways, by Michael Egnor. For more on Thomas Aquinas, intelligent design, and evolution, see the websiteAquinas.Design.

In discussions with atheists and materialists, theists have powerful resources at our disposal. Our perspective is supported by a rigorous and elegant metaphysical framework, that began with Plato and particularly Aristotle, is synthesized by St. Thomas Aquinas, and continues with the work of many superb philosophers today.

At the core of our dispute with atheists is the evidence for the existence of God. Of course, His existence can be proven as convincingly as any question about existence can be proven and more convincingly than any scientific theory can be proven (which is grist for another post). The famous Thomistic proofs for Gods existence are logically sound and irrefutable arguments. The proofs are simple but subtle, and have a profundity and logical beauty all their own. For readers interested in exploring these proofs in more detail, and in acquiring a deeper understanding of Thomistic philosophy, these reading recommendations may be of help.

Ed Fesers marvelous books on Thomistic metaphysics are best place to start. Feser is a superb philosopher in his own right, and he has a genius for explaining subtle complex metaphysics is clear readily understandable language. His is Aristotles and St. Thomas greatest expositor for us moderns.

His books include:

Aquinas: A Beginners Guide: the essential introduction to Aquinas. A must-have, and the only place to start for anyone not already conversant with the work of the Angelic Doctor. Feser clearly and systematically explains all five proofs, and much more (theology, psychology, ethics, etc.).

The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism: a searing take-down of New Atheists. Beautifully and mercilessly argued, with an excellent discussion of the Prime Mover argument in particular. After reading, you wont be able to look at Dawkins without laughing (if you havent reached this stage already). Feser almost makes you feel sorry for New Atheists. Almost.

Scholastic Metaphysics: a Contemporary Introduction: a masterpiece. An elegant exposition of basic scholastic metaphysics, in considerable detail. A great choice after Aquinas. Feser takes you into the intricacies of the Thomistic understanding of nature. This volume does not discuss Thomistic dualist philosophy of mind, which Feser has said will be a separate book.

For readers interested in an excellent overview of philosophy of mind, Fesers The Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction. Theres no Thomistic proofs here, but its the best general introduction to philosophy of mind and theres a good chapter on Thomistic dualism.

Five Proofs of the Existence of God: brilliant exposition of five proofs for Gods existence. Not Aquinas Five Ways, but the proofs of many classical thinkers Aristotle, the Neo-Platonists, St. Augustine, St. Thomas and the Rationalists. St. Thomas proof here is not one of the five he had six! A great book by Feser, and essential for a reader who wants to go even beyond the Five Ways.

Aristotles Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science: a comprehensive and rigorous examination of the metaphysics of natural science if youve wondered how Aristotle relates to quantum mechanics, this is where to look. Very challenging and very worthwhile if you are so inclined. Feser takes you into the metaphysical fabric of science. This is not an easy read, but Fesers knowledge and skill at explication are remarkable.

Feser also has a great blog, where he tackles the issues of the day and goes into greater detail on many of the points he raises in his books.

After Feser, there are a number of excellent authors for those interested in the Five Ways. I do emphasize that the Thomistic world has its own language, and it is nearly impossible to grasp without a good introduction, which Feser provides in spades. If you wish to go further, consider:

Walter Farrell, O.P. Second only to Feser in clarity of exposition, and the best prose stylist in the Thomistic camp. Farrell is a Dominican scholar from the early 20th century, and a renowned American Thomist. He writes like Chesterton with clarity, brevity and irony. His intro to Thomism My Way of Life is a gem, a short book you can carry in your pocket, and its a guide to Thomism often given to fresh novices in the Dominican Order. It is a marvelous introduction and delightful to read. Farrells Companion to the Summa is a massive four-volume exposition of the great work My Way of Life on steroids and its Farrells magnum opus. Essential for every passionate Thomists library (and its on Kindle!) and a great guide as you read the Summa itself. It will take a few years of your life to get through, but it really deepens your insight into St. Thomas. Farrell is a joy to read.

Etienne Gilson Gilson was a leading 20th century French Thomist. His The Christian Philosophy Of St Thomas Aquinas is magnificent meticulously written and profound. It was what I read next after Feser and I got a lot out of it. Gilson was brilliant, and you can spend a day just exploring the implications of one of Gilsons sentences about Thomistic metaphysics. Like Farrell, Gilson is a challenging read, but very worthwhile if you want to take St. Thomas seriously. I think Gilsons chapter on Thomistic psychology is the best discussion on the topic out there.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange Probably the leading Thomist of the 20th century and professor at the Angelicum in Rome. He wrote extensively on Thomism, and I think his Reality: A Synthesis of Thomist Thought is his best introduction to well reality. Very profound and very clear, and Lagrange beautifully explains the enduring relevance of Thomism to modern life and science. An excellent choice after Fesers introduction.

Fredrick Copelston Aquinas: An Introduction to the Life and Work of the Great Medieval Thinker: Copelstons very good intro to St. Thomas. I prefer Feser, but Copelstons work is highly respected and widely used. In my view, Copelston lacks Fesers clarity for the modern reader, but there is much to be recommended in his work.

Jacques Maritain Prolific (and somewhat controversial) Thomist. His Introduction to Philosophy is highly readable and well-regarded. He wrote extensively on the application of Thomistic philosophy and theology to the 20th century. Fascinating stuff if you are so inclined.

Aristotle Unlike Plato, Aristotles works are not finished products, but are probably lecture notes. Aristotle is a very challenging read in the original (in English) his genius is evident, but he jumps from place to place, uses shorthand, assumes concepts not fully explained as one might expect from lecture notes. Unless youre a scholar, its not wise to start with Aristotle in the flesh. You have to know his system fairly well, before you read him. Metaphysics and De Anima are good places to start for the Thomist. It wont be easy. Before reading Aristotle himself you should read

Mortimer Adler Adler is a fine 20th century philosopher and writer, and he is an excellent introduction to Aristotle. I suggest reading his Aristotle for Everyone before reading Aristotle himself. You can never be fully prepared for reading Aristotle in the flesh hes a challenge to the best scholars. But Adler is a big help he helps you see where The Philosopher is going. Adlers Ten Philosophical Mistakes is an Aristotelian perspective on the folly of modern philosophy. It is a masterpieceif I were dictator of the world, Im make it mandatory reading for all of humanity. Its a fairly easy read. His first two chapters on philosophy of mind are essential, and his chapters on language and meaning, free will and gradations of being are fascinating and shed light on many modern conundrums. Much of what we call modern philosophy is just mistakes like basing a system of mathematics on 2 + 2 = 5. Adler explains what went wrong, and how to fix it.

Aquinas Of course, the ultimate source on Thomism is the Angelic Doctor himself. I tried reading him years ago (before I read Feser), and it might as well have been in the original Latin. I understood nothing. Nothing. So I started with Feser, and got a handle on the terminology, which is great, because the terminology, while alien to us moderns, is consistent, accurate and logically coherent. We dont easily understand St. Thomas because we are opaque, not because he is.

Obviously the Thomist text to read is the Summa Theologica, although the Summa Contra Gentiles has more detail on the Five Ways. Thomas is more succinct on it in the S.T. The best way to read the S.T. is: 1) Know the terminology and the basic concepts before you start this is where Feser is indispensable. 2) A guide to the S.T., like Farrells Companion to the Summa, is a huge help, but the guide is difficult as well. There is no easy way here. 3) The S.T. is best digested by daily reading of individual short sections. Aquinas uses the quaestiones disputataeframework, in which he makes a assertion that is actually a question, he gives the answers (objections) that other major philosophers have given, he provides (usually) a brief scriptural commentary, then he gives his answer, then he replies to each original assertion by other philosophers individually. For us ordinary humans, its wisest to just read the assertion and St. Thomas answer. The objections are profound, but unless youre a scholar, you get lost in them. Reading the assertion and St. Thomass answer will keep you busy for years by itself.

Over time, you get two things out of reading the S.T. First, once you get past the terminology, St. Thomas really has profound things to say. His rigor and scope are astonishing. Second, you get to see genius in front of you at work on every page. You dont really grasp what a mind can do until youve sat for a while with Thomas Aquinas.

We I.D. folks should always be ready to defend design and its implications when challenged. In my view, the Thomistic framework offers the most effective tool to do so. The great strength of Thomism, aside from its truth and beauty, is its integration of our understanding of nature, of ourselves and of God. St. Thomas shows how it fits together.

Ive found that Thomistic metaphysics is, from the atheist perspective, unanswerable. None of these guys have a clue about it, and it provides a very effective tool for reducing atheist arguments to self-refuting gibberish, which is what they are.

So, if you are interested, go buy Fesers Aquinas and get started!

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Reading Suggestions for Aquinas' Five Ways - Discovery Institute

A Neglected Modern Masterpiece and Its Perverse Hero – The New Yorker

Imagine a novel about an ambitious, slightly coarse, provincial young man, determined to make his name in the capital city. He is tall and strong, with uncanny blue eyessea-cold, merman eyes. He talks too loudly. One of the capitals most polished journalists dismisses him as a swaggering farmboy. Even the rich heiress who almost marries him agrees with him that he is like a mountain troll from a fairy tale; her sister, on first meeting him, noticed his slightly provincial shoes. But he has brilliance and will, and others welcome this young engineer with a head full of projects as the prototype of the active man of the twentieth century, a figure from a different, luckier tale, an Aladdin (as one of his friends crowns him) who will surely prosper and triumph. The novel describes this journey.

Now imagine that the novel systematically subverts the swelling arc of the bildungsromanthat, on the cusp of each achievement, some ghostly hand pulls our hero back from victory. He is about to leave his mark in the capital city, but eventually withdraws. He is about to marry the rich heiress, but calls off the engagement. He returns to the country and starts a family with a modest country girl, but he isnt happy there, either: He was like a clock whose insides had been carefully removed, piece by piece. In fact, our Aladdin seems destined to follow the serial emaciations of Hans in Luck, one of the Grimms fairy tales, in which Hans, having been paid in gold by his master, is persuaded to exchange his gold for a horse, then his horse for a cow, then his cow for a pig, and so on, until finally he loses everything, and returns home happy and unencumbered. His luck is his reduction.

The hero of this novel comes to the conclusion that all worldly treasures lost their worth as he got closer to them. He spends his final years living in virtual isolation in a remote rural area in the north of the country. After his untimely death, a notebook of his is found, which contains these beautiful words of fatalism and rebellion:

When we are young, we make immoderate demands on those powers that steer existence. We want them to reveal themselves to us. The mysterious veil under which we have to live offends us; we demand to be able to control and correct the great world-machinery. When we get a little older, in our impatience we cast our eye over mankind and its history to try to find, at last, a coherence in laws, in progressive development; in short, we seek a meaning to life, an aim for our struggles and suffering. But one day, we are stopped by a voice from the depths of our beings, a ghostly voice that asks Who are you? From then on we hear no other question. From that moment, our own true self becomes the great Sphinx, whose riddle we try to solve.

This shattering, sometimes unbearably powerful novel, completed in 1904, was written by Henrik Pontoppidan, who won the Nobel Prize in 1917. It is considered one of the greatest Danish novels; the filmmaker Bille August turned the story into a nearly three-hour movie called, in English, A Fortunate Man (2019). The novel was praised by Thomas Mann and Ernst Bloch, and is effectively at the center of Georg Lukcss classic study The Theory of the Novel (1920). In Danish, it is called Lykke-Per; in German, it was given the title of the Grimm brothers fairy tale Hans im Glck. And in English? In English, it didnt exist, having gone untranslated for more than a century, until the scholar Naomi Lebowitz administered the translators equivalent of a magic kiss and roused it from shameful oblivion. Published nine years ago in academic format, Lucky Per has finally appeared in Everymans Library, in Lebowitzs fluent and lucid version, with an excellent introduction by the novelist and critic Garth Risk Hallberg. Our luck has caught up with everyone elses.

Have I spoiled the plot by revealing the ending? The critic only gives away in silver what the great novel eventually releases as gold. Besides, its almost impossible to discuss Lucky Per without discussing the shape of its plot, because the radical oddity of the book is so bound up with the heros final renunciations. At first sight, Lucky Per looks like a stolid work of realism. It is almost six hundred pages long. Through its ample halls moves a large cast of characters, from several layers of Danish societymiddle-class clergymen, rich merchants, lawyers and politicians, writers and intellectuals. There is much conversation about the coming century: the fate of the nation, the future of technology.

But one reason its generally unwise to talk about a single style called realism is that prose narrative is so often lured away from conventional verisimilitude by rival genres, notably allegory and fairy tale. The books opening chapter is at once familiarly realistic and heavy with the ironic fatalism of the folktale. In a small market town in East Jutland, Per Sidenius is one of eleven children growing up in an austerely religious family. His father is a pastor with an ascetic hatred of the body. His mother is bedridden. While his brothers and sisters mutter their prayers in a sort of underworld blindness to the light and full of a dread of life and its glory, Per is a singular, rebellious life force. He sneaks out of the house to go sledding, he flirts with a local girl. When a parishioner complains to the pastor that Per has been stealing apples from his garden, the wayward son is severely admonished at family dinner, warned that he could end up like Cain, the first murderer, whom God cursed thus: You will be a wandering fugitive in all the earth. His siblings weep in dismay, but Per silently scoffs. At the age of sixteen, he escapes this prison, and goes to Copenhagen to study engineering at the Polytechnic Institute. The coming-of-age novel, Pers sentimental education, will now begin in earnest, as the dark, religious family grotto recedes into the distance of legend.

Alas, the past cannot be escaped so easily. Fable and allegory curl themselves like creepers around our heros feet. Per has, in effect, been exiled from Eden, for the Adamic sin of stealing apples. But his home wasnt Edenic, and besides, he doesnt share his fathers Christian faith. If he hasnt committed a sin, how can he be cursed? All the secular energy of this noveland it has a magnificent, liberating secular powerpushes against the reality of the pastors Old Testament damnation. Yet Per is cursed: hes destined to wander, destined to quest, and destined to fail. With a steady, returning beat, closer to allegorical verse than to realist fiction, the novel reminds us of its guiding theme: the homelessness of its hero, condemned to spend his life in the lonely quest for a metaphysical safe harbor. So is Pers curse a religious curse or a fairy-tale curse? And what is the difference between the two?

Pers odd life path might simply be the result of being born into the Sidenius family. The Sideniuses, we learn at the novels opening, trace their lineage, through generations of ministers, all the way back to the Reformation. Its a family tree of unimpeachable piety and dreary episcopal conformity, with one exception. An ancestor, also a pastor, known as Mad Sidenius, somehow went off the rails. He drank brandy with the peasants, and assaulted the parish clerk. In a novel haunted by insanity and suicide, the memory of this family outcast is important. The potentially blasphemous question rears its head again: if its a curse to be a Sidenius, is Per cursed by generations of unerring piety, or by that ancestral aberrant flash of madness?

Henrik Pontoppidans life began much like his fictional heros. He was born in 1857, the son of a Jutland pastor, into a family that had produced countless clergymen. Unlike Per, Pontoppidan seems to have remained on friendly terms with his family, despite drifting away from his inherited Christianity. In his memoir, published in 1940, three years before his death, he declared himself to be an out-and-out rationalist, dismayed by the tenacity of religious superstition. Like Per, he left the provinces to study engineering at the Polytechnic Institute in Copenhagen.

Copenhagen of the eighteen-seventies and eighties has been described (by the critic Morten Hi Jensen) as the first real battleground of European Modernism. A parochially Protestant culture was beginning to do intellectual trade with the rest of Europe: French realism and naturalism, Darwinism and radical atheism were the imported goods. The two most talented conduits of these new freedoms were the novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen and the critic Georg Brandes, both of whom make appearances in fictionalized form in Lucky Per. Jacobsen translated Darwins major work into Danish, and wrote what is surely one of the most fanatically and superbly atheistic novels in existence, Niels Lyhne (1880). A lyrical aesthete and a Flaubertian prose polisher, he is pictured, in Lucky Per, as the sickly poet Enevoldsen, fussing with his lorgnette at a Copenhagen caf while worrying about where to put a comma. Jacobsen was championed by Brandes, whose lectures at the University of Copenhagen in 1871 were an inspiration for a generation of Scandinavian writers. (Brandes and Pontoppidan corresponded for decades.) Brandes had read Mill, Hegel, Feuerbach, Strauss. A fervent atheist, he introduced Danish readers to Nietzsche and, late in life, wrote a book entitled Jesus: A Myth (1925). He was an advocate of European naturalism, and of fiction that attended to the social and political moment. It was time, he argued, to open Denmark up to the outsidea movement that became known as the Modern Breakthrough. In Lucky Per, Brandes appears throughout the novel, more invoked than encountered, as the dominating Dr. Nathan, sometimes nicknamed Dr. Satan. Brandes was Jewish, and Pontoppidan, remarkably alert to European anti-Semitism throughout the novel, writes that Per had kept his distance from Dr. Nathan because of this: He simply didnt like that foreign race, nor did he have any leaning toward literary men.

But Pers life will soon be changed by another Jewish character, and one who shares the bulk of the novel with him: the fierce, brilliant, troubled Jakobe Salomon. Per meets Jakobe through her brother, Ivan, who decides, early in the novel, that Per has the potential of a Caesar on whose brow God has written I come, I see, I conquer! Pers imperial impulses are manifest in his vast utopian engineering project, which envisages a system of canals on the Dutch model that will connect Denmarks rivers, lakes, and fjords with one another, and put the cultivated heaths and the flourishing new towns into contact with the sea on both sides. His dream is a physical enactment of Brandess Modern Breakthrough. He also shares Brandess atheism. There was no hell, Per reflects, other than what mankind, afraid of loves joy and the bodys force, created in its monstrous imagination. The Anglophone reader is sometimes reminded of Thomas Hardy or D.H. Lawrence. Per exults in the healthy secularism of the body: The embrace of man and woman was the heaven in which there is oblivion for all sorrows, forgiveness for all sins, where souls meet in guiltless nakedness like Adam and Eve in the garden of paradise.

With the ruthlessness of the provincial hero, Per decides that marriage to an heiress of the vast Salomon merchant fortune will speed him on his way. At first, though, he stirs in Jakobe a deep-seated hatred of Christian culture, and she treats him with an insulting haughtiness. Bookish, sensitive, twenty-three, and already considered a bit of an old maid by her family, Jakobe had been a sickly child, and the target of anti-Semitic bullying. Per triggers in her a memory, at once sharp and hallucinatory, narrated with dreamlike indulgence by Pontoppidan, and one of the novels most potent scenes. Four years earlier, Jakobe had been in a Berlin railway station. Her eye was caught by a group of pitiable, ragged people surrounded by a circle of curious, gaping onlookers. When she asked a station official how to get to the waiting room, he replied that with her nose she should find it easy to smell her way there. On the floor of the waiting room were hundreds more desperate, emaciated paupers. Suddenly, she realized that they were Russian Jews, on their way to America via Germany. She had heard of the pogroms, and was astounded that this infamy crying out to heaven could happen right before Europes eyes with no authoritative voice raised against it! Pers Nordic frame and blue eyes make her think of two police officers she glimpsed in Berlin, who seemed the embodiments of the brutal self-righteousness of the Christian society she lives in.

With great ironic power, Pontoppidan convinces us that Jakobe and Per must inevitably hate each other, and then, soon enough, that these two damaged creatures could have found comfort only in each other. Their relationship is passionately erotic and ardently intellectual; Jakobe, again like some heroine out of D.H. Lawrence, is helplessly attracted to Per, despite the blaring correctives from her conscience. The couple have in common their committed atheism, their hatred of the established church, and a sense of being chosenby theology, by race, by similarly heroic notions of destiny.

Garth Risk Hallberg, in his introduction, says that Jakobe Salomon is as intelligent as anyone out of James, as bold as anyone out of Austen, as perverse as anyone out of Dostoyevsky, and adds that, with all due respect, the frankness and amplitude of Pontoppidans depiction of the Salomon household leaves George Eliots Daniel Deronda in the dust. I like it when writers are made to run races with one another, precisely because were supposed to be above such competitions, and I also think that Hallberg is right. Jakobe is utterly alive and complex, and burns at the living center of the book. Pontoppidan endows her with an extraordinary intellectual restlessness, and allows her some of the most movingly lucid secular proclamations I have ever encountered in fiction.

One of these statements, a long letter that she writes to Per, becomes an eloquent, scalding testament to her atheism and her faith in the known limits of our worldly existence. She excoriates Christianitys exaggerated anxiety about death and, following Nietzsche, complains about the link between the fear of death and slave morality:

Never will I forget the impression that some plaster casts of bodies excavated in Pompeii made on me. There were, among others, a master and his slave, both evidently caught by surprise in the rain of ash.... But what a difference in the facial expressions! On the slaves face, you could read the most confusing puzzlement. He was overturned on his back, his eyebrows were raised up to his hairline, the thick mouth open, and you could virtually hear him screaming like a stuck pig. The other, by contrast, had preserved his mastered dignity unto death. His almost-closed eyes, the fine mouth pressed shut, were marked by the proudest and most beautiful resignation in relation to the inevitable.

My primary complaint against Christianitys hope of eternal life is that it robs this life of its deep seriousness and, with that, its beauty. When we imagine our existence here on earth as only a dress rehearsal for the real performance, what remains of lifes festiveness?

The powerful secular argument of the novel resides in the freedom and intensity of Per and Jakobes brief relationship. Theres a marvellous scene in the Austrian Alps, where Per has travelled after the couples engagement, and where Jakobe has arrived without notice. The time they spend together in the Alps constitutes their true marriage, a new birth and baptism. One day, out walking, they come across a crude wooden cross, a simple hillside shrine with a rough painting of Jesus. Per tells Jakobe a fable that he heard as a child, about a farm boy who wants to become a great shot, a magic marksman. But in order to achieve this the boy must go out at night, find an image of Christ, and shoot a bullet through it. Every time the lad tries to do it, his confidence wavers, his hand shakes, and he fails the test. He remains a common Sunday hunter for the rest of his life.

Per turns back to the hillside shrine. Look at that pale man hanging there! he says. Why dont we have the courage to spit from disgust right in his face. Per takes out his revolver and fires at the image of Jesus, while yelling, Now I shoot in the new century! As the cross splinters, a second, hollow boom sounds through the valley, like infernal thunder. Per blanches, and then laughs, remembering the signposts he had seen earlier: Take notice of the echo!

Heavy, God-infested, magnificently metaphysical, unafraid to court ridicule, and playing for the highest possible stakesthey dont write like that anymore. They didnt write much like that in 1904, though Knut Hamsun, in 1890, and Jens Peter Jacobsen, in 1880, and above all Dostoyevsky, the great progenitor, had all sounded something like this, not so long before. Given the novels astonishingly raw atheism, how are we to read the religious renunciation of its ending? At the novels close, Jakobe and Per appear to be living alone, and each is now committed to a life of religious seriousness, though neither is a religious believer: Per in the remote north, living in monkish retreat, and Jakobe in Copenhagen, where she has founded a charity school for poor children.

Throughout, Per is hard to comprehend in his cloudy questing. At one momentaround the time of his mothers deathhe is pulled back toward his inherited faith, repenting his lust for worldly success and begging forgiveness from God. But fifty or so pages later his recoil from Christian self-sacrifice is palpable once again; he is repelled, for instance, by Thomas Kempiss lament, in Imitation of Christ, that truly, it is an affliction to live in the world. Per reflects that he is at home neither among ascetic Christiansthe piety of the Sideniusesnor among the children of the world: the luxury of the Salomons. And yet, troubled by this very homelessness, he feels that one must choose: on one side, renunciation; on the other, the world. Which is it to be? For it is necessary to take a stand, to swear fidelity... to the cross or champagne.

In the end, Per surrenders to the religious impulses of a faith he seems to stand outside of. We have been here before, in this world of a deformed and contradictory atheism. Raging heroes in Dostoyevsky, Jacobsen, and Hamsun enjoy denouncing a God they dont believe in. But Per Sidenius is stranger still, because he seems to want to imitate a Christ he doesnt believe in. Thomas Mann praised Pontoppidan as a kind of gentle prophet, for having judged the times and, like the true poet which he is, pointed toward a purer humanity. In a suggestive afterword, the novels translator, Naomi Lebowitz, notes how Per restlessly evicts himself from all those places which could offer him refuge. Subtler than Mann, she also sees Pers journey as the discovery of, finally, an authentic and transparent sense of self... the need to be himself, by himself.

The novel encourages such readings. Pers notebook, written in his final years, contains the following entry: Honor to my youths expansive dreams! And I am still a world conqueror. Every mans soul is an independent universe, his death the extinction of the universe in miniature. In this reading, Lucky Per, though rather Scandinavian in its religious intensity, is a still familiar version of the bildungsroman, in which our hero ventures out into the world, tastes success, tastes the ashes of success, and retreats to ponder, on his own authentic terms, the riddle of the self that has always preoccupied him. Fredric Jameson has suggested that we should see this as a happy ending, albeit an ironic one, in which Per has managed to get beyond success or failure.

Yet how can we accept the ironic wisdom of this ending without smothering the vital force of the novels earlier secularism? Where have the magic marksmen, willing not only to spit at Christ but to shoot at Christ, gone? Where has Jakobes proud Roman master scuttled away to? You dont have to be a fully paid-up Nietzschean to feel that if you no longer believe in the Christian God you should no longer believe in that Christian Gods slave morality. If you have rejected the content of the faith, why mimic its more self-punishing practices? Pers imagined choice between cross or champagne is not only a false choice but a mutilated one, posed by a reduced version of Christianity. In fact, Lucky Per emerges as a savage critique of the persistence, in Danish culture, of a certain Kierkegaardian masochism, in which all choices are made religious rather than secular, purifyingly negative rather than complicatedly affirmative. Kierkegaard said that one had to be a kind of lunatic in order to be a true Christian. Is there a difference between this form of religious madness and actual madness? Lucky Per inserts its secular, novelistic lever into just this question.

What if Pers final renunciation is a narrative false flag? Instead of looking at Per, we should perhaps look toward Jakobe, whose own renunciation takes her into the world, not away from it, and who seems to manage this turn without compromising her defiant secularism. She is the novels true hero. How do you get back to Eden? Back to the place you inhabited before the original religious curse? Back to a home before religion made it a home you could be exiled from? If you are a wandering, homeless Christian, scarred by original sin, the answer might be: in the arms of a wandering Jewbut one whose own itinerancy is unseduced by the lure of religion, whose own secularism is not tempted by the simplicity of religious masochism. In the strange switchback of their lives, Per and Jakobe each redefined the meaning of luck. The shame was that they could not share it. Lucky Jakobe, unlucky Per.

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A Neglected Modern Masterpiece and Its Perverse Hero - The New Yorker

Atheist Kicked Off Egyptian TV Show Now Says He’s Safely in Another Country – Patheos

It was more than a year ago when Mohamed Hisham (also spelled Hashem in older articles) appeared on the Egyptian channel Alhadath Alyoum TV (Egyptian Street) and spoke openly about his atheism. It was quite a feat considering authorities say there are literally only 866 atheists in the country.

Hishams appearance didnt go over well with host Mahmoud Abd Al-Halim or the former Deputy Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mahmoud Ashour. Both men urged Hisham to see a psychiatrist for his obvious mental illness before he corrupted even more Egyptian youth.

HISHAM: Im an atheist, which means I dont believe in the existence of God. I dont believe in Him.

ASHOUR: What? What was that?

HISHAM: Im an atheist, which means I dont believe in the existence of God. I dont believe in Him. Thats what atheism means. I dont need religion to have moral values or to be a productive member of society.

AL-HALIM: How come you exist in this universe?

HISHAM: Okay, let me explain. There are theories that try to explain our existence. One theory is that God created us. Okay? But there are other theories, with much more evidence, like the Big Bang theory

AL-HALIM: Speak Arabic! You are in Egypt and you are addressing simple people so dont use big words for no reason.

HISHAM: Im using these terms because science is conducted in English.

AL-HALIM: What science are you talking about?

AL-HALIM: You are confused and unreliable. You deny the existence of God and reject our religion and principles

HISHAM: Is this so bad?

AL-HALIM: Of course! You come here to talk about a certain idea but have nothing to offer! You offer atheism! You offer heresy! I apologize to the viewers for having an Egyptian of this kind on our show. Im sorry, Mohammad, but you cannot stay with us on the show because your ideas are inappropriate, Im sad to say. We cannot promote such destructive ideas. You have not uttered a single convincing word.

ASHOUR: Look, dear Mohammad, you need psychiatric treatment. Many young people today suffer from mental illnesses due to material or mental circumstances.

AL-HALIM: Its like Sheikh Mahmoud says. Have you see a psychiatrist?

AL-HALIM: I advise you to leave the studio and go straight to a psychiatric hospital. You shouldnt be here. Unfortunately, I cannot let you be here anymore. Please get up and leave, and I will continue the show with Dr. Mahmoud. Unfortunately, your ideas are destructive and bad for Egyptian youth. You set a very bad example for Egyptian youth.

Hes doing okay, though. Hisham just did an interview with Humanists Internationals Giovanni Gaetani without getting interrupted and he says hes doing okay. He also forgives those hosts.

I would like to excuse the host, because the situation was like that his audience would have thought: Why would you give to this atheist a platform? This means that you are as guilty as him. That could have had very bad consequences for him, like it happened to another Egyptian host who had hosted a gay person and ended up in jail for this.

Hisham described how the police tried to investigate him:

one night the Egyptian Police knocked at his door and searched his house. They even looked at their conversation on Whatsapp, full of atheist and blasphemous content, but didnt understand what they were reading because everything was in English, even the conversation with his Egyptian friends:

Police came and even searched my phone. But thankfully they didnt understand English. My phone was indeed full of atheist material, but I kept everything in English, even my chat with my Egyptian friends. I dont know who did invent the ritual, but we do it, for two reasons.

One is privacy: if you get in a situation when somebody is reading your messages, its harder for them to understand what they are reading, because not many people in Egypt are good at English. The other reason instead is to improve your English.

Clever man.

Hisham is now living safely in Germany, but hes struggling to adapt, learn the new language, and find work. Still, hes alive. That hasnt always been the case for atheists in predominantly Muslim countries who have been vocal about their godlessness. Be sure to watch the full interview. You can support Humanists Internationals campaign to help atheists at risk right here.

(Portions of this article were published earlier)

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Atheist Kicked Off Egyptian TV Show Now Says He's Safely in Another Country - Patheos

This Life and Outgrowing God review heaven, atheism and what gives life meaning – The Guardian

Years ago, the magazine US Catholic ran a headline that had the air of being written by a devout believer who had just had an appalling realisation: Heaven: Will It Be Boring? If he believed in heaven, the Swedish philosopher Martin Hgglund would answer with an unequivocal yes. And not merely boring: utterly devoid of meaning. If I believed that my life would last forever, he writes, I could never take my life to be at stake. The question of how to use our precious time wouldnt arise, because time wouldnt be precious. Faced with any decision about whether to do something potentially meaningful with any given hour or day to nurture a relationship, create a work of art, savour a natural scene the answer would always be: who cares? After all, theres always tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

I sometimes feel oppressed by my seemingly infinite to-do list; but the truth is that having infinite time in which to tackle it would be inconceivably worse. The question at issue here isnt whether heaven exists. In This Life a sweepingly ambitious synthesis of philosophy, spirituality and politics, which starts with the case for confronting mortality, and ends with the case for democratic socialism Hgglund takes it for granted that it doesnt. Instead, his point is that we shouldnt want it to. Religious people, even if they dont believe in a literal place called heaven (white bean bags, 24-hour room service, fat babies with wings, to quote Alan Partridge), nonetheless believe that what truly matters most in life belongs to the realm of the eternal and divine. The result is a devaluation of our finite lives as a lower form of being. Hgglunds alternative, secular faith, insists that our finite lives are all we have and that this finitude, far from being a cause for regret, is precisely what gives them meaning.

His annual family holiday, in his childhood home on Swedens wind-battered Baltic coast, is valuable because he wont be around to experience such things for ever, he argues, and because his family relationships are therefore equally fragile and transient. Even the landscape in which the house stands is shifting, as glaciers melt. And its only from the standpoint of secular faith, Hgglund insists, that you can really care about the climate crisis at all. If our finite lives are only a means to eternal salvation, the destruction of life cant matter in a truly ultimate sense.

Dawkins's career in evolutionary biology might stand as an exemplar of the kind of life Hgglund urges us to live

Theres a glaring problem with all this as a critique of religion, which is that religious believers manifestly do find meaning in daily life, are devoted to their relationships, and care about the fate of the planet. (Hgglund acknowledges as much, but suggests they are acting from secular faith when they do so, risking the weird conclusion that religion isnt all that religious.) A more interesting question is how far even the secular among us remain locked in the eternalist mindset, thereby inadvertently sapping our lives of meaning. Like any good rationalist, I know Im going to die, but Im not sure I really believe it; if I did, I probably wouldnt spend so much time on Twitter. In other words, I cant say that I live every moment of my life with an awareness that everything depends on what we do with our time together. This Life makes a forceful case via readings of Sren Kierkegaard, Karl Ove Knausgaard, St Augustine and CS Lewis, among many others for keeping that truth in mind.

Yet these lofty thoughts comprise only half its argument. The other half is political. If our finite lives are all we have, it follows that time is the basis of all value and the best form of society is the one that maximises our freedom to use that time as we wish. Through a detailed re-examination of the writings of Karl Marx, Hgglund concludes that capitalism can never be that system, since its committed to using whatever time surplus it generates in the service of further growth. When you sell your labour for a wage, youre selling your life and capitalism, even if it rewards you with great wealth, will always want more of your life. For Hgglund, democratic socialism of a kind far more radical than anything proposed by Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn is the only way to maximise what he calls spiritual freedom: the power to devote as much of your time as possible to what matters most to you.

This certainly sounds preferable to the politics associated with the philosopher most famously obsessed by human finitude, Martin Heidegger, who opted for nazism instead. Still, the usual objections arise: how would you prevent the bureaucratic structures necessary for implementing this freedom from making life much less free? What do you do about seemingly intrinsic human urges, like acquisitiveness, competition, or the desire to provide for ones descendants? Would tasks like participating in the garbage removal in our neighbourhood on a weekly basis really become suffused, under democratic socialism, with camaraderie and meaning? But its best not to treat the book as an election manifesto. The fundamental point is that our fleeting time together is all that counts; you cant take it with you, and our politics fails us to the extent that it has us chasing any goal other than using it for what counts.

Maybe it goes without saying that reflections on building a meaningful secular life are absent from Outgrowing God, Richard Dawkinss latest fulmination against religion, this time aimed at a young adult audience. Like other luminaries of what we should probably now be calling the nearly new atheism, Dawkinss goals are demolitionary. And so a familiar liturgy, recited in a familiar tone of exasperation, fills the books first half. Since you already dont believe in Jupiter or Poseidon or Thor or Venus or Cupid or Snotra or Mars or Odin or Apollo, why randomly believe in one other god, the bearded old man of the Bible? Dont you realise theres no evidence for Jesuss miracles, and not much evidence for the rest of the story? Besides, what kind of mean-spirited deity would drown almost every living thing hed created, sparing only Mr and Mrs Giraffe, Mr and Mrs Elephant, Mr and Mrs Penguin and all the other couples admitted to Noahs Ark? Its possible, I suppose, that younger readers will find this less condescending than I did. Its also possible that they wont.

Unlike Hgglund, Dawkins never explicitly addresses what it is that makes life meaningful, if the answer isnt religious faith. So its ironic that the books (vastly better) second half, on the evolutionary origins of life, vividly demonstrates the spirit of scientific discovery that has made life meaningful for Dawkins himself. His contagious enthusiasm renders the basics of natural selection newly astonishing; triumphs of evolution such as the way humans gestate other humans, or how starlings manage to coordinate themselves in thousand-strong flocks, strike the reader as mind-blowing, as do other truths of biology and physics: that every glass of water you drink probably contains a molecule that passed through the bladder of Julius Caesar; or that two bullets, one fired horizontally from a rifle and the other dropped to the ground, will (assuming a vacuum) land at the very same time.

Who can doubt that the discoverers of this sort of knowledge took their limited time seriously, and used it well? As for Dawkins himself, his career in evolutionary biology might stand as an exemplar of the kind of life Hgglund urges us to live a finite existence, devoted to the fragile and collaborative human endeavour of expanding scientific understanding. But atheism alone cant explain why it should matter to spend your time that way. For that you need secular faith, a belief in the value of our finite projects as ends in themselves. And Dawkins, however intensely this might irritate him, gives every sign of being a true believer.

This Life: Why Mortality Makes Us Free by Martin Hgglund is published by Profile (RRP 20). Outgrowing God: A Beginners Guide to Atheism by Richard Dawkins is published by Bantam (RRP 14.99). To order copies go to guardianbookshop.com or call 020-3176 3837. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

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This Life and Outgrowing God review heaven, atheism and what gives life meaning - The Guardian


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