Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Deep Desire

The writings of "New Atheists" Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, et al. are replete with suggestions, implicit and explicit, that people who believe in God are irrational, delusional, superstitious and guilty of sundry other crimes against reason. Believers, to borrow from Ludwig Feuerbach, are simply projecting their deepest longings onto reality and reifying a Being which actually exists only in their hopes and dreams. As Freud puts it, theistic believers are indulging in "wish fulfillment" - wanting something to be true so fervently that they convince themselves that it is.

These are odd objections, though, coming as they do from atheists, none of whom have ever been able to offer a compelling argument against the existence of God, or even, for that matter, a convincing reason for rejecting the belief that God's existence is more plausible than His non-existence. Moreover, many of these skeptics openly acknowledge that their own unbelief is a consequence of little more than their profound desire that God not exist.

I was reminded of this while reading a piece by philosopher Jim Spiegel in an article on Christianity Today's website in which he quotes two famous admissions from two well-known contemporary philosophers.

In his book The Last Word Thomas Nagel wrote: "I want atheism to be true .... It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."

Spiegel also recounts the words of atheist turned Catholic the late Mortimer Adler. Adler was a philosopher who converted late in life and who gave this explanation for his life-long atheism:
Adler (who was baptized quietly at age 81) confessed to rejecting religious commitment for most of his life because it "would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for …. The simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person."
I think one could, had one pressed them hard enough, elicited similar admissions from many of the famous atheists of the last two centuries, particularly Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Russell, Sartre and Camus. All of these men were atheists, but none of them ever gave much of a reason for their unbelief other than that they found theism unattractive. Their atheism, I suspect, was due largely to a desire not to have to "live up to being a genuinely religious person".

At any rate, the criticism that theism is somehow disreputable because it stems from a deep desire that there be a God strikes me as perverse. Why, given all the evidence that a God exists, is it disreputable to desire it be so and to take the further step of believing it is so? Why is it intellectually disreputable to want there to be a ground for meaning, morality, justice, hope, human rights, human dignity and human worth, none of which can be grounded in anything more substantial than our own whim if atheism is true? If there were very good reasons to disbelieve then perhaps it might be wrong to believe, but there aren't.

On the other hand, it does strike me as intellectually disreputable to fail to believe simply because one has a deep desire that there be no God. One should have more of a reason than that to deprive oneself, and others, of a belief that those things I just mentioned have a ground more substantial than our own tastes.

The Bloom Is Off the Rose

Andrew Sullivan, perhaps President Obama's most prominent groupie at The Atlantic, has had enough. The President, by presenting a budget that does nothing substantive to trim the deficit or our debt, has shown himself, in Sullivan's view, to be unserious about averting the fiscal disaster that looms in our nation's near to mid-future.

As you read this understand that it was written by one of the more starry-eyed of Mr. Obama's media adorers in the last election:
[T]his president is too weak, too cautious, too beholden to politics over policy to lead. In this budget, in his refusal to do anything concrete to tackle the looming entitlement debt, in his failure to address the generational injustice, in his blithe indifference to the increasing danger of default, he has betrayed those of us who took him to be a serious president prepared to put the good of the country before his short term political interests. Like his State of the Union, this budget is good short term politics but such a massive pile of fiscal bull.... it makes it perfectly clear that Obama is kicking this vital issue down the road.

To all those under 30 who worked so hard to get this man elected, know this: he just screwed you over. He thinks you're fools. Either the US will go into default because of Obama's cowardice, or you will be paying far far more for far far less because this president has no courage when it counts. He let you down. On the critical issue of America's fiscal crisis, he represents no hope and no change. Just the same old Washington politics he once promised to end.
If Andrew Sullivan is talking like this how many of Mr. Obama's less infatuated admirers are beginning to think that they'd allowed themselves to be seduced by a smooth-talking empty suit?