Saturday, September 20, 2008

"No One Sees God"? Bracing for Apologetic Barrage...

Dinesh. Dinesh. Dinesh. Dinesh. I just can't quit you. I can consider myself glad that AOL will be giving you and the entire Newsblogs the boot fairly soon. They'll be forcing me to kick a very addictive habit: kicking you.

One of Novak's especially attractive qualities is his ability to find common ground with his opponents. Here he begins by conceding to the atheist that "we are all in the same darkness." No one-not even Moses or Abraham-has set his eyes on God.
Profoundly retarded. Merely not "seeing" God is one thing: having absolutely no senses informing you of his presence at all is another. The "same darkness" suggests not just visual blindness to God, but a universal lack of sensual awareness of him. Bringing up Moses and Abraham, who God supposedly spoke to shows just how irrelevant lack of seeing God is for him to make his presence known, and further emphases the fact that he doesn't do it in real life.
Novak rejects the certitudes of both the religious fundamentalist and the
militant atheist.

Then Novak is 50% correct. Either he is using a strange definition of "certitude", has an especially stricter definition of "militant" than the one that is regularly tossed about, or is actually comparing a group numbering a few hundred thousand to a group numbering in the low hundreds.

"the dark and windswept open spaces between unbelief and belief."

LOLWUT? Taking Golden Mean agnosticism to a new level...

For Novak, life raises bigger questions than the ones answered, and answerable,
by science.

Good for him. Science isn't claiming a monopoly on definining human experience and existence. Just don't try to pretend that your own introspection, subjective experiences, questions, and answers are at all reflective upon an objective reality that has any relevance to anyone aside from yourself and doesn't touch through the realm of science in the process.

Ultimately we want to know not merely how things work but also: why are we here?
What is our purpose? What is our final destiny?

Yes. The constant "what is the meaning of life" question. Once again, answer it with whatever you want because we aren't going to get an objective and universally applicable one anytime soon. And, once again, do not try to pretend that your answer is anything more than an emotionally charged guess. Because that is what is. Hell, that is what the very questions themselves are.

Novak credits religion with addressing the largest moral questions, not only
"what is it good to do?" but also "what is it good to be?" and "what is it good
to love?"

[raised eyebrow] Yes...religion does answer those questions. Poorly. With little elbow room or reasoning, and a few annoying inconsistencies. And what the hell does that last question even mean? [At first I assumed that it was talking about what concepts or ideals to "love", but I am wondering if it just a nice little euphemism for "have sexxx with".

Even so, Novak finds it puzzling that these atheists make so little effort to understand how God is experienced by the believer.

I guess it is a good question. I guess because it is hard to get into people heads, to determine which people are lying, which are hallucinating, which are dreaming, which are just mistaking strong feelings and desires for metaphysical experience with genuine metaphysical experience, and which ones actually experienced God as more than just "faith". As for the significance of experiencing God as being synonymous with the effects of merely having faith, well...a study into that would be interesting but assuredly complex. In short, it is probably avoided because it is just too damn subjective.

"For a believer...It does not take a prolonged thought experiment to imagine
oneself an unbeliever."

Laughable. If Novak is seriously trying to suggest that believers have some sort of insight that unbelievers do not into one another's respective manner of thinking, he should consider:

  1. Most unbelievers were once believers.
  2. Unbelievers live in a culture saturated with religious belief, and must interact with believers on a standard basis.
  3. Unbelievers are rare, and their justifications and mindsets are not as consistent due to being defined by a LACK of conformity to a norm, rather than conformity to another standard.
  4. The justifications and mindsets behind disbelief are often misrepresented in part due to 3.
  5. Many believers do not know how one could not believe in their religion of choice (hence, why they decided to a member of it!).
atheists like Hitchens seem to have no empathetic understanding whatsoever of
genuine religious conviction. They have no sense of what belief must be like
from within.

Truf. It is sometimes hard to tell, especially since "genuine religious conviction" tends to vary in nature and magnitude from person to person, making particular strains more or less understandable. Except, since we are human, we know what it is like to be confident that we are right. We know what is like to want to be important. To want knowledge of a "big pattern behind it all". To feel like there is something beyond what we know and to long for that unknown reality. To believe and be happy that we have something we can be sure about in our lives. These are all fundamental parts of human existence. We know what it feels like, since we do have beliefs ourselves on other matters. But, you see, whenever the facts and our beliefs just don't line up, we try to change our beliefs instead of the facts. And when a belief is just irrelevant, we stop trying to hold it as truth.

In short: we have a fairly good guess about what religious convictions feel like. I cannot say that believers know what uncompartmentalized skepticism feels like, though. Does that mean that we win?

Novak's point is that this shortcoming makes them poor analysts of religion.

Oh, finally! I can get a good bitch slap on Dinesh now. I'll type this nice and slow for you, D.D.:


How does the subjective experience of belief itself, and how warm and cuddly utter certainty makes you have any bearing on the existence of God, the accuracy of Biblical documents, the morality of the church's former activity, or even on the significance of belief itself? It quite simply doesn't. This is an incredibly misguided distraction.

When we read Macbeth, for instance, we have to be able to plunge into
Shakespeare's world, ghosts and all. No understanding of Macbeth is possible if
we begin with rude dismissal, "Of course the whole premise is complete

And much lulz were had this day. For Dinesh D'Souza just compared the Bible to a work of fiction in order to score points. Okay, I'll just make this easy for you and tell you why this is dumb: Macbeth isn't claiming to be an accurate portrayal of reality, religion is. Rude dismissal of unreal premises is appropriate for something that claims to be real. I hope that cleared things up. Oh, but just in case that hurt your feelings, or made you want to whine, most of us have thoroughly explored your religion and many others before fully abandoning them. So, you can rest your empty little head, D.D.

It is also a matter of giving an account of why such a tiny minority of people
in our culture have embraced vocal atheism. If atheism is so obviously
convincing, Novak asks, why are so few people drawn to it?

I am going to go with:

  1. Unwillingness to define themselves as non-Christian despite what their actual beliefs are, in the name of tradition.
  2. General lack of interest or knowledge in regards to religion.
  3. The stigma of the atheist label and the appeal of "moderate religion" and "middle-ground" agnosticism.
  4. And just a dash of "people are stupid".
Paine understood that such concepts as the dignity of man and human rights
depended on man's special place in God's creation.

Except, you know, for the fact that they were original secular Greek ideas, and were implied tenets of functional society far before them. I mean, hell, "favor humans over non-humans" and "treat people fairly" are what "dignity" and "rights" amount to. I am not sure how many early societies would survive without such precepts. What's pathetic is how badly your God-loving societies were able to pervert those little concepts, though, to accomodate slaves, torture, and subjugation of women. Hilarious.

Hitchens seems blissfully unaware of a whole tradition of scholarship, from
Tocqueville to Jurgen Habermas, that identifies Christianity as the essential
foundation of some of the West's most cherished institutions and values.

Ahh, yes. The "West". I would certainly hope that it had some influence on some portions of the hemisphere of our planet were it has existed almost exclusively as a dominant religion for almost a full two millenia. I would also certainly hope that some of them were positive. But, unfortunately, I have yet to be shown an institution and value given to the West by Christianity that wasn't itself derived from an early source, or that didn't develop in the "East" without Christian influence. Hell, if the above two were examples, half of the ones you take credit for didn't even come from you. Just taking credit for common sense, reason, and empathy, as usual...

Habermas shows that the very idea of toleration is a gift that religious thought
has bequeathed to modern secular society.

But, doesn't "toleration" also go hand-in-hand as a byproduct of equality? Which is an essentially secular idea?

are secular people willing to acknowledge that toleration is always a two-way
street? In other words, if religious people are expected to be tolerant of
unbelievers, shouldn't secular people learn to be tolerant of their fellow
citizens who are believers

WTF!!!? Yes. Of course. DEPENDING ON YOUR DEFINITION OF TOLERANCE! If mere critique of religious ideas is intolerance, and you must tolerate the non-religious and thus not critique their ideas about religion, not only have ensured stagnation and ruled out any possible discussion on the issue, but you also outlawed evangelism by implication! There are limits to tolerance, especially when you are asking about tolerating an unsupported opinion. I am in support of it in reasonable amounts. But, unfortunately, the call for tolerance is often an ignorant front for trying to get immunity to criticism. That is not only moronic, but also incredibly low.

If Habermas and Novak are right, the public square should not be viewed as the
property of secular citizens. Rather, it is the common ground on which believers
and non-believers communicate with each other.

No. The public square should be both. The domain of secular citizens whose religions are put temporarily aside when taking on an authoritative role, but can still be picked up and displayed when a varying stance appears and engages you in discussion pertinent to it.

It makes no sense to exclude religious convictions from the public sphere if
secular convictions are granted full access.

Yes it does, if those convictions suggest that the government agrees with that particular conviction on merit of the belief holder's position of authority. But, I see that you are intentionally wording this as vaguely as possible so that you ALMOST make sense, by implying that "public sphere" means any public space, and trying to play off the word "secular" to make it sound like it is somehow giving atheists a leg up in that context.

An uncritical "separation of church and state" must give way to a shared domain
in which all citizens have the right to express their heartfelt convictions.

They can and do! As long as they aren't a goddamn representative of a government agency at the time, they can say whatever they want about religious matters. It is amazing how you can try to sound right, and yet cram so much fail between the fancy words you rub together.

Oh, and for those who weren't paying attention, this article went "those atheists just don't understand our faith" to "Christianity gave us some good stuff" to "tolerance, therefore get secularism outta here!". No one ever accused Dinesh of making sense.

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