Archive for December 1st, 2007

December 1, 2007

Benedict XVI’s new encyclical about hope, modernity and the evils of atheism

Pope Benedict XVI the Pope has published his second encyclical. His basic argument is that “A world without God is a world without hope”.

The progress that modernity promoted is a double-eged sword according to the text. It needs ethics to direct it, lest it destroy even us:

In the twentieth century, Theodor W. Adorno formulated the problem of faith in progress quite drastically: he said that progress, seen accurately, is progress from the sling to the atom bomb. Now this is certainly an aspect of progress that must not be concealed. To put it another way: the ambiguity of progress becomes evident. Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil—possibilities that formerly did not exist. We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.

The passage that is getting the (atheist) blogosphere up in arms is actually quite on target, showing that atheism is no solution to the problems of theism:

If in the face of this world’s suffering, protest against God is understandable, the claim that humanity can and must do what no God actually does or is able to do is both presumptuous and intrinsically false. It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice; rather, it is grounded in the intrinsic falsity of the claim. A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope. No one and nothing can answer for centuries of suffering. No one and nothing can guarantee that the cynicism of power—whatever beguiling ideological mask it adopts—will cease to dominate the world. This is why the great thinkers of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, were equally critical of atheism and theism.

The Pope’s solution remains, however, unconvincing. He never quite explains why “a world without god is a world without hope”. He too falls within the theism/atheism dualism, failing to see that there are other options out there. One can hope in the very future of the world without signing off on the a/theism question. Perhaps our hope can transcend that very question and precisely hope for the best regardless of the existence/non-existence of a deity. That is neither theism, atheism nor agnosticism. It is pure, unadulterated hope (without additives).

December 1, 2007

The Alonzo Fyfe hates the pope for hating atheists

from the Athiest Ethicist complaining about Benedict’s new encyclical Spe salvi:

Pope Benedict XVI exposed a part of his moral character today as a hate-mongering bigot in an encyclical critical of modern atheism. As reported in the International Harold Tribune, the encyclical says that, “[Atheism] had led to some of the “greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice” ever known to mankind.”

Hate-mongering involves the selling of hate, typically for a profit or for the benefit of some group or organization that the hate-monger favors. It is like fish-mongering, which involves the selling of fish, as in a public market, typically for the sake of realizing a profit.

[...]

It is not a moral crime to sell hate – there are people on the world who deserve our hate. The moral crime comes from using lies and sophistry to sell hate – to force others to live their lives facing a hatred that he manufactured and sold himself.

The passage in the encyclical being referred to:

If in the face of this world’s suffering, protest against God is understandable, the claim that humanity can and must do what no God actually does or is able to do is both presumptuous and intrinsically false. It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice; rather, it is grounded in the intrinsic falsity of the claim. A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope.

Now, honestly, even if you don’t quite agree, is that hate-mongering? The Pope may not be right, be he’s not calling on anyone to lynch anyone. Sometimes atheists can be as knee-jerk reactive as the worst of the religious people!

December 1, 2007

why oh why can’t we have better religions? (take 2)

Prolonging my musings from the previous post. Now the solution to teddy bear naming and state-sponsored creationism is not trying to rid ourselves of organized religion as kevmoore suggests in the comments. For one, i don’t see organized religion vanishing anytime soon (it fulfills too many human sociable needs); second, there is nothing wrong with organized religion per se. The Dalai Lama is a representant of as organized and political a religion as exists, and yet he’s a very good person, doing plenty of good in the world. The problem is not organized religion, but certain religious beliefs.

The problem is here (as always) with people and how those people interpret their religion, beliefs, etc.

I am not as pessimistic though as Daniel who says that “people will always want to prevent religious views they cannot accept”. There are many people (even in the USA!) who are very deferential to other religious beliefs, though they have their own. We call them liberals. And i think there are many many more now than there were a few hundred years ago. That means there’s hope. Of course, some will always remain to go out pushing their beliefs, but they can be excluded from all political positions (as we see in Europe), they can be marginalized for the greater good of society.

The problem with the two examples that have recently made the news is perhaps indeed that people are trying “to prevent religious views they cannot accept”. The solution is not, however, to give up (on religion) but rather to understand why these people are behaving the way they do (i suggested fear as a motive) and to work at solving that.

If fear is involved, then the solution is internal to the religions and i am right in lamenting (channeling DeLong): why oh why can’t we have better religions?!

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