On Godless Theology
November 26, 2011

Guys, I dunno about this:

It’s important to understand that atheists scare religious people not because we’re different, in other words, but because our beliefs do literally threaten their own. We don’t simply present ourselves as another religious group whose beliefs can be kept to ourselves. We openly and unabashedly argue that religion is toxic and we’d like to see it end, just as we believe sexism and racism are toxic and should end.

My first thought on reading something like the above is that I must be pretty shitty at being an atheist. For one thing, I’m terrible at scaring religious people, even when I wear my black turtleneck and talk about how heaven is a lie and death is the end of existence. (It does not help that I am not a very intimidating dude.)

But then, maybe I’m not trying hard enough. I certainly don’t “openly and unabashedly” call for the death of religion, like good atheists are supposed to. That’s probably because I openly and unabashedly don’t care whether or not people believe in God.

Really, the whole New Atheist “death to religion” push seems like a case of misdirected priorities to me. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the history of Communism and watching The Big Lebowski, it’s that people don’t need religion as an excuse to do shitty things to each other. Religious people don’t even have a monopoly on banning abortion!

But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is that religious claims are false, and people shouldn’t be teaching their children lies as a means of controlling them. To that, I again say: “Eh.” It really depends on the character of the religious claim being made. People shouldn’t have to grow to adulthood thinking that the world is 6,000 years old and dinosaurs died because they got left off the ark (the world is actually 8,000 years old, and dinosaurs died because they were too awesome for this fallen world). But most religious claims — indeed, the most popular and important ones — are metaphysical in nature. They don’t concern facts in this world, but the other world. You know, that one.

You can call claims about that world “lies,” but I prefer to think of them as “fictions.” A lie is a verifiably false claim — false in the sense that it contradicts a fact. But what is the nature of a “fact” that takes place outside of the physical world? On what grounds do you call a claim about that world “false?”

The standard atheist response here is that such a world doesn’t exist. “There is something beyond the material world” is a false claim, and any subsequent claim that takes that one as a premise is also false. Which, sure, okay. The only problem with that argument is that most of the people making it don’t seem to really believe it.

(more…)

Nietzsche Blogging: Epilogue
October 5, 2010

Walter Kaufmann - The Portable Nietzsche
Image by lungstruck via Flickr

Looks like we sort of trickled off at the end there, sadly. But I thought this whole project deserved some sort of formal conclusion anyway.

So anyway, I’m done. 686 pages of Nietzsche, translated by Walter Kaufmann, and late last night I passed the finish line. Some of it was quite the slog, particularly near the end, and part of my reason for not writing about it was that I simply didn’t want to inflict the dying Nietzsche’s madness on you. It’s not hard to see where it overtakes him—the past 100 pages or so of The Portable Nietzsche are extended rants and eviscerations of targets that seem unworthy of such bile. The Antichrist has its moments of brilliance, but mostly it’s a long, repetitive stream of anti-Christian bile. Nietzsche Contra Wagner becomes a little bit more than what it sounds like in the last few pages. And the last five pages or so of the collection are Nietzsche’s nearly incoherent ravings to his friends and loved ones.

But what came before—as you can see from paging through the archives of this blog—was awesome stuff. Nietzsche’s prose at its best is both wry and epic, his philosophy both deeply felt and rigorously reasoned. And yet his positive philosophy isn’t what affected me the most, but his counterarguments; I think Nietzsche’s greatest contribution to the philosophical tradition is how he takes a sledgehammer to anything he sees resembling a preconceived notion. The man was many things, but first and foremost I think he was the enemy of conviction.

That is a deeply important project, and one worthy of an intellectual giant. And while I can’t bring myself to sign on with much of Nietzsche’s metaphysics or ethics, I will grant him this, which is that he has left me with one strong, overwhelming conviction: that neither I, nor anyone else, will ever have a conviction that does not deserve being assaulted with as much burning ferocity and cold reason as we can muster. This comes not from contempt for belief, but respect—because a good, strong belief should be able to withstand any siege. And we do ourselves a disservice by not constantly pursuing the best beliefs.

Coming soon: Now that Nietzsche Blogging is over, get ready for Wittgenstein Blogging! This time I’ll have a collaborator: my dear friend Peter and I are going to be combing through all seven propositions of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus together, one at a time. Our first posts should be up later this week.

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