The God Backlash

Christopher Hitchens likes nothing better than rolling up his sleeves for a good fight. Apart from the Iraq war business he tends to champion worthwhile causes and plant his feet in the right corners (yes, “How was the show Mrs. Lincoln?” is certainly apt here). You certainly want him writing about your cause – there are few rhetoricians and writers like him out there – if you want an essay to forward to your friend to show why you are right, you want Hitchens to have written it.

For this reason, when he chose to expend his enviable energy on fighting for the virtues of atheism, I was personally delighted. I respect those who have faith, and only wish for atheism to receive the sort of status religion is accorded in American society in return (which  I accept will likely never happen).  However, Hitchens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007), and the rest of the long-winded sermons against faith and religion published around the same time, quickly left a bitter taste in my mouth .  There’s just something about fighting dogma with dogma (especially patronizing and belittling dogma).

Not surprisingly, a backlash to the Atheism Crusade ensued. Several books arrived, written by sophisticated, bona fide intellectuals who are both deeply immersed in the modern world and believe in God. However, a new book presents a completely new and welcome approach to the debate – a novel in fact – 36 Arguments For the Existence of God, by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Goldstein is a MacArthur fellow, novelist and philosopher and became a sort of spokesperson for atheism after the publication of her wonderful biography of Spinoza – Judaism’s most famous heretic.  However, as she explained on the Leonard Lopate show, although she is an avowed atheist, she soon became uncomfortable with her new role and this ultimately led her to writing this novel.  Rather than write a book “for” or “against” Goldstein reminds us of the importance of fiction in providing answers to the big questions. In fiction there is the kind of nuance and empathy and creation of experience that can genuinely address things like faith, which is something that is felt, not reasoned. I will never completely understand how one arrives at a belief in a non-material “higher” being but I love trying to, and think it is worthwhile in figuring out how to go about fixing the many messes that are out there because of it.

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4 Responses to “The God Backlash”

  1. Ryan Says:

    I’m not so sure I want Hitchens fighting for my “cause.” I’m going to have to quote my favorite feminist blogger on this one. Jill Posey-Smith, AKA Twisty Faster:

    “…atheism, because it consists of nothing and, let’s face it, is only conceptualized in the first place because of hegemonic pressures, can neither act nor believe nor not act nor not believe. It’s not a religion. It’s not a belief. It’s not an agenda. It’s nothing.

    Imagine if it were the other way around. What if the citizenry were presumed a priori to entertain no goddish delusions? What if it were the norm to calmly accept the indifference of the cosmos toward individual humans? What if, were one moved to acquire an intimate understanding of the physical universe, the commonly accepted procedure were merely to observe it, rather than to make shit up using obfuscatory, 2000-year-old anthrocentric, dude-centric, earth-centric folklore?

    In a world where deity-worship was a quaint curiosity, rather than a megatheocorporatocratic imperative, mystics who employed an Invisible Concierge of the Sky might be referred to as “atruthists.” “

  2. The Lord your God Says:

    It seems to me that “Twisty Faster” needs to read about the principle of contradiction.

  3. Arroz Says:

    This post made me want to check out the book and made sense to me, so mission accomplished, Ida!

  4. Praj Says:

    Interesting. I would also check out Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s Natural Reflections. I think you can only get it from Yale University Press. I haven’t read it, but Stanley Fish in the Times had a couple posts about it.

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