Saturday, September 11, 2010

Religious Naturalism Against Undergraduate Atheism

In this fascinating review of two books by religious naturalists, John Cottingham takes on what is termed the undergraduate atheism of the Ditchkins crowd (Dawkins, Hitchens et al) and the responses of religious naturalist Mark Johnston and the French writer André Comte-Sponville.

It's a brilliant review, but the books sound brilliant in their own ways too, especially Johnston's, since he appears to have reoriented the atheism/theism debate to one in which the evolutionary desires for selfish and selfless behaviour play a central role in the analysis of religion. Johnston apparently offers up process thought as a third option lying between the classical theist / atheist divide. Ok, but can a process God, who is indistinguishable from Nature (capital N) really sustain the retrieval of a true morality and life's true meaning that Johnston wants to retrieve? Cottingham says no. For instance:

Both writers mention, en passant, that they were brought up as Catholics. But, like many academics and intellectuals, I suspect they have given insufficient credit to the pervasive subliminal effects of the culture to which they were exposed, day by day and week by week, as they grew up. To be sure, there was much about that culture, especially in its more rigid and fossilised forms, that was no doubt oppressive, if not worse. But the sense, powerfully articulated in both writers, of the sacred, of the mystery and wonder of existence, of the power and resonance of the moral ideals that call us to transcend ourselves, of the supreme value of love and self-sacrifice — how much of this is really independent of the liturgical and scriptural and sacramental culture which nurtured them? And how much of it can be retained once that culture has been dismantled?

No comments:

Post a Comment