Monday, April 5, 2010

Bunting, The E-Word, and the T-Word

Madeleine Bunting has challenged the 'new atheists' in an interesting way. What's interesting about it?

What numerous countries are now demonstrating from the US to Asia, from Africa to the Middle East and Latin America, is that modernisation, far from entailing secularisation, is actually leading to increased and intensified forms of religiosity.
Notice anything? Consider this:
What staggers the "philosophers" (I use the term loosely to indicate writers who use philosophical arguments) is the sheer philosophical illiteracy of Dawkins. As Terry Eagleton puts it in Reason, Faith and Revolution, "Dawkins's rationalist complacency is of just the sort Jonathan Swift so magnificently savaged". Several centuries on, it appears some have not quite grasped Swift's point.
Zing! Do you happen to notice the same thing? More from the same piece:
Start with Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth: "we are meaning-seeking creatures" who "invent stories to place our lives in a larger setting … and give us a sense that, against all the depressing and chaotic evidence to the contrary, life has meaning and value". That helps explain why the bestselling religious book in the US is The Purpose Driven Life (the first chapters of which are published on the net as What on Earth Am I Here For?). The faithful are not mugging up on critiques of reason for an argument with New Atheism, but turning to religion to offer meaning and purpose.
Tabulating the points scored against "new atheism" thus far, we have the testimony of Jonathan Swift by way of Terry Eagleton, that of Karen Armstrong, that of Pastor Rick Warren, book sales in the USA, and (surely not least) the god-embracing demonstrations of numerous countries.

Bunting cites yet more interesting "evidence" of this kind as she continues -- and there I've revealed what's interesting about it, to the extent that anything is: evidence, its quality, and its absence. She mentions the large numbers of people who seek comfort and solace in religion (and terrible books) without noting whether they are, by doing so, approaching closer to truth. She speaks of Jonathan Swift's savage wit without deigning to specify whether and how it speaks truthfully to the cases under discussion. Worse, she does so on the strength of Terry Eagleton's reputation.

Bunting conspicuously brushes aside the question of truth -- where the evidence shows it to be, how it can be separated from its imitations and approximations, how it relates to and departs from the evidence she chooses to cite. It does not matter, she seems to say, whether people are covering their emotional angst, longings, and drive for purpose in utter fabricated bullshit; it only matters that there are many of them doing the covering, and in many places, and that there are reputable-sounding names to attach to the effort.


(via Ophelia Benson)

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