Saturday, March 21, 2009

Roger Scruton On the Nothingness of Ex-Christians

(Photo of what a New Humanist looks like)

I disagree with philosopher Roger Scruton on a lot of things. He's an atheist, a "humanist," and thinks religious people are that way because they need a "moral prop." Of course, if there is no God, then that's one possible reason people "trust in God."

But I do agree with some of the things Scruton writes in his essay "The New Humanism." He says that, years ago, he shed the "old humanism" of his parents. But now, in light of the "New Humanism" of Dawkins-atheists, he finds himself longing for the old ways. Scruton's parents "had been raised as Christians, but had lived through the Second World War and lost faith in the God who permitted it. They regarded humanism as a residual option, once faith had dissolved. It was not something to make a song and dance about, still less something to impose on others, but simply the best they could manage in the absence of God."

Old Humanism is a noble concept for Scruton, finding its roots in the Enlightenment. Old Humanism was actually for something, whereas New Humanism is only against something. Old Humanism "was devoted to exalting the human person above the human animal, and moral discipline above random appetite. It saw art, music, and literature not simply as pleasures, but as sources of spiritual strength. And it took the same view of religion. Humanists of the old school were not believers. The ability to question, to doubt, to live in perpetual uncertainty, they thought, is one of the noble endowments of the human intellect. But they respected religion and studied it for the moral and spiritual truths that could outlive the God who once promoted them."

Scruton is struck by New Humanism's "lack of positive belief, but also by its need to compensate for this lack by antagonism toward an imagined enemy. I say "imagined," since it is obvious that religion is a declining force in Britain." Ha! Now that is funny. New Humanists might read Don Quixote at this point.

Dawkins-atheism "is for nothing, or at any rate for nothing in particular. Ever since the Enlightenment there has been a tendency to adopt this negative approach to the human condition, rather than to live out the exacting demands of the Enlightenment morality, which tells us to take responsibility for ourselves and to cease our snivelling."

Snivelling? Yes, I think so. Scruton's words capture the thought I've long had that, were I to become an atheist, or an "ex-Christian," I can't imagine myself wasting time arguing against Christianity or any other religious thing. Spend my life arguing against something that is not? I hope not. I'm certain I would not do this. I would then have far better things to do than spend my life studying something I don't believe in so as to argue against it. Sounds to me like existentialist theatre of the absurd. (Maybe some weird Heideggarian intepretation might work here; viz., about the experience of das Nichts as a precondition for the experience of Sein? Mostly, it also makes me want to psychoanalyze such people.)

What better things might I spend my life on? Perhaps what Scruton longs for; viz., constructing "a positive movement, devoted to seeking things worthy of emulation and sacrifice, even if there is no God to promote them."