Friday, March 01, 2013

Shiny, Happy People Having Fun in a Humanist Paradise

San Diego area

Bryan Appleyard, in NewStatesman, reviews atheist philosopher A.C. Grayling's The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism.

If religion was eliminated (which of course will never happen) what would take its place? Enter Grayling, who gives us a world of atheists who are "shiny, happy people having fun in a humanist paradise." 

Appleyard rightly points out that even atheists must admit that "religion does serve some useful purposes: providing a sense of community, consoling the bereaved and the suffering, telling a story to make sense of the world, and so on." In religion's place Grayling tells a humanist story which he thinks is capable of answering all these needs.

Appleyard spots flaws in Grayling's reasoning. For example, the atheist regimes of Stalin and Mao.   It does seem, does it not, that evil lies at the core of humanity, within which atheists are not excluded? Remember, e.g., atheist Bertrand Russell's perverted womanizing. Ellen McClay writes: "Russell was a notorious womanizer, whose lifestyle indicated he was amoral at the very least. He had several mistresses and eventually four wives, and is reported to have seduced the teen-aged daughter of a friend whose house visited." (McClay, In the Presence of Our Enemies, 235. See also Paul Johnson's chapter on Russell in Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky.)

Appleyard finds Grayling's book "irritating, self-serving," and at points just plain "silly." In this regard Grayling claims a humanist grand narrative which gives us “an ethics free from religious or superstitious aspects, an outlook that has its roots in rich philosophical traditions." But this cannot be done. Here we have what might be called the BIG PROBLEM of the atheist-humanist narrative; viz., the incoherence of morality on philosophical naturalism. 

Grayling, just like the other atheistic "four horsemen," "narrowly defines religion as a system of physical beliefs and then says such a system has nothing to offer the world... But [writes Appleyard] what religion has to offer is a great mountain of insights into the human realm. Belief, in this context, is beside the point. Reading John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, the Fire Sermon or the Sermon on the Mount will teach you more about the human condition than anything written by the horsemen."