Friday, December 23, 2011

Confessions of an atheist.

First of all, happy holidays, everyone!
This is a season of goodwill.
So it is with a spirit of goodwill that I jot down the confessions below.

One of the most salient endeavors of notable intellectuals in recent years has been the effort to spread the philosophy of atheism. The late Christopher Hitchens was one of the most active proponents. And of course, Richard Dawkins, whose book "The God Delusion" laid out persuasive arguments as to why religions can be sometimes oppressive, did a great service to humanity in pointing out the road toward more freedom.

It is a trivial matter, in my own perspective, that a concept of God where "he" or "she" possesses a personality like our own, is passé. In fact, Baruch Spinoza presented a beautiful argument about the absolute infinity of "God" in his magnum opus "Ethica" in the 17th century. According to Spinoza, a concept of God where he has a body, will, and intellect, is self-contradictory as these properties pertain to finite existences like ourselves. I think that was a conclusive argument. The concept of observing and punishing God has been passé for more than three centuries.

Thirty something decades after Spinoza, I think the only intellectually interesting and challenging problem about the concept of God today is why we sometimes do have illusions of a "finite" God. There might have been psychological and/or evolutionary needs. For example, the central thesis of Christianity, as I understand it, is the belief that Christ was the Son of God, and yet was incarnated to have a finite body like us, and went through all the hardships that led to his eventual crucifixion.

Although as a rational human being I remain an atheist (strictly speaking, as I am resonant with the Spinozan concept of God, I might qualify as a "pantheist"), I do find the "story" of Christian incarnation and crucifixion fascinating and deeply moving. That an "absolutely infinite God" could voluntarily put Itself in the position of a finite and mortal being like ourselves by incarnation and go through the agony and pain of persecution and death, is, I think, one of the most beautiful "fictions" that human beings have ever conceived.

After all, the very nature of our phenomenal experience is illusory. Love is an illusion, and so is perhaps the very concept of scientific truth. To say something is illusory does not mean that it must forever be marked by stigma. When an illusion has proved powerful, it is useful to study the nature of its epistemological origins, and clarify the continuing effects on people's lives.

Thus, although I hope to remain a rational thinker, I feel as if the basic claim of the "atheist" movement has now been well received and accepted, at least in the intellectual circle, so that it is probably time to proceed with business of the elucidation of its nature of the "illusion" of God, in a spirit of goodwill.

Well, that was my confession, folks. Happy holiday seasons, again.

The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross, by James Tissot, 19th century.


Tsumabenicho said...

Happy holidays!
As pantheism is familiar to me, I liked learning Spinoza's essence that all appearaces are god itself.
In his idea even works of art seem to be incarnated in god I usually replace with nature.
It is magical to witness erasing a line between artficial objects and nature.

Tilo Reber said...

Hi Ken. Have you given up on the origin of consiousness site? I was raised as a Christian but decided that it was inconsistent when I was about 15. I followed this by talking two of my friends out of their Christianity. Then I decided that talking people out of their Christianty was really pointless. If it gave them comfort, why should I take it away, even if it is wrong. And regarding the crimes and limitations of religion, I cannot see where secularism doesn't have the same problems. The deaths that were suffered at the hands of Communism and the oppression of freedom at the hands of Communism has been as atrocious as anything that was done in the name of religion. I see atheism as an ideology as simply creating something that provides the needs of religion in what is considered to be a more sophisticated and modern way. In other words, I think that if one is a true atheist, then one simply ignores issues of religion - one doesn't make a crusade of destroying religion. I'll leave you some comments about pantheism, the embodiment of the Christian god, and qualia a little later.

Tilo Reber said...

Ken, I'm going to address this comment:

"That an "absolutely infinite God" could voluntarily put Itself in the position of a finite and mortal being like ourselves by incarnation and go through the agony and pain of persecution and death, is, I think, one of the most beautiful "fictions" that human beings have ever conceived."

Probably the last place to learn about Jesus and what he taught is from Christians. The most important thing to remember when trying to understand Jesus is that he mostly spoke in metaphors. So regard the idea of god as embodied in man as more of a metaphor than a suggested reality. Jesus was himself a pantheist. Once you understand the philosophical position of the pantheist or the mystic, then the metaphors of Jesus fall into place as being entirely consistent with that position. The environment in which Jesus lived did not have the linguistic references that were available to the people of India and Asia. So metaphor was his only tool.

When Jesus claims to be a son of god, this is not a claim of exclusivity, or even uniqueness. Rather it is a relationship that he attributes to all humanity. His uniqueness lies only in his understanding of that fact. The "Kingdom of Heaven" is not a place where god sits on a crown and angels sing. It is a state of unitive understanding - and not only of understanding, but also of a way of experiencing the world.

So, yes, Jesus is god. But there is never a seperation from god into a corporeal man. In the pantheistic ideal, Jesus, and all mankind, are never seperate from god. Rather their existence is a manifestation of the organic functioning of god at every moment. The core ideas that Jesus wanted to teach are no different from those of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita or the Tao Teh Ching. Read the sermon on the mount and remember that it is metaphor. It should become apparent that Christianity as it is practiced by the church is not that which was taught by Jesus.

Dodo + said...

This is a confession of ignorance. You did not read Spinoza or, if you did, you have not understood him at all. You excommunicate Spinoza for a second time.

You subvert the ethics and the politics of Spinoza, portraying him as an intransigent materialist. You erase the deeply religious ballast of Spinoza's philosophy to stay only with his commitment in treating man not as an alien to nature, but as part of nature. Your Spinoza is merely a "Neo-Gnostic avant la lettre".

Pantheism is Gnosticism. The idea that everything is God, without distinction, is Gnostic. The atheist idea of absolute separation is also Gnostic. Because in the human body, in the biological life, in real life, there is neither absolute separation nor absolute indistinction. All runs smoothly according a game of all and of parts, in which both are inseparable. And this is the deep sense of Aristotelianism. This is what will, later, allow you to be harmonized with Christianity, as it could allow you to be harmonized with Hinduism or Judaism or any of the great traditions, because this is the main line of human thought, which basically is our common sense, the sense of the sane man.

God, I can't believe that a serious thinker would take the "four donkeymen" that seriously.

You, Mogi-san, need more Aristotle, more Leibniz, more Husserl, more Voegelin, more serious philosophy and less junk books of intellectual activists whose mission is merely to spread gross anti-religious propaganda.