Varieties of Belief: A Reply to New Atheism

Traditionally the atheist has denied the existence of God or some sort of supernatural dimension to the world more generally. At the turn of this century, however, a new brand of atheism  emerged, led by a group of public intellectuals who have been dubbed the New Atheists. Their bull dog was the late Christopher Hitchens, a master of condescension. Emboldened by advances in science and the growing secularisation of society, these men – all its renowned proponents are male – not only deny the existence of God but also argue that religion itself is pernicious. More exactly they contend that history demonstrates that religion is a major source of conflict that has encouraged its various believers to commit heinous crimes in its name. The violence is the result of the primitive irrational foundations of religions such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity, which are their principal targets, especially the latter in virtue of the new atheists belonging to the traditionally Christian countries of Britain and the USA. The irrational foundations of religions make them morally bankrupt and a barrier to a less violent and happier way of living. Therefore, the world would be a better place all round if we were to abandon religions. Below I don’t present some opposing religious view to defend against new atheism. Rather I offer a critique of the new atheists’ views themselves, suggesting that they misrepresent the nature of religious beliefs.

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Dark Angels

Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the most famous political prisoners in recent history. She was under house arrest in Yangon for years, and was prevented from seeing her dying husband in the UK. As a result of a series of political events in 2015 she became the leader of Myanmar, albeit under the watch of the powerful Burmese army. Currently the muslim minority in the Rakhine region in the west of the country – known as the Rohingya – has been subjected to severe oppression, including the burning of homes, rape and killings by the army. The region has been cut off from the rest of the country. Tens of thousands of the Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. There is animosity towards these muslims in a predominantly Buddhist country, and consequently there is little sympathy for the Rohingya’s plight. That lack of sympathy, it is reported, is shared by Suu Kyi herself.[i] Indeed, to the dismay of many who have seen her as a champion of human rights, she has done nothing to stop what amounts to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. But as any observer of history will point out, she is hardly unique in this respect. History is replete with figures who were personally decent, and sometimes even courageous, but who were nonetheless complicit in heinous crimes, usually committed by states. Aung San Suu Kyi is one of these dark angels as I shall call them.[ii] To be clear, most of us are dark angels to some degree, that is, morally upright at a personal level yet willing to acquiesce with respect to – and in some cases support or enable – heinous crimes such as mass murder. Below I explore the contrastive relationship between our personal moral probity and our toleration or licensing of large scale crimes sometimes committed by the corporations and governments we form. Continue reading “”

Artistic Creativity: Divine, Profane or Mechanical

Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer is noted for his arrogance, or what some might call his hubris. In a self-portrait made at age twenty eight Dürer depicted himself in a pose deliberately echoing that of Christ. He was signalling his divine-like powers of creation. But why should he have thought that his creativity was divine? History has produced countless notably creative people, e.g., Leonardo da Vinci, Jane Austen and Vincent van Gogh, none of whose powers we normally associate with the divine. Well, if we think of creativity in general as the power to produce something out of nothing, then it is understandable to associate it with the divine. One definition of a god – or God for the monotheist – is an initiator in this sense.

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The Raging: A Genealogy of Inner Life

  1. Introduction

Biologists, neurologists and an assortment of other scientists reveal in ever more detail the workings of our bodies. Books, magazines, journals and videos brim with illustrations of these workings, from the quantum level up to the neural networks of brains that govern our capacities to think, see and so on. But for all this science one thing remains a mystery, a puzzle so enigmatic that we can only formulate it by figure of speech. It is to ask: What is it that gives us an inner life? We are after all made of the same materials in kind as rocks and toaster ovens.

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