Well, I just listened to Tripp’s podcast with Bart Campolo, and , I’ll say this: I’d have a beer with Mr. Campolo if we didn’t have to talk religion, philosophy, or politics. He seems like a legitimately nice enough dude. My guess is we could talk kids and family life with laughter and mutually, which we should likely all stick to anyways. Because, if we have to start talking religion, philosophy, or any of the crap associated with it, I’d be liable to make the following comments.
For all the complaints secularists lampoon against religious folks being dumb, ignorant, and misguided, it seems that each and every charge dumped on us is entirely reversible. Indeed, what never fails to surprise me in these types of discussions is the total lack of historical consciousness, the complete and utter disregard for any real and robust notion of reason, and the totally unsophisticated views of evil that emerge, not to mention that strange forgetfulness with regard to the atrocities committed in the name of secular reason.
Regarding the first critique, our interviewee insists that the only way to believe in God is to believe in a Zeus-like figure, complete with massive pecks, ripped abs, and filled with a wrath appeasable by a dead child, likely the God’s own. Pardon me, but has anyone who makes these claims read historical thinkers such as Plato? Aristotle? Plotinus? Gregory Nazianzus? Athanasius? Augustine? Or are they too busy reading Dennett to reach back that far, yes, even beyond Barth, to attempt to answer difficult questions?
God, for these ancient philosophers and theologians above, is nothing more and nothing less than the principle of Being, the One—as in utterly simple—who, no, doesn’t shoot spear-like lightning bolts from his nipples or machine-gun crap nails upon “his” subjects as a form of wrath. This God is the God of the philosophers, who isn’t illumined by anything but is Light itself; who isn’t told what is good or bad but is the Good itself; who isn’t caused to exist but is Existence itself. This God, in fact, is the source of all reason as the eternal stability point that allows us to ascribe identity to things and their place within this world (yes, process folks, even changing identity) at all.
I’m not asking you to agree with this vision of God. Many of you are process folks and won’t, albeit I think you have your own interesting set of philosophers to lean on. I’m just saying it has nothing to do with the anthropomorphic nipple-shooter proposed by Mr. Campolo. No, this philosopher’s God is Mr. Miyagi (check out my book) and not Jersey Shore (again, check out my book), and certainly not the Retired Oprah (once more, check out my book). If secular humanists would gain some historical consciousness (like the good ones of old such as Sartre!), this insight is not so difficult to have.
Second, I want to make a surprising statement: most secular humanists lack a robust vision of reason. What do I mean by this? Naturalist stances, which can be thought of as nudity at the beach or a denuding of the mind, generally abide by a strange and dual relationship to reason. On the one hand, they seem to take total and utter credit for being absolutely rational by buying into things that “Science,” (their God), says. On the other hand, they affirm atheistic stances on evolution which, by necessity, reduce the process of evolving to pure chance. By necessity, that means that things such as “beliefs” and even the “feeling” of rationality itself is naught but an epiphenomenon produced by a random mutation, which are useful for survival but nothing else.
Secular humanists, by definition buy into a vision of reason that says that we have no claims over what we believe and what we don’t believe at all. We simply and automatically produce ideas and beliefs that are helpful for survival, like a coyote gains an inclination to chase after a bunny. But, heck, when you listen to some of these folks they take more pride in their evolutionarily produced beliefs than hipsters get in their knowledge of obscure bands.
The point, believe it or not, is salient. There’s no pride to take, not in the sense that one has pride in building a beautiful cabinet or performing a skilled gymnastics routine—and that’s exactly the type of pride taken by the secularist. After all, we didn’t produce the beliefs, not in the way that the gymnast produces the sweet backflip. They were at best genetic mutations, which this particular person gained by chance not because of some action on the part of the one who believes them but because of the genetic fan-fiction emerging in the feelings of love that cause two people to self-identify with various birds and bees.
Then again, perhaps the pride itself is there as a product of evolutionary processes themselves so as to allow us
to really get into the fact that we have these beliefs? I think I’ve heard something like that before.
More than anything, however, you can’t forget that evolutionary versions of truth collapse on themselves. That is, there can be no robust notion of truth from an evolutionary perspective; there can only be survival-producing beliefs. That means the “belief” in evolution is nothing but an evolutionary instinct useful for surviving, but it’s not something we can acknowledge as a truth. And we can’t acknowledge that point as a truth. And we can’t acknowledge that as a point of truth. Ad infinitum, which means “to infinity and beyond!”
Funny enough, to save evolution from its own trap, you have to learn to affirm a more robust notion of truth, which does not bind itself merely to the empirical affirmations of the sciences but can begin to talk reasonably about things far beyond the sciences as found in philosophy and dare I say, theology—one that can evaluate the non-empirical beliefs caught up in evolution. After all, in these disciplines, we can reasonably talk about what’s good and bad, right and wrong, we can talk about the possibility of God as a grounding point for all these ideas, and we can even discuss the bigness or smallness of our “evolutionary beliefs.”
If you want, check out more about reason and the reasonability of God in this awesome book.
Finally, we approach in this final question the notion of the problem of evil, which, unsurprisingly, a secular humanist usually uses deficient understandings of God to define, aka, ol’ nipple-shooter up there. The truth is, from any number of theistic perspectives, it’s possible to have both a God and evil at one and the same time. We may not like it, but it’s possible.
The ancient Platonists talk about it in terms of emanation and the automatic creation that God produces merely by being God and rad. This God—read, principle of Being—has no “free choice” to create or not, and merely pours out beingly awesomeness. But, to use a language that all self-affirming secularists can understand, genes eventually get corrupted with their transmission, and so does the awesomeness of pure Light get corrupted as it’s diffused into various levels of impure existence. Being gets cut with nothingness the same way that pure bourbon gets cut with ice. By the way, that’s just the Platonist’s answer to the question of evil.
Is that a great answer? Maybe. We could delve into it more and figure it out, but that would again take affirming something more than a purely reduced understanding of reason. Certainly Christians reject it, but that brings up an entirely different matter precisely because Christians begin with a theological solution to the problem of evil—the cross—and then move back to the vision of God it must develop.
Guess who talks about that in their upcoming book?
And then—and then!—we get into tired old discussions of religious violence. My friends, we can do violence in the name of anything, including Teletubbies if we manage to take the right shrooms. (Please don’t take shrooms; that was a metaphor.) Violence isn’t so much a disease of the intellect, albeit our misconceptions of the world and our place within it do foster the possibility of violence. It’s a disease of the will. We want. We want for ourselves. And we take more, and more, and more. And we take more, more, and more in the name of stinkin’ anything!
Accordingly, it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking ISIS, the peasant crusaders, or Stalin—the atheist communist that an obviously credible website called russianhistory.org tells me killed, oh, 20,000,000 persons. I mean, even if those numbers are off by a few million, well, I think you get the point. Anyone and everyone kills everything else in the name of anything they can get their hands on because life is cheery that way. (I’m having second thoughts about that problem of evil stuff.)
Finally, I know that this blog will piss some of you off. You’ll then likely refer to me as un-Christian, and I’ll then say, “Well, yeah, I am kind of a crappy Christian, I can give you that.” I’m at least a fairly smartass. But, I get it. I’ve been incendiary, and if I’m honest, that’s because I’m trying to sell this hot little ditty, the sultry pages of which you’ll find just one click away.
That said, sorry for being a jerk.
Eric Hall is the Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen Professor of Peace and Justice at Carroll College in Montana.