Friday, June 12, 2009

Only theologians can be atheists

At least, that’s the conclusion one has to draw from the latest ploy used by a certain contingent (cabal!) of theists to argue against atheism.

More properly, they’re arguing against public expression by the most visible atheists – e.g., Dawkins – rather than against atheism itself. But of course their real purpose is to keep those visible atheists from making atheism respectable and appealing.

So they’re now grumbling that Dawkins and his like must not publish books attacking religion unless they can show that they’ve studied the literature of theism in depth. Unable to defend their wacky fundamental belief – the existence of invisible Sky Daddy – these theists are trying to divert the debate into an argument about irrelevant details. If you can’t demonstrate an intimate knowledge of all the convoluted arguments about just how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, then you’re not allowed to ask for proof that angels exist.

So let’s engage in a thought experiment.

Suppose that long ago, a hunting party of American Indians in western Colorado, while sitting around the campfire in the evening, had a religious experience, a series of visions, orgasmic and transporting. They imagined that somewhere nearby was an immense but invisible and undetectable rock, and that the rock was speaking to them. They dreamed that the rock told them it had created the world, including them. So they worshiped the invisible rock and sacrificed animals and passing Spaniards to it.

Once Anglos began pouring into the area, large numbers of the white settlers converted to what they called Rockism. From the city that grew up around the imagined site of the invisible rock, thousands, then millions, of pages of detailed theology flowed out around the world. Hundreds of millions of people converted to Rockism.

Rockist theologians, including some of the most brilliant minds on earth, spent their lives arguing with each other about the exact order in which the rock created the various parts of the world, and whether it created the rest of the universe first, or later, or simultaneously. Should they use the newest technology to try to actually detect the rock and determine its nature, or would that be blasphemy? Did the rock extend down to the center of the earth? Up as far as the orbit of the moon? And so on and on and on.

Any sensible person would say, “Prove to me that this rock exists.” Who in his right mind would think it necessary to read all of the Rockist theological drivel before declaring the whole religion to be utter nonsense?


RtPt said...

And what makes an individual a theologian? A doctorate in divinity? A masters in religion? A sociology bachelors with minor of religion?

I am not a lit major, but I can talk about Vonnegut. I don't have a degree in political science, but I am knowledgeable about neo-liberalism.

This is bad argumentation by the theists. It is called appeal to authority. While it is wise to listen to a learned individual, it is not wise to agree with them because of a title. A piece of parchment does not necessarily equate into knowledge or correctness. We have heard enough nonsense about religion to know this to be true.

Every person is entitled to speak about theology...whether their arguments are valid or logical is another matter.

David said...

That's a good point.

It's the nature of theists to defer to authority figures, in general. Those may be long-dead theologians or preachers on TV.

RtPt said...

Very true.

They turn their life, minds and decision-making to a higher power. It is easy to make statements like they do when they don't have to think for themselves. Toe the company line. Talking points...Republicans do a great job at it as well.

csohnholz said...

Adhering to an "ism" means nothing. Contemplating these "isms" is a waste of time.
I believe in tangible, empiric (observable) study.

TGirsch said...

I appreciate what you're trying to do here, David, but you realize that you're trying to apply a rational thought exercise to a group of people who by and large hold rational thought in contempt...

David said...

Oh, well, I'm sure they don't read this blog, either.

If they did, the comments section would look like the one for my post about Benjamin Button.

moonrat said...

i learned from reading THE CHOSEN by chaim potok(all my understanding of the world comes from books, sorry) that in talmudic study, there is a concept of "pilpul"--arguing tiny points, in many case semantics, in order to get to the bottom of the letter of the law. the main character is very, very good at making these arguments. in the end, his teacher basically tells him "you've mastered this--now go do something more meaningful to you." (i paraphrase.)

i don't mean this as relevant to judaism but as a general statement for practitioners and scholars of any religion--you can study the fine points in order to excel within the group, but your specialist knowledge of your own faith--even if you believe it's going to be what saves your immortal soul or whatever--is never going to be as meaningful in your life as something that would help you reach BEYOND your specialist group. which is sad.

David said...

Interesting, moonrat.

When I was a boy, my father, the rabbi, started me on studying the Talmud. He assumed I'd take to it and spend my life at it and follow in his professional footsteps (gaah!).

I didn't - take to it, or follow. Those immense books with those huge pages filled with small blocks of writing in the center and tiny writing all around it in strange variations of Semitic script fascinated him but filled me with horror and in time revulsion. I still feel that way.

TGirsch said...

Sure, you were repulsed by the Jewish religious texts, but did you ever try studying the true religious texts?


David said...

Oh, the Rockist ones. No, I'm not that brave. I'm afraid I'll have a religious experience and become a rocker.