Saturday, October 20, 2007

God is dead, and I am not feeling too well myself

Karl Marx described religion as the opium of the people, as the religious pie-in-the-sky came in the way of the proletariat realizing their revolutionary potential. A new school of thought, and a rash of books have emerged over the last one year, that are clearly anti-religion and atheistic, and put the blame for society’s ailments entirely on religious beliefs.

Religion is a delusion, according to these writers, including Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, and is responsible for the fundamentalism and divisions in today’s world. In contrast the scientific method, applied thoroughly, will usher in a brave new world.

There is an element of déjà vu to these new theories. This time over however the new wave of secular, nay atheistic writings, are a reaction to the mayhem and violence that the world is seeing in the name of religion.

One thing is clear is that despite Hume, the empiricists and the logical positivists, religion continues to thrive. By dismissing ethical statements as mere ejaculations, and religious statements as meaningless sentences, philosophy restricted its area of activity to being the handmaiden of science, providing the logical framework for science, without answering the questions about eternal truths that was the primal impetus for philosophy.

Logical positivists like A.J. Ayer disenchanted the world, and killed God by dismissing any questions about the supernatural as meaningless.

I remember how dogmatically the logical positivists clung on to this circumscribed version of truth. When I asked my philosophy professor, a logical positivist, what one makes of my own consciousness, which is not empirically verifiable, he turned around to me and said that consciousness had no place in philosophy. When I insisted that I was conscious when I spoke to him, and could not hence exclude consciousness out of the discussion, he promptly chided me for picking up my knowledge from “popular magazines” like the Reader’s Digest. The discussion was closed as far as the professor was concerned.

Not unexpectedly, logical positivism had taken philosophy into a sterility. If the positivists had decided that questions about God were meaningless sentences, other schools of philosophy decided that logical debate on God was impossible. Some of the existentialists like Sartre went along with the disenchantment of the world, and built a philosophy around the meaningless and emptiness of life. Taking a leaf from Søren Kierkegaard before them, other thinkers attempted to restore subjectivity into philosophical discourse, and the “leap of faith” into understanding God. God was in the realm of subjectivity, and so was morality.

Demolishing God and religion has serious consequences on social and cultural life. It makes ethics and morality relative --- my expression of likes and dislikes is as good as the next person’s. If there is no agreed moral truth, we cannot reason together. All truth becomes subjective or relative, no more than a construction.

Enforcement of morality becomes even more tenuous, without the fear of God. Many will argue that despite the Holocaust, and other cruelty against humanity, that man is naturally moral, and does not need the Bible or other religious books to guide him on what is right or wrong. Maybe, but the historical evidence ensures that the jury is still out on this issue.

As dangerous as moral relativism would be the breakdown of organized religion. For all its faults, organized religion provides the basis for community, shared experience, shared values. The breakdown of religion, approved by the neo-atheists, in fact leads to attempts to re-enchant the world through new religious cults that focus more on subjectivity than on community, more on a personal morality, than social morality.

The proclamation of the death of God, or the need to get him out of the picture is not new, but its revival at this juncture in history is positively dangeorus. In a world that is already divided by nationalities, ethnicity, language, and a whole host of other factors including the fringe elements of organized religion, the disenchantment of the world can only lead to nihilism of catastrophic proportions.

Related story:
When atheists and secularists want to play God

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