Thursday, August 7, 2008

New Thinkers in Religion and Secularism

8/7/2008--There has been a lot of work recently done on the border of religion and secularism, which is the general vicinity of Hallowed Secularism. The next few blogs will zero in on some of these thinkers.

One front is the counter-attack against the New Atheists—Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett etc. Chris Hedges has one such book out, I Don’t Believe in Atheists. This book is all over the place and seems to be a kind of secular/fatalistic response (although Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School). Hedges repeatedly states that we live in a morally neutral universe that does not care about our fate, that we have few real choices, that the world cannot improve much and so forth. He criticizes the New Atheists as messianic and apocalyptic, much like the Christian fundamentalists he attacked in American Fascists. One great thing about Hedges is his defense of the Muslim world against the amazing prejudice and militarism in Hitchens and the rest.

Beattie, on the other hand, is very much a theological response to the New Atheists from a respected Catholic feminist. Beattie is one of the new religious thinkers who comes to grips with the modern world in fullness and yet remains within the religious tradition. Her book is The New Atheists.

A little further out, but still very much in the tradition of theism is Michael Hampson—God Without God—whom I have mentioned before. He is not that much concerned with the New Atheists, except to accept some of their critique of the concept of God and to then look again at God, outside the presumptive monotheism they criticize. Beattie and Hampson seem to me to be must reading for those who hope to stay within the Christian tradition and who are having trouble doing so.

Much closer to Hallowed Secularism are James C. Edwards and Susan Neiman. Edwards’ book, The Plain Sense of Things: The Fate of Religion in an Age of Normal Nihilism, has been out for awhile (1997 Penn State) and I do not understand why it did not find a wider audience. Edwards is a learned Hallowed Secularist.

Neiman is much more a secularist first, in fact an admirer of the Enlightenment. Her new book, Moral Clarity, will be helpful for those people who find Edwards—and me—too religious. I think Neiman makes an important theological mistake in her book, however, which I will return to in my next entry.

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