6/28/2012—Last Sunday, I went to our Unitarian Church to hear a talk from one of our neighbors about his atheism. For him, atheism means the absence of the supernatural. There is no God who creates and does tricks with the laws of nature. Human existence is explainable in terms of the Big Bang that starts everything and evolution that then develops everything. Religion’s evolutionary advantage was cooperation and control. But now religion has become counter evolutionary as we become one humanity and is the source of most (all?) of our problems. He goes to church because it makes him feel good and he loves his daughter and hopes that people remember him fondly after he dies.
Aside from the normal atheist error about religion and conflict—which to be fair, was acknowledged in the talk—that people do not so much fight about religion as fight about everything including religion, I did not disagree with much that my neighbor had to say. The problem lay in what was left out, what Brook Ziporyn calls the “moreitivity” of everything. All that has power, depth and interest was left out. All mystery—for example, why does the universe select for empathetic meaning seekers like us? And why do we feel that what we do matters? Or, as the character says in City of God, why do we live in moral consequence?
I am describing here the flatness of atheism as currently understood, even leaving aside what the God myth might mean apart from simple supernaturalism. The problem in philosophical terms is the criticism by Ernst Cassirer at the time of the coming of Nazism in Germany. As Raymond Barfield describes in The Ancient Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry (p. 176), Cassirer argued that “any complete philosophy must begin with a philosophy of myth.” The Nazis combined the power of myth with the weapons of industrialization to create something monstrous and powerful. Myth is the origin of meaning and language. It cannot be defeated but must be acknowledged and—what?—tamed? Used? How? Through the free imagination. But this does not happen when our best minds dismiss the romance and importance of the a-rational.
This kind of atheism will never build a civilization.