vendredi, septembre 13, 2013

Faith Fridays: "The Happy Atheist" A Review

There's a certain piquant, perhaps even slightly lurid quality about a woman of the cloth reviewing a tome by an atheist professor of biology (with a prize-winning science blog, yet!) 

In the old days, perhaps one might have even packed this reflection between brown-paper and sold it under cover of night at your local newsstand.  After all, weren't women clergy an impossibility?

But in an age in which aspiring politicians sext young women on Twitter and butlers steal documents from the Vatican bedchambers, alas, nothing seems astonishing. 

As long as there have been theists (going back at least as far as the epics of the ancient world), there have been atheists. History is threaded with the writings and lives of famous non-believers. 

But the explosion of electronic communication, the secularization of Western Europe, and the surging number of Americans who don't identify with an institutional religious practice has amplified the voice and perhaps the influence of the no-God party. 

Atheism (as much as a non-believer with a polemical edge like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins would dislike this way of putting it) part of the dialogue about faith in the public square.

And if P Z Myers had his druthers, human beings would root out past errors, and give God, described as a "useless old fart"  and a "cranky old geezer" (metaphorically, of course, for God doesn't exist in Myersworld), his "pink slip."

In this series of sketches on such topics as "The Top Ten Reasons Religion Is Like Pornography"  Myers sets out to mock, rend, and generally deride the beliefs of any and every person of faith (except, of course, for those who have faith in science).

"Science and religion," he writes, "are two different ways of looking at the universe, and changing the world, and I believe that you must set one aside to follow the other. One works; the other doesn't."

Sometimes, however, Myers has sympathy for believers -- believers like Florida pastor (unlikely to be considered more than a huge nuisance, embarrassment or fraud by many Christians) Terry Jones, who has several times attempted to burn copies of the Koran.  After all, to Myers, the Koran and the Bible are only  books of superstitions and those who believe they are sacred texts ignorant dupes.

Myers writes scathingly of the misogynistic and patriarchal qualities of a faith born amidst ancient sheepherders and a God who is leader, master, commander.

In decimating this unreal, metaphorical God, those with no faith will realize that while they are alone in the universe, "we're all alone together."  That realization, and acceptance of the basics of evolution, will allow humans to be able to become free actors, able to choose to collaborate, and shoulder responsibilities far more weighty than that of fealty to a "trail boss."

There is much in this book that will outrage, and infuriate, many people of faith.  That's not a good reason to stay away from it, however.  If your beliefs cannot contend in the marketplace of ideas, are they really yours?

But it's hard to believe that this volume reveals Myers at his most convincing (here he sings to the choir).  Instead of "The Happy Atheist," this volume might more appropriately be called "The Snarky Atheist."

A bigger issue? We live in an age in which many have unlimited faith in both science and reason -- two disciplines that have let us down again and again. 

There are, as well, many scientists who see no contradiction between faith and science (it is difficult to think, for example,  of Dr. Francis Collins as a dupe or an idiot).

Far safe for Myers to dwell in the realm of parody than engage the messy realities that lie behind the puppet show he has set up.

For real exposure to a rigorous and nuanced atheism, turn to neuroscientist Sam Harris, or the late Christopher Hitchens. Hell, turn to Myers himself -- his blog, which explores all manner of topics scientific and (anti) religious, fascinates.

But unless you can take being annoyed, and only sporadically  enlightened, don't turn to him here. 

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