Atheism as man’s last hope? May 21, 2006Posted by Administrator in atheism, Cultural Pessimism, Liberal Hypocrisy.
It seems that back in March, the NYTimes (who else?) published an op-ed by a Slovenian, Slavoj Zizek, defending the idea not only that atheism is man's last hope, but that it is in actuality what Christianity is supposed to be.
The seemingly lucid and fascinating article is here, if you wish to read it before we embark on debunking it.
FOR centuries, we have been told that without religion we are no more than egotistic animals fighting for our share, our only morality that of a pack of wolves; only religion, it is said, can elevate us to a higher spiritual level.
Zizek is not even 10 words into his exegesis when he begins to show serious flaws in his argument. His argument is that without religion there is no morality. But this is patently wrong. Without God we have no basis for morality. And it really is right here that the rest of Zizek's logical flaws in thinking flow. He conflates God with religion.
". . .assurances that Christian or Muslim or Hindu fundamentalists are only abusing and perverting the noble spiritual messages of their creeds ring increasingly hollow."
Here, he might have an argument to pursue. But this becomes a simple naked assertion with no support whatsoever. He makes the claim and moves on, as if the claim is truth speaking for itself. It is his one chance to make a meaningful support of his basic thesis, but he runs right over it. In doing so, he perpetuates the basic logical fallacy of his thinking, that of the error of composition:
Composition: an argument that a property which is affirmed or denied of every part of some whole must also be affirmed or denied of the whole. (E.g. the affirmation that since all members of the Catholic Church (on earth) are sinners, therefore the Catholic Church is sinful is a fallacy of composition. The truth is that the Church, being the Bride of Christ and the Mystical Body of Christ, is a sinless society by the promise of Christ and the agency of the Holy Spirit, despite the fact that all her members remain sinners.) (HT: GreenFlash)
Zizek claims-as do virtually all self-proclaimed atheists nowadays- that religion is invalid because the sins committed by the religions' adherents consequently invalidate the laws/beliefs in the first place. This would be akin to declaring that the Republican Party -or better yet, the office of the President itself- is invalid because of the sins committed by George W. Bush while in office. Or for the sins committed while Clinton was in office.
None but the most anarchistic of the "atheists" would agree with such a generalization, but this is the main charge used by many -including Zizek- in their condemnation of "religion".
Zizek then continues to make this astonishing claim: "What about restoring the dignity of atheism, one of Europe's greatest legacies and perhaps our only chance for peace?" While the phrase "dignity of atheism" presents serious questions of validity, it is that latter two clauses, the "greatest legacy" and "only chance for peace" that require greater attention, in that they make the stronger emotional appeal, yet are all the more spurious in their claims.
To suggest that atheism is Europe's greatest legacy shows an author who is willfully misreading and misrepresenting centuries of philosophical, naturalistic, theological, political and sociological development in the Western world. The fundamental infrastructure that girded Europe's emergence from medieval times is founded in Christian thought; from the philosophy of Aquinas to the naturalistic inquiry of Harvard (in the interests of further examining the glory of God's creation) to the formation of Magna Carta and the Constitution of the United States; both documents relying very heavily upon principles of social order emanating from both Christian and ancient Greco-Roman sources. Atheism provides no impact whatsoever, not even in the Deism celebrated by such American founders as Franklin and Jefferson. Belief in an Unmoved Mover is still believing in a Creator; atheism disavows a creator in any form.
Of course, to suggest that atheism presents a hope for peace, one look at the Stalinist regime in Russia and Nazi Germany shows that functionally atheist regimes have no better moral claim to validity; obviously, in terms of raw numbers of people killed in the name of attempting to achieve their atheist paradise, these regimes are less morally valid than the most strident Puritan state from New England. More on this later.
"More than a century ago, in "The Brothers Karamazov" and other works, Dostoyevsky warned against the dangers of godless moral nihilism, arguing in essence that if God doesn't exist, then everything is permitted. . .This argument couldn't have been more wrong: the lesson of today's terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted — at least to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God, since, clearly, a direct link to God justifies the violation of any merely human constraints and considerations."
Zizek again committs the composition error in this claim: ". . .the lesson of today's terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted" Once again, every part of religious belief becomes invalid because of the unspeakably sinful behaviors of some misguided religious people. To hew to this notion invalidates virtually every single regime of leadership in world history, from the smallest family to the largest state. In all likelihood, even universally regarded moral leaders can be brought down and their movements consequently derided as useless. Martin Luther King is a poster child example, in that his marital infidelities are regularly used as means of invalidating his very correct stance on equal rights.
And then Zizek commits his biggest blunder:
In short, fundamentalists have become no different than the "godless" Stalinist Communists, to whom everything was permitted since they perceived themselves as direct instruments of their divinity, the Historical Necessity of Progress Toward Communism.
Now, Zizek is unwittingly correct in suggesting that Stalinism was in fact following a belief system of its own. But he fails to note that he is tarring his own belief system with the very same brush. His brand of athiesm also follows a "Necessity of Progress" a Progress towards the belief that God does not exist. His error further stems from the bald fact that Stalinism itself was proudly atheist!!
It is here that Zizek's claim that atheism is mankind's best hope for peace disintegrates under its own historical microscope. In invoking the name of Stalin, he unwittingly drives the spike into his own argument, as the atheist Stalinist regime was responsible, whole or in part, for the deaths of at least 25 million people during and after WWII.
That does not give great credence to the notion that atheism is the West's best hope for peace.
Zizek continues to confuse his arguments by quoting Breton's metaphor from the Crusades:
we once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked why she carried the two bowls, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them: "Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God." Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism.
The woman is of course correct, but Zizek is fundamentally contradicting himself when he suggests that this moral stance survives in atheism. Simply put, how can an atheist function while acting out of love for God?
Zizek is correct in implicating the dangers inherent in acting out of greed for heaven or fear of hell; but even these faulty means of pursuing the Will of God suggest a note of obedience towards Him, and they certainly affirm His existence. The woman is correct, as is Hume when quoted later on by Zizek, that we ideally need to act out of love for God. But how can an atheist act in such a fashion?
Zizek compounds his contradictions:
Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God's will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God's favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror.
But where does the urge to act morally come from? Zizek does not even attempt to answer this. . .because to do so would further undermine his already tottering infrastructure; the short answer is that the urge comes from God; to claim that it comes about from naturalistic chance is -once again- inherently contradictory. He's engaging in a special pleading fallacy.
Zizek then quotes Hume to buttress his position:
A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God's existence.
Zizek would have us believe that Hume is telling us we should then not believe in God's existence, while what Hume is clearly indicating is that -once again- we should strive to be motivated by things of higher calling than fear of punishment or greed for reward.
Part of Zizek's difficulty, and it appears to be shared by PZ Myers and many at the DailyKos is the meaning of the term atheist. All of the aforementioned self-proclaimed atheists use either the reprehensible behavior of some religious adherents, or the lack of a materially present God, as logical means of declaring their atheism.
But neither position is logically valid. To debunk the presence of God based on the bad behavior of God's self-proclaimed adherents is the aforementioned composition fallacy, while claiming that the lack of materially present God immediately posits that therefore, there is no God presents serious dangers. Immeasureable concepts such as love, anger and terror become questioned.
The atheist then responds that pink unicorns must exist, as we may imagine them. There are many things that we may imagine, but few -if any- have the inferential proof of their existence. I am not going to go into this any deeper, save to recommend the Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Kreet and Tacelli as a primer on logical reasons for the existence of God.
None of the atheists listed above have addressed the primary reason suggesting God does not exist, that of the existence of evil.
Consequently, I posit that today's atheists are in fact agnostics, those that do not know for sure of God's existence, but in the end decide against it, mainly because it gets in the way of them being allowed to do whatever they wish to do at a given moment.
Because atheism as practiced in the last century suggests in no way that it is the way of the future for mankind, and it certainly cannot claim -as Zizek does- that is inherits the moral tradition of Christianity.