Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Pursuit of Autonomy and Adulthood


It is perfectly absurd for religious moderates to suggest that a rational human being can believe in God simply because this belief makes him happy, relieves his fear of death or gives his life meaning. The absurdity becomes obvious the moment we swap the notion of God for some other consoling proposition: Imagine, for instance, that a man wants to believe that there is a diamond buried somewhere in his yard that is the size of a refrigerator. No doubt it would feel uncommonly good to believe this. Just imagine what would happen if he then followed the example of religious moderates and maintained this belief along pragmatic lines: When asked why he thinks that there is a diamond in his yard that is thousands of times larger than any yet discovered, he says things like, "This belief gives my life meaning," or "My family and I enjoy digging for it on Sundays," or "I wouldn't want to live in a universe where there wasn't a diamond buried in my backyard that is the size of a refrigerator." Clearly these responses are inadequate. But they are worse than that. They are the responses of a madman or an idiot. - Sam Harris

Harris is forcefully dismissive of religion's ability to cure our neuroses. Religious beliefs can function as mind cures, giving us confidence, easing our aches and fears, giving our lives a sense of spiritual pursuit, a groping in the dark which makes us happy in a way that, for some, cannot be filled by any other activity.Harris dismisses it as not fit for any but the "idiot[s]" or "madmen." In Harris's flippancy with the value of religion as mindcure, he pushes aside a modest goal which might not be so modest as prudent.

To me the best argument against religion is that it seems to infantize us in some manner that is not good enough for me or you. If digging for diamonds that aren't there makes this guy happy, then WTF, that might, as I suggested above, be good enough. As Zygmunt Bauman asks, what's wrong with happiness? On the other hand, what a waste, this guy and his family could be far more fulfilled and contributing to the well being of others if they spent their scarce time and energy on searching for the real diamonds based on the best information out there.

They say philosophy asks questions that can't be answered, and religion gives answers that cannot be questioned. Answers that can't be questioned are for children. Can the benefit of religion as a mind-cure, as a noble lie -- can that compare to the autonomy of life with no unquestionable answers, the uncomfortable reality that a restrained atheism is not just one superstition among others, but the absence of superstition.

They say, the truth will set you free...... I go back and forth on how I feel about this. Sometimes I feel like nothing can be more freeing than ambiguity and nothing can enslave us more viciously than a taste of the truth.

Monday, March 1, 2010


John Brown, in Court before execution.

"This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to "remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them." I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!"

the emancipation, the martyrdom, the violence, and the submission... It is all tangled up in the John Brown story. Hmmm....