New Denominations for AtheistsMay 4, 2005
In a recent issue of Dawn Magazine, Dylan Evans complains that atheists are at a strategic disadvantage to religions. He notices that religions are always trying to fine-tune their beliefs and practices, resulting in new movements forming all the time. His retrospective of Atheism is that most of its impetus comes from an Enlightenment-inspired paradigm: Pro-science, anti-art, obnoxious to religion, resulting in Kafka-like despair and ennui. He pines for a new atheism (not surprisingly like what he believes).
In this “new atheistic denomination” he proposes several changes. One of these is an appreciation of what he sees as the “best” of religion; its heart and soul. This is what he observes:
But I do think there is one respect in which religion is more truthful than science – in its depiction of the longing for transcendent meaning that lies in man’s heart. No scientific theory has ever done justice to this longing, and in this respect religions paint more faithful pictures of the human mind. My kind of atheism sees religions as presenting potent metaphors and images to represent human aspirations for transcendence. It is only when these metaphors are understood as such, and not mistaken for literal statements, that the true value of religion is revealed.
I am not sure that some of my atheist friends would care for this kind of liberal atheism. He opens the door to the grandest of all criticisms of atheism: that it is intellectually dishonest. He makes the error in admitting that there is a transcendent meaning that lies in man’s heart. Yet, atheism does not allow for the transcendent (the word “transcendent” means something that exists as beyond us, that forms the basis of meaning and origin). Atheism, at its core, can only grudgingly admit that we are meaningless sacks of chemicals. The desire for “transcendent meaning” is explained in Conservative Atheism (or what I call Atheistic Fundamentalism) as a felt need in the brain induced by another chemical reaction in the human brain to counteract the chemically-measured fears of being alone in the universe. If we truly do have meaning that transcends us, we can’t be atheists any longer. And any attempt to try and pretend there is a transcendent truth, knowing there isn’t, is intellectually dishonest.
But, after going this far, he seals the deal by using a picture that dooms modern atheism. He says,
Here is a parable to explain what I mean: once upon a time, a talented artist painted a picture of a beautiful landscape on the wall of his house. People came from all around to see the picture. It was so beautiful that they would spend whole days staring at it.
Led on by wishful thinking, some people even began to forget that they were looking at a painting, and came to believe that the wall was a window. So the artist removed one of the bricks in the wall, allowing the illusory nature of the painting to become clear.
Some of those who had mistaken the painting for reality were upset to have their illusion shattered. But the wise ones thanked the artist profusely. “By revealing the fictitious nature of this landscape,” they said, “you have allowed us to appreciate the beauty of your art.”
Once again, this is playing games with reality. No one would be impressed when he takes a brick off the painting of a wall unless that painting were extremely accurate. And how do you define that accuracy? It is based upon the FACT that landscapes actually exist, that we can experience trees and mountains, and that they are made up of REAL artifacts called “earth” and “sky”. If any of these things are not proven to be real, no one will be impressed when the artist takes a brick down. In the same way, unless there is a reality behind a religious understanding, no one would be impressed with the picture that religion paints.
If this is his picture of modern atheism, it is doomed to go on the slagheap of religious movements that are also intellectually dishonest or metaphorically inconsistent: as he is.