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Friday, June 28, 2002

Atheism is easy.

"We are all atheists now — or at least that's the way it seems," writes Jonathan Rée in Harper's magazine. "Atheism has somehow established itself, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, as the ordinary punter's default position . . .

It fits perfectly with the one thing we moderns have always known: that the progressive rise of literacy, free expression, and democracy is bound in the long run to neutralize the toxic mixture of superstition, ignorance, manipulation, and self-hatred that constitutes religious belief. The power of enlightenment will drive the last of the crafty priests from the last of their poky priest-holes, putting an end to fanaticism, fetishism, and self-enslavement. Even now it is busy creating a world fit for humanism's happy heroes: the plucky, self-reliant, cheerful, libidinous, and uninhibited fun-lovers of the future." ("The Poverty of Unbelief," Harper's, July 2002: 13.)

Detect the skepticism? This is a wonderful essay, especially when Rée points to what I think is and ought to be the crux of the matter for religious liberals: "Those who sign up for humanism, atheism, or agnosticism are at risk of forgetting the larger and better part of what religious traditions are all about. They think that faithful religious believers are simply lumbered with a load of intellectual luggage that undeceived rationalists like themselves can happily do without . . ."

By the end of Rée's essay, I began thinking of it as a meditation on James Luther Adams's aphorism, "An unexamined faith is not worth having." But Rée has applied it to one mental block that afflicts Unitarian Universalism and impairs its growth: "The distinction between atheists and believers is perhaps beginning to lose its point: the real distinction is between those who are willing to be intelligent about the problems of existence and those who are not. And if tacit atheism has become the default belief of our age, it needs to be noted that it is no longer the badge of a courageous free spirit but, more often than not, the 'do not disturb' sign hung out by the intellectually inert."

[Originally posted to the now defunct UUYAM email list 6.28.02]

Looking for examples of intelligent engagement with the problems of existence? I recommend John Hayward's book Through the Rose Window: Art, Myth, and the Religious Imagination, the work of Paul Tillich, the resources of The Center for Progressive Christianity, and the excellent journals Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion and CrossCurrents.

Copyright © 2002 by Philocrites | Posted 28 June 2002 at 8:21 PM

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