I'm parking this for further consideration later (which means, usually, you'll never see me mention it again!). Good stuff here, especially in this:
These folks have so uncritically embraced modernist body-mind dualism that they blame all of the world’s problems on bad ideas (of which Islam is apparently the “motherlode”). As an ethicist, I am very interested in good and bad ideas, which lead to flourishing or suffering. But for all their love of “facts,” the New Atheists completely ignore history–the messy web of concrete factors like power, land, genetics, weather, hormones, economics, chemistry, and even good old father issues that give rise to ideas.A) I really appreciate conversations from someone who knows the field (here's another example), like an ethicist who examines these questions critically, rather than a polemicist like Harris, who just shoots his mouth off. B) I like seeing the New Atheists taken to task for their complete misrepresentations of history, anthropology, and religion and religious studies, in the name of "rationalism." C) I'm very aware, thanks to seminary and ministry, of the fact that religious beliefs exist within bodies, not within arguments about abstractions (which should still mean "drawn out from" the material and concrete, the cosmos we live in. We've turned abstraction into reality, or tried to, thanks to the dualism mentioned in the opening sentence.) D) Dualism--I have a real bug about dualism, and anyone who sees it lurking in the fundament has my undivided attention for their argument.
As postmodern theorists have been telling us for decades, religious “beliefs” do not simply spring up sui generis or ex nihilo. On the contrary, they exist within bodies–messy blobs of blood and bone and nerve endings that need food, shelter, and social ties in order to thrive. A healthy dose of materialism would go a long way toward complicating their oversimplifications. (I can recommend Manuel Vasquez’s More Than Belief as a primer, or perhaps they could enroll in Brent Plate’s introduction to religion class.)
I'm led by the above to this book. Although I favor William James' argument, or Wittgenstein's (I've used them both to the point of cliche by now), this looks like an interesting study. I especially like the admixture of materialism in religion, something that will probably drive the would-be empiricists and logical positivists (who don't seem to realize they are dead! Maybe it has something to do with Halloween impending) to distraction. This is a good thing. But it also returns (our discusccion of) religion to where it (religion) has always been: in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. Protestants tried mightily to remove it from that, and got the Pietists and revivals and pentecostals and charismatics for their trouble, not to mention all the arch-conservative Calvinists on the other end. My personal attraction to liturgical worship is founded fully in the material aspects of spiritual life. It ain't dualism that drives me there.
I've long thought the most virulent (and least informed) "atheists" at Salon (where atheism and religion are the most reliable click-bait) were mostly anti-modernists who devoutly want religion (especially) to be one thing, the easier to despise it. But there's that dualism again: everything must be either/or, it must be neatly cleaved between good and bad, right and wrong. It really is the fundamentalist outlook, and is itself as much a religion as any held by an ISIS soldier or the most fervent member of a KJV church where Jesus revealed his truth to us in the King's English of the 17th century.
Dualism isn't reducible to right v. wrong, nor is it responsible for such reductionist thinking. But the allure of dualism, that there is a sacred and a profane, that the most important things in the world are either oil or water, is a misleading one.