Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Lenten Meditation

Well, as long as I'm just sitting here....

I've said it before, or attempted to, but when someone else says it again, and so eloquently and clearly, I want to pass it on.

Via Thought Criminal, David Bentley Hunt reviewing Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell:

For one thing, it does not logically follow that, simply because religion as such is a natural phenomenon, it cannot become the vehicle of divine truth, or that it is not in some sense oriented toward a transcendent reality. To imagine that it does so follow is to fall prey to a version of the genetic fallacy, the belief that one need only determine the causal sequence by which something comes into being in order to understand its nature, meaning, content, uses, or value. For another thing, no one believes in religion. Christians, for instance, believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead and is now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, present to his Church as its Lord. This claim is at once historical and spiritual, and has given rise to an immense diversity of natural expressions: moral, artistic, philosophical, social, legal, and (of course) religious. Regarding “religion” as such, though, it is in keeping with theological tradition to see it as something common to all societies, many of whose manifestations are violent, idiotic, despotic, superstitious, amoral, degrading, and false. The most one can say about religion in the abstract is that it gives ambiguous expression to what Christian tradition calls the “natural desire for God,” and to a human openness to spiritual truth, revelation, or grace.

A number of on-line atheists think they destroy the power of scripture by pointing out it is either old ("Bronze Age" is the favorite label now; it is all a matter of faddishness, these labels) or all too human (all the violence!), or not as damning of slavery as we are today, or just too ignorant of modern cosmology.  Because apparently scripture must be wholly Other, or it is only wholly human.

And human is not good enough to believe in, except as humans "reason," and reason in ways approved of.  Hunt touches on that, pointing out the idea of "memes" which Dennett relies on (via Dawkins)  is a reliance on something that simply cannot be established by empiricism or scientific study.  He describes Dennett's conclusions this way:

It is as if [Dennett] imagines that by imitating the outward forms of scientific method, and by applying an assortment of superficially empirical theories to nonempirical realities, and by tirelessly gathering information, and by asserting the validity of his methods with an incantatory repetitiveness, and by invoking invisible agencies such as memes, and by fiercely believing in the efficacy of all that he is doing, he can summon forth actual hard clinical results, as from the treasure houses of the gods.
It's an attempt I've seen over and over again.  The virtue of the Continental philosophers I read, even the lapsed Catholics like Vattimo, is that they understand there is something about religion which is not dreamt of in such a crabbed and ill-informed philosophy as Dennett's; and that there is nothing wrong with religion being "natural" (indeed, the argument that it can't be is largely the argument of the Christian fundamentalists, whom most on-line atheists, as well as Dennett and Dawkins, take for the majority of Christianity).  As Hunt, the theologian, point out:

Certainly the Christian should be undismayed by the notion that religion is natural “all the way down.” Indeed, it should not matter whether religion is the result of evolutionary imperatives, or of an inclination toward belief inscribed in our genes and in the structure of our brains, or even (more fantastically) of memes that have impressed themselves on our minds and cultures and languages. All things are natural. But nature itself is created toward an end”its consummation in God”and is informed by a more eminent causality”the creative will of God”and is sustained in existence by its participation in the being that flows from God, who is the infinite wellspring of all actuality. And religion, as a part of nature, possesses an innate entelechy and is oriented like everything else toward the union of God and his creatures. Nor should the Christian expect to find any lacunae in the fabric of nature, needing to be repaired by the periodic interventions of a cosmic maintenance technician. God’s transcendence is absolute: He is cause of all things by giving existence to the whole, but nowhere need he act as a rival to any of the contingent, finite, secondary causes by which the universe lives, moves, and has its being in him.
And that is a fine Lenten Meditation.

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