God for Atheists

February 28, 2011

Atheism of late has gotten a bad name thanks to its rather callow contemporary adherents—Dawkins, Hitchens, et al.  But history has produced a few brilliant atheists as well—like my favorite, Nietzsche—and the Church’s best theologians have long taken atheism seriously.

The insightful British Thomist, Herbert McCabe, OP, distinguishes between two different types of atheists in his excellent collection of essays God Matters.  McCabe points out that some atheists reject what they take to be a peculiar religious conception of God:  God as a sort of really big, really powerful guy, a “Top Person,” to use McCabe’s phrase.  In rejecting such a (mis)conception of God, McCabe says, Thomas Aquinas is an atheist too.

But there’s another type of atheism, one exemplified by Bertrand Russell, which amounts to the refusal to ask a particular type of question.  Contrary to the picture atheists often try to paint of themselves as bold questioners and champions of truth, such an atheism amounts to a sort of intellectual suicide.  It is this type of atheism that Thomas’ much celebrated and much maligned “five ways” are meant to counter.

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Charles Taylor on Celibacy II: The Humanist Dilemma

May 30, 2010

+AMDG+

As I explained (very skeletally) in my last post, when it comes to sex and renunciation, Charles Taylor considers both exclusive humanism and creedal Christianity to be on the horns of a dilemma.  Of course, Taylor’s continuing Catholic practice suggests that he sees at least some potential resolution to the Christian side of the dilemma.  But before touching upon the Christian solution, I thought we might examine the humanist dilemma (as he sees it) a little more deeply.

In brief, Taylor finds the typical secular humanist hemmed into a sort of no-man’s land by his inability to define a proper sort of sexual renunciation.  In explaining his position, Taylor deploys Martha Nussbaum’s distinction between the “internal” and “external” transcendence.  Simply put, internal transcendence is good renunciation, the kind that ennobles us and aims us toward properly human excellences.  External transcendence is bad renunciation, the kind that mutilates us and aims us toward inhuman excellences. Read the rest of this entry »


An Easter Greeting for Friedrich Nietzsche

April 4, 2010

I’ve been taking a Nietzsche course this semester and enjoying it immensely.  Don’t get me wrong:  Nietzsche and I are on opposite sides of the question of God’s vitality, and a few other things besides.  But it’s refreshing to have an opponent of Nietzsche’s caliber; next to him, today’s neo-atheists look like so many prattling dwarves.  An account of Christianity that can stand up to Nietzsche is a robust account indeed.

In my pre-Easter Nietzsche class we discussed the second essay of the Genealogy of Morals.  Nietzsche spends a lot of time in the essay on the notions of credit and debt and the role these concepts play in the origin of conscience, guilt, and religion.  To simplify a bit, Nietzsche sees the origin of gods in ancestor worship and the origin of ancestor worship in the sense of indebtedness we feel toward the founders of our respective tribes.

The rest of the story by now is probably familiar to you:  indebtedness becomes wrapped up in guilt and fear, and poor little man ends up cowering before the Judeo-Christian God, conscious of an infinite indebtedness he can never repay.  And then along comes Jesus to pay the debt for us, but, oh no!  What’s this?  Jesus’ attempt to repay the debt only leaves man further in the hole because, well, he just killed God.  So guilt and debt and fear abide…

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