God Talk from Stanley Fish

In his God Talk, Part 2 today in the Times, Fish begins with some statistics: between 79 and 92 percent of Americans believe in God, and 95 percent of readers of his original God Talk don’t. Wow!

The learned professor goes on to say that those unbelieving 95 percent “believe, apparently, that religion is a fairy tale, hogwash, balderdash, nonsense and a device for rationalizing horrible deeds.”

In this part 2 article he provides what may be reasonable answers to these 95 percent by in fact using reason to show that reason has its limitations, limitations because it must operate within a context based on starting assumptions. There’s a lot of heavy epistemology here.

He goes on to say that “talking God” is not about giving proofs of God’s existence but about some kind of conversion experience, and he seems to be accepting that there are many kinds of such experiences. One which particularly resonates with me as a UU is from reader Shannon:

But the kind of religion that moves me and other religious people I know is the STORY of hope and love and sticking to your beliefs in the face of disaster etc., not the idea that any particular story describes concrete, historical “truth.”

To me the key here is “hope and love” and this may be consistent with the thinking of the avowed atheist, Ian McEwan, who has said that there is an important moral center to believing that this is it, that this is all we’ve got, this life; we are instinctively moral beings and have this gift of empathy. Of course to accept this as an abstract principle is not the same as acting on it, which might become a real conversion experience or at least take courage, like for example Dr. Rieux in Camus’ The Plague.

See how difficult it is to deal with this stuff? Whew…. Over and out.
😆 :roll:

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  1. Zhu’s avatar

    Mmmm… I’m an atheist, yet I don’t recognized myself in the reasons given for not believing.

    I believe faith is something you have, or you don’t. I don’t, for many reasons: first, I wasn’t brought up in a religious family (or a religious country for that matters), second, I find joy, happiness and comfort in other things (no, not alcohol: just creating is fine for me!).

    I have hope and I have love, I just don’t find it in a temple or a church. I have morals, just not the kind written in a book.

    The more I live in North America, the more I tend to turn my back to religion. No offense, but I hate the proselytism. I was used to secularism in France, and it bothers me how religion (any religion, really) is so often mention to back up actions, no matter how stupid.

    I do have a lot of respect for religious people and believers, the same way I respect people who speak German or Sanscrit (while I don’t).

    Whether God exists or not is the last of my worries. I think it’s okay to believe in something that hasn’t been proven. Weird, eh!

    Ah religion… what a debate… 😉

  2. Mardé’s avatar

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Zhu. I pretty much agree with you, but let me say why I call myself a UU. It’s a religion — some wouldn’t even call it that — where I can share my hope and love with others in a community, a community of seekers who can share a wide spectrum of beliefs and who want to work to make the world a better place.

    I too am an atheist in the sense that I don’t accept biblical literalism or the big-man-in-the-sky version of God. But I think there are religious / philosophical questions not covered by science, like, as Eagleton puts them, “Why is there anything in the first place?”, “Why what we do have is actually intelligible to us?” and “Where do our notions of explanation, regularity and intelligibility come from?”

    We all operate on a certain amount of faith, even scientists. Reason has its limitations. For some really really heavy stuff along these lines, check out The Multiverse According to Ben. I found the link to Ben from another deeply philosophical blog, Psybertron. I gotta admit, these guys are generally over my head but I enjoy the challenge of trying to understand them, unless of course I get the dreaded brain cramp.

  3. Zhu’s avatar

    I think I understand your point. Sharing love and hope with a community certainly makes a lot of sense to me. I think to a certain degree, that is what I’m trying to do when I “create” something, photography or a nice article. Different level of course, but ultimately I can see the goal.

    I also agree that we all have faith – some faith, no matter in what. Mankind if an hopeful bunch – we couldn’t survive without hope.

  4. Mardé’s avatar

    Yes, that’s interesting. When you “create” something nice you are sharing your love and hope for success. Of course, we have to define “nice”. Yes, we need hope or faith for the future. Those that lose it are ready for suicide.

    But if you want a brain cramp, check out Ben and his Multiverse! 😉

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