Sunday, March 30, 2014

But That Tree! Lookit That Tree! And This Cathedral! Plus Stars!

Over at Rod Dreher's blogs he speaks highly of some bit of twaddle by our favorite faux intellectual, Charles Murray, in which Murray opines earnestly that y'all kid today should get off his lawn give religion another spin.

See, cause Murray was an atheist too, back when he was a youngster at Harvard.  Then he grew up and got married and 40 and starting thinking deep thoughts.  And doing intellectual work.  And that intellectual work led him to realize that by jeezly these religions had some deep stuff in them.

Taking religion seriously means work. If you're waiting for a road-to-Damascus experience, you're kidding yourself. Getting inside the wisdom of the great religions doesn't happen by sitting on beaches, watching sunsets and waiting for enlightenment. It can easily require as much intellectual effort as a law degree.

Even dabbling at the edges has demonstrated to me the depths of Judaism, Buddhism and Taoism. I assume that I would find similar depths in Islam and Hinduism as well. I certainly have developed a far greater appreciation for Christianity, the tradition with which I'm most familiar. The Sunday school stories I learned as a child bear no resemblance to Christianity taken seriously. You've got to grapple with the real thing.

Start by jarring yourself out of unreflective atheism or agnosticism. A good way to do that is to read about contemporary cosmology. The universe isn't only stranger than we knew; it is stranger and vastly more unlikely than we could have imagined…

Rod backs this sophomoric drivel up with earnest drivel of his own.  He too when he was a young jackanape, see, he too thought he knew all about this here world. But then there he was in Chartres Cathedral one time!

See, here's the thing.  When I was a young professor just starting out, at my first TT job, my students discovered I was an atheist.

"But what does that mean, dr. delagar?" they demanded.  (It was a Southern school, and they were all deeply religious.)

 "But how can you believe that?  That tree out there--"  They pointed at the oak tree in the yard. "Where do you think it came from, if there's no God?"

And that's the thing, see.

To me, the real story of how that oak tree got in the yard, and the real story of how Chartres Cathedral arrived in France as well, is far more interesting than "God put it there," or even "Faith makes wonders!"

Trees are indeed a wonder.  So are social movements that create Cathedrals.  I'm interested in science, because I want to know the real story of how that tree got in the yard.  I'm interested in history, including the history of religion, and of social history, because that's really how that cathedral got in Chartres.

I'm also interested in religion as one of the things that humans do, and because of the wisdom literature it produces.

Why this would mean I have to pretend to believe in supernatural beings, much less supernatural beings that enforce various strictures to punish those who don't (odd how it works this way) support the dominant hegemonic class of the moment, I cannot fathom.

Rod and Charles Murray, though, belonging as they do to the dominant hegemonic class of our time, gulp down this camel with no trouble at all.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I agree. If a miracle is all it took to create a tree (or Chartres Cathedral), how disappointingly simple that would be.

I usually present myself as an atheist in general because I don't really believe in anything per se. But then, sometimes I feel a little superstitious about things and think maybe there's something out there. I guess I'm more of an apathetic agnostic -- as in, "don't know, don't care." I was raised uber-Catholic, so maybe my occasional superstition is linked to that.

delagar said...

"Don't know, don't care" strikes me as the perfect attitude, Fie!