Large Face

Yesterday I caught a late-night repeat of Rod Liddle’s documentary “The Trouble With Atheism”. I’ve not seen much TV recently so I was pleased to be able to take some time to watch something that wasn’t the 7:45AM rerun of an American front-room soap opera. Sadly I was to be disappointed and, eventually, incredulous. Instead of an intellectually nourishing investigation of matters pertaining to the non-belief in God I found myself watching a lazy, rambling sequence of interviews with tired looking intellectuals, punctuated with the odd close-up on Liddle’s large face.

It seems that Liddle intended to demonstrate that atheists hang their beliefs on either cosmology or Darwinism. He then tried to demonstrate how both of these ideas were on troubled ground, ultimately wandering into Marxist pogroms and Nazi eugenics. Atheist fundamentalists, Liddle wanted to demonstrate, are big trouble.

What Liddle seems to have missed entirely is that there simply is no such trouble with atheism. Atheism doesn’t mean oppressive anti-God diatribes or instant wars; just a belief that all that Beard In The Sky stuff is purposeless. The UK doesn’t seem to be struggling with its institutionalised atheism: there’s a separation between Church and government and we are, for the most part, getting along without belief in God. This doesn’t mean that we’re relying on Cosmology or Darwinism either; we’re just relying on practical experience. We do not believe that guidebooks to living in the desert written 2000 years ago make worthwhile manuals for life. We see no benefit in worshiping invisible beings in the large halls that litter our landscapes. We do not believe in God, not because of Darwinism, or cosmology, or propaganda penned by Richard Dawkins, but because it is irrelevant.

10 Responses to “Large Face”

  • Lee Says:

    I didn’t see the program, but it sounds like there was some crude categorization of people into neatly explainable groups. A fundamental point is that most atheists are only ‘atheists’ because there is no other word for someone who takes the world as they see it and believe they are in control of themselves. It’s not that we believe in ‘Atheism’, it’s that in this highly scientific age where information is so accessible, we believe in evidence more than abstract thought (however charismatic the speaker may be). I agree that all this god stuff is irrelevant, but only to certain people, and while there are many of us, to others it’s still fundamental. There’s a lot of deep psychology involved with religion, and it’s interesting that separate civilizations came up with the idea of god before they knew about each other. Maybe it was just a technique of control used by charismatic dictators/insane people, but maybe something deeper in the human psyche…?
    Anyway the fact that it’s irrelevant for many people today signals an exciting leap forward for the human race, (because even a hundred years ago the situation was very different) and it’s refreshing to see the word irrelevant used!

  • Leanstrum Says:

    Indeed. Psychology (especially of the evolutionary kind) does play a huge part in religious belief. It may well be that the idea of God is a social reflex; a manifestation of man’s need to form a shared conscience. That fits in with the need for a moral code in society in order for it to function.

    That being said, the new thinking on morality in light of Darwinism (namely, resisting our primal drives such as the need for possessions or revenge, because they are fundamentally selfish) fits in with a lot of teaching of people such as Buddha, Jesus and others. False or not, religion has had an important purpose in our history, and can encourage people to be better than their genes’ need for replication.

  • Thedood Says:

    Atheism isn’t social darwinism or eugenics, in the same way that atheism isn’t the worst excesses of collectivisation or centralisation. Any link between them is a sliver of a string at best. That would be like saying catholicism is a basis for a human slave trade because many traders were religiously inclined. It’s amazing how people can just ignore the other side of an argument, and at the risk of being blase; isn’t that religion all over, especially fundamentalism.

    Anyway, since these people worship copy-of-a-copy sun gods I hardly see what intellectual grounds they have for debate over atheism. I’m not religious, as you might’ve gathered, but I still wonder about what the excesses of a highly-technologised civilisation might lead to. I think trans-human singularity is far scarier than any god ever was.

  • Lee Says:

    I’m glad you’ve mentioned trans-human singularity, because technologies such as genetics, nanotechnology and non-human-like intelligent computers will mature, giving humans immense power to design living things, and essentially play the role of ‘god’.

    The social ramifications will be enormous, and it’ll be a responsibility for future governments and other groups to encourage creative debate (in order to reach conclusions) about the use of such capabilities. This debate will take over from the ‘Darwinism/Atheism vs Religion’ debate and make it seem irrelevant, but will an increasing understanding of the human mind reveal a psychological need for the idea of a god?

    It’s very scary to imagine a civilization that’s highly technological and automated. I invariably imagine it as being highly impersonal, even oppressive. Studies have shown that America over the last few decades has seen a rise in drug-abuse, violence, depression etc, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. How much more will the mind suffer as a result of godlike power being wielded by mere mortals?

    Everyone should read ‘The Meaning of the 21st Century’ by James Martin, to get an overall picture of where humanity stands now, and where it’s heading in the not-too-distant future.

  • Stu White Says:

    Erm, i dont believe in God because i dont believe it, not because it’s irrelevant. im sure if i believed it then it wouldnt be irrelevant.

    Actually i dont even think its irrelevant, even to a non-Christian. I just dont believe it.

  • Leanstrum Says:

    Good point. Either God doesn’t exist or he’s done a very good job at convering his tracks, so it probably doesn’t matter. All we should worry about is what *we’re* doing, and the potential consequences.

  • Rossignol Says:

    Stu: how is it relevant to you?

  • DuBBle Says:

    An interesting and well written article, Jim – and the comments are thought-provoking too!

  • Owen Says:

    Has Liddle never read any Hume where the case for a kind of atheism is laid out clearly long, long before either Marx or Darwin were born. What both writer’s provided was an aternative explanation of previously religous ideas (God didn’t create the world and you’re not poor because God means you to be) – while this may be considered an ‘attack’ on theism, they’re not supporting arguments for atheism (although whether there can be supporting argument beyond ‘prove the alternative’ I’m not sure).

  • Lee Says:

    Briefly looking at Wikipedia, it looks like Hume knew exactly what he was, unlike so many people.

    ‘Hume believes that all human knowledge comes to us through our senses.’