Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Do We Need God?

Following the Paris assassinations on January 7, 2015, many people asked the same question as Ryan Bell in his article Why you don't need God: Why do we need religions when fundamentalists are ready to kill people of another faith in the name of God?

CNN supported Ryan Bell's paper with 31 statements of avowed atheists. Red Baron selected ten of them not at random but according to what I regard as the most relevant remarks. I placed them into a new order forcing my personal annotations into a logical sequence. While formulating my comments I found out that among the persons I had picked were the so-called Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, the group of prominent atheists humorously referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
(All photos in this blog ©CNN)

Katherine Hepburn
I  will start with famous actress Katharine Hepburn who simply stated: I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.

She possibly meant that she is an agnostic, saying it is impossible to prove or disprove God's existence while atheists "believe" there is no God.

James Cameron
In this sense film director James Cameron calls himself a converted agnostic: I've sworn off agnosticism, which I now call cowardly atheism.

Are atheists better off than agnostics because they have given up torturing their brains?

As Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict, once wrote: There are neither unwavering believers nor convinced atheists for both will have doubts in the course of their lives.

Indeed, while writing the blog I read that famous French author and agnostic Michel Houellebecq would prefer to believe in God: I say to myself it would simply be better to believe and stop thinking but I do not succeed. Agnosticism is the tribute to intellectual honesty ... I find it easier to believe in God when I am in the countryside ... The experience of our solitude facing creation leads us back to a holistic contemplation of the universe and to a theistic vision of the world.

Sir Richard Branson
And there are more declared atheists regretting somehow their atheisms. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, believing in evolution and humanitarian efforts said: I would love to believe; it's very comforting to believe.

Well, this comfort you will find in the basic trust as a verse of the old hymn of 1641 by Georg Neumark suggests: Wer Gott dem Allerhöchsten traut, Der hat auf keinen Sand gebaut (Whoever trusts in God the Almighty has not built on sand).

Stephen Hawking
Here comes one recent scientific argument for atheism. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking wrote: It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going. Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.

Spontaneous? What does this mean? Was there something before the Big Bang and why there is anything at all?

Peter Higgs
Hawking's view is somewhat poorly assisted by British physicist Peter Higgs. The Nobel Prize winner for the particle bearing his name, does not like that colleagues call the Higgs boson that gives mass to all other particles the God particle: First of all, I'm an atheist. The second thing is I know that name (started as) a kind of joke and not a very good one. ... It's so misleading.

It seems that Higgs still has the first line of Genesis in his head: In the beginning God created heaven and earth.

Does this mean that God created mass from nothing but once there was mass evolution took over and did the rest?

Richard Dawkins
Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, one of the Four Horsemen goes back in history when he argues: We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in and Dawkins gives up when he ironically states: Some of us just go one god further.

Indeed, I find it strange that in my youth I was told monotheism is superior to polytheism. Was one of the reasons that, e.g., in Greek mythology the gods were too human in their desires? Did in fact man/woman create gods in his/her image as Ludwig Feuerbach claimed? And did the Apostle Paul when in Athens first flatter and then trick his listeners by invoking the unknown god?

In fact, Red Baron likes Paul's fascinating story you will find in Apostles 16-28: While Paul was [ ... ] in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring' ..."

Daniel Dennet
Philosopher Daniel Dennett, another of the Four, wrote: You don't get to advertise all the good that your religion does without first scrupulously subtracting all the harm it does and considering seriously the question of whether some other religion, or no religion at all, does better.

Should you really count your blessings against your mishaps and then make the decision about your religion? Nobody will do so but everybody will make up his own religion based on what he has learned, experienced. What should I think of the message I once read on a votive tablet in a Bavarian church: Thank you, O Lord, that you did not answer my prayer?

Emma Thompson
British actress Emma Thompson is suspicious too: I regard religion with fear and suspicion. It's not enough to say that I don't believe in God. I actually regard the system as distressing: I am offended by some of the things said in the Bible and the Quran, and I refute them. I'm an atheist; I suppose you can call me a sort of libertarian anarchist.

It is true that the more you read the Bible (I don't know enough about the Qur'an) the more you are confused. Generations of theologists have tried to separate the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the scribblings of the storytellers and still: the interpretation of the Bible is left to the priests. Let me just mention here the Eucharist quarrel between Catholics and Protestants: Bread and wine is body and blood or bread and wine signifies body and blood. In the Latin text of the New Testament you will find neither est nor significat.

Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, a British author and antitheist and number three of the Four, regards religion as the main source of hatred in the world and continues: There are days when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb. But in general I feel better, and no less radical, and you will feel better too, I guarantee, once you leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking.

Did Hitchens eventually become an atheist because religious fanaticism has brought so much untold sorrow to mankind?

Sam Harris
Sam Harris, neuroscientist and the last of the Four, claims that when there is no God we still need some sort of ersatz religion to keep up society: We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.

Harris quite rightly does not place the danger of fundamentalism in first place but weichgespülte (softened) religions. Indeed, all Churches are in a dilemma with modern societies: Should they water down their doctrines on divorce, abortion, homosexuality (just to name a few) to make their faith attractive to an enlightened majority or should they preach to the naïve: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 5:3].

Red Baron wrote before: The longing for some sort of belief even drives enlightened people into all sorts of spiritualism, astrology, karma, voodoo, you name it, proving that there is a human need for religion or some sort of ersatz religion. The new atheist movement is an ersatz religion without any doctrine "preaching" love, peace and charity as the core values of human society.

However, here we go again. In Wikipedia you read: New atheism is politically engaged in a variety of ways ... Internal strategic divisions over issues - i.e., reducing the influence of religion in the public sphere, mainstream acceptance of atheism, and promoting an atheist identity - have been notable, as are questions about the diversity of the movement in terms of its gender and racial balance."

Shouldn't these doctrineless new atheists instead be united?

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