A "Haught"y Ally?


I came upon an article today at Salon which is an interview with John Haught, who perhaps may be a maverick theologian. Personally, I find that to be, in his case, an oxymoron akin to jumbo shrimp. Yes, he can accept Evolution (sorta) and testified in Dover against ID, but he’s still a catholic theologian, which means he still drinks the kool aid, just maybe not from as big a glass as other catholics. I have some objections to his responses to the questions given to him and I thought I’d share those.

Your forthcoming book, “God and the New Atheism,” is a critique of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. You claim that they are pale imitations of great atheists like Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre. What are they missing?
My chief objection to the new atheists is that they are almost completely ignorant of what’s going on in the world of theology. They talk about the most fundamentalist and extremist versions of faith, and they hold these up as though they’re the normative, central core of faith. And they miss so many things. They miss the moral core of Judaism and Christianity — the theme of social justice, which takes those who are marginalized and brings them to the center of society. They give us an extreme caricature of faith and religion

First of all, as I’ve said numerous times before, you don’t need to know every line of the bible, the quran, or any holy book to understand that the very idea of there being a god is dubious and yet to be proven. There has yet to be any evidence produced for this claim, so parsing scriptures and debating “real” meanings of passages is simply a waste of time and diversions to get the argument off the main point, the very existence of their gods.

Second, social justice? Are you kidding me? The social justice of which he speaks has evolved a great deal since originally written and preached. Do they proclaim equality of gender or race? We sure as hell know there’s no equality for gays. The so called social justice is not contained within the cores of these faiths but rather have been adopted by those faiths from the outside pressures of society. Gender and race equality, and objecting to slavery came from outside, not inside, and from outside pressure more will come.

Didn’t [Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus] see the death of God as terrifying?
Yes, they did. And they thought it would take tremendous courage to be an atheist. Sartre himself said atheism is an extremely cruel affair. He was implying that most people wouldn’t be able to look it squarely in the face. And my own belief is they themselves didn’t either. Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus eventually realized that nihilism is not a space within which we can live our lives.

You know what’s funny? He can go from criticizing modern atheists for their lacking theological training yet feels perfectly fine commenting on men like Nietzsche without having a proper knowledge of them. In the next question (that I’m not listing here) he focuses on Sartre and Camus. For the sake of being intellectually honest, I’ll admit I’m not that familiar with their writings but I am with Nietzsche and he’s either dead wrong in his understanding of him or is being deliberately deceptive. Yes, Nietzsche did recognize the potential danger of nihilism in the vacuum created by the absence of god belief, but he provided ample material to fill that void. Hope in the perpetual betterment of self and mankind through the idea of the Ubermensche and the assessing and assigning of values and meaning to life through the Revaluation of all Values alone are enough to fill the void. True, Nietzsche’s tone is certainly evidence that he knew he wasn’t writing for the masses of his time, but his hope was that it would be for the masses of the future, and the few today who can understand and have the strength of mind and will to help forge a world for the “next” men, rescuing it from the “last” men.

But why can’t you have hope if you don’t believe in God?
You can have hope… I argue that an atheistic worldview is not capable of justifying that confidence.

As I outlined above from Nietzsche, the idea of working for the greater good of self and humanity is more than noble. True, the task may seem daunting but what’s better, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work to try and make it happen or dropping to your knees praying that a magic man will make it happen? There’s hope, and then there’s fantasy. Secular hope is true hope, realistic hope, a hope predicated upon the acts of man, not the whims of a fairy tale god.

He goes on to prattle a bit about how Science and religion can coexist and his explanations, although odd sounding to me, may very well diffuse the fundamentalist objections to Science so I won’t object to them, but there is something I object to and it’s something I see again and again and again by theists in their arguments. It’s what I call “the magic sense” argument. What it puts forth is that our senses are limited and we can’t perceive everything with them, that through some “magic sense” a theist “knows” of their god. This argument also gets extended to suggest that there are limits to understanding the world through reason and evidence alone. I’ve even recently experienced someone claim that to only rely on reason and evidence is being close-minded! This latter claim is what Haught goes with…

What do you say to the atheists who demand evidence or proof of the existence of a transcendent reality?
The hidden assumption behind such a statement is often that faith is belief without evidence. Therefore, since there’s no scientific evidence for the divine, we should not believe in God. But that statement itself — that evidence is necessary — holds a further hidden premise that all evidence worth examining has to be scientific evidence. And beneath that assumption, there’s the deeper worldview — it’s a kind of dogma — that science is the only reliable way to truth. But that itself is a faith statement.

Yes, how dogmatic of us to think only what we can perceive is worth acknowledging. A fun play on this that theists usually use is to point out how centuries ago man did not know of atoms, bacteria, or how many planets there are in the solar system. They then ask, “were they not real then?” It’s a cute trick that requires a lengthy reply, which is partly why it works. Now of course we know those things were real then as they are now and that yes, man lacked the ability then to perceive such things but I ask what good would mere faith in them do? Without being able to perceive them we could never understand anything from them, so simply believing in some idea of atoms and Pluto serves no practical good. Furthermore, how should our ancestors have gone about distinguishing such beliefs from say the beliefs that the Moon was made from cheese or that a pile of soiled clothing would spontaneously generate vermin and parasites (I’m not making this up, this actually once was a belief)? No, it’s precisely reason and demands for evidence by which we can truly understand the universe, or else we’d have no means by which to accept one claim from another.

Haught goes on to expand on his argument, preying on the as yet unknowns of the universe as “evidence” that Science can’t explain everything. He rather skillfully prattles through several questions with essentially a stylish rendition of the “god of the gaps” idea, where anything unknown therefore must be credited to his god. It’s truly ridiculous, but I urge you to read it for yourself. What’s amusing is near the end of the interview he actually objects to people who argue the god of the gaps bullshit, yet he clearly bases his comments on that very idea, he just stops short of sticking god in but rather argues there are other ways of knowing and understanding and so forth, which is “magic sense” but what’s the magic sense for? “Knowing” god.

He goes on to say religion should embrace the discoveries made by Science, but of course asserts the limitations of it. Another theist argument he puts forth is the idea of consciousness, that that is something that can’t explained so (everyone with me) god did it, or at least is evidence of a god. This is a well they often return to, the idea that the complex can’t come from the simple, and nor could it come by chance. He also puts forth some interpretations of what “religion” is (which at one point he sort of implies atheism is a religion) and argues for the idea of a personal god.

There’s a lot to object to with this guy, but he may be an ally we need. If he can get theists off our backs, away from objecting to Science and even respecting the Establishment clause and the separation of church and state, then we could definitely use him and hope he finds some success, just not total success since, of course, he still drinks the kool aid, but just not from the big 32 ounce Big Gulp cup.

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9 Responses to “A "Haught"y Ally?”

  1. Haught would probably be among the first to complain if you lumped all Catholics into one pederastic, anti-scientific, narrow-minded mass. Yet, he does that very thing with atheists.

    I am not a “new” atheist. I’m too fucking old to be a new anything. Yet, I object to being categorized with the angst-ridden existentialist crowd. I’d rather think of myself as being in the sardonic humorist crowd with Twain, Mencken, and Bierce.

    If Haught gets to pick the “great” atheists as “representative” of “true” atheism, then I should have the ability to pick the great Catholics as representative of true Catholicism. Here’s my list: Torquemada, Mussolini, Hitler.

    And by the way, what is going on in the world of theology? Did someone find a new bible somewhere?

  2. The other funny thing about his replies is that he rips the “new” atheists for not being as good as the “old” atheists. He’s so hell bent to disparage the current top 3 (why he left out Dennet, I don’t know, maybe it’s his catholicism that limits his thinking to trinities) that he presents “better” atheists. Gee, thanks for the tips. I’ll go add them to my reading list.
    What a jackass.

    But yes I agree, he’s being a hypocrite. There are several instances of that in his answers, not just what you point out, Ex. See, that’s one of the problems with having him as an ally, that that christian mindset makes him prone to being hypocritical. Well like I said, if that shit at least works on other christians to dispel their fears of Science, so be it. It’s really shitty if you ask me, but hopefully he is what we may one day call a transitional christian, one that is the bridge between the yahoo fundies and the mild mannered, keep their craziness to themselves christians. If we can’t get everyone to wake the fuck up, we can at least do what we can to make sure they quit snoring so disturbingly loud.

  3. Fuck me, I didn’t realize PZ Myers hit this a day before me. I wouldn’t have bothered to post then… or I would have mined his article and comments for ideas. LOL

    223 comments and counting. Christ, that’s a lot to read.

  4. I’m with Ex. I don’t know what this “new” atheism is supposed to be or how it differs from the “old” one (presumably the one I ran into 30+ years ago). The only difference I can detect is that there were a sudden rush of best sellers on atheism, and it SEEMS LIKE there are a whole lot more people claiming atheism or agnosticism than back in the day. And even THAT may be wishful thinking on my part – or the result of connecting with people on the Internet.

    I grow so bored with the arguments regarding those of us who don’t examine the “nuances” of religion. I detect that this is the heart of his “new” atheist argument. The “old” atheists used to STUDY RELIGION. Well, good for them. They did my work for me. Great minds studied the Holy Scriptures and found them full of bunk. I’ve read my share – just to make sure. After I sniff the turd, I don’t need to eat the whole thing to know it tastes like shit. Especially when some of the greatest thinkers of all time have told me it’s crap. What more do I need?

  5. I wouldn’t have bothered to post then…

    There are some of us who read PhillyChief much more ofthen than they read PZ Myers.

  6. After I sniff the turd, I don’t need to eat the whole thing to know it tastes like shit.
    Priceless!

    Ever notice sometimes how topics seem to be popular and show up in numerous places? On several blogs this past week I’ve seen many theists put forth that whole “limitations of reason” or “limitations of perception” crap. It’s fucking stupid. I think I pointed out the obvious flaw, which I think is the flaw in a lot of their arguments, and that is that their arguments bust open a whole to let their craziness in, but it’s so big that everything then comes in. They stretch the definition of religion so wide to make aatheism a religion and then everything becomes a religion. They bring up that “all sides” crap to get ID in, but then that let’s in everything like, as Behe admitted, fucking astrology. Bush’s Faith Based BS they see as a victory but now a muslim or jew (or mormon) President can spend our money unchallenged to promote their faith. They argue to get their shacks on the courthouse grounds, but now they have to put up with menorahs and wiccan symbols. So in order to say yes, ok, theere are limits to reason and perception so we should accept feelings and claims on faith then what? I think the moon is made of cheese, bbq will make you live to be 200 years old and salvation will come for you if you provide me with hot 20 something girls. How can you judge me as wrong or misguided?

    PZ Myers made one mistake. He said that the theists claim there are limits to reason and perception but they don’t offer an alternative. They do, it’s believing their crap and all other’s crap is just crap.

    Btw, thanks Ex.

  7. While broad terms help to gather a bulk of information into nice neat package for definition purposes, I detest the categorization process. Categorization has a way of not only unduly simplifying matters in a way that does not reflect reality but also pushes us to make broad sweeping statements that do not always hold. Haught oversimplifies matters. I am sure there are many atheists who are aware of what is transpiring in various theological circles, just at there are church scholars who attempt to keep abreast of agnostic and atheistic thinking.

    My issue with Haught is that in these statements he over generalizes. Whether his book catches the nuances and recognizes that there is range of positions and views within the atheist community will be only known once his book has been examined at length. That said, when I read it I will need to keep in mind that he is focusing upon three individuals not the whole of contemporary atheistic thought.

    Phillychief, on one matter I would disagree agreeably with your statement that “Gender and race equality, and objecting to slavery came from outside, not inside, and from outside pressure more will come.” Throughout its history a range of social justice issues have arisen within the church either just ahead or just following the issues arising in the general public as a whole. Sometimes issues like female equality have arisen within small marginalized denominations without making much of an impact upon society as a whole. The Quakers, Mennonites and branches of Methodism were ordaining females over two hundred years ago only to loose momentum after several decades because society as a whole was not buying into the idea. The denomination out of which The Chaplain and I hail not only ordained female ministers from day one but many of its earliest major leaders were female.

    On the issue of slavery, the movement to have England withdraw from the slave trade had its roots in both society as a whole and in the church about the same time. Little headway was made with Parliament until the Methodist community stood against slavery that Parliament gave the matter attention. In the USA, again it was an issue that was working itself outside and inside the faith communities. Let us not forget that long before the break up of the country over the matter a good number of major denominations were split apart over the issue. With those in the north pressing for its elimination while their misguided brethren continued to be blind on the matter, various denominations separated to form their own groups.

    While Haught could point to a range of examples where people of faith have been deeply involved in social justice issues, we can equally point to examples where the church has been slow to speak. We only need to take a look at the invasion of Iraq to see how few churches spoke against the matter in its early stages. Further, we continue to see some churches stanch supporters of the current administration’s misguided and horrendous policies.

    Social just works best, as it did with the civil rights movement, when both those within the community at large and those within the faith communities as a whole (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu) embrace the issue together. Both spheres can bring their own energy and communities to stand side by side to correct a social wrong.

  8. Let us not forget that long before the break up of the country over the matter a good number of major denominations were split apart over the issue. With those in the north pressing for its elimination while their misguided brethren continued to be blind on the matter, various denominations separated to form their own groups

    I just heard an old podcast where the hosts were complaining about a news article where people 90 and older credited faith with their longevity. The objection was that since virtually everyone of their generation was a believer, of course they’d credit faith. They all probably wore shoes, too. Should we credit shoe wearing?

    My point is that in an issue of say slavery, nearly everyone of the times where slavery was debated was a believer so how can you justify that christianity was somehow the root for social justice? Once again, maybe it was show wearing. Your statement above I think is evidence that the root wasn’t christian belief because you had two groups of people reading the same book, yet two very different conclusions were reached. Also, what about the christians from 500 AD? 1000AD? 1500AD? Any objections? No? So for almost 1800 years of reading that damn book there was no noteworthy objections to slavery, yet I’m supposed to accept that it’s the wellspring of social justice?

    No, I think what’s more likely was that society itself changed. People changed. Their sensibilities changed and with that maybe they interpreted their bibles differently or sought justification in their bibles for the new ideas and feelings they had. This is how you get one group reading a book and objecting to slavery and another reading it and justifying it. The book is merely a tool to justify and give conviction to what you yourself think and feel. Paine knew that, and despite his objections to the bible exploited it to spur on the Colonists to revolt.

  9. What in the world are religious “nuances”? One bunch goes with the thumb screw, the strapado, and the stake as opposed to another group that employs the whipping post and ducking stool before they go to the stake?

    Well, when I was dragged among the southern baptists there were schools of thought that wanted to hear “The Blood” preached, others were concerned with “Gifts of the Spirit”, still others thought edification would come with minute examination of things like “Shew-bread”.

    You’re right about the turd thing. No matter what wrapper you put it in or how much you charge for it, a turd ain’t a butter finger or clark bar.

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