The Myth of Reason

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick
(Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1900)

“You can’t fool me. There ain’t no sanity clause.” (Chico Marx, Night at the Opera, 1935)

Once upon a time, believing in God was unfashionable. Now to come out an Unbeliever is almost as cool as–well, you know. Especially now that we know the Protestants were right in the sixteenth century about the Pope being the anti-Christ and how religion is really just the Devil’s costume party.

The problem is, now that everyone’s sticking it to religion, pop atheism is becoming as dull as people from Wyoming.

Imagine the following scene:

“Hey, Winston.”
“Hey, Sally.”
“What’s up?”
“Not much, how about you?”
“Still blogging about how fucked up religion is, though, right?”
“Not so much. Can’t think of anything new to say.”
“Yeh, me too. It’s like Dawkins said it all.”
“Or Hitchens. Hitchens had a lot of good points.”
“Good times.”
“I got no spin.”
“Not even. My religious friends have started talking to me again.”
“Not good.”
“Really, right? And when I reminded Jackie I don’t believe in God and how fucked religion is, she said good luck with that. Didn’t quote a single verse”

I’m not sure when pop atheism became unnecessary–but my notoriously eccentric opinion is that New Atheists done it in. Gave it too much oxygen, they did. “Weak opinions need but little air.”

The story hasn’t been about God–or his death or absence–for a long time now. It’s been about them, and what they think of him, or what their fan club thinks about them.

That’s important. Because in classical unbelief, whether we’re talking about Shelley or Hume, Dostoevsky or Huxley, it was mainly about him and the consequences of getting on in our moral life without the benefit of him. But that was yesterday. Yesterday’s gone.

Now it’s a repetitious lecture given mainly by pedants with a toff accent (a beard, or academic promise, will substitute for the accent if you’re American) who think that while God may be dead, he won’t lie down.

So time for someone to say, “Gracious me, you’re right. I don’t know how I missed three centuries of carping about God and religion. That’ll teach me to doze through philosophy classes. There isn’t a God. There never has been. Not really I mean. Just stories and theological postulates and churches. All a great waste of time and real estate. We’d better shut up now and stop being so damned reasonable. [pause] So…what do we talk about now?”

Once Upon a Time in the West

Time was, atheism was quaint and curious, distaff, contrary and therefore necessary. That was when people actually believed in the things they were supposed to believe in: the trinity, the Virgin birth, creation in six days (weekends off), sin, forgiveness of sin, life everlasting, transubstantiation, infallibility (papal or biblical–you choose), the holiness of priests and the wisdom of rabbis. That’s the short list, by the way, but it’s getting shorter.

Nowadays religious people just say they believe in the paraphernalia. Because they think they need to appearto be who they always thought they were: home-schooled Baptists, “pro-life” Catholics, liberal, all-embracing protestants, culturally rejectionist evangelicals–that sort of thing. Asking a religious person of the American species if he believes in some doctrinal alphabet is a bit like asking him if he believes in dressing warm in winter.

But the polls I read tell a different story. They suggest that to self-identify only with a denomination or a univocal religious position is becoming more and more rare, even among people with very white teeth and broad smiles who say “Christian” when you ask them their sexual preference.

When the beliefs I just named ruled the hearts and minds of European peasants, as opposed to school boards in Oklahoma and Texas, they were really believed. They had to be because the most ignorant people in the world were being taught these “truths” by the glittering brights of their day, intellectual thugs who had the power to enforce their gibberish with penalties ranging from arduous fasts (not recommended if you’re undernourished already) to excommunication–a sentence of spiritual death and existential despair.

But the brightest and best of our day are not bishops and Oxford friars. That puts religion in a corner it has not been in, fully, until the twentieth century, playing defense for a “narrative” that is no longer compelling, clinging (selectively) to doctrines that seem either fanciful, impossible, injurious or wrong, and where its explanation of the world and recipe for human happiness, based on a world-denying hope for future, unmortgaged treasure, seems–doomed.

The inversion of authority and explanation from religious to secular changes everything. Religious persons, caught up in without catching onto this new reality, are seldom aware of the shift. And they are encouraged in their wistfulness by politicians and popes whose job now seems to be polishing the illusion. They live in a world where change is rapid, certain and financially profitable, even for them, but still revere “timeless truths” that are neither.

Atheists, who often complain about the second bit–the culpability of religion and politics in encouraging fantasy–need to be more attentive to the first bit–the difficulty of accepting a reality that may take another century (or longer) to be fully formed and probably will be born without an atheist midwife. After all, atheism is neither science nor authority. Rather than being an explanation of the world, it is only a stance toward implausible explanations.

Predictions about the end of religion and the dawn of a new age of scientific progress are centuries old now. They have been wrong on two counts. Religion hasn’t gone away and science has not vindicated the “reasonableness” of the species.

I don’t believe for a minute that even the prayingest, spirit-stuck pentecostal, in the privacy of her trailer, doesn’t have moments of serious doubt about her beliefs. Even Jesus-besotted Oklahomans live in a world where religious belief, every time it bumps up against scientific explanation, comes out a loser.

Believers (who come in different wattages, by the way) feel besieged by a world that leaves almost no room for traditional belief and value. Many of those beliefs are foolish and some of the values are dangerous and risible. But not all. When the congregation of the Abilene Temple Assembly of God try to be faithful to inherited religious ideas, in the same way they try to be faithful to their marriages, the results are…mixed. As a lived thing, they feel good when they are being good about religion, just as they feel good when their marriage is going well and the bills are paid–if that isn’t saying the same thing. It is not unreasonable or criminal to prefer security to anxiety.

For most of us (and not just people in Oklahoma) the “normal” state of affairs is to prefer the security of the familiar to what you don’t want to risk or lose because you don’t fully understand it, or can’t fully judge the consequences of not having it anymore. Religion is like that. It may be true that smart people find the immensity of the star-spangled cosmos more awesome than the idea of a creator and cosmic father. But smart people should also be able to apprehend the creature-feeling that has found immensities and galaxies empty of any meaning beyond their mere existence.

Yes, I know: we’re meant to take creationists and “Dims” as a “threat” to civilization and progress, and to bristle every time someone says that America is a Christian country. But, Jaysus help me, I don’t. I just think this is a position into which the course of knowledge has shoved the people who got a D- in high school biology their third time round. Atheism will never reach them. If religion has not made their life better, no religion will make it immeasurably worse.

Besides, loads of what the faithful believe and assume to be true is neither written down in Scripture nor taught by any church.

I heard from a Catholic student two weeks ago that her mother had received a “dispensation in the ‘nineties to have an abortion.” When I looked skeptical (did she mean for an annulment or permission to marry a non-Catholic?) she said, “No, really.” Remind me to review the documents of Vatican II again for this loophole.

And some years ago, a Christian student of mine regaled me with an interpretation of Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (when to have a disobedient son stoned to death by the city elders) in which he concluded that the families for whom this law was intended were “not Jewish.” “That makes all the difference,” I said. God is indeed good.

Most Catholics who are militantly anti-abortion are not so militantly protective of the pope’s superhuman authority–from which the doctrine derives. They think of course, that the Church and the Bible are always in harmony because that’s what the Church wants people to think. You cannot be a good Catholic and believe otherwise, but you cannot be a bishop and believe that. Most protestants who cling to the literal meaning and inerrancy of scripture are really addicted to the ingenuity of private interpretation, the only way to get around its embarrassments and fatal flaws. God is as absent from these theological gymnastics as he is from Lucretius’ universe.

All of which is to say that unlike the atheist caricature of religious belief, the mistaken idea that by trivializing the complex you are just simplifying an equation in order to “solve”a problem, religion isn’t simple. It is unsimple both because it emanates from the complexity of human cognition and behavior going back to the formative age of the species and because the behavioral and cultural systems it has created flow outward; their direction cannot be reversed to a single source easily–maybe not at all.

It’s a favorite ploy of the new atheists especially to say that religion is the simpleton’s method for explaining the world and nature without astronomy and physics–a “default position” for dummies who don’t understand science. Maybe so.

But even if that judgment holds water, from the standpoint of the social sciences anyway it is merely a shabby and unscholarly opposite, the default position of men and women who don’t understand religion.

Maybe this is why so few serious scholars who happen to be unbelievers (most, in my experience) have time to be public about their atheism and why the sharpest criticism of the atheist popularizers comes from within the academy, where (by the way) the serious study of religion takes place.

More critically, it needs to be pointed out that the books on the subject have been written by men with credentials no more adequate for writing about God and religion than I would have writing about the phylogeny of nematodes (about which, however, I am endlessly curious.) Which is to say: the New Atheism by its amateurism and short-cutting undermines the work of description and analysis that might make unbelief a better understood phenomenon in the contemporary world rather than, as it is in the hands of the simplifiers, an underanalyzed “position” on a subject that is greatly misunderstood.

The Myth of Reason: Of Self-Evident Truth

Is the non-existence of God a self-evident truth? It’s a fair question and I would like to see it debated by Aquinas and Ayer, preferably in Latin.

One of the reasons I have trouble with the American Declaration of Independence is that it enshrines the concept of self-evident truth, a phrase propagated in the eighteenth century by men who believed in the myth of the Reasonable Man and Common Sense. It was a significant moment in the history of the West because by propagating the myth it became possible to believe in your own reasonableness–just as centuries before, believing in the myth of salvation encouraged you to believe that you were on the fast track to heaven.

But let’s not forget, for most “men” of the Enlightenment, belief in God was both commonsensical and reasonable. Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man is one of the most confident poems ever written, its central message being that the God of Reason has put us on earth to figure things out (“Say first, of God above or Man below/What can we reason but from what we know?”). And as for common sense, sometimes considered the underpinning wisdom of the American form of democracy–a structure built on the shoulders of farmers and laborers (don’t mention the slaves), not on gentility and inherited wealth (don’t mention the robber barons of industry and trade): Just look at the silly governmental structure Americans put into place in 1789, only because the revolutionary horde couldn’t wait for the British monarchy to descend into the irrelevance that was its fate. Can you imagine a reasonable organ of government anywhere in the world creating the filibuster?

I know freethinkers are an ornery bunch when it comes to packaging, but most are happy to believe in the equality, liberty and good life decreed as the gifts of an impressive creator to his remarkable creature without pausing to consider it’s a package deal. No creator, no self-evident truth, no gifts.

Would explicit atheism have helped us to bring about a better system? Would the cult of Reason have spread if, instead of doubting the Virgin birth, as Voltaire, Jefferson and Paine did openly, they would have begun by decrying the backwardness of the populace (which was pretty backward and remains stubbornly so) and sponsored blasphemy contests instead?

The proto-unbelievers of the Age of Reason could make a distinction between belief in God as a premise (or a useful metaphor for excellence), perhaps even a necessary fiction, and belief in a church that claimed proprietorship of the concept.

The great intellectual battle of the age wasn’t about whether God existed (though it was discussed) but how to wrest him from the pharisees who entombed him in church dogma. Most, in fact, tried to do the same thing (unsuccessfully) with the historical Jesus, for whom they had an intuitive respect. A bit later, the poet Matthew Arnold effused about the “sweet reasonableness” of Jesus’ character and message.

Beyond the Myth of Reason: Intolerance?

One of the reasons I’m not a cheerleader for the “New Atheism” (as anybody paying attention to this blog knows) is that it exploits the myth of Reason after rejecting the myth of God. It takes the reason-myth as self-evident truth, which is a very dangerous way to handle any myth, including theistic ones.

True, these are different myths with different coefficients (reason is human, God divine). But the reification of reason is a cheat. A cheat because reasonable people find different things reasonable, and many of these things are as crazy as ever rang a belfry bell: eugenics, nuclear proliferation, cheap energy, strip mining, even the war on Terror–yes, even that, a bicameral legislature.

For every Jew killed by the Catholic Inquisition, ten people have been killed by science and reason, millions using the the best Nazi technology, thousands in Stalin’s pogroms and to bring the Cold War in with a bang at Los Alamos. Putting Science in God’s throne doesn’t make the diktats humane: it just changes tyrants. Atheism of a certain stripe descends into intolerant fanaticism. It becomes a cause, an organized frenzy for people out to document their liberation from the demons of ignorance.

Needless to say therefore that it appeals to people who need demons to feel like angels, a terribly religious emotion.

Do I exaggerate? Not when a New Atheist website screams:

“Wake up people!! We are smart enough now to kill our invisible gods and oppressive beliefs. It is the responsibility of the educated to educate the uneducated, lest we fall prey to the tyranny of ignorance.”

Holy Mary: I wish I had a plowshare to beat into a sword.

Popular Atheism has become unnecessary partly because it became dull at the same moment it became popular, loud when it might have begun to talk in reasoned measure. Like the brightest flashing of a meteor before it becomes interplanetary dust, or the point at which milky sludge becomes ice cream, just before it melts.

So now what do we talk about?

25 thoughts on “The Myth of Reason

  1. I wonder what the credentials of the educated are who are supposed to educate the uneducated. I think the thing to talk about now is about moving forward with neo secular humanism, and inclusiveness and social harmony, morality, tolerance, health and education, equality, fairness, the environment, personal happiness and independence, empathy, progress and reason when it’s about critical thinking and evidence. And global action and peace.

    I’m fascinated by the phyogeny of lizards – I can see them often. Thank goodness I can’t see any of those horrid little worms.

  2. Excellent thoughts. Of course, the “New Atheists” could start back in the Enlightenment, with St. David of Hume’s observation, “reason must be the slave of the passions,” or look at how modern cognitive science and behavioral psychology have scientifically shown are relative lack of reason.

  3. I see a certain parallel between yours and Kurtz’ tenure at CFI. Unwilling to stoke the atheist fires and worse, preaching Humanism per se – death by bunga!

    Neo-Humanism it is, until we reform again under our own banner and covenant never to discuss religion again..

    • I think so, a progressive humanism, beyond religious differences, inclusive, and about education, exploration and imagination (as on another post here)

  4. Yes, there are atheists who seem to think that atheism is the end when it’s just the beginning. But when someone first breaks out of prison I think they can be forgiven for supposing that they have “arrived” when their journey has, in fact, only begun. Show them the way instead of berating them for their misunderstanding.

    As for reason being the slave of the passions, all Hume meant is that reason does not tell you what to desire. It only tells you how to go about satisfying what you desire and also helping you to determine whether what you desire is good for you. Reason being slave of the passions does not mean pointing the way either to theology or something like theology that can justify whatever we wish to do whether it is reasonable or not.

  5. Pingback: The Myth of Reason (via The New Oxonian) « The New Oxonian

  6. Brilliant. Brilliantly Bright. Superwit, so pertinently poignant, packed with important points. There’s so much in here and it’s even better somehow the second time up. We have come from the days when religion was fashionable, with the glittering Brights, all tyrannical “intellectual thugs”, to the fashionable non religion of today, with the new thugs, Four Horsemen, the real “dimwitted Dims”. The old tyrants have merely been replaced by new tyrants, all the same…

    So what to talk about now?

    Now let’s talk about tropical islands, licking popsicle ice, chocolate, whiskey, the good true and beautiful – music, art and poetry and probably the great big free and open ocean. Or perhaps just talk about nothing at all and enjoy the simple luxury of silence.

    (sp phylogeny)


  7. The problem with atheism is going to be the same one as the problem with Christianity, you don’t have homogeneous people. You have many people trying to make sense of the social structures that were here when we got here. What appears to be an old news atheism has all the nuances to the people who care to think on such things as any idea. People are trying to get to the heart of what it is they believe and what that belief should prompt in terms of actions.

    In response to the question “So what to talk about now?” on one hand, the world of topics are our oysters but yet I’m commenting here and so did Steph. We’re talking about what we are still thinking about. So for all the amusement of atheists being antiquated contrarians now that everybody is a contrarian, what’s this post but contra-contrarian? I, for one, am on a topic that I’m still putting a lot of thought into.

    By all means discuss what is or isn’t working. I think these topics are interesting and relevant. But I think it’s tongue in cheek or careless to suggest that these very same people including Dawkins, or Hitchens don’t find pleasures in the smaller things as well. Just like the author of this post, I’d imagine they think on their philosophies on belief and they take their relaxation, appreciation for family, and such according to their own temperament.

    The limelight atheists can sometimes cause us to forget the real people sharing the label. I’m sure there are muslims, Christians and more that feel that tongue in cheek comments often forget how human the bearers of the respective beliefs and non-beliefs are.

  8. That would be a good subjec for a blog: why are we still talking about the New Atheists?

    I once had a girl friend, and our relationship was entirely based on our contempt for a certain group of persons. When we finally managed to escape from that group of persons, our relationship fell apart, because the only thing we had in common was our rejection of said persons.

  9. I see this is a re-post from April, 2010. I hadn’t yet signed up for your blog then, so I’ll comment now.

    First and foremost, please quit picking on my home state of Oklahoma. I know we’re the poster child for Christian fundamentalism, but Mississippi is a close second. Plus they have the “Klan,” the Neo-Nazis, and many chapters of the Aryan Nation. Good pickin’s there. So, please leave the Okies to me and my merry band of heathens. We’re having way too much fun.

    OK, on to Reason as Myth. The way I see it, these days, and for many centuries past, the harm done in the name of religion has been pretty much limited to the Christians and the Muslims, and here in the U.S. of A., the Protestants. As science has advanced, the beliefs of these religious groups have been, much to their dismay, falsified and shown to be mere myth and wishful thinking. Faced with this dilemma, they ask, naturally, what would Jesus do? And, even though “punt” is the correct answer, they opted to perpetuate an untruth. Call it a lie. Call it that.

    Thus, reason gets checked at the door. And, damned if this hasn’t fooled the atheists. They think they are arguing with well reasoned but fatally fallacious beliefs. But, nooooo! The nonbelievers are actually dealing with a big fat lie. Of course, exposing the lie may get you stoned . . . to death. On that point, I leave you with the following (substitute “religion” for “the state:”

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
    – Joseph Goebbels

  10. It’s a question of variables, I think.

    The New Atheists seem to want to reduce the world to a few basic variables.

    Whether I like it or not, new variables constantly
    make themselves present to me. In fact, there are more variables at each moment than I feel comfortable with or can handle.

    You might see it as the difference between a scientist, who strives for the simplest possible explanation and a novelist who lets the complexity of life flood his or her mind.

    In my opinion, phenomena as complex as religion can better understood with the pen of a novelist or the camera of a documentary film-maker than with the equations of a scientist.

  11. Human body is another example of a complex system with many variables. It is much easier to explore human body with the pen of a novelist then with a scalpel of an anatomist. Doesn’t mean anatomists should have given up.

    • I would compare religion to the human mind rather than to the human body.

      Can you explore the human mind with a scalpel? Probably not. You can explore the brain with a scalpel, but you need the novelist or the introspective (or empathetic) observer to explore the mind.

      • Body has many variables. One of them is mind. It is not an “independent” variable, but novelist would often rather forget about the underlying brain and concentrate on mind alone. Psychiatry, psychology, neurobiology and other disciplines on the other hand explore mind in relations to other “variables” of a human.

        I’m not against novels as tools for understanding people (their minds or their religions). But I disagree with dismissing “equations” as bad tools for understanding complex phenomena.

      • Or different take:

        religion is a complex phenomenon with too many variables to be understood.
        a novel is a complex phenomenon with too many variables to be understood.

        how is a novel a solution then? either it simplifies its subject (limits the number of variables) or it is just as complex and hence just as unintelligible.

      • Agreed that psychiatry and experimental psychology can tell me a lot about the way the mind works.

        However, if I want to understand how a specific human mind works, say, to understand what my woman companion’s love for me means to her, while not discarding what I’ve learned from psychiatry and psychology, I need to open myself to listening to her, to observing her, to paying attention how other women, perhaps in novels, perhaps in poetry, describe what their love for their mates means to them.

        Maybe the new atheists need to listen to religion, not only to the explicit discourse of religion, but to what lies behind that discourse.

      • One would look in different novels and poetry for understanding of an abusive mother. Even if she’s one’s father’s loving companion.

      • artm:

        Step-families aren’t easy nor are non-step families.
        Perhaps the myth that all families must be loving causes more damage than anything else. Love cannot be willed, while respect can. That all families, step and non-step, be respectful seems a more realistic goal.

        I’ve been a not entirely voluntary step-father for the last 6 years. I’m not in love with the child, now age 10, nor is he with me. I fulfil the adult caretaker role, but I keep my distance from him and he from me. There’s no abuse, but there is no affinity. Affinity also cannot be willed.

        From the way your post is worded, I gather that the woman is your step-mother, not your biological mother. If not, my apologies.

        In any case, literature, especially folk tales, are full of evil and abusive step-mothers.

      • What I meant is: you suggested learning about mind by reading fiction about like minds. Remember, “mind” was a metaphor for “religion”? You are tolerant towards religion, as far as I can tell, you’d chose particular sorts of novels to understand it. New atheist are less tolerant – religion is far from “woman companion” to them, more like evil step-mother – they pick up a different novel and learn different things. Literature is full of evil priests. It’s difficult to right prejudice with fiction.

      • artm:

        I’m curious about religion. Religion is not just a set of beliefs, but a way of life for the majority of our fellow human beings; and even many of we skeptics or atheists, as Nietzsche often points out, are unconsciously motivated by ideas or ideals with their root in our religious heritage.

        It seems strange to me that people as well-educated and highly intelligent as the New Atheists content themselves with a simplistic fairy tale version of religion.

        If I had a wicked step mother, I would like to understand why she is wicked or if she really is wicked, especially if I had to deal with her on a daily basis, as most of us have to do with religious people.

        The examined life is not worth living, they say, and if I agree with that (and I do, at least not worth living for me), then I’d best take a good look at religion, even if I have basically a negative view of it.

        I was educated as a Jew, and my religious education bored me terribly. It made no sense to me, and I refused to be bar mitzvahed. At age 14 I mocked religion with all the fervor of a New Atheist.

        I am still an atheist, but with the years religion has come to interest me more, as have so many things that I rejected as a teenager. As a teenager, I was trying to construct my own identity and in order to do that, I needed to mock and scorn religion and the establishment values of the day.

        Now that my own identity, for what it’s worth, is fairly well defined, I can relax my defense mechanisms against religion and all the values that I rejected. I wonder why the New Atheists, most of them almost as ancient as I am, cannot relax their their anti-religious Maginot Walls either.

  12. This discussion of Reason as Myth, ending with the question: So now what do we think about?; forces the following: “When so many believe that natural science can and will answer all questions worth asking, we best return to (the reasoning of those who can be named as) the greatest physicists the world has ever known. All of these pioneering physicists believed that both science and religion, physics and spirituality, were necessary for a full and integral approach to reality (answer the why of existence) but neither could be reduced to or derived from the other. Physics can be learned by the study of facts and mathematics, but mysticism (true religion) can only be learned by a profound change of consciousness. They uiformaly rejected the notion that physics proves or supports mysticism, and yet each and every one of them was an avowed mystic. How can this be? Very simply, they all realized that, at the very least, physics deals with the world of form (shadows and symbols not reality), and mysticism deals with the formless (Ultimate Reality). Both are important, but they cannot be equated”. (Quantum Questins by Ken Wilber, a compendium of virtually all of the significant writings on mysticism by these greatest of physicists.)

    • A follow up to my above comment April 11, 2011
      The world’s greatest rational thinkers believe that. a full understanding of existence requires both science and religion, physics and spirituality. But we now know that Christianity our primary “religion”, as known above all from the writings of the New Testament, the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT are not reliable sources for knowledge of either religion or spirituality; “So now what do we think about?”
      We think about the NT alternative to the writings of the NT, the source containing the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles to the person of the historical Jesus our most certain guide to knowing the God of love the origin of all that is or ever will be.

  13. Time was, atheism was quaint and curious, distaff, contrary and therefore necessary. That was when people actually believed in the things they were supposed to believe in: the trinity, the Virgin birth, creation in six days (weekends off), sin, forgiveness of sin, life everlasting, transubstantiation, infallibility (papal or biblical–you choose)

    Now religion(Catholicism) has become ‘quaint and curious, distaff, contrary and therefore necessary‘.
    And my beliefs?
    – the trinity (yes)
    – the Virgin Birth (yes)
    – creation in six days (no, definitely not)
    – sin (yes)
    – forgiveness of sin (yes)
    – life everlasting (yes)
    – transubstantiation (yes)
    – infallibility (no)
    Six out of eight, not bad for a thoughtful newcomer to Catholicism.

    What everyone forgets is that religion is a narrative, not a philosophical treatise. When you insist on truth statements you lose the truth of the narrative. You may analyse poetry and yet the analysis will never convey the felt beauty of the poetry, the harmony and resonance it invokes in one’s soul. 2000 years ago that noted Roman lawyer, senator, Consul and orator, Cicero, wrote his excellent treatise on ethics, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (well worth reading). At roughly the same time a gentle and humble Jewish carpenter produced a simple narrative.

    Today that simple narrative(with some added decorative adornments) holds sway in a large part of the world while De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum languishes in dusty obscurity on academic bookshelves. Likewise, the arid meanness of Dawkins will fade into well merited obscurity in a tiny fraction of that time while the narrative of the Jewish carpenter will continue to resonate in people’s souls, motivating love, compassion and good.

    Tonight I go to Mass. In those beautiful rituals I look not for truth but the poetry that rings in my soul, giving me an inchoate connection with the Almighty, infusing my life with hope, meaning and goodness.

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