2024-02-23

The Idol of Zionism, the Negation of Judaism — 1904

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by Neil Godfrey

Fortunately, I am not the only one raising my voice against the current, entirely misguided and long obsolete way of training rabbis. Protests are already being heard in rabbinic circles. However, not from the circles of the very youngest rabbis, who, trained in our days of chaplaincy, out of complete ignorance of the true essence of Judaism and despairing of its inner strength and future potential, throw themselves into the arms of the most recent day’s idol adorned with journalistic tinsel, called Zionism, which was recently aptly characterized by a perceptive scholar as the negation of Judaism. . . .

Original text:

Zum Glück bin ich nicht der einzige, der gegen die heutige, ganz verkehrte und längst verlebte Art, Rabbiner heranzubilden, seine Stimme erhebt. Es werden gegen dieselbe bereits in Rabbinerkreisen Proteste laut.Allerdings nicht in den Kreisen der allerjüngsten Rabbiner, die, herangebildet in unsern Tagen der Kaplanokratie, aus völliger Unkenntnis des wahren Wesens des Judentums und verzweifelnd an dessen innerer Kraft und Zukunftsstärke, sich dem jüngsten, mit journalistischem Flitter verbrämten Tagesgötzen, Zionismus genannt, den letzthin ein tiefblickender Gelehrter treffend als die Negation des Judentums charakterisierte, in die Arme werfen . . .

Friedländer, Moriz. Griechische Philosophie im alten Testament. Berlin: Reimer, 1904. http://archive.org/details/griechischephilo00frie. p. xvii

 


2023-11-27

Are Apostates a Threat to Believers?

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is directed to those who presume an anti-religious in any atheist who has left a religious past, especially one that was strict and authoritarian, and who arrives at views about the Bible and Christian origins that are at odds with the “conventional wisdom” of mainstream biblical scholars.

The stereotypical apostate from a deeply religious upbringing is said to “hate” their former religion and will be biased against it to such an extent that they will seek to undermine whenever the opportunity arises. “Once a fundamentalist always a fundamentalist” — only in the reverse direction — is a refrain that I have heard often enough from defenders of mainstream scholarship when they dismiss arguments that come from known “apostates”. I think that refrain is a lazy substitute for attempting to engage with the intellectual content of the criticisms whenever they are raised. If the apostate was once a member of a rigid, authoritarian or other kind of fundamentalist or cultish sect, then it is reasonable (the mainstream scholar’s thinking goes)  to assume that the apostate is now just as brainwashed or closed-minded as ever, only now in a vengeful reaction against their former faith.

Is there evidence to support that portrayal of apostates?

Most people I have known personally who have left authoritarian cults have not the slightest interest in even thinking about their religious experiences. Those apostates are glad to engage in an entirely new life free from any reminders of that past. But that’s me — and I am merely one person’s anecdotal testimony and hearsay report.

It happens that right now I am reading a book for the purpose of reviewing it here and as early as page 31 I found myself pulled up and in dire need to to track down and skim another work that was cited on that page. Here’s what pulled I read:

Citing Burton Mack, Ellegård notes that the biblical scholar/theologian community has pretty much ignored this type of work, especially that of Wells. It’s not a surprise that Wells’s work has been subjected to rather vehement criticism from biblical scholars, some of whom accuse him of ‘anti-religious’ intentions.104

104 It always surprises me to note that many biblical scholars frequently accuse other scholars – some of them also biblical specialists – of ‘anti-religious’ intentions in their work. It’s a strange form of conspiracy theory which posits that a desire for, and search for, truth is somehow blasphemous. Canadian social psychologists Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger, in their book Amazing Conversions, studied the phenomenon and determined that it was the inculcation of the religious attitude that there is truth, and that it should be diligently sought, that disposes deeply honest people to turn that inquiry on their own beliefs. Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger, Amazing Conversions: Why Some Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion (Prometheus Books, 1997)

From page 31 of Knight-Jadczyk, Laura. From Paul to Mark: PaleoChristianity. Red Pill Press, 2021. . Link is to a publicly available copy of the book at archive.org.

How had I missed Amazing Conversions given my zeal in seeking out and devouring that kind of book back in the late 1990s/early 2000s!

So now that I’ve caught up with Amazing Conversions, I’ll share some of its key findings on the way apostates from strict religious backgrounds approach anyone who presents as an inquirer into the truth about their religion. Surely an apostate’s attitude towards such a person tells us something meaningful about the likelihood that they might be reflexively predisposed to bias against establishment religions.

Amazing Conversions describes and discusses a 1995 study into persons who, contrary to the expectations we would have from their upbringing, became either apostates or devout believers.

This book hopes to provide some explanation of these two exceptional kinds of persons: individuals who — against the influences of their past and all the socialization theories in the world — swam against the tide and became, respectively, “Amazing Apostates” and “Amazing Believers.” It presents our research on rare persons who changed so mightily that they “crossed over” and became each other’s destiny. It tries to understand how such remarkable transformations could take place. (p. 12)

Who was selected for the study?

Most of these apostates had pretty nonreligious upbringings, and so their subsequent loss of belief does not come as a surprise. But a few — a very few came from relatively intensive religious backgrounds, and that is amazing. So we rounded up as many “Amazing Apos­tates” as we could and talked with them.

. . . .

We selected, as potential Amazing Apostates . . . all students who scored in the top quartile on the Religious Emphasis scale, and yet scored in the bottom quartile on the
Christian Orthodoxy scale.

Such persons proved quite rare. In 1994, eighteen were filtered out of 1,457 students who answered the screening booklet at the University of Manitoba. Fifteen turned up among 813 Wilfrid Laurier University students. In 1995, the figures were just 11/1,070 in Manitoba and 14/924 at Wilfrid Laurier. That works out to 1.4 percent of the sample being potential Amazing Apostates. We had to screen over 4,000 students to locate 58 of these rare beings. (pp 21, 26f of Amazing Conversions)

So this sample of 58 had travelled the road “from a strong religious childhood to religious disbelief”.

The question of particular interest here

Next we asked the AAs [=Amazing Apostates] to imagine that a younger member of their home religion came to them for advice. Religion had played a big role in this person’s life, but now questions were arising. This person wanted advice on what to do. What would they say? (p. 29)

I quote here the various descriptions of the responses to that question: Continue reading “Are Apostates a Threat to Believers?”


2023-11-26

REASONS NOT TO BELIEVE — P-L Couchoud

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by Neil Godfrey

Here is one more passage from Couchoud’s Théophile. What I like about Couchoud’s expressed sentiments is his sympathy, his compassion for humanity, his tolerance (in a positive sense of that word) and understanding. The New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, Sam Harris were angry, bitter, intolerant — and, I had to conclude, fundamentally ignorant about the nature of the religions they attacked and the reasons people believed in them. They created and attacked caricatures of both the faiths themselves and their adherents. At a certain level there was a truth behind those caricatures, and real harms have been committed by those religions, and I could to that extent laugh with their mockeries and feel some affinity with their disdain, but only at a superficial level. I was myself once deeply religious and had to admit that the religious believers in the world were, in fact, me. I was sincere, as far as I knew how to be sincere. I was, given my lights, as well intentioned as I knew how to be. I made horrendous mistakes, but in hindsight they were the result of ignorance, even if that ignorance was “ignorantly” self-induced, or from sheer weakness. If our own experiences are our primary guides to understanding “how others work”, I knew that there was something major lacking in the New Atheist attacks on religion. Couchoud, on the contrary, writes as a real humanist. If I was once a devout believer, I have no choice but to express the compassion and love Couchoud himself expresses for those who remain as constant reminders of ourselves.

Paul-Louis Couchoud had the following essay published in 1928 — again from his Théophile (pp 216-219) — as introduced in the previous post. Again, it is a translation from the French.

REASONS NOT TO BELIEVE

In every era, apologists try to find new “reasons to believe.” But the reasons not to believe also multiply and gradually coordinate. It is useful to occasionally take stock of them.

Our culture is characterized by the growing importance of sciences that have humanity as their object. The naturalist-type scientist, whose object of study is nature, contrasts with the humanist-type scientist, well-versed in the methods of historical, philological, and psychological sciences. To both of them, Christianity does not appear in the same way.

The naturalist scientist, in a way, ignores it and is uninterested in it. They simply exclude from the scope of their science the simplistic and ill-founded solutions that the Bible seems to impose. After doing that, they are inclined to grant religion a special domain for which they feel, according to their education, respect or disdain.

The humanist scientist behaves differently. Religion is at the very center of their study. It has an inexhaustible interest for them. However, they do not grant it a special place among human phenomena. They examine it in its historical and psychological context. They do not seek to refute it, but they aim to describe its genesis. They bring it down from the absolute and place it in the conditioned.

In our times, the mindset of the humanist scientist tends to spread. Yet, more than that of the naturalist scientist, it is fundamentally incompatible with religious faith, especially with Catholicism. For anyone who undertakes free research of this kind and wants to maintain the integral faith defined by the Council of Trent, an internal crisis is either open or latent.

It will not take much effort, indeed, to discover the historical illusions and psychological illusions on which the majestic edifice of faith is built.

Let’s consider only three psychological illusions here.

Through this special state of meditation called prayer, can we change the course of things?

It is a very dear desire of humans. It was the driving force behind all magics and religions. It bravely defies experience. In fact, prayer is a beneficial and fruitful state, akin to inspiration. It has an impact on the person who practices it and sometimes on the world through them. But to believe that in the depths of inner silence, one touches a very powerful person, be it a saint or God, is nothing but a common illusion of duplication.

Do miracles occur in Lourdes or Lisieux that go beyond nature?

An eternal illusion, as old as humankind, to which one wholeheartedly lends oneself, as the taste for the marvelous is deeply ingrained in humans. Miracles around tombs belong to popular religion, older and more vigorous than Christianity itself. They only testify to an old human desire.

Is our self or, as they say, our soul, immortal?


This is the deepest and most industrious aspiration of humans. It has built the most beautiful mysteries and the most subtle philosophies. Does that mean it can change realities? Alas! Nothing in experience corresponds to this. Human wishes are of one order, and realities are of another.


Will it be said that these illusions are beautiful and comforting? That is a matter for discussion. In any case, a religion reduced to pleading for beauty and utility is sick. Christianity is condemned to be true or to perish slowly. For it cannot prevent men from standing up to it and saying: harsh, desolate, cruel, it is the truth we seek. And on it alone, we want to rebuild our moral life, build our society.


Against the revolutionaries who want to go all the way with free inquiry, today’s Christians are reduced to defending their traditions because they are ancient and beautiful. In this, they resemble the last pagans much more than the first Christians.


Do the others, the new men, harbor hatred or contempt for Christianity? Certainly not.


Christianity is of humanity. That is why it is precious to humans. It carries within itself an immense human heritage. It is by studying it in all its aspects, in all its depths, not to seek God but to seek humanity, that we will discover the future destiny of humanity.


The one who passionately examines Christianity not to seek God but to seek humanity is sometimes more full of broad sympathy toward it than the one who strives to believe but feels the burning restraint placed on their intellectual freedom and critical sense everywhere.


2023-11-25

A FAREWELL TO CHRISTIANITY

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by Neil Godfrey

I post here an interesting “Farewell to Christianity” statement by Paul-Louis Couchoud. I have relied heavily on ChatGPT to translate the original French text that appeared in Théophile ou L’étudiant des religions (1928), a compilation of his thoughts on a wide range of religious topics.

For other posts relating to Couchoud, see the posts listed under Couchoud: The Creation of Christ and Paul-Louis Couchoud. René Salm also has a detailed overview.

Source: Pdf essay by Patrick Gillet

FAREWELL TO CHRISTIANITY

Christianity is within us like a long love to which it is time to bid farewell.

Parting is difficult; it is sad and poignant. It must be dignified. It is necessary.

For a century, Western people have struggled with Christianity, unable to either leave it or keep it. Sometimes they distance themselves from it with fury and contempt, and other times they return to it with a glimmer of hope, asking for what it can no longer provide.

The time has come for a calm farewell, where due respect will be paid to the memory and gratitude, a solemn farewell, a farewell without return.

The old religion can still speak to us in an unsettling, persuasive voice. It stretches out tired arms over us that we might find gentle. It cradled our youth. It has the words that trouble us to the deepest core. We must untangle ourselves from its embrace.

By parting from it, we venture into the unknown. It would be too good if another ready-made dwelling were prepared to welcome us!

We will have to build our new shelter. It will be a task spanning centuries. Many barracks have crumbled and will crumble before the solid, straight structure rises. We have to take our part in it.

We know the apparent failures of our predecessors. We are not discouraged by them.

The great romantics, Vigny, Lamennais, Michelet, Lamartine, Hugo were religious innovators, heretics, as one might have said in other centuries. They proclaimed the generous and confused gospel of new times. They did not establish anything visible. But the spiritual momentum they initiated will not stop. They have sounded the new Angelus.

Only Auguste Comte claimed to demolish Catholicism and rebuild it in three days. His dream seems childish. Yet, with profound instinct, he showed people what will probably be the object of the future religion: humanity.

Ernest Renan wanted to penetrate the origins of Christianity. He failed. His portrait of Jesus is as false and conventional as a painting by Ary Scheffer. He also wanted to turn the religion of science, which he shared with Taine and Berthelot, into dogmas. Today, scientism appears to be nothing more than a caricature of religion. But Renan’s work prepared for a sound and firm judgment on Christianity.

Alfred Loisy dreamed of reconciling Catholic dogma and historical criticism. He was harshly awakened. Patiently, he took up Renan’s program and Auguste Comte’s idea. He dissected the holy books of Christianity and outlined certain aspects of the religion of humanity.

Emile Durkheim attempted to explain the origins of religion. He too failed. His system was daringly built on too fragile foundations. But he ingeniously saw that religion is the primitive and necessary form that society took, and that the sacred is the social.

Shall we argue that these great failures should bring us back in submission to the withered bosom of the Church?

We would have to reject both the inconsistent and the solid, the sand and the stone.

No, the religious work of a century has not been entirely in vain. Holes have been dug, foundations laid, and a direction set. Through destruction and construction, something is happening. The spirit is in labor. Birth is foreseen.

Even if everything remains to be done, the efforts of the romantics, Comte, Renan, Loisy, and Durkheim would not be in vain. We cannot return to the old mistress of souls.

Her time was beautiful. Her time has passed. She is no longer what she was for forty generations of people: a closed universe, a safe haven, a haven of the spirit.

Poor, glorious old harbor! It held out against the winds and spray for a long time. Today, the dikes are submerged. The dismantled port has become the site of the worst storms.

If I were still willing to entrust myself to a submerged port, to a broken ship, if I still proclaimed myself a Christian, I would question myself in secret. I would thoroughly scrutinize my faith.

Is there a single fundamental dogma of Christianity to which, as a modern man, I can give my full acquiescence without hesitation?

Let’s go through them. There is no need for endless details. The views of reason are as quick as lightning.

Reason changes with every century because it is the living sum of human knowledge. Today it is less imbued with logic and algebra than in the 17th century. It has acquired a new acuteness since it forged the refined methods of historical sciences.

The problems that metaphysics has vainly pondered now arise from the perspective of history.

Let’s consider the essential questions: Scripture, Jesus, God. In the face of the Christian assertion, what is the immediate reaction of today’s reason?

The sacred character was initially attached to material objects: a tree, a stone, a spring. Transferring it to an intellectual object, such as the text of a book, was a tremendous advance in abstraction. It resulted in a great oppression of the mind, common to all religions of the book.

Is there, among books, a book that is not of man, a sacred book?

What prevents us from believing it is that we are beginning to see under what circumstances, by which priestly colleges, for what purpose, the parts of the Bible were successively declared sacred, and how theologians then disserted on the alleged divine inspiration. It is a very human history.

The circumstances that lead to the canonization of a book did not only occur among the Hebrews and Christians. The Persians before the Hebrews, and the Arabs after the Christians, had their sacred books. In this case, as in others, the sacred only expresses a social fact. How would today’s historian distinguish between the various sacred books of humanity?

The sacred character was initially attached to material objects: a tree, a stone, a spring. Transferring it to an intellectual object, such as the text of a book, was a tremendous advance in abstraction. It resulted in a great oppression of the mind, common to all religions of the book. A sacred stone will be revered in new ways over the ages. A sacred text imposes itself with a bruising rigidity. Three or four words from the Bible, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,’ have endlessly provoked the massacre of women.

The critical study of the sacred books of the Old and New Testaments shows that most of them were composed in successive layers. The wondrous things people thought they would find there disappear upon examination.

It was admired that Isaiah had mentioned the name of Cyrus two centuries before Cyrus’s birth. This was because it had not been noticed that the Book of Isaiah is made up of two parts, separated precisely by those centuries.

It was astonishing that the wise Daniel could predict exactly the wars and marriages of the Seleucid kings, until it became evident that the author of the Book of Daniel lived during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.

Today, the true defenders of the Bible are those who find in it a rugged and proud testimony to humanity, not those who linger in search of enigmatic oracles.

These false wonders did a disservice to the Bible. Since we now see it as the literature of an ancient people, it has lost its divine character. It has gained powerful human interest.

Today, the true defenders of the Bible are those who find in it a rugged and proud testimony to humanity, not those who linger in search of enigmatic oracles.

 

Is there, among the men who have lived, a man of a different nature than all of them, a man-God?

The problem of Jesus is not resolved. Clarifying it will be one of the great tasks of our century. It is much more difficult than it seems.

So far, it has gone through four phases.

In the time of Renan and up until around 1900, it was believed possible to write a life of Jesus. This had to be abandoned. Critics recognized that there is a lack of materials for such an undertaking.

Then, immense efforts were made in Germany and France to extract a historical core from the gospel texts. What was believed to be known about Jesus was reduced to two traits: preaching the end of the world and being condemned to death in consequence..

This small historical core itself did not remain immune to criticism. Its determination is not without arbitrariness. The solidity attributed to it is only apparent.

In recent years, Germans have given up on knowing anything certain about Jesus. What we reach historically is not Jesus, but the early Christian groups. The idea they had of Jesus was not historical. It was subordinated to the cult they rendered to him and the divine legends that circulated in the ancient world.

Finally, others have wondered if Jesus is not a purely spiritual being. It is as God that he is attested from the beginning and has crossed the centuries. However high we go, we find him on altars, an object of worship. It is difficult to understand how he could have been made God from a man. It is easier to understand how God was humanized. After all, his earthly passion, passus sub Pontio Pilato, is just a dogma, inserted as such among others in the creed.

We cannot yet say to which final conception critical research will lead. But whether Jesus remains classified among men or among gods, he will be placed in a clear-cut category.

If he is a man, he is one of the messianic agitators of the 1st century of our era, and not the least chimerical, a Jewish martyr, and not the most touching, a rabbi of Israel, and not the wisest.

If he is God, he stands beside, or rather, above the other dead and resurrected gods. He is God who suffers. He is the most moving divine figure that suffering humanity has produced.

As for the idea of a God-man, it’s a confused idea, a behemoth like the centaur, which we’re forced to disentangle.

A man could have been deified, by an uncommon aberration of religious sentiment. A god could have been endowed with a human face and earthly adventures by the infinite fertility of religious imagination. In the first case, Jesus is a false god. In the second case, he is a false man. Man-God is an unthinkable thing, a purely verbal compound.

Obscure man or splendid God, Jesus will take his place in the line of men or in the line of figures created by humanity.

Jesus has everything to lose by being registered in the annals of history. Those who deny his historical existence will remain the only ones able to defend his spiritual reality.

He has everything to lose by being registered in the annals of history. Those who deny his historical existence will remain the only ones able to defend his spiritual reality.

Is there, in the world and beyond the world, a single and personal God who, among the peoples, saves only one people: the Jews in the past, the Christians today?

What prevents us from believing …. is a knowledge of history.

What prevents us from believing this is not a philosophy of the world, but a knowledge of history.

The old philosophical problem of the existence of God loses its interest as soon as we historically perceive the birth of God.

The supreme God whom Christians worship, on whom philosophers speculate, has historical origins. It is the ancient god of Israel, the barbaric Yahweh.

He was first a small god of the desert, a djinn, the local genius of a spring in a dreadful valley. He only had real existence during seasonal festivals when nomads, grouping their tents around the spring, created him. They believed they had captured his name, lah, lahou, or lahvé. Lots were cast to summon his judgment. Some very simple wishes were attributed to him, forming a small code. By accepting these rules, one was considered to make an alliance with him.

Mercenaries who escaped from Egypt and returned to a nomadic life made an alliance with him and formed a people around him.

When these insatiable Hebrews attacked Canaan, they believed they were taking Yahweh with them in a portable chest. They attributed their successful actions to him.

As soon as they were established, Yahweh became a Baal, that is, a land-owning god. He was endowed with temples, land, slaves, sacred prostitutes, and prophets. He usurped Babylonian cosmogonic legends that made him the creator of heaven and earth.

In the spiritual history of humanity, there is no greater episode than the rise of this god. One of the most recent and humblest among the gods, he managed to eliminate all the others in the West.

The power of a god lies in the faith one devotes to him. It is most evident in defeat. Yahweh grew through tremendous defeats.

His followers were torn apart by schism and almost annihilated. He was left with only one temple, that of Jerusalem. This was the basis of his glory. The god of the single temple began to be conceived as the one God.

Then he was completely defeated by the god of Babylon, Bel-Marduk. His temple was destroyed, his people partly exterminated, partly enslaved. It was then that he rose to the highest.

A prophet-poet whose name is unknown and whom we call the Second Isaiah formulated monotheism. Yahweh is not only superior to the other gods, he alone is God. The conqueror Cyrus, who does not know him, is nevertheless his instrument. An unprecedented idea.

God was born. It is a date in human history. The Second Isaiah founded Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in one stroke. Judaism, which he transformed from a national religion into a catholic religion. Christianity, because in a mysterious part of his poem, he outlined the figure of the Servant, martyr and redeemer, an early version of Jesus. Islam, which is only a repetition of the monotheistic message.

A solemn date! At the same time, in the sixth century BCE, Confucius and Laozi gave China the rites of wisdom, India was stirred by the immense Buddhism, Zarathustra in Persia changed a religion of princes into a religion of peasants, and Pythagoras in the West reformed the mysteries. And the Second Isaiah proclaimed a unique God destined to conquer half the world.

It seems that the entire planet is setting its religious destiny for a long time to come. It’s like the passage of a celestial body.

After the major religious reforms of the sixth century, the Christian revolution is secondary. Its main effect was to make the monotheism of Israel acceptable to the Western world by adding a myth of redemption.

Today, the idea of a single God has become so natural to us that we believe it to be essential to religion. It is not. In Buddhism and Confucianism, the idea of God or gods plays almost no role. An atheistic religion is perfectly conceivable. . . . Monotheism is neither truer nor more moral than polytheism.

Today, the idea of a single God has become so natural to us that we believe it to be essential to religion. It is not. In Buddhism and Confucianism, the idea of God or gods plays almost no role. An atheistic religion is perfectly conceivable.

Monotheism is neither truer nor more moral than polytheism. It is a mental habit, a way of speaking. It is a religious imagination that seduces with apparent simplicity and disappoints in the end if asked for a profound explanation of things.

God, in whom we are accustomed to symbolize the absolute, is the invention of a time and a place. It has intimate connections with ancient Palestine and the city of Jerusalem.

Around the hollow rock that bore the altar of burnt offerings, humble singers composed the Psalms that are endlessly repeated in all Western temples today. The Song of Solomon was murmured there for the first time so that, centuries later in Spain, Saint Teresa and thousands of women would be intoxicated by it.

In the countless Jewish, Christian and Muslim minds for whom Jerusalem is still a holy city, God exists

But His credit, compared to what it was in past centuries, has diminished.

All the great religious movements that began in the sixth century BCE have either exhausted themselves or seem to be declining.

God is fading.

Will the celestial body pass by again?

 

Couchoud, Paul Louis. Théophile ou L’étudiant des religions. Paris: André Delpeuch, 1928. pp 219-231 (Highlighting of selected quotations are my own additions)


2023-11-23

Two Months Jail for Writing God Prefers Grilled Chops to Boiled Cabbage

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by Neil Godfrey

In Canada, Attorney Murphy brought a case against Mr. Ernest-Victor Slerry of Toronto, accused of writing the following lines:

The God of the Bible is portrayed as someone who walks in the Garden of Eden, talks to a woman, curses a snake, sews skins to make clothing, prefers the taste of roasted chops to the smell of boiled cabbage, sits in a burning bush, comes out from behind rocks, an old rascal that Moses had a hard time calming, who, in fits of rage, massacred hundreds of thousands of his chosen people, and who would have killed them all if cunning Moses hadn’t reminded him: What will the Egyptians say?

Obviously, these things are said without delicacy. But in the end, if the form is lacking, the substance is accurate. Not a word that cannot be supported by a reference. Long before the Christian era, the “anthropomorphisms” of the Bible shocked the Jews.

Under the blasphemy law, Mr. E.-V. Slerry was sentenced to two months in prison. The judge declared, “Our conception of God is an integral part of our national life. We view the Bible as the basis for all good laws in our country. It is the dearest and most precious book in the world to us.”

Couchoud, Paul Louis. Théophile ou L’étudiant des religions. Paris: André Delpeuch, 1928. p. 174 – ChatGPT translation
https://archive.org/details/couchoud-theophile


2023-06-30

Varieties of Atheism # 7 — The Drama of Atheism

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by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to University of Chicago Press for granting me a review copy.

I was not ready for essays compiled by David Newheiser in Varieties of Atheism when I undertook to read them. My initial response to some of the quasi-theological views seeking alignment with certain atheistic thought was impatience. I could see no relevance to the direction I had set for my life. By the time I read the final chapter, however, I began to rethink some of what I had read earlier from a new perspective. Maybe I had been overlooking the likelihood that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.

What does it mean to claim, as Furey does (by inverting Lubac) in the closing chapter of Varieties : “atheism that creates real drama represents a ‘living force’ ca­pable of ‘replacing what it destroys.'”?

The contributors to the volume represent “theologians, intellectual historians, cultural critics, and literary scholars” who have “collectively refused narrow definitions of belief, tired arguments about normative versus descriptive claims, and simplistic metaphysical arguments.” They “read and thought about Nietzsche and Dante and Einstein, Hume and Dostoevsky and Eagleton . . . [They were] uninterested in denying or defending a literalist supernaturalism, united in [their] interest in atheism’s diversity, and intrigued by the possibility that new studies of atheism might unravel the single thread linking religion to belief.” (p. 200)

Contributors to Varieties of Atheism:

Constance M. Furey…. Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University …. cofounder of the Center for Religion and the Human…. Poetic Relations: Faith and Intimacy in the English Reformation (2016) and Devotion: Three Inquiries in Religion, Literature, and Political Imagination (2021)

Vittorio Montemaggi
…. Reader in Religion, Literature and the Arts in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King’s College London and Director of the Von Hügel Institute for Critical Catholic Inquiry at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge…. adjunct professor at the London Global Gateway of the University of Notre Dame and affiliate of Notre Dame’s Center for Italian Studies….


David Newheiser
…. Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry at Australian Catholic University and an affiliate of the university’s Gender and Women’s History Research Centre…. codirector of an interdisciplinary collaboration on the ritual dimensions of contemporary art. His current book project considers the link between premodern miracles and democratic imagination.


George Pattison
…. retired scholar and Anglican priest…. Honorary Professional Research Fellow in the School of Critical Studies, at the University of Glasgow…. three part “philosophy of Christian life,” comprising A Phenomenology of the Devout Life (2018), A Rhetorics of the Word (2019), and A Metaphysics of Love (2021), …. coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought (2019).

Mary-Jane Rubenstein
…. Professor of Religion and Science in Society at Wesleyan University…. Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race (2022), Pantheologies: Gods, Worlds, Monsters (2018), Worlds without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse (2014), and Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe (2009)…. coeditor ….  Entangled Worlds: Religion, Science, and New Materialisms (2017) and coauthor …. of Image: Three Inquiries in Technology and Imagination (2021).


Devin Singh
…. Associate Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College and faculty associate in Dartmouth’s Consortium of Studies in Race, Migration, and Sexuality…. Divine Currency: The Theological Power of Money in the West (2018) and Economy and Modern Christian Thought (2022), coeditor of Reimagining Leadership on the Commons (2021), and author of articles in Journal of Religious Ethics, Harvard Theological Review, Scottish Journal of Theology, Implicit Religion, Political Theology, Religions, and Telos.


Henning Tegtmeyer
…. Associate Professor of Metaphysics and Philosophy of Religion at KU Leuven…. Honorary Professor of Philosophy at Durham University…. Formbezug und Weltbezug. Die Deutungsoffenheit der Kunst (2006; 2008); Sinnkritisches Philosophieren (de Gruyter, 2013), coedited …. and Gott, Geist, Vernunft. Prinzipien und Probleme der Natürlichen Theologie (2013).

Susannah Ticciati …. Professor of Christian Theology at King’s College London. She is author of Reading Augustine: On Signs, Christ, Truth and the Interpretation of Scripture (2022), A New Apophaticism: Augustine and the Redemption of Signs (2013), and Job and the Disruption of Identity: Reading beyond Barth (2005).

Denys Turner, formerly Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor at Yale University and Norris-Hulse Professor at Cambridge University, is now …. retired …. The Darkness of God, Julian of Norwich, Theologian, Thomas Aquinas, a Portrait, being among them, and forthcoming with Cambridge, Dante the Theologian….

Andre C. Willis …. Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University…. He is the author of Towards a Humean True Religion (2015) and is currently working on a manuscript about African American religion and politics that is tentatively titled Afro-theisms and Post-democracy. He has published …. Hume Studies, Journal of Scottish Philosophy, Political Theology, Critical Philosophy of Race, and Radical America.

One example of the departure from simplistic “God! Alive or Dead? True or False?” style of argument is Devin Singh’s chapter, “Atheism and Politics: Abandonment, Absence, and the Empty Throne”. Singh’s analysis of the meaning of the ascension of Christ, or the departure of Jesus from those who remain on earth, at times reminded me of one particular interpretation of the earliest of the canonical gospels, the Gospel of Mark, that reads it as a message for Christians who are living in a time of abandonment, in the absence of their Saviour. But Singh’s interpretation of the core of Christian theology goes one step further than that by insisting that the absence of Christ lies at the very “heart of Christian thought”. Attempts to create the sense of Christ’s presence are illusions: talk of ineffable glory, for example, masks the reality of absence, as does talk of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Such concepts are coping mechanisms for the reality that Jesus is not with us. What follows from such a theological viewpoint is the idea that Christ’s representatives on earth have a responsibility to rule or influence rulers on His behalf pending His return. But why the delay — a delay that allows for all kinds of evil while waiting for the “good and just” God to intervene? Enter “protest atheism”.

“Protest atheism” takes the Christian claims about a good and just God on their own terms and turns them against the church. But Singh speaks of an “ascension atheism” by way of contrast:

. . . protest atheism reveals the true kernel for Christian theology after ascension. It is a theology that must assert and embrace the absent and missing Christ, and as such accepts its theological operation as an empty, broken fragment of a lost dream. In this sense it does not remain as protest, for it recognizes that the protest emerges from an expectation of arrival, a desire for manifestation. Protest atheism, on the one hand, believes too faithfully in the hiddenness of the righteous king, and shakes its fist at the absent God who refuses to appear, particularly among the poor and excluded.

Ascension atheism, on the other hand, moves past this righteous, justified, and understandable protest to a form of contrite acceptance. Facing the trauma of abandonment, it acknowledges the absurdity of the denial and cover up that is the very history of Christian theology and ecclesial tradition. . . . .

. . . ascension atheism suggests that there is no sovereign at all. (p. 146)

Furey summarizes Singh’s conclusion as denying the difference between atheism and theism,

focusing instead on the political implications of [Jesus’] tarrying: rather than hailing Christ as king of kings, Christians must realize that “all kings are dead and gone and that we have kept their myths alive too long.”

A section heading in Singh’s chapter is “The Impossibilities of Political Theology”. His conclusion relates to anarchist and communal philosophies:

According to the political terms explored in this chapter, what might emerge from the recognition of the ascension and loss of the king who was promised? As suggested at the outset and underscored by the empty throne, the suppressed transcript of ascension may be the exposure of absence lurking behind all claims to kingship and to sovereignty more broadly. More radical than critiques that point out the various supports marshaled by sovereign power to exalt itself and protect its position, ascension atheism suggests that there is no sovereign at all. It exposes the tendency to seek, await, and act as if the sovereign is present and real, thus providing space to interrogate why such moves appear necessary in human community at all. It may also help explain the tendency to correlate sovereignty with loss and expenditure, where sovereign assertions of supremacy, inasmuch as they emerge in contexts influenced by Christian thought, display the need to reenact this founding loss that marks visions of community in Christian tradition and in its secular wake [endnote points to Bataille, Agamben, Blanchot, Nancy (bis)]. It raises the watchful warning that when such models of sovereignty claim to represent the people, their own absence and invisibility may be required. It may also expose the problems inherent in Christian political critiques of sovereign power that assert an even more sovereign and exalted Christ in its place. Rather than relativizing earthly power under the supreme lordship of the King of Kings, accepting the abandoned and empty throne means proceeding with the proclamation that all kings are dead and gone and that we have kept their myths alive too long. (146f)

Furey shines a light on similar kinds of finds that are only exposed by digging well beneath the surface in other chapters, too. I feel I have often missed the main points with my relatively superficial coverages (link is to the archive of all posts on Varieties of Atheism). The volume opens up thoughts and questions from literary, philosophical, political and theological perspectives that enquire into what might serve as foundations for a richer life, a Dostoevskyian “religion of life”, or for what Newheiser says in another work is “an ethical practice of openness to the unexpected”, a practice that eschews “rigid adherence that is impervious to other possibilities” (156, 132 of Hope in a Secular Age). The thinking and ideas are at a level I have not been exposed to before. It’s a new world of reflection I had not hitherto even suspected existed.


Newheiser, David. Hope in a Secular Age: Deconstruction, Negative Theology, and the Future of Faith. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Newheiser, David, ed. The Varieties of Atheism: Connecting Religion and Its Critics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2022. https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/V/bo182880666.html.



2023-06-26

Varieties of Atheism # 6 – Atheism and the Good of Humanity

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by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to University of Chicago Press for granting me a review copy. — David Hume (left) and Richard Rorty

The second chapter in Varieties of Atheism was, for me, a thought-provoker. It touches on the fundamentals of “How do we know?” and why we cannot justifiably sink into a self-centred “Why should I care about anyone else if there is no God?” approach to life. The author, Andre C. Willis, in the chapter titled “Atheism and Society”, examines these questions through a discussion of two philosophers, the Enlightenment era’s David Hume and the Postmodernist Richard Rorty.

Willis opens with a challenge that made me question if I was going to enjoy the rest of his chapter:

Public disputes between those who hold the idea that God exists and those who reject this idea are often fanned on one side by hostility for the Abrahamic traditions and fueled on the other side by animus for skepticism. This is why these polemical and often performative debates between so-called theists and so-called atheists often strike me as disingenuous; they masquerade as serious intellectual argument as a way to conceal low-grade animus.

I may have once had some level of hostility towards “Abrahamic traditions” but did I not have some justification for that hostility, and did those feelings negate my reasoning about them, or the question of God’s existence? Might not a certain level of animus sometimes be a product of concern for a greater good?

A little later Willis throws out another challenge, drawing on the words of Denys Turner in “How to be an Atheist”:

The hubris of a confident theism that knows “all too well what [it] is affirming when [it] says ‘God exists’” is the “mirror image” of a bold atheism that “know (s) all too well what it [is] denying when [it] says ‘God does not exist.’”

Turner goes on to explain:

For both the affirmer and the denier are complicit in a sort of cosy and mutually reassuring idolatrous domesticity: in short, they keep each other in a job.

Are the grounds for each position the same? If not, can the atheist in that exchange really be a “mirror image” of the theist? Maybe Turner has in mind an atheist I am not so familiar with. I’d rather explore new and old ideas than hang around to argue such a point ….

…. like exploring once more the thoughts of Hume and Rorty, and understanding where I fit between the philosophical systems each of those names represents.

One thing I have discovered through my own reflections on life and beliefs since leaving religion behind is that I have independently made myself part of a larger “community” of nonbelievers who share similar ideas and fundamental values. So often I find myself inwardly smiling in recognition at hearing others espousing outlooks about life and humanity that it took me years to learn for myself. There is something in common binding us and I do “wonder” a little, but unlike Willis I draw back from suggesting that this “wonder” over “something” should have a religious or theistic dimension.

Certainly it is true that reason alone is not enough to explain “life” or persuade anyone to disbelieve in God:

The conventional pillars of the Western philosophical enterprise — rational certainty, formal argumen­tation, and ethical persuasion — which, to them [Hume and Rorty], had proved insufficient tools to combat idolatry. They recognized that literature (especially Rorty’s notion of philosophy as poetics), captivating narratives (especially Rorty’s idea of redescription as a literary practice), multivocality (Hume’s numer­ous dialogues), and close attention to literary form (especially Hume’s es­says, philosophical treatises, political arguments, historical writings, and letters) were just as important as, if not more important than, the formal philosophical grammars of metaphysics and epistemology, particularly when it came to contending with belief in deities and embracing tenets of a religious tradition.

Another echo from my early days exploring a world without god: I used to say, when pushed, that I believe in poetry. Not quite sure why but I think what I was trying to say was that we resort to metaphors to convey certain experiences. That’s not spiritual but, I think, something wired into our cranial circuits. Such a “reductionist” explanation doesn’t rob it of meaning, though.

Hume worked through the logic of the arguments to conclude that there can be no reason to believe in God. Rorty concluded that all our knowledge and understanding is bound up in our language, the words and concepts we use, and we cannot go beyond those words and we may doubt that we can justify our set of words over another person’s set of words.

Like Rorty’s liberal ironist, who has continuing doubts about her final vocabulary, Hume’s moderate skeptic is “diffident of his philosophical doubts, as well as of his philosophical convictions” . . . The similarities here are glaring.

The rationale might be different but the end result is the same – humility.

I have avoided repeating (or even explaining) here Willis’s explanations of the grounds of Hume’s and Rorty’s reasoning in the hope that interested readers will grasp some partial but sufficient sense of what each is about. Both believe in some kind of action that takes us beyond mere words or logic.

There are at least three resonances between Hume’s “easy philosophy” and the approach of Rorty’s liberal ironist that are worth noting. First, Hume says that it “bor­rows all helps from poetry.” Recall . . . Rorty’s . . . . philosophy as a form of poetry. Second, similar to the affective strengths of the Rortyan ironist, Hume’s “easy philosophy” appeals to our feelings and sentiments, not reason alone. And third, Hume’s easy philosophy understands hu­mans as “born for action” in ways that the ironist is driven to the action of redescription.

As a lay outsider I find it surprising and encouraging to see some common ground between Enlightenment and Postmodernist thinking. Or rather than “thinking” should that be “feeling”? We are animals, after all, and we have feelings before we are able to “think” in any formal logical sense.

Rorty’s “urging” for a human solidarity that cannot be justified via any “philosophical presuppositions” aims, ultimately, to function as a way to link suffering human agents. To recognize our “similarities with respect to pain and humiliation” . . . is, for Rorty, to create togetherness across vari­ous divisions and to generate connections where it feels unnatural to do so. To my ear, this way of thinking about generating connections carries a religious residue, has a teleological dimension, and relies on, in some ways, something like a quasi-theological — or at least not-fully-comprehensible – power.

I hesitate once again. Maybe it’s a matter of definition. But does not the word “theological” (even if modified with “quasi”) throw in an unnecessary factor? Why not simply call it poetical? Does not our depth of experience and wonder prompt us to call upon metaphors? Is that not enough? Is that not enough to justify a communication with a theologian?

We are all the same, however different. We all have a natural investment in the good of “us”.


Newheiser, David, ed. The Varieties of Atheism: Connecting Religion and Its Critics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2022.
https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/V/bo182880666.html.

Turner, Denys. “How to Be an Atheist.” New Blackfriars 83, no. 977/978 (2002): 317–35.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/43249944


 


2023-06-18

Varieties of Atheism # 5 – Pantheism and Einstein

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by Neil Godfrey

Mary-Jane Rubenstein (photo from ICE Dartmouth)

I cover here another chapter in Varieties of Atheism: Mary-Jane Rubenstein‘s “Atheism and Science” discusses the relevance of Einstein’s “cosmic religious sense” to atheism.

On Albert Einstein’s “Cosmic Religious Sense”

Mary-Jane Rubenstein begins in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where we find the relationship between science and religion taking shape. Our first view is that of the confusion between pantheism and atheism. Baruch Spinoza, could be described as both a “God-intoxicated man” and an atheist! If Spinoza could declare all Nature to be God, more rigid “believers” would react with despair that such an impersonal deity was no deity at all. Even philosophers are not all convinced: Arthur Schopenhauer dismissed pantheism as nothing but “a euphemism for atheism”; closer to home, Nancy Frankenberry writes

by assimilating God to Nature … [pantheists] raise the suspicion that one of the two of them is semantically superfluous. (quoted p. 21)

What does pantheism have to do with Einstein? Einstein (along with Niels Bohr) replaced Newton’s clockwork universe with an ever-shifting one, depending on where one lives and how one observes it. What sort of god does that make the world of nature? And what are the implications for religious debates?

It all began in April 1929….

Cardinal O’Connell (bilbiolore photo)

. . .  one week before a lavish gala at the Metropolitan Opera House in honor of Einstein’s fiftieth birthday, which would draw 3,500 people in support of the Jewish National Fund and the Zionist Organization of America. As American Jews prepared to celebrate their most famous kinsman, Boston cardinal William Henry O’Connell delivered an address to the New England Province of Catholic Clubs of America, urging their members to pay no attention to the Jewish pseudoprophet. Having previously denounced Hollywood and radio technology for proliferating a monstrous cadre of “masculine women” and “effeminate men,” the cardinal charged Einstein’s theory of relativity with endorsing the categorical indistinction of the topsy-turvy era. The theory, he insisted, was nothing more than “befogged speculation producing universal doubt about God and his creation, cloaking the ghastly apparition of atheism.” (Quoted from “Einstein Believes in ‘Spinoza’s God,”’ New York Times, April 25,1929 — Rubenstein, p. 21)

Relativity — what a word. As Rubenstein remarks,

. . . one can surmise from the ensuing controversies that the mere name of relativity connoted for O’Connell moral laxity . . . . In short, relativity’s denial of any absolute reference point for space and time seemed to O’Connell a denial of the Absolute altogether, and for that reason, it was both morally and empirically wrong. (p. 22)

Einstein appealed to Spinoza’s God, not explicitly in public, but in a telegram sent to an inquiring rabbi who made the telegram famously public:

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of all things, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.

Einstein or his supporters tried to repair some damage in subsequent publications and statements by stressing “the essentially mysterious” nature of the universe, declaring that he “confronts it with awe and reverence”. But that was not going to appease anyone devoted to a personal god. Eventually Einstein delivered a lecture on the question of science and religion. Rubenstein summarizes key points:

Science, he ventured, is concerned with “what is” whereas religion tells us “what should be”-, science uncovers “facts,” whereas religion prescribes “human thoughts and actions.” As such, neither is sufficient on its own; in Einstein’s now iconic words, “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”.

Whence, then, comes the perceived opposition between these mutually beneficial regimes? The largest impediment to the harmony between science and religion, Einstein ventures, is in the concept of a personal God. Channeling Spinoza, Einstein argues that science cannot affirm the existence of an anthropomorphic power who from time to time violates the order of nature in response to human petition. In addition to being scientifically inadmissible, he explains, such a God is ethically useless, relieving human beings of responsibility for their own actions. . . . For ethical and scientific reasons alike, then, Einstein insists that “teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God”. Once people are free from this divine overlord, Einstein promises they will also be free from egoistic concerns (like having the largest gross domestic product or the biggest sport utility vehicle), eventually attaining that comportment his earlier essay called the cosmic religious sense: a humble feeling of reverence for the mysterious yet rational whole. And in this way, the religious person becomes affectively identical to the scientist. (pp. 24f – Rubenstein’s italics)

We can imagine the outrage among many mainstream clerics. Einstein’s view was denounced as opening up a world without any moral order, with no personal god to hold people to account. In fact, though, Einstein had made the opposite case: that if God were personal, then God would be responsible for human evil.

For Einstein, the words God and Nature were interchangeable. The world is “so rationally structured that we can think of it as divine.”

Channeling Spinoza, Einstein argues that science cannot affirm the existence of an anthropomorphic power who from time to time violates the order of nature in response to human petition. In addition to being scientifically inadmissible, he explains, such a God is ethically useless, relieving human beings of responsibility for their own actions. (p. 24)

Concerning “faith”, Einstein believed in the “rationality or intelligibility of the world”, and that’s where he ran into problems with Bohr’s quantum physics and unpredictable particles. Rubenstein quotes Einstein:

The basis of all scientific work is the conviction that the world is an ordered and comprehensive entity which is a religious sentiment. (p. 27)

I suppose it is a religious sentiment. But why can’t we say that religious sentiments are really poetically felt and expressed secular sentiments? (But that thought brings us to the next chapter and the next post.)

Mystery and comprehensibility went hand in hand for Einstein. But how could one make sense of an indeterminate universe of quantum mechanics? Rubenstein refers to the historian of science Gunther Stent’s article that interprets the Einstein-Bohr debate as less a debate about physical theory than about God.

What they were actually arguing about, Stent suggests, was whether or not there was a superrational power stabilizing the quantum-dicey universe, with Einstein holding onto “the traditional monotheistic viewpoint of modern science” and Bohr breaking through to a genuine, postmodern “atheism.” (p. 32)

When Rubenstein speaks of Einstein’s appeal to God (Does God play dice?) I take God to be another term for Nature. Bohr, she writes, was baffled by Einstein’s “presumption that God was a single, immutable order of things beyond the multitude of worldly phenomena.” She speaks of the “absolutism of determinism and the anthropocentrism of ‘reason'” underlying Einstein’s view of the “ordered universe”. (I had not thought of the “rational view” of the universe as being a projected anthropomorphism before.)

If God is equated with Nature, Rubenstein is suggesting that according to the physics of relativity and quantum mechanics we arrive at “a pluralistic, perspectival pantheism that would constitute even more of a threat than atheism to the anthropic father-friend of classical theism” (p. 21)

Such a “pantheology” would amount to atheism for some, but for others it would not, Rubenstein concludes.

(There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.)

The above post, I hope, gives a reliable small taste of a thought provoking chapter.

—-
Addendum:

From one of Rubenstein’s examples I am reminded of the disputes in Australia over landmarks that are sacred sites for some and sources of monetary wealth for others. That kind of conflict and its ultimate sources will in part be addressed in my next post when I look at the chapter by Andre C. Willis exploring how the Postmodernist Rorty was prefigured in certain ways by the Enlightenment philosopher Hume and what that means for a more compassionate and healthy society beyond any religious-atheist divide.

 


2023-06-17

Varieties of Atheism # 4 – Deeper than Reason

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to University of Chicago Press for access to a review copy.

Varieties of Atheism has rekindled my interest in atheism as an identity and as a question for wider social consideration. One can take one’s identity for granted and risk becoming stale, ossified, a life that is lived the same day after day without any further inward understanding or self-awareness. So it’s good to read the points David Newheiser raises and to follow the leads to other readings that he offers.

In one place in Varieties Newheiser writes:

. . . atheism concerns motivations that run deeper than reason.

I consult the endnote. It reads:

Stephen LeDrew argues that the New Atheism is likewise motivated by political commitments rather than science alone. Stephen LeDrew, The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 2. Susannah Ticciati develops a similar argument in her contribution to this collection.

Since I’m more interested in politics than theology I’ll put the theologian on hold for a moment and have a look at what LeDrew has to say (2016) —

. . . New Atheism is a secular fundamentalism, a modern utopian ideology that is also an active movement for social transformation. Like all fundamentalisms, it is not only a position on metaphysical questions but an essentially political phenomenon. It is only manifestly a critique of religion, while its latent project is the universalization of the ideology of scientism and the establishment of its cultural authority. Its critique is therefore not just about religion but more precisely about cultures, belief systems, and forms of knowledge—most importantly the social sciences and humanities, redundant in the New Atheism’s Darwinistic master narrative—that are perceived as challenges to this authority.

While ostensibly a critique of the dangers of irrational superstitions, then, the New Atheism is ultimately about power—more specifically, socially legitimate authority. It is a response to challenges to the authority of science and, by extension, those who practice science and regulate its institutions. By a further extension, it is a defense of the position of the white middle-class Western male, and of modernity itself, which is perceived to be under threat by a swirling concoction of religious ignorance, epistemic relativism, identity politics, and cultural pluralism. The New Atheism is a reaction to twenty-first-century challenges to the established modern social hierarchy and structure of cultural authority, seeking to eliminate perceived challenges to scientific authority not only from “premodern” religion but also “postmodern” social science. This is an attempt at placing an ideological manifestation of the natural sciences in a position of uncontested authority in the production of legitimate knowledge and in the cultural sphere of meaning and normativity.

I knew there was a reason I felt a certain discomfort with some of the writings of Dawkins, Harris, and even Hitchens.

Stephen LeDrew (photo from Publishers Weekly)

I’m a history buff so I could not turn away from LeDrew’s first chapter, The Evolution of Atheism.

As noted in an earlier post, LeDrew points out that “explicit, “avowed” atheism emerged in the Enlightenment” — and from that perspective it is a modern “movement”:

. . . “atheism” is inextricably bound up with a tradition of Enlightenment principles, including emancipation through reason, liberal democracy, the primacy of the individual, scientific rationality, and the notion of progress, which is closely related to the theory—or as Asad describes it, the “political doctrine”—of secularization . . . (p. 13)

I did not know so much has been written about atheism. LeDrew introduces his discussion by pointing to two key sources for his information:

So LeDrew draws a distinction between “scientific atheism” and “humanistic atheism”.

Scientific atheism views religion primarily as the antithesis of science and an obstacle to social and scientific progress. . . [It] understands religion as an obstacle to science-driven social progress and seeks to eradicate this relic of the premodern world through science education and “enlightenment”.

Humanistic atheism [considers] religion to be primarily a social phenomenon rather than an attempt at explaining nature . . . [It] rejects the structure of a world that gives rise to religion, which from this perspective is not a challenge to modernity but rather provides ideological support for modernity by rationalizing its inequities. It imagines alternative social formations that would cause religion to vanish. (p. 14, my formatting and bolding in all quotations)

Comte’s theory of society was…a precursor to the Darwinistic vision of progress at the heart of scientific atheism, [and] Spencer’s later fusion…of sociology and evolutionary biology into … sociobiology. (LeDrew, 19)

New Atheism as scientific atheism

We might say that such an analysis provides us with 20-20 vision and through it LeDrew focuses on the New Atheism thus:

The New Atheism is not “new” but just the most recent incarnation of a particular kind of nonbelief from a particular intellectual tradition. It excludes other kinds of religious criticism . . . The New Atheism is much more than a critical inquiry into religious faith. It is an extension and manifestation of the modern project of scientific mastery of the world and the rationalization of society, and its critique is only ostensibly about religion. More implicitly, it is a critique of other perceived challenges to this political project, wherever they may come from—even from other kinds of atheism. (14f)

LeDrew explores an interesting discussion on the thesis that atheism emerged not from a direct antagonism to religion but ironically from within theological enquiries that sought to enlist science in support of some of its views. That discussion is beyond the scope of this post but one can find more about the idea in Buckley, Denying and Disclosing God, Kors, Atheism in France, and Turner, Without God, Without Creed.

“Scientific atheism”, LeDrew explains, was born from the union of Enlightenment scepticism and the social and scientific theories of evolution. We have heard of Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism. Here we find the beginnings of what many of us would view as the villain of modern times:

It is important to note that this idea of progressive social evolution, with its vision of a “natural unfolding of social complexity,” is predicated upon a misreading of Darwin, who viewed evolution as a process with no fixed direction and invoked the metaphor of a “radiating bush” to describe adaptation and differentiation. (LeDrew, p.24)

For Darwin “on God” see comment below.

It is crucial to note that for these early Darwinists, the theory of evolution was not simply a scientific fact that needed to be defended against irrational forces that would seek to discredit it. The theory of evolution was, from the beginning, tied to a certain political orientation. Darwin was born into a wealthy family of capitalists and scientists. This socialization proved determinative of his character and political views, which in turn were instructive in the development of his scientific theory. Informed by Darwin’s liberal-capitalist worldview, natural selection doubled as a metaphor for the right of individuals to pursue their self-interest in a free and competitive society. Soon after its publication, Huxley declared Origin of Species to be a gun in the armory of liberalism, the most effective new weapon for attacking superstitious beliefs and thus promoting rational materialism.

Evolution was clearly not politically neutral in the minds of its defenders. Rather, the idea was tied to liberalism and rationalism and used to promote modern goals and values, and thus transcended science to become a cornerstone of the political ideology of the Victorian liberal intelligentsia. Indeed, many scholars agree that Darwin’s theory not only validated his political views but itself was a product of Victorian culture, with Darwin early in his scientific career committing himself to a theory of nature that reflected the Malthusian socioeconomic inclinations of British high society

In this view, the theory of natural selection was a contingent result of social history rather than an inevitable conclusion. As atheism became tied to the theory of evolution, it moved from simple negation of religious beliefs to an affirmation of liberalism, scientific rationality, and the legitimacy of the institutions and methodology of modern science—and thus from religious criticism to a complete ideological system. (22f)

Thankfully LeDrew reassures atheists who are offended by that historical background:

. . . scientific atheism is not a necessary consequence of a Darwinian worldview but rather an ideology that uses “evolution” and “natural selection” as metaphors in the advancement of what is in fact a deeply political position. (25)

Humanistic atheism

We come now to the history of “humanistic atheism”.

This brand of atheism emerged from the realization that merely rationally criticizing religious beliefs did not solve the nonrational problems that led to those beliefs, “which include alienation, suffering, infantile neurosis and insecurity, and fear of death.” We leave behind Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Charles Darwin and Aldous Huxley and meet Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.

These thinkers did not give much attention to the arguments against the existence of God. Rather, they tended to simply assume his nonexistence. They were interested in the social and psychological causes that led to belief in God and in sustaining a religion that maintained inequities and ignorance. We introduced Feuerbach in our previous post. I am embarrassed to have to admit I have never studied anything about Ludwig Feuerbach but LeDrew helps me understand and atone a little for my ignorance:

Given his role as a principal architect of one of the most important streams of atheist thought of the past two centuries, it is striking that Feuerbach is rarely mentioned today in popular or scholarly religious criticism. Feuerbach’s seminal contribution to the development of atheism was his theory of God as a projection of the human onto the divine figure, which is a projection of alienation: “Religion is the disuniting of man from himself; he sets God before him as the antithesis of himself.” That is, everything that is great about God is alienated from humanity. (27)

If you are more familiar with Karl Marx and the above sounds familiar, here is the reason:

This approach was adopted by Marx, who reconfigured Feuerbach’s theory by defining more precisely the nature of the human experience that resulted in the projection of God—that is, alienation. (27)

Freud, we know, also accounted for religion as an “illusion”. The comfort believers find in religion is understood as arising from our inner “fearful and wondering child . . . desperate for some measure of control over terrifying forces of nature . . . “. Quoting Freud, religion, then, is …

the system of doctrines and promises which on the one hand explains to him the riddles of this world with enviable completeness, and, on the other, assures him that a careful Providence will watch over his life and will compensate him in a future existence for any frustrations he suffers here. The common man cannot imagine this Providence otherwise than in the figure of an enormously exalted father.

Then there is Friedrich Nietzsche. We have all heard of “the death of God”.

. . . the notion of the death of God refers to the end of “belief in any sort of absolute centre or unshakable foundation.”71 It is a necessary step in the evolution of man, where man is a step between animal and Ubermensch, when humanity itself, rather than a distant God, becomes the meaning of Earth.72 Here we see a link between Nietzsche and Feuerbach’s theory of God as projected alienated humanity. That is, man cannot become Ubermensch—master of himself and creator of his own truth and morality—until God, the universalizing and alienating foundation of truth and morality, is “dead.”

Ah — how I recall my French classes from student days and reading Albert Camus and struggling to take in the full meaning of Existentialism.

. . . faith robs people of their own capacity for understanding . . .

Indeed, and in more ways than the one identified here (relying on the church to explain and provide meaning). A momentous turning point in my life came when it suddenly dawned on me that it was my “faith” that was my driver — it was not the object of my faith that was empowering me, giving me confidence, etc, but “faith” itself! I finally discovered I could cut out the middle (imaginary) man.

He describes religion as an illusion constructed as an escape from reality . . . 

. . . In this sense Nietzsche can be placed in line with Marx and Freud in their diagnosis of religion as both an expression of suffering and compensation for it. This idea is expressed most forcefully in his disdain for Christian morality, which for Nietzsche is nothing other than a slave morality . . . (31)

I do not think Marx is obsolete and LeDrew reminds me of one of the reasons why:

For Nietzsche, then, as for Marx, religion turns our attention away from what is really important, which is human social relations, and toward the appeasement of a supernatural deity who has the power to end our suffering if only we are prepared to submit to his will—which, of course, is really the will of powerful clerics.

The biggest difference between these thinkers is perhaps in their attitude toward the oppressed. Marx is clearly empathetic, while Nietzsche derides the weak masses beguiled by the Christian slave morality, and Freud is equally contemptuous of the majority who are mired in an infantile fantasy and “will never be able to rise above this view of life. (32)

Incidentally, it was pointed out to me recently that Bruno Bauer (whose works I have been translating) was the first to declare that religion was the “opiate of the people”, and Marx borrowed the expression from him.

–o0o–

Susannah Ticciati

A theologian’s perspective

The other scholar Newheiser cited in his remark about atheism involving a “motivation that runs deeper than reason” is the theologian Susannah Ticciati who contributes a chapter in Varieties of Atheism.

Ticciati also takes me on a journey of discovery when in her introductory paragraphs on the debate with New Atheists she points out in passing….

  • The thin narrative of progress underpinning some of the new atheist writings is exposed by Terry Eagleton (from a Marxist perspective) for its failure to recognize the radical nature of sin, and its political impotence in the face of the horrors of capitalism.
  • David Bentley Hart offers a counterhistory in which the evils allegedly brought about by “religion” are placed in the context of an account of the Christian tradition as that which has (uniquely) fostered an ethic of love and compassion.
  • Less sweepingly polemical, but sharing the dismissive tone of Eagleton and Hart, is Denys Turner’s apophatically rooted critique that such atheists deny a God that no self-reflective Christian would affirm, and that their denials are outstripped by the much more thoroughgoing denials of the apophatic tradition.
  • Voicing a perspective from beyond the male-dominated battleground of the debate, Tina Beattie exposes from a feminist perspective the ideological situatedness of the new atheism’s scientism. Her nonpolemical approach arguably enables her to offer all the more deeply devast[at]ing a critique.
  • David Fergusson, most measured of all, deliberately seeking a respectful engagement, points (among other things) to the complexity of the theological tradition as something that already houses the challenges thrown at it as if for the first time by the new atheists. Several of the theological contributors, finally, highlight the complementary rather than competitive relationship between science and theology. (85f)

The links in the above will take you to the particular work Ticciati had in mind in each case. Of course, I cannot simply sit and watch such interesting looking titles go without stopping the bus each time so I can get out and check them for myself.

Ticciati finds all of the above more or less lacking in one respect in their criticisms of the “new atheists”….. that is, their failure to hear and respond to

what is arguably the deepest concern being voiced by the new atheists—an ethical concern. (86)

Ticciati’s response is that of a theologian for her theologian peers. I confess I struggled to fully grasp her highly abstract discussion, though I imagine theologians would embrace the terms and arguments she uses as mere basics in their conceptual universe. It’s not my world and I attempt to outline her argument only with trepidation.

Babette’s Feast Guardian photo

What is the practical impact of religion? Are beliefs harmful? Or is it only certain practices that we must worry about? After surveying the respective views of Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins on these views, Ticciati refers to two quite different atheist perspectives:

(As I have said, Varieties of Atheism contains a wealth of introductions to new ideas or old ideas discussed in new ways!)

Ticciati responds to new atheist criticisms by bridging the gap between belief and practice and here she turns to 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For the word of the cross is folly (μωρια) to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of preaching to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block (σκανδαλον) to Jews and folly (μωρια) to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Through an application of that text to the ethical questions raised by religion’s critics argues that a propositional belief (God exists; Christ crucified is the saviour of the world”; “Jesus is the Christ”) can only have meaning under certain conditions in which the believer lives in the transforming context of a “mutual upbuilding” community of fellow-believers. That’s surely a gross oversimplification of Ticciati’s argument but I hope it is enough to present an invitation for anyone interested to follow it up for elaboration. At the risk of quoting a passage out of the context in which it was meant to be read, some flavour of the discussion might be gleaned from her following words:

The “me” that utters “Christ is my savior” will always also be the perishing self that is dealt a death blow by this very claim. It must be made foolish in order to become wise. As I have shown, the more austere claim “God exists,” at least in its Christian rendition, has meaning only insofar as it is caught up in this dynamic. And for this reason, the critiques of the new atheists—however easy it might be to dismiss them on purely propositional grounds—must be heard as another invitation “to become a fool that [one] may become wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18).

. . . . .

Drawing on scriptural resources, I have developed an account of the relationship between the truth and transformative significance of two central theological claims: (1) “Christ crucified is the savior of the world,” and (2) “God exists.” In summary, I have argued that these two claims display their true meaning under the conditions of an economy of mutual upbuilding, in which stumbling over Christ as stumbling stone leads again and again to the rediscovery of Christ as cornerstone.

Personally, I prefer to read the atheist literature cited, or even selections from other theological responses that are simpler, keeping in mind Ticciati’s caveats about what she perceives to be their shortcomings. Everything is colourful. Nothing black and white.


LeDrew, Stephen. The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Newheiser, David, ed. The Varieties of Atheism: Connecting Religion and Its Critics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2022.


 


2023-06-12

Varieties of Atheism # 3

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by Neil Godfrey

Having posted here often enough about my explorations into religion it is about time I investigated what atheism is all about. So many thanks to the University of Chicago Press for allowing me access to a review copy of Varieties of Atheism : Connecting Religion and its Critics compiled and edited by David Newheiser.

David Newheiser [DN] hails from a somewhat similar religious background as I do so it is interesting to compare notes. He offers his collection of essays from various authors as potentially opening “new possibilities for conversation between those who are religious and those who are not”. Maybe. You’ll have to make up your own mind about that likelihood and I return to the question at the end of this post. But for DN atheism is not simply a matter of “belief” (or “absence of belief”):

on the contrary, athe­ism incorporates ethical disciplines, cultural practices, and affective states. (p. 2)

DN begins his discussion with reference to the four famous horsemen of the New Atheist movement of not so very long ago: Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great), Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion).  Recall those bus ads? “Just be good for goodness sake”?

What DN points out is that such New Atheists not only had a narrow-minded view of religion but that even

their conception of atheism is similarly impover­ished. (p. 3)

So DN sweeps us up for a quick birds-eye view of past atheist authors — Bertrand Russell (“Why I Am Not a Christian”), Anthony Flew (God and Philosophy), Richard Swinburne (The Existence of God), Alvin Plantinga (Warranted Christian Belief) — before bringing us down to land in the pre-modern era of Europe. The Greek term (a-theist) came to be applied (in the sixteenth century) by Roman Catholic and Protestant apologists as they hurled the word at their opponents whom they deemed immoral.

One did not identify oneself as an atheist. One accused one’s enemies of being atheist. Until, the time of the Enlightenment:

Philosophers such as Denis Diderot and Paul-Henri d’Holbach were among the first to call themselves atheists, and a century later the practice was suddenly widespread. . . . It is only in the modern period that atheism and religion came to be equated with propositional belief . . . (p. 6)

Interestingly, atheism as an identity is linked with historical shifts in what we understand by the terms “science” and “religion”:

Medieval Christians understood scientia as an intellectual habit and religio as a moral habit. On this under­standing there could be no contradiction between religio and scientia, for they are not the same sort of thing. In the modern period, however, both science and religion came to be seen as bodies of objective knowledge that make propositional statements which are sometimes at odds. . .  Through the objectifying tendency of the time, religion and science were made to signify the opposite of what they once meant, and in the process a new attitude became possible — the rejection of religion on scientific grounds. These shifts in intellectual culture contributed to the development of atheism as an identity, but they are not enough to explain it. (p. 7)

So what might explain it? DN draws upon Alec Ryrie’s study in Unbelievers: an Emotional History of Doubt and his account of the “seventeenth-century crisis of faith” . . . .

accord­ing to Ryrie the argument was motivated by morality and emotion rather than rationality alone.

Emotional angst came to a boil over the hypocrisy of the church for some; for others it was over the “erosion of doctrinal certainties”. Christians attacked Christians, but the arguments over time saw believers having it out with atheists, and it was about morality as much as propositional beliefs about the existence of a god.

So DN comes down to the nineteenth century and this imposing gentleman:

Ludwig Feuerbach, DN summarizes, claimed God to be a human idea that was used to buttress political control. His primary focus in his criticism of religion was moral.

Feuerbach is therefore an important source for later atheism, and yet his critique of religion arose from a moral sensibility that was informed by Christianity. Feuerbach was raised as a Lutheran, and he cited Luther hundreds of times — even referring to himself at one point as “Luther II.” Like Luther, Feuerbach’s outrage at the complacency of many Christians was motivated by his concern for the values they espouse.

Because Feuerbach’s atheism is driven by a passionate moral sensitivity, it cannot be reduced to the absence of belief in the existence of a God or gods. (pp. 7f – my bolding)

Yet ironically Feuerbach “explicitly disavowed the label of atheism”, insisting that his objection was only to certain forms of religion. Others with the same core motivations — though not chary about identifying as atheists — listed by DN:

For more on the moral motivations of atheists such as Feuerbach, see Dominic Erdozain, The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx , chap. 6. — note in DN’s Varieties
  • Friedrich Nietzsche,
  • Karl Marx,
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
  • Frederick Douglass,
  • Percy Shelley,
  • Hypatia Bonner,
  • Mikhail Bakunin,
  • and the Mar­quis de Sade.

Atheism for these figures was about more than belief, or disbelief in a god. It was about political control, alienation, ethics, human wellbeing.

Stephen LeDrew argues that the New Atheism is likewise motivated by politi­cal commitments rather than science alone. – DN’s note

DN observes that the difference between modern atheism and the atheism of ancient eras is that today atheism has become “an identity people claim from themselves” instead of an accusation to be spat at enemies. But the one constant is that

atheism concerns motivations that run deeper than reason.

At the outset of this post I referred to DN’s hope that his book would open “new possibilities for conversation between those who are religious and those who are not”. We can begin to see the reasoning behind that hope.

I have sought to show that atheism is . . .  a polyphonic assemblage that de­velops in conversation with religious traditions. Despite its association with the cool light of reason, atheism is motivated by curiosity, defiance, delight, anxiety, anger, skepticism, and sympathy. (p. 8)

What is religion? Is it possible to arrive at a genuinely objective definition? DN refers to scholarly views that understand the modern concept of religion to have been “invented” in the seventeenth-century “alongside the novel conception of the state as secular.”

I have delayed my writing too long of late. I’d like to offer as an excuse, at least in part, that David Newheiser’s Varieties of Atheism has sent me down other rewarding book trails — see the evidence in images and links above — from where I’ve had to pull myself back to the review at hand. That would only be partly true, however. I look forward to discussing some selections from Varieties in coming posts.

 


2023-05-21

Varieties of Atheism #2

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by Neil Godfrey

Here’s another interview with David Newheiser (personal webpage). This one goes into more depth on the philosophical history and “varieties” of atheism. See the New Books Network –  The Varieties of Atheism: connecting religion and its critics.

I loved the books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, even some parts of Sam Harris, when they first came out — but in the interview I found myself in agreement that those works represent a kind of two-dimensional atheism. It’s as if they say that all it means to be an atheist is to reject the idea of god and to continue with life as if nothing else needs to change. (And usually the type of religion they attacked was the fundamentalist variety — which is not wholly satisfactory.)

When does atheism become “an identity”? In what social and political contexts? Atheism surely involves an emotional engagement and outlook to life and how the world could be. Atheism changes things on an ethical and political level.

David Newheiser is a senior research fellow in the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry at Australian Catholic University. He is the author of Hope in a Secular Age: Deconstruction, Negative Theology, and the Future of Faith.

The Varieties of Atheism: Connecting Religion and Its Critics (U Chicago Press, 2022) reveals the diverse nonreligious experiences obscured by the combative intellectualism of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. In fact, contributors contend that narrowly defining atheism as the belief that there is no god misunderstands religious and nonreligious persons altogether. The essays show that, just as religion exceeds doctrine, atheism also encompasses every dimension of human life: from imagination and feeling to community and ethics. Contributors offer new, expansive perspectives on atheism’s diverse history and possible futures. By recovering lines of affinity and tension between particular atheists and particular religious traditions, this book paves the way for fruitful conversation between religious and non-religious people in our secular age.

New Books Network –  The Varieties of Atheism: connecting religion and its critics.


2023-05-20

Varieties of Atheism

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by Neil Godfrey

Atheism in 21st Century Australia is very different to that of 19th Century Russia, yet they are grouped under the same umbrella. The varieties of atheism in different times and cultures are the subject of a new anthology of essays that aims to reveal the diverse non-religious experiences obscured by the combative intellectualism of New Atheist figures like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Gone are the days when I could listen to an author interview on the car radio and then head to the local bookshop, confident that I would find copies of their book waiting for me on the shelf. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore. So, while I cannot discuss this particular book based on my own reading experience, I can share a link to the conversation that aroused my interest.

The primary author or editor of the book explained their personal interest in religious traditions, which originated from their upbringing in the fundamentalist Christian tradition. Their journey took a significant turn at the age of nineteen when they were expelled from their community due to accusations of “heresy.” The interest in religion is not motivated by some sort of knee-jerk reaction to a bad time, but by a desire to understand an important part of human life and how it affects the way we treat each other — and ourselves.

That experience of expulsion from one’s community resonated with my own. I was also made to think about the idea that atheism is somehow related to a particular type of religious belief system. Anyway, I hope to catch up with the book and till then you may like to listen to the interviews I heard:

Conversations wth David Newheiser and George Pattison

The discussion about Dostoevsky is also intriguing.


2023-04-23

§ 91 Respite

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by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3

—o0o—

307

§ 91

Respite.


We do not need to make or seek the transition to dogmatic criticism. Although the historical criticism that we have exercised above has never used so-called dogmatic arguments, such as that this or that miracle is impossible, in its result it is already the criticism of dogma. If we were to turn from it to the criticism of church dogma or the dogma of the New Testament letters, we would not be entering a new area, but would be considering the dogma that we have examined in the evangelical version in another stage of its development. The Christian dogma of the Redeemer is in itself both history – the history of his heavenly origin, his suffering, and his resurrection – and this history has been depicted in the Gospels as a real, empirical sequence of events. However, we have shown that it is only a dogma, only an ideal product of the Christian consciousness, so we have criticized the dogma at the point where it is most firmly rooted in reality and most inaccessible to doubt.

The idea of the Messiah, and specifically the idea that this is the Messiah, gave the Christian community its origin, or rather, both the formation of the community and the emergence of that idea are one and the same and coincide in terms of the matter and the time; but that idea was only the notion, i.e., the first vital impulse of the nascent community, the religious expression of an experience that the general consciousness of the world made and that expressed itself in the circle of religious concepts, presenting its content, its inner self, as a foreign person, as indeed the religious consciousness is a spirit that estranges itself from itself.

308

We have answered the question that our time has been so occupied with, namely whether Jesus is the historical Christ, by showing that everything that the historical Christ is, what is said about him, and what we know about him belongs to the world of imagination, specifically the Christian imagination, and therefore has nothing to do with a human being belonging to the real world. The question is thus answered, and it is eliminated for all future time.

Equally unfortunate is the ultimate fate of this question with regard to its concern with the determination of the sinlessness of the Redeemer. Just as the historical Christ dissolves into the opposite of what the imagination claims of him, namely from being a person with flesh and blood, a person who belongs to history with the power of his soul and spirit, into a phantom that mocks all laws of history, so has the imagined sinlessness of this phantom undergone the same fate. We simply refer to our critique, which at every step it took, had to become a feeling of indignation about a relationship in which one person is opposed to the general wickedness and stupidity, so that he always points to this contrast, always delights in this contrast, and without any moral connection with the world, dissolves all moral relationships in the thought of his pure self-consciousness, without reproducing them from it in any way. Nature must be blasphemed by the one, history and human relationships must be despised and ridiculed by him.

309

The fourth [gospel] has pursued all the relevant contrasts in his ruthless manner only up to the extreme pinnacle of the irony of the divine over all things human. But the contrasts themselves are already found in the synoptic Gospels and they belong necessarily to the religion which has raised itself to its ultimate abstract completion.

The result of our previous critique, that the Christian religion is the abstract religion, is the unveiling of the mystery of Christianity. The religions of antiquity had as their main powers nature, the spirit of the family, and the spirit of the people. The world domination of Rome and philosophy were the movements of a universal power that sought to rise above the limits of previous natural and national life and to become master of itself and of consciousness. For the general consciousness, this triumph of freedom and humanity, apart from the fact that Rome’s external world domination could not bring it about, could not yet be brought about in the form of free self-consciousness and pure theory, since religion was still a universal power and within it the general revolution had to take place. Within the sphere of the alienated spirit, if the liberation was to be thorough and for humanity, the previous barriers of general life had to be lifted, i.e., the alienation had to become total, embracing everything human. In the religions of antiquity, the essential interests conceal and veil the depth and horror of the alienation; the view of nature is enchanting, the family bond has a sweet charm, the interest of the people gives the religious spirit a fiery tension towards the powers of its worship: the chains that the human spirit wore in the service of these religions were adorned with flowers, like a sacrificial animal splendidly and festively adorned, man presented himself to his religious powers as a sacrifice, his chains themselves deceived him about the hardness of his service.

As the flowers of history withered away and the chains were broken by Roman power, the vampire of spiritual abstraction completed the work. He sucked out the sap and strength, blood and life of humanity until the last drop of blood: nature and art, family, nation and state were absorbed, and on the ruins of the fallen world, the emaciated self remained as the only power. After the enormous loss, the self could not immediately recreate from its depth and generality nature and art, nation and state; the only deed that engaged it was the absorption of everything that had hitherto lived in the world. Now it was all the self, and yet it was empty; it had become the universal power, and yet it trembled before itself on the ruins of the world and despaired of its loss. The empty, all-consuming self was afraid of itself; it did not dare to grasp itself as everything and as the universal power, i.e., it still remained the religious spirit and completed its alienation by confronting its universal power as something foreign and working in fear and trembling for its preservation and salvation. It saw its guarantee for its preservation in the Messiah, who represented only that which it was fundamentally, namely, itself as the universal power, but as the power in which all nature-view and the ethical determinations of family, nation and state life, as well as the artistic view, had perished.

310

The historical starting point for this revolution was given in Jewish national life, since in its religious consciousness not only nature and art had already been strangled, thus the struggle against the nature and art religion was already carried out in itself, but also the national spirit had already had to enter into dialectic with the thought of a higher universality in manifold forms – whose presentation I have given elsewhere. The lack of this dialectic lay only in the fact that at its conclusion the national spirit again made itself the center of the universe: Christianity eliminated this deficiency by making the pure ego the universal. The Gospels have carried out this transformation in their own way – namely in the way of historical representation: everywhere dependent on the Old Testament and almost only a copy of it, they have nevertheless allowed the power of the national spirit to be consumed in the omnipotence of the pure, pure, but estranged from actual humanity ego.

311

If we consider the Gospels in a way that disregards their mutual contradictions, that is, as the simple and unprejudiced faith abstracts a total picture from their confused content, we must already be amazed at how they could occupy humanity for eighteen centuries and do so in such a way that their mystery was not uncovered. For in none of them, not even in the smallest section, are there any views that do not offend, insult, or outrage humanity.

Our amazement must become even greater when we notice how the Gospels, with their statements and assumptions, are in contradiction with everything we know about the supposed time of their subject; the highest degree of amazement, however, must be reached when we consider the terrible contradictions into which they are entangled with their mutual assertions, with a historical narrative like that of Matthew and with a view like that of the Fourth. Has humanity had to suffer from such things for one and a half millennia? Yes, it had to, for the great and immense step could only be taken after such pains and efforts if it was not to be taken in vain and if it was to be appreciated in its true meaning and magnitude. Consciousness had to deal with itself in the Gospels, even if only with itself in its alienation, that is, with a terrible parody of itself, but still with itself: hence that magic that attracted, captivated, and forced humanity to offer everything to maintain its image until it had healed itself, and even then, to prefer it to everything else and to call everything else, like the apostle did, rubbish in comparison. In slavery under its own image, humanity was educated so that it could prepare the freedom all the more thoroughly and embrace it all the more intimately and fervently when it was finally won. The deepest and most terrible alienation was to mediate, prepare, and make freedom valuable for all time, perhaps also to make it expensive for the struggle that slavery and stupidity will wage against it. Odysseus has returned to his homeland, but not by divine grace, not sleeping, but awake, thinking, and through his own power: perhaps he will also have to fight the suitors who have squandered his property and want to withhold the most precious thing from him. Odysseus will know how to string the bow.

312

The battle with the theologians and their hypocritical twists and turns is over. We have told them so many times that, if they had ears to hear and eyes to see, there should be no more misunderstanding: their hypocrisy consisted in trying to maintain views that were refuted by their own secular education and all their circumstances, and that could only be sustained by pitiful arguments. They really thought they were serious about it, they really fought for those views, because they were still imprisoned by them and believed they would be lost, here and in the other world, without them. It was the general hypocrisy of the world: to consider and treat the maintenance of religious views as an intellectual task with the consistency of reason, while reason itself had outgrown and escaped those views. Now things have changed, criticism has been scientifically and ethically completed, the religious view explained and recognized, and humanity freed. If the theologian still believes that humanity should not devote itself to nobler purposes, higher tasks, and that history is only there to entertain us with his bickering, or that an explanation of one biblical passage displaces the other and the issue never comes to a decision, if the theologian still believes that humanity and history are only there for his sake, then he must now force himself upon us, while he used to rule the world, he must finally openly, willfully, and consciously deceive and lie, i.e. oppose the mediated knowledge and still harass us with his ideas.

313

But, as for my work, perhaps there would still be another task for him. If he managed to be thorough and concise and insisted on the belief that everything happening in the world is only for his sake, that everything is just a homework assignment in which he must prove his particular wisdom, he might come up with the idea of collecting the passages in my writing where I describe him himself. And since he knows only personal interests, he could use this to prove my rudeness, recklessness, and terrorism. In vain! You can’t get away from the issue! The only proof you have to provide is that you demonstrate that those outbursts of indignation about hypocrisy and the most frivolous mockery of the writing itself are not justified by the previous development; you must first prove that I am wrong about the matter; you must first prove that you have read the critical developments— in general, it must be proved that humanity does not have the right to throw off its chains. We would also be curious to see proof that a painter should not use a dark printer, and that a painting is judged perfectly if one says, “Look at this dark spot!” Theology is the dark spot in modern history, and as such, I could only describe it and confront it with the purity of criticism.

The historical Christ is the man whom religious consciousness has raised to heaven, i.e., the man who, even when he comes down to earth to perform miracles, to teach, and to suffer, is no longer the true man. The son of man in religion is also the reconciler of man with himself. He is not born like a man, does not live like a man in human relations, and does not die like a man. This historical Christ, the one raised to heaven, the one who became God, has overturned antiquity, conquered the world by draining it, and fulfilled its historical destiny when it forced the real spirit into immense turmoil, forcing it to recognize itself with a thoroughness and decisiveness that were not possible for the naive antiquity, to become self-consciousness.

314

If nothing in the Gospels can be considered as a statement about Jesus anymore, then for the theologian who fights for the distribution and disposal of this man’s clothes, who gave him this or that bitter drink on the cross, who sailed over the Sea of Galilee so many times, the matter has become very serious. We can already see the terrifying character this seriousness must take from the fact that they did not hesitate to use the note of Tacitus, that Christ was executed by Pontius Pilate under Tiberius, as the most striking proof that “a Christ existed.” When did Tacitus write? Did he not write when the preaching of the crucified one had already begun to unsettle the whole world? Does his meager note, which was then the subject of conversation around the world, say or indicate that it was taken from the “secret archive of His Majesty the Emperor” or from “ministerial files”?

If a man named Jesus existed, if this Jesus gave rise to the revolution that shook the world in the name of Christ and gave it a new form, then it is certain that his self-consciousness was not yet distorted and ripped apart by the dogmatic propositions of the evangelical Christ: then the character of his personality is saved. The evangelical Christ, thought of as an actual, historical phenomenon, would be a figure before which humanity would have to shudder, a figure that could only inspire terror and horror.

315

If the historical Jesus really existed, he could only have been a personality that triggered the opposition of Jewish consciousness, namely the separation of the divine and human in their self-consciousness, without creating a new religious separation and alienation from it, and who withdrew from the forms of legal servitude into his own inner world without worrying about new legal bonds.

But whether this personality existed, whether it opened up the happiness and depth of its self-consciousness to others, thus giving rise to struggle and ultimately the formation of a new religious principle, this question can only be answered when we have completed the work that must follow the criticism of the Gospels, the criticism of the New Testament epistles. We had to start with the criticism of the Gospels because these writings have captivated the mind most through their positive content, because their content seems to be the prerequisite for the epistolary Gospel, as this prerequisite has been assumed until now and this appearance had to be stripped away first. Now it is the turn of the epistles, and with their criticism, the criticism of the original Christian consciousness will also come to an end, and insight into the actual course of its historical development will be gained. We have not yet reflected on the factual and chronological relationship between the various often literal touches of the Gospels and the epistles. We could not do so because the criticism still needs to examine when, by whom, and in what circumstances the letters were written. It is even a question of when the epistolary literature of the New Testament began, and the investigation of the so-called Pauline epistles is still far from its conclusion. In this field, not much, but almost everything still needs to be done.

316

So far, we only know for certain that the Gospels are of late origin and a work of the long-existing community; however, when they were written and how they are to be classified in the development of the epistolary literature will be taught to us by the criticism of the latter. *)

*) It is indeed already incredulous, but still transcendent, to ask what age is associated with a work such as the one Jesus accomplished. The question is only properly posed as follows: what kind of development of the church and of Christian consciousness was necessary, and how long did it take, to lead to the composition of the Gospels and the creation of the Gospel story.

We had to proceed gradually. When the criticism has an immense library of theological books to burn, it must proceed thoroughly and cautiously, and no one will reproach it for replacing ten thousand books with a single octavo volume. Later, happier times will simplify the matter even more, and they must do so in order to completely set aside the necessary opposition to theological consciousness. However, even later, one may still need elaborations that touch upon the opposition, and give them some interest, as they are, in any case, the monument of a struggle in which freedom, dignity, and humanity of self-consciousness had to fight against a stupidity that had never existed and ruled in the world!

I have provided the characterization of evangelical historiography in every section of my work, and if a comprehensive treatise is required, I have given such in my book “The Divine Art of Holy Historiography” in a way that exhausts all related categories completely.

317

One more word about the fourth Gospel! What I had to leave undecided in the criticism of it has been fully explained in the present volume of my work, and I have only one more remark to add. The fourth evangelist also knew and used the Acts of the Apostles by Luke, especially in his accounts of the healing of the paralytic (Ch. 5) and the blind man (Ch. 9). It has already been noted that the paralytic of Bethesda is the same as the one mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, and that the fourth evangelist borrowed some of the more important incidents from the synoptic account. The healing of the lame man by Peter, as related in the Acts of the Apostles, is itself only a copy of the original account of the healing of the paralytic, which the fourth evangelist has also borrowed extensively in order to enhance his Gospel. That lame man, who had been afflicted from birth, is taken daily to a certain place (Acts 3:2), just like the paralytic of the fourth Gospel. Peter speaks to him first (ibid. 3:4), but for the natural reason that he had asked him for an alms beforehand. Unnaturally, the fourth evangelist has reversed this, so that Jesus speaks to his sick man first. The people take notice of Peter’s action and run to the apostles in the temple, where the miracle took place, and Peter seizes the opportunity to speak about the resurrection of Christ; the same, but unnaturally motivated attention of the people after the healing of the sick man from Bethesda and the same result of a speech about the resurrection. The sick man of Peter is over forty years old (Acts 4:22), while the fourth evangelist’s has been sick for thirty-eight years. We now know how the fourth evangelist arrived at his number, and we may now say that it is perhaps likely that if the number had a symbolic meaning, although he did not want to express himself definitely about the feast, he intended to give the appearance that it could have been the Passover. That he did not carry out the symbolic meaning purely and certainly can now be explained to us from his poor style of historical writing, just as we can now also say that he wanted to give a symbolic reference to the Samaritan people in that statement of Jesus to the Samaritan woman, a caricature of the synoptic Canaanite woman, but could not carry it out again because of his lack of all plastic power.

318

That Jesus must heal a blind man, the Fourth Gospel learned from Mark, but that this blind man was born blind is among other things the fault of the author of the Acts of the Apostles, for the story of the man born blind is a copy of the story of the lame man. The miracle of Peter is examined before the court, namely before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5-7), as is the miracle of the healing of the blind man; the lame man of Peter also stands before the court (v. 14), as does the blind man of the Fourth Gospel. The Sanhedrin of the Acts of the Apostles forbids the disciples to confess the name of Jesus before the people (4:17); the Sanhedrin of the Fourth Gospel imposes the punishment of excommunication on the confession of the same name. In the account of the Acts of the Apostles, at least everything is coherent and understandable, as far as coherence is possible in the world of wonders, while in the account of the Fourth Gospel, everything is staggering, crazy, and falsified to the smallest detail, thrown out of joint by the overabundance of motifs and with reason completely dead. For example, even the minor detail that the Sanhedrin lets the accused disciples (and the healed man) leave, forms its decision, and then calls the people back into the council chamber to announce the sentence to them, even this minor matter the Fourth Gospel could not even reproduce properly; he has reproduced it in the way we have already characterized in sufficient detail above.

Finally, it should be noted that the leaders in the Acts of the Apostles (4:13) wonder about the language of the disciples, from whom they knew that they were ignorant and not learned in the scriptures, and also that they belonged to the entourage of Jesus, even an unlearned. The Fourth Gospel has reserved this trait for a later occasion (7:15), as he has also learned about the Hall of Solomon (10:23) only from this account in the Acts of the Apostles (3:11, compare 5:12) and in general has often used the structure of this narrative – that the miracle arouses the attention of the people, finally the leaders, and gives rise to speeches and negotiations – for his history, only making it more unnatural in his manner.

319

Regarding the Old Testament, the Fourth Gospel has also diligently used it and carefully observed some of its indications. The account of the hostility that Jesus experienced from his family, he directed to the point that it was his brothers who showed unbelief towards him, according to Psalm 69:8 and Jeremiah 12:6.  *) The emphasis with which Jesus often says that he has chosen the disciples, and finally the antithesis “you did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16), is an inappropriate rephrasing of the opposition that lies in the confession of the people in Psalm 100:3: “It is He who made us, and not we ourselves”. From Psalm 40:7, Jesus has taken the expression with which he says, “the Scriptures testify of me.” The Book of Wisdom of Solomon, Chapter 16, verse 6, has led the Fourth Evangelist to see that the ancient serpent is “a symbol of salvation”, and he is indebted to the Old Testament for a considerable amount of dogmatic categories.

*) Ps. 69, 8: απηλλοτριωμένος εγενήθην τους αδελφούς μου και ξένος τοϊς υιούς της μητρός μου. Jer. 12, 6: ότι και οι αδελφοί σου ήθέτησάν σου … μὴ πιστεύσῃς ἐν αὐτοῖς. To Mark, of course, these passages were not unknown either, namely Jer. 12, 7 gave him an element to his story of the transfiguration of Jesus in Nazareth  : ᾿Εγκαταλέλοιπα τὸν οἶκόν μου, ἀφῆκα τὴν κληρονομίαν μου, ἔδωκα τὴν . . . .  ψυχήν μου εις χείρας έχθρών αυτής.

The matter of the Fourth [Gospel] has been decided for all eternity, and should anyone still doubt the decision, the criticism of the resurrection story will thunder it in their ear.

320

To criticize the resurrection story, which will occupy us at the end, we have nothing else to do but to show how one report originated from another and how the contradictions between the reports were inevitable in the way they were created. It would be an insult to the critical method, and would question the purpose of our work, and finally, it would be an insult to honorable men, especially one among them who is counted among Germany’s greatest.

The resurrection of the historical Christ has fallen back into the realm of imagination, where his whole life and suffering had already returned. The idea of his resurrection is only possible for the religious spirit, who is inaccessible to general ideas, and who can only imagine the victory of a principle by thinking of the person who sacrificed himself for it as having risen from the dead as an incorporeal individual, and preserved as such for all eternity.

If the critical method had already proven itself before, and if the criticism of the story of Christ’s suffering was the test of our calculations, it would be unfair to start again from the end, to dissolve the late reports through their enormous contradictions and to work our way back to the original report. The case is decided. We start with Mark and move on to his followers, and it is no longer necessary to demonstrate in detail the groundlessness of the late reports – we have already exposed these baseless claims in their nakedness too many times – the simple reporting of the reports will already be their full and sufficient characterization.

How many weaklings have slandered Edelmann, insulted him without ever having seen a line of his writings. Lilienthal knew him, but did not refute him, and only the excerpts that he shared from his writings – which are not accessible to us – prove what kind of man he was, and with what noble rebellion he tore himself out of the theological fabric of lies. It would be an insult to his memory if we were to specifically expose the invention of the Roman guard by Matthew as an invention, and no theologian has yet refuted Edelmann’s statement, and none will refute it as long as the world stands, the statement that the resurrection of Christ, as the religious spirit imagines it, would not be a resurrection from the dead, but rather a new entry into the same death from which he was to rise. *)

*) Lilienthal, The Good Cause of Revelation II, 164.

321

Brave and honest Reimarus, you have brought to light the contradictions in the resurrection story as far as your pure and honest mind was able, given the state of criticism at the time, but no one has refuted you.

With Lessing, who defended the honest Fragmentist so chivalrously against the detractors, who knew the power of the ten paragraphs of the honest man and made them even more powerful, and who famously described the taste that theological dishes have for an uncorrupted palate, the theologians who always deal only with people and soul and salvation, that is, with the needs of their poor souls, and never with the matter and an uplifting principle, believe that they can handle it by murmuring languidly: “Lessing would think differently in our times.” You do not know his response, you have not read it; otherwise, you would know what he would say to your murmurings.

Finally, ask yourselves how the principle for which Lessing worked and suffered and for which he died will decide and must decide the matter in our times.

322

In doing so, it will dissolve the contradictions by representing and explaining them.

———————-

 


2023-04-18

§ 42. Period of Rest

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2

—o0o—

154

§ 42.

Period of Rest.

 

1. The Miracle.

We have earned it honestly, and we certainly do not do it out of laziness when we take a moment of rest. But we must rest, and at this point, we want to take a breath, let our minds recover, collect ourselves, and before we move on, take another look at the path we have traveled. Ah, how it drove us in all directions, how we were suddenly hurled from the farthest point to the other, what all of that buzzed and teased us! Now, after we have pretty much extricated ourselves from this ghostly throng and calmed and ordered the elements that were so wild around us by bringing them back to their home in the world of self-consciousness, in their home, where they became a peaceful object of contemplation and regained their original determinacy, now we want to protect ourselves against a ghost or rather just state that this ghost, which could still be sent our way, cannot harm us anymore, for the simple reason that it does not exist for us.

155

It cannot be avoided and is inherent to the matter: the more the criticism is perfected, made into pure self-consciousness and rediscovers and conquers the original world of self-consciousness, the more the apologetics must lose importance and power, since its essential content is taken away from it, it must fall into the most terrible bondage of the letter, and if it wants to assert and complete itself against criticism, it must complete itself into the pure category of limitation and stupidity. One will certainly not accuse us of having denied the historical credibility of the reports we have considered so far for dogmatic reasons, for example because they are miracle stories: on the contrary, far from all a priori argumentation, we have dissolved the letter through its own determinateness and can only no longer accept miracles because we no longer have miracle reports. If now apologetics wants to complete itself to an equal purity and simplicity (not of self-consciousness, for it cannot assume its form, but of the sensory and interested consciousness), it must reverse the matter, completely establish the inverted world of its spiritlessness, and pointing to the letter, assert that the gospel story is a story of miracles because it is written that way.

In recent times, the apologists have already admitted to this crudeness of the sensory consciousness, but it will not help them, since we have come before them with greater audacity, having thrown ourselves ruthlessly and without dogmatic support into the letter and its prison in order to dissolve it through the pure power of self-consciousness, that is, through the same power that has set the letter and to let it speak as a witness to the infinite freedom of the spirit. It has spoken, it has freed us ourselves and as the recognized letter it is the charter of our freedom, the diploma that the apologists must first falsify and twist with pitiful lawyerly cunning if they want to rob us of our freedom in this area—at least here, for elsewhere they cannot even speak. In gratitude for the fact that the letter has spoken for our freedom, we—or rather, this is one and the same thing and is an act of emancipation—have freed it and secured it against the sneaky tricks of the apologists. It cannot be twisted anymore—or the theologian would have to resort to open lies—for it now lives its eternal, blissful life in the world of self-consciousness, after it has suffered under the hands of the apologists, it has risen, and with it, in the same world, the gospel story of miracles has risen to a new life. This story still exists, but—as a story of self-consciousness and indeed as a necessary story.

156

It is not the place here to elaborate at length that the pagan did not know the belief in miracles because he had not yet objectified the universality of self-consciousness in the thought of the divine, and therefore could not set the special powers of the spirit, which he worshiped as deities, in collision with the general power of nature. Only the Hebrew could grasp the pure idea of the miracle, for the One, the Universal, whom he worshipped, must set nature ideationally under his exclusive power altogether and bring its ideality before his consciousness in specific cases as well. Jehovah alone is the Mighty One, the Lord, so he alone performs miracles and man can at best, even when acting against nature, perform a miracle as his servant, messenger and authorized agent. It is only of the prophets that it is said they performed miracles out of the fullness of their inner power – naturally so! Their historical appearance must correspond to the standpoint from which they emerged and which they themselves worked on, which was based on the intuition of an inner connection between the divine and human, and as they themselves developed the intuition that the Messiah, in whom that connection would powerfully reveal itself, would directly overcome the opposition of the world and nature from the pure universality of his inner being, so they must also, even as types of the future, indicate in their personal appearance the power of the new principle.

157

The Christian community was formed and based on the idea that God and humans are not strangers to each other in their essence, and its views were drawn from the inner experience that the spirit in its individuality is not too weak and worthless to not be able to absorb or elevate itself to its universality. But as a religious entity, this consciousness, as it awakened and sought to express and shape itself, had to determine itself in the form of presenting its general content to itself and relating to it as consciousness: the idea of the true individuality of the spirit, which is one with its universality, became the perception of a particular, specific person who, as an empirical historical personality, encompasses and carries within itself the general power of the spirit, or rather, that idea did not become this perception but rather appeared as the latter in the world.

It was said of that statue that if it wanted to rise from its seat, it would lift up and shatter the temple roof above it. Up until that point, humanity had been frightened by the magic of natural power and oppressed by the burden of an unbearable law, and had been constrained by external regulations; but when it finally rose and stood up and raised itself up in the perception of the One who, as an individual, is the Universal, then all barriers and laws had to be shattered naturally, and everything positive that heaven and earth contain had to bow down at the feet of the One and acknowledge its powerlessness. That an individual as such is the Universal is in itself already a deadly collision, since in limited, immediate individuality, the Universal has lost its wealth of differences, determinations, and existences of self-consciousness, through whose cultivation and overcoming it alone is the Universal, on the one hand, and on the other hand, through this one limited existence to which it is chained, it must constantly come into collision with nature, with the moral determinations even of the family, and with history as a whole, which it can only lift up immediately, i.e., in a way that it works purely as such. This effectiveness of the Universal as such is the miracle that either overturns the natural context and family determinations and only then places this individual as an existence of the Universal, or happens to this individual to reveal its person as the site of the Universal, or is performed through its will itself, which has infinite scope.

158

As we are currently only concerned with the miracles that this One performed in the troubles, difficulties, and collisions of his historical life, it is sufficient to have pointed out that the reversal of all natural laws, this belief in miracles, was the necessary consequence of the miracle of the intuition for which the One had immediately become the Universal. When the Universal acts as such, all natural laws are immediately suspended. The latest confessors and advocates of the “credibility” of the evangelical story, when they refer us to the letter and try to persuade us that belief in miracles belongs not only to consciousness but also to empirical history as it is reported, we refer, as we have said, simply to our above critique, and still have time to repel the arguments of earlier apologists.

The earlier argument, this disbelief in the power of the spirit, proceeded from the assumption that the “revelation of a new communication from God to humanity” – we say, the rise of the Christian principle – “could not be derived from the natural connection.” *)  The hollowness of this proposition is immediately exposed when we dissolve the ambiguity of the term “natural connection” and ask whether the Christian principle is not explicable from history, from the nature of self-consciousness. Are the rich centuries before Christ, is human self-consciousness and its infinitude not an explanation? What is the point of playing with the word “natural connection” when the question is so serious?

*) Neander, p. 256

159

“New, higher powers” enter the world with the Christian revelation! What do we want to say about something higher than the elevation of self-consciousness, which as such is the rise of the Christian principle? Besides this highest, what are “effects that cannot be explained from the present natural context”? Indeed, a new principle also works with new powers, which are stronger than all the powers of the previous world combined and which arise solely from the inner determination of the principle, but these effects are not the wonders of ordinary imagination, but the influences of the new principle on the general nature of the spirit, which at first appear as an elementary power, grasp the spirit in its indeterminate depth, transform it, but become more precisely determined in the subsequent history until they are explicitly guided by will and reflection and finally indirectly bring about a new conception, contemplation, and treatment of nature as well. In the early days when the community arises and finally wants to orient itself in the world, but still under the initial elementary influence of the new principle and still cannot understand where the principle gets this power from, it can express its intuitions about the power of the same only in the form that we have received in the transmitted miracle reports about the life of its Lord. The category of the general nature of the spirit cannot use sensory perceptions for its religious consciousness; it adheres to natural determinations and still maintains an interest in them even when the relationship to the spiritual power of the principle has almost consciously produced a miracle story, as, for example, in the story of the centurion and the Canaanite woman.

160

The excuse to which apologists and religious rhetoricians ultimately resort when they run out of ideas, namely that “in the divine plan of the world, in the higher ideal nature of the universe,” *)  the contradiction between the miracle and “ordinary natural laws” is resolved, is only an empty excuse, a flight into an empty universality of thought in which every real contradiction must indeed disappear because it is devoid of content. On the other hand, self-consciousness, the truly universal, which actually contains the nature of the particular within itself, mediates the nature by elevating it to its spiritual essence, refining it in passions and making it the bearer of ethical determinations, or by setting the law in motion to raise nature out of the coarseness of its immediate appearance, or finally in art by elevating the natural determinations through form to express the spirit and its infinity. Faced with the struggle with passions, industry, and art – what does the miracle mean in this comparison? What can it be in this context? It is the expression of hasty impatience, which wants to see immediately what is only given through work and effort.

*) So Neander p. 257.

Self-consciousness is the death of nature, but in such a way that it brings about this death itself only through the recognition of nature and its laws, thus in an immanent manner, since it is the negation and negation of nature in itself. The spirit ennobles, honors, and acknowledges even that which is its negation. If it were to forcibly and externally abolish a power that is its own ideality, it would destroy itself, since it would destroy an essential moment of itself. The spirit does not rage, rage, or fume against nature, which it would do in the miracle, in this denial of its inner law, but rather it works through the law and, through this admittedly difficult work, brings it to consciousness and to a renewed representation, to a form that it does not have in natural immediacy. In short, the death of nature in self-consciousness is its transfigured resurrection, but not its mistreatment, mockery, and blasphemy, which it would have to endure in the miracle.

161

Recently, Weisse attempted to hold onto the concept of miracles without accepting its adventurous content. “The miracle of Jesus can only have been a specific one, in harmony with the laws of nature and history and limited by them, and by its own concept, which reveals its inherent determinacy and in turn enters as an essential moment into the elastic concept of that general regularity of lawfulness *)” — in other words, the miracle must be reduced and tamed at least in appearance, as much as possible! However, the only reasonable and successful taming is to recognize its non-being, its irrationality, and unreality. The miracle is not and, in its ideal origin, is the non-being of self-consciousness, which does not yet know its inner powers as its own, nor its mediations and relations to the world as mediations, but throws everything out of itself in a single point and from this point, lets it work naturally and in a way that perverts all the laws of the world. Furthermore, a miracle that is in harmony with the laws of nature, etc., is no longer a miracle, at least not the miracle described in scripture, and the elastic concept of general regularity is no less a mere phrase of embarrassment than that cliche of a higher world order in which all contradictions are supposed to fall silent. The law of nature becomes elastic only through the law of nature, that is, through the hard work of the spirit, which sets the specific law in motion through another law that is determined precisely for this work, and sees it ideally.

*) Source: I, 336

162

Neander continues *), “If we consider the miracles of Christ in relation to his contemporaries on whom he acted, it is certain that faith in him as Messiah, which was required for his activity, could not have been generated without miracles performed by him, and he himself could not have come to the belief that he was the Messiah and remained in it without the consciousness and experience that he was able to perform such miracles, for such miracles were essential features of the messianic calling, as is evident from so many passages in the Gospel.” What a sentence! It is worth the effort to transcribe it in its entirety, as it contains the essence of apologetic wisdom. With such lofty assertions, which betray the uncertainty of the theologian who utters them through their slippery turns, or with such bold expressions as that “for such miracles” which is really one of the boldest, the self-consciousness is to be captured and the unfortunate one who does not believe in miracles is to be crushed. No! the unbeliever is not unhappy, they have purified and freed their heart and mind from this murky mud and these unfounded theories and enjoy the pleasure that the contemplation of a humanized, i.e., no longer unnaturally bloated, history brings them. What a terrible “for such” and how naive – always the naivety of fear! – how naive is the assertion: “as is evident from so many passages in the Gospel!” Now, Jesus did not have to look around as anxiously as the Christologist at every turn, so that he always knew how to behave according to the Jewish messianic dogma, for this dogma with its locis theoIogicis and its locus of miracles did not yet exist in his time because it did not exist at all at his time and “as is evident from so many passages in the Gospel”, it only formed in the belief of the community after his resurrection.

Well, Jesus did not have to look around as anxiously as the Christologist after the horror of Jewish messianic dogmatics at every step, so that he would always know how to behave. For Jesus, this dogmatics with its loeis tkeoIoAieis and with its loeus of miracles did not yet exist, because it did not exist at all in his time and “as is evident from so many passages of evangelical history”, only formed in the faith of the congregation after his resurrection.

*) p. 258.

163

Certainly, Neander says, the belief in Jesus as the Messiah was necessary for his effectiveness; but then Jesus could never have acted and would have always been pushed back in the form of infinite regress, never able to come to real action, since at the beginning that belief was missing and as positive, as symbolic belief in him as the Messiah did not come to him until the end of his career.

Without performing miracles and solely through the idea for which he had suffered, Jesus had succeeded in conquering the world and gaining recognition as the Messiah after his death, to whom the ability to perform miracles was certainly not lacking. And now he could not have become certain of himself and his task “without the experience that he could perform miracles”? So the power of the mind, the inner root of self-consciousness, is nothing? Without miracles, can it only shoot out into a wavering reed?

But the miracles are necessary, “just this, says Neander, that he was aware of not being able to perform miracles, gave John the Baptist proof that he did not possess the fullness of the spirit that belonged to the Messiah.” As if any rational person could not know without the miracle test how things stood with him in his own skin, and as if any reasonable man did not know that he cannot fly off the handle! In short, if the Baptist really once had the idea to test whether he might be the Messiah in the end – but history knows nothing of him ever having had this crazy idea – he did not need to make the attempt or ask himself whether he could perform miracles, but the inner measure of his self-consciousness told him where he stood, or did not even allow him to have that idea. Moreover, we must not say: he performed no miracles, but: the evangelical view did not allow him to perform miracles, because he was not recognized as the Messiah by it.

164

Arguments such as, for example, that the miracles should “legitimize the absolute truth” of the doctrine *), that “the new faith could only (!) arise” if Jesus “used his miracle power himself to lift earthly needs and difficulties of his followers”, so that “the faith in his heavenly nature grew together with the belief in God’s care in all major and minor troubles **)” – arguments that are based on a decided disbelief in the inner power of truth and that, like the second one, lead to a God à la Stilling [?. =Stillingschen Gott], who must be above all a prompt treasurer, do not need to be judged; we actually do not even need to mention them, as they already belong to the history of disbelief.

*) Olshausen, l, 259.

**) Hoffmann, p. 368.

However, the men who first gave the specific form to the miracle view of the Christian community – because they were and remained human – could not completely deny the human, rational aspect; in fact, even in a domain where mediation is completely excluded, they feel a need for it. But the mediations that they insert into the miracle acts remain mysterious, and the apologists, who eagerly grasped for such mediating notes and elevated them into theories, but in fact only repeated the evangelical accounts with some general words, could not help their cause through such tautologies.

165

The evangelists demand faith as a starting point for Jesus’ miraculous works; even when it comes to the healing of a child, even if it is healed from a distance, at least the father or mother who request the miracle must give signs of firm faith, and Mark even formed the theory from this that Jesus could not perform miracles where he found no faith (Mark 6:5-6). “In healings,” says Olshausen *), “faith appears as the negative requisite that determines the receptivity of the powers of the Spirit emanating from Christ.” “The awakening of faith in the centurion of Capernaum, in the Canaanite woman, and in the father of the possessed was connected with the healing. The child is in a dependence of being from the parents **).”

*) l, 265. 264.

**) Ibid., p. 545.

Furthermore, a desire for mediation can also be found in the fact that Mark – the other two are already bolder and content themselves with the note that Jesus touched the sick in similar cases – allows the Lord to use natural means such as saliva; for example, in the story of the blind man from Bethsaida and the deaf-mute (Mark 7:33, 8:23). The other two do not include such mediations, rightly so, because at the moment saliva alone cannot work if the will of the miracle worker is not the main thing, and in the end, it is only the will that counts, so the natural means are insignificant in themselves, and apart from saliva, any other means could be chosen.

Mark describes in great detail how the blind man from Bethsaida gradually regained his sight. “So obviously,” Olshausen immediately picks up, “the healings of Jesus were not magical processes, but real processes.” But ask Matthew what he thought of notes like these. Nothing! Rightly so! They were the anxious attempts of the first creators of these figures to maintain a connection between the world of miracles and the rational reality through the appearance of a bond, and the other two no longer felt this anxiety and certainly did not dream that later theologians would form a theory of miracles based on the notes of their predecessor.

166

Also the prohibition of Jesus to speak about the miracles is a rational instinct of the religious view that is ashamed of its works, which are nevertheless indispensable, and does not want to boast and attract attention with them. The religious view cannot do without miracles – despite Jesus’ prohibitions they are almost always made known, and the news of them causes countless crowds to flock to him – but it does not come forward boldly and self-confidently with them. Even today, the theologian’s heart beats when he builds his miracle theory, and one need only look at his untenable, wavering and trembling sentences and compare them with the calmness and self-assurance with which reason defends its eternal laws, in order to see from this contrast alone on which side the truth stands.

Occasionally, however, even Mark has to deal with points and whole miracles where his quest for mediation not only fails, but where he cannot even bring it up. Yes indeed! says Neander *), “certain stages of transition from the natural to the supernatural can be distinguished in relation to the miraculous in the miracle.” There are, namely, among the miracles of Christ, those “in which the supernatural is presented more in analogy with the natural, and those in which the summit of the supernatural appears in a manner that excludes all such analogies.” Now, as long as the apologist does not come forward more specifically and does not bring that wavering “more in analogy” to a halt, as long as he does not prove to us that those miracles that are supposed to be closer to the natural really are not completely removed from the category of rational law-governed processes, then we will – no! we will now leave him the glory of that discovery and his entire miracle theory without envying him for it. To each his own!

*) p. 275.

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In fact, theologians know very well how to keep us pleasantly occupied while resting; hardly have they presented us with their views on the miracles, when they move on to another topic and tell us what they think about the chronological transitions in the presentation of the Gospel.

 

2. The Chronological Transitions.

The fact that the synoptic accounts differ greatly from each other in the order in which they present events does not disturb us as much as it does the apologist, since we can admit without fear that even when the synoptics make the most indefinite transitions, they still want to indicate the actual sequence of events.

However, the theologian is not familiar with such fearlessness, since he does not know and cannot know how the individual accounts and the differences between them arose. In the past, he therefore tried to force the accounts into each other, while in more recent times, he has resorted to the assertion *) that the first three evangelists did not think of any specific order of events according to their chronological sequence when composing their works. The theologian and his system cannot exist without using force: in the past, he imposed a specific meaning on the chronological transitions in the Gospels, which they rejected with their actual specificity, and now he forces them into meaningless indeterminacy, even though they always want to be very specific, even if they are still so indefinite.

*) e.g. Olshausen, l, 24.

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“According to Olshausen *), the neglect of time and place is even more noticeable in Mark than in Matthew; even those general time designations are mostly missing in Mark.” But they are missing only because Mark is extraordinarily precise in determining time and place. Olshausen continues, “Mark does not try, like Matthew, to link the facts together in a certain logical order.” And it is precisely Mark who, with a skill that we can almost call artistic, groups the events together in each section, in which a particular interest, a collision, or a special moment of Jesus’ determination is always developed. While Matthew also wants to follow a certain logical order of events, firstly, the order that he conceived and followed is more abstract than the one we find in Mark’s scripture (since in the latter, the individual materials are not excessively accumulated and the interest is developed in a lively alternation and very appropriate progression of collisions, while Matthew, as in the Sermon on the Mount and in the presentation of the second day’s work, stretches the material out to the formless and in arranging the whole, he cannot control the individual details); secondly, Matthew has arbitrarily mixed together the individual statements of his predecessors, especially of Mark, because he arranges things abstractly, and has placed events in places where their true meaning, which only makes sense in the specific act of the drama assigned to Mark, can no longer have an effect.

*) Ibid. p. 25.

So we see that apologetics failed to properly grasp any of the points that matter in this matter, and we will soon see that it was completely incapable of resolving the issue or even considering it from the right perspective, since it was solely and entirely guided and controlled by its material interests.

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The synoptic reports were not only supposed to be considered credible, but the first gospel was to be entirely and forcibly attributed to Matthew, the apostle and eyewitness. To this end, it had to be asserted that Matthew did not care about chronology, and that he lacked the ability to vividly depict and perceive external circumstances. However, it has already been noted by others *) that Matthew actually strives for a very precise chronological connection of the facts, and if inaccuracies in the chronology and even occasional mistakes occur as a result of weakness or errors of memory, they cannot be considered an argument against the origin of a report from an eyewitness. Rather, this is especially the case when a writing strives for vividness and accuracy, which at every point proves to be false, arbitrary, and affected.

*) e.g. Schneckenburger, Contributions, p. 31. 36.

Regarding the vividness of the transitions from one report to another, it behaves in general as it does within the individual reports. According to his sensual standpoint, the apologist is only concerned that Matthew omits certain circumstances, which Mark and Luke, however, are aware of and inform us about. As if it were only the material that matters here, and not rather the artful totality to which the individual features of a narrative must be combined and which is instantly impossible if one or even several features are missing that make the point understandable and motivate it! If such features are missing and yet the point of the whole is maintained, then a vividness arises again, which appears very glaring, but is just too glaring and destroys itself, since we now suddenly see a beam of light springing out and do not know where, why it comes from and what it should hit and illuminate. This false vividness becomes even more false – if possible – when motives are not entirely missing, but are either superficial, where we expected a description, or are only half, or less than half, given in isolated words, in words and formulas that suddenly arouse an expectation and do not satisfy it. The reader who reads several such narratives in a row has the same feeling as the unfortunate one who is played individual beats from the middle, then from the end, and then from the beginning of different pieces of music, all mixed together. Instead of asking whether this ambiguity in the presentation, in which the specific is indefinite and the indefinite betrays that it is actually very specific, can originate from an eyewitness, instead of sending the apologist to school and assigning reading of historical accounts that come from eyewitnesses as homework, instead of finally noticing that the eyewitness, when he goes to depict what he experienced himself, works from a universality of perception, from which the individual naturally emerges and is explained, as it itself again explains the whole that condenses in the point, instead of saying things that the apologist does not understand and should not understand, we turn this consideration back to the starting point and show that the chronology in Matthew’s scripture is of a kind that otherwise does not appear in human historical works. Matthew forms extremely precise chronological transitions, but uses formulas that are not motivated in the preceding context; he forms relationships that lack the presuppositions on which they could be based, and he finally forms transitions that are not only unmotivated, but often impossible and excluded from the environment according to the context. But what is the use of words when the origin of these chronological transitions has already been explained to us, namely that Matthew has placed the narratives of Mark out of their context and still uses the formulas in the transitions that he finds in Mark’s scripture, but which are only explained here by the context?

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Instead of the former harmonistic approach, which for the sake of its material interest destroyed and confused the most specific information and transitions in the first three Gospels – for if the true and singular chronology of the history of Jesus was to be worked out, then the chronologies of the three Synoptics had to be overturned in one way or another – in place of these tumultuous works, a completely different harmonistic approach emerges, namely criticism, which resolves the dissonances in the writings of Matthew and Luke by separating the tones that are combined here and tearing the ear apart, and returning to the harmony that united them in the work of Mark. This is the only true harmonistic approach, the aesthetic, free contemplation, which is also free from theological necessity, because it proves that the harmony in the Gospel of Mark is an ideal work of art and for this reason – if we disregard the fact that the individual narratives that Mark has so beautifully connected themselves correspond to the ideal perception – it cannot inform us about the chronology of the life of Jesus.

The material interests of the theologian, the anxiety and torment of self-awareness, the insidious struggle with the letter, all of these adversities that harm the human mind and the holy scripture cease when Mark is recognized and the evangelical perception is restored to its ideal home.

Finally, if the theologian comes to us with the fourth Gospel to describe its chronology as the only correct one – as Olshausen does – or to combine it with the synoptic chronology, as Paulus does, then we are also freed from this torment, as we have shown that the entire chronological pragmatism of the Fourth is purely a cleansed one. The only question that ultimately arises is again an aesthetic one, whether Mark or the Fourth has created a more beautiful whole, a more beautiful structure of the whole, a question that we no longer need to answer. Our criticism of the fourth Gospel has solved the question, and the structure of the historical work that Mark created will prove to be artistic at every step we take.

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