There a few intellectuals prepared to argue in favour of God these days, says Matthew Mitchell, but what about some arguments from the past?
A BOOK has come out recently, which has become popular. It is called the The God Argument (see a review here). Whilst I have not read it, I understand it is really more of an argument against the existence of God.
Not so long along ago, there was another popular book series, which (indirectly) did argue for the existence of God, called “Conversations with God”. It presented a series of questions posed with answers allegedly provided from God through a technique called automatic writing — where an external entity takes control of the writers’ hand. These books were somewhat confusing, however, and perhaps the best thing to come out of them was a rather entertaining film starring Jeff Daniels called “The Answer Man”. The film’s main character tries to remain reclusive so as to avoid the many soul searchers who seek him out because he published a book called “Me and God” (a book that somewhat resembles “A Conversation with God”).
It seems society is split: on one side we have avowed atheists – represented by people such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (both respected scientists) – and on the other side, believers represented by eminent scholars such as Martin Luther King and C.S. Lewis. Unfortunately, these last two are dead. And in their absence, there seems to be no-one of sufficient stature to stand up to the celebrity of Dawkins and his cohort of supporters.
In fact, the most outspoken contemporary critic of atheism that I am personally aware of is Chris Hedges. Chris is interesting and unique because he warns against the dangers of atheism. I suspect that this line of reasoning takes most people by surprise. Isn’t it religion that has caused centuries of misery, war and oppression?
Well, in a sense. And this is a cause the Hedges takes up; he also attacks the institutional church (see here for example), as well as attacking atheism, or least those aspects of atheist thought that imply that we can create a utopia – an atheist version of “heaven on earth” – through social engineering, capitalism, communism, genetic engineering, eugenics or whatever the latest utopian fad happens to be.
His argument is that people-are-people, and that we must give up on ideas of utopia, and instead create systems that keep the natural inclinations of people in check. Inclinations that are all too prevalent today, inclinations to deceive each other for our own gain (such as the sale of sub-prime mortgages through various financial packages); to murder; to cheat; temptations to offer (or accept) bribes; the list goes on and on — and we read about them every day in the newspapers.
There are few that can deny these inclinations exist and even fewer that can deny they need to be kept in check. Thus the concept of utopia seems as elusive now as when contemplated by Plato two-and-a-half thousand years ago. It seems that, today, what we have in many nations is far more like dystopia, as described by Aldous Huxley in his 1958 essay Brave New World Revisited:
'... a society permanently at war, and the aim of its rulers is first, of course, to exercise power for its own delightful sake and, second, to keep their subjects in that state of constant tension which a state of constant war demands of those who wage it.'
But in 2013, we have a lot more technology integrated into our lives than in any past period, thus the rising danger of scientists and technologists (such as Dawkins and Dennett) as advocates for social theory and the faith of the masses. In fact, many consider faith in science and technology just as dangerous as religious zealotry. Note, for example, Jensen and Draffan, as well as Hedges). Is this the latest atheist utopian fad?
But what about religion? It certainly has not offered the solutions to date.
Well, in the absence of a living great advocate for God, all I can do is draw on the arguments of those past. So, I will take the reasoning of C.S Lewis, the famous children’s book author, but equally reputable for his arguments in favour of Christianity.
Firstly, he would separate institutional religion from Christian teachings. When one criticises the Catholic Church (for example) and illustrates its hypocrisy, Lewis (if I may take license here) would argue that the hypocrisy speaks for itself. Does the teaching of the Catholic Church, or of any church, reflect that of its claimed founder? For example, does it demonstrate humility, meekness, forgiveness and unconditional love? If not, then the fault is not that of Christianity, but of men. All the failings of men, of power hunger, greed, love of comfort and gluttony (of various kinds) are equally likely to be found in any religious institution as they are in any other human institution.
Secondly, he would argue, I believe, that from where, then, do we draw our standards of behaviour? If we cannot accept them from a moral teacher, such as Jesus (even if you deny his divinity) and if even his teaching of love and kindness to our fellow man can be corrupted, from what other well shall we draw our wisdom? From Dennett? From Dawkins? I am sorry, but as a moral framework for human behaviour, the Selfish Gene theory just does not cut it. Whilst I am happy to accept the advice of intellectuals in regard to how to best implement checks and balances so as to restrict the worst aspects of human behaviour, such as laws for governing financial institutions, when it comes to moral teachings I would personally prefer not just a person with a Great Mind, but a far rarer individual, one who is also endowed with a great heart.
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