Thursday, October 04, 2007

Lurking Outside the Tomb With a Shotgun

(Or, the Second Problem With the New Atheists)

I seek God, I seek God. Wither is God? I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now?. . . . Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. . . . .

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment.

I come too early. My time has not come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering – it has not yet reached the ears of man. . . . This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves.

What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?

- Nietzsche, rushing in where even Spinoza feared to tread.

If one has a look at Richard Dawkins’ homepage, he gleefully lists all the books written by Christians rising to challenge himself and the other New Atheists. The battle is joined, and he is confident in being on the winning side. He considers his arguments against the existence of God to be powerful ones. The Christians, for their part, have marshaled every ounce of reason and rhetoric at their disposal to oppose these atheists. Best sellers will be written, and millions of dollars will be earned on both sides.

The argument is an old one, of course. Cataloguing reasons to believe or disbelieve in God’s existence is probably the second oldest profession. It is a merry-go-round that will continue as long as the deed remains distant from us.

Part of the glory of 20th century philosophy was the attempt to think the unthought. Heidegger, Derrida and others tracked down the various merry-go-rounds that the west had been playing on for the last few millennia, and tried to smash them. The idea was to think without metaphysics, or, in this context, to think without God. This does not mean to think without truth, or conviction, or to think arbitrarily. Rather, the search was for a way to dwell in a world in which God is dead as opposed to non-existent.

As usual, Slavoj Zizek says it well:

“. . . we are never in a position directly to choose between theism and atheism, since the choice as such is already located in the field of belief. ‘Atheism’ (in the sense of deciding not to believe in God) is a miserable, pathetic stance of those who long for God but cannot find him (or who ‘rebel against God’). A true atheist does not choose atheism: for him, the question itself is irrelevant - this is the stance of a truly atheistic subject.

(Am I suggesting a cheap psychoanalysis of Dawkins et al? Their daddies didn’t love them, so they’re searching for/rebelling against God? Absolutely not. The idea that our families – and our past as such – dominate what we are today is a cheap escape from anxiety. Yes, we have habits, and those habits started somewhere. That is not the same as creating what amounts to an idol of the past.)

What the New Atheists are doing is playing the same old game, the same old dogmatic metaphysical ramblings that Kant first struck a hammer blow against. It is time to move on, time to leave behind dogmatic metaphysics (in a nutshell, dogmatic metaphysics is the search for the unconditioned). "God is dead" is not equivalent to the statement "God does not exist." It is not so much a statement about whether or not God exists as a thing, but rather a statement about God's irrelevance. What Dawkins et al repeatedly show is that the death of God is an event still far from their ears. They are no more aware that God is dead than any Christian.

1st Excursus: What exactly is the death of God? This is not a question of statistics, of the empirical facts of Europe's atheism and North America's religiosity. Belief in God continues to exist, and will probably never go away. What the death of God means is the death of the possibility of any unquestionable highest value; all of us are caught up in an endless reflexivity. Everything is questionable, which is not to say everything is being questioned. Everything is a matter of calculation, of pragmatic value. Everything exists only to be used, to be placed in reserve.

2nd Excursus: Certainly one of the primary expressions of this nihilism is Christian apologetics. The Christian apologetic par excellence is presuppositionalism, in which the twin nihilist forces of calculation and (obscene, unacknowledged) doubt find expression. Only a closeted nihilist finds himself so utterly bankrupt that he must place all value, power and knowledge in an external object.

God and Jesus are dead. Dawkins doesn't know it, and will probably spend the rest of his life shadow boxing specters. Good for them. It's time to move on.

1 comment:

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Any thoughts on projects, such as that of John Caputo, which explore the question of religion without metaphysics?