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February 16, 2012


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Comments thinks a kind of "alien vs. predator" dust-up sorta thing going down here...

Why is it anybody's business - atheist, Christian, Jew, Druid, shaman, Hindu, Buddhist, whatever - what anybody else believes? Worry about your own soul or your own not-having-one and leave me alone. And I certainly have enough to do taking my own spiritual journey without sticking my nose into yours.

As the great Grace Cavalieri says, "Zealots - whatever their stripe - are a pain in the zeal."

So, what exactly should reading Aquinas do? And how widely read are you in, say, the mathematics and physical sciences?

Okay, I admit it, I didn't read your piece all the way through. I picked up the main idea and have no quarrel with it. I suppose a 19th century Mark Twainish concept of freethinking might mean you have to be an atheist, but although I try to be a free thinker (an impossible ideal) I don't consider myself an atheist. Hey, and I'm a practicing poet with many poet friends. Most of my poet friends, who came along before the MFA thing got big and may have, some of them, PhD's, but have spent plenty of time out of academia or never in it (sorry about that long clause)--they are not atheists. My grandfather was an atheist and a very good man; very humorous too. Thanks for stimulating an interesting exchange. Hey, I even met Madeline Murray O'Hare when I worked in an Austin library.

Dismissing the New Atheists in pretty much these terms has become a genre by now, hasn't it? Ah well, keeps the journalists busy.

Have been reading a lot of philosopher Michael Polanyi lately. He may become for current era what Aquinas was for Middle Ages. Would like to toss out the hunch that Polanyi's epistemology of "personal knowledge" might render the incendiary theism/atheism debates moot, anachronistic.

Polanyi demonstrates (convincingly, to me, anyway) how all our formal knowledge, in all disciplines - all our explanatory efforts in all fields - are rooted in a tacit, informal, inexpressible, and personal understanding. There is no such thing as impersonal objective fact or knowledge. Reality is always already "personal" - not so much in an individual sense, as in the sense of a human faculty, a drive, which pre-exists all its applications and objects of regard, and tends inevitably toward universality.

I realize some of this nutshell paraphrase could be criticized as contradictory... you have to read Polanyi for yourself. Moreover, in no way would I want to belittle the seriousness of held beliefs and arguments on either side of the atheist/theist debate, or any other debate. What Polanyi might suggest is that both sides emerge from the same place, the same tacit sense (which I gues might have implications for the "personal God" and vitalism/objectivity issue).

Boring. Needs more facts, this reads as "I don't like these people" with little substance.

Michael, I'm not sure what you're trying to say. The New Atheists are snobs because unlike your atheist friends, they publicly denounce the dangers inherent in believing in a literal or fundamentalist interpretation of religious doctrine or common religious beliefs?

Maryanne Robinson is a Christian, not an atheist. Eagleton is a Catholic, not an atheist. I don't understand your comparisons. Or why it's ok to be a "regular atheist" and not an "elite atheist" if I buy into your idea that there is such a thing.

James Wood whom you quoted says of Eagleton:

"One doesn't need to have Richard Dawkins's level of certainty to find Terry Eagleton's Catholic [ideas] incoherent. On the one hand, according to Eagleton, God is transcendent, invisible, not a principle nor an entity, not even existent: indeed, in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. This God is neither inside nor outside the universe, but is mysteriously the condition of possibility."

What exactly is your argument here?

This is a weird, weird comment, so confused I don't know how responding could help, since what I wrote is crystal clear. How could I respond to someone who reads my piece & comes away with the belief that I think Eagleton or Robinson is an atheist????? I mean, we're talking basic reading comprehension here! Just, wow. And Wood, for all his sympathy, is unversed in theology, & doesn't realize that anti-onto-theology is in fact an established religious intellectual tradition, from Maimonides to Marion.

As for snobs, you realize I'm quoting Les Murray? Yeah, they're snobs, obviously, & they don't confine their ignorance to fundamentalism (read the Hart essay I linked to or don't bother replying to this post, since if you haven't read it, there's no conversation for us to have).

How in God's name, if you'll pardon the expression, you can have missed the relevance of Robinson or Eagleton to my argument (clue: they both have argued successfully that the New Atheists' arguments are intellectual garbage) is absolutely beyond me. Just mind-blowingly strange.

I'm glad I could blow your mind with my confusion, but I really didn't quite get what it was you were trying to say, in an honest way. Since you led with a comparison between what you see as two types of atheists, I was trying to follow the comparison all the way down. My mistake was assuming you too were an atheist. Now that I've read your link to David Hart's essay, I'm much clearer. That said, I'm not defending the New Atheists for their tendency to oversimplify, but I do find that Hart misses the point that there are many everyday people of religious faith who purport to believe exactly what he attributes only to the most fundamental of believers. (I live in the South).

Hart makes the error of of saying the New Atheists have never deeply considered a world without religion or that they necessarily much subject themselves to ambivalence. Truth and goodness are not mutually exclusive. I knew Hitchens, and he was not in favor of eliminating religion nor did he believe it could never come to any good, but rather he felt a need to temper the ignorance and fundamentalism which has fostered so much suffering in the world through intolerance and hypocrisy.

What's great about this country is that the New Atheists and the David Harts can co-exist, and create a dialogue about religion, which you don't seem to be interested in, and which is also just fine. I won't make the mistake of reading your posts again.



Honored to be included on the long, long list of things you won't bother to read.

David Lehman: "If you have too good a time writing hostile reviews, you'll injure not only your sensibility but your soul."

Sheesh, I'm only 19 years old. I hope you don't teach 'cuz I'd hate to be your student.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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