Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

15 May, 2007

Not Everyone Is a Professor of Theology

Lately I have been listening to the audiobook of Christopher Hitchens' latest screed God Is Not Great. Concomitant to this I've been reading reviews of the book and I've noticed a pattern in many of them. Often times the reviewers will note that Hitchens' jeremiad contains no new arguments. A rather typical example is given by Preston Jones at Christianity Today. Here he notes the paucity of new arguments not once, but twice. Firstly he says, "But if Hitchens had anything new and persuasive to tell us, I would say so." A couple paragraphs later he reiterates, "There's no question that Hitchens makes some points well, even if the points have been made by myriad others." There is certainly nothing wrong with this observation prima facie. After all, it's a legitimate statement about the book. However, the fact that Jones made it again is notable. It is also notable that this same observation made by others in different forms. Take as an example the review by Jeffrey Robbins over at The Huffington Post where he posits:

After all, is anyone really surprised to learn that the historic faiths are guilty of self-contradictions, that religious fanatics are prone to violence, and that all religions have a human origin? There was a time when these observations were truly radical and provocative. But between then and now a gulf of religious scholarship and critique have transpired, heightening our awareness and forcing any religious devotee not only to learn the truths of his or her tradition, but also to rethink the nature of religious truth.

Doesn't this come across as being incredibly solipsistic? What Mr. Robbins means is that he is not surprised by any of these things and that he is already familiar with the arguments that Hitchens puts forth. But not everyone is an assistant professor of religion and philosophy. Our public schools lack comparative religion and religious criticism courses so many people would be surprised to hear what Mr. Hitchens has to say. Indeed, we teach geography and science in our schools yet, as my peripatetic friend Dan can attest to, there are Americans who think Wisconsin is a Canadian province those who fail to grasp the elementary concepts behind the changing of the seasons. Would Mr. Robbins really be surprised that there are people ignorant of the observations he mentions? Since such criticisms are not taught in schools, each generation must become aware of them. The knowledge that the historic faiths are guilty of self-contradictions, for instance, is not innate. One must learn this, one must have it demonstrated.

Hitchens' book might not resonate with Mr. Robbins right here and now but to say that everyone is as well-educated in such matters as he merely acts to inflate his own self-importance. Right now somewhere in this country there is someone coming to the realization that he or she has no faith in the supernatural. And some of these people will find themselves faithless without the benefit of having read Bertrand Russell, David Hume, Lucretius, etc. And right now a child is being born who will eventually undergo that same process and there will be a need for someone to take up the mantle for this latest generation.
|| Palmer, 2:56 PM

2 Comments:

I am not a Hitchens fan - although I used to read his stuff with great interest.

Picked up a recent Nation (their Spring Book issue) which has a review of a few tomes on atheism, and discusses 'God is Not Great' among others. I'll pass it along to you.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:46 AM  
Oops. That was me.

The D.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:47 AM  

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