Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Are the new atheists culturally illiterate?

9 comments:

Ron said...

I think that the classics in the Western tradition are treasures for both the Christians and atheists. Everyone ought to read them and learn from them. The article is right on about the vacuity of Christian bookstores. Why don't Christians read more Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Milton or the many other great Christian writers throughout the centuries? Instead we have Purpose Driven garbage.

No, I don't think atheists are more culturally illterate then anyone else in society. 'Cultural literacy' is a problem for society at large. I put this in quotes because this assumes some sort of cultural canon. I'm not sure if such a thing exists much anymore.

Victor Reppert said...

No no not atheists generally. The article is talking about advocates of "the new atheism" who blame religion for all that is bad in society and nothing that is good. You know the type: Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc.

philip m said...

In his first book Sam Harris mentioned something about how Western Civilization, in terms of its spirituality, has been "standing on the shoulders of dwarves." This of course raises the very question asked by this post. Has he ever read Augustine, Aquinas, or Brother Lawrence? He then quotes from a book from Eastern thought; is that the archetype of all that's in his repetoire?

Hiero5ant said...

"All that is bad and nothing that is good"?

Is it your honest belief that this is an accurate statement of their views?

Mike Darus said...

Reality is much more complex than the glib characterizations of apologists for either theism or atheism. Dostoevsky, Milton, Dickens, etc. wrote in a culture steeped in Christianity so they spoke the language and reflected many of the values. At the same time they were challenging and questioning. Perhaps some is in the spirit of reformation but some was indictment for wrongs perpetrated in the name of faith. The atheists are to think that eradicating religion will improve society, but they are right to point to evil done in the name of religion. The religious are also wrong to take credit for all that is good and to refuse to admit the contributions to literature and science by atheists and doubters.

Mary Grabar looks at clasical literature and sees Christian themes. Hitchens sees a break from teaching morality from Scripture to teaching morality in story. They are both right. The great writers had this mix of faith and doubt that makes them candidates for spokesmen for either side.

JD Walters said...

The best theistic apologists DO use the classics of literature in their arguments. I think William Lane Craig draws heavily on Dostoevsky and Camus in his argument from the meaningless of life without God. And I don't think the great Christian writers can equally serve as spokespeople for the other side. Their doubt was always in the context of a rich, subtle, tempered faith richly informed by Christian tradition.

And (Christians) we do not take credit for all that is good. We say that God should get all the credit because we are made in his image. It would of course be a mistake for a Christian to say, "See, Christians make the best writers, scientists, etc". But I also think it's a mistake for atheists to say "See, since atheists make good writers and scientists we don't need God to give meaning to our lives."

And Hitchens is loony if he thinks there's a meaningful contrast between teaching morality through Scripture vs through story. Scripture is one big narrative of God's mighty acts! Where do you think narrative ethicists got the idea in the first place? He would be more on the mark to say that the story of Scripture is gradually being replaced with other stories as a source for teaching morality.

Hiero5ant said...

So, the belief that Jesus was a human who died and rotted like any other human is exactly as irrelevant as the realization that Aslan isn't real?

I can live with that.

Mike Darus said...

JD,
I am more on your side than you might think but Christians should concede that great literature is a departure from classic orthodox moral decrees. In Moby Dick, revenge is not wrong because God says so but because it is destructive to both self and others. This is a utilitarian ethic, not a theocentric one. The Christian themes and values ane even allusions are there, but the approach shows the drift toward secularism.

Theists will focus on the Christian thems while the atheists will focus on the drift and both will claim their spokesperson.

Anonymous said...

From the article 'While the theme park and museum builders have sincere intentions, I wish they'd read some books. And I'm talking about more than the Bible.'

Another commentator who realises that Dawkins is never going to understand Christianity by reading the Bible.

Just reading the Bible is no way for anybody to understand the message of Jesus.