Thinking Anglicans

Guardian extra

The Guardian has now published on its website the Face to Faith column by Giles Fraser that was in the Saturday paper with the strapline:

Secularists who dismiss Christianity as the choice of the stupid should turn their critical gaze a little closer to home…

Here’s a part of it:

While the ordinary atheist remains indifferent to religion and all its ways, the born-again atheist has adopted the worst arrogance of Christian fundamentalists – just in negative.

Part of the problem is that many born-again atheists remain trapped in a 19th-century time warp, reheating the standard refutations of religious belief based on a form of rationalism that harks back to an era of fob-watches and long sideburns. One Oxford don has called the website of the National Secular Society a “museum of modernity, untroubled by the awkward rise of postmodernity”. Ignoring the fact that at least three generations of thought have challenged an uncritical faith in rationality, the society continues to build its temples to reason, deaf to claims that it is building on sand.

This commitment to Victorian philosophy turns to farce when campaigning secularists describe themselves as freethinkers. In truth, atheism is about as alternative as Rod Stewart. The joke is that many who were converted at university via Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene think of themselves as agents of some subversive counterculturalism. This is ridiculous to Da Vinci Code proportions. Contemporary atheism is mainstream stuff. As John Updike put it: “Among the repulsions of atheism for me has been its drastic uninterestingness as an intellectual position.”

(More about the “Secularist of the Year” award mentioned can be found here)

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steven
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steven

Yea Simon!

This is a point well made. It is amazing how many run-of-the-mill atheists I meet who think that they are somehow free-thinking innovators and cutting edge intellectuals attuned to the lastest currents of thought amoung the avant guard intelligentsia. In fact, they tend to be the tedious purveyors of time-worn bromides and pedestrian thinkers in the extreme, tired minds full of tired ideas.

Steven

Mark Beaton
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Mark Beaton

What exactly is a ‘born again atheist’? This is a vacuous expression that seems minted so that the Rev Fraser can express his scorn for conservative Christians as well as rejecting atheism. He doesn’t want to be seen with THEM. But the tone of hauteur in this article shows that conservative Christians have no monopoly of arrogance. Most of them (like the rest of humankind) don’t have great apologetic or philosophical acuity or training – they are more likely to be interested in sharing their faith through Alpha or related programmes – but there is a good number of conservative… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
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Mark is clearly not a Morrissey fan
http://www.compsoc.man.ac.uk/~moz/lyrics/othermor/blackeye.htm
but the phrase is usually attributed to Gore Vidal
http://www.celebatheists.com/w/index.php?title=Gore_Vidal

Mark Beaton
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Mark Beaton

Readers may be interested in this piece from McGrath’s ‘The Twilight of Atheism’, which the Rev Fraser actually quotes from and reflects some of its ideas:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/003/21.36.html
McGrath acknowledges that atheism does a (negative) service to Christianity by making us think more carefully about what we actually profess. Reading this made me wonder to what extent liberal Christianity reflects a response or accommodation to the critiques of atheism; I’m thinking here of its tendency to reduce religion to morality and its anti-supernaturalism. Herbert Braun and Gerd Theissen think this is how Bultmann’s demythologising programme should be developed.

Tobias S Haller BSG
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Tobias S Haller BSG

I was saddened some years ago to read the compendium of computer file fragments and occasional articles and interviews by Douglas Adams of “Hitchhiker’s Guide…” fame. Apparently he was an atheist of the Dawkinsite variety; and I was particularly sorry to see that the “God” he thought atheists should be up against is not the God most Christian theologians would recognize, but rather the more primitive idea of the Big Man in the Sky with the White Beard who Meddles in Things from Time to Time. What a pity he didn’t have more contact with the likes of Peacocke and… Read more »

steven
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steven

Ooops, somehow I skipped right past the gratuitous jab at conservative Christians. Thanks for pointing it out Mark. Thanks also for the in depth commentary and the recital of worthies involved on the Christian side of this debate.

Steven

Merseymike
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Merseymike

Trouble is, Tobias, that is exactly the sort of God who some Christians do believe in….as for conservative theology being academic, its an oxymoron, as no academic discipline worth a light would give the uncritical place of authority to a single text over others which that form of religion affords.

Giles Fraser
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Giles Fraser

Mark, Interesting – in the course of slagging off my piece – that you refer approvingly to McGrath and to Williams’ article “Dionysus against the Crucified”. As it happens, I ran my piece past Prof McGrath before publication. He enjoyed it. And Williams, who I agree is an excellent thinker, actually refers approvingly to my work on Nietzsche in precisely the article you mention. As for Grayling. I have publicly debated with him at last years Fabian Society Conference. Perhaps you are letting some of my other convictions get in the way of you acknowledging that liberals too can actually… Read more »

Mark Beaton
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Mark Beaton

Correction: I meant Gerd Ludemann, not Theissen. Ludemann, a professor of NT in Princeton then in Germany, has declared himself an atheist, having gradually dismissed all the supernaturalist claims of the NT: http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/article_main_page/0%2C1703%2CA%253D160556%2526M%253D200373%2C00.html An Orthodox friend who studied J.H. Newman used to say to me, ‘Newman figured that liberalism led to atheism.’ By this he meant that the liberal habit of prioritising or privileging human reason in matters of religion, over against supernaturalist claims (incarnation, miracles, resurrection etc) would only lead to unbelief. Maybe Newman was thinking of the change within his own brother Francis, from a fervent Calvinism in… Read more »

Andrew Brown
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He’s Mr Fraser.

Tobias S Haller BSG
Guest
Tobias S Haller BSG

Indeed, Merseymike, and it gets worse and worse when the raised voices of Creationists and others of that point of view dominate the image of the church. So we find contermporary skeptics fighting battles over 19th-century issues that a good part of the church has moved beyond. I see a great failure of evangelism on the part of the church that can embrace a doctrine of God that is coherent with a rationally scientific view of the universe. Those of us who see no conflict between faith and science have allowed those who do to set the terms of the… Read more »

Mark Beaton
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Mark Beaton

Giles, I don’t think I really ‘slagged off’ your article, most of which I agreed with in its criticism of scientism and cultural myopia; my objection was to your de rigueur swipe at conservative Christians (‘the arrogant born again’), a feature which detracts generally from your writing. I don’t think a priest should run down fellow Christians in writing, even to gain a hearing among the cultured despisers of Guardian readers. McGrath and Williams, as you know, are both evangelicals and intellectual leaders of the Christian Union movement in Britain and Ireland. McGrath can be pretty sharp in his criticisms… Read more »

Peter
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Peter

How true and revealing your quotation from Newman was, Mark. What liberals like Fr. Giles seem to be incapable to realise is that their secular anthropology has a fundamental consequence on both their christology and ecclesiology.

Robin
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Robin

My impression is that Giles Fraser was pretty even-handed in his swipes against the sort of arrogance that one associates with the newly-converted to any cause (religious or secular). It unfortunately also afflicts those who feel that their faith is a package deal and everything not known at the time that belief was codified is either inimical or, at best, irrelevant to belief. I’m not against firmly held beliefs – I have trouble with believers whose core belief doesn’t seem to be strong enough to look at divergent views or additional information on this or that issue, and consider them… Read more »

Mark Beaton
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Mark Beaton

I’m pretty much in agreement with you, Robin; intellectual and spiritual confidence doesn’t come to everyone easily or readily. However, I wonder if you have fully considered the rational, liberal critique of miracle claims. Even Bultmann allowed that many of the Gospel healings took place, partly because he took them to be psychosomatic and so hardly uncaused or unexampled (Troeltsch’s analogy and coherence argument). However, the so-called nature miracles and the Resurrection are not even one in a million events: they don’t have rational, closed system explanations, so these are either explained away (von Paulus) or mythologised (Strauss). Bultmann didn’t… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
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Why read these books if they are so horrible?

Mark Beaton
Guest
Mark Beaton

Goran, I don’t know what you’re referring to. Nobody called any books ‘horrible’, and serious questions deserve serious answers. But in the end we have to decide whether a particular work or school of theology and its cousin religious philosophy gives an adequate and faithful account of the Bible and the creeds. And it’s a safe bet in logic that false premises usually lead to false conclusions (or at least the piling up of speculative hypotheses without any real grounding in fact). A friend once put it this way: ‘Bultmann loves Jesus – but he doesn’t know who he is.’… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

And I wonder w h y you are at all interested.

Why are these books and their authors so important to you? Why do you ascribe such importance to them?

Why do you think (and state) that they are important to others, whom you apparently don’t know and obviously don’t agree with?

Are you perchance using these books as a tool to hit your neighbours on their heads?

This is what I wonder when I read your posts.

And no, I haven’t read any of them and I wouldn’t be seen dead in their company.

How’s that for “liberal”?

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Mark Beaton I have now looked at the link you provided to an article by an American Southern Baptist about Prof Lüdemann of Göttingen. As I have read one of the books mentioned (Heretics), I must say that the article is less than truthful. Moreover, the purpose of it seems to be to label Lüdemann an atheist, as you do, claiming that Prof L. says so himself. However, this is not in the article! Instead, Professor Lüdeman is clearly an old fashioned Preussian Calvinist State Church Kulturprotestant, that is a Classic 19th century Liberal. And yes, many such have been… Read more »

Mark Beaton
Guest
Mark Beaton

Goran, the Rev Fraser’s article was on seeking to answer modern atheism at the level of epistemology as that is understood today, a project I agree very much with. So it’s important to see how Western European epistemological thinking has deeply affected Lutheranism and other forms of Protestantism. Kant and Troeltsch (among others) have been very influential here among Lutherans, so it’s important to understand how they have been appropriated, even if unconsciously or unacknowledged. I’m really talking about presuppositions and logical entailments here. (There is another German philosophical tradition, Hegelian idealism, which influences Pannenberg among Lutherans.) As for Ludemann,… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Dear Mark Beaton, I still think you have your German history mixed up. There have always been close links between German Calvinism and Atheism (Fredrick the Great and his lovely sister Louise Ulrica Queen of Sweden, for instance) as between Calvinism and converting to Rome. Lutherans seldom convert to Rome (if they’re not in reality bent on Calvinism) and seldom become Atheist. The anti-lutheran policies of the Calvinist Preussian State from 1648 culminating in the 1830 compulsory Calvinist Agenda, do muddle the waters a bit, and I am aware that it is not always easy for someone from outside Lutheran… Read more »

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

The segment of Giles Fraser’s article that you quote is labouring under the misapprehension that if anything is old hat it must therefore be untrue. (Otherwise known as being a fashion victim.)

Dave
Guest
Dave

Steven wrote: “This is a point well made. It is amazing how many run-of-the-mill atheists I meet who think that they are somehow free-thinking innovators and cutting edge intellectuals ….” My experience exactly; so many people you speak to think they somehow have radical and rebellious beliefs, and then state almost identical beliefs to everyone else (as broadcast on the BBC). This is a huge propaganda success story for atheism! I must say that Newman’s assessment of Liberalism leading inevitably to atheism also strikes me as true. How many liberal assertions start with denying the existence of “a big man… Read more »

bls
Guest

The problem with statements that begin “The problem with liberalism is….” is that liberalism has been responsible for almost every advance and improvement in human life on this planet. Women’s rights, Civil Rights, scientific achievements that have made our lives immeasurably easier and better – all are part of the liberal project. Conservatism is necessary as a counterbalance, but it isn’t very interesting. And all the screeching and hyperventilating against “liberalism” was amusing for awhile, but it’s sort of not very interesting anymore, either. A new slogan, at last, please! Anyway, I’m a liberal – if I have to be… Read more »