This may well amount to blasphemy on the SHAFT blog, but I have never really found ‘New Atheism,’ as represented by Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., to be very convincing or appealing. To be fair, by many standards, I am a pretty lousy atheist: I have a soft spot for theology; I am skeptical of any attempt to enshrine science or pure rationality as the determiners of truth; and I have doubts about whether rationally proving God’s nonexistence is possible.
But for me, The God Delusion and similar books essentially present atheism as a negation. They leave me feeling like I did when I first abandoned theism: the feeling that something had been lost; that the numinous had been emptied out of the world; that, rather than a newfound freedom to create a new way of living, I now found myself having to conform my beliefs and actions to a strictly rational, materialist worldview, one which seemed little less stifling than the God I had left behind.
It is with that caveat that I mention Hubert Dreyfus’ and Sean Dorrance Kelly’s All Things Shining, published earlier this year. Its project is probably best described as ‘post-theism’: Dreyfus and Kelley attempt to create a secular practice of living—a religion, if you will—where the sacred erupts in moments as diverse as examining an artwork or watching a baseball game.
Part of what makes their argument fascinating is the way it reclaims much of western culture and even religious thinkers for secularism: from Homer to the Gospel of John to Martin Luther, Dreyfus and Kelly draw on theistic thought while giving it a secular, decidedly nontheistic spin—a method I think is preferable and richer than dismissing it all out of hand. The book, based on their popular undergraduate class at Berkeley, is intended for the general readership, and is somewhat cursory in its argument. Despite that limitation, and some quibbles about their interpretations of Nietzsche, I found the book exhilarating—for me, it was the most thought-provoking book I have read on atheism since Martin Hägglund’s.
It also left me wondering, however, if these two strands of atheism—with the ‘post-theism’ of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida on the one hand, and the ‘rational atheism’ of Hume, Russell, and the ‘New Atheists’ on the other—are starry-eyed apples and glowering oranges. Do they merely serving different purposes, or are they actually incommensurable?
What do you think, SHAFT-ers?