Damon Linker has written something over at The Week, Where Are the Honest Atheists? It starts off as a review of A. C. Grayling’s latest book, The God Argument. And that’s why I read the article, because I think Grayling is an insightful thinker, and I’ve ordered the book. So I was interested to hear what people were saying about it. After reading the article, however, I’m not sure that Linker has read the book.
In saying this, I don’t mean to imply that I’ve caught Linker at anything. He simply thinks that the world does not need another New Atheist book. This strikes me as odd, because I ordered the book because I don’t think of Grayling as being part of the New Atheist movement except in the most general terms. But I should know in a week or so. It has seemed to me up to this point that Grayling is a far better thinker than Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.
Most of Linker’s article is about the writer Philip Larkin and his dark images of a godless universe. Linker seems to think that atheism is only valid if proponents hate it. There is something to be said for that, I guess. I think what he really has a problem with is all the happy horseshit of atheists, who are often more New Age than a 60s commune. No, if we all become atheists, we would not all just get along. But there is a happy side of atheism that very few atheists understand. Certainly Linker, who I assume is an atheist, doesn’t seem to understand it:
I cannot think of a single thing as terrifying as immortality. Because if I lived forever, I would experience every one of the lesser terrors an infinite number of times. Who over the age of thirty thinks it would be cool to get older and older? Hell, I am only marginally happy with the workings of my body now; give it another 40 years and I’ll be begging for the lethal injection.
But there is a reason that we get so much happy horseshit from the New Atheists. The nonsecular world has been telling us for thousands of years that without God, there would be nothing but chaos because it is only out of fear and allegiance to God that people behave. That strikes me as a reasonable thing to argue against. Meanwhile, Linker sends us to Larkin, whose primary concern is that without God we will lose the sacred. But that’s something that the vast majority of the secular and nonsecular world have in common: the idea that God and the sacred have anything to do with each other.
There is a mystery to existence. Anyone who understands that communes with the sacred. God actually gets in the way of that because the way that most people conceptualize him (The pronoun tells all!) hides the question. This is like kindergarten theology, yet very few people seem to get it. Who created you? Your mother! And who created her? Her mother! Tracing that all the way back might get you to God, but it won’t get you to the sacred. Why? Because it isn’t about counting the turtles, it’s about accepting them.
Update (Almost Immediately)
I found this recent interview by Sam Harris with A.C. Grayling, and I must admit, I’m not impressed. In particular, this exchange is typical of what I think of as very low-level atheist thinking:
I say that such pleasures and relaxations as a country walk, dinner with friends, an afternoon in an art gallery, attending a concert or the theatre, intimacy with a loved one, lying on a beach in the sun, reading and learning, making things, are all “spiritual exercises” in their refreshment, strengthening and promotion of connections with others and the world—these are the only “rituals” and observances required for an intelligent appreciation of what is good and possible in human life.
This is why I like the word “sacred.” The word “spirituality” could mean anything. I take great pleasure in long walks, but they are not in themselves spiritual or sacred. All the things he mentions are important things for humans to do, but they are beside the point. It’s like telling someone who is horny that they ought to go shoes shopping because that too is sensual.