[BPSDB] One response to the ‘new atheists’ like Richard Dawkins is to retreat up a mountain. There you are surrounded by fluffy, intangible ideas, and a silence where you can experience the ‘Unnameable’ who can never be understood, far from the people like ‘strident adolescents’ who actually want to try to understand things. (Why is it when people assert their non-belief they are always called ‘aggressive’?)
That’s the mental picture I get from this review by Christopher Hart of what appears to be a pretty missable book by Karen Armstrong.
The trouble is, up in the solitude and rarefied air on the mountain-top, where neither believers nor sceptics can reach you and bring some criticism to bear on your thoughts, you start to imagine things.
You start to imagine that something about which you have written around twenty books can only be appreciated through ‘a graceful acceptance of mystery and “unknowing”’. You create a myth that the root of religion lies beyond ‘beyond human language’, ignoring the fact that its roots lie in attempts to communicate with forces and things (as well as dead real people) that affected everyday life but were conceived of as having consciousness and intentionality.
You rely for your evidence on the abstruse writings of church fathers, who engaged in what was really an intellectual exercise at one remove from religion as it was practised. Without any sense of irony, you accuse atheists of claiming absolute knowledge and ‘pronounc[ing] with finality on pretty much everything’. This is despite the fact that Dawkins has always emphasised that science, although it gives us real knowledge, always contains tentative areas (why else do scientific research?) and that he for one would be open to discovering that God exists, given evidence.
You leave most believers at the foot of the mountain, because their faith is based (at least for the Abrahamic religions) on texts that emphasise the personality of God, his very human-like qualities ands his interventions in the world. For most believers, it is likely that their understanding of God is even more personal than that of the leaders of their organised religions.
The top of the mountain seems to be a realm where everything is made of mirages, appearing upside-down. Perhaps the case has been made that the experience is very enjoyable, but certainly no case seems to be made for anything recognisable as God to someone with their feet on the ground, believer or non-believer.