I’m attracted to authors who employ interesting and original ideas in their work, regardless of whether or not I can directly apply their work to my own. This is partly why I like Badiou so much. And it is also probably why I’m being drawn more and more towards the work of Sloterdijk. Here is an interview I find fascinating.
How much freedom does our biology allow us to have?
“In truth, the crossing from nature to culture and vice versa has always stood wide open. It leads across an easily accessible bridge: the practising life. People have committed themselves to its construction since they came into existence – or rather, people only came into existence by applying themselves to the building of said bridge. The human being is the pontifical creature that, from its earliest evolutionary stages, has created tradition-compatible connections between the bridgeheads in the bodily realm and those in cultural programes. From the start, nature and culture are linked by a broad middle ground of embodied practices – containing languages, rituals and technical skills, in so far as these factors constitute the universal forms of automatized artificialities. This intermediate zone forms a morphologically rich, variable and stable region that can, for the time being, be referred to sufficiently clearly with such conventional categories as education, etiquette, custom, habit formation, training and exercise – without needing to wait for the purveyors of the ‘human sciences’, who, with all their bluster about culture, create the confusion for whose resolution they subsequently offer their services.”
― Peter Sloterdijk, Du mußt dein Leben ändern
I got somewhat excited when I came across this article. It addresses a topic that I had been thinking about recently. And I was hoping for an argument that might rip me. Unfortunately, it fell flat. Here are just a few of the reasons.
I think it’s contradictory for an atheist to blame another atheist (Stalin) on his religious background for his atrocities, when it is not acceptable for religious person to do the same. Furthermore, an implication of such an argument is that atheists can always blame their religious heritage for their mis-deeds.
We seem to forget that origins of the word religion comes from a Latin word meaning to “revere.” Its history is one where authors use it to distinguish “religion” from “true religion.” The most famous example of this is the reformation: Catholic = false religion; Protestant = true religion (see Sloterdijk’s You must Change Your Life). In this sense, yes, most atheists do indeed revere science.
(I will use the term “religious” in the current sense of the word in the rest of the post)
If Stalin’s atrocities were basically religious in nature, then does this mean that every professed atheist that commits violence is susceptible to being maligned as religious by the New Atheists? What’s the point, then, of claiming you’re an atheist if all your crimes will disqualify you as being an atheist? Here we are right back at another accusation by New Atheists: “Religious people are not honest with themselves.” The accusation goes both ways.
I agree that the numbers game (“you too”) is a bad way to argue for many reasons. And I agree that “It is at its core, a tu quoque fallacy, employed to deflect justified charges of religious violence, by erroneously charging atheism with similar, if not worse, conduct.” This is true: responsibility needs to present in these discussion. However. Because Sherlock seems to think that the very way religion operates is oppressive, he cannot bring himself to the say that “belief in X does not necessarily lead to atrocities.”
Many New Atheists (including Sherlock) cling to an optimism that if religions ceased to exist, the world would necessarily become a better place. Many religious people think this is the case with their religion as well. This is obviously no different from saying: “Well, I’m right. If everyone would just listen to me, things would be better.”
Again, there is a forgetting that the Secular is so thoroughly saturated by the religious (see A Secular Age by C. Taylor).
The New Atheist movement often claims to be a movement that is in a state of wonder, and in awe of the universe. A state that claims not to have all the answers, a free investigation. But again and again it shows itself to be a caricature of what Maritain called a positive atheism in the mid-20th century; Merleau-Ponty writes: “‘It is an active combat against everything that suggests God, an ‘antitheism,’ an act of inverted faith,’ a ‘refusal’ of God,’ a ‘defiance against God.’ This antitheism certainly exists, but since it is an inverted theology, it is not a philosophy, and by focusing the whole discussion on it, one shows perhaps that it holds locked up within itself the very theology it is attacking” ( In Praise of Philosophy).
“It was the same Karl Barth who arrived at the thesis — unheard of in its time — that Christianity is not a religion, because ‘religion is unbelief’. He had the right idea, but made the wrong point and presented the most unsuitable of all possible justifications: that the ‘word of God’ strikes through the fabric of cultural machinations vertically from above, while mere religion is never more than a part of the system of humanities and all-to-humanities set up from below. The argument may seem impressive as a catastrophe-theological intensification of the situation after 1918, but as a description of the overall situation it would be misleading — for modernity is simply not known for being a time in which God shows Himself vertically to humans. This century was struck by meteorites, plummeting down from the outermost and highest places; but there were no gods among them.” – Sloterdijik from “You Must Change Your Life” (86)
The Onion’s response is fiery: “New Study Finds Majority Of God’s Blessings Burn Up On Entry Into Atmosphere“
Yet another naming of the world that really hits home for me.
“Psychologically, present-day cynics can be understood as borderline melancholics, who can keep their symptoms of depression under control and can remain more or less able to work. Indeed, this is the essential point in modern cynicism: the ability of its bearers to work—in spite of anything that might happen, and especially, after anything that might happen.” -Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason