Saturday, April 25, 2015

Atheists say the Darndest Things

I rarely engage the atheist narrative in this blog, though sometimes that point of view emerges in the comments section. The problem with engaging atheistic world views, and by this I mean the so-called naturalist, materialist, positivist vision of reality, is that it flirts dangerously with apologetics, which I gladly abandoned many years ago. Besides, there will always be Christian apologists, and even if I were interested again, what more could I offer than the work of a Robert Barron or a David Bentley Hart? They pull out all the metaphysical stops, assuring once and for all that the stalemate continues. Apologetics is about winning arguments, not changing hearts; apologetics is about foreclosure, not disclosure. Either 'side' remains committed to an entrenched position and a perpetual extortion of ideas, which blackmails (as John Caputo notes time and again)  the hearer to choose between evidence and phenomena, between the empirical and phenomenological.

The perennial problem does not dissolve in the adamantine binarities of physics and metaphysics, method and truth, spirit and matter, theist and atheist.

OK, let's say I'm gonna be an apologist just one more time, and I am a very good one. I've convinced my atheist interlocutor that what theists call God is the ground of all being, of all contingency, being itself.  How do I move from the metaphysical God to the God of religion, the God of theism? She asks an inevitable question: how is she to move from this God to worship? She is as committed to the truth, truth-telling, truth-seeking as I am. Do I simply tell her that such acts are already devotional, already an act of love, already worship? Will she simply acknowledge that the metaphysical God, the God of the philosophers already is the God of theism?

I add that God is not just the ground of being and being itself, but also the ground and condition of all other metaphysical corollaries, the transcendentals of truth, beauty and good.

She is unmoved. She wonders if I am an atheist. We have agreed to eradicate this true God from the order of being---that God is simply not the superlative being among other beings. She complains that my argument is every bit as positivistic as her own materialist dogma, even though I'm a bit more generous than that dogmatic position, granting that her reality is part of a larger more complete and intellectually honest one, one disregarded by the materialist dogma as nonsense. She liked, at first, that my reality is a patchwork quilt of many patches, and her reality was a very nice patch in the larger reality of theism. The question persists: how does one worship the 'ground of being,'  the 'ground of contingency?' She does not experience the connection between this rarefied God of our newly found common ground and the response of genuflection. She determines that our positivisms, however generous or ungenerous, are intellectually and even morally equivalent, and she retreats. I overreached.

I'm a rotten apologist. Hart might be better. Though he does not admit that his brand of metaphysics and phenomenology is positivistic, he invites an empirical approach to the God problem: while the scientific method is appropriate to investigations of the natural world, only a method of contemplation is appropriate to investigate God; or so runs his closing argument in his The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). I hesitate to recommend the book for its final diffuseness, despite clear intentions of being pointed. It's a terrible and wonderful book, with its ontology from below (he keeps directing the reader to what follows 'below') and its interesting conceits of satchidananda and a half-waking sleeper-dreamer, coming to consciousness; of course these are metaphysical conceits. Still, the book has its charms, such as its occasional fall into the abyss of the pleonastic fallacy, which Hart derides sporadically.

But what if Hart is right, that the solution to the Bazooka Joe comic from a previous post, is seeking God through a method appropriate to God's own nature? Contemplation is not the truth of God, but perhaps it is the method that steers the seeker to the proper horizon on which God makes an appearance to the seeker's experience. There is certainly a tacit nod to Jean-Luc Marion in Hart's treatise, though a formal citation is relegated to a bibliographical entry in which Marion appears in a title. Of course, Hart would have none of Marion's God without being, or the erotic phenomenon appearing in the phenomenological reduction. I imagine, though, that Hart would accept Marion's conclusions, as I find Hart's conclusions quite satisfactory even though I find his argument at times suspect.

Indeed, contemplation, in the form of Marion's neo-phenomenological reduction is proper to positioning oneself to experience God. Would that Hart worked with that method earlier in the course of his presentation. It would have braced his argument and made more palatable his generous observations, for example, of the equal wonders of beings, and of consciousness that receives, onticologically, the democracy of objects. The reality for which he argues so poignantly rings so very true, embracing as it does all knowledge and being.

Atheists say the darndest things, and so do theists.

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