Saturday, 11 April 2009

Theists in foxholes

Reuters reports that one "Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who is officially Preacher of the Papal Household" has decided - apparently through a marathon of wishful thinking - that the Atheist Bus Campaign has backfired.

He says that it has reminded people that faith is important, especially when times are hard. This is typical of the religious mindset. Apparently Cantalamessa can't understand that the purpose of the campaign is not to convert the religious, but to make the fence-sitters think and to counteract the unavoidable deluge of theist adverts that has become part of the furniture of our lives. The campaign is saying "Hey, look, it's OK to talk about atheism as well. It's not a taboo subject. There's nothing wrong with it." And of course it is also promoting atheism as a desirable way of life. From this point of view, it's unclear to me how the campaign could have 'backfired'. If it made atheists become theists or convinced fence-sitters or secret agnostics/atheists to convert en masse, then I guess we might call the campaign a failure, although I'm not sure I'd say it had backfired as such. But of course, there is no evidence whatsoever that any such thing has happened. We don't know how successful the campaign has been in terms of its actual, stated goals and we don't know how successful it has been in terms of Cantalamessa's fictional made up goals. The only difference is that atheists aren't lying about it.

Cantalamessa continues in this blithering vein, making some truly bewildering statements:
"We should almost thank the people who promoted that advertising campaign. It has served God's cause more than so many of our apologetic arguments,"
This seems to highlight massive and widespread incompetence among the ranks of the religious. Is this really what he means to say? And what does he mean by 'almost'?

"It has demonstrated the poverty of their reasons and has helped stir so many sleeping consciences,"
Cantalamessa has no evidence for this. He probably doesn't realise that he needs it. He's in a position where he gets to act as though he's for all practical purposes infallible: perhaps he's forgotten that his own wishful thinking doesn't make things automatically true.

"Suffering is certainly a mystery for everyone, especially the suffering of innocent people, but without faith in God it becomes immensely more absurd,"
This is exactly the wrong way round. Sufferening is not at all mysterious in a world without god. Earthquakes and tsunamis happen because of plate tectonics, sometimes leading to great suffering. People suffer from oppressive regimes, which are a result of human greed and the need of individuals to force their (usually religious or quasi-religious) beliefs on everybody else. People often suffer from more personal and immediate greed, when they are burgled or mugged. They suffer when attacked by animals or disease.

None of this is mysterious in the slightest. It is only when you try to reconcile this with a god who loves all his people that you start to scratch your head. Without a god, there really is no mystery.
"Even the last hope of rescue is taken away. Atheism is a luxury that only those with privileged lives can afford."
Personally, I feel that atheism is the privilege because it frees me from nonsensical closed-reasoning like this. Even so, there is something very strange about Cantalamessa's statement.

In the context of his remarks about suffering, he seems to suggest that humans need god to turn to....whether he exists or not. It doesn't seem to matter, as long as you believe in him anyway.

It is depressingly characteristic of religious thinking: we humans are unworthy; we're incapable of getting ourselves out of difficulties; we are neither master of fate nor captain of soul. We can't possibly hope to understand the world or control our place within it, so we shouldn't try. We should throw our hands in the air, say god did it and pretend we are better off as a result.

No comments: