|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Monday, September 13, 2010
In her best-selling and widely praised The Case for God Karen Armstrong contrasts the recent New Atheists with the good old atheists who at least understood theology:
In the past, theologians have found it useful to have an exchange of views with atheists. The ideas of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886 - 1968) were enhanced by the writings of Feuerbach ... But it is difficult to see how theologians could dialogue fruitfully with Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, because their theology is so rudimentary.Feuerbach's best-known and most influential work, The Essence of Christianity, is a somewhat forbidding book at first glance (and at second glance, when you find that the standard paperback has as its introduction a lecture on Feuerbach by the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886 - 1968)). That was probably why I put the copy I'd picked up and glanced through back on the returns trolley of Brunel University Library in 1976, thus missing out on 34 years of enlightenment. (I really kick myself because the University's Anglican chaplain materialised beside me as I was looking at it, and enthusiastically recommended it as a thorough demolition of orthodox Christian theology, particularly the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. You don't believe any of that? I asked, incredulously. Of course not, he said. What do you say to your colleagues who do believe it? Oh, he replied, they don't believe it either.)
Anyway, a month or so ago I eventually got around to reading Feuerbach, and you know, Frederick Engels and the vicar were right! 'The spell was broken; the ‘system’ was exploded and cast aside, and the contradiction, shown to exist only in our imagination, was dissolved. One must oneself have experienced the liberating effect of this book to get an idea of it.' If I'd read it back then I'd have been spared a lot of puzzlement about Anglicans, and also about Marxists. At the time I thought I was one myself, but what I didn't understand was all the other Marxists I knew. Why were they so confident? And why were they so fucking busy? Obviously I had missed the meeting where everyone had read Feuerbach:
The atheism that fears the light is an unworthy and hollow atheism. Such atheists have nothing to say, and that is why they are afraid to speak out. The cryptoatheist says only in private that there is no God; his atheism is summed up in this one negative statement, which stands all alone, so that his atheism changes nothing. And it is perfectly true that if atheism were a mere negation, a denial without content, it would be unfit for the people, that is, for man or for public life; but only because such atheism is worthless. True atheism, the atheism that does not shun the light, is also an affirmation; it negates the being abstracted from man, who is and bears the name of God, but only in order to replace him by man’s true being.But to return to Karen Armstrong: the real irony of her recommendation of Feuerbach is that Feuerbach's argument (meticulously reasoned and documented, as Barth admits through his teeth) that 'God' is nothing other than human consciousness unaware that it is describing itself is above all applicable to the mysterious, ineffable, indescribable, elusive, ungraspable 'God' for which Karen Armstrong makes her case.
We see nothing of the mind's working
except what comes on screen
and goes on keyboard. What's between
the two, behind the one -
the self that knows the self we know
all the self knows -
we don't know.