February 6, 2010


Armstrong, Karen, The Case For God (New York: Knopf, 2009) ("We have become used to thinking that religion should provide us with information. Is there a God? How did the world come into being? But this is a modern preoccupation. Religion was never supposed to provide answers to questions that lay within the reach of human reason. That was the role of logos. Religion's task, closely allied to that of art, was to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there were no easy explanations and problems that we could not solve: mortality, pain, grief, despair, and outrage at the injustice and cruelty of life. Over the centuries people in all cultures discovered that by pushing their reasoning powers to the limit, stretching language to the end of its tether, and living as selflessly and compassionately as possible, they experienced a transcendence that enable them to affirm their suffering with serenity and courage. Scientific rationality can tell us why we have cancer; it can even cure us our our disease. But it cannot assuage the terror, disappointment, and sorrow that comes with the diagnosis, nor can it help us to die well. That is not within its competence. Religion will not work automatically, however; it requires a great deal of effort and cannot succeed if it is facile, false, idolatrous, or self-indulgent." Id. at 318.).

De Beauvoir, Simone, Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre translated from the French by Patrick O'Brian (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984) ("SARTRE: God is a prefabricated image of man, man multiplied by infinity; and men stand before this image, obliged to labor to satisfy it. So it is always a question of a relation with oneself, a relation that is absurd, but that is also enormous and demanding. It is that relation that must be suppressed, because it is not the true relation with oneself. The true relation with oneself is with that which we really are, and not with that self we have formed roughly in our own shape. DE BEAUVOIR: Have you anything else to say? SARTRE: Yes and no. Chiefly that this fact of living very close to people who do not themselves believe in God completely does away, between them and oneself, with that infinite intermediary who is God. You and I, for example, have lived without paying attention to the problem. I don't think many of our conversations have been connected with it. DE BEAUVOIR: No, none. SARTRE: And yet we've lived; we feel that we've taken an interest in our world and that we've tried to see and understand." Id. at 445.).

Goldstein, Rebecca Newberger, 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010) (From the book jacket: "After Cass Seltzer's book becomes a surprise best seller, he is dubbed 'the atheist with a soul' and becomes a celebrity. . . ." "36 Arguments for the Existence of God plunges into the great debate of our day: the clash between faith and reason. World events are being shaped by fervent believers at home and abroad, while a new atheism is asserting itself in the public sphere. On purely intellectual grounds the skeptics would seem to have everything on their side. Yet people refuse to accept their seemingly irrefutable arguments and continue to embrace faith in God as their source of meaning, purpose, and comfort." "Through the enchantment of fiction, . . . Rebecca Newberger Goldstein shows that the tension between religion and doubt cannot be understood through rational argument alone. It also must be explored from the point of view of individual people caught in the raptures and torments of religious experience in all their variety." "Using her gifts in fiction and philosophy, Goldstein has produced a true crossover novel, complete with a nail-biting debate ("Resolved: God Exists") and a stand-alone appendix with the thirty-six arguments (and responses) that propelled Seltzer to stardom." This is a work worthy of thoughtful reading. That said, I chuckled at the following passage on another type of 'false god,' the academic god. [Y]ou and I both know that this boon you're enjoying has nothing to do with science. I know that the psychology of religion is topical, but it is soft, and it's shoddy, and if the world hadn't suddenly gone made on religion, no one would be lauding you like this. It's deplorable that academia should prostitute itself, but there it is. Not even Harvard is above it. In fact, Harvard least of all, with that ludicrous delusion of self-importance that makes every Harvard professor feel he's a public intellectual, qualified to comment on issues far beyond his expertise. You'll do very well there." Id. at 331-332.).

Kant, Immanuel, Religion and Rational Theology (The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant) translated from the German and edited by Allen W. Wood & George Di Giovani (Cambridge: U. of Cambridge Press, 1996) (From the "Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion": "The primary ground of proof for the existence of God is the ontological one from pure concepts. But the real possibility of a most perfect being must be proven before I can prove its existence in this way. For the dogmatic atheist absolutely denies the possibility of a God and asserts that there is no God. But here, where we have to do only with pure reason, denying the existence of an ens realissumum and denying its possibility are fundamentally the same thing. Hence of the dogmatic atheist denies that there is a God, he takes upon himself the obligation to prove that God is impossible. For all our a priori cognition is of such kind that, when I presume to prove from pure reason that something does not exist, I can do it only by proving that it is impossible for this thing to exist. The reason for this is that, since Here I can borrow no proof from experience either for or against the existence of the being in question, it follows that I have no other path before me but to prove from the mere concept of the thing that it does not exist, and that means proving that it contradicts itself. Hence, before he presumes the right to assert that no ens realissumum exists, the dogmatic atheist must show that an object corresponding to our idea of such a being would contradict itself in the unification of its predicates. On the other side, if it occurs to us to want to demonstrate a priori that God does exist, then we too must undertake the duty to prove through pure reason and with apodictic certainty that God is possible. But there is no way we can do this except by proving that an ens realissumum does not contradict itself in the synthesis of all its predicates. . . . But such a proof transcends the possible insight of all human reason. . . . Id. at 367-369.).

Noble, David F., The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention (New York: Knopf, 1998) ("It is the aim of this book to demonstrate that the . . . enchantment with things technological--the very measure of modern enlightenment--is rooted in religious myths and ancient imaginings. Although today's technologists, in their sober pursuit of utility, power, and profit, seem to set society's standard for rationality, they are driven also by distant dreams, spiritual yearnings for supernatural redemption. However, dazzling and daunting their display of worldly wisdom, their true inspiration lies elsewhere, in an enduring, other-worldly quest for transcendence and salvation." Id. at 3).

Rosenberg, David, A Literary Bible: An Original Translation (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009) (From the "Preface": It's a commonplace of interfaith and multicultural dialogues today that you never known your own so well until you sympathetically understand another's. I'd take it further: you never know your secular culture well enough until you've understood its counter-culture text of religion. For us, it comes down to the Bible, yet I've rarely found its literary depth adequately conveyed to the secular reader. There is plenty of discussion about what makes a Jew or a Christian, an atheist or an agnostic, but rarely are the arguments traced back to their historical origin in the writers of the Bible. Instead, we have the latest talking points about DNA and theology. For uncanny answers, we need to envision the aspirations, inspirations, and intellectual conflicts of the biblical writers--to see them within their ancient Hebraic culture (and for the early writers of the New Testament, within their Jewish and Judeo-Greek culture) well before religious tradition edited them into a sacred canon." Id. at xi.).