Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Christopher Hitchens, Stupid Christians, and the Sublime, pt. 3

sublime
Function:
adjective
Inflected Form(s):
sub·lim·er; sub·lim·est
Etymology:
Latin sublimis, literally, high, elevated
Date:
circa 1567
1 a: lofty, grand, or exalted in thought, expression, or manner b: of outstanding spiritual, intellectual, or moral worth c: tending to inspire awe usually because of elevated quality (as of beauty, nobility, or grandeur) or transcendent excellence

After putting myself into a secular, naturalist perspective as much as possible, I tried to conceive of a basis for the sublime (remember: Hitchens did not give one in his work). It seems necessary because it seems that human experience universally includes feelings that touch beyond biochemical explanations. Wanting something to be true does not make it so. Believing something to be true, again, does not make it so. Sensing something to be true, finally, does not make it so. But, can we really be committed to a worldview that excludes on philosophical principle 'transcendent excellence?' Or, in other words, is the worldview put forward by Hitchens and others capable of demonstrating the actual non-existence of qualities such as nobility, true beauty, and glory? No. And further, they do not seem to care to go in that direction. In fact, Hitchens briefly mentions the awe one can experience looking through the Hubble Telescope. Think about it though: can there be a naturalistic explanation that sufficiently provides the breadth and depth necessary for a world that includes that kind of beauty?

Moving beyond the merely natural to the human, I spoke in the previous post of the greatness of the evil of which man is capable. Whether you espouse religion or secularism, that point must be acknowledged. And yet, it seems to me that the secular perspective, by necessity, lessens the depth of the evil. How could it not? We are simply mammals that have evolved to a point of higher intelligence than our predecessors and are accountable to nothing other than the institutions that we ourselves create. What then is evil? What are we really to expect from ourselves and others beyond some use of the rational faculties within ourselves to the ends that seem self-justified? On what basis can we hold each other to any higher standard? And so, wickedness loses some of its edge. And that should be frightening.

This, points to the underlying motive behind every book written, every argument put forward, and every lifestyle approved within this type of thinking: I am not accountable to anyone, and in particular, I am not accountable to some divine lawgiver and judge. I have become convinced that there is no other motive for espousing views of this kind than to free oneself from the sense (to whatever extent this is even possible) of divine accountability.

And just as human evil is watered down, wherever it is not outright approved and applauded, that which is truly 'honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worth of praise' is diminished. Goodness loses its force, its glory, its beauty and becomes trivial. Even when the beautiful is still praised and the honorable is still venerated, it cannot be done so in the way that it deserves. For, again, what is good? What is self-sacrifice? What is love? How can these things exist (which we all universally acclaim) if we are merely the children of primates who were merely one of the eventual products to emerge from the reproduction of single celled organisms?

The secularist perspective must be, in the end, self-contradictory for it wants to affirm that for which it has no philosophical basis.

This does not clear religion of its charges, nor does it excuse the Church, in particular, for what was brought up in the last post. That will be dealt with in what I expect to be the final post of the series.



4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I quote you:

"Wanting something to be true does not make it so. Believing something to be true, again, does not make it so. Sensing something to be true, finally, does not make it so."

What, then, can be truth? All things we accept as truth are garnered by our senses, and sorted by our brains.

Would you, as a Christian, then say "I may want, believe, and sense the Bible to be true, but that does not make it true"? Or have I misrepresented your argument?

Again, I quote you:

"Think about it though: can there be a naturalistic explanation that sufficiently provides the breadth and depth necessary for a world that includes that kind of beauty?"

Perhaps so. After all, nature is filled with patterns. However, what is not a pattern is DNA - the genetic code for all living organisms. DNA is not a pattern, like the Grand Canyon or the placement of the stars in the sky.

I think to really see the fingerprint of the Divine, one need not look at the vastness of the lifeless matter, but the complexity of the living matter.

Arbuckle: "And just as human evil is watered down, wherever it is not outright approved and applauded, that which is truly 'honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worth [sic] of praise' is diminished."

In the words of Shakespeare, "What is to love?"

You said: "For, again, what is good? What is self-sacrifice? What is love? How can these things exist (which we all universally acclaim) if we are merely the children of primates who were merely one of the eventual products to emerge from the reproduction of single celled organisms?"

I believe Hitchens would respond to that by pointing out that morality is relative to each person, depending on thousands of different things. He would say that good and evil are merely human logical inventions, and that, at the basest level, man's purpose is to survive and reproduce.

He's not an absurdist, I think, but he is an atheist. Or, a better way of describing him would be an "anti-theist."

-Austin R.

arbuckle said...

Austin-how kind of you to stop by. This wasn't the article I was referencing on your facebook page just in case you had thought it was. Anyways, I don't feel that you really understood a lot of the points I was making, but read into my argument things that I wasn't actually saying, or simply missed the point.

But let me ask in return to your first question: why would it be a problem for me to be saying that? Does your believing something make it true or should you believe something because it is true? It is not the same thing.

Not quite sure what the Shakespeare line is all about.

If you're interested in a continual dialogue, I'd be interested in hearing what you have to say after reading a little more carefully through what I said initially.

Tammy said...

Second read, and I think I understood it better...you are very good with your words and thoughts-I'm not sure that I can always keep up w/you, but from the parts that I understood, I agree w/you wholeheartedly. You make some very interesting points and I appreciate how you are really trying to step out of your own point of view to look at this from those w/varying perspectives. Well done!

jdhargrove said...

My brotha...

I read this some time ago, but forgiving me for not leaving comments. I enjoyed this series as I do most of what you write (I take exception to various comments you leave on my facebook page, pics, etc). Anywho, I came across a blog today that I though you would be interested in. The topic is along similar lines to your composition here. It's by a guy named Kevin DeYoung (heard of him)? I picked up a book of his recently while perusing the stacks at B&N. Enjoyed it so much I started following his blog updates. Anyway, here's the link:

http://www.revkevindeyoung.com/2009/09/how-not-to-argue-for-gods-existence.html