This is the 26th in a new series of weekend posts taken from the presentations at the Salk Institute’s “Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0.”. I have placed an index of essays in this series in an introductory post, Enlightenment 2.0: Introduction.
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein did not give a presentation to the Beyond Belief 2. She gave a reading from a work in progress called 33 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. The reading was from the first chapter of this work, a story about a professor in the psychology of religion who had just become world famous for a book that examines 33 arguments for the existence of god, and then refutes them.
It is, as I said, a work of fiction. In this story, our hero, Cass Seltzer is standing on
The story provides a homage, of a sort, in favor of certain arguments in favor of the existence of God. Though it denies that they have any intellectual weight, they have a certain amount of emotional weight. Those arguments, at least in this reading, concern the marvelous fact of our own existence. I am here. I am participating in the world, writing my blog, interacting with others in a way that I hope will have some positive impact on current and future events. Within the story, Seltzer cannot help but feel an immense sense of gratitude for all that he has. All of this gives emotional weight to a set of rather loose and informal arguments that, somewhere out there, there is a God.
Yet, still, the illusion persists.
I certainly hold that there are some ideas that a person can communicate better in a work of fiction than in a scholarly treatise. I have written my own Perspective on the Pledge both in the form of a formal argument and in the form of a short story about a student who is grappling with a very similar prejudice in an alternative universe. In fact, the book that I am writing has both of these approaches. While it discusses the ‘under God’ issue in the form of a short story, it presents the ‘In God We Trust’ issue in the appendix on the form of objective argument.
The point is that when we make the transition from ‘outside and above’ the phenomena that we are studying to ‘inside’ that phenomena, there is information to be gained. Think of a house. Think of having all sorts of information that describes what the house looks like from ‘outside and above’ the house. We may even have pictures. Yet, there is a great deal of information that we do not have. We do not know what the inside of the house looks like. We do not know what it feels like to be inside of the house. We cannot know this until we add something to our ‘external’ description of the house and say something about what it is like to be inside that house.
This is what
One of the biggest problems that a lot of people have with atheism has to do precisely with what it is like to be an atheist on the inside.
People imagine the atheist life, and they imagine a person in a cold, dark, and lonely place with no possibility of joy and no sense of purpose or meaning in his existence. Those of us who live this life know that it is not true. Well, it is not necessarily true. There are probably some atheists living cold, dark, and lonely lives just as there are probably many theists living similar lives. However, many of us, most of us, are not like this. Our lives are filled with warmth, light, social interaction, joy, and purpose.
Whenever somebody protests that our lives must be cold, lonely, dark, miserable, and empty, the common response is to deny it. Yet, this denial itself comes from the ‘above and outside’ perspective. We claim that our lives have value. However, can we describe that value from the inside? Can we communicate with others what it is like to live within an atheist house? Or within an atheist mind?
Of course, in addition to fiction - in addition to describing what something is like in the form of a story with a character who is living that life - there is the option of explaining the same thing through the living of an actual life.
I would have to say that the best account of atheism from the inside out that is available today in the non-fiction category is Possommama, a.k.a. Atheist in a Minivan. This blog is not dedicated to looking at the most recent follies of creationists or the crimes committed by priests or an examination of contradictions in the Bible or the different arguments for or against the existence of God. It is a look at an atheist life from the inside. There; are more than enough blogs that describe atheism from outside and above, looking down on the atheist life. We could, perhaps, use a bit more work done on the atheist life as seen from the inside looking out.
There is a need for more atheism from the inside out.