The Modern Mind

This is a very nice essay by Scott Stephens. He points out many areas often overlooked when thinking about the “new atheists.”

It is just as apparent why such an atheism – with its cartoon versions of history, its theological illiteracy, it fetishisation of science, its hostility to the humanities and aesthetics, its flattened-out brand of morality as mere “well-being,” its cheap gags and mode of incessant piss-taking cynicism – should appeal so powerfully to a culture that has grown accustomed to the vulgarities and trivia enshrined in the modern media.

The emergence of a form of chic atheism, precisely as a media-fuelled and driven phenomenon, was anticipated by Hilaire Belloc with staggering clarity. Writing in 1929:

“the ‘Modern Mind’ dislikes thinking: the popular Press increases that sloth by providing sensational substitutes. Disliking thought, the ‘Modern Mind’ dislikes close attention, and indeed any sustained effort; the popular Press increases the debility by an orgy of pictures and headlines … In all these ways and twenty others the popular Press as we have it today thrusts the ‘Modern Mind’ lower than it would otherwise have fallen, swells its imbecility and confirms it in its incapacity for civilization and therefore for Faith.”

And this atheism, I believe, will continue to flourish to the extent that moral disintegration, nihilistic capitalism, anti-aesthetic liberalism and a kind of ubiquitous piss-taking cynicism remain the dominant forces in our common life.

I often hear atheists insist that they do not need God in order to be good. But if I am in any way accurate in what I have argued here, we are faced with a far more destructive possibility: that without God, there simply is no Good.

Most new (or even old) atheists get all worked up when they think someone is saying they cannot be “good” or “moral” without God, and of course no one is saying such. What they usually miss (Nietzsche didn’t!), is that a deeper critique is being made–namely that without God or transcendence, there can be no “good” “moral” or perhaps more importantly “evil.” Thus there is no hierarchy, everything is flattened out. There becomes no ontological or difference of any significance between building a concentration camp and an orphanage. Life then is a series of meaningless events with a gloss of some sort put on it by humans because of some strange effect of evolution, but one completely divorced from reality. We then end up in an absurd universe, because we actually experience caring about such things. And this is passed off as “science” or some other authoritative tag of some sort. Crazy.

Beyond that, he rightly points out that the “new” atheists are exactly what one should expect in our time, when thinking is so disliked. We just learned why so many of their books are indeed popular.

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