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Jan 20, 2014

Showing the Atheist a Mirror

I watched a three hour BBC documentary by Richard Dawkins called Sex, Death & The Meaning of Life on the new secular "Godless" world. In proving that a world without God is a better one, he comes across like a colorblind person trying to convince the world that color is an illusion. I don't doubt that Dawkins has a happy life with his limited vision, but he cannot prove that a greater inspiration does not exist!

It was a fairly reasonable approach to the material world and the demise of religion, but it really irritated me on several accounts. Primarily his argument was that the new world has no God and no religion and therefore can operate more reasonably. First of all I object to the assessment that as he says people now realize there is no God. I say we still believe in God but our God is something unacknowledged like expediency. This unconsciousness creates an even greater danger of devotion to a blind religion, with catastrophic effects!

He goes on to point out how the rise in human rights and the fall of violence in contemporary times coincides with the demise of religion. This is his proof that religion caused those evils, which is extremely wiggly thinking. Despite the hobvious history of religious violence, this ignores the history of the church as the founder of the whole idea of hospitals universities, charities, and other humanitarian movements.

Also he kept talking about devotion to ghosts and invisible superstitions. Well the same thing could be said about any metaphysical idea like mathematics. A society that didn't need math would see math as a superstition. Even if the wisdom or practicality of math was demonstrated the skeptic can always find reasons why it doesn't apply.

Dawkins found a very easy target in the ancient Hebrew religion that Christianity expanded. I found it very irritating that he used as an example of religion the most archaic and objectionable religion he could find, which reminded me of John Shelby Spong's brilliant first question for atheists: "What God is it that you don't believe in?" Any intelligent Christian would share most of Dawkins' objections. This is not an argument against religion but against archaic social codes.

The entire argument ignores the fact that we are not machines– that we respond to life and its richness with emotional qualities which are always unreasonable. I'm sure Mr. Dawkins has a wife to whom he is devoted in a unique way. Certainly he can understand that his devotion to that particular woman is inexplicable to someone else.  There is no way he can prove the quality or depth of his love to another although to himself it clearly exists and clearly expands his life to a great degree. And yet there is no way he could convince anyone else that his love is real. We could create a firm argument that his love is simply a worthless superstition.

Dawkins logical conclusion is the penultimate solipsist's argument. It becomes clear before long that any other value system than his own is inadequate. His argument that monks are wasting their lives pretending to make the world a better place can be extended to any other profession or indeed person. Dawkins quickly paints himself into a corner in which only his own life is worthy since he alone follows "true values". Though he is unaware, this is what constitutes Dawkins' own religion. The truth is not that there is no God but that Dawkins' God is so tiny it's no bigger than himself. I find it hard to criticize him if he insists he has a happy life but I would never be happy with such a pathetically tiny God!
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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.