I really enjoyed this conversation between Mary and Paul this morning. One part, starting at 40:50 really struck me. Mary pointed out the different way Christians and atheists see each other. In the past, atheists saw Christians as having something they didn’t. Christians have faith, they see something, a greater reality, that the atheist does not. In this way, the atheist is experiencing something akin to blindness, they are missing out on a aspect of reality. This is a point that reformed philosopher Alvin Plantinga has also made with his “reformed epistemology.” Through faith, we have “knowledge of things not seen.” The atheist has a sort of epistemic disability because he doesn’t see what the Christian sees.
Mary then pointed out that in the past few centuries or so, a interesting shift has taken place. The atheist no longer sees him/herself as being blind to a greater reality, rather it is the Christian who is delusional. The reality that the Christian believes he/she sees, isn’t actually there, and the Christian is just operating under wish fulfillment or whatnot. On this view of reality, the atheist has something the Christian doesn’t, namely, rationality. The atheist is rational enough to see past the Christian’s delusions, the Christian is not.
So, as Mary put it, the Christian think the atheist is blind, the atheist thinks the Christian is insane. Mary pointed out that there is a profound difference between these two views. We try to help and accommodate people with blindness. But we lock up and exclude people who are insane. Mary astutely observed that this has disturbing repercussions, people who are insane shouldn’t be in positions of power, they shouldn’t take care of their own children, they should be excluded from general society. What happens when a entire society adopts this view of religious people?
Beyond what Mary said, I felt like jumping into the conversation with two additional points, but since I can’t, I will make them here.
First, there is something profoundly arrogant about how the new atheists dismiss the beliefs of billions of people across the world, today and over thousands of years as “dillusory,” “bullshit” or “wishfull thinking,” As far as I’m concerned, if your theory just wants to wave away what everybody has believed for centuries in such a condescending and dismissive way, your theory is wrong. All your theory can account for is the snobbery of a handful of atheist ivory tower intellectuals, while sneering at the billions of people across the world who believe in God, miracles and a afterlife.
Second, the point about Atheists having “rationality,” which Christians do not. Its interesting to note that this word “rationality” has been redefined in our modern materialistic age. To the Medieval, rationality was a integration of all spheres of human knowledge. A life of properly ordered, lived wisely and virtuously. Today, “rationality” has been redefined to mean a narrow “objectivity” that borders on reductive scientism. The rational person does not live in medieval harmony, but rather, is stoically indifferent to the existential contradictions in his/her philosophy. Everything is reduced to science, and everything that matters is excluded. This, to me, is not rational.
I will leave Kierkegaard with the last word:
“It might be argued that the present generation is, from this point of view, praiseworthy, in so one-sidedly aiming to express the intellectual and the scientific. My answer would be that the misfortune of the present age is not that it is one-sided, but that it is abstractly all-sided. A one-sided individual rejects, clearly and defiantly, what he does not wish to include; but the abstractly all-sided individual imagines that he has everything through the one-sidedness of the intellectual. A one-sided believer refuses to have anything to do with thought, and a one-sided man of action will have nothing to do with science; but the one sidedness of the intellectual creates the illusion of having everything. A one sided individual of this type has faith and passion as transcended phases of his life, or so he says- and nothing is easier to say.”