Monday, June 26, 2006


Surveiller et punir?

There are two kinds of atheists, ordinary atheists who do not believe in God and passionate atheists who consider God to be their personal enemy.

This echoes Woody Allen: "To you I'm an atheist, but to God I'm just the loyal opposition".

Norm says:

for both believers and unbelievers there's another issue [besides whether religion does more good than harm] that is probably more important in determining their belief and unbelief, respectively. It's the issue of the truth or otherwise of religious belief.

I find it hard to believe (!) that many believers, or at least as many believers as non-believers, have come to their conclusions as to the existence of a supreme being via a process chiefly oriented towards truth-seeking - that is, by seeking the answer to the question "is there a God?", starting out with something like an open mind. After all, more people reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no God than come reluctantly to the conclusion that there is! Desire for truth intrudes upon desire to believe.

Another thing Zizek said was that belief always operates at a distance - one does not so much believe, as one believes in believing, or one believes in the other's belief. This may explain why pro-religious arguments seem to focus on the downside of a collapse of religious belief and practice, rather than simply on the putative truth-content of religious doctrines. (Alternatively, this might be explained by the inherent weakness of arguments purporting to establish the existence of a deity).

The general idea of a god - all-knowing, all-seeing, ever- and everywhere-present, punishing and rewarding according to its will - is potentially rather horrifying. This is the stuff of Orwellian-Foucauldian dystopia. If we were forced reluctantly to accept a really terrible conclusion, would this not be it: God is alive, we haven't killed God, we cannot kill God!?

Yet it is precisely this side of God that is usually turned to by his apologists when they point to the dangers of secularism, moral decadence and the upside of religious belief - specifically, that (regardless of the existence or not of God) it is better for society that people fear the punishment, and seek the favour, of an omniscient, omnipotent being.

One of two possible consequences must follow: either 1) God is seen by believers as a Good Totalitarian or 2) this "utilitarian" defence of religion is only attractive in so far as the truth-claims of religious doctrine, in particular God's existence, are not really believed.

The converse implication of the latter might be that to the degree that one accepts the truth-claims of religion regarding God's existence, the more one would be morally obliged to resist the God.

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