Today I had the good fortune to stumble upon a post by mapantsula over at DailyKOS. Evidently he is a professor at Virginia Tech, and an atheist. His posts are responses to a Dinesh D'Souza over at AOL News Bloggers who made some remarks that were in incredibly poor taste regarding the Virginia Tech massacre.
Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings? Atheists are nowhere to be found. Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing.
Dinesh then goes on to explain Dawkin's gross materialism as the essence of atheism – that there can be no values, no explanations, no psychological reassurances without a belief in God. And more surprising, he offers up the problem of evil as something atheists simply cannot answer. I assure you, Mr. D'Souza, theists are no better at explaining the problem of evil either.
Atheism, like theism, is not a monolithic entity, and more to the point, many of the philosophies that most of us do live our day to lives with do not require God to equate into them. Some people may believe that "everything happens for a reason" in a theistic sense, but far more of us (I imagine) believe that things happen because they happen – people make choices, earthquakes cause tsunamis, etc. For emotional context, for some sort of answer to the horror of our brother's suffering people often look to God – but I tell you, as a student of religion and philosophy – the problem of evil is one of the greatest problems in theism. It may provide visceral relief, but further reflection simply stirs up greater problems – "how can an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving God allow such evil?" to put it bluntly.
By way of all this, I do not seek to criticize theism (I am a theist, after all!), but rather that simply because one is an atheist do not think they do not feel there is meaning in their lives, or what happens to them.
Mapantsula says it so beautifully:
We atheists do not believe in gods, or angels, or demons, or souls that endure, or a meeting place after all is said and done where more can be said and done and the point of it all revealed. We don’t believe in the possibility of redemption after our lives, but the necessity of compassion in our lives. We believe in people, in their joys and pains, in their good ideas and their wit and wisdom. We believe in human rights and dignity, and we know what it is for those to be trampled on by brutes and vandals. We may believe that the universe is pitilessly indifferent but we know that friends and strangers alike most certainly are not. We despise atrocity, not because a god tells us that it is wrong, but because if not massacre then nothing could be wrong.
Since my initial story about it on Saturday, I have since seen Mapantsula's defense in many quarters, all of which reacting to the beauty of his explanation.
I should state here that as a theist my reaction to this news in no way involved God. I’ve resolved, for myself at least, the issue of theodicy and do not have the temperament to find relief for this horror in God. Last weekend, in a private celebration of the Sabbath, I prayed for a few moments and read the 11th Psalm which seemed appropriate. But, my response to this evil was purely within an philosophical/existential framework and not in a theistic one. My personal theology tells me that these issues are ours and we must come to terms with them on our own. We must seek to understand them within our own existence and our own universe, and perhaps one day find a way to stop them. I do not expect to find the Hand of God in either its cause or its end.
D'Souza, on the other hand, makes it clear that the gross ignorance of Dawkins is not limited to atheists. In fact, in circles concerned with the study of religion, Dawkins is essentially viewed as "perhaps a good biologist, but a rather naive student of religion." I believe the same may be said of Mr. D'Souza, or like Dawkins, ideology simply leaves gaping blind spots.