The Itch Atheists Can’t Scratch
by Amy Hall
On Harper’s Magazine’s blog, Christopher Beha discusses his recent article on what he calls the “New New Atheists”—that is, atheists (such as Alain de Botton) who, having determined that God does not exist, are now exploring the question of how to restore those aspects of life whose foundations were destroyed along with God: meaning, wonder, morality, etc. But, he says, there’s a problem:
Rosenberg—a philosopher at Duke with a predictable commitment to rigor—insists that doing away with religion means doing away with most of what comes with it: a sense of order in the universe, the hope that life has some inherent meaning, even the belief in free will….
I was interested in the attempts of Harris and Botton to salvage some religious splendor for the secularists. So I was only more disappointed to find Rosenberg’s insistence that such efforts were hopeless far more convincing than the efforts themselves.
Beha finds himself in the “disappointed disbelievers” camp, wishing he could believe in God so as to keep what comes with Him:
During an email exchange with Rosenberg, I asked him which camp of atheists he fell into. His response acknowledged my impulse: “There is . . . in us all the hankering for a satisfactory narrative to make ‘life, the universe and everything’ (in Douglas Adams’s words) hang together in a meaningful way. When people disbelieve in God and see no alternative, they often find themselves wishing they could believe, since now they have an itch and no way to scratch it.”
So what are we to do about this unscratchable itch? Rosenberg’s answer in his book is basically to ignore it…
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