Archive for "Jan 05 2011"

You’ll never guess who’s angry at God

Angry at God. A frame from Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi‘s beautiful graphic novel about the author’s life as a child and teen. She  grew up in a communist family in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Image courtesy of Marjane Satrapi and Pantheon Books

Is Keith Parsons angry at God?

Probably not. The well-known philosopher and blogger concluded a few months ago that the case for theism is utterly vacuous, comparable to Intelligent Design. As Wolfgang Pauli said of the work of a hapless and anonymous young physicist, Parsons may say of theism: It’s not even wrong.

Much to his credit, he therefore gave up his philosophy of religion courses and his writing in this field. We here at psnt.net don’t know Dr. Parsons personally, but we imagine that he came to this conclusion, at least in part, through considerable intellectual exercise. Yet we also suspect that there is more going on than the intellectual. And Parsons may agree with us. In an article published this week at Religion Dispatches, Julia Galef writes,

Although Parsons is done arguing with a field that seems committed to a particular perspective, he concludes his post by saying that he hopes others will continue the fight. But what he doesn’t make explicit in his post is a disheartening subtext to his decision: that in our pursuit of truth, argument may only take us so far. “Philosophy of religion,” says Parsons, “is inevitably speculative and inconclusive.” Although he has no doubt that the theistic arguments for God’s existence have been thoroughly rebutted, he allows that the atheistic arguments he finds persuasive might not be nearly as persuasive to another rational person who happens to have different intuitions.

That is, there is something more in play than the intellectual; there is what Parsons calls the “intuitive.” So what is working under the surface to shape Parson’s intuition? Love of truth? Insistence on consistency? Anger at God?

You wouldn’t guess it, but the last one is actually a possibility. A couple of days ago CNN reported a study that indicates that college students, agnostics, and atheists harbor more anger at God than those who profess belief in God. College students I can understand; they have grown up in a world where it’s OK to challenge God. Agnostics I’m not so sure about. But atheists? Now that’s interesting.

One must assume that the study’s principal investigator, Julie Exline, a professor of psychology at Case Western and apparently a very intelligent woman, has found a way to get around the fact that atheists aren’t supposed to believe in God. It has proven to be difficult to determine the exact nature of her inquiry, but I’m sure it’s detailed in the article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. What is clear is that, according to the CNN article,

People unaffiliated with organized religion, atheists and agnostics… report anger toward God either in the past, or anger focused on a hypothetical image — that is, what they imagined God might be like.

Now this is obviously a rather limited statement, but for us the interesting point is that atheists report anger at the image of God they reject. This is hardly surprising to us at psnt.net, because we have always been of the opinion that things like anger, jealousy, love, hatred, fear, hope, and faith really motivate people to do what they do and believe what they believe, and not rational argument. Arguments, whatever they are and however naïve or sophisticated they are, are constructed on the foundation of these more hidden and “intuitive” kinds of understanding. That’s our bet.

It’s an evangelical cliché, but it’s one that, in our opinion, is based on a truth: The nature of one’s relationship with God is pivotal to one’s understanding of life. Talk of having a relationship with God can be kind of embarrassing because it sounds all touchy-feely, like one should regularly get together for quiet time with God among scented candles and Rumi poems. But it’s not really like that. It’s much more difficult, trying, rewarding, and joyful. Like a marriage.

People who are married are sometimes mad at each other, so from this point of view it’s easy to see how people can be angry at God. I’m angry with God sometimes, actually, but at least I “believe in” God. Maybe those who are atheists are angry at God in the way that divorcees can be angry at one another. That was the case for me during the years I was an unbeliever. My god just didn’t come through in ways I thought God should come through, so I dropped my belief and yes, I was, under the surface, angry about it. Imagine how angry you’d be if you realized that the God who was supposed to have loved you not only didn’t love you but didn’t even exist in the first place. Maybe you wouldn’t be angry at God exactly — can one be angry at nothing? — but you might be plenty angry at all those religious people who misdirected you for so long.

We’re not saying that all atheists are angry at God, and neither is, I believe, Dr. Exline. But we think she brings up a really interesting point of conversation. I wonder what Keith Parsons would have to say about this.

A big Thank You goes out to Alert Reader Howard Cohen, who brought the Galef article to our attention. As for everyone else, keep on sending us interesting articles when you find them. The Internets are huge, and we here at psnt.net are oh so tiny.