Monday, February 04, 2008

One Final Time: the God-Critics

Recent best-sellers by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens have urged the thesis that religion is bad and should be eliminated. I have had my say about this before, but today I administer the coup de grace.

Their intellectual sin is that, in the words of Alfred North Whitehead, they commit the "fallacy of misplaced concretion." They mistake an abstraction about religion for the whole of the concrete reality. They look at history and the present and find many reprehensible ideas and practices associated with religion and attribute them to religion. They take what they and many of us would regard as untrue and wrong, i. e., bad, and take that to be the essence of religion, its reality.

This neglects the fact that religion is always embedded in a cultural context and inexplicable apart from that setting. To abstract religion from its cultural setting is to mistake what is abstracted for the reality itself, i. e., "to commit the fallacy of misplaced concretion."

Remember Paul Tillich, "Religion is the substance of culture; culture is the form of religion."

In short, religion is more complex and ambiguous than the simplistic representations of the God-deniers.


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