People of the Book

One of the things I find tiresome about atheists is that they are as much a People of the Book as any Christian they go after. This has never been more apparent to me than in the recent to-do over Leah Libresco’s conversion to Catholicism. Any commentary simply renews the long-standing dispute between atheists and Christians, which consists of both sides declaring what they are not, and then declaring what the other side is. Then, out come the books; the Bible and apologist theology on one side, and on the other side, Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris. And then out come the philosophy books, and the science texts, and quickly the argument devolves into either sordid name calling, or the kind of discussion that you would have to have a doctorate in the history of Western philosophy to even be able to participate in on the idiot level.

Either way, it’s book vs. book, with the one side basing its beliefs on one set of texts and the other side basing its beliefs on another set of texts, and with very little else going on besides a bunch of quoting and arguing over quotes.

So as much as atheists dislike bibliomancy, they practice it themselves. Both viewpoints depend on texts to bolster their arguments, and their arguments are based entirely on texts. The Christians want to save people from Hell. Atheists want to save people from Christianity. It’s basically Spy vs Spy without the bombs, but with philosophy and theology texts instead.

Personally I am glad I am a nonparticipant in this battle. I don’t think it’s important, either from a Pagan or a Thelemite point of view, to “believe in God(s).” As Terry Pratchett observed,

“Wizards don’t believe in gods in the same way that most people don’t find it necessary to believe in, say, tables. They know they’re there, they know they’re there for a purpose, they’d probably agree that they have a place in a well-organised universe, but they wouldn’t see the point of believing, of going around saying “O great table, without whom we are as naught.” Anyway, either the gods are there whether you believe in them or not, or exist only as a function of the belief, so either way you might as well ignore the whole business and, as it were, eat off your knees.”

I’m not quite at that level, but I think that it’s useful to remember that belief in the supernatural is subjective, not objective, and there is no use trying to prove it, either with or without texts. Either people have experienced the supernatural, or they have not. If they have experienced the supernatural, then one of two things happens: they become curious about it, and start to explore, or they want to find an explanation for it that will put paid to it and allow them to keep on doing whatever it was they were doing when the supernatural thing
happened to them.

In both cases, fortunately and unfortunately, these explanations usually end up somewhere in books. And people who go searching start looking in books. And like a great swamp with pools of quicksand, that is where many explorers of the unknown die – in a morass of bookery.

I have nothing against books or literacy, but the knowledge that is contained in texts is only fine-tuned through experience. If someone believes that there is no god and no divine essence at all, bully for you. Live that way, do it with all your heart. Don’t stand around arguing with theists; go skydiving, have wild sex, get a medical degree, bake cookies, DO things. Similarly, if you are a Christian, then DO Christian things like feed the poor and help the homeless, or fight against venality and corruption; run the money changers out of the temple. But for God or No-God’s sake, stop standing around arguing and talking blah blah blah forever and ever.

To me, regardless of anyone’s religion, that sounds like the worst sort of Hell I could think of.

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One response to “People of the Book

  1. One thing that’s kind of touching, to me, is the cottage industry of ‘humanist’ books coming out… ‘Good Without God’, Alain Botton, etc. they seem to have just discovered (like children just discovering The Hulk) the sensual and communal pleasures of spirituality, and the simple grace of kindness or intentional development of some sort of ethics. They seem so excited when they realize you can have cake, eat it, share it, and not oppress anyone in particular while doing so… 😛 whatta world, that needs reminders! But we do. I can’t stand virulent ranting against things but I also understand the more violent reactions (in the more hardcore books) against old structures. Thrashing against bonds is more of a re-action than an independent action, though, no? Maybe a start of something that will get better, if folks can learn to talk to each other calmly about something so personal. It’s at least as personal as sexuality. I discount all ideas that are going around in an election year, anyway.

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