By Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
James Carse's categorical statement about atheists - "to be an atheist is not to be stunned by the mystery of things or to walk around in wonder about the universe" - is so utterly, absurdly false that one would think that he has never actually spoken to an atheist. Or read any of the books by the "trendy atheists" he criticizes. A great deal of writing by atheists, particularly scientists who happen to be atheists, speaks with great eloquence about precisely this feeling of wonder. Atheists simply don't feel the need to explain away the wonder by calling it "God."
Carse has redefined key words (or declared them indefinable) - religion, atheism, God - and then uses his new, idiosyncratic definitions to demonstrate his points. He's really only having this conversation with himself. In particular, by redefining religion and God, he can castigate atheists for their lack of belief in both, as though it were his version of religion and his version of God that they don't believe in. But that's more absurdity. Atheists, and most other people, are busy using the ordinary definitions of the words in their discussions.
The funny thing is, I believe that religion ought to be considered in the way Carse defines it - like a poem, or a song, or a spiritual practice, that can uplift one's spirits and bring one to a sense of a higher purpose and a higher power, without getting tangled up in unanswerable questions of whether or not it's "true." Is Beethoven's 9th factually true? The question is meaningless. But they symphony is still beautiful and meaningful. A religion could be approached that way too.
But that's not what religion means, and is not the way religions are generally practiced, in our society. For Carse to dismiss atheists, or anyone else, for not implicitly accepting his definition of religion borders on solipsism.