Susan Jacoby’s Atheistic Beliefs

Let’s look a little more closely at some of Susan Jacoby’s atheistic beliefs:

It is a positive blessing, not a negation of belief, to be free of what is known as the theodicy problem.

Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.  But this one doesn’t make sense to me.  Yes, religious people think that “bad things happen to good people” for a reason.  They don’t know for sure what the reason is, but they do believe there is some reason.  Jacoby seems to think not knowing the reason is a terrible state to be in and would have us believe it is therefore a “blessing” to think “bad things happen to good people” for no reason at all.

The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world — whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws — without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next…..We do want our fellow citizens to respect our deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater, not a lesser, moral importance to our actions on earth.

Yeah, I have heard all this before.  If I had just fallen off the turnip truck, I might be willing to buy it.  But the problem is that I just don’t see much evidence that atheists have some superior ability to concentrate on the fate of this world.  Perhaps Jacoby is confused and thinks “fate of the world” is supposed to be the same as obsessing about what you should be called.  And neither do I see much evidence to think belief in God gets in the way of concentrating on the fate of this world.  Jacoby is simply parroting some stale talking point.

As for atheists holding some deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater moral importance to our actions on earth, that pretty much depends on the atheist.   Some atheists don’t assign any great moral importance to their actions.  Others, like those who populate the A+ movement, seem to have an overly inflated sense of moral importance to their words.  In religion, we recognize that as self-righteousness.  And some of the most self-righteous people on the internet are atheists.

 

Today’s atheists would do well to emulate some of the great 19th-century American freethinkers, who insisted that reason and emotion were not opposed but complementary……. We need to demonstrate that atheism is rooted in empathy as well as intellect.

So the community that insists science and religion are incompatible is now going to embrace the notion that emotion and reason are complementary?  Well, intellectual consistency has never been a strong point of atheism.  What matters here is that Jacoby is acknowledging that reason alone is an insufficient guide.

He also frequently delivered secular eulogies at funerals and offered consolation that he clearly considered an important part of his mission. In 1882, at the graveside of a friend’s child, he declared: “They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer.”

I guess that sounds nice, but is it a mere coincidence that Ingersoll’s most lofty consolation is really just the same reasoning we use when we decide to euthanize our pets?

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28 Responses to Susan Jacoby’s Atheistic Beliefs

  1. “So the community that insists science and religion are incompatible is now going to embrace the notion that emotion and reason are complementary?”

    This is only incompatible if you believe that religion and emotion are in some way the same.

  2. Michael says:

    Gnu atheists like to water down the definition of science (for culture war reasons) such that science = reason. So, it would be interesting to see what type of tap dance is needed to make science incompatible with faith, but not with emotion.

  3. You’re assuming that if one uses science one cannot also use emotion and empathy?

  4. phtasmagoria says:

    Reason and Emotion are elements of the human condition that don’t rely on belief in the supernatural. Religion, however, requires belief in the supernatural in order to function.

  5. Tim Lambert says:

    What is “using” emotion, notascientist?

    Someone wedded to scientism certainly shouldn’t be putting any stock in emotions.

  6. “Someone wedded to scientism certainly shouldn’t be putting any stock in emotions.”

    I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    I use love and compassion and empathy all the time, and see no particular reason to shun them. I’m not a Vulcan. And while using emotion without rational thought can be irrational and dangerous, it need not be so if you use rationality and logic alongside it.

  7. Crude says:

    I use love and compassion and empathy all the time, and see no particular reason to shun them.

    As Tim Lambert asked – you ‘use them’? How? Like tools?

  8. Michael says:

    You’re assuming that if one uses science one cannot also use emotion and empathy?

    No. I’m assuming there is some type of coherent logic to the “science and faith are incompatible” claim. Here is what one New Atheist leader wrote:

    As a scientist and a former believer, I see this as bunk. Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible. They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth.

    Sounds like confused thinking to me, but let’s go with it. Let’s call it position A. Now, let’s make one small tweak:

    As a scientist and a former believer, I see this as bunk. Science and emotion are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible. They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth.

    Let’s call that position B.

    Can you explain why position A it true while position B is false?

  9. “Can you explain why position A it true while position B is false?”

    Sure. Faith is regularly claimed to be a way in which one determines truth. Emotion isn’t.

    Where emotion is claimed to be a way to determine truth, then it can be treated the same way faith is. When it isn’t, it shouldn’t be.

  10. eveysolara says:

    Emotions, like religion, can at times inform a scientific inquiry, but it is incompatible with scientific inquiry. Don’t let your empathy for a mouse get in the way of your cancer research.

  11. eveysolara says:

    That was a joke by the way, forgot the sarcasm tags

  12. Crude says:

    Emotions, like religion, can at times inform a scientific inquiry, but it is incompatible with scientific inquiry. Don’t let your empathy for a mouse get in the way of your cancer research.

    What about my empathy for children? Or my religious beliefs about the sanctity of human life?

    If I refuse to scientifically experiment on orphans because of a belief, is my belief incompatible with scientific inquiry?

  13. eveysolara says:

    Yes because your emotions are blocking your scientific work

  14. eveysolara says:

    And sometimes that’s a good thing ( sorry for the multiple posts I hit the button too soon)

  15. eveysolara says:

    Argh I did it again so this is my last post for tonight.

    So how do you determine if your emotions are right? Through reasoning ( which I regard as equivalent to science ). So, in that sense emotions can inform scientific inquiry.

  16. Crude says:

    So how do you determine if your emotions are right? Through reasoning ( which I regard as equivalent to science ).

    So, philosophy and science are the same thing?

    Either way, let’s see this in action. Use reason to show that having empathy for mice such that you don’t perform experiments on them, is “right”.

  17. eveysolara says:

    I would because the good of the many outweigh the good of the few, or the one, or the short lived. That’s a mesh of emotion and reasoning.

  18. Crude says:

    You would because of a Spock quote? C’mon.

    How do we know the goods of the many outweigh the few? And even if there’s more of them, why should any individual care? Reason could also dictate that if an individual has a choice between benefiting themselves and benefiting many people and not themselves, to go with the first option.

  19. eveysolara says:

    This same reasoning built civilizations while your ‘reasoning’ murdred countless and leads you to justify ancient genocide

  20. eveysolara says:

    Crude, you have anything else to say you irrational cock smuggler?

  21. eveysolara says:

    I’m sorry, you really fucking push my buttons though

  22. Tim lambert says:

    Eveysolara, take this advice please…shut up and calm down. If what Crude said upset you that much…. You need to gear down, big rig.

  23. Tim lambert says:

    “They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer.”

    These are the comforting words of atheism?
    Good luck, Jacoby winning over converts with this morbid insult to the parents of a deceased child, “yeah but hey…at least he’s not suffering.”

  24. Crude says:

    This same reasoning built civilizations while your ‘reasoning’ murdred countless and leads you to justify ancient genocide

    Putting aside for a moment that civilizations were built by Catholic clergy, Chinese monarchy-dynasties and others – while at the same time that tens of millions were murdered under secular regimes (not countless – we’re actually able to count these with some accuracy)…

    So what? Peter Singer – praised by Dawkins and more – openly toys with the idea that maybe it’s more reasonable that civilization not exist at all, nor the rest of humanity. “I like civilization more! I don’t like murder!” is just a statement of an opinion and prejudice under atheist materialism. When does reason start telling us one is more valuable than the other, without us assuming that value to begin with? And how do you even assume the value given an atheist-materialist view of the world, where all value is assigned to begin with (in which case, whether or not it’s right to perform experiments on either a mouse or an orphan depends on your inclinations at the time)?

    I’m sorry, you really fucking push my buttons though

    Of course I am. I’m asking obvious but hard questions. And I don’t think reason is giving you the answers you want. In fact, if you take a long, hard look at it, it can’t give you the answers you want.

    But hey, I’ll say this for Jacoby. She says that atheism (I would assume, particularly New Atheism) is rooted in emotion as well as intellect. I think she’s right. In fact, it has far more to do with emotion and far less to do with intellect.

  25. Tim lambert says:

    “Faith is regularly claimed to be a way in which one determines truth.”

    You’ve got it backwards, notascientist.

    Faith in God allows us to accept that there even is a truth to be known.

  26. Tim Lambert says:

    Bah!
    Those Christians and their unwillingness to focus on worldly issues!!

    David Bentley Hart:

    “There was, after all, a long tradition of Christian monastic hospitals for the destitute and dying, going back to the days of Constantine and stretching from Syrian and Byzantine East to the Western fringes of Christendom, a tradition that had no real precedent in pagan society (unless one counts, say, the valetudinaria used by the military to restore soldiers to fighting form). St. Ephraim the Syrian (AD c. 306-373), when the city of Edessa was ravaged by plague, established hospitals open to all who were afflicted. St. Basil the Great (AD 329-379) founded a hospital in Cappadocia with a ward set aside for the care of lepers, who he did not disdain to nurse with his own hands. St. Benedict of Nursia (AD 480-547) opened a free infirmary at Monte Cassino and made care of the sick a paramount duty of his monks. In Rome, the Christian noblewoman and scholar St. Fabiola (d AD 399) established the first public hospital in Western Europe and – despite her wealth and position-often ventured out into the streets personally to seek out those who needed care. St. John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) while patriarch of Constantinople, used his influence to fund several such institutions in the city; and in the diakoniai of Constantinople, for centuries, many rich members of the laity labored to care for the poor and ill, bathing the sick, ministering to their needs assisting them with alms”

    Shame all of these Christians undermined the atheistic momentum to do all of this first.

  27. Crude says:

    To add an additional criticism of Jacoby’s post…

    The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world — whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws — without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next…

    I notice that too many atheists act like the ‘freedom’ they get by rejecting religion is, basically, ‘the freedom to do all these nice and great things’. You know, like God was holding Jacoby back from visiting her friends in the hospital.

    She completely sidesteps, ‘I have the freedom to lie, cheat, steal and do whatever I damn well please, without any fear of repercussion.’ I think if you’d ask someone like her if an atheist is free to rape, her head would explode.

  28. Michael says:

    Sure. Faith is regularly claimed to be a way in which one determines truth. Emotion isn’t.

    Where emotion is claimed to be a way to determine truth, then it can be treated the same way faith is. When it isn’t, it shouldn’t be.

    Ah. See, this is the way people like Coyne confuse others. I don’t think of faith as a “form of inquiry” or “way of determining truth.” That makes no sense to me. Faith is far more analogous to something like trust. As in Step out on faith, Put your faith in, Have faith in, Leap of faith. Faith is believing something to be true without have “determined” it to be true. It’s a human trait.

    So it is far more accurate to say that someone believes X on the basis of faith than it is to say that someone determined X to be true with faith. When you can grasp this, then you’ll see it’s not all that easy to say it’s perfectly valid to believe X on the basis of emotion but it’s wrong to believe X on the basis of faith.

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