Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Materialism Requires Material Comfort?

John Farrell has a brief review of Brother Guy consolmango's new book, God's Mechanics, from which I loved the following line:
Atheism is a luxury of the well-to-do; it goes hand in hand with flush toilets.


Anonymous said...

What about the corollary? Is religion is a refuge of the materially insecure?



Darwin said...

I don't know that I'd call it the refuge of the materially insecure, but I do think that the consciousness of death, injustice and material insecurity bring to the front of our minds questions that often have religious answers:

What happens to us after we die?
What is the point of life?
What is justice, other than "what the people in charge say"?
Can our lives be "good" even when we suffer?

These are questions that are often forced upon us by some sort of suffering, though we think about them at other times as well. Given that it's often easy to only think about what's forced on you, I think that a general condition of danger or material privation would definately push a society in a more religious direction.

However, the fact that we think about these questions most when in distress does not necessarily mean that they aren't valid questions in themselves, or that religious conclusions are not objectively true.

Anonymous said...

You are correct that people tend towards religion when they suffer, and away from religion when they don't. And neither tendency tells us anything solid about whether religion or atheism is true or valid.

Which is why Farrell's quote bugs me. He's taking a cheap shot at atheists. I haven't read his whole article, and maybe the tone overall is tongue-in-cheek and can be excused. But if Christians are going to complain about Dawkins and Hitchens and their ilk then they need to avoid stooping to that level of discourse.


Darwin said...

Actually, the quote is from Br. Guy in his latest book, Farrell quotes it in his review of the book.

Certainly, if that was all one had to say on the issue, I think it would be insufficient. But as a pithy remark as to how much easier it is to not think about eternal questions if you don't face much adversity, I think it's pretty much on, and I liked it.

I think part of the issue probably has to do with: Does one conceive of the state in which most people have lived throughout most of history as being what the normal human condition is, and the current comfort in middle America is a blip on that reality, or does one see modern first world life as the norm, and most of the rest of history as falling short of it.

Oddly, it strikes me that the former view would be more in touch with evolutionary reality, in that I think we too often forget that we are creatures who have to work to feed ourselves, and who at a biological level exist to reproduce and then die.

Thus, a materialistic humanism which sometimes sees activities like raising children as a distraction from the true goods of appreciating the arts and advancing in one's career would actually be a very un-material humanism -- one which doesn't see the human person as an organism.

But that's ranging rathe far afield.

j. christian said...

I don't think it's a cheap shot at all. I suspect it does tell us something about the validity of religion vs. atheism, and Darwin comes close to explaining it (vis the "normal state" of mankind). Probably more to say about it...

Histor the Wise said...

"You are correct that people tend towards religion when they suffer, and away from religion when they don't. And neither tendency tells us anything solid about whether religion or atheism is true or valid."

When people don't suffer, they don't typically turn to atheism. Most of them just ignore or minimize their religion, and live "for the world."

That said, Br. Guy's line is true: atheism always originates among the wealthy and is usually confined to them.


John Farrell said...

Joel, indeed the quip was from Brother Guy, not me, but it struck me as funny, which is why I posted it. I've heard plenty of quips from atheists and agnostics about Christians that are equally funny (and true).

BTW, Brother Guy's book and tone overall are quite congenial; he's not out to launch broadsides on atheists.