I’ve been waiting for this one for some time. At last an atheist of substance, Susan Jacoby, would proudly shift from defense [“we’re actually not so bad!”] to offense [“we’re actually the way everybody should be!”].
Sorry to report, Jacoby got center page in the Sunday Op-eds only to blow her big chance. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to believe, I wanted to hear solid reasons why living my life without a god would serve me better than today’s miasma of theological do’s-and-don’ts. You know, why such a change might help me better savor this life [because it’s the only one there is so lets get busy using it]….free me from the feckless ways of a vengeful deity [because frankly, folks, there’s no one up there keeping score] ….brush away centuries of religious rectitude which has arbitrarily decided who stand as lambs before Heaven and who are cast as goats before Gehenna [because if anyone could smartly laugh away such nonsense, I thought Susan could].
But it didn’t happen for me.
As it turns out, Susan’s theists seemed to get the better of her own argument. Augustine preached in the 4th C a psychologically respectable: “Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in thee.” All that Jacoby could counter-offer was the articulate agnostic Robert Green Ingersoll 15 centuries later at a graveside: “They who stand here with breaking hearts need have no fear. The larger and nobler faith in all that is and is to be tells us death even at its worse is only perfect rest. The dead do not suffer.”
One tradition swaddles both mind and heart inside the conviction we exist here for a reason, a purpose, a destiny; the other seems to go no further than the comfort “we do not suffer.”
I still remain conflicted. If I am drowning in a river but see a rope on the bank, I’d like to think it’s there is a reason. Other than: “Don’t worry, it can’t do you any harm out here in the water.”
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