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Humanistic Transcendence?

Brendan O'Neill is not happy with his fellow atheists.

And he has good reason.

Writing on the Spiked website ( Mr. O'Neill takes issue with such "New Atheists" as philosopher A. C. Grayling, Phillip Pullman, and James Frey for trying to attack the Bible by offering a version of their own.

He rightly scorns the hubris of thinking that, even by culling from the wisdom of the ages, one man could offer a believable alternative to what Mr. O'Neill respectfully refers to as "the Good Book." He asks, "how massive must your head be, how unanchored your ego, to imagine that, in the space of a few months, ensconced in your office, you can rewrite the Bible?" Here, here.

But Mr. O'Neill's real beef with the "New Atheists", as he refers to Christopher Hitchens and his ilk, is that they deny any place for transcendence in life. For today's outspoken atheists, everything reduces to genes, neurons, and impulse responses, over which, ultimately, we have no control.

It's important to remember that this is an atheist dressing-down the reductionistic and hubristic views of his fellow travelers.

To his credit, Mr. O'Neill clings to the hope of transcendence, of discovering something true, good, beautiful, and meaningful which exceeds mere reductionistic materialism and the limits of one's own ego or experience. He believes this can be found "through a human-centered morality, through human solidarity, through the transformation of existence itself."

Through the Enlightenment, in other words?

That was the great hope of Diderot and his fellow encyclopedists when, in the 18th century, they set out to create their own "Bible" - their own alternative and strictly humanistic explanation of all things - in order to supplant the failed Christian worldview of their day.

That experiment has brought us to this present moment of postmodern relativism, scientific reductionism, political confusion, and worldwide uncertainty. Perhaps Mr. O'Neill has espied another path?

I do not criticize Mr. O'Neill; instead, I applaud his forthrightness in criticizing the folly of his co-belligerents. But he will have to do a little more than expose the hubris of  the "New Atheists" in order to explain, apart from Scripture and the Christian tradition - the need for which he denies - his inescapble human longing for transcendence in a world where Darwinian and secular thinking are the order of the day.

Additional related texts: Romans 1.18ff; Psalm 8; Hebrews 2:5-9

A conversation starter: "You know, not all atheists have given up on the idea of transcendence - real beauty, goodness, and truth. In a world where everything seems to reduce to genes and matter, I wonder why this is so?"

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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