Sunday, July 19, 2015

By John Lenon

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Maria Kellis
Reflection Essay #2: Karen Armstrong “Death of God?”

The Death of God Movement, theothanatology, is a predominantly Christian theological movement that declared that GOD IS DEAD, he has ceased to exist. Karen Armtrong in her article presents many trends of atheism, fundamentalism, modernism, postmodernism, scientific naturalism, ID, physics, cosmology. She presents many opposing points of view, theories, arguments, each coming to refute the previous one and somehow continuously fueling the question of what it is that really happened with God. What interests me is, in the Section “Christianity or religion as a whole”, the atheists arguments she is presenting and in this brief essay I present the positions of Richard Dawkins, one of the “Four Horsemen” in the New Atheist movement (along with Hitchens, Dennett, and Harris). I present the theory of memetics that Dawkins was the inventor and proponent of. Then I follow with Karen Armstrong’s observation that fundamentalists and atheists are polar opposite positions yet they hold the same discourse and arguments. I will follow Karen Armstrong’s journey presenting also some other in my view related movements. Because, what I see in the last century is not the tendency to eradicate God, what I see is the tendency to change the image of God and maybe to even design a new friendly God.
“What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody?” acclaims Richard Dawkins in an article (The Independent, 2000; Markman, 2006). The author of the Selfish Gene expresses the view that theology, which he equates to also mean our belief in God, must have a use. Science for him has many obvious and recognizable uses: “Science has eradicated smallpox, can immunize against most previously deadly viruses, can kill most previously deadly bacteria” and so in the usefulness scale what is the use of God? The evolutionary biologist who first talked about memes in a way to explain social behavior, maintains that memes, or ideas just like genes evolve and their survival depends on their adaptation to their DNA, or memeplex, namely their environment in the society. However there exist some selfish genes propagating for their own survival, and in the same way there exist selfish ideas propagate for their own selfish survival goal without regard to the complex to which they belong. That would be the case for the meme of religious mythology, as part of the memeplex of religion. Also the idea that one needs a reason is a meme, a selfish meme that propagates through the population for its own benefit, and not for the benefit of the organism that carries them, as Dawkins sees no obvious value to religion. Enduring negative memeplexes are sometimes called “mind viruses” and Dawkins cite Christian fundamentalism is an example of a mind virus. (Dawkins, 2006) This methodological approach created the Journal of Memetics, that some called a pseudoscience, and indeed the journal was eventually abandoned. What interests me is not so much the failure of memetics to explain social sciences. What interests me is this example of a pseudoscientific methodology catching momentum in order to explain something as fundamental as the existence of God. I am also interested in the strong reaction of Dawkins to God, reacting to the fact that he sees no use for the God as is defined by Protestant Fundamentalists. Atheists and Dawkins in particular, as Karen Armstrong points out, “in his somewhat immoderate way, adhere to a hard-line form of naturalism that mirrors the fundamentalism on which they base their critique: atheism is always a rejection of and parasitically dependent on a particular form of theism. […] Dawkins’s only point of disagreement with the Protestant fundamentalists is that he finds the Bible unreliable about science while they do not.” So I believe that Dawkins is pointing to the need to update and redefine God  because it shows a need that was also expressed by the end of God movement to redefine God. Dawkins is reacting to how God is portrayed. How He is defined, what attributes are given to Him. What He is supposed to do or not do.
After memetics we could also investigate someone whose theories are more complex and more interesting  that Karen Armstrong presents: Dr Steven Hawkins with the “Theory of Everything”. It would certainly be an overwhelming task and outside the scope of this paper to try to present the theories of Dr Hawkins in depth here. For this paper I would like to note that the more complex and evolved a scientist and a scientific theory actually is the more there are starting to be references and mention of the G-word. We as humans have been certainly evolving. We are always pushing new frontiers and we are learning that there are limits to everything we could have imagined. Usually the generic approach of even the most adamant atheist scientist is to either eventually give up, or to start mentioning the existence of God, a creator, an outside force. Scientists across the ages have been forced to uphold their understanding of physics for example (Newton) whereas at the same time accepting a belief in God. If we want to take the more modern example of Einstein, who whereas expressing his skepticism towards an anthropomorphic deity and expressed views closer to those of Spinoza. “My views are: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems." (Holton, 2000)
So to come back to Karen Amstrong and to atheism and the point that she argued that atheism is like theism, a belief in something, I would like to point out her conclusion “whatever it is you say God is, God is more” as she was quoting from Caputo. Moreover she concluded that “If atheism is a product of modernity, now that we are entering a “postmodern” phase, will this too, like the modern God, become a thing of the past? Will the growing appreciation of the limitation of human knowledge […] give rise to a new kind of Apophatic theology?” The questions that she raise leave me wondering if her conclusion is in fact the direction that our description of God would evolve to be.
Let me interject the views the Peace activist John Lennon, best known of course as a Beattle’s member. Dawkins opens his book with the lyrics of the song Imagine (that I also used to open this essay). John Lennon was quoted as saying “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.” John Lennon was a tireless promoter of Peace. His views included Love and if anything he promoted free love and spirituality. John Lennon was shot by a man from the Jesus movement. (Philips, 2007) In the quest to promote love and peace John Lennon was redefining the relationship of people to their higher power that he chose to call Love (Platoff, 2005). John Lennon was not the only one redefining God though.
As the time is progressing we hear people say “I am spiritual, I am not religious”. People are starting to redefine their relationship with God, in fact more importantly they are starting to redefine the description of God, of who (if anyone) God is. Feminists are for example are proposing a She-God, or Goddess, that would be a Goddess of Love, Compassion, Acceptance is a very feminine and caring way. African Americans are proposing Kwanzaa, a recent invention of African Americans eager to emphasize their African roots, which may or may not catch on sufficiently. First Nation New Age movements are proposing Mother Nature. “Witchcraft and female shamanism are back, at least in some quarters in America, and that an enthusiasm for Goddess worship plays a growing role among people who wander across the borders of political feminism, the New Age movement, and ecological activism of the Whole Earth Catalogue variety” (Rieff, 1993) So it seems that people are not trying to get away from God or the idea of the Divine. What is happening and maybe it was heralded by the End of God movement is that various groups in various denominations are making a bid for their own Designer Gods.
In conclusion, I followed the exploration that Karen Armstrong makes, starting with the cute and briefly lived science of memetics, to the more profound existential questions that she raises. The presentation of Karen Armstrong provides is a starting point for the conversation of what our new concept of God look like. One after another groups are starting to create a God in their image, just like “God create man in His Image.” What would the conclusion of all this be in the future? Only time will tell. One thing is only certain, and that is that God may have gotten a makeover but He/She/It is certainly not dead.

Dawkins, Richard. “Scientific versus Theological Knowledge” Letter to The Independent, March 20, 1993
Dawkins, Richard The Selfish Gene, 2006, Oxford University Press
Holton, Gerald “Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology by Max Jammer” Philosophy of Science
Vol. 67, No. 3 (Sep., 2000), pp. 530-533. The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Philosophy of Science Association

Markman, Ian “Theology” in Study of Religion (2006) edited by Robert A. Segal Blackwell Publishing
Platoff, John “John Lennon, “Revolution,” and the Politics of Musical Reception” The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Spring 2005), pp. 241-267, University of California Press

Phillips, Natalie E. The Radiant (Christ) Child: Keith Haring and the Jesus Movement American Art, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Fall 2007), pp. 54-73 The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Rieff, David “Designer Gods” Transition No. 59 (1993), pp. 20-31 Indiana University Press on behalf of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University

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