Three Blind Men and an Elephant...

Over at HuffPo, Rabbi Alan Lurie launches into a diatribe about atheists 'mental illness' and their lack of theological sophistication. Amind the rancor is the first reasonable (semi) and interesting theological argument I've heard in a long time. Unfortunately for him and his kind, it's an argument he can't use.

He's ripping on Richard Dawkin's well known comment about everyone being an atheist about all gods but their own. How true atheists differ from believers only by one god. The point is that with so many competing faiths why would anyone think that any one is correct - it's more logical to think that they are all false.

The rabbi talks about how this is a naive argument since the existence of competing faiths is illustrative of various cultures trying to come to grips with their perception of the existence of a greater power. I happen to agree.

Don't anyone get worried or rejoice. Perception is not fact. We perceive lots of things that aren't true. That's why so many of us depend upon the scientific method. It's the best way to counter perceptive bias we currently have. I agree that people perceive these things I just don't believe their perceptions are reflections of the true universe.

The perception part is key to me. I do believe that all these faiths are examples of people trying to make sense of the world. Each is colored by their cultural history. I agree with the rabbi that all believers are perceiving (or longing for) something greater than themselves, and like the old saw about the three blind men trying to describe an elephant, each falls short of a complete picture. Far from truly competing beliefs they are culturally biased expressions of some portion of the same thing.

It's an interesting and reasonable explanation for the presence of so many faiths. Unfortunately it's more use to a cultural anthropologist than a theologian. Because it suggests that no extant faith presents the full picture. Each is only a theory...

So it's not something that a theologian can use. But a deist, that's a different story.


Harvey said...

Interesting take (by the Rabbi).
It has always been apparent to me that any form of religion has arisen as a cultural effort to:
1)deal with an often hostile and incomprehensible world, 2) our unwillingness to admit that we are simply animals, like all the rest, whose only "purpose" is to procreate with sufficient success to perpetuate our species and 3) our fear that when we die we will return to whatever state of being (or lack thereof) we may have had before we were conceived.
The observation that every culture we know of has seen fit to create God(s)does not imply "awareness" of a deity so much as fear that there really isn't any.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

I agree Harvey. It surprises me that more deists don't try this argument. It may reflect the fact that most deists are closet theists ;)