Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Talking Toot: Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco pops up in the Telegraph to discuss the death of God, or something, perhaps it's the shrinking of God, or how he wrote a Da Vinci Code years before but he's not had a best-seller since Name of the Rose.

Along the way he brings up several old clich├ęs including this one:
"When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn't believe in nothing. He believes in anything." Whoever said it - he was right. We are supposed to live in a sceptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity.

He uses the Dan Brown book and how people believe its "silly, sub-Christian superstitions" as an example of this. Because, as we all know, atheists really, really want to believe that Christ was King of France.

Earlier in the year, however, the New Yorker had atheists needing ghost stories because otherwise their real and imaginative worlds would be so impoverished:
Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences, living fairies and thriving Lilliputians, just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes.

Neither of these ideas is generally true. People reject God for any number of reasons, reasons as varied as those for believing in him. It's a leap of faith either way. My darkened narrow material world is shared by any number of atheists, including, according to some list I found, Randy Newman, Joss Whedon and the agnostic Umberto Eco...

Then again, Eco isn't really talking about rejecting God so much as he's talking about rejecting religion:
Human beings are religious animals. It is psychologically very hard to go through life without the justification, and the hope, provided by religion.

It's hard, he's saying, to go through life without hope and religion is the easiest way he knows of giving hope. So there you go "become a christian, it's not as hard as the alternative" they should put it on a poster outside St. Peters tomorrow. Actually, as a sort of half-cocked Pascal's Wager it's honest, at least.

He then brings up a straw man of scientists who were also religious or believed in silly things. Eco must know this is a canard himself but he's decided that this Xmas will all need a little less X and a little more Christ so let's show that Scientist doesn't also mean Atheist. Of course it doesn't, why should it?

But, really, the whole thing is comprised of weasel words and slack thinking (and point scoring) summed up by this bit:
Many of the people who now go to the Louvre are there only to look at the Mona Lisa, solely and simply because it is at the centre of Dan Brown's book.

Perhaps given a generous definition of "Many" — "enough that you would remark upon it" maybe — this might be true. But as the French say with enough ifs you could put Paris in a bottle.

8 comments:

Ten-Bob Dylan said...

I'm sure I remember the quote 'when you stop believing in God... etc.' being attributed to GK Chesterton. Even then it was a bit vague - as if it seemed so obvious people couldn't quite be sure it hadn't been said before.
Anywho - couldn't find it in the Quotations Page so gave up. Here's one for Christmas though -
"My country, right or wrong," is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, "My mother, drunk or sober."
...and another...
'Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.'
Both GK... maybe I should read a whole book or something.

Paul said...

I was thinking about adding an addenda to this is morning which was essentially going to say that the Eco and Chesterton seem to be saying once you stop filling your head with one lot of comforting stories you tend to fill it with another lot. For me it seems that the only thing that distinguishes Christianity is that less people think it's ridiculous.

Public Enemy has a more secular and hard nosed version, though I iamgine it wasn't created by them, which reads "If you don’t stand up for something you’ll fall for anything", which I can get behind as it also seems to explain "new" Labour...

Paul said...

Fred over at slacktivist sums up part of what I'm trying to get at quite well:

People caught up in illusions tend to think that anyone who isn't must be disillusioned.

Ten-Bob Dylan said...

...also 'Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.'
Once you start on this it's endless. After a while you start to think why? Why should an atheist spend so much time trying to justify their stance? Surely the onus is on the believer to justify their religion.

Paul said...

I think Atheists are asked to justify themselves because of things like Pascal's Wager, which say "you don't lose anything by believing in God, so why not?"

The evidence for or against is pretty much the same: nothing. That's why it's an act of faith. Faith is, after all, "belief without evidence", which seems a terribly utilitarian way of looking at it but it works for both sides. Atheists have faith that there is no God because strictly "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".

Ten-Bob Dylan said...

Yeah but no but yeah...
I think the point is 'why should I be defined by what I don't believe in?' The term atheist itself seems irrelevent. There's a lot of things I don't believe in - but I don't spend any time at all proving that Santa Claus doesn't exist. We should be defined by what we are not by what we aren't. Jonathan Miller did a really good series on this topic recently on one of the BBC digital channels.

Ten-Bob Dylan said...

Here's the link

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/atheism.shtml

See how endless it is? 6 posts already - and that's just us. Just imagine what would happen if anyone else read this!

Paul said...

Funnily enough, I got 40 hits on this site yesterday.

OK so 34 of them were Googles for "Samorost Walkthrough", but they still cam here, never-the-less