Religion And The Dish, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 18 2012 @ 7:09pm

A reader writes:

As a nonbeliever in any supernatural deity, I still yearn for moments of transcendence and universal understanding. The Dish’s Screen shot 2012-04-17 at 9.06.52 AMthe online debates you had with Sam Harris about whether there is a God – not to relish triumphant in Sam’s cogent arguments, but more to study your arguments defending Christianity. I find your reasoning comforting even though I cannot consider myself a Christian.

What I’ve taken from the Dish is the very basic notion that we are stardust, that we are a living part of the universe. When human beings study the mysteries of the universe, they are studying the mysteries of themselves. A part of the universe observing itself and its own origins has to be unique, and that unique experience could lead to transcendence, some universal connectedness, or some other thoughtful revelation. Whether religion is a proper outcome of this unique observation I cannot say. But overall, the Dish gives me solace that there might be something else out there, even if I can never understand it.

Another writes:

Tell your first reader to learn how to scroll and ignore stuff that doesn’t interest him. I skip all the poetry talk, for one. This isn’t rocket science.

Another dissents:

I think it was a little contrived to put those two reader comments next to each other like that.

I, too, got a little too much religion from your blog in recent weeks, and I could object to it I suppose with better and more convincing language than that first reader’s oversimplification. But then to place that comment with that other reader’s touching tale of Dish-emotional-support was just too much. At times it is frustrating to see such a false dichotomy of opinion presented in that way – brash fool versus a touching story, ignorance versus sentiment. It isn’t often, but sometimes, and here you used one reader as a foil, a straw man to whip by another reader who was earnest and heartfelt.

Here is an objection to the religious content that is more focused: there is something persistently incongruous about your Catholicism that, as a Dish reader for many years now, I have trouble with, especially when you write a cover article about, and go on Bill Maher to defend, what is essentially a Protestant anti-establishment position – that we should listen to Jesus and our own conscience over that of the authority of Rome.

For about five minutes in the early ’60s, Vatican II brought the light of the individual to the hyper-authoritarian history of Catholicism. I understand that is formative for your generation of Catholics, but it is a blip on the radar of the Western Church’s history. I still can’t understand what draws you to that faith. You could be Anglican, Episcopalian, even Eastern Orthodox (the faith in which I was raised, just as beautifully archaic, and more antiquated than the Western Church, with a far more abstract and less prescriptive theology, and, the beauty part, barely any political power to speak of), and yet you cling to a Church that after flirting with modernity, went right back to what is arguably its true nature, anti-individual, anti-modern, anti-progress, anti-conscience of the self, and in many ways anti-Jesus.

The Second Vatican Council is still binding. It did not expire after five minutes. That it has been pushed back on by two successive Popes does not make it, and the modern Christianity it fallibly charted, not worth defending. Another reader:

Just a quick note to say how very sorry I would be if the opinion of the first reader in this post were to prevail. I’m one of your church-going readers: a liberal Catholic in academia who has innumerable frustrations with the church hierarchy, but who believes both in the core teachings of the Gospels and in at least the potential of the earthy church to witness to those teachings. Most of my friends and colleagues are not religious, and I cherish your posts about religion – whether they’re personal spiritual reflections or hard analyses of the failures of religious institutions. We need more people in public life who speak about religion in thoughtful, incisive ways, not fewer.

When I first started reading you, some ten years ago, in the early days of my PhD program, you were one of the very few writers who modeled a way of being both an intellectual and a person of faith. I have more models for that now, but you were very much a part of my coming to believe that these parts of my personality were not in fundamental tension. I’ve come to think that the dismissive way so many liberals talk about religion is, itself, a form of anti-intellectualism: a total disinterest in trying to understand habits of thought other than their own.

(Image: A pie chart from a Dish-centric survey showing that 49% of 25,357 sampled readers identify as atheist)