Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Is There Justice in the Book of Job?

Or is the divinely-sponsored suffering of His good and faithful servant yet another nail in God's coffin, driven by the problem of evil?
The problem was stated most succinctly by David Hume: “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” 
One logical answer is that there is no God. But before the eighteenth century, and during most of it, atheism was not an option, even for the most strong-minded. To choose between two positions, a person must have two to choose from. Before the Enlightenment, the vast majority of Europeans did not... Joan Acocella: Is There Justice in the Book of Job? : The New Yorker
The earlier impossibility of non-belief is overstated. If you doubt the pre-Enlightenment existence and availability of the atheism option, read Jennifer Michael Hecht's Doubt: A History.

But Joan Acocella's essay is good. Of  Mark Larrimore's “The Book of Job: A Biography” (Princeton University Press) she writes:
Larrimore maintains a supremely tolerant position. He approves of the wealth of “interpretative openings and opportunities.” Everything is O.K. with him, and he thinks that whatever disagreements there are may lead to community. (This is interesting, since an absolutely crucial aspect of Job’s trial is that he suffers alone.) Such a latitudinarian approach is perhaps appropriate to a reception study, telling who thought what, and who, after them, thought something else, but eventually it comes to seem anti-intellectual. At times, Larrimore sounds like a kindly Unitarian minister, or like Mister Rogers.
With a God like Job's, Mister Rogers would surely be a comfort.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sunday Assembly

Just heard this on NPR, about a pair of comic Brits who so value church without the "god-bit" that they've gone and organized it. There's even a secular Sunday Assembly chapter here in Nashville.
“There’s a ton in the U.S. We went on a road show to go on and sort of launch the first one and sort of give a bit of an example about how it’s done. So we went to New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Nashville – that was a hoot! The band was so good, unsurprisingly. Then there’s quite a few in California – they have taken it up quite nicely with San Diego. And even in the Deep South there are some in Georgia and Texas. So it’s really exciting to see that people just come forward. There’s a basic human need to get together as a community. And this seems to be a way in which lots of people like doing it.”
Here's where to find them in middle Tennessee this weekend. They're on Twitter too, @SundayAssembly.

UPDATE, Jan. 8, 2014: NPR story on Sunday Assembly
It sometimes feels like church in the auditorium of the Professional Musicians union in Hollywood. It's a Sunday morning, and hundreds of people are gathered to meditate, sing and listen to inspirational poetry and stories.
But then the live band starts up — performing songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jerry Lee Lewis. And instead of a sermon, there's a lecture by experimental psychologist and neuroscientist Jessica Cail about the biology of gender identification and sexual orientation.
This is a Los Angeles meeting of Sunday Assembly, a church for people who don't believe in God. The brainchild of two British comedians, the movement has since spread across the globe, and there are now about 30 chapters from Dublin to Sydney to New York... (continues)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

St. Hitchens' Day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Brothers, Sisters, Comrades...Friends.

That's the line I use to start every radio show I do.  It's the line I use when introducing myself to a group of people.  I have used it in every speech I have given in the past couple years.

It's how Christopher Eric Hitchens used to address his audience.

I still remember where I was when I found out that Christopher Hitchens had died.

I was in a hotel in Birmingham, Alabama--headed home for the holidays.  I had only just, a matter of weeks before, come across some of Hitch's work--as with all great things, I discovered Hitch while mindlessly running around YouTube.  I saw his debates, and fell in love with the "Hitchslap."  I ran out to Barnes and Noble and bought god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything or, as I like to call it (because of its distinctive color), "the big yellow f**k-you to religion."

I remember falling in love with that tone of his--the vocabulary that was 10 miles long, and yet I understood every word from his mouth.  There are times I felt he was talking directly to me.
"Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence." 
--Letters to a Young Contrarian
Hitch spoke to me, as I suspect he spoke to so many of us.  He's a divisive figure, to be sure, but when he spoke he was nothing less than bulletproof.  I am reminded of this particular setting of Hitch's debate with Tony Blair, known as the Antitheist's Anthem.

It's got a couple of Hitch's Greatest Hits, if you will: created sick and commanded to be well, Divine North Korea, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and so on.  But it's the line at the end that brings a tear to my eyes every time: 

"No seconds left, I've done my best, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Believe me, I have more."

That's the line that has broken my heart since his death 2 years ago.  Hitch was silenced by nothing more than a clock.  Reading his Mortality proves that beyond any doubt.

Hitch was a voice for all things good in the world.  He refused to tolerate dictatorship and he abhorred religion, but he absolutely loved people.  Hitch was everything I've ever wanted to be--intelligent, witty, funny--and more.  He lives on in his writings and the youtube videos that bear his trademark wit, and in the hearts of all those who admired him.

And so, on this, as I call it, "St. Hitchens' Day," a reference to a quote from the man himself ("atheists don't have saints and we don't have martyrs") I cope the only way I can, by watching his videos, reading some of his essays, and starting my day, as he invariably would, with a "decent slug of Mr. Walker's amber restorative."  "Johnnie Walker Black.  Breakfast of Champions.  Accept no substitutes."

In loving memory
of Christopher Eric Hitchens
April 13, 1949-December 15, 2011