Freud vs God and John Wilkins

Catching up on feeds this morning, I found John Wilkins making against Christians my point about how idiots believe:

Christians, who have an extensive body of traditional dogma which they like to reassure themselves is true and consistent, like to think also that everybody has something like this. Religions are “rationally reconstructed” as sets of dogma by the Christian tradition (e.g., when doing anthropology by missionary) when in fact there is no dogma at all, just stories, rituals, and ways of life.

But you can — you should — swap in “atheist” for “Christian” in that quote and it would stay just as true. The kind of Christian who has an extensive body of traditional dogma, supposed to be both true and coherent, is rare as well as mistaken. Perhaps I hang out with Anglicans too much, but the people who are sure that their religious system is closed and entirely intellectually satisfactory, in the sense that there are no valid questions that can be asked outside it, and answers inside it to all valid questions, aren’t regarded as ideal Christians by their peers.

This entry was posted in God. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Freud vs God and John Wilkins

  1. Not all atheists (and not all Christians). But basically it is the Christian tradition that asserts that everyone has a worldview. I don’t see it in the atheist writings. I’m sure some have said that, but mostly Christians are the ones who make that claim.

  2. jim says:

    I’m a little uncomfortable with equivocation on “Christian” between the ordinary man or woman in the pew and the theologian. I think you have to pick one: the modal Catholic uses birth control; the Catholic hierarchy asserts that sex with birth control is sinful — what’s the Catholic position? The same problem arises with other faiths: almost all East African Moslems practice FGM; Islamic scholars deny that Islam requires FGM — is FGM an Islamic practice? Ordinarily, we resolve the equivocation by picking the view of the hierarchy or the theologians: we say that the Church opposes birth control, we say that FGM is a cultural rather than a religious practice.

    The hierarchy and the scholars definitely do reach their positions from a worldview, whatever the ordinary man or woman in the pew might do.

  3. acb says:

    But, Jim, this is like saying that we have to pick the colour that a real cat’s coat is or else we can’t talk about cats. I think that we just have to recognise that there is a very wide diversity of views among Catholics (or anyone else) and the coherent ones form a minority. Only in denominations with a clear legal hierarchy can one even talk about an official position.

    The hierarchy and the scholars represent a really small fraction of any given Christian denomination (to talk of what I know) — much smaller than 1%. Even among them, not all reach their positions from a particular world view, otherwise there would be no heresies; beyond that, no world view can determine all possible cases. New problems are always arising. If you look at the attitudes of the Irish Roman Catholic church to republican terrorism, you would find a wide range of opinions. Does that mean that the IRA was Catholic? I don’t think the question can be answered without much more refinement, and the answer in any case commits you to a particular position vis a vis the desirability of both the IRA and the Roman Catholic Church. It may very well be reached from that position rather than the other way round.

    I just think that one has to say clearly in any given discussion which subset of opinions within a particular religion you are discussing and this will become clear from your purposes. Is FGM Islamic? It is certainly part of Islam as it is understood and practised in some regions. So if you want to be rid of it and don’t have an occupying army, you need to find Islamic reasons to abandon it as well as others. But these reasons do exist.

    In the end it is like arguing whether a marmalade coat is part of being a proper cat. Marmalade cats are sure that it is.

  4. Rupert says:

    From my experiences growing up in a CofE environment, I doubt theological issues troubled more than a small proportion of the congregation. They simply never thought about them – or if they did, didn’t discuss them. The Sunday school and youth groups were run by reasonably conservative evos (I was told off for running the numbers on the Ark and doing a Colenso) but if there’s a more mid-church churchman than my father I don’t believe I’ve met ’em. The two strands coexisted well enough; the tensions were more personality-led.

    I do remember some kerfuffles over popular books that espoused this or that radical (in West Country terms) interpretation of Christianity, but the real faultline in the parish was between Prayerbook and Series 3/whatever – and not because of the theologicals. I cannot remember any discussion whatsoever about homosexuality, nor were there any openly gay church members.

    And certainly, the stuff that my father was taught in theological college was not the stuff he talked about in the pulpit – although I seem to remember he and my mother ran adult bible study evenings, which I never attended. I’d expect those to have been wide-ranging, if the marginalia he scribbled in his personal Bible were anything to go by.

    In our own discussions, he was certainly open to the application of common sense, third party evidence and reason to scriptural issues.

    I eventually found the theology more interesting and certainly persuasive in my deciding that the supernatural aspects of Anglicanism were subplausible – although I do concur with Sydney Smith’s defence of the Apostolic Succession.

Comments are closed.