Friday, December 10, 2004

Changing Horses

It seems that one of our age's reigning atheists has become a deist. Let me be the first to say, "Who cares?"

Flew's deism - like his atheism - is a matter between him and...whatever. If he's wrong about deism, what's it to me? If he was wrong about atheism, why should I care? I've got more pressing worries than the metaphysical U-turns of a man I've never met. That anyone would be considering this a personal victory or defeat is beyond my comprehension.

I will say that he is right to have been confounded by the question of life's origins...but then, this question has been puzzling people for a long, long time. Had Flew been less sure of himself in his earlier career, running head-on into reality might have shocked him a bit less. Indeed, it's amazing how easy it is for atheists and the religious to switch sides; the wine of their passion, I suppose, will fill either bottle equally. The Bible recognizes this, and thus has harsh words for those who "are neither cold nor hot." Simone Weil, meanwhile, thought certain types of atheism downright saintly in their refusal to accept easy comforts; she saw atheism as an often necessary purification from false notions of deity. (Not that atheism doesn't sometimes offer its own easy comforts, of course, but that's not what she was talking about.)

God knows I don't want passionate belief, wild-eyed claims, and the sense of cosmic drama to vanish from the earth. But in this country especially, we've reached a point where if these matters can't be discussed with humility, and with the respectful attention that human beings owe each other (whether God's watching or not), they probably shouldn't be discussed at all.

After all, there are more serious questions out there. For instance, why are we - not God, but we - letting one billion children live in unrelieved poverty, sickness, violence, and hunger? Should we tell these children it's God's will? Should we tell them there is no God, and explain the intricacies of realpolitik? Or should we stop prattling about things we don't understand, for once in our lives, and do something to help?

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