I like meat, I do.
But you know who seems to be really obsessed with meat? Vegetarians.
For people who don't like meat, they seem to eat a lot of vegetables that are mashed up and shaped to look like meat. [In his "vegetarian" voice]: "I find meat repulsive. I'll have a veggie burger with fake bacon, and can you serve it to me dressed like a cow? I don't like meat; I just like to call meat late at night and hang up. Let's drive by meat's house. Does meat ever ask about me? [singing] I don't care! I ain't missin' you at all...missin' youuuuuu...."
You never see that the other way: [meat eater's voice]: "I will have the steak and can you make it taste like tofu?"
It occurred to me, in reading some recent news pieces about atheism—especially one atheist in particular (much more about him in a moment)—that Gaffigan's clever observation could be reworked as follows:
I like God, I do. But you know who seems to be really obsessed with God? Atheists. For people who don't believe in or like God, they seem to talk and write a lot of about things are related to God or sound a lot like religions, especially Christianity, that believe in God. "I don't believe in God: I just talk about God all of the time. Does God ever ask about me? I don't care!"
As Chesterton said, in a quote I've posted or quoted numerous times: "If there were not God, there would be no atheists". The larger quote is worth reading:
Atheism is the supreme example of a simple faith. ... The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement by which the atheist lives, is an atmosphere of thrilled and shuttering theism, and not of atheism at all; it is an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial. Irreverence is a very servile parasite of reverence; and has starved with its starving lord. After this first fuss about the merely aesthetic effect of blasphemy, the whole thing vanishes into its own void. If there were not God, there would be no atheists. ("Where All Roads Lead," Collected Works, vol. 3 [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990] 37-38).
Enter prolific British philosopher, author, and atheist A. C. Grayling, who I had the pleasure of joisting with a bit back a few years ago regarding his public displays of astounding historical illiteracy. His new book is titled, The Good Book: A Humanist Bible, which is described as follows:
Few, if any, thinkers and writers today would have the imagination, the breadth of knowledge, the literary skill, and-yes-the audacity to conceive of a powerful, secular alternative to the Bible. But that is exactly what A.C. Grayling has done by creating a non-religious Bible, drawn from the wealth of secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions, using the same techniques of editing, redaction, and adaptation that produced the holy books of the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic religions. The Good Book consciously takes its design and presentation from the Bible, in its beauty of language and arrangement into short chapters and verses for ease of reading and quotability, offering to the non-religious seeker all the wisdom, insight, solace, inspiration, and perspective of secular humanist traditions that are older, far richer and more various than Christianity.
Organized in 12 main sections----Genesis, Histories, Widsom, The Sages, Parables, Consolations, Lamentations, Proverbs, Songs, Epistles, Acts, and the Good----The Good Book opens with meditations on the origin and progress of the world and human life in it, then devotes attention to the question of how life should be lived, how we relate to one another, and how vicissitudes are to be faced and joys appreciated. Incorporating the writing of Herodotus and Lucretius, Confucius and Mencius, Seneca and Cicero, Montaigne, Bacon, and so many others, The Good Book will fulfill its audacious purpose in every way. [emphasis added; no meat products were used in the creation of this indented quote]
Yes, audacious indeed. Like shaping tofu into the form of a hot dog or pattying up a ball of mashed vegetables into a "hamburger" patty. "Tastes just like meat, but without the meat! Looks and reads like the Bible, but without the Bible!" (And let's not forget that another British author and atheist, Philip Pullman, wrote a book last year titled, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, which was a "re-writing" of the Gospels. Pass the veggie dogs!) For the record, I occasionally eat a veggie burger, but it's never occured to me to deny the existence of meat or my taste for real hamburger and steak.
I certainly have no problem with a collection of sayings from great philosophers and thinkers spanning centuries and cultures. I have about a dozen book shelves filled with works of philosophy, including many of the works of the men mentioned above. I likely have more books by atheists than do most atheists. The idea of such a compilation is hardly original. Which, of course, is why Grayling—who is just as ingenious as Richard Dawkins at self-promotion, but with a softer, craftier touch—makes a big deal out out of his supposedly unique approach. The idea of an "atheist's Bible" is hardly new, so Grayling has sought to create a veneer of textual complexity and redactive creativity that directly competes with (and supposedly conquers) the collection of 73 books (66 for Protestants) known as The Bible.
This NewHumanist.org piece about Grayling's Codex Adrogantia, reports that the philosopher said that "he constructed The Good Book, [as] this grand attempt to bring into the world a Bible that does away with God." The never shy, ever coy Grayling also says, “I acknowledge the fact that it does look tremendously hubristic, but it’s certainly done – and I don’t want to come across as a sort of Uriah Heep here – in a spirit of great humility. After all, most of what’s in it comes from really great writers. Most of it isn’t me.”
While the interviewer is much taken by Grayling ("Dressed in a neat navy suit, his hair is sustained behind him like some bright celestial mane, and delicate round spectacles somehow give the impression of a man wedded to the empirical idea"), another atheist, Brendan O'Neill, the editor of Spiked!, is not nearly as impressed by the project or Grayling's claims to humility:
Why, given their obtuse and ostentatious hostility towards organised religion and spiritual hoo-ha, are the so-called New Atheists so keen to refashion the Bible? What’s with all these secularist versions of ‘the good book’, minus the original’s miracles and resurrections and instead offering us guides to life firmly rooted in scientific fact and what poses as rationalism? This bible bonanza tells us a lot about the New Atheists. About their arrogance, their ignorance about where moral meaning comes from, and, most fundamentally, their allergy to, their utter estrangement from, the idea of transcendence.
The first question that any remotely inquisitive person will surely ask about these ‘new bibles’ is this: how massive must your head be, how unanchored your ego, to imagine that, in the space of a few months, ensconced in your office, you can rewrite the Bible? ...
O'Neill (a former Catholic with little affection for Catholicism) is especially on point in noting that Grayling is apparently quite clueless about the history and nature of the Bible:
Grayling misunderstands what a bible is, too. The Holy Bible was, for many centuries, a living, breathing text, contributed to by scores of writers, both reflecting and codifying various communities’ moral beliefs and their transcendent aspirations. It was not simply a collection of wise or wacky sayings, but a system of meaning that gained its authority through its incorporation of, and adaptation to, people’s experiences, discussions and rule-making.
Grayling’s belief that he can codify a brand new system of meaning in his own head, magic up a moral structure on his laptop, reveals much about the New Atheists’ view of meaning. It is they, rather than the religious, who seem to believe that meaning can be cobbled together by one person and handed to others. Grayling’s book conforms to the New Atheists’ snobby view of the Bible as a ruthless diktat better than the actual Bible does. The Bible is not really ‘the Word of the Lord’ – it’s far more complicated than that – but Grayling’s book is ‘the Word of the Philosopher’: good thoughts collected together and rewritten by one man. This is self-help rather than meaning – loose and disconnected views about ‘good living’ rather than an overarching, complex, meaningfully underwritten idea about the ‘Good Life’.
What’s more, Grayling, like many of the other New Atheists, is behind the times. He says his aim is to remove any notion of a deity, especially one which demands submission, from moral thought. He characterises the original Bible as: ‘Just obey, just submit. The usual rather cowed posture of human beings towards divinity in the hope that it won’t inflict too many earthquakes or tsunamis or plagues in the near future.’ Yet today, moral thought is most frequently polluted, not by the demand for submission to that deity born in Genesis, but by the demand that we submit to a new deity: Gaia, or Mother Earth, or The Planet. (A bit like Beelzebub, She has many names.)
Many of Grayling's remarks show that he—much like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and other "new atheists"—hasn't bothered to learn much about the beliefs, practices, texts, and deity he seeks to disprove, dismiss, or otherwise dismantle. For example, as I note in my 2007 essay/response, his description of early Christianity as "an amalgam of dying and resurrecting god myths and myths" is a crude description befitting a late-nineteenth-century crank such as Kersey Graves, not a remark made by an educated man with a passing familiarity with basic historical data and current scholarship. But it's not just early Christianity that Grayling doesn't get right, it is also 20th-century atheism. He states, in this April 3, 2011, piece in The Guardian:
"Well, firstly, I think the charges of militancy and fundamentalism of course come from our opponents, the theists. My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned us at the stake. All we're doing is speaking very frankly and bluntly and they don't like it," he laughs. "So we speak frankly and bluntly, and the respect agenda is now gone, they can no longer float behind the diaphanous veil – 'Ooh, I have faith so you mustn't offend me'. So they don't like the blunt talking. But we're not burning them at the stake. They've got to remember that when it was the other way around it was a much more serious matter.
"And besides, really," he adds with a withering little laugh, "how can you be a militant atheist? How can you be militant non-stamp collector? This is really what it comes down to. You just don't collect stamps. So how can you be a fundamentalist non-stamp collector? It's like sleeping furiously. It's just wrong."
Surely he jests. Or at least smirks (perhaps that explains the laugh). Regardless, most dictionaries define "militant" as 1). engaged in warfare, or 2) aggressively active, especially in a cause (Merriam Webster, 1994 ed.). The past two hundred plus years have seen plenty of both, if we take the French Revolution as a logical starting point. There were the violent and murderous campaigns of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, each openly atheistic and opposed to Christianity. On the polemical front, the writings of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Co. are certainly aggressively active in promoting a cause (atheism) against a foe (religion in general, Christianity in particular). But, just as Grayling conveniently dismisses a thousand years (c. 300-1300) as the "dark ages" which marked "quite literally a return to daub and wattle because the engineering required for towers and domes was lost", ruled as it was by "the church's narrow ignorance and oppression", he conveniently ignores tens of millions murdered, communities destroyed, and cultures shredded by monsters atheist and militant.
Alas, such simple facts won't fly for Grayling, as he actually wrote (in 2007) that "the major religions and the major ideologies of fascism and communism are the same thing, namely, totalitarian ideologies - systems that seek to impose a monolithic outlook to which all must conform on pain of punishment including torture and death. They are orthodoxies insisting that all must believe and act the same, under threat." This month he told NewHumanist.org that he does hope for the extinction of religion: “I have to say I wouldn’t mind if religion died out. Nor would I mind seeing institutions cease to exist – such as mosques and temples – which have such control over people’s minds and behaviour.”
The bad news for Grayling is that religion continues to grow while the number of atheists shrink (in related news, people prefer meat to vegetables shaped like meat). Besides, now that Grayling has humbly re-written The Good Book, he really should apply his prodigious talents as an author and promoter to another, similar project: writing a non-sacred text titled, "The Unholy Qur'an".
On Ignatius Insight:
• Dark Ages and Secularist Rages: A Response to Professor A.C. Grayling | Carl E. Olson
• Is Religion Evil? Secularism's Pride and Irrational Prejudice | Carl E. Olson
• Letter One: The Trouble with Experience | Mary Eberstadt | From The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism
• Dawkins' Delusions | An interview with Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P.
• Professor Dawkins and the Origins of Religion | Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P. | From God Is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins
• Are Truth, Faith, and Tolerance Compatible? | Joseph Ratzinger
• Atheism and the Purely "Human" Ethic | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christianity | An Interview with Richard Purtill
• Paganism and the Conversion of C.S. Lewis | Clotilde Morhan
• Designed Beauty and Evolutionary Theory | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
• The Universe is Meaning-full | An interview with Dr. Benjamin Wiker
• The Mythological Conflict Between Christianity and Science | An interview with Dr. Stephen Barr
• The Source of Certitude | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.