Saturday, September 28, 2013

Remaining an atheist "requires much hard work, not a little training, and a powerful mental asceticism."

     "So, 'how to be an atheist?'  It is not easy; you need to work at it.  Be intellectually adult, get an education, get yourself a discipline; resist all temptation to ask such questions as you do not know in principle can be answered, being careful to suppress any which might seem to push thought off civilised limits; be reasonable, lest you find yourself being committed to an excessive rationality; and have the good manners to scratch no itches which occur in intellectually embarrassing placesat least in public.  Then I shall argue with you on behalf of the child, not in the name of God but in the name of a question which remains about the world, not yet in the name of theology, but in the name, merely, of an intellectual possibility you have excluded, not on account of how the world is, which seems a relatively sensible and obvious state of affairs to me, but out of amazement of intellect, and a sort of primal gratitude of spirit, that there is anything at all, rather than nothing, and that there is anyone at all, rather than no one, for whom it exists.  For, of the two possibilities there are, that there is anything at all must be by far the more unlikely outcome.  If you want to be an atheist, then, it is necessary only to find that the world is to be a platitudinously dull fact.  But, I warn you, to be as resolute as it takes in the conviction of such cosmic dullness requires much hard work, not a little training, and a powerful mental asceticism.  Anything less resolute, and you run the risk of affliction by theological itches which, the atheists will no doubt be distressed to hear, my theological colleagues and I will be paid at the same rate as them to scratch."

     Denys Turner, "How to be an atheist," New Blackfriars 82, nos. 977/978 (July 2002):  333-334 =How to be an atheist:  inaugural lecture delivered at the University of Cambridge, 12 October 2001 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2002), 38-39.
     Spot on, except, probably, for the "paid at the same rate as them".
     When Turner says "Be intellectually adult", he is not, of course, proposing something absolutely positive (331 ff. =33 ff.).

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