Making stuff up

Watch Jerry Coyne get pugnacious on theologian John Haught. If ever a theologian was his own worst enemy, it is Haught. (Just try and follow his logic; you’ll get nowhere.) Coyne’s verdict: theologians “make stuff up.” (At the end of the first part, Coyne goes through a list of awful things that Catholics have done to the world thanks to their adherence to the arcane doctrines of their church. Haught is a Catholic theologian.)

Read Ophelia Benson’s view of what theologians do here. (Update: the videos appear to have been removed. Update: Now it’s back.)

Robert Ingersoll on theocracy

Robert Ingersoll was one of the most eloquent voices for reason the English language has ever known. His words ring as true as ever today:

The government of God has been tried. It was tried in Palestine several thousand years ago, and the God of the Jews was a monster of cruelty and ignorance, and the people governed by this God lost their nationality. Theocracy was tried through the Middle Ages. God was the Governor — the pope was his agent, and every priest and bishop and cardinal was armed with credentials from the Most High — and the result was that the noblest and best were in prisons, the greatest and grandest perished at the stake. The result was that vices were crowned with honor, and virtues whipped naked through the streets. The result was that hypocrisy swayed the sceptre of authority, while honesty languished in the dungeons of the Inquisition. […]

If God is allowed in the Constitution, man must abdicate. There is no room for both. If the people of the great Republic become superstitious enough and ignorant enough to put God in the Constitution of the United States, the experiment of self-government will have failed, and the great and splendid declaration that “all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” will have been denied, and in its place will be found this: All power comes from God; priests are his agents, the people are their slaves. […]

We have already compared the benefits of theology and science. When the theologian governed the world, it was covered with huts and hovels for the many, palaces and cathedrals for the few. To nearly all the children of men, reading and writing were unknown arts. The poor were clad in rags and skins — they devoured crusts, and gnawed bones. The day of Science dawned, and the luxuries of a century ago are the necessities of to-day. Men in the middle ranks of life have more of the conveniences and elegancies than the princes and kings of the theological times. But above and over all this, is the development of mind. There is more of value in the brain of an average man of to-day — of a master-mechanic, of a chemist, of a naturalist, of an inventor, than there was in the brain of the world four hundred years ago. […]

These blessings did not fall from the skies. These benefits did not drop from the outstretched hands of priests. They were not found in cathedrals or behind altars — neither were they searched for with holy candles. They were not discovered by the closed eyes of prayer, nor did they come in answer to superstitious supplication. They are the children of freedom, the gifts of reason, observation and experience – – and for them all, man is indebted to man.

Read the rest here.

Leon Wieseltier Blasts Andrew Sullivan

It was a long time coming. If you’re in the mood for a nice long article (well, not so nice), put your boxing mittens on:

Criticism of Israeli policy, and sympathy for the Palestinians, and support for a two-state solution, do not require, as their condition or their corollary, this intellectual shabbiness, this venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews. I have striven for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and territorial compromise, and two states, for many decades now, but Sullivan’s variety of such right thinking is completely repugnant to me. There are decent and indecent ways to advocate change. About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot, or is he just moronically insensitive? To me, he looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left.

And don’t be put off by the initial discussion of Auden’s theology. My question for Wieseltier would be: if the Christian doctrine of the trinity is so ridiculous, “a retraction of the monotheistic revolution in thinking about God,” then isn’t “thinking about God” in itself equally a retraction of the more logical position of non-theism? After all, to hold up even an ethereal, invisible, incomprehensible God to the universe only complicates matters unnecessarily. It’s no wonder religious thinkers like Augustine, Auden and Sullivan make such a mess of things.

Or is Wieseltier just another de facto atheist begging to be let out of the closet?