Sunday, May 22, 2011

Answering to Automatic, Assumed Anglo-Saxon Atheism

Having finally given in to the wonderful stories of Stephen Moffat and having at long last become the sterotypical, nerdly Doctor Who fan, I now have a new exposure to my favorite (foreign) country, the United Kingdom. In general, I love all angles of that culture. But if one thing bugs me about current British culture it's this underlying assumption of "been there, done that" when it comes to any questions of God or the like. I don't mind the fact of dismissal as much as the casual nature of the dismissal, the "of course I don't believe, I'm British!", the "well-we-don't-have-an-empire-anymore-and-we-don't-have-God-either" blithe, unthinking atheism of the comments. If Christianity is cultural in the American South, then atheism is well on its way to being the unthinking cultural assumption in the British Isles -- or at least their exported culture seems to take it as an assumption past even reflecting on. I hope the actual British people have more, well, hope.

So here, I'd like to give a knee-jerk answer back to two recent British quotes (well, one's last year but I just saw it):

Steven Hawking in the Telegraph: "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. … There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Funny, the book I reviewed on this site that gives the most evidence of being "afraid of the dark" is Julian Barnes' Nothing to be Afraid Of, a British atheist writing about death. That book is painful to read, fear permeates its pages, and I find it commendable and an effective work of art that Barnes would put his soul out there so clearly. Where is the evidence that fear of death makes people Christians but makes others Julian Barneses? There must be some other variable that controls the result here.

Not to mention, the whole realization that God's faithfulness extends even after death is something that only slowly dawned on the Jews over thousands of years. Fear of death might explain Paul and St. Augustine (well, it doesn't but that requires a longer rebuttal), but it can say nothing about why Israel survived the Exile, or anything before that either. It doesn't explain most of the Old Testament at all, which, last I checked, is more than half the Bible. C.S. Lewis has a quote about this somewhere.

Where is this person who's afraid of the dark? Only a man made of straw.

River Song in Doctor Who at the beginning of The Pandorica Opens (Series 5), speaking to a Roman centurion: unforuntately, I have to paraphrase this because I can only find it in another paraphrased blog, but basically "You've been a soldier too long to believe that there are gods watching over us."

I happen to actually know some soliders and they happen to be Christian. I don't think that's because our military is somehow not used to combat or something -- the complaints I hear tend to be in the other direction from that. There's nothing about being a solider that prevents faith. Maybe there's something about being British and into sci-fi, but that's not quite the same thing! But it should be obvious that this isn't about real people -- it's about making unthinking generalizations, and about most other topics it'd be clear that it's just a trope. For some reason, theological tropes -- that is, anti-theological tropes -- are OK in British culture. Well, I'll just have to live with that, there are other advantages to enjoying said culture.

Not much point to this post, just answering back into the ether and playing with words. Just gotta tell SOMEONE.

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