FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Atheism and Wonder

Nicht wie die Welt ist, ist das Mystische, sondern daß sie ist.

(The mystical is not how the world is, but that it is)

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

— Christopher Hitchens

Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and in our time Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have all espoused a militant form of atheism.

Are they right? Is there no place for God and religion in the modern world? Is religion just a pernicious remnant of a pre-scientific era which only serves to exacerbate and indeed create sectarianism, bigotry, ignorance, intolerance, and bloodshed?

To begin with we should make a distinction between organized religion and what Freud called das ozeanische Gefühl (the oceanic feeling)It is worth quoting Freud’s thoughts on this concept in full:

Ein Gefühl, das er die Empfindung der »Ewigkeit« nennen möchte, ein Gefühl wie von etwas Unbegrenztem, Schrankenlosem, gleichsam »Ozeanischem«. Dies Gefühl sei eine rein subjektive Tatsache, kein Glaubenssatz; keine Zusicherung persönlicher Fortdauer knüpfe sich daran, aber es sei die Quelle der religiösen Energie, die von den verschiedenen Kirchen und Religionssystemen gefaßt, in bestimmte Kanäle geleitet und gewiß auch aufgezehrt werde. Nur auf Grund dieses ozeanischen Gefühls dürfe man sich religiös heißen, auch wenn man jeden Glauben und jede Illusion ablehne.( A feeling that he would like to call the feeling of “eternity,” a feeling of something unlimited, boundless, “oceanic,” as it were. This feeling is a purely subjective fact, not a belief. There is no assurance of personal continuity, but it is the source of the religious energy that is seized upon by the various churches and religious systems, distributed into certain channels, and thereby consumed. It is only because of this oceanic feeling that one should call oneself religious, even if one rejects every belief and every illusion.)

Although Freud freely admits that he himself had never had this oceanic feeling/religious impulse he is well aware that millions of people, if not billions have.

Is science in a secure position to cavalierly dismiss this subjective fact/feeling?

Yes, there can be no historical doubt that this feeling has been exploited for all sorts of nefarious purposes leading to torture, bloodshed, and war. The history of organized religion is filled with horrors. Yet, one could also argue, as Freud did in Moses and Monotheism (interestingly enough his last book) that religion has had a positive effect on the development of man as well. In the Jewish case; it was the birth of high-level abstraction as represented or thought of in the object of the unseen God. Indeed, Freud views this event as an historical big bang (even if Freud maintains that its origins are Egyptian rather than Jewish). The advent of thinking in terms of an abstract God opened up man’s mind to abstraction in general and introspection in particular. In a sense, the microcosm (man) was able for the first time to enclose the macrocosm (God) within the confines of his own personal conscience and experience.

If Freud is correct in his interpretation, this was no small step for humanity.

Religion, in particular, the Christian religion whether intentionally or not has also served as the spiritual origin of significant secular movements such as modern day mass democracy, human rights, socialism, and even, arguably, Marxism.

Thus the oceanic feeling has a dual pedigree of producing both light and dark along the historical path of humankind; as have most ideas and inventions.

In light of these historical and subjective facts, it would appear to be the height of folly and intellectual presumptuousness to dismiss and worse yet to attempt to uproot this evidently essential and productive oceanic feeling in the human breast.

Rather than advocate its total destruction one should perhaps adopt an evolutionary position of care, guidance, and a balanced humanism and enlightenment.

Indeed, from a strictly scientific point of view the following propositions of whether or not there is a God, an afterlife, a soul cannot be definitively proven or disproved. They remain open questions till this day. Therefore, the appropriate position for a scientist regarding these questions is that there is not enough conclusive evidence either way to definitively close these questions. And, frankly, there probably never will be.

Thus, the honest philosopher, scientist, skeptic can only assert a strongly agnostic opinion about matters of faith and spiritual feeling.

Yet, this of course does not bar him or her from pointing out the sociological, educational, cultural, scientific anomie that often arise from these beliefs. This is perfectly acceptable. For example, a faith that demonizes, limits, or effaces women, homosexuals, blacks, non-believers or any other group should be vigorously combated on the grounds of a universal humanism. A humanism which, in itself, initially developed out of the Christian faith even as it has now transcended it.

As Wittgenstein pointed out (see above); the very fact of the existence of our world is a cause for wonder for human beings. It gives rise to questions; to a myriad of questions some of which may be answered in time; many of which may never be answered.

Indeed, this sense of human wonder at the facticity of existence; of the world; of ourselves; of others may be the very source of our being; of our Dasein (Being-in-the-World).

Perhaps the universe does not wonder that it is. But in us; that wonder is alive. It should never be extirpated if we are to continue to be a vital, creative, indeed, loving species.

Human love itself is, at its purest, an ineffable leap into the unknown; a faith in ones own powers of giving and the other’s reciprocal potential leading to new paths never quite seen before.

In this sense, the oceanic feeling is man’s expression of universal love for not only his own kind but the very fact of existence. A fact which as Wittgenstein has told us, is in its very essence: mystical.

More articles by:

Dan Corjescu teaches Political Philosophy at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Eat an Impeachment
Matthew Hoh
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Jefferson Morley
Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre’
Andrew Levine
Whatever Happened to the Obama Coalition?
Paul Street
The Dismal Dollar Dems and the Subversion of Democracy
Dave Lindorff
Conviction and Removal Aren’t the Issue; It’s Impeachment of Trump That is Essential
Ron Jacobs
Law Seminar in the Hearing Room: Impeachment Day Six
Linda Pentz Gunter
Why Do We Punish the Peacemakers?
Louis Proyect
Michael Bloomberg and Me
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold
Joseph Natoli
What We Must Do
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Global Poison Spring
Robert Fantina
Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?
Charles McKelvey
A Theory of Truth From the South
Walden Bello
How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True
Evan Jones
BNP Before a French Court
Torsten Bewernitz – Gabriel Kuhn
Syndicalism for the Twenty-First Century: From Unionism to Class-Struggle Militancy
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: From Banja Luka to Sarajevo
Thomas Knapp
NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog. Euthanize It.
Forrest Hylton
Bolivia’s Coup Government: a Far-Right Horror Show
M. G. Piety
A Lesson From the Danes on Immigration
Ellen Isaacs
The Audacity of Hypocrisy
Manuel García, Jr.
From Caesar’s Last Breath to Ours
Binoy Kampmark
Going to the ICJ: Myanmar, Genocide and Aung San Suu Kyi’s Gamble
Jill Richardson
Marijuana and the Myth of the “Gateway Drug”
Muzamil Bhat
Srinagar’s Shikaras: Still Waters Run Deep Losses
Gaither Stewart
War and Betrayal: Change and Transformation
Farzana Versey
What Religion is Your Nationalism?
Clark T. Scott
The Focus on Trump Reveals the Democrat Model
Monika Zgustova
Chernobyl, Lies and Messianism in Russia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Do Bernie’s Supporters Know What “Not Me, Us” Means? Does Bernie?
Peter Harley
Aldo Leopold, Revisited
Winslow Myers
A Presidential Speech the World Needs to Hear
Christopher Brauchli
The Chosen One
Jim Britell
Misconceptions About Lobbying Representatives and Agencies
Ted Rall
Trump Gets Away with Stuff Because He Does
Mel Gurtov
Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and the Insecurity of China’s Leadership
Nicky Reid
Dennis Kucinich, Tulsi Gabbard and the Slow Death of the Democratic Delusion
Tom H. Hastings
Cross-Generational Power to Change
John Kendall Hawkins
1619: The Mighty Whitey Arrives
Julian Rose
Why I Don’t Have a Mobile Phone
Elliot Sperber
Class War is Chemical War
December 05, 2019
Colin Todhunter
Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides
Nick Pemberton
Gen Z and Free Speech
Bob Lord
The U-Turn That Made America Staggeringly Unequal
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail