UPDATE: Rabbi Lurie asked me if he could respond to the points I made in this and my previous post, and I’ve put his response in a comment below.
Earlier today I posted on Rabbi Alan Lurie and his new article at PuffHo,“Why the universe has a creator (and why some atheists refuse to even consider it).“ In the first of my two-part analysis, I showed why Lurie is ignorant of science, invoking tired old god-of-the-gaps arguments in both physics and biology as proof of God.
But Lurie goes beyond that, for he thinks that atheists’ rejection of the palpably obvious fact of God’s Creation must bespeak some personality disorder. He lists three of them, and I quote him directly. These are the reasons why, according to Lurie, atheists reject a creator god:
1. A Childish Concept of God
For many, the belief in a Creator is rooted in a personal, direct encounter, in which God is experienced, often as pure consciousness, pure creation, endless love, the animating energy of everything, or the Ultimate Reality. For those who have not experienced this Presence, though, God is a concept. And this concept may be sophisticated or childish, based on ones maturity, knowledge and innate gifts. The childish concept sees God as some kind of being — perhaps with a white cloak and long beard — who somehow made the world according to a “sacred text.” When Richard Dawkins, for example, said, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in; some of us just go one god further,” he showed such a childish image of God. And he showed a lack of any experience in the spiritual realm. If he had any direct experience he would have known that all these societies were attempting to describe the mystery of Spirit in human — often archaic — terms, and that the idea of competing gods is a literalistic and immature one. He also would have humbly recognized that theology is an activity for which, frankly, he has little talent or understanding.
This childish view of God is not limited to atheists, but also applies to those “religious” folks who place dogma over personal experience, and for whom any digression from dogma is punished.
I don’t get the distinction those who experience God as love or “pure consciousness” (I think that’s a fancy term for revelation), and those who form a “concept” of God. Surely there’s substantial overlap between these people. The dumb part of Lurie’s analysis is his flagrant dismissal of most of the world’s faithful whose concept of God is indeed “childish,” for they conceive of him as a humanoid god that shares traits with His flock. Even “sophisiticated” theologians like Alvin Plantinga experience God as having human emotions and qualities, even if He is disembodied. God, for example, has a kind of brain that thinks, a set of emotions that feels love and concern, and an ability to store information in a kind of brain. In other words, even sophisticated theists often see God as a sort of disembodied human. What else would it mean to say that God made man in His image? And wasn’t Jesus human after all, but divine at the same time?
Yes, sophisticated theologians sometimes reject an anthropomorphic god in favor of some nebulous Ground of Being, but really, given that there’s no evidence for God at all, much less of any specific kind of God, it’s just as rational to accept an anthropomorphic God as a Ground-of-Being God. That is, it’s equally irrational to accept both. What is striking here is Lurie’s arrogance—as if he knows what God is like, and anybody who thinks He’s different from that is immature. Really, Rabbi, who gave you a pipeline to the divine?
2. Tyranny of the Mind
The human mind is a powerful tool, but can also be a cruel tyrant. While it is skilled at storing and analyzing data, it cannot feel, and so there is much — such as art, music, compassion, love, sex or Spirit — that it cannot truly know. The mind, though, insists on analyzing these things, and tries to convince us that its analysis is the only way of knowing. It does this because it has little trust or respect for anything that is not measurable and linear, and consequently it resists recognizing the other essential human facilities: the needs of the body, the wisdom of emotions, and most especially, the guidance of Spirit.
For those who have developed strong connections to body, emotions and Spirit, the mind can be managed and used properly. But there are those who, for a variety of reasons, have weak connections to body, emotions and Spirit. For these, the mind has free reign, dominating their lives and seeking to eliminate anything that it cannot rationally comprehend. Then the mind eliminates anything that challenges its supremacy. And for such a tyrannical mind the concept of a Creator God — an ultimate intelligence that dwarfs its own — is completely intolerable.
Really? The mind can’t “know” compassion, art, music, love, and the like? These things are perceived in the mind, which generates (along with hormones) the emotions. But beyond that, this is just a diatribe against rationality and a call for superstition, for the unevidenced—for the existence of things that lack proof. It’s also a call for recognizing ESP, space aliens, Xenu, Ouija boards, astrology, faith healing, and the whole panoply of superstitions that aren’t rational. Lurie: “Evidence? We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence!”
3. An Ego Strategy
As I’ve written in several previous blogs, the ego is the software implanted in us to ensure survival. Its job is to scan for threats and devise strategies to avoid pain and death. The ego knows only fear, and it will fiercely fight anything that threatens its survival. And nothing is more frightening to the ego than sharing or ceding control with another, because this feels like death. So the ego’s favorite strategy for protecting itself is the refusal to surrender to anything or anyone. It will even go so far as refusing to acknowledge a mistake, to apologize, to recognize superior abilities in others, to admit a weakness and, most pathetically, to ever express gratitude.
I recently heard a man state that he “does not believe in gratitude,” but instead prefers the word “appreciation”: “I appreciate a delicious meal or a beautiful sunset, but I feel no need to say ‘thank you,’” he proudly proclaimed. This is the voice of ego.
I would say “thank you” to a waiter who brought me food, or to a chef who cooked a meal, but there’s no evidence that anybody gave us a sunset. Should we say, “Thank you, laws of physics!” A refusal to thank god is not a manifestation of ego, it’s simply a refusal to grovel before a nonexistent being. I’ll thank god when a stack of thousand-dollar bills drops from the heavens into my lap.
Lurie’s capper is this:
Clearly one does not need to believe in God or follow a religion in order to be a wonderful, happy, caring, human being. What matters most is how we treat each other. But the refusal to even consider that a Creator may exist — often accompanied by the adamant desire to “prove” otherwise and to ridicule those who do — especially in the face of much blatant evidence, is an indication that a psychological mechanism is at work. Perhaps what is needed for such an irrational position may not be more intellectual investigation, but psychoanalysis.
Earth to Lurie: we have considered the claim a creator may exist, and have rejected that claim. Why? Because we have no evidence for such a creator. (We’ve already disposed of Lurie’s “blatant evidence”.) That makes us rational, not mentally ill. If anyone is disordered, it is those people who are victims of The God Delusion. And talk about ridicule! Prescribing psychoanalysis—a technique resembling religion since it’s based on wish-thinking rather than evidence, has its own bearded God, and is unable to discover truth—for atheists? Really? Who is being strident here?
It make me ashamed to be a cultural Jew when I see a rabbi go this far off the rails.