I’m reading a wonderful anti-religious book by Walter Kaufmann called The Faith of a Heretic. (Doubleday, New York, 1961). Kaufmann (1921-1980) was a colorful character and a polymath who knew tons about philosophy and theology. Raised as a Lutheran, he converted to Judaism at age 11 and subsequently rejected all faith, becoming an atheist and then a well known philosopher who taught at Princeton most of his career. His specialty was Nietzsche but he ranged over much modern philosophy. I’d never heard of him before, and came across the book by accident, but I’m sure some readers know of him.
Kaufmann’s book is a no-nonsense critique of religion and theology, scathing in only the way someone who has been on the inside could be (viz., Dan Barker and John Loftus), with the added panache of philosophical sophistication. Kaufmann is erudite and clearly expert on many brands of theology, including the Ultrasophisticated Theology™ of Tillich and Kierkegaard—both of whom he condemns unreservedly for their mushbrained approach to religious “truth.” This makes him a delight to read. Nobody can write off Kaufmann, as they did Dawkins, for not knowing the “best arguments of theology” (an oxymoron if there ever was one).
Wikipedia says this about Kaufmann:
In a 1959 article in Harper’s Magazine, he summarily rejected all religious values and practice, especially the liberal Protestantism of continental Europe that began with Schleiermacher and culminated in the writings of Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann.In their place, he praised moralists such as the biblical prophets, the Buddha, and Socrates. He argued that critical analysis and the acquisition of knowledge were liberating and empowering forces. He forcefully criticized the fashionable liberal Protestantism of the 20th century as filled with contradictions and evasions, preferring the austerity of the book of Job and the Jewish existentialism of Martin Buber. Kaufmann discussed many of these issues in his 1958 Critique of Religion and Philosophy.
But here’s the quote, from pp. 126-127 of The Faith of a Heretic; I’ll have one Kaufmann quote a day for the next four days. I like this one because it draws a parallel that had escaped me.
Indeed, [theologians] resemble lawyers in two ways. In the first place, they accept books and traditions as data that it is not up to them to criticize. They can only hope to make the best of these books and traditions by selecting the most propitious passages and precedents; and where the law seems to them harsh, inhuman, or dated, all they can do is have recourse to exegesis.
Secondly, many theologians accept the morality that in many countries governs the conduct of the counsel for the defense. Ingenuity and skillful appeals to the emotions are considered perfectly legitimate; so are attempts to ignore all the inconvenient evidence, as long as one can get away with it, and the refusal to engage in inquiries that are at all likely to discredit the predetermined conclusion: that the client is innocent. If all else fails, one tries to saddle one’s opponent with the burden of disproof; and as a last resort one is content with a reasonable doubt that after all the doctrines that one has defended might be true.
Walter Kaufmann (he looks amiable)