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November 12, 2008


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Kimball Corson

Religion and Respect should include the presence of mind not to ask someone like Blackburn to participate in a religious ceremony, instead of the usual implicit or explicit proselytization usually encountered in such contexts.

Jay Jeffers

If Simon Blackburn finds meaning in "the smile of a baby, the grace of a dancer, the sound of voices, the movement of a lover," that's all fine and good.

And I can see why atheists would be annoyed that the religious have tried to monopolize meaning and value, because it seems obvious that atheists can be good people and find all the simple pleasures Blackburn mentions quite meaningful (subjectively).

But there is another sense that religion claims monopoly on value that seems appropriate. At least in the sense that religion is thought to correspond to mysticism and atheism is though to correspond to reductive materialism. I mean, Buddhism is both atheistic and religious, so the terms alone won't do, unless we presume they correlate to mysticism in the case of religion and reductive materialism in the case of atheism.

And if this is so, (I think the assumption about atheism is safe in Blackburn's case) it's not that the religious need to deny that atheists are just as proficient at enjoying smiling babies, but it is that reductive materialism doesn't seem to leave much room for value, in a way that would leave belief in value a kind of "realism." The issue is not only whether atheists have earned the right to be thought of as good people who can recognize the beautiful things in life (they have, and they can), it is rather that religion, in claiming transcendence, attempts to account for why life has meaning and value, in a way that doesn't debunk belief in meaning and value, that is.

In a world where everything reduces to the non-conscious, dumb machinations and motions of matter, value can be reduced or eliminated. It seems that if one has committed full-stop to materialism, this is what one believes. And in such world view, meaning and value seem to hold a quite accidental or tangential ontological place, not the irreducible place that mysticism provides... of course whether meaning and value are accounted for sufficiently by *any* world view is debatable, but materialism certainly doesn't seem amenable to seeing meaning and value as irreducible, the way I feel it is when I see joy in the faces of the people I love, for example.


Kimball Corson said:

"Religion and Respect should include the presence of mind not to ask someone like Blackburn to participate in a religious ceremony, instead of the usual implicit or explicit proselytization usually encountered in such contexts."

Jews don't proselytize to non-Jews. Prof. Blackburn should have been a better guest :). Plently of Jews who don't believe in God go to the local JSOC Shabbat dinner. Wearing a skullcap at a meal is polite. Many Jews who don't believe in God will wear them in this context. Prof. Blackburn is confusing religion with what may also be an expression of cultural Jewishness.

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