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Meditation 756
Lash lashed for theological nonsense

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The Times Literary Supplement (which I subscribe to whenever they give me the special introductory rate) regularly has a Religion section which I generally find quite informative. But sometimes it is revealing for just how muddle-headed writers on religion can be.

In the 13 March edition,[1] Lucy Beckett reviews a new book[2] by the Cambridge theologian Nicholas Lash, Theology for Pilgrims. Quoting from the opening paragraph of that review, which I assume represents fairly Lash's argument:

In an invigorating essay, "The Impossibility of Atheism", in his new collection, he shows convincingly[3] that worshipping false gods is what we do, although "it just so happens that we do not call the things we worship 'gods'". He reduces a hypothetical "refusal to have anything to do with God" very nearly to the vanishing point, to "self-destruction, annihilation, return to the nihil from which all things came". Human beings, in other words, will worship, believe in, put their faith in, something. Outside any religion this "something" may be themselves, another person, a leader, a promised Utopia, money (perhaps the "market"), art, science, any number of other ideas, or ideals.

What unadulterated balderdash!

..."it just so happens that we do not call the things we worship 'gods'". - that's because

  1. they are not gods, and
  2. we do not worship them.

...hypothetical "refusal to have anything to do with God" - disbelief is not equivalent to "a refusal to have anything to do with". I have a step-brother I refuse to have anything to do with, but I do believe he exists. If I thought he no longer existed, refusing to have anything to do with him would be without meaning.

..."self-destruction, annihilation, return to the nihil from which all things came" - disbelief is not nihilism.

Human beings, in other words, will worship,...something. - Some human beings will, some don't. Giving something priority in life is not identical to worship.

The problem with the argument advanced by Lash (as interpreted by Beckett) is that it reduces the terms "gods" and "worship" to meaninglessness. Taking an interest in anything is equated to worshiping a god. The result is that rather than being an attack on those who do not believe, it destroys any meaning there is in the idea of worshiping of a deity.

Notes:

  1. Idols and Ideals by Lucy Becket, p31 Times Literary Supplement, March 13, 2009
  2. Theology for Pilgrims by Nicholas Lash, Dartman, Longman, and Todd (UK), University of Notre Dame Press (US)
  3. Should anyone who has read Lash's book and finds that it actually makes this argument "convincingly," (which to me means that it is sound enough to actually change an opinion, rather than reinforce an existing one) then feel free to purchase a copy for me. I'll read it and then publish a review in a future article.