Problems with Dennet and LaScala's 'Preachers Who Are Not Believers'

Dennet and LaScala begin with the pretense of documenting a few stories, of no necessarily grand scientific value, of 'Preachers Who Are Not Believers', Christian Ministers and Pastors who do not believe in certain traits or tenets or conceptions of the Christian God that many of us assume necessary to be Christians and certainly necessary to be Ministers. They described this as merely a series of conversations, thought through by Dennet and LaScala, "sympathetic and fascinated observer[s] of religious practices and attitudes".

On the contrary, however, Dennet and LaScala hold on to this tone only long enough to introduce themselves, immediately turning their paper into an attack on anyone holding a thick conception of religion, thereby reducing those whose claims they need to rebut to only the most absurd.
"This counsel of tolerance creates a gentle fog that shrouds the question of belief in God in so much indeterminacy that if asked whether they believed in God, many people could sincerely say that they don’t know what they are being asked."
I would go a step further and say that I genuinely don't know if I do believe in a god. I don't think it's a good thing to believe in a God, at least not the only God I know well enough to formulate an opinion on. I think that cutting apart monotheistic ways of thinking is valuable, destroying cultivated centers of power is valuable, dismembering communities and individuals is valuable, that burning up all the intentions, morals, ethics is valuable and that getting rid of God or maybe Gods is a good way to do all those things. But I haven't finished doing them, not for myself or others. I'm not even sure what it would be like to have done it for myself but for there to be others who are in communities, would that still be believing in a God if I think that the communal ground they share is real, that the thing or experience or practice that they have named God or a God is having an effect on the world? Maybe still then too. But suggesting that some "tolerance", a word always so revealing when spit out of disgust as Dennet and LaScala do, is producing this confusion is only the complaint of the feeble minded who insist that a single mode of thinking exists.

One way they manifest this single mode of thinking is to erase from their opponents even the ability to be opponents.
"Karen Armstrong, for instance, dismisses both the anthropomorphic visions (“idolatry”) and the various brands of atheism, while claiming, as she recently put it while speaking with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, that “God is not a being at all.” Assuming that she meant what she said, she claims, by simple logical transposition, that no being at all is God. That would seem to be about as clear a statement of atheism as one could ask for, but not in her eyes."
This point erases the claim to the ontological difference that Armstrong is making in order to "by simple logical transposition", overtake her argument and erase both her legitimacy and presumptions of her self-awareness. The claim to the ontological difference is not elaborated, given an explanation or even acknowledged as the philosophical dead-end that Dennet believes it to be. Instead, he pretends as if it doesn't exist, as if he hasn't heard of it, and as if it is a self-refutation of every argument to which is made to work, all while knowing these are not true. Perhaps I should flesh this out, in order to avoid a similar misunderstanding.

The core of the ontological difference, as Heidegger elaborates it, is the historical claim that since Plato, being is something to be compared to an ultimate be-er, that all things are themselves modified expressions of ultimate things. The upper-bound of everything is therefore itself a type of being. Heidegger follows Kierkegaard first in breaking apart being and existence, (in the same sense that Dennet and LaScala claim that Armstrong is an Atheist, they should also have to claim Kierkegaard is an atheist for saying that God doesn't exist because existing means to lives as contingent human beings) and then suggesting that as we move into a new historical epoch of thinking, we can see that being and beings are two different things.
Being, the concept, is here a series of practices that make beings or entities intelligible to the special type of being who has those practices. In other words, that the upper (and lower, a la Derrida) bounds of Being, the concept, are not themselves beings, like in Spinoza or Aquinas where God is the Most-Been, or where Atoms are the least-been who still be and Nothing is a concept of being beneath a certain threshold, but are instead the ways of encountering things which bring them to our eye in a certain light, instead of any of the other things or any of the other ways of thinking about them.

Again, it is possible to argue that the concept of ontological difference is invalid, that we don't experience reality that way, that it is a wrong way to experience reality, or even the Late Heideggerian notion that while it is true that we experience reality this way, being aware of our experiencing it this way is a dangerous concession to technological nihilism. But you can't argue that suggesting that "God is embodied practices" or suggesting that "God is the light cast on the world which makes it intellgible to the certain types of entities that we are" is equivalent to athiesm. It isn't, it isn't close. Taking such cheap and totalitarian shots that deliberately misquote and falsify while in pursuit of a polemical goal is exactly what they do and set out to do with this entire article.

Regarding how and why Dennet and LaScala missed the point of religion, it is central to their purpose to feign a stupidity about the real point of Churches and Pastors and Religions in the contemporary. They are not explanation factories that they might have been in different historical periods, or producers of the contemporary ground of being because, while Ms. Armstrong would surely disagree, taking seriously the ontological difference means acknowledging the brute fact that God no longer makes the world intelligible. Christianity, actually existing Christianity, is neither the caricatures of Hegelian intracommunal rationality nor the Kierkegaardian individual embodied embrace, but something much closer to an embodied communality. It is believable or not independent of the believability of any one of its tenets, God especially.

More significant than Dennet and LaScala's five or six interviews is the empirical fact that no one goes to Church to discuss the existence or non-existence of God. It isn't the place to do that. Instead, the question is, in some churches, taken as given, in other churches, taken as irrelevant. That a pastor would be able to do his or her job in such a meaningless gap isn't interesting for a dozen reasons. The most obvious, of course, is analagous to how one could work for capitalist and capitalist-related firms without themselves being a capitalist. There is labor-power behind the pulpit, too. But more importantly, it isn't a meaningful choice because believing in God isn't what is done there, but instead there is a practice of relating selves and communities to each other and themselves, of choosing to be the style of person who attends this style of religious service, of practicing, the being of bodies who are religious.

Dennet and LaScala can confine themselves to their brains and to a single style of having a brain, but in polemics like these, made even more disgusting by masquerading as a scientific study (a "sample size" of five is nonsense), the violence of the agenda is obvious; demand that bourgeois intelligence be incompatible with religion
as such, conflate religion and the embrace of codes or tenets purposefully in order to make them easier to demolish, complain about those who don't conflate in the same way as muddying the waters with tolerance, and to sharpen the mechanisms devised during the assault on religion in order to later eliminate those modes of thinking which deal with the existing world and not a rationalist's fantasy or Dennet and LaScala's own dishonestly naive literalism.

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