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Is God A Delusion: A Reply to Religion's Cultured Despisers [Paperback]

By Eric Reitan (Author)
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Pages   256
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.9" Width: 5.98" Height: 0.79"
Weight:   0.88 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Publisher   Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Co.
ISBN  1405183616  
EAN  9781405183611  

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Item Description...
Is God a Delusion? addresses the philosophical underpinnings of the recent proliferation of popular books attacking religious beliefs.

Focuses primarily on charges leveled by recent critics that belief in God is irrational and that its nature ferments violence

Balances philosophical rigor and scholarly care with an engaging, accessible style

Offers a direct response to the crop of recent anti-religion bestsellers currently generating considerable public discussion

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Talks past religion's cultured despisers.  Nov 16, 2009
Unfortunately in responding to the New Atheists, Reitan followed the standard strategy of first re-defining religion so that it no longer matches the target that the New Atheists attack, then defending the re-defined religion, and then finally claiming that since re-defined religion is so easily defended, that the New Atheists are therefore wrong. Reitan's conclusion is unwarranted, because his conception of religion is so different from what the New Atheists use that the actual arguments of the New Atheists are engaged only rarely. So the book was a major disappointment on that point.

Nevertheless the book is still well worth reading. The book may not have engaged the New Atheists very well, but it was very thoughtful, civil, and of much better quality than some of the other responses to the New Atheists that I've read, some of which were not much more than open demagoguery.
Delightful, yet all wrong  Oct 14, 2009
This book is well-written and delightful to engage with on a philosophical level. It is also temperate and well-meaning. Yet its arguments are far from compelling, from the cosmological argument to the "veridicality" of spiritual experiences, to the proposition that religion is good as long as it is defined as goodness and apple pie. Reitan conveniently defines fundamentalists as heretics, and conveniently takes positive experiences of transcendence as indicating god, while negative transcendent experiences are merely signs of our mortality and brokenness. A more extensive review "wish upon a star" is presented at biophilic blogspot.
Liberal religion's response to atheism  Oct 3, 2009
There have been a number of books written in response to what some call the "New Atheism." Among this chorus of opposition to the new atheism is this fine book by Eric Reitan. Reitan writes from a very liberal Christian point of view, which is not my own, but I appreciate his contribution.

From the writings of the New Atheists, you would think that the only people who oppose Darwinian evolution and materialism in general are uneducated, fundamentalist, religious kooks, who can be counted on to be irrational, and would burn at the stake any who oppose them, given half a chance. Now you would think that such nonsense would be immediately dismissed, and such would probably be the case if it weren't for the impressive credentials, elevated positions, and awards received by some who write such things, such as Richard Dawkins. Nevertheless, also highly educated and articulate and not likely to want to burn him at the stake, there has been a voluminous literary response very critical of Dawkins and others. What I particularly liked about Reitan's book is that it illustrates how there are good arguments for the existence of God, for meaning and purpose to life, and for morality apart from quoting chapter and verse from the Bible. This agrees, of course, with what the Bible itself teaches, such as in the opening chapters of the book of Romans.

In the Introduction, Reitan complains that "In terms of philosophical acumen, Dawkins' The God Delusion is dwarfed by the works" of better writers against Christianity. It is a curiosity that Dawkins' book has been so enormously successful when so many reviewers find it to be inferior to others. Reitan continues, "in my judgment, [it is] rendered puerile in comparison with the writings of the most thoughtful and meticulous of the atheist philosophers". Nevertheless, Reitan does think that Dawkins makes some good points and is worthy of a response: "In fact, insofar as The God Delusion nicely summarizes the main objections of contemporary atheists to religious faith, it seems to me it should be required reading for all who have yet to seriously confront a forceful statement of these objections."

In Chapter 1, Reitan states that in spite of his credentials, awards, reputation, etc., Dawkins doesn't think very clearly when it comes to religion. "Imagine an author who sets out to prove that music glorifies violence but who spends most of the book fixated on gangsta rap and then attributes the vices of the latter to music in general. As already noted, this kind of mistake is called equivocation. Dawkins' rhetorical excesses and inattention to nuanced differences do not just make him susceptible to this fallacy. When he tries to make the case that religion is pernicious, Dawkins moves will-nilly from an attack on particular religious doctrines and communities to conclusions about religion and belief in God generally. And this, of course, is entirely typical of religion's cultured despisers. . . . The fact is that Dawkins attacks `supernatural religion' in one sense and applies his conclusions to `supernatural religion' in any meaningful sense. If one were looking for examples of equivocation to include in a critical thinking textbook, one couldn't do much better than Dawkins' arguments against religion."

Reitan continues throughout the book to offer an insightful critique of the new atheists. I purchased and began reading this book primarily because I found the title interesting and I wanted to discover what Reitan's response was to "Religion's Cultured Despisers". He did not disappoint me, as I found many of his observations to be perceptive and penetrating. What I also found, and didn't expect, was a reasoned presentation for liberal religion. Reitan has helped me see liberal religion in a clearer light. He, and presumably others like him, do have a personal experience of the divine, and that experience is very valuable to him. However, he has also helped me appreciate what J. Gresham Machen wrote about in the 1920s, when he stated that liberalism is not Christianity. I think it must be a very difficult position for Reitan to hold to. He has some faith, but as a university professor, he must be aware of how that faith seems to be based only on some nebulous experience, with very little intellectual support. In summary, I found this book to be informative, challenging, helpful and insightful, both as a response to the new atheism, and as a reasoned presentation for liberal religion.

For a much longer review of this book, and for more reviews and information, please see my web site Paarmann's Post located at [...]

Larry D. Paarmann

Most religion isn't religion anyway, so Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and the New Atheists are wrong  Apr 30, 2009
Eric Reitan is clever, almost too clever. What he wants to do is to respond to contemporary religion's cultured despisers, and he uses Schleiermacher as a model throughout, because Schleiermacher did the same thing back in 19th century Germany.

The problem is a simple one. If you reinterpret religion radically, as Reitan does, then religion's cultured despisers turn out to be right, after all, because they are condemning the same kinds of thing that Reitan condemns. Reitan creates a shadow religion, which very few people believe or practice, and calls it true religion, which, he suggests, may be presumptuous. Well, it is presumptuous. It also defeats his purpose, for most religion is not as Reitan describes it, a matter of belief that the universe trends towards the good, and that faith is a matter of trusting in the religious-ethical hope that all the evils and harms of existence will be redeemed by the infinite personal spirit whose essence is love.

This is simply not the way most religions function. As A.C. Grayling says in his little book "Against All Gods": "... those who would escape into clouds of theology for their defence miss the point made by religion's critics. The great mass of religious folk believe in something far more basic and traditional than the vaporous inventions of theology, and it is on this that they repose their trust, and for which some - too many - kill an die. ... Moreover, the deeply forested hideaways of theology start from the same place as ordinary supersititious faith, so laying an axe to this root brings it down too." The point is that most people cannot live in the rarefied atmosphere of Schleiermacher and Reitan. They live in the world where terrible things happen to them, and they need assurance that not only is God loving infinite spirit, but that God loves them (in particular). In order to capture the popular mind - which religions must do if they're going to be religions - they have to make promises, and show that these promises are somehow fulfilled. That's where miracles and reliable revelations come in. Without these external assurances (while someone like Simone Weil may be content to be in a place where God is completely absent, where enduring the void and suffering evil just is our contact with God) most people would not be able to tolerate the evils that befall them with trust. But these are just the kinds of things that make religions into what Reitan calls exclusive ideologies.

Religions are very easy to create - new religions are born and die by the dozens every year - but they are very hard to sustain. The world's great religions have discovered the secret, and a lot of that depends on things which are only, according to Reitan, contingently related to religion. But Reitan can only say that, and expect to be listened to, precisely because religions have been created and sustained by precisely the kinds of things Reitan holds to be incidental to true religion, because religious people's faith does depend on certainty and belonging, on the one hand, and exclusion and denial on the other.

According to Reitan these are features of fundamentalism, and the atheists to whom he is responding, he claims, are fundamentalists too, because, just like fundamentalists, they demand certainty, and cannot live with indeterminacy. There are so many things wrong with this way of proceeding that it would take a book to respond adequately. However, let me say this much. At the end of his book, after redefining religion, Reitan says that "It's now time to directly consider whether religion IN THIS SENSE 'poisons everything'." (209; my emphasis) However, this is clearly not a response to Hitchens, because Hitchens didn't have 'this sense' in mind at all. He had ordinary, garden variety religion in mind, the kind that sustains community and preserves tradition. Reitan's religion couldn't do that. It piggy-backs on religious projects that can. And so his response is not to the 'New Atheists' at all. In fact, in many respects, Reitan's book is a response to most religions as they now exist, and he finds them wanting, just as the 'New Atheists' do.

Of course, the 'New Atheists' wouldn't agree with Reitan's redefinition of religion. They'd think, and rightly, I believe, that there is no sound basis for claiming that the cosmological argument provides room for the validity of religious experiences, not because they long for certainty, but because they tend to think that evidence is important, and the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and the search for ultimate explanations - it's still not clear to me how the existence of a god could be thought to explain the existence of the universe - simply do not provide much in the way of evidence. Reitan has defined God in such a way that empirical evidence is not available. All he is left with is the Principle of Sufficient reason and religious-ethical hope. I don't think he could sustain a religion on this basis, but he might be able to grab the coat-tails of one!
A Brilliant Defense of Religion Grounded on Belief in a Good God  Jan 1, 2009
This book is so rich in powerful argument, profound insight, and deep scholarship that I cannot, in a brief review, do any real justice to it. What I can do is indicate the central propositions the book defends (with great success, in my opinion) in the hopes that doing so will tempt others to read it themselves.

As the subtitle of the book indicates, one of the chief inspirations of Reitan's philosophical theology is Friedrich Schleiermacher, whose celebrated Speeches on Religion to its Cultured Despisers founded what Karl Barth called a new epoch in Christian thought. In fact Schleiermacher is commonly (and rightly) regarded as the father of the liberal theology of the 19th century, a kind of theology that has, unfortunately, been eclipsed (especially in popular culture) by the reactionary "primitivized Orthodoxy' (to borrow and apt phrase of Tillich) commonly known as fundamentalism. The theology of Schleiermacher, like that of Aquinas and Leibniz (both of whom have also influenced Reitan), was informed by deep learning and profound philosophical thought. This, however, is true of all the greatest theology of the Christian Church, from St. Augustine to Wolfhart Panneberg. What separates Schleiermacher from most theologians who came before him and after him, is the emphasis he placed on what he took to be the root of theology, something he describes in the Speeches as "the intuition of the infinite in the finite". This intuition or sense (or feeling), an intuition that might be called "mystical", is not to be confused with the interpretations of the world, the self, or God which might be developed out of it. And, as Reitan carefully explains in chapter 1 of his book, this intuition, which IS piety according to Schleiermacher, and is also the basis of religious thought, (i.e. conceptualizations of reality in light of it) is, by its very nature, inclusive. It is inclusive because the infinite, by ITS nature, is inclusive of the finite as ground and cause, and so any living sense of the infinite will drive us out of ourselves into union with the other finite beings which are sustained in the bosom of the infinite. Furthermore, any living intuition of the infinite leads to the awareness that, however carefully we may work out a theology based on this intuition (and all who have read Schleiermacher's systematic theology know how carefully and how rigorously he worked out his theology), we can never exhaust it and so must be glad, nay eager, to listen to others who have had an experience of the infinite, even if they interpret it differently. Thus for Schleiermacher, as for his student Reitan, any form of religion that thunders anathamas at the sincerely held religious doctrine of others, or that seeks to use religion as a pretext for violence, is not real religion at all, but a corruption of it. Reitan works out Schleiermacher's profound train of thought here with great care and vigor and, in so doing, shows that the moral attacks made on religion by contemporary cultured despisers of it miss their target, even as the cultured despisers of Schleiermacher's day did. What they attack, in fact, is not religion but its corruption.

In the second chapter of his book Reitan shows that the cultured despisers of religion mistake the good God of theism with the idol of superstition. Reitan does admit that many second and third rate "theologians' are partially to blame for this since may of them do not worship a God who could be called good in any meaningful sense, but rather an idol who rules tyranically over the universe, ready to strike down all those who these "theologians" dislike (e.g. gays, heretics, atheists, liberals, etc.) In this chapter Reitan brilliantly appropriates the thought of Plutarch and Zoroaster (the ancient Persian Prophet who founded the now nearly dead Zoroastrian religion) to argue for the proposition that only a being worthy of worship could truly be called "God", and that goodness, understood as the creative and preserving power of love, is the most important of all "God making" properties.

In chapter 3 Reitan continues his assault on the God of superstition by attacking both the divine command theory of ethics, a theory that emphasizes God's power to the point of robbing the term "good" of all meaning, as well the literalist interpretation of Scripture championed by fundamentalists, an interpretation that falsely seeks to rob the human being of the right, nay the duty, to use what his reason tells him about the ethical to test the truth of all purportedly revealed moral doctrines.

In the next two chapters Reitan defends Aquinas's and Leibniz's cosmological proofs for God's existence from certain misguided attacks on them. Reitan does not, in these chapters, attempt to defend, or even explain, Aquinas's and Leibniz's arguments for the conclusion that there is only ONE uncaused cause of all other beings, and that this cause is the all good, all knowing, and all powerful God of theism, contenting himself with the more modest claim that their arguments for the existence of an uncaused and necessary being make it rational to believe that the empirical world is sustained in existence by a being which transcends it. In this way Reitan seeks to strengthen the case for the veridicality of Schleiermacher's intuition of an infinite being lying behind and within all finite beings.

In the 7th chapter of his book Reitan examines religious consciousness, noting that many persons besides Schleiermacher have had mystical experiences of an infinite being. He also, in this chapter, is at pains to note that there are different kinds of mystical experience (relying here, in part, on the celebrated studies of James an Zaehner) and also that different people may, quite reasonably, interpret experiences of the same sort in different ways. Sam Harris is a particular target of Reitan's keen dialectic in this chapter since Harris arrogantly asserts, without argument, that all true mystical experience will attest to the truth of the Buddhist "no self" doctrine. Relying on both Lotze and Schleiermacher Reitan presents powerful arguments for the proposition that the sense of the loss of self that many mystics report can just as reasonably (or perhaps more reasonably) be given a theistic interpretation as a Buddhist one, and that such an interpretation is closed only to those who dogmatically insist that the good God of theism is an illusion.

In chapter 8 of his book Reitan explicates and defends a Lutheran interpretation of faith as trust in a good God who delivers human beings from sin and death, and he shows that this trust, if it is to be true to itself, cannot be used as a pretext to persecute homosexuals, or heretics, or atheists, etc. Reitan further shows that such a trust is eminently reasonable (even thought not rationally irresistible) and that it has nothing in common with believing in Santa Clause or fairies.

In chapter 9 Reitan confronts the problem of evil, admitting that, while there are insights to be gained from many of the classical Christian theodices, none has really solved the problem. But he argues, persuasively, that this fact is no more sufficient to make faith in a good God irrational than the fact that biologists have not solved certain problems facing the theory of evolution makes it irrational to continue to believe in that theory.

Finally, in the last chapter of the book Reitan launches into a stinging attack on those who insist that religion is the cause of all the greatest evils in the world. Reitan shows that certain far from admirable traits of the human mind (e.g. a need for absolute certainly, a laziness in the face of the daunting task of creating a truly just society, a fear of the other, etc.) can, if unchecked, lead humans to an ideology with divides the world into the children of light and the children of darkness. Religion can, and has, been used as a way of achieving this division, but as Reitan correctly notes, so have race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. And these things, unlike religion, have no inherent power to say "No" to the tribalism that so often takes possession of mankind. Religion, however, if it is true to itself, does have such power since it is rooted in the intuition that there is an infinite good that is present in, with, and under all finite beings.

This book is a gem and I fancy that in writing it Reitan has made his 19th century guru both happy and proud.

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