Last month, Andrew Sullivan's "The Dish" reposted a little shot-from-the-hip philosophy by Scott Adams.[^1] It's been scratching around in my brain since Mark sent it to me. He sent it to me because he knew it would bother me. I'm like some sort of animal where if you poke me with a stick I get upset. Except instead of a stick you poke me with people saying something stupid about religion.
Adams used to be a Methodist.[^2] I guess that's important because he mentions it in his post, and then The Dish mentions it, and now I'm mentioning it, too. Now he believes in computers.
This is a kinder, gentler atheism. Adams isn't going after religionists as foolish or irrational. Instead he figures that religion isn't such a bad way to view the world. Atheism and religion are just like user interfaces for viewing reality. That's not so bad, right? It seems to be working for people, and as he says,
plenty of people around me are reporting that they find comfort and social advantages with religion. And science seems to support a correlation between believing, happiness, and health. Anecdotally, religion seems to be a good interface.
It's good to know Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) has invaded a-theology as well as Christian theology. My very first post on the Beard was about just this topic, but I guess it didn't do the job I thought it would stamping out this theology because here I am again writing about it.
MTD describes an understanding that religion in general is about being nice, life is about being happy, a god may exist but isn't that involved with the world or with us, and that good people get some kind of reward either here or in an ill-defined hereafter. Note that whether you're a professional philosopher (Alain de Botton) or a cartoonist playing at philosophy (Scott Adams), your best option at finding common ground with religion is that it makes people feel good and sometimes it makes them nicer. As I've written before, the fact that atheist philosophers are able to extract social moralism from religion in the second place is because much of Christianity[^3] has reduced itself to something less than the gospel in the first place—that is, reduced it to moralistic therapeutic deism.
If this were really about interface, no one would enter the damaged body of Christ to heal the suffering world. There are an infinite number of ways to serve the kingdom of God, but viewing the world through a lens that "works for you" isn't one of them. Adam's idea of "interface" breaks down when the work of the gospel gets real. That's what makes it the gospel. It's dirty and hands-on and you can feel it and it's not the goddamn matrix.
- [^1]: The cartoonist behind Dilbert.
- [^2]: Ooh, I'm one of those.
- [^3]: Adams and de Botton aren't only talking about Christianity, but that's largely the enculturated religion they're dealing with in their reflections.