Monday, April 6, 2009

More Popular Than Jesus Now

Oh, dear -- my fellow atheists are such an embarrassment to me sometimes. At The BEAST, there's this interview with "world-renowned philosopher genius" Daniel Dennett:
BEAST: Recently, Harris Interactive asked 2,600 Americans: “Who do you admire enough to call a hero?” Obama beat out Jesus for number one—

DENNETT: Oh, that's good.

B: That's change we can believe in?

D: I think so, yeah. I think that, actually, Jesus makes a fine hero. I've always thought that Gandhi was about right there. He says, I like your Jesus, it's your Christians that I have trouble with. In fact, we had some discussion of forming a group called Atheists for Jesus. Although, I think it's still problematic. Yeah, I think this is a good sign.

I can think of any number of people I'd put ahead of Obama, though I'm not sure I admire anyone enough to call them a hero. But Jesus? Remember, Dennett is one of the militant New Atheists, an evangelist for neo-Darwinianism and secularism. It takes a heap of reinterpretation to get Jesus into bed with Dennett's philosophy, and since he offers no explanation I can only speculate. Does he, like many liberals, think of Jesus as a bold critic of organized religion and overlook Jesus' own feverish apocalypticism, wonder-working, and authoritarianism, as the gospels depict him? Of course, we know almost nothing for sure about the historical Jesus, and that makes it easier for people to invent a Jesus congenial to them.

In much the same way, despite the vastly better documentation available about him, many Obama fans invent a Barack who believes what they believe, wants what they want, and will do what they imagine they'd do in his place. And mercy me, so does Daniel Dennett:
B: President Obama seems to be a smart guy. Do you think he truly believes in God or do you think he's pandering, and which is more frightening?

D: I suspect that he's like a great many people. He believes in belief in God. And that he believes that the belief in God can accomplish a lot of good, especially if it brings people together. And it's political, I think, in some ways and sidesteps problems. You know, we all want to pick our problems, and I think he's very wisely decided that there are other people that can—can and should—do the job of critiquing religious excess. He's got, actually, more pressing and important things to do. I think he's right.

Personally, against both Gandhi and Dennett, I have known numerous Christians I like better than the Jesus of the gospels (or rather the Jesuses, since the gospels differ, sometimes subtly and sometimes broadly, in the way they depict him). But all this reminds me of the exchange on God between Yossarian and Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife in Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (bold type added):
“ … When you consider the opportunity and power He had to really do a job, and then look at the stupid, ugly little mess He made of it instead, His sheer incompetence is almost staggering. It’s obvious he never met a payroll. Why, no self-respecting businessman would hire a bungler like Him as even a shipping clerk.”

Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife had turned ashen in disbelief and was ogling him with alarm. “You’d better not talk that way about Him, honey,” she warned him reprovingly in a low and hostile voice. “He might punish you.”

“Isn’t He punishing me enough?” Yossarian snorted resentfully. “You know, we mustn’t let Him get away scot free for all the sorrow He’s caused us. Someday I’m going to make Him pay. I know when. On the Judgment Day. Yes, that’s the day I’ll be close enough to reach out and grab that little yokel by His neck and--”

“Stop it! Stop it!” Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife screamed suddenly, and began beating him ineffectually about the head with both fists. “Stop it!”

Yossarian ducked behind his arm for protection while she slammed away at him in feminine fury for a few seconds, and then he caught her determinedly by the wrists and forced her gently back down on the bed. “What the hell are you getting so upset about?” he asked her bewilderedly in a tone of contrite amusement. “I thought you didn’t believe in God.”

“I don’t,” she sobbed, bursting violently into tears. “But the God I don’t believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He’s not the mean and stupid God you make Him out to be.”

Yossarian laughed and turned her arms loose. “Let’s have a little more religious freedom between us,” he proposed obligingly. “You don’t believe in the God you want to, and I won’t believe in the God I want to. Is it a deal?”
I guess I'll have to extend the same tolerance to Daniel Dennett, both on Jesus and Obama.

(Image of Obama with unicorn and roses by Lukas Ketner.)