On the one hand – given the pressures, pains and uncertainties of everyday life – it is hardly surprising that many people hold on so desperately to diluted forms of Christian belief, in particular “liberal Christianity”. On the other hand, such a position has long struck me as intellectually dishonest and morally questionable.
Here’s the interesting blurb for the latest book by political philosopher Andrew Levine, In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong with the Opium of the People (November, 2011):
“In this fascinating book, Levine combines an insightful analysis of important nineteenth-century thinkers who puzzled over why religion persists with a critique of twentieth-century liberal theologies as they have developed in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Levine argues that liberal theologies are intellectually flawed. They provide a means for those who cannot give up on religion to retain pale shadows of the traditions with which liberal believers try to remain in contact. Those shadows, Levine contends, are untrue to what liberal believers, in their hearts, already know.”
— Elliott Sober, author, Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some of the most important and influential heirs of the Enlightenment tradition—Ludwig Feuerbach, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche—wondered, implicitly, why belief in God persists and even flourishes among those who should and in some sense do know better. Looking at aspects of their thinking through this prism provides fresh insight into their work, while advancing understanding of the puzzlement they addressed.
In this book, Andrew Levine reflects on the explanations proffered by these authors and on their very different explanatory strategies. He concludes that, for all their many differences, their respective explanations share a common core and that they are driven by a similar (largely unelaborated) normative commitment. On Levine’s account, believers today believe in bad faith—in other words, they evince a fundamental intellectual inauthenticity. If only for this reason, they merit reproach, even in the comparatively rare instances when their “faith perspectives” do more good than harm.
From the standpoint of this normative standard, Levine reflects on the liberal turn in the so-called Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), arguing that a condition for its possibility is the waning of genuine (authentic) conviction. On this basis, Levine depicts liberal religion as a vehicle of exit for those who at some level acknowledge the untenability of the beliefs they profess while not yet being able or willing to face this reality squarely. He argues that liberal religion is therefore a transitory phenomenon, albeit one that has survived for a long time and that is not about to expire soon.
Levine then faults the religious left on this account, arguing that even in those historically rare conditions in which bad faith motivates welcome political engagement, it is nevertheless infirmed by its deep inauthenticity.
Finally, a defender of the secularisation thesis in some modified form – if only to counter all the monstrous and pious bullshit that Rodney Stark has been penning in his senility.