After Atheism: New Perspectives on God and Religion (A 5-part CBC radio podcast)

Meetup type: Moderated discussion (attendees are expected to have listened to the 5-hour podcast before the meetup)

Series introduction: "Public discussion of religion tends to polarize between two extremes: religious fundamentalism, and the aggressive atheism of such writers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. But much of what people actually believe falls somewhere in between. It is subtler and more tentative. David Cayley explores the work of five thinkers whose recent books have charted new paths for religion."

  • Part 1: Richard Kearney (audio file)
    Religion, in recent years, has been something of a battlefield.  On the one hand books with titles like God is Back or, more alarming, The Revenge of God have dramatized the increased influence of fundamentalist forms of religion.  On the other, the writers sometimes called the new atheists have railed against religion in a spirit that some have called secular fundamentalism.   British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins leads the way here with his claim that religion is a brain disease, but others like the late Christopher Hitchins have also contributed to this revival of the old opposition between religion and enlightenment.
    Richard Kearney would like to get past all this.  To him it's a sterile polarization.  He'd like to move on to a conversation in which doubt and faith, in his words, "criss-cross."  Richard Kearney is a poet, a novelist, and a philosopher who writes about the role of imagination in religious belief. He's professor of philosophy at Boston College, and a visiting professor at University College Dublin in his native Ireland.
    Anatheism: Returning to God After God by Richard Kearney is published by Columbia University Press.
  • Part 2: John Caputo (audio file)
    In the spring of 1992, Cambridge University announced that it would give an honourary degree to the French philosopher Jacques Derrida.  It was an honour that seemed richly deserved.  Derrida had invented the widely influential concept of deconstruction.  But there was an immediate outcry - from within Cambridge's philosophy faculty and from an international group of academics who sent a letter of protest to the Times of London.   Derrida, these letter writers said, was no more than a kind of Dada-ist, a jokester whose work consisted mainly of tricks, puns and gimmicks.  His writings, the letter went on, failed to meet "accepted standards of clarity and rigour" and were replete with "semi-intelligible attacks on the values of reason, truth and scholarship."
    Derrida got the degree anyway, after the matter was put to a vote at Cambridge.
    However his reputation in the English speaking world continued to be shadowed by charges of "nihilism" and "relativism" that were often made against him.  Even when he died in 2004, the New York Times obituary, reprinted in Canada by the Globe and Mail, left the impression that his main legacy was to have sapped the morale of Western civilization.
    John Caputo disagrees.   He's emeritus professor of philosophy at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia, and at Syracuse University.  In 1997 he published The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, in which he argues that deconstruction and religion have a lot in common.   In Part 2 of After Atheism, John Caputo tells his story and presents his case for Derrida's theological significance.
    The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida by John Caputo is published by Indiana University Press.
    The Weakness of God by John Caputo is published by Indiana University Press.
  • Part 3: William Cavanaugh (audio file)
    The founders of the American republic were frank about the religious character they wanted to give to their new state.  Ben Franklin called for "a cult" of the nation.  Thomas Jefferson suggested preserving mementos that would function, he said, "like the relics of the saints."   They would "help nourish devotion to this holy body of the union."  A few years later the leaders of the French Revolution would try to deify reason, with temples and festivals dedicated to this new god.
    These are examples of what William Cavanaugh calls Migrations of the Holy.  That's the title of a new book in which he argues that what we now call religion is often just a distraction from the real objects of our devotion, and the ends for which we're really prepared to make sacrifices.  William Cavanaugh takes up these issues in this episode of After Atheism.
    Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and The Political Meaning of the Church by William Cavanaugh is published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
  • Part 4: James Carse (audio file)
    James Carse is the author of a book called The Religious Case Against Belief.  In it, he turns a lot of widely accepted ideas on their heads.  Belief usually defines religion, as any dictionary would show.  Carse argues that belief is often the enemy of religion.  Beliefs, he says, come and go, but religions persist.  Some have a lot of beliefs, some almost none, but even those with a lot preserve their identities even when those beliefs change.  James Carse is a scholar of the history and literature of religion which he taught for many years at New York University.  In this episode he shares his thoughts on the nature of belief and the nature of religion.
    The Religious Case Against Belief by James Carse is published by Penguin Press.
  • Part 5: Roger Lundin (audio file)
    In his book A Secular Age, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor traces changes in religious belief from the late Middle Ages to the present.  Taking the year 1500 as a baseline, he argues that at this date belief in God was a given, something obvious and unquestionable.  Today religious belief is, in his words, "optional" - a choice - made in the face of a bewildering variety of possibilities.  In between lies a journey through doubt - a journey made by an entire civilization but also by each individual who opts for some religious conviction.
    Roger Lundin's book Believing Again: Doubt and Faith in a Secular Age follows this journey as it has unfolded in modern literature.  Lundin is a literary scholar and professor at Wheaton College in Chicago. He shares his thoughts with David Cayley in the final episode of After Atheism: New Perspectives on God and Religion.
    Believing Again: Doubt and Faith in a Secular Age by Roger Lundin is published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Meetup charge: free, but attendees should order something for themselves from the restaurant. You can order from the self-service in the upstairs when you arrive or during our meetup.

Group's policy on RSVPs: Every member is expected to respect their RSVP for each event and keep it up to date. Two instances of non-respect of the RSVP will lead to the member being removed from the group. The waiting list is on Automatic which means that the first person on the waiting list gets in automatically, as soon as a spot opens up. If the person can no longer attend, they must change their RSVP to No as soon as possible and certainly before the meetup starts.

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  • Peter Pafitis K.

    Hi mr. massod i would like to know if and when will you be having a meetup in 2014 ,i would be interested to attend,i love philosophy since i am a greek maybe?
    or i just like to discuss any or practically any subject of life,and interesting to the human race;
    since my life experience includes 35 different professions,my input in discussions could be interesting

    March 31

    • Masood

      Unfortunately, I've been very busy with work these past few months and have not been able to organize any meetups; hopefully, I can change this soon. By the way, please send any such message to myself, through the link on my profile; this is not the place to post such a comment. Thanks for your understanding.

      March 31

  • Rafi

    Any chance that this one will get another hearing?

    June 25, 2013

    • Masood

      Nothing's planned. If you'd like to organize and be the host, feel free to let me know. I myself might attend depending on my schedule.

      June 25, 2013

  • Yohanna

    I wish I was there! I could bring some input on modern paganism, that, I think, will be one of the main future religions.

    June 17, 2013

  • teresa

    very good exchange of ideas

    1 · June 17, 2013

  • Simon

    very stimulating

    1 · June 16, 2013

  • Simon

    Having listened to the podcast,I am looking forward to the discussion group with great anticipation.

    June 7, 2013

  • Masood

    I noticed that the downloadable audio files are no longer available on CBC's site, so I uploaded the ones I had downloaded to Google, if someone wants to download and play them in an audio player; look for the link after each title (thanks Ysabelle for the heads up).

    1 · June 7, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Brand new to group, but first impulse reading description of topic, and some of replies, is to concur with "exhausting" part. My mind's made up: we'll look back one day at "religion" and perhaps ask "What were we thinking?" Religious feeling and experience are whole other matters. The sooner the power structure goes away the better (unless they pull a cow and transform). Let beliefs reign. Won't make this one, too impatient for it.

    June 1, 2013

  • Robert

    Interesting proposal, Masood. I read Carse's book "Finite and Infinite Games" many years ago... he's a worthwhile voice, I recommend him. Personally I find athiesm/religion discussions exhausting: they never seem to exhibit any concern about understanding the 'adversary' position and polarize quickly like comic book stories. Not sure I want to devote time to that or not. But it is a good sign that the five speakers mentioned seem to be staking out ground in the middle of the twin artificial extremes -- where reality lies.

    May 22, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      ""Personally I find athiesm/religion discussions exhausting: they never seem to exhibit any concern about understanding the 'adversary' position and polarize quickly like comic book stories." I think the positions of the "new atheists" often degenerate into straw-man polemics. However, it's hard to find people who are well acquainted/sympathetic with both religious systems (of whatever religion) and "alternative" world-views. Though I think the kind of acrimony that one can find between atheists and believers isn't unique to that particular discussion. The one attitude which worries me more than all others is a type of scientism, whereby one assumes that all of human experience can be reduced to the algorithm."

      May 27, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Beautifully said. And if I may, one M. Ali might cheer you up to think upon. The Greatest has nothing to do with boxing.

      May 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I should add that I summariiy reject the notion of any kind of alphabetized authority club, which ia the downside of the enlightened minds trying to contribute to that whole skool thing. Since I didn't go there, if I can't say I know better, I'm not going to dispute you (esp in those fields where numbers and science are VERY important!) but if I think I grasp something, I'm very, very happy to discuss your point of view, and see if I learn anything. I make no claims of the opposite. I'm not alphabetized. :) But it does mean I expect anyone who makes a claim in the humanist fields to be able to show their work, not their degree. I surely can, or I don't speak. (Long time learning that one the hard way. Humbly.)

    May 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I'm not yet gonna stake any claims, but I am kind of invested in certain arts, philosophies, sciences, and systems of repression but doesn't that just sound full of it? All I am doing is taking notes and hoping you'll find them worth me working out. But wow this is a big one, so I hope I can attend, listen, and use that as my "getting feet wet" event.

    May 27, 2013

  • Sharin

    Would have loved to attend but it is father's day. Any chance of changing the date?

    1 · May 23, 2013

    • Sharin

      Sorry, I don't want to drive you crazy, that's the middle of the long weekend and won't work for me. So please go ahead without me, or I will see if I can make it father's day and see my dad earlier. I thought it might be a problem for many but if it is not, then I'll just wait for the next one.

      May 24, 2013

    • Masood

      Well, Sharin, I guess we're going to keep the current date then, as it seems hard to find a common time slot. Hopefully, you can make it to the meetup :)

      May 26, 2013

  • Pam

    I would prefer a date change too! :)

    May 23, 2013

  • Pam

    should be a very interesting discussion...

    May 22, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Great topic but the date doesn't work for me this time... If ever this changes to a Saturday, I'm there!

    May 22, 2013

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Rafaël

We just grab a coffee and speak French. Some people have been coming every week for months... it creates a kind of warmth to the group.

Rafaël, started French Conversation Group

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