Friday, August 3, 2012

The Paucity of David Yount's Imagination

David Yount
The Providence Journal today ran an editorial by Scripps-Howard writer David Yount under the title "Sensing the immensity of God's imagination." The title was changed by the ProJo editors from its original title, "Even in tragedy, followers thank God, ask for help," perhaps because the piece is about a week old and reflects on the tragedy in Aurora in a way that isn't so immediate. As to why they chose to run the piece now, who can say. I find it hard to believe there wasn't something better out there to fill column inches with. (I'm linking the piece here, under it's original title.)

Under any title Yount's piece would still be drivel. It starts off badly and descends into theological nonsense almost immediately. As a theodicy, a defense of God's existence in the face of evil, it's laughably immature. As an argument for the existence of God, it falls somewhere between an argument from perceived design and an argument from grandeur, but deftly avoids making a case for either.
The most potent challenges to religious faith in the millennium are subjective. During the last century, the world flirted with secular ideologies, including communism and fascism. All of them failed as substitutes for religion.
There's so much wrong with Yount's opening paragraph I'm having trouble deciding where to begin. His first sentence boggles. What does he mean by "potent challenges" being subjective? Is the term "subjective" supposed to be some sort of pejorative? If a challenge is potent, can it only be subjective? In what way is religion objective, to counter pose the question. Yount answers none of this, because he's already onto his next, unrelated idea in the next sentence. He claims that communism and fascism are secular ideologies, again with no evidence presented to support the claim. I think Mussolini and Franco, two prominent and Catholic fascists, would disagree with Yount on this point. 

This tactic, of guilt by association, is ignorant and dishonest. Communism and fascism are secular ideologies, says Yount, so by implied association all secular ideologies are suspect. How would Yount feel if I were to say that Osama bin Laden and the Westboro Baptist Church both believe in God, so Yount's point of view on religion is suspect? I'm sure he would quickly disavow such extremists. So why does he feel it right to brand secularists in this fashion? 

The answer is that Yount is fundamentally dishonest in his rhetoric, and intellectually unable to mount a proper defense to his indefensible religious views.

Yount goes on to be impressed with people who suffer tragedy and instead of bemoaning God, thank this imaginary being for not being even more cruel. What Yount sees as strength of faith and moral certainty a reasonable person might see as the effect of years of conditioning and a breaking of the spirit, analogous to the way an abused dog will still wag its tail at the cruel master who feeds him.

Next, Yount mounts his argument for God's existence from grandeur. The universe, it seems, is really big, and we are very small. Yount assures us, "Our God does not seek to frighten us with these immensities, but only to astound us with his sense of adventure. God plays on the largest stage and on the grandest scale."

Along the way Yount references Einstein, a man to whom rigor and skepticism were paramount. If Yount has truly tried to understand the great physicist and humanist, he must surely have missed the point of all the great man's work.

Yount ends his thin gray gruel of a piece with the promise of eternal life in paradise with God. "It is only natural for children to feel small and helpless, because that is what they are. But as adults we can learn to appreciate the immensity of God's imagination and even to relish the unexpected as a foretaste of the endless adventure that our eternity will be in the company of our creator."

Yount's idea of adulthood is intellectual and moral infantilization. His dreams of everlasting life lack any basis in reality.

We get one life, and one world, right now and right here. The universe doesn't care about us, and there is no god. All we have is each other, our only tools are our compassion, our ability to reason, our optimism and our ability to act. If we want anything more from this life and this world we have to build it ourselves.

We don't need a substitute for religion. Religion belongs in the same dustbin where fascism and communism can be found. What we need is reality and reason. Yount's embarrassing essay supplies neither.

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