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Tracy on “Monotheism Versus Atheism”

The problem with bloggers is the same as the problem with a lot of philosophers.  They are writing to scratch some private itch but have never had any real power, so the things they say have a weird, unreal quality.  You don’t know a)what it would mean if anybody put them into practice and b)if the person writing the words even knows what it means to “put something into practice.”  You feel like if somebody showed up at the door of the philosopher (or blogger) and said “Okay! We’re the rest of the human race and we read your blog or your book and guess what — we all think you’re right!  What do we do?” they would burst into tears.

That’s why I like talking to my friend Tracy who was the head of comedy development for a big television studio, and then later went on to run a small television production company quite successfully.  This is what she said to me on the whole issue of atheism versus monotheism.

  1. Human beings are pre-programmed to worship something.  That’s a good thing because if you don’t believe in something higher than humanity you’re barely human yourself.
  2. Monotheism and atheism are basically the same. They’re both attempts to keep people from worshiping the wrong thing.  Most people will end up worshiping whatever is the most powerful person or group of people in their environment, or themselves.
  3. Needless to say both monotheism and atheism share the trait of having been almost completely unsuccessful.
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9 thoughts on “Tracy on “Monotheism Versus Atheism”

  1. I get lost in all three points that Tracy makes but I think I like the sentiment; with the exception, maybe, of the first point. It seems more confused and dogmatic than the other two. I think it bugs me because it seems to aim at something lofty, which I think is always very difficult to do when being pithy.

    Is she taking aim at ‘New Atheism’ in particular or at at the whole spectrum of non-belief, anti-belief, etc.? I think I could appreciate it more if so.

    As an aside, I think your perspective on bloggers and philosophers could also apply to a lot of academics generally.

    • it’s her take on Stanley Cavell’s crack “There is nothing more human than to seek to deny the human”. I remain personally baffled as to what is new about the new atheism. Tracy’s point though is once you get rid of “religion” — whatever it would mean to do that and whether or not that it is even possible given the kind of animals we are — what would you do next. 99.999% of the proposals are just erecting a religion with another name, some of them are just sliding back into animality.

  2. That’s a good thing because if you don’t believe in something higher than humanity you’re barely human yourself.

    Why is that? Does it make you the tribe that it is okay to raid and so improve your Darwinistic chances of survival (due to looting and pillaging) if you tend to have this belief?

  3. pbasch says:

    All due respect to Tracy, and I’m in awe of her success at her career and having such a glamorous high-profile job. That said, she’s wrong.
    1) Human beings are indeed pre-programmed to worship something. This is good, because it encourages coordinated group activity, which is highly survivalistic on the group level.
    2) Monotheism is a more restrictive form of worship than polytheism. It defines the worship group more strictly than polytheism, thus perhaps encouraging coordinated group behavior more successfully than polytheism, by providing a clearer orthodoxy. This allows outsiders to be identified with great clarity, so they can be ostracized. Atheism permits group identification in other categories than theism.
    3) Unsuccessful at what? Monotheism has been explosively successful at increasing its reach and range and numbers. Atheism… eh… I suppose it allows communities of like-minded people to form on an intellectual basis. Communities form on the basis of language, clothing, behavior, hobbies, and so on. Atheism is another group identifier.

    People (i.e., Tracy) can be very smart and successful, but can’t devote deep thought to everything. Yet it’s hard to be silent on topics you don’t know much about. Not that you have to… I certainly bloviate on things I don’t know much about, in a usually-not-very-successful attempt to enhance my status.

    • It’s not clear to me you disagree! The polytheism loose-group identification, monotheism tight-group identification thesis is interesting! Not sure if it’s true. Unitarians are tolerant monotheists while orthodox Christians who believe in the trinity seem less tolerant. It’s philosophically a little unclear to me what the difference is between polytheism and monotheism, since I’m not sure how to count gods. Christians say they’re gods are just different aspects of a single underlying reality, but so would many classical polytheists, Hindus etc.

      • pbasch says:

        You’re right that counting gods is problematic! My rare encounters with fundamentalist Christians (self-identified) is that they bridle at the notion that the Trinity and monotheism are in any way contradictory. Just wave the word Mystery around and you can get away with a lot, especially on subjects that nobody can verify. Sorry if I sound testy. I really lose patience with this sort of thing.

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