"Now, suppose that a stated objective of one's herd was honesty while at the same time the herd existed, unwittingly, upon a foundation of gross falsehoods? Our true believer can only realize the objectives of his or her own herd by simultaneously calling for his or her own banishment." (p. 17)In Post-Atheism Matt Berry once again transcends cultural thought barriers and shows things in a new light. Unfortunately, those that really need to read this book probably won't due to the title. Those that already are post-theists have probably already figured out many of the things Matt goes into here. However, his words ring of poetry much of the time in describing the human condition so the latter camp won't be disappointed or find nothing new. Many of his thoughts go beyond what most "baby" atheists have thought of before.
Post-Atheism is Emerson with even more teeth and Emerson for the 21st Century. It goes hand in hand with Why People Believe Weird Things, The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions, and The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Compared to these three, Post-Atheism is the poetic, philosophical, and more personal look at the themes weaved through these works.
I have a few minor semantical gripes about this book, however. The first is with the oxymoron "Material Spirituality." Sure, us materialists and atheists know what another atheist means when he or she says "spiritual," but given the etymology and usual meaning (animism, ghosts, supernatural, etc.) of the root, a better word could have been used or created. The second is with the equating of atheism with being Anti-God (not that Matt does this throughout the book). Atheists are no more anti-God than those lacking a belief in unicorns are anti-unicorns. Finally, (and this is cleared up somewhat in the Conclusion) objectivity doesn't always mean just "expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by any personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations." Obviously, nothing that goes through anyone's senses could be 100% objective using such a strict interpretation. However, objectivity also refers to the real world out there independent of our minds, and it refers to reducing subjective factors to a minimum by having facts or experiments repeated, verified, and independently investigated.
Matt repeatedly covers a number of concepts in this book (the repetition not being surprising and likely there on purpose given the title of his book before this one). One of them is the great advice that intelligent people--all people--need to stop living on the surface of life--essentially being led by their culture. As beings able to think we need to realize the causes of our beliefs, thoughts, and actions. We need to understand not only their source--where or who they came from (parent, friend, etc.)--but also their mechanical (neurological) nature and origin. (This is where The Biology of Belief really comes into play!) As Matt says on page 83,
we need to reach around argumentation, around even the most legitimate philosophical truth, and feel the reality, search out the mechanisms which steer our thoughts, which not only contribute to our ideals but have already determined them.But that is not the end. There is more to life than being aware, honest, and responsible. We can move beyond by using the good that comes out of this honest awareness to further our individual journeys rather than just recognize someone else's footsteps we are following in. Again, in Matt's own words:
The responsible student of philosophy wants to find the cause and the effect...to snatch the tune, flay and hang it up to dry. The explorer wants to be the effect...to catch himself, not to flay, but to nourish and condition, to find himself in an extended rational response for which there can be no conscious guide. He would find his death if asked to step through a tune in obedience to a master's score. (p. 112-3)Be prepared to leave your presumptions at the door, to think a little deeper than you have heretofore, and to possibly have your entire world view changed. Enter the world of Post-Atheism.
"Should we cover our heads and whimper because reality is not as we would have it? Beautiful lies are not superior to horrible truths, and so why not hear the truth even when it is vulgar?" (p. 73)from the author:
Faith is the fatigue resulting from the attempt to preserve God's integrity instead of one's own.This book is not about atheism yet nonetheless was written for atheists. If I deal with theism at all, it is only to finger the strings to belief and thereby understand human tractability. I also draw a sharp line between my expedient need for an individual strategy and the need of atheists for herd unity. In short, as yet another human string, atheism draws me out of the herd of theism. Atheism is in this sense a necessary point of arrival. It is how and where I stop my inherited cultural inertia. While as an individual, atheism is my point of departure. It too is a herd I leave behind, for this is not a God-AntiGod reality.
This is post-atheism. I extract from my inherited culture a knowledge of human behavior and accept the predicament: "I am a machine, and my function is to lie to myself." The subjective struggle for self-control ... a new spirituality after atheism begins here.