I thought this would be a nice discussion, which I could not decide if it should go in the Humanism section or the entertainment section. Could be both given she is a writer and a Humanist. Anyway…
Joyce Carol Oates was in this month’s The Humanist magazine. I’ve admired her as a writer for a very long time and her article is wonderful. There is a wonderful quote by her on the cover that I dearly love:
Why is humanism not the preeminent belief of humankind?
I thought that was a great question and have wondered similarly for a long time.
She finishes that thought in the article with:
Why don’t humans place their faith in reason and in the strategies of skepticism and doubt, and refuse to concede to “traditional” customs, religious convictions, and superstitions?
I wish I had the answer to this one too.
In the Q&A section she was asked:
I noticed that nobody uses the “A-word” -atheist- for you. Perhaps it is a step beyond nontheist or humanist. Do you identify as an atheist?
Her response was wonderful, IMO. She said she met Hitchens once or twice, thought he was eloquent and funny, but very adversarial.
She also said she was not adverse to acknowledging her atheism, but as a writer she doesn’t want to be confrontational and antagonistic toward people. I can understand this fully. It is also one of the reasons I prefer the labels non-theist and Humanist, for they seem less confrontational.
As soon as you declare that you are an atheist, it’s like somebody delaring that he is the son of God; it arouses a lot antagonism. I’m wondering whether it might be better to avoid arousing this antagonism in order to find- not compromise- some common ground.
I can’t say I disagree with her on that line of thought.
There’s another comment in the previous section, which I have always thought was fascinating about people too, maybe because I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick or something, but I found her statement very true, at least for me:
In her 2001 novel Middle Age a female character asks an artist whether he believes in the God of “our traditions”. He responds:
How can you be so sure we share a tradition? Because we share a language doesn’t mean we share a tradition. I don’t believe in a God, no. Not a God with personality, the petulant self-regarding God of the Bible. But I find it interesting that others believe.
This first article on Oates continues:
Such interest in religion and spirituality is the humanist’s interest- the observation of such in others and the curiosity it arouses. It is but one of the facets of the human condition Oates explores over and over in her stories.
I often find myself exploring such things too. Maybe it’s because I am a writer or because I am interested in what makes people tick. I don’t know, but in the Q&A Oates said something similar to something I’ve said for a long time: “They project their wishes to some metaphysical zone and create a deity who assures them (and people like them) they’ll live forever”. God, heaven, hell, etc are a human concepts, there is no doubt about it and she as much said the same thing.
After that, she continues about not being confrontational and said, “But I’m not sure it’s a good idea to wave a red flag and annoy other people because we do have to live with them, even the very antagonistic and messianic fundamentalist Christians in our country.”
No one knows that better than I do. I live in the Bible Belt and to wave a red flag only gets you hell… on earth of course. Not that I don’t sometimes say something if they say things that are totally off the wall. Of course, I refrain from stating my first thought when I hear someone say, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship”. My first thought is, “You have a relationship with a dead man?” If it’s a man, not only are they talking Necrophilia, but also homosexuality. Which really makes this thought a real riot, because they are committing two sins from the OT with one sentence- esp if they believe Jesus was historical and they all do of course.
Now imagine what sort of reaction I’d get if I expressed every thought I had concerning their supernatual belief? While religion can be a symptom of mental illness, it is not the case in all situation, but even so, I often wonder about their psychological make-up if they truly believe they are having a relationship with a “dead man”, or in their words, Jesus is still alive via the Holy Spirit/Ghost. What makes them believe in ghosts, esp ones they deem holy?
While I might take on some 20 y.o. whipper-snapper, I don’t want to disabuse anyone in their 60s or older of their beliefs. Of course there is that occassional person who wants to test my knowledge of the Bible and when I throw out something they have no clue about, I tell them to come back when they reach the level of Spong and Price, then we’ll talk. Drives them insane.
Even so, I see no reason to wave a red flag when I have to live among them. I guess that is one of many reasons why I like Oates.
One last thing, that I liked concerning what she said, and this is the artist in me agreeing with her:
I take seriously Flaubert’s statement that we must love one another in our art as the mystics love one another in God. By honoring one another’s creation we honor something that deeply connects us all, and goes beyond us.
I don’t think I could have said it better myself. Wonderful women with a great artistic and intelligent mind about her. She’s written so many things, yet I haven’t even gotten my first book ready for publishing. I’ll get it done one of these days, I hope. If you haven’t read it yet and have an interesting in Joyce Carol Oates, you should snag this issue, if you haven’t already.
Anyone else read the article(s) and have comments?