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Thomas J.J. Altizer - The Death of God
Posted: 09 April 2010 02:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]
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dougsmith - 07 April 2010 04:54 AM

The whole notion that God literally existed in the past and is now literally dead is simply grotesque. So insofar as one takes people like Price and Altizer seriously, one has to assume they’re playing a silly sort of theater—games of sharing their creative reformations without any interest in figuring out anything real.

The second problem stems from those people in religious studies who profess to accept the rational critiques (as it seems Altizer did on the podcast, in agreement with Price) but at a deeper level do not, because they are not actually believers in reason or rational critiques at all—one assumes, due to the corrosive impact of a postmodern milieu on which reason itself is discounted, again in favor of spinning creative but factually worthless tales.

It has taken me a few days to get online, and I find that many of the posts in this thread express exactly my views about the dreadful POI that I downloaded last Sunday.  I am indebted to dougsmith and many others for their excellent rebuttal of this type of content, which has no validity in a podcast purporting to promote science, reason, and secular values.
If we hold those values then we cannot even approach the discussion since it is founded upon a basis that is in opposition to those values.  The discussion began by stating so many false premises that the whole thing resembled a castle built on sand.  “You have to be a Christian to be an Atheist”!  Indeed?  This astonishing piece of hubris went unchallenged in the interview, but this is no surprise given the tedious mutual reverence that characterised the discussion.
Coupled with the Jesus Seminar, which also dwelt in the unilluminating mire of theology, these two podcasts represent a troubling lurch in the wrong direction.
There is plenty of good content out there, and I don’t want to waste any more of my precious bandwidth downloading the equivalent of a discussion that concerns itself with the number of angels that can dance on a pinhead.

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Posted: 09 April 2010 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]
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I hated this podcast so much, I registered here just to vent. This episode was total rubbish. Bring back D.J.!!!!

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Posted: 09 April 2010 03:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 93 ]
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Maybe I am in the minority but I never thought Altizer really believed that God had ever literally lived or died. I thought he was describing an interpretation of a flawed and irrelevant story book of bronze age stories. The podcast was rather entertaining to listen to with that in mind.

My only complaint was the way it was cruelly ended after only 27 minutes.

..Ch:W..

[ Edited: 09 April 2010 04:07 PM by chuckwolber ]
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Posted: 09 April 2010 04:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 94 ]
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chuckwolber - 09 April 2010 03:56 PM

Maybe I am in the minority but I never thought Altizer really believed that God had ever literally lived or died. I thought he was describing an interpretation of a flawed and irrelevant story book of bronze age stories. The podcast was rather entertaining to listen to with that in mind.

My only complaint was the way it was cruelly ended after only 27 minutes.

..Ch:W..

I think it is telling that he never said this, and that if it was his intention to convey this massage he used an arcane and wilfully obscure language in which to convey it.  To say that there is a flawed and irrelevant literature which doesn’t amount to proof of anything much, is different from saying “God is Dead”.
But it’s not the sort of clarity theologians seek.  They ply their trade in the semantic shadows, why use clarity of speech?  The emperor is naked.

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Posted: 09 April 2010 04:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 95 ]
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WetaMan - 09 April 2010 04:19 PM

I think it is telling that he never said this, and that if it was his intention to convey this massage he used an arcane and wilfully obscure language in which to convey it.  To say that there is a flawed and irrelevant literature which doesn’t amount to proof of anything much, is different from saying “God is Dead”.
But it’s not the sort of clarity theologians seek.  They ply their trade in the semantic shadows, why use clarity of speech?  The emperor is naked.

I guess for me, when it comes to the bible, the closer you get the stranger it gets. So it is no surprise to me that scholars like Altizer, who appear to have spent a lifetime looking at it in intricate detail, can come up with the most entertaining interpretations. Pretty much the same as the bible code folks, but not nearly as stupid sounding.

..Ch:W..

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Posted: 11 April 2010 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 96 ]
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Add me to the list of people who registered with the forums just to respond to this podcast. I’m only halfway through the episode, and I still felt that I should come read the comments to see if anybody else was able to figure out what was going on. I see I’m not alone in my confusion.

My chief criticism so far is that Price and Alitzer have begun from the assumption that the normal PoI audience ought to know what they’re talking about well enough that they won’t mind being plunged directly into an insiders’ reminiscence of the academic theological debates and politics of the 1960s. This is probably the innocent mistake of a couple of old men with a shared history, not an act of deliberate obscurantism. But it does make for a bad podcast for most of the audience, I suspect.

(Incidentally, I have nothing against the idea of using a CFI podcast to educate the skeptical community about existing branches of academic theology. I wouldn’t mind knowing what this is about, if it were presented well. But to present it with the assumption that I should find it edifying and plausible is arrogant and counterproductive.)

There’s another assumption at work here that I’d like a point out; it’s an assumption common to nearly all discussions of atheism that involve a Christian theologian, in my experience. That assumption is this: the rest of the religions in the world don’t really count.  For example, the idea that you have to be a Christian to be a real atheist—in addition to being silly on its face—ignores all nonbelievers that come from non-Christian cultures. I’m tempted to call it a kind of racism, except I think it’s more a matter of stupid ignorance than actual malice.

Another example: at one point the interlocutors mentioned that Jesus should be treated as a kind of bodhisattva. This sounds superficially like a pluralistic perspective, but what it actually does is ignore the huge elephant in the room, which is that if Buddhism (or any other religion) actually matters, then Christianity might well be entirely superfluous, and any serious Christian theologian needs to start first by justifying his entire field of study and explain why he shouldn’t be a Hindu, Buddhist, or Norse theologian instead. Or, for that matter, a scholar of comparative mythology from a completely anthropological (i.e., non-theological) point of view.

Follow-up: Just finished the podcast. Price signed off by apologizing for not being critical.  What can I add to that?

Follow-up #2: Here’s what I can add: citing Nietzsche in defense of death-of-god theology is like citing Darwin in defense of homeopathy. It’s an intellectual obscenity.

Follow-up #3: Maybe this show can be taken as an object-lesson in what-not-to-do. If skeptics are producing a large amount of material that is so self-referential that it completely fails to explain what it’s actually about, and if this podcast is an accurate example of what skepticism sounds like to non-skeptics, then maybe that’s a lesson to be taken to heart.  I would need to be convinced that this is the case, however.

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Posted: 13 April 2010 12:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 97 ]
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I agree with most of the critics, but I nonetheless did enjoy the programme. I enjoyed it primarily because I find Bob Price to be highly entertaining. I’ve read about the Death of God theologians and it was interesting to hear this purely from the perspective of someone interested in the history of religion. That said, I have a degree which included a fair amount of study of theology.

I can see why the podcast would be confusing to someone who isn’t familiar with the people referenced. To be fair, I find this a difficult point: I read an article by Alan Saunders, the host of Philosopher’s Zone, where he said that he had exactly the same complaints about “name-dropping” guests. He said that he fixed it by interjecting like this:

- Guest: ...as Hume pointed out.
- Host: That is David Hume, the great eighteenth century Scottish philosopher.
- Guest: Yes, as Hume said…

He then pointed out that the attribution makes no difference at all! It was a sort of intellectual placebo - supplementing “Hume” with his full name, nationality and historical era doesn’t actually mean that the listener knows any more about what, for instance, was said in Hume’s work. It doesn’t affect the substance of what is being said - the discussion of, say, causation could be made without reference to Hume. But, Saunders says, it actually sort of works and reduces confusion, even though it seems difficult to actually say why. It feels like a sort of intellectual pause for breath…

It’d be great to have these kind of interviews on some kind of “skeptical theology” podcast - like The Bible Geek. Basically, a place for slightly more freeform discussion from theological radicals and borderline atheists. Bible Geek does this, as well as Common Sense Atheism (where Bob Price was recently interviewed) but it’d be nice if there was somewhere for those of us with an academic interest in what it is theologians get up to.

I do hope that Bob Price gets to do more interviews on Point of Inquiry because he has a lot of interesting things to say. I do wish he was slightly more critical of Altizer - but it was very interesting to hear two radical theologians reminiscing - it felt more like Entitled Opinions than Point of Inquiry! (I say that as a fan of both.) Point of Inquiry definitely needs to mix it up between science, philosophy and religion - all from skeptical, humanist perspectives, but hopefully not tightly bound by that requirement.

[ Edited: 13 April 2010 12:34 PM by Tom Morris ]
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Posted: 13 April 2010 10:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 98 ]
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As others have pointed out, this episode had very little content. It mostly consisted of Altizer telling a little story about his interaction with another theologian, and Price saying “wow.” However, there was one moment in the interview when there actually was some content. As the Folklorist has pointed out that calling this interview gobbledygook does not lead to a productive discussion, I thought I would attempt to look at this portion of the interview in some detail.

Early in the interview, as a followup to Altizer’s statement that he considers Nietzsche, Hegel, Blake, and others to be sources for his views, Price says, “One of the first things I question, though I think I understand it better now, is how do you know these thinkers are telling us the truth? What gives them such revelatory authority in your thinking?” Altizer’s response was to say, and I quote:

“Hegel gave us the most purely and comprehensively logical thinking that has ever been created, and it’s all grounded in an absolute self-negation. In Hegel we have this conceptual enactment, this incredible, logical, purely conceptual demonstration of an absolute self-negation, which pervades all of his thinking. In Hegel you have a total realization of the death of God, which is simultaneously a total enactment of reality itself and of totality itself. So that here we can realize a total conception or a total vision of everything, which is inseparable from absolute self-negation and the crucifixion. To me, these are enactments of Christianity, realizations of Christianity.”

Mr. Price seemed to believe that this was actually an answer to his question, because his response was to say, “That does make sense. Why, I wonder, are you the only one or first one to say these things?” I hope that he has the insight, at least in retrospect, to be embarrassed by how obsequious and fawning this response was.

From my point of view, I can’t fathom how this is in any way an answer to Price’s question. I admit that I don’t understand what Altizer means by a “conceptual enactment,” or a “conceptual demonstration.” Perhaps the Folklorist would be willing to explain these terms to me?

Even without understanding this terminology, though, what does seem clear to me, is that nowhere in Altizer’s response is there any appeal to evidence outside of the mind of the philosopher. Altizer knows that Hegel is telling us the truth because his thinking is so “purely and comprehensively logical,” and possibly because this thinking is “grounded in an absolute self-negation.”

It seems that Altizer and Price have a totally different idea of how one arrives at truth than I do. They appear to believe that one can discover truth simply by thinking deeply about things, without having to bother with anything so mundane as evidence. They seem to be blissfully unaware of the history of philosophical thought, which clearly demonstrates that philosophers and other deep thinkers have come up with vastly different conceptualizations of the nature of reality. Of course, since “Hegel gave us the most purely and comprehensively logical thinking that has ever been created,” he must have gotten it right, while everyone else got it wrong. Unfortunately, Altizer does not tell us how he knows that Hegel’s thinking is so superior to everyone else’s. Is it because Altizer also thinks more clearly than any of the other philosophers and theologians who don’t agree with him?

From my point of view, Altizer provides absolutely no reason to believe anything he says. Neither he nor Price give us any reason to think that it is worth our time to attempt to understand it, either. I don’t believe that one can penetrate to the truth simply by thinking. I believe that one needs to have evidence supporting one’s claims. If Price had used Altizer’s response to probe deeper, and clarify for the listeners what Altizer was saying here, this could potentially have been an interesting interview. I would love to know whether Altizer would actually be willing to state that he believes that truth can be discovered simply by thinking about something, without any reference to the physical world. If so, it would be interesting to know how he came to have such an absurd notion of truth. What does he say about the thinkers who have come up with totally different truths? Is truth totally relative, or is there some way to ascertain that one person’s thoughts are better than another’s? There are some interesting epistemological issues that could be explored here, but Price completely dropped the ball.

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Posted: 14 April 2010 02:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 99 ]
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Stanley Dorst - 13 April 2010 10:30 PM

how do you know these thinkers are telling us the truth? What gives them such revelatory authority in your thinking?” Altizer’s response was to say, and I quote:

“Hegel gave us the most purely and comprehensively logical thinking that has ever been created, and it’s all grounded in an absolute self-negation. In Hegel we have this conceptual enactment, this incredible, logical, purely conceptual demonstration of an absolute self-negation, which pervades all of his thinking. In Hegel you have a total realization of the death of God, which is simultaneously a total enactment of reality itself and of totality itself. So that here we can realize a total conception or a total vision of everything, which is inseparable from absolute self-negation and the crucifixion. To me, these are enactments of Christianity, realizations of Christianity.”

Mr. Price seemed to believe that this was actually an answer to his question, because his response was to say, “That does make sense. Why, I wonder, are you the only one or first one to say these things?” I hope that he has the insight, at least in retrospect, to be embarrassed by how obsequious and fawning this response was.

From my point of view, I can’t fathom how this is in any way an answer to Price’s question.

Nicely done, Stanley. You picked out a detailed quotation that really does reveal the problems with this podcast, purporting as it does to promote reason and critical thinking.  A question that demands clarity is met with a response that adds complexity.  It was an act of deliberate obfuscation, a misuse of language, the smoke and mirrors of theology.  The more penetrating the question, the more evasive the answer, the more obtuse the language, the more mysterious the references.
In short, it was gobbledygook, and thanks to you we now have a good working example.  You are right to take a section of the talk and to hold it up to the light. grin

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Posted: 14 April 2010 04:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 100 ]
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I’ve been reading this post, and thinking - I listened to the actual podcast a while back, and I’d also agree with many of the criticisms.

Having said that, I think the new hosts and format is good, and while this is a misfire I wouldn’t write off Price. The opening to the podcast was a bit of a chant, and was off putting, especially to an audience that is used to a more “sceptical” examination of topics.

I don’t have an issue with religious people being interviewed, provided the format is balanced and asks probing questions while letting the other interview subject express their views clearly.

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Posted: 14 April 2010 03:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 101 ]
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Two comments:

This podcast was incredibly bad.  There was far too much jargon tossed around which neither Price nor Alitzer bothered to translate for the laity.  Alitzer made assertions without bothering to provide the slightest evidence.  Price’s fawning sycophancy got quite annoying at times.

Why are atheists required to learn about theology in order to argue with theists?  Theology is the study of the thoughts and attributes of a fictitious, make-believe character.  It’s all a matter of opinion and for n theologists there are n+1 opinions.  We don’t have to know whether angels are waltzing or doing the macarena on the heads of pins to not accept the concept of angels.  I believe the whine “ya don’t know ‘bout theology so ya can’t dispute gawd” is an attempt by theists and their accomodationist lickspittles to sidetrack arguments about the existence of deities.

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Posted: 16 April 2010 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 102 ]
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Thameron - 03 April 2010 03:17 PM

<snip>
I don’t care how big this guy’s name is.  He said nothing relevant nor interesting.
<snip>

I agree completely.

He also had a very odd (and to me, annoying) habit of repeating himself. It reminds me for some reason, of people who speak slower and louder to “make” someone understand the language they are speaking. wink

Take care,

Derek

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Posted: 16 April 2010 03:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 103 ]
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citizenschallenge - 08 April 2010 12:23 AM

I wish we had the ability to put stars next to posts we support, because I’ve seen a parade of them I’d like to ditto.

Are you suggesting we need a “Like” button for posts? :D

Take care,

Derek

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Posted: 16 April 2010 08:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 104 ]
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WetaMan - 14 April 2010 02:28 AM
Stanley Dorst - 13 April 2010 10:30 PM

Nicely done, Stanley. You picked out a detailed quotation that really does reveal the problems with this podcast, purporting as it does to promote reason and critical thinking.  A question that demands clarity is met with a response that adds complexity.  It was an act of deliberate obfuscation, a misuse of language, the smoke and mirrors of theology.  The more penetrating the question, the more evasive the answer, the more obtuse the language, the more mysterious the references.
In short, it was gobbledygook, and thanks to you we now have a good working example.  You are right to take a section of the talk and to hold it up to the light. grin

Thanks! As a brand new member of this discussion group, I’m glad to be able to make a contribution.

Stan

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Posted: 17 April 2010 08:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 105 ]
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Long time listener, first time poster…

I was incredibly disappointed by this episode.

What is “death of god theology”? Why is it relevant? Just two of the questions that weren’t answered in this back-slapathon of an episode, but would have been really interesting for people who have a genuine interest in understanding why people believe what they believe. However, in this episode, we were treated to the mocking of people who don’t believe the same things, and name dropping like an apple tree in November.

And, coincidentally, I was deeply offended by some of the comments, but that’s fine, offence suggests there’s an opportunity for me to develop the way I think. However, in this case, the argument went something like this:

Afairyists don’t understand the depth and knowledge revealed by fairyology.
Afairyists criticise fairyists.

Therefore: afairyist’s arguments are ignorant and should be ignored.

However, I think the reality is more like:

Fairyologists believe that fairies exist.
Fairyologists study the fairies that they think exist.

Therefore: if fairies do not exist, fairyologists have wasted their entire lives.

Afairyists reject the existence of fairies.

Therefore: afairyists are a threat to fairyologists.

This, for me, explains why the clearly intelligent contributors defended their field of study in a way which was entirely based on argumenta ad homina and doesn’t attempt to address (or even acknowledge the existence of) the points of stasis.

I’ve a feeling that I will avoid this presenters episodes in the future, but I would love to know what “death of god” theology actually is, if anyone fancies explaining it…

D

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