Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Dialectical Response

Classfellow A.N. makes the following audacious dialectic response to my lecture presentation of Life After God.
Update: by 'audacious' I mean that I like it very much, and would be glad of more!

I don't buy the notion of Life After God being an non- or anti-polemical. Is Douglas Coupland being deceptive? Dishonest? Cunning? Elitist? Probably.Let us take a look at page 273:

"I think there was a trade-off somewhere along the line. I think the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God. But then I must remind myself we are living creatures - we have religious impulses - we must - and yet into what cracks do these impulses flow in a world without religion?"

This is undeniably an intensely polemical statement regarding human nature. I find myself struggling to remove personal feeling from this argument, but I digress; I cannot help myself. I, as a staunch atheist along the lines of Harris and Dawkins, firmly believe in love. I do not believe that lack of religious conviction equals lack of compassion, but exactly the opposite; citing events such the Crusades of the 13th century, the Thirty Years War, religious conflicts in France in the 16th century and Ireland in the modern day, as well as the numerous acts of violence god commits against heretics and non-believers should be more than enough evidence to prove Christianity's obsession with violence. Furthermore, to assert that human beings are naturally religious is simply ridiculous. The fact that two paragraphs of fiction are inspiring me to angrily write polemic should be proof enough that Douglas Coupland is not only blatantly trying to be polemical in Life After God, but is clearly glorifying Christianity in a way that Graham Greene could never hope to achieve.


april said...

Adam, first off, congratulations on a blistering polemical diatribe.

A few things came to mind for me...the notion of Christianity's 'obsession' with violence for example. I would argue that possibly the only place where humanity has ever existed in a state of peaceful, coexistence was in Eden (before the fall...) in other words, in an allegorical state of innocence, gentleness and harmony which exists only as an ideal in a creation story.

Humanity has ever been capable of and inclined towards pounding the crap out of itself — religiously-minded or not. Take a look at the Yanomami people of the Amazon forest. They engage in some of the best 'ultra-violence' going, and there's nary a Christian God in sight. Certain fascist/atheist regimes come off rather badly as well...

No sane person (how's that for a polemic?) would ever assert that a lack of religious conviction equals a lack of belief in love. Compassion, love, empathy, selflessness...none of these require dogma or church attendance — and I don't think Coupland thinks so either. When he says that we have 'religious impulses' he doesn't mean we are naturally inclined towards organized religion (in my opinion). I think he's speaking of the transcendent aspects of human-ness. We are, after all, undeniably somehow different from other animals. It's clear I think, that he does believe in the existence of the soul, or a spiritual dimension to human life.

As for the "scorching irony" of which he speaks...I have known and watched people who left themselves with nothing more, and they DO appear to have lost something vital. I'm not saying they'd find whatever it is at Sunday mass...but I understand the trade-off Coupland's refering to.

I still don't see Life After God as anything like a polemic (sneaky or otherwise). And it certainly is not a "glorification of Christianity". The whole book involves questioning, and yes, an undeniable longing — but never, at any point, does Coupland tell us that he knows the answers. "I wonder" does not a polemic make.

-yours in academia, April.

Shelton said...

While I would certainly argue that there are more "man needs God" statements in Life After God than counters to such statements, I don't necessarily read it as pro-God. I didn't really assume that the pro-God statements were Coupland speaking, but rather just the character speaking them speaking, which fits right in with a "searching" theme.

Also, as an agnostic, I see Christianity as a mixed bag, even if I have plenty of reasons to dislike the religion.

Most interesting comment for me was your mention of Coupland having a better polemic than Greene. I actually agree with that. If I hadn't known Greene was writing a pro-Christian polemic, I would have interpretted at showing Christianity was basically a bunch of empty promises to a believer. The Christian characters don't exactly have good endings. Take about being easy to misinterpret.

retrodeathpixie said...

"man needs God" is infinitely different than "man needs Religion", much less "man needs Christianity".
I think that if Coupland is pounding anything home it's "man needs something more than man". The fact that our society only has one name for that, God, is testimony to this point.