Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Robby George struggles with Plato, Victoria Beeching

Robert P. George
Yesterday, Robert P. George wrote a fanciful piece for First Things about the recent coming out of Victoria Beeching. One senses that George felt that the commentary was obligatory on behalf of the Catholic Church.

Beeching, who has a degree in theology from Oxford, is a popular Christian rock musician. She is currently pursuing a PhD from Durham University in England. Beeching is a frequent commentator on British radio and TV.

Robert P. George, a presumed Opus Deist, is a tenured professor at Princeton University. George is a co-founder of National Organization for Marriage and has been a reliable advocate for gay inequality on behalf of the Catholic Church. When George has something (self) “important” to say he often does so on the conservative Catholic blog First Things. According to the professor:

Plato’s first form of atheism is the denial of divinity itself—what we today usually mean by the term “atheism.” This is the idea that there is no God or are no gods. There is no supernatural reality, only the mundane. The second form of “atheism,” does not deny divinity. It supposes, however, that God or the gods do not concern themselves with human affairs. People today use the term “deism” as a label for this view. The third form of “atheism” accepts that there is a God and that God is concerned with human beings. But this “God” is soft-spirited and easily placated or appeased. He makes no stringent moral demands of human beings. He wants us to like ourselves and like him. So it’s fine with him if we do pretty much as we please, whatever we please. He is an “I’m O.K., you’re O.K.” divinity—the perfect deity for an Age of Feeling.
Victoria Beeching
Vicky Beeching
George reveals himself early on by stating opinion as fact. It is interesting that he chose the word “mundane” as a contrast to believing in a supernatural deity. Some people of considerable intellect would argue that it is slavish devotion to a theoretical deity, in accordance with the authority of an arbitrary religion, that is mundane (dull and lifeless) Doing so is also the antidote to critical thinking. Absent George's editorializing, Plato's first form of atheism is simply the denial of the existence of a deity.

Contrary to Dr. George, Plato's second form bears no similarity to deism which (without getting terribly esoteric) is a denial of the authority of religion coupled with a rejection of the supernatural. The second is the acceptance of divinity while denying its protective care.

Plato's third form is actually the acceptance of a deity while denying that we can alter the behavior of God towards humankind with our sacrifices and devotions. “If there really is an omnipotent god, why would he need to be worshiped?” It's a good question.

To suggest, as George does, that the third form is the belief “that God is soft-spirited and easily placated or appeased” is a construct of George's own manufacture that has little resemblance to anything Plato wrote. Does Robby feel that his god is mean spirited and hard to mollify? That sounds like the description of a troublesome and neurotic parent. Welcome to Robby-World where his god does play an important parental role.

It's intellectual dishonesty. Robby is re-writing Plato to give authority to his own concepts of convenience. George insults our collective intelligence because he can. As usual, George has an emerging agenda; One cannot possibly be a gay Christian:
The mortal threat to Christianity today—and, I would venture to say, to Judaism and (in the West at least) Islam as well—does not come from Plato’s first and second forms of atheism, but from the third. … Many believers … are being led, as Victoria Beeching has been led, into Plato’s third form of atheism—belief in an imaginary God made in the image and likeness of man, as man is conceived in the pseudo-religion of expressive individualism and me-generation liberalism.
The hubris is remarkable. George's notion of pseudo-religion seems more like pseudo-intellectualism on his part. First of all, George knows next to nothing about what Ms. Beeching believes. More importantly, Beecham hasn't been "led" anywhere. She is a lesbian. She has made the decision to publicly reveal her sexuality. Another Platonic concept is the need to balance reason, appetite, and honor (which are often in conflict) in order to realize ethical justice. Robby doesn't understand that because he is shallow. George is captive to the teachings of the Catholic Church. His reality is defined by ambitious priests whose judgments, the faithful believe, are inerrant and infallible.

Where is the healthy skepticism?

George writes with little doubt. His polemics reflect little room for fallibility. Yet, Dr. George has made many choices that may, or may not, be correct. He (and I) have no way of knowing. Perhaps Hindus got things right thousands of years ago. Maybe Robby (and I) should be keeping Kosher. Maybe Richard Dawkins is right and all this time, energy and money spent on religion is counter-productive.

Vicky Beeching did not choose to be a Lesbian, not withstanding what some prelate pontificates. Robert George chooses to be pedantic, petty and pointless. He lives in an orbit where he is possibly challenged far too infrequently.

The real threat to Christianity and Judaism is, in my opinion, self-righteous opprobrium directed at other people regarding how they deal with God and religion.

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