Callahan's essay reminds me of why I so disliked the single course in philosophy I took as an undergraduate (we read James, Whitehead, and Sartre). Since he namedrops Sontag - twice - the immortal words of Crash Davis (in the movie Bull Durham) seem relevant:
"Well, I believe in the soul, [expletives deleted], the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap."
Callahan is critical of scientists, but they are at least capable of conveying what turns out to be a simple message in a manageable number of words. The entire take home message of Callahan's essay is summarized in his excellent final paragraph.
Philosophers seem to write only for other philosophers, and not for a wider audience, which is why they are generally so inconsequential.
Very well, as an armchair philosopher myself, I'd like to make some self-indulgent comments also.
1. Finding God at Harvard. The title of a book. By Kelly Monroe. An excellent collection of 42 essays by people who did exactly that. Found God at Harvard.
And God continues to be found there:
2. Yale swimming, Ivy League athletics, and Ivy League admissions:
As the parent of a Harvard swimmer and a Yale rower, I've found the above topics to be quite fascinating. I recommend the following excellent (New Yorker) essay, describing what it takes to be the proverbial "Harvard Man."
Diversity goes beyond race, ethnicity, and religion. The least consequential aspect of a Harvard or Yale education is the classroom experience. I dare say that the most valuable aspects, in the opinions of graduates, are the residence hall interactions with other students and the satisfactions associated with participating in an extracurricular activity in which the student has a degree of personal excellence.
3. On the impact of childhood religion on the adult life of an agnostic (here's where the self-indulgence will become hot and heavy):
Callahan lost his faith, but, once having had it, there is obviously a smoldering ember, which remains and continues to inform his life.
I had a similar experience. I had a true born-again evangelical Protestant experience in middle school, which "lasted" through my college years, but gradually faded to Unitarian-Universalism (which is only one shade lighter than secular humanism) by mid-life adulthood. But I never lost what I describe as my spiritual cosmic background radiation.
One day, however, I realized that I was in need of self-improvement, in the sphere of personal morality. I wasn't after forgiveness, redemption, or life everlasting. I wasn't after healing of an illness, comfort from a loss, or world peace -- I just wanted to become a slightly better person, and I found that I couldn't do it on my own.
So I just started, one day, to go to mass. The beauty of the Catholic Church, to me, is that everyone is welcome; no one pressures you to join, and you are free to grow into the religion at your own pace. I started out believing in essentially nothing. But I participated, during mass, with all the other parishioners (save for the eucharist; where I simply kneel and pray).
While not initially believing in any of it, I kept (and continue to keep) my heart open to all of it. At a certain point, the Holy Spirit did indeed enter and I now find myself with a genuine belief in God, who has, from my perspective, worked some genuine miracles in my personal life.
I still say only two types of prayers, the first being prayers of genuine thanks, expressing my gratitude for being allowed to "participate" at my own pace and on my own terms, while, again, never closing my heart to anything. The second being the "lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil" genre. Every single one of my prayers has been answered to date and, if it never goes beyond where I am today, I'll continue to go to mass every week until my knees give out.
I'm trying to get other erstwhile agnostics to question their smug secular certitude. I've got a little blog where I try to introduce the concept that belief in God is not incompatible with a devotion to the religion of hard core physical science. I use the word religion in this latter context, because religious rejection requires faith in one's own understanding of physical reality. Science has taught us a lot, but the magnitude of what we don't know should truly make us humble.
Here's the (self-indulgent) blog: http://physicalheretic.com
- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA