My husband, G. Grod, and I recently read the Philip Pullman “His Dark Materials” trilogy. G noted, which I repeated in my review, that Pullman repeatedly used religious language and tropes, though he claimed his book was a non-religious fantasy. He and others viewed it as an atheistic answer to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
In “What the New Atheists Don’t See” at The City Journal, (link from Arts & Letters Daily) Theodore Dalrymple points out that many of the new books on atheism make a similar move. They deploy religious frames in their arguments against religion. Rather than being at the opposite end of a continuum, they are like the flip side of a coin: inextricably tied to what they seek to eschew.
Dalrymple argues quite reasonably for a middle ground that sounds more like ethics than religion, and more like agnosticism than atheism.
I am reminded of one of Michael Pollan’s insights about eating from The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Most people are wilfully ignorant of the industrial practices of meat. If people learn what meat is and how comes to out table, one reasonable but extreme response is to go vegetarian. Pollan, though, advocates a middle ground of learning and choosing sustainably raised flora and fauna.
The middle ground. How interesting that Pollan and Dalrymple must remind us of choices of balance, because the extremes have become so widely practiced.