David Albert reviews Lawrence Krauss’s newest book and ends with this
When I was growing up, where I was growing up, there was a critique of religion according to which religion was cruel, and a lie, and a mechanism of enslavement, and something full of loathing and contempt for everything essentially human. Maybe that was true and maybe it wasn’t, but it had to do with important things — it had to do, that is, with history, and with suffering, and with the hope of a better world — and it seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity, with all that in the back of one’s head, to think that all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb.
[From ‘A Universe From Nothing,’ by Lawrence M. Krauss – NYTimes.com]
It is a retreat to the trivial ridiculizing of religion. Or so it seems to me, but maybe I’m primed to think that way after an encounter I had with an individual at the Reason Rally yesterday. He thought Christianity was absurd, and his Exhibit A was the talking donkey (Balaam’s ass in Judges). He wanted to me to explain how a donkey could talk.
I asked him what he meant by “explain.” (I’m condensing a ten- to fifteen-minute conversation here, but I’m not distorting the portion I’m telling you.) He said he wanted to know just exactly what physical changes God made in the donkey to enable it to talk. I reminded him that no one had observed and recorded those changes. Amazingly, he continued to insist on that very thing anyway–and no speculations on possible answers was allowed.
I decided to step it up a notch. “Why are you so concerned about the physical possibilities of a talking donkey? Try something really difficult–what about a man rising from the dead?” We talked briefly about how there might or might not be evidence for that. But then he said, “I’m not interested in that. I want to talk about the donkey.”
I paused when he said that, so I wouldn’t blurt out the first thing that came into my head. After several moments I gently told him, “If you are more interested in that than in life out of death, I suggest you find someone who is as interested in talking donkeys as you are.” He stormed off.
Why a donkey rather than Jesus’ resurrection? I could be wrong, but I think this is why: He was hell-bent on making Christianity look ridiculous. A talking donkey is a better image of comic absurdity than the conquering of death. Though it was a “Reason Rally,” he didn’t want to listen to a reasoned answer on the resurrection. He wanted to focus on the foolish image instead.
I worry about him. Sometimes we become like that on which we focus. I hope he thinks that through.
But there is a much larger story here, lest you think I myself am guilty of trivializing by focusing on these two stories. Richard Dawkins spoke at the Reason Rally and called on the attendees there to make “ridicule” and “contempt” their mode of dealing with religion. The man I spoke with was carrying out marching orders. I haven’t read Krauss’s book, but I suspect from the review he might be too. This is big-picture trivialization. And with it the world gets even weirder.
Hat Tip to Bill Vallicella