Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Death of PoI

I'm a fairly long time listener to the PoI podcasts from the CFI, which were, until recently, conducted by DJ Grothe.

Grothe is a little too accommodationist for my tastes, but is an exemplary interviewer, very good at illuminating the dark corners of a subject. Grothe recently moved on to be replaced by three: Chris Mooney, Robert Price and Karen Stollznow. Alarm bells rang a little at Mooney, who is tragically accommodationist, but the first of his podcasts, on Climategate, was fine, although little could go wrong on *that* subject. Paul Kurtz, the founder of CFI, is known for his softly softly approach to religion, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at the lurch towards theism. I'd heard some good things about Robert Price, so was hopeful that his interviews would be enlightening.

This is the first podcast by Price I've listened to, and I hope he improves! This one actually made my gym session *hurt* more, as I spluttered at the ludicrous assertions therein. It was with Thomas Altizer, a 'radical' theologian who likes Nietzsche's Death of God idea. The broadcast was an embarrassing sequence of mud-slinging, back-slapping and name-dropping. It's *possible* that there's something worth studying in all this, but this has certainly put me off! Consider this exchange; I'm quoting a commenter called Stanley Dorst on the CFI discussion forum, so I'm indebted to him for the transcript:
Early in the interview, as a followup to Altizer’s statement that he considers Nietzsche, Hegel, Blake, and others to be sources for his views, Price says, “One of the first things I question, though I think I understand it better now, is how do you know these thinkers are telling us the truth? What gives them such revelatory authority in your thinking?” Altizer’s response was to say, and I quote:

“Hegel gave us the most purely and comprehensively logical thinking that has ever been created, and it’s all grounded in an absolute self-negation. In Hegel we have this conceptual enactment, this incredible, logical, purely conceptual demonstration of an absolute self-negation, which pervades all of his thinking. In Hegel you have a total realization of the death of God, which is simultaneously a total enactment of reality itself and of totality itself. So that here we can realize a total conception or a total vision of everything, which is inseparable from absolute self-negation and the crucifixion. To me, these are enactments of Christianity, realizations of Christianity.”

Mr. Price seemed to believe that this was actually an answer to his question, because his response was to say, “That does make sense. Why, I wonder, are you the only one or first one to say these things?” I hope that he has the insight, at least in retrospect, to be embarrassed by how obsequious and fawning this response was.
As others have commented, this has the flavour of Sokal. I'm mindful that in any discourse, jargon is *required* to allow detailed analysis to take place, but Grothe would not have allowed Altizer to dribble on like this without some explanation of the terms, and the justifications. Altizer says that one cannot be an atheist without being a Christian atheist. Well, this is obviously incorrect by any dictionary definition of atheism, but presumably Altizer means something else by this; no-one could be that daft. So what was it that he meant? Price knew, so should have elaborated.

Altizer dismisses the new atheists, for their poor theology; but since he doesn't gainsay any of the classic atheist arguments, one cannot imagine what his complaint is - they sell more books, presumably. It raises a question that has occurred to me before; to what extent must one study a subject before one can dismiss it as nonsense. Altizer and Price presumably think that there is much of worth in theological study, but what this is eludes me. A podcast on that subject would be helpful.

It's possible that this was an elaborate April Fool's Day joke (on April 2nd), in which case I applaud the attempt; but don't take up half-an-hour of podcast time on it.


  • Diacanu says:
    21 April 2010 at 14:09

    My thoughts exactly.

    Ah, well, at least there's "for good reason", to jump over to.

  • Mark Jones says:
    21 April 2010 at 17:13

    Absolutely, D. He's already done more good talks on there than PoI have managed since he left.

    After reading the forum comments on the Altizer thing, I was relieved I wasn't just getting too strident in my old age!

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