Peter Singer

I’m yet to read Peter Singer, but an interview with him in Saturday’s Australian magazine caught my attention. He writes:

Some things that many people consider unknowable I believe we do already understand quite well – for example, that the universe was not created by a divine being, and that there is no survival after death.

It hurts me to read these sentences, and see the world through his eyes for a moment. He doesn’t find such a world at all bleak, but I do. His certainty shocks me; does he really feel there is a consensus around these two things? Or maybe he’s not talking about consensus, but the certainties that people with the right conclusions or assumptions can ‘understand quite well’. (The ‘we’ is all people denuded of their theistic delusions.)

I find it hard to understand why most people in the world don’t have existential dread hanging over their heads in response to these two questions; most people seem to live blithely, with trite answers to both. Yet the whole mode of our living hangs on both answers. As St Paul says, if Christ is not risen we are to be pitied more than anyone.

His interview concludes with the side of Singer I heartily agree with: ‘Try to make a difference to the world. It’s the most fulfilling way to live.’ (Actually, probably living in existential dread is not a good way to make a difference to the world.) I remember when his latest book came out, a review talking about how he lives on a basic amount of money and gives the rest away. I admire him for that.

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2 thoughts on “Peter Singer

  1. Thanks Nathan. Your post reminds me of a rather unkind put-down of Richard Dawkins I heard recently describing him as a “Darwinian Fundamentalist”. Some of these ‘new atheists’ are so cocksure of themselves, they rather defeat the object of critiquing religious arrogance. That’s not to say they don’t sometimes hit the mark. They have some uncomfortable points to make about the downside of theism.

    I think that arguably the most moving address I ever heard was Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (Anthony Bloom). He came to do a ‘quiet day’ at London Bible College in the mid 1980’s. There’s all kinds of wonderful things in his compilation volume, ‘The Essence of Prayer’ but a couple of things that I remember are his reflections on the ‘absence of God’ and his discussion with the atheist, Marghanita Laski. With regard the the absence of God he told the story of a man who came to him asking for Bloom to show him God. Bloom told him (rather abruptly) that he did not think he was in a fit state to see God anyway. Then he asked which character the man identified with the story of the woman caught in adultery. The man answered, ‘I am the only Jew who would not have withdrawn without stoning the woman’. Bloom replied, ‘You have your reply. You cannot see God who is a total stranger to you.’ I have shortened the discussion a lot, but this passage comes as near as anything I have heard to explaining why even believers experience God’s absence and why atheists might not see God. It is as if we go looking for a God in our own image and when he is nowhere to be found, we declare him absent.

    The discussion with Laski is a breath of fresh air because it has something these ‘debates’ between the new atheists and their religious critics lack: mutal respect.

  2. Hi Nathan,

    About a year or 18 months ago Philip Adams interviewed Peter Singer on ABC radio. It struck me that Peter is a very compassionate person with a passion to lift up the poor and needy within the context of an ecologically sustainable earth society.

    When a person rejects the existence of God, what kind of God is it that they think is non existent?

    Clark Pinnock argues that atheism is , in part, the legacy of certain aspects of traditional views of God imported from Greek metaphysics in the historical development of theology. He points out that if God is viewed in existentially repugnant ways, how can we expect people to believe (The Openness of God, ch.3).

    Creative love theism is a theology of love. God is a God of unbounded compassion and mercy. Compassion is personal, relational and social.
    We see this kind of reflection of God in the person of Jesus.

    Unless we reconceptualise some of the classical attributes of God so that they are rethought in the light of God’s nature as unconditional, others centred, self giving love (as a number of theologians have been doing recently), more people will probably drift into atheism.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

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