Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Heterosexuals=joyless? Theists=dull?

In the latest issue of New Oxford Review, editor Dale Vree reflects on a new linguistic trend, following the earlier shift in semantic meaning of "gay" from "joyful" to "homosexual." It seems that atheists have now begun describing themselves as "bright." Connotatively, then, if homosexuals are "gay" and atheists are "bright," it would seem that heterosexuals must be "joyless" and theists must be "dull." Uh, right. Sure.

I've often wondered what it would be like to introduce myself to my philosophy classes each semester with a little speech like this:
Hello, I am your instructor and there are a few things you should know about me. Like some of you, I have a disability. Only, unlike those of you with Attention Deficit Disorder and other such disabilities that can be treated medically, my own disability is untreatable. You see, I have this cognitive defect that prevents me from perceiving reality quite accurately. It isn't usually a problem, but once in a while you may notice that I seem incapable of accepting certain things about the real world that most intellectually sound, healthy 21st century people have no trouble with. Like the scientific fact that the world is just this physical universe, for instance, and no more--that there is no hidden metaphysical meaning "behind" things, let alone any unseen world of angels and demons, with God in heaven and hell below us, and so on. Yes, I know: this is the 21st century, and this must be quite hard for you to fathom! Any well-adjusted, intelligent person today knows that there is no such thing as life after death. But for some reason, my mind just prevents me from recognizing that. It's as if my mind is infected with some sort of virus that invades my psyche with all sorts of ancient superstitions and medieval associations of things like extra-marital recreational sex, abortion, homosexuality with sin and guilt. It's an awful burden to live with, really. I would like nothing more than for some new medical discovery to announce a cure for my condition. Then I wouldn't go around so glum and dull-minded all the time, and I could be bright and healthy like all of you. In the meantime, however, I trust you will be patient with my disability and my occasional lapses that betray my flawed condition.
Of course, if Alvin Plantinga is right in Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford University Press), then the shoe is on the other foot. Then the fact that some of us find ourselves believing in God under the right empirical conditions is no sign of malfunction but of the proper functioning of cognitive faculties as God designed them to operate. One might ask, then, whether it isn't the atheist who suffers the defect, whether it isn't the theist who is "bright"; and whether it isn't also the homosexual who, after all, isn't sufficiently "gay."

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