Mystery for you, assertion for me
This rejection of the theistic God, and acknowledgment that the problem of evil cannot be swept away through theodicy, might sound like music to atheists’ ears…But rather than characterizing such a position as a significant concession to the new atheists, Armstrong insists on continuing to regard them as her primary opponents. Moreover, she is unable to hold herself consistently to her own apophatic view…[O]n her understanding the apophatic position, rather than discouraging metaphysical speculation, in fact licenses and encourages it…In other words, it is precisely our lack of knowledge of God that enables us to say, well, pretty much whatever we want about God…This is mysticism and metaphysical hand-waving raised to a truly objectionable level. If you do not know what you are denying then you also do not know what you are asserting; our inability to conceptualize cannot, on the one hand, prevent skeptics from denying Christ’s divinity while at the same time allowing the faithful to assert it.
But that is of course how Armstrong attempts to use her claims about metaphors and non-literalism and apophaticism – as a stick to beat the atheists while mostly leaving the theists to their own devices. It’s a transparent ploy, and yet it works.
If the concept of “God” is genuinely empty, as it needs to be if evidence and rational criticism are to be considered irrelevant to God-talk, then in a quite literal sense people who talk about God cannot say and do not know what they are talking about.
We’re told, in explanation of these puzzles, that we’re merely humans and we simply don’t understand. Very well, but then we don’t understand – we don’t know anything about all this, all we’re doing is guessing, or wishing or hoping. Yet we’re so often told things about God as if they were well-established facts. God is “mysterious” only when sceptics ask difficult questions. The rest of the time believers are cheerily confident of their knowledge. That’s a good deal too convenient.
Troy Jollimore goes on:
In her more radical mode, Armstrong wants to preserve religious talk from questions of truth—in our ordinary sense of “truth”—by draining them of content. But when we lose content we do not only lose truth, we lose meaning as well. The apophatic retort to the skeptic, then, seems to reduce to: “You don’t know what you’re talking about—indeed, I don’t even know what I’m talking about. So how dare you contradict me!”
Read the whole thing – it’s terrific. (Thanks to Karel De Pauw for sending the link.)