Monday, June 25, 2007

the Fish god-concept

Stanley Fish has been deluged by comments, mostly from atheists, about his critique of the trio of books written by Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris. Including me. As a playwright, I couldn't help but focus on his abuse of Shakespeare.

Fish said:
The criticism made by atheists that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated is no criticism at all; for a God whose existence could be demonstrated wouldn’t be a God; he would just be another object in the field of human vision.

This does not mean that my arguments constitute a proof of the truth of religion; for if I were to claim that I would be making the atheists’ mistake from the other direction. Nor are they arguments in which I have a personal investment. Their purpose and function is simply to show how the atheists’ arguments miss their mark and, indeed, could not possibly hit it.

At various points Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens all testify to their admiration for Shakespeare, who, they seem to think, is more godly than God. They would do well to remember one of the bard’s most famous lines, uttered by Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

My response:

Professor Fish seems to subscribe to the divinity of Shakespeare as much as his opponents do, since he apparently believes that quoting a well-known Shakespearean adage, regardless of context, is some kind of miraculous rhetorical coup de grace.

For what is Hamlet talking about, this thing not-dreamt of in Horatio's philosophy? The ghost of Hamlet's father. Presumably Shakespeare doesn't expect us to actually believe in ghosts. And presumably Fish doesn't believe in ghosts. But if a god can be imperceptible and yet exist, surely ghosts can too. And the third part of the Catholic Holy Trinity was once called the "Holy Ghost."

I would be perfectly happy if Fish's conception of gods was the one preferred by believers - an unknowable entity beyond human comprehension. Then there would be no more religions, since the existence of religions depend on a hierarchy of authorities who interpret god for others. Fish's god-concept would strip them of every last fiber of credibility, especially on topics of such vital interest to the vast majority of believers as whether or not god cares if you have sex outside of marriage, or whether or not you should suffer a witch to live.

Such a lofty, function-less god that Fish describes is the next best thing to atheism!