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00071773.1972.11006233

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Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology
ISSN: 0007-1773 (Print) 2332-0486 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rbsp20
Atheism and Alienation, A Study of the
Philosophical Sources of Contemporary Atheism,
by Patrick Masterson
David A. Pailin
To cite this article: David A. Pailin (1972) Atheism and Alienation, A Study of the Philosophical
Sources of Contemporary Atheism, by Patrick Masterson, Journal of the British Society for
Phenomenology, 3:1, 84-85, DOI: 10.1080/00071773.1972.11006233
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00071773.1972.11006233
Published online: 21 Oct 2014.
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substance of a human life which the patient's
conscience demands should not be wasted. but
which the bearer of this life must try to make an
authentic life.
E. K. Ledermann
London
The Leaves of Spring: A Study in the Dialectics
of Madness, by A. Esterson. Tavistock, London.
1970. xxxv+278.
This valuable book is a study in greater depth
of one of the case-histories discussed in the work
in which the author collaborated with R. D. Laing.
The Families of Schizophrenics. The essence of
the theory of Laing and Esterson about the nature
of schizophrenia is that the odd behaviour of
schizophrenics is to be understood as that of
people acting for reasons, and not as the effect of
mere chemical processes in the brain such as have
never, after all. been proved to exist.
I am not sure that much more light is thrown on
the case of Sarah Danzig herself than was by the
comparatively brief discussion in the earlier book.
though the analogies which Esterson shows
between the fate of schizophrenics and that of
religious victims is both fascinating and instructive
(p. 178). There is certainly a quality of black
farce about the manner in which we are told that
Sarah was judged to be insane - one might be
reading one of the more macabre passages in one
of the early novels of Evelyn Waugh. Sarah told
the psychiatrists that she spent. as she did. a lot
of time studying the Torah: which she explained
was the Jewish Law. They took this to be evidence of a delusion that she was studying law. One
can only agree here with Esterson's stigmatization
of the interview as a "degradation ceremony"
whereby the patient was "formally and solemnly
invalidated as mentally ill" (pp. 71-2).
For all the manifest stupidity and insensitivity
of the patient's family as Esterson describes it. I
cannot help feeling that the scales are sometimes
unfairly loaded against them. This is understandhie, of course. in relation to common psychiatric
practice. which is apt to load the scales against the
patient. But it is only common sense for parents to
say, as Sarah's did. that a girl who marries in the
teeth of her family's opposition may be making
84
trouble for her own future if the marriage should
go wrong. This is really an inadequate pretext for
Esterson's charge that the family evidently completely misunderstood the nature of human
relationships (p. 29). Often. too. the author uses
jargon from Sartre and from Freud which seems
to me to obscure rather than clarify the points he
is trying to make. Yet in general this is an impressive and fascinating book.
Hugo Meynell
University of Leeds
Atheism and Alienation, A Study of the Philosophical Sources of Contemporary Atheism, by Patrick
Masterson, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, and
Macmillan. London, 1971, 188pp., 0
One of the intellectual curiosities of the 1960s
was the strident announcement by some radical
theologians-in various and conflicting sensesthat 'God is dead'. Though the slogan was not
new - Nietzsche, Hegel and Richter had already
given the 'news'-what perhaps was new was the
recognition by these inhabitants of 'God's own
country' that their culture was no longer fundamentally theistic. At the same time, the widespread
residual religiousness of Americans was shown by
the fact that it was still interesting enough there to
speak of 'God'-even if it was of his 'death'-for
the death-of-God-debate to enter the pages of
Playboy. On the other side of the Atlantic the
question of God was too dead to raise any similar
public interest in his obituary- writers. It is, indeed,
a moot point whether contemporary European
culture should be described as 'atheistic' when it
regards the question of God as so dead and irrelevant to contemporary life that it is not concerned
positively to attack belief in him. There is as little
interest in denying the existence of God as in
denying the divine right of kings. 'God' is neither
a live option nor an interesting question.
Patrick Masterson has now produced a short,
interesting. introductory survey of major elements
in the philosophical background to this contemorary Western culture. His A theism and A /ienation maintains that the basic philosophical reason
for the abandonment of God as the integrating
foundation of life and thought. lies in modern
philosophy's interest in man as a knowing and
moral being. First. starting with Descartes, it is
Downloaded by [University of Sussex Library] at 18:56 12 November 2017
concerned with the nature, conditions and limits
of knowledge as knowledge available to man. This
epistemological concern apparently confirms in
practice the claims of Ockham, three centuries
before Descartes, and of Barth, three centuries
after Descartes. that where man's thought starts
with man and his world, it will never find God.
What man can justifiably claim to know that he
knows does not include the God of theistic belief.
Secondly. there is man's understanding of himself
as a free and morally responsible being. This
status increasingly has seemed incompatible with
belief in the God of traditional Western theism.
Belief in God has come to be seen at best as
irrelevant and at worst as a way in which man
rejects the truth about his existence. Instead of
integrating life and thought, it reflects a fundamental 'alienation' in human self-understanding.
After considering the significance of Descartes'
philosophical method, Dr. Masterson passes over
Locke and Hume to trace the development of
Western atheism and of the view that theism is a
basic expression of alienation in the works of
Kant. Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx, 'Positivistic Naturalism' (including Comte, Wittgenstein and Flew)
and in atheistic existentialism (particularly in
Sartre and Merleau-Ponty). In the concluding
chapter he suggests that contemporary atheism
overcomes the theistic expression of man's alienation at the cost of leaving man without hope.
Escape from despair to a viable faith in the
ultimate moral and personal meaning of life may
not be possible without some kind of revived
belief in God. According to Dr. Masterson,
probably only such an affirmation of God could
make adequate sense of man's existential commitment 'to an affirmation of the ultimately personal
and moral characterisation of reality' and, far from
producing a state of alienation, would 'promote a
more expansive liberation of the creative possibilities of human subjectivity than is available within
the context of a denial of any such transcendent
personal perfection' (pp.l66, 172).
Although in such a survey Dr. Masterson's
comments on individual philosophers have to be
fairly brief. they are clear and useful. His understanding of them generally follows accepted interpretations. I wonder, however, if the interpretations do not too readily rule out the possibility that
religious belief in God is significant as a matter of
belief for Kant and the possihility that Nietz~ch~"s
protest is against a theologically and religiously
false theism and not against theism as such. The
discussion of Hegel's early work may, though, be
too ready to interpret his use of the word 'God'
as having a theological and religious reference. An
explicit consideration of the meaning of the
key-term 'alienation' would also have been helpful.
Dr. Masterson emphasises that what he offers
in his last chapter are only tentative suggestions
about what 'will be taken up in a separate study'
(p.l59). This study might usefully consider three
inter-related problems which the present work
hardly touches. First there is the question of how
far it is not the reality of the God of religious faith
but the concept of God which has been developed
in traditional Western theology (in terms of actus
purus, ens realissimum, etc.) and which is questionably relevant to actual faith. that has produced
the judgment that belief in God is incompatible
with the affirmation of the significance of human
life. Secondly, does the dipolar panentheistic
concept of God developed by process theologians
such as Charles Hartshorne provide, as they claim,
a way of understanding God that is both adequate
to his deity and establishes the positive significance
of human life? Inclined as I am in favour of
Hartshorne's concept of God, I think it at least
deserves consideration, especially since theologians
like Schubert Ogden have used it to meet the
challenge of atheism and alienation faced by Dr.
Masterson. Ogden's study of Sartre in his Reality
of God is particularly relevant to Dr. Masterson's
thesis. Some of Dr. Masterson's comments suggest
that the traditional theistic position is the only
possible one and that he does not recognise that
difficulties with this position have led to much
contemporary atheism. Finally there is the need
to consider whether what makes sense of our
existential commitment to life can be asserted as
more than a presupposition of our fundamental
wish to live in hope. These comments, though,
are posed not so much as criticisms of Dr. Masterson's useful introduction but as suggestions about
what one reader would like to see him include in
his promised further work.
David A. Pailin
University of Manchester
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