September 10, 2008
Atheism and the New Urbanism
This semester, I am once again teaching a Jurisprudence Seminar, using as the primary text Recovering Self-Evident Truths: Catholic Perspectives on American Law. (The syllabus is here). Vince Rougeau’s chapter on the New Urbanism is still a long way down the road, but one student has already raised a question for Catholic New Urbanists. Reflecting on Benedict Ashley’s chapter (A Philosophical Anthropology of the Human Person), the student writes:
Commenting briefly on the technological implication of free will, Ashley notes: “It is precisely because we have used this power that our culture has become so artificial, that we sometimes forget that all of these innovations and culture itself are based in our unique nature, and so have come to doubt that we have a human nature.” (Ashley, 63). This idea was expressed slightly differently in an essay I read in college (the title and author of which I do not recall at the moment) that provided a theoretical explanation for the correlation between modern urban centers and atheism. Modern cities, according to this author, represent the power to become our own gods when we refashion the world in our own image, bending it to serve our own “needs” and interests, rather than preserving the natural order, through which we obtain glimpses of the divine. And while this may or may not be an overstatement of the symbolic meaning of urban centers, there is something compelling about the idea that it is easier not to believe in God (or the natural law) when one only comes in contact with a world of human creation. As Ray Bradbury put it in Fahrenheit 451 (though I’m paraphrasing from memory): when we live in a world where “flowers grow on flowers rather than putting down deep roots in the rich loam of the earth,” we become disconnected from the wisdom of past generations.
Any response? Can urban centers be breeding grounds for atheism?
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