Archive for February 2010
I have to say that I rather liked this by Freddie, the blogger at L’Hôte:
…Atheism is not a project.It has no purpose. It proceeds towards no end. It has no meaning beyond the simplicity of absence. It has as little negative presence as positive and demands no philosophy. Sam Harris’s life is dominated by religion. It’s what he thinks about; it’s what he writes about; it’s how he pays the bills. He speaks all over the country about religion, he opines on it constantly, denying it is his constant endeavor. His intellectual and philosophical life could hardly be more centered around religion if he were a monk.
Me? I go weeks without thinking about religion or God. And why would I?
With the important qualification that I do spend quite a bit of time pondering the implications of religious belief (to start with, there’s that whole rise of militant Islam business to think about), I have some sympathy for what Freddie is saying, even if I suspect that many of those who have taken the trouble to define themselves as atheists have already spent far more time on this topic than it deserves.
I did, however, note with concern this passage from the same post (the whole post is incidentally well worth reading in full):
I once listened to a recording of a lecture by the New Age guru Ram Dass…
Oh dear, I hope that’s not a sign of some quest for “meaning”.
In my post below where I outline what I believe are the appropriate parameters of eudaimonia I was obviously influenced by the inductive methods of history and natural science. Naturally this elicited a strong response from some quarters. This is no surprise (though the rude manner of comment is not necessary, long time readers of my various blogs have disagreed on this particular point for years without being uncivil barbarians. Reading Plato clearly does not make one a gentleman).
Well, this story (via The Daily Telegraph) is depressing:
A Danish newspaper on Friday became the first in the country to apologise for offending Muslims by printing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb-shaped turban, rekindling a heated debate about free speech. Politiken said its apology was part of a settlement with a Saudi lawyer representing eight Muslim groups in the Middle East and Australia…Politiken was among several Danish newspapers that reprinted the cartoon in 2008 after police uncovered an alleged plot to kill its creator, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.
In a statement, Politiken said it “recognises and deplores” that Muslims were offended by the caricature. “We apologise to anyone who was offended by our decision to reprint the cartoon drawing,” it said. Toeger Seidenfaden, the paper’s editor, told The Associated Press that the paper was apologising for the offence caused by the cartoon – not the decision to reprint it.
Over at Crunchy Con Rod Dreher points me to a new book, Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time, which, in Dreher’s words “attempts to defend St. Paul against his modernist critics (e.g. those who consider him an impossible troglodyte for his views on women and homosexuals) by explaining the Greco-Roman social and cultural context in which he composed his letters.” If you open the Bible and read it front to back, there is much to defend, or as academics would say, “contextualize.”
As a young unbeliever with some fluency in the basic texts of the Christian religion I would occasionally point to the “politically incorrect” aspects of scripture, or commentaries by the Church Fathers, in arguments with my devout friends. The main issue which prompted me was the contention by my righteous interlocutors that their religious tradition espoused timeless values, that they had access to Truth untouched by historical contingencies. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. Liberals are wont to point out the selective reading of scripture by cultural “conservatives.” The sections devoted to homosexuality have great relevance today, but those speaking to the sin of divorce are less emphasized in a society where many “Bible believing Christians” engage in serial monogamy.
Attempts by Christians to genuinely “roll back the clock” in a more credibly consistent manner have met with little success. Doug Wilson, a Reformed theologian and pastor prominent in right-wing Calvinist circles, attempted to defend the Biblical basis of slavery. Wilson’s argument is logically consistent. Christianity Today noted:
A reader asked about a survey for this weblog. If you are a regular reader, please consider taking this survey. I’ll post the csv on the 6th of March (survey closes on the 5th). There are 30 questions, none of which are mandatory. They proceed from demographic variables, to general political ideology, to specific political questions. You can view results here. It goes rather fast since most of the questions have answers you should know without much reflection (e.g., your sex).
One begins to suspect that the true American tradition is less that of our Fourth of July orations and our constitutional law textbooks, with their cluck-clucking over the so-called preferred freedoms, than, quite simply, that of riding somebody out of town on a rail.
— Willmoore Kendall, Conservative Affirmation
By now you’ve probably seen the Ryan Sorba video from CPAC:
Right now opposition to gay marriage is a winning issue for conservatives. But how much longer? I wonder if we’re going to see a shift where conservatives are going to have to put anti-gay sentiments aside because of changes in the wider societal Zeitgeist. Similar to the way that the Left seems to have soft-pedaled or deemphasized the gun control agenda over the past 10 years.
Outrage of the week last week was the shutting down of the American Renaissance conference by anti-racist activists.
It impacted my schedule. I was planning to attend the conference (which was scheduled for Feb. 19 to Feb. 21).
It would have been a first for me. I’ve been a subscriber to the AR magazine since the mid-1990s, when I read Jared Taylor’s 1992 book Paved With Good Intentions. Jared is the moving spirit of American Renaissance (and a former National Review contributor). I debated — as in: took an opposing point of view to — him in 2006 at an event since made famous by 14-year-old Trotskyist Max Blumenthal, who knows absolutely everything about the world. The transcript of my address is here. You can hear a recording of the entire event here.
I’ve encountered Jared half a dozen times since then, and had dinner with him once when he was in New York. I like the guy a lot. He’s terrifically well-read and well-educated. Quite a good orientalist, too: he grew up in Japan — I think his parents were missionaries — and we once spent a happy half-hour comparing the odd semantic shifts between Japanese kanji and the ancestral Chinese ideograms. He’s also fluent in French: studied at the Sorbonne, I believe. I visited at his home once: Jared was raising his younger daughter — she was four years old at the time — to speak French. She chirruped “Bonjour, Monsieur” at me when I met her, with a very authentic accent. I consider Jared a fine American gentleman and patriot, with the exquisite manners of the old South, and the strong devotion to his family that a man should have.
My fondness for Jared notwithstanding, I don’t really think of myself as an American Renaissance type. For one thing, there is that ethos of the South, which I don’t really … get. I wonder if a foreigner ever can get it. It’s as odd and particular, in its own way, as Tibetan Buddhism.
For another thing, there is the antisemitism of the AR followers, which rubs me the wrong way. I fall in line with the long tradition of British philosemitism (Cromwell, Victoria, Lloyd George, Maggie Thatcher), and just have no patience with the other thing. I’d excuse Jared from that: in several hours of private conversation with him, I’ve never caught a whisper of antisemitism. The only remark I ever heard him make on the subject, to a third party, was: “They look white to me!” He has in fact taken pains to get Jewish writers and speakers into AR. His enemies say this is cynical “covering,” but my best guess, from my acquaintance with the man, is that it’s sincere. (My car-pool ride down to the AR conference, by the way, was to have been with Bob Weissberg.)
I had therefore turned down Jared’s invitations to the AR conference (which is held every other year). I wasn’t planning to attend this year, either. Then I read on one of the paleocon websites that the conference hotel had canceled AR’s booking after harassment by some hostile activists. I thought this was very shocking. Whatever you think of the AR ethos, they are genteel types (including a lot of academics, like Bob) who would no more think of burning a cross on someone’s lawn than they would of garotting their own grandmothers. They are people with opinions, that’s all — opinions, furthermore, that were perfectly mainstream 40 or 50 years ago. Well, they found another hotel.
In a fit of righteous indignation on hearing of the first cancellation, I had signed up for the conference & been duly registered. I set up the car pool with Bob and told Mrs. Bradlaugh I’d be away for the weekend. Then on Tuesday of the week of the conference, I got an email from AR saying the new venue had also canceled, after more intimidation from the anti-”hate” thugs. The email said AR would refund our conference fees, but I donated mine to AR in disgust.
The next day another email came saying that AR had found yet another hotel and the conference was on after all. This new hotel (we were assured) would stand up to any threats. In the event, they didn’t, and the conference was finally and thoroughly off. Jared set up some sort of truncated event, with some of the speakers, but by the time I found out about it, it was too late to go down to Virgina. He put out a press release through one of the regular services, but only Breitbart seems to have picked it up.
It is a shameful thing that the AR conference was shut down — an ominous thing too, in that this is the first time it’s happened. We may be losing our freedoms of speech and association, as they have in Britain and Europe. So much for American exceptionalism.
And just as shameful as the success of the anti-racist bully-boys is the utter silence of the media. I haven’t even heard one of those “First they came for American Renaissance …” admonitions. It’s as if the AR people are utterly beyond the pale. Yet why should they be? If they are wrong, why not expose their error in open debate, as I tried to? Isn’t that the civilized way to do things? (When I took on Jared in that 2006 debate, the organizers told me they’d invited a number of conservatives, but all had backed out when they heard they’d be sitting in a room with Jared. What on earth is the matter with people?)
AR’s position, in a nutshell, is that if it’s OK for blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc. to organize in defence of their group interests, and to promote pride in their ancestry, why isn’t it OK for white Americans to do the same? It seems to me there is no very satisfactory answer to this question. The one usually given (by the aforementioned Blumenthal wunderkind here, for example) is that whites are a majority and the others are minorities, so it wouldn’t be fair. But this is already untrue in four states, and by 2042, according to the Census Bureau, will be untrue of the entire nation. Will American Renaissance be respectable then ? If not, why not?
My own strong preference, as I argued in that debate with Jared, would be for everybody to shut up with the race business. There doesn’t seem to be much prospect of this happening, though, so it’s not hard to see the AR-ers point of view. In any case, I say again, whatever you think of that point of view, it’s a point of view. It shouldn’t be shut out of the public square; and if it is so shut out, by goons phoning in death threats to hotel employees, there ought to be a fuss made. Well, here I am on Secular Right, making a fuss as best I can. Freedom of speech! Freedom of assembly! Liberty! Liberty!
Here’s the Sunday Telegraph’s Christopher Booker:
As the roof continues to fall in on them, in an endless succession of scandals, the beleaguered defenders of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have at last managed to mount a riposte by coming up with a “scandal” of their own. Under the headline “fabricated quote used to discredit climate scientist”, The Independent recently trumpeted that a quotation attributed by “climate sceptics” to Sir John Houghton – one of the IPCC’s founders and long a key figure in the production of its increasingly alarmist reports as chairman of its scientific Working Group I – was an invention. Sir John was now insisting, as he again did in a letter to last week’s Observer, that he never said it or anything like it.
The sentence the former head of the UK Met Office now denies ever using – although in the past four years it has been cited unchallenged more than 100,000 times on the internet – was “unless we announce disasters, no one will listen”. In what looked like a concerted operation, Sir John’s disclaimer was circulated to sympathetic journalists across the world, along with demands for corrections and apologies issued to various prominent “climate sceptics” who had publicly quoted the remark…
…But what also came to light, thanks to that admirable expert on “risk”, Professor John Adams, and Professor Philip Stott, who for years was almost the only voice critical of climate hysteria in the British press, is an interview Sir John gave to The Sunday Telegraph in its “Me and My God” slot on September 10, 1995. As a fervent evangelical Christian, Sir John claimed that global warming might well be one of those disasters sent by God to warn man to mend his ways (“God tries to coax and woo but he also uses disasters”). He went on: “If we are to have a good environmental policy in the future, we will have to have a disaster”.
You can see a PDF of the quote here.
To repeat again, none of this ‘disproves’ climate change. What it does do, however, is shed a most interesting light on the nature (for some) of their belief in it.
Boos as Ron Paul wins CPAC straw poll. Paul 31%, Romney 22%, Palin 7% and Pawlenty 6%. Obviously straw polls don’t matter. The only reason this is news is because the enthusiasm of Ron Paul supporters carried the day again in a circumstance where intensity trumps genuine broad appeal, upending expectations. So perhaps someone who knows more about political organization can explain this to me: why don’t they just rig straw polls so that no one is surprised and the establishment is happy?