Archive for April 2013
Cross-posted on the Corner:
Over at AEI Mark Perry celebrates Earth Day with quotes from Steven Landsburg’s book The Armchair Economist, including this:
[E]nvironmentalists — at least the ones I have met — have no real interest in maintaining the tree population. If they did, they would seriously inquire into the long-term effects of recycling. I suspect that they don’t want to do that because their real concern is with the ritual of recycling itself, not with its consequences. The underlying need to sacrifice, and to compel others to sacrifice, is a fundamentally religious impulse.
That took me to the chapter specifically cited by Perry, which is well worth reading in full. Here’s an extract:
As environmentalism becomes increasingly like an intrusive state religion, we dissenters become increasingly prickly about suggestions that we suffer from some kind of aberration. The naive environmentalism of my daughter’s preschool is a force-fed potpourri of myth, superstition, and ritual that has much in common with the least reputable varieties of religious Fundamentalism. The antidote to bad religion is good science. The antidote to astrology is the scientific method, the antidote to naive creationism is evolutionary biology, and the antidote to naive environmentalism is economics.
Economics is the science of competing preferences. Environmentalism goes beyond science when it elevates matters of preference to matters of morality…. But in the…years since the first Earth Day, a new and ugly element has emerged in the form of one side’s conviction that its preferences are Right and the other side’s are Wrong. The science of economics shuns such moral posturing; the religion of environmentalism embraces it.
The Bill Maher clip has to be watched to be believed. Not the guest’s attempt to obfuscate.
The fundamental issue is simple: most non-Muslims don’t care about Islam or Muslims so long as Islam and Muslims don’t impinge upon their lives. We don’t care about the heterogeneity of Islam or history when faced to real and present fear about the violence currently associated with the religion. By analogy, non-Buddhists who live in Sri Lanka or Myanmar could care less that Buddhism is really fundamentally a religion of peace. To non-believers the ideals of a religion don’t matter, the realized actions of the religionists do.
Comments off · Posted by Andrew Stuttaford in Science & Faith
Via Andrew Sullivan we have this piece by William B. Hurlbut, Consulting Professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University Medical Center, a man of science, who is, it turns out, also a fan of the benevolently deranged Francis of Assisi.
There’s plenty in the article for those with an interest in Francis himself, but I was more interested in this:
The traditional role of medicine, for example, has been to cure disease and alleviate suffering, to restore and sustain the patient to a natural level of functioning and wellbeing. The medical arts were in the service of a wider reverence and respect for the order of the created world: “the physician is only nature’s assistant,” as the Roman healer Galen explained.
But now, armed with the powers of biotechnology, medicine has found a new paradigm, one of liberation: technological transformation in the quest for happiness and human perfection. Slowly but steadily the role of medicine has been extended, driven by our appetites and ambitions, to encompass dimensions of life not previously considered matters of health, with the effect of altering and revising the very frame of nature. Increasingly, we expect from medicine not just freedom from disease but freedom from all that is unattractive, imperfect, or just inconvenient. More recent proposals, of a still more ambitious scope, include projects for the conquest of aging, neurological fusion of humans and machines, and fundamental genetic revision and guided evolution — for transhumans, posthumans, and technosapiens.
The danger is immediately evident…
It is? Danger? This all sounds splendid, although count me skeptical as to how far we will get any time soon towards, uh, transhumans, posthumans, and technosapiens. I’m still waiting for flying cars and Moonbase Alpha (which was due sometime before 1999).
In the absence of any concept of cosmic order, where the material and the moral flow forth from a single creative source, all of living nature becomes mere matter and information to be reshuffled and reassigned for projects of the human will.
Well, that absence is what it is. Hurlbut may be uncomfortable with the consequences, but they are what they are—and they need to be faced. He may wish to believe in a “cosmic order” (a fantasy that takes many forms, in any event), but he ought not to be surprised that there are those that disagree that such a thing exists and are thus reluctant to comply with its supposed rules. But that is not necessarily cause for despair. Experience shows that humility and caution in matters of this type are a matter of commonsense, and commonsense has a way, quite often, of winning out. As, if less frequently, does kindness:
Genetically engineered featherless chickens for cheaper pot pies and leaner pigs with severe arthritis are a violation of basic kindness and courtesy.
There’s a great deal more from Hurlbut, and, much of it like the writings of Leon Kass, is, in its glorification or, at least, inshallah acceptance of suffering, as morbid, and, in its implications, as revolting as some of the more lurid iconography of Christian martyrdom. It’s sad to see such words flowing from the pen or keyboard of a doctor who will in his own career surely have done a great deal to alleviate the suffering of others. Such are the contradictions of religious faith.
And then there’s this:
[O]ne can sense a wisdom in the severity and self-denial that were, for Francis, inseparable from the source of his joy. He had rediscovered an ancient truth in the inversion of desire, not as a negation of being but as a positive passion. In the image of the Lord, he emptied himself and received all things back renewed, purified, and restored in their divine glory.
When I read that, I see only an expression of a millennial asceticism that in our modern era has found expression not in the kindly ramblings of an oddball hippy saint, but in revolution, gulag, and the emptied streets of Phnom Penh.
Compared with that, biotechnological advance is relatively risk-free…
The Wall Street Journal has interviewed “eminent bioethicist” (itself a contradiction in terms) Leon Kass. The trigger was the Gosnell trial, but it was this aspect of Kass’s remarks that drew my attention:
Dr. Kass sometimes finds himself at odds with [anti-abortion] advocates. The movement’s narrow focus on nascent life, he worries, blinds it to the fact that “abortion is connected to lots of other things that are threats to human dignity in its fullness.”
“Pursuing perfect babies, ageless bodies and happy souls with the aid of cloning, genetic engineering and psychopharmacology,” he thinks, are among the most significant of those threats.
Not that, again. Of course, we need never to forget the terrible lessons of early twentieth century eugenics, but re-read those comments and what you see emerging beneath those soothing words about “dignity” is a morbid and sentimental attachment to suffering, and a profound contempt for the human mind:
“Killing the creature made in God’s image is an old story,” he says. “I deplore it. But the new threat is the ability to transform that creature into images of our own choosing, without regard to whether the new creature is going to be an improvement, or whether these so-called improvements are going to sap all of the energies of the soul that make for human aspirations, art, science and care for the less fortunate. All of these things have wellsprings in the human soul, and they are at risk in efforts to redesign us and move us to the posthuman future.”
And the corollary of this paranoid, mystical nonsense about a “new threat” is that the state, aided and abetted doubtless by a self-appointed (and sometimes taxpayer-funded) coterie of wise men, will decide that they know best where scientific inquiry should go.
Galileo, phone your lawyer.
The Daily Caller reports:
On HBO’s “Real Time” on Friday night, host Bill Maher entertained CSU-San Bernardino professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism, who maintained that despite the events in recent days, religious extremism isn’t only a product of Islam.
Hmmm, true enough in one sense, but that’s not what Levin really meant. And to his credit, Maher called the professor out:
But Maher took issue with that claim, calling it “liberal bullshit” and said there was no comparison.
“You know what, yeah, yeah,” Maher said. “You know what — that’s liberal bullshit right there … they’re not as dangerous. I mean there’s only one faith, for example, that kills you or wants to kill you if you draw a bad cartoon of the prophet. There’s only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you renounce the faith. An ex-Muslim is a very dangerous thing. Talk to Salman Rushdie after the show about Christian versus Islam. So you know, I’m just saying let’s keep it real.”
Levin referenced outspoken Islam critic Pamela Geller as an example to refute Maher’s claim. But, Maher argued there was no comparison and denied he was Islamophobic.
“I am not an Islamophobe,” Maher replied. “I am a truth lover. All religious are not alike. As many people have pointed out — ‘The Book of Mormon,’ did you see the show? … OK, can you imagine if they did ‘The Book of Islam?’ Could they do that? There’s only one religion that threatens violence and carries it out for things like that. Could they do “The Book of Islam” on Broadway?”
Levin said “possibly so,” to which Maher seem dismiss his entire argument going forward.
“You’re wrong about that and you’re wrong about your facts,” Maher said. “Now, obviously, most Muslim people are not terrorists. But ask most Muslim people in the world, if you insult the prophet, do you have what’s coming to you? It’s more than just a fringe element.”
The Wall Street Journal reports:
CARACAS—Nicolás Maduro, the one-time bus driver widely expected to become Venezuela’s next president in Sunday’s elections, has resorted to an unusual campaign gimmick in the past week: At nearly every stop, he has suddenly broken out into birdsong.
The whistling started some 10 days ago, after the candidate says his mentor, the late President Hugo Chávez, visited him in a chapel in the form of a bird to bless the official launch of his presidential bid.
“I felt the spirit of my commander Chavez,” Mr. Maduro explained to a crowd after telling them how the bird circled over his head three times.
The birdsong, typically responded to by ecstatic crowds with whistling of their own, underscores the candidate’s reliance on the memory of Mr. Chavez…
Via The Daily Star (Lebanon):
CAIRO: Egyptian police fired tear gas outside Cairo’s Coptic cathedral on Sunday after clashes following funeral prayers for four Christians killed in sectarian clashes.
Black-clad riot police pointed at the main gate of the cathedral and fired the tear gas, television footage showed, as Coptic worshippers sought refuge inside the building. Witnesses said the mourners who were chanting against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood were pelted with stones as they came out of the cathedral.
In a statement, the interior ministry said “a number of mourners began to damage cars in the area which led to confrontations with residents of the area.”
Television footage showed scenes of chaos outside the cathedral in the central Cairo neighbourhood of Abbassiya where Coptic bishops had been calling for peace and calm after the killing of the Christians on Friday. Loud bangs could be heard, as clouds of smoke rose up into the sky and people ran in several directions.
At the service, the congregation chanted against the Muslim Brotherhood of President Mohamed Morsi.
“Leave!” they told Morsi as they held up wooden crosses, television footage showed.
One Muslim was also killed in the clashes which flared on Friday night in Al-Khusus, a poor area in Qalyubia governorate, after a Muslim in his 50s objected to children drawing a swastika on a religious institute.
The man insulted Christians and the cross, and an argument broke out with a young Christian man who was passing by, escalating into a gunbattle between Muslims and Christians in which assault rifles were used. A priest in Al-Khusus, Suryal Yunan, said attackers torched “parts” of an Anglican church.Muslims also set a Christian home ablaze and ransacked a pharmacy owned by a Copt, a police official said. A number of angry Muslim residents tried to surround the town’s Mar Girgis church, but the security presence in the area prevented them from doing so…
For some wider context, the recent article by Robin Harris in Standpoint to which John O’Sullivan referred to here is very well worth reading. It discusses the plight of Christians in the Middle East. This extract seems horribly relevant today:
Half the Middle East’s Christians live in Egypt, where the Copts are some 10 per cent of the population. But that is changing too. There is a massive outflow, mainly to the United States. From the time of Sadat and then increasingly under Mubarak the Copts were under threat. The threat was localised, from vengeful and envious preachers and mobs, but government, in covert relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, failed to protect. Since the Egyptian Revolution the threat is no longer localised. It is felt throughout Egypt; and it also comes from the top. It underpins the state in the new Sharia-based constitution, which President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, in a deal with their Salafist rivals, steamrollered through. The new constitution undermines the political rights of Christians; it threatens Church funds; and it legitimises the brutal campaign waged against those that Islam regards as “converts”. Recently, a Coptic woman, Nadia Mohamed Ali, who was raised a Christian but married a Muslim, sought on her husband’s death to return to her faith and have her and her children’s identification papers changed. In January this year, a court sentenced her to 15 years in prison.
Somehow I think that it will not be too long before there is another exodus from Egypt.
Via the BBC:
The acting president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, has put a curse on citizens who do not vote for him in next week’s election.
He likened his main rival candidate, Henrique Capriles, to Spanish conquerors fighting indigenous people in the 16th Century. A centuries-old curse, he said, would fall on those who did not vote for him.
Mr Capriles responded by saying the only curse for Venezuelans would be if Mr Maduro won the election… Wearing a local indigenous hat at a rally in Amazonas state, a largely jungle territory on the borders of Brazil and Colombia, Mr Maduro said: “If anyone among the people votes against Nicolas Maduro, he is voting against himself, and the curse of Maracapana is falling on him.”
He was referring to a 16th Century battle when Spanish colonial fighters defeated indigenous fighters decisively.
“If the bourgeoisie win, they are going to privatise health and education, they are going to take land from the Indians, the curse of Maracapana would come on you,” the candidate continued.
Analysts say that Venezuela’s mix of Catholic and animist beliefs, especially in the south-central plains and jungles, is fertile ground for talk of spirits and curses which may otherwise seem out of place in an election campaign….
Needless to say, those who can should vote for Capriles to bring an end to this sort of nonsense.
Atheist shoes being sold out of Berlin, who knew?
Not for me, I think. I’m more inclined, inappropriately enough,to Church’s. On the other hand an atheist tote bag, stripped of any pretty sentiment (“nichts, nichts, nichts…jawohl”), now that is something that could tempt me, and probably will…
The site’s owners explain their logo—a black hole—as follows:
There are already hundreds of symbols for atheism and none of them tickle us in quite the right place… either they’re too sciency, or too literal, or just plain ugly… Well, our solution is inspired by a Christian friend (thanks Matt) who accused us of having god-shaped-holes. And we think a gaping, BLACK HOLE is absolutely perfect… And what says “I believe in nothing” better than nothing?
In its mad way, that’s just perfect, and so much better than the simpering nonsense on display in the New York Times today in an article by T.M. Luhrman, a Stanford professor of anthropology.
Yet believers and nonbelievers are not so different from one another, news that is sometimes a surprise to both. When I arrived at one church I had come to study, I thought that I would stick out like a sore thumb. I did not. Instead, I saw my own doubts, anxieties and yearnings reflected in those around me. People were willing to utter sentences — like “I believe in God” — that I was not, but many of those I met spoke openly and comfortably about times of uncertainty, even doubt. Many of my skeptical friends think of themselves as secular, sometimes profoundly so. Yet these secular friends often hover on the edge of faith. They meditate. They keep journals. They go on retreats. They just don’t know what to do with their spiritual yearnings.
“Spiritual yearnings”? Good lord. Whatever turns you on and all that, but nichts, nichts, nichts…jawohl just seems like a lot less fuss.
In an earlier post here, Mr. Hume and Jackson Doughart, reacting to an exchange between Glenn Greenwald and Sam Harris, discuss (amongst many things) the way that the notion of ‘Islamophobia’ has been used to try to stifle those who have shall, we say, problems with hardline Islam.
The whole debate between Harris and Greenwald is in fact well worth reading in full (Harris easily has the best of it). I’d highlight this from Harris:
There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.
Did you happen to see The Book of Mormon? Do you know how the Mormons protested this attack upon their faith? They placed ads for Mormonism in the Playbill. Imagine staging a similar production about Islam: Would it be “bizarre and wholly irrational” for Trey Parker and Matt Stone to worry that the Muslim community might have a different response?
And this (Harris is quoting himself from 2006):
Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game.
While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren’t.
The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.
To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.
That analysis was (and is) an overstatement, and in the seven years since Harris wrote that passage, awareness of the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism has broadened further, as has, in some-still too rare-instances, the willingness to push back. Nevertheless, the situation is still such that, for all their overreach and occasional nuttiness, we should still be grateful for the efforts of the made-in-Ukraine feminists of Femen. Writing in the Guardian here’s Jonathan Jones on their latest :
She’s topless. She’s angry. And she is, literally, taking liberties. The activist in this picture [link here] took part in a protest in Paris in support of Amina Tyler, a young Tunisian woman who has been targeted by Islamists after she put a bare-breasted picture of herself on her Facebook page in March with the words “Fuck Your Morals” and “My Body Belongs To Me, And Is Not The Source Of Anyone’s Honour” painted across her chest.
Both Tyler and this activist are members of Femen, the radical feminist group that originated in the Ukraine and specialises in topless politics. Hackers attacked Femen’s Tunisian Facebook page replacing pictures with texts from the Qur’an, while a prominent cleric has suggested Tyler might be stoned.
So here is a picture of Femen’s response – it declared 4 April to be International Topless Jihad Day, and protesters duly took their clothes off in Paris.
And you thought this stuff was complicated. Religious traditions, respect for cultural difference, fear of legitimating Islamophobia … You’d think twice about declaring a jihad on Islamic attitudes to women and their bodies, right?
Not Femen. This picture is gloriously crude. At a time of tight-lipped liberal relativism when even the president of the United States is damned careful what he says about Islam, here is a woman bearing her body, quoting Tyler’s anti-religious slogan, wearing a pseudo-jihadist black scarf over her face. Clearly, the protest is provocative – even in Paris, where this man who may be religiously offended, or just offended by women in general, appears to be kicking her.
Already, the New Statesman has weighed in with a critique of Femen’s “jihad”, arguing that it is naive to defend the rights of women in north Africa in this cheerfully secular way. But what is so wrong with stating a clear principle?
Tyler has asserted in her own words, on her own body, that she belongs to herself and is not an object of moral scrutiny or male honour. This is fair enough, no? She is claiming freedoms and rights taken for granted in most democratic countries – but which are frowned on and suppressed and violently denied by religious conservatives. If Christian conservatives ran things here, our society would be hobbled and distorted and modern freedoms denied. Femen has indeed attacked Christianity as well as Islam. But in western Europe the church has very little real power over public morals. Islam does exert such power in north Africa. Tyler objects to this moral control. Is she wrong to do so? Why does this activist for freedom not deserve the same support the Arab spring got? Or is freedom only worth supporting when there is no possible conflict with Islam implied by all the romantic Arabist rhetoric?
Does this picture look to you like a foolish and ignorant attempt to intervene in Islam’s private concerns? Please explain why. Because to me it looks like a blast of honesty in a dishonest age…
Indeed it does.