[I got a huge number of new hits yesterday... maybe because I mentioned Governor Spitzer's superwhore Ashley Dupre (or is it Dupri?) -- and as we all know, sex sells! In any case, if you're back again today, you're most welcome. Usually we take life a bit more seriously at Marking Time than we did in yesterday's post. Nevertheless, we still have fun, so stick around and participate in the hearty discussions, such as on today's topic: the news headline Bush Confesses Cheney Uses Alien Mind-Control Technique. Just kidding, ... I think. ]
Longtime visitors to this page know that a frequent subject of interest here –though not so much lately– is the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer, etc.).
These modern day skeptics and their supposedly scientific evidence disproving God’s existence– or at least discrediting those who believe in God– have gotten a lot of play in the publishing world during the past six years. In addition to having an entire section devoted to them now at Barnes & Noble, they’ve also been interviewed frequently in print, been portrayed in magazine cover stories from Wired to Time magazine, and have appeared on numerous talkshows.
Oh, by the way, in case you haven’t noticed, the U.S. and Britain (the homes of these critics of religion… and by association, of God) have also been in a war the past six years — one based at least in part on differences among religious believers worldwide. So it only makes sense that the general public in Europe and America (and therefore the publishers) have been paying a different kind of attention to matters of faith and science. And a few of these New Atheists, like Sam Harris, are so concerned about religion’s influence that they subtly advocate an all-out military war against Muslims worldwide, most of whom are neither extremist nor supportive of terrorism.
However, the book and magazine publishers have an economic interest in making these complex issues seem sexier, even though both fields (science and theology) tend to use very dry language and technical terms. The publishers want to sell as many books as possible – not to help the public become more genuinely informed, but just to sell more books. Therefore the writers they push hardest are the ones who say the most controversial stuff, but say it with style, in a way that laypersons from both fields can understand. (And then we can agree or disagree with them, in smaller shouting matches all over the country, and in political campaigns as well.)
But what does not get talked about in most of these theoretical discussions is the practical and political application of scientific fundamentalism, or religious fundamentalism, in the extreme. This is unfortunate, for extremism and polarized arguments are the exact problem we see around us on a regular basis. It’s all political, whether we can admit it or not. As Bob Dylan (still a Christian, by the way) once sang, We Live In a Political World (click through for some terrific lyrics, by this modern day prophetic voice).
An article I read yesterday put the politics, science and religion in a bit more perspective for me. It’s an interview with Chris Hedges, a New York Times reporter on Middle Eastern issues. He’s the author of books criticising both extreme religious prejudice and extreme devotion to science, as well as books on the explosion of violence worldwide. Hedges is thoughtful, extremely well-informed, politically centrist, and very aware of the real world beyond our safe Western borders (as he says in the interview, he was standing very close when the terrorist bombs went off a few times). Just as importantly, he believes in God, in a Presbyterian sort of way that is as inclusive as possible of other beliefs worldwide.
Yet his current book, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, is neither scientific nor religious, but a social critique of the whole debate and its moral and political implications. Hey, even Oprah’s O Magazine gives Hedges’ book a positive review! So maybe Oprah’s not all bad.
Frequent readers of Marking Time will also recall that I think Oprah –and the Oprahfication of America– is sort of ridiculous. (Hey, maybe she’s the alien leader doing mind-control tricks…) This does not change the fact that she and her magazine and her tv show can still get things right once in awhile… just like the genuine devotees of good science get it right most of the time, too (as long as they leave God out of the conversation, like wise old Darwin himself once advised).
So you go, Oprah! Except for The Big Give, of course, which is just ridculous in every way: Kindness and philanthropy are NOT spectator sports, nor are they tear-jerker reality show fodder to put more money in ABC’s or Oprah’s pocket! We should ALL be giving something, not letting Oprah or her peons do it for us. Just give the needy your money without the cameras being on you, dear, and then I will take you seriously.
And let’s take the problems of the world seriously, too, like Mr. Hedges and many other reasonable people do. Don’t reduce these legitimate debates to a bunch of shallow, sensational, passionate shouting.
After all, passion and shouting is what we have sex and hookers for, right?