‘Nuff said. Some things on the Internet are meant to last forever.
I have been following with some interest the ongoing soap-opera debacle of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the two convicted Australian drug smugglers currently on death row in Indonesia.
The “exchange” – such as it is – between Australian leaders (headed by Prime Minister and resident imbecile Tony Abbott) and Indonesian President Joko Wikodo has been characterized by a schizophrenic spectrum: here pleading for clemency and mercy, there threatening sanctions in the form of ham-handed references to the amount of tsunami aid given in 2010 to Indonesia by Australia (amounting to: “we should be able to buy your sovereignty”), and back to the passive-aggression of a candlelight vigil held for the two before they are executed (is there any better way for a country to sulk and, in doing so, all but proclaim they were unsuccessful?)
My comments on this whole situation, while brief due to time constraints, are summed up in the title of this little opinion-fragment. Forget (for a moment, but only for a moment) the fact that the Australian Federal Police acted against its own policies in diming the two to Indonesian authorities, knowing it would lead to the death penalty. Forget that Australia can be accused of cruel and unusual punishment in its detention of asylum-seekers in Papua New Guinea (after all…whoever expected politics to be consistent?). What has consistently fallen by the wayside in public debate on the executions – which has tended to focus on split opinions on the death penalty in general – is the insipid and inutile ideological colonialism (yes, I used the c-word) at the heart of these negotiations. Tony Abbott has been quoted far and wide on news programs as stating “Indonesia understands [Australia’s] position” on the matter. Carefully chosen words, to be sure1 – but does Australia really understand Indonesia? And what else is it but autoeroticism for a country to repeatedly congratulate itself, with ejaculations about “the dignity of humanity” and “life is sacred” approaching political masturbation, on its choice against the death penalty while persecuting countries that quite simply think differently?
Any project – through passive or active means, via ideology, military incursions or otherwise – to foist the opinions of one group on to another in an attempt to naturalize one’s ideology elsewhere is nothing less than a colonialist project. Sukumaran and Chan voluntarily assumed the risk involved with drug smuggling in that region of the world and they were caught. They are now facing the penalties imposed by a sovereign nation and all the doe-eyed, hand-wringing Enlightenment-era throwback philosophy about how special humanity is should – indeed must be thrown by the wayside. Real democracy is not – and should never be – a colonialist project. Real democracy involves tolerating countries and worldviews that quite simply do not match our own and think very differently from us.
There are 7+ billion human beings on the planet; if we dare say for a moment that they are all “God’s unique snowflakes,” we must logically admit as well that many of those snowflakes should have landed on a hot car hood and never made it this close to my morning coffee.
Fuck ’em. They’re Doritos…crunch ’em; there will be more, I guarantee it.
- Which means someone else chose them for him, knowing this fuckwit… ↩
Proof positive that The Jesus Lizard is an agent of divine power – and that David Yow is the Messiah returned to earth in the form of a homeless schizophrenic:
EDIT: …who looks like Kevin Spacey – or a Kevin Spacey who contracted Tourette’s from the chemicals in the storm drain he calls home.
Tags: randumb, rantrantrant
Rant time, kids…although I think this one should be subtitled “The Biggest DoucheNugget in History: Close Encounters of the Turd Kind.”
I hate malls…with a passion. Nevermind it’s Christmas – which, like weddings, funerals, and wars, brings out the very best and the very worst in people. But my hatred for malls isn’t only due to all of the insipid products for sale nowadays – I don’t really care that much if you really have to have that new cell phone, or if the Gap beckons you coquettishly, or if you’re one of those dupes who likes to pay thousands of dollars for nice shiny rocks to put on their fingers…I think my real beef is with what malls do to people.
I’m not saying anything new when I tell you that more often than not malls tend to turn people into sluggish, somnambulistic fuckwits barely aware of their surroundings, content to shuffle about like intoxicated heifers warmed by the glow of florescent lighting, dulled by retarded music 1 and mesmerized by a myriad of products packaged to seduce and drive the good-ol’ capitalist production toward the inevitable cliff…but hey, they look neat! Christmas is its own unique brand of repetition-compulsion. There. Now that I’ve thrown my hat yet again into the political arena…
But I digress. I’m the kind of person who has no time for all this crap (even if I had time for it…I’d have no time for it). So when I have to go to malls I get in and out as fast as I possibly can. I hate being caught behind the mall herd and do whatever I can to get around/through/away from it. But this year I learned something, friends…I learned that there’s a certain variety of mall-cow – a subspecies, if you will – with attitude. Perhaps “subspecies” isn’t the right word, because my encounter was with only one and I can’t prove – thankfully – that more than one exists (although statistics are against me on this one…sigh). So for the sake of argument let’s just call this one…
So when I’m walking through malls I’m pretty quick…weaving through crowds and walking up and down escalators to get done and outta there. But this isn’t to say I’m an asshole about it. Let’s face it – as cynical as I am about humanity, it doesn’t blind me to the fact that you get farther being nice, or at least civil to people. Sadly, this doesn’t work with everyone. So I tend to keep going when I step on an escalator…what the fuck am I gonna do, stand around and look at the gaudy ornaments and drum my fingers to yet another Barry Man-I-Blow-esque version of “Jingle Bell Rock”?
Now, I’ve long since realized that people just don’t give a shit about the “walk left, stand right” escalator rule, so the only way around it is to approach people – specifically the person on the left – and politely say “excuse me.” Every single human being I have encountered has, in response to these two words, stepped aside and let me pass – often with “sorry,” in which case we two exchange a quick smile, the requisite minimum of warm fuzzies and go our merry ways.
Until I met the DoucheNugget.
This guy, in his mid 50s, short, a bit squat, with a bit of a grey beard, was in front of me – on the left, of course – with his wife (who said nothing during the following exchange). I approach them and say “excuse me” politely.
This guy looks back at me. “Where do you think you’re going?”
(What the fuck?) “Umm…up?”
“You’re in that much of a hurry to get up this escalator?”
(No, really…what the fuck?) “I’d like to get past you, please.” Part of my mind is aware I should be telling him about the “walk left, stand right” rule – not to mention the fact that it’s taking this tard more energy to cockblock me than it would to move aside briefly in response to a polite request. But most of my mind is still on No, really…what the fuck?
“We’re all in a hurry…you can wait with the rest of us.” Now even in the short time we had together which I will forever treasure, I could break this down in an instant. Here is a classic example of Mall Tard Logic;2 first of all, if we’re all in a hurry…why are we “waiting?”3 Second of all…well, there is no second of all, aside from the fact that “we’re all hurrying” is coming out of the mouth of this “person” who is standing perfectly still – and refusing to let someone pass who politely requested that they “stand to the right.”
So my response – “Gee, you look like you’re in a real hurry, standing in one place like that” – went unacknowledged. Maybe it’s because they never actually expect anyone to pay attention to the everyday “pleasantries” 99% of the population spout unthinkingly (Mall Tards included of course) with no other end than some feeble attempt at connection; maybe it’s because the bouncing ball of their thought rolled down the gutter decades ago and is stuck in some drain caked with rat feces…but either way, when you call a Mall Tard out on their thinking it’s like showing a dog a physics problem – you get a dead, blank stare and the instant sense that by wading ankle deep into the pool of human intelligence you’ve gone where no Mall Tard has gone before.
I cannot recall what DoucheNugget mumbled in response to my logical deconstruction – I somehow don’t think it was anything to be included on a Voyager probe. But by this time we were at the top and I scurried on my way, oblivious to anything he might have said in parting.
But let it not go unsaid that sometimes the universe does give you little presents. Despite what you may think, I’m not a confrontational guy by nature; I do, however, stand up for what I believe in (on points large and small), and remain adamant that sometimes people just need to be told what they are. And lo and behold, on my way through the Bay to the bus stop, lo and behold – DoucheNugget and his wife are walking toward me! Just a little token, I think…there’s so much I could say, but nah….
I walk by him and, as I pass: “Dickhead…”
I keep walking – I’ve said what I needed to say, and I’m sure nobody had a clue what this surviving specimen of Fucktardicus Rex was spewing about in a crowded perfume section when he (I presume) turned around and shouted “Hey…you have a good Christmas, asshole…”
- Especially at Christmas; can we really feign incomprehension of shopping-mall shooting sprees while bluegrass versions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” exist? ↩
- Mall Tard Logic, n.: a type of “reasoning,” blatantly nonsensical and, if remotely sensical, completely self-contradictory. This logic exists in a dialectical relationship with the mind-numbing atmosphere of your average shopping mall; recent studies indicate that its conducted through fluorescent lighting, food court trays and Starbucks Frappucinos. ↩
- This reminds me of another classic example, typical for your average car-driving suburban drone: one day I almost got run over walking down the sidewalk by some mouthbreathing halfwit who was driving forward out of a parking lot while looking both ways (and not forward). Me: “Watch where you’re fuckin’ going!” Him: “Oh, I’ll watch where I’m going all right!”….?!? ↩
Tags: culture, religion, teh thinkingz
Get ready for some serious thrust, baby…because I’m sick of people who think simply posting ideas on the Internet makes said ideas worth posting on the Internet. And as far as I can tell in my quasi-drunken noncommittal surfings of this vast thing we call the Internet, atheists are one of the most boring, insipid subgroups of this botched petrie dish of human intelligence. This could have been written better, but I don’t have a lot of time right now (sometimes, however, you just need to let your hair down though…)
But first, by way of introduction………
Internet vs. “Intardnets”
There are occasions when I’m asked something like “why do you bother trying to communicate with people over the Internet?” “Are you on some sort of stupid crusade to rid the Internet of misinformation and bullshit?”
To be honest…I mean really honest…part of me remains an idealist; part of me really wants to believe that the Internet can become the productive thing it began as, and that it can be productively used as a tool to educate people. Does anyone, like me, remember the first days/months/years of the Internet? Those days of heady promise before porn and spam where people (naively) touted the Internet as the arrival of real democracy and truly decentered free speech for everyone across the world? Yeah, yeah I know…those days are long, long past – but I do miss them, even if I never believed the hype even then…even if at that early stage I realized that the servers that form the backbone of the Internet were owned by companies, and as long as we have capitalism and people owning things there will never be “true democracy” (if even that exists…sigh).
Now I know this nagging, persistent belief in the potential of the Internet is unrealistic; I know that for every person who uses the Internet there are a thousand who make the Internet into the Intardnets – a dumping ground for every moronic opinion that happens to traverse the garbage-strewn ghetto of the average Gee-I-have-an-opinion-and-a-webpage-so-I’m-like-a-real-intellectual‘s brain. But being an “intellectual” isn’t about having opinions and spouting them all over cyberspace – it isn’t even necessarily about being in the academy (university) and writing lots of articles and getting grants and teaching courses (although the training one gets in university is crucial for this endeavour). It’s about devoting the time and work to developing a process of critical thinking that one makes one’s own and can then apply to everyday life in a productive way (which is definitely not something most academics do).
So with all this in mind, let’s talk about religion and all the crap that’s been ladled on the concept since before the Internet came into being. But for the record, and this is important: I am not an atheist. I am not a theist. I adhere to no religious denomination (anyone who’s read the site’s splash page is muttering duhhhh… at this point!). When someone asks me what my religion is I typically respond that I’m a conscientous objector, but this shouldn’t lead you to believe that I have no respect for religion…quite the opposite, in fact (while being very aware of the atrocities every religion in history has been responsible for at one time or another). I just don’t want to get embroiled in arguments that for me are trite and banal and almost never lead to any interesting or constructive knowledge about lived experience. And sadly, this is what almost every atheist argument is – trite, banal, rife with the same pop-cultural reductionisms you find in religious fundamentalism…1
“Religion” vs. “The Religious”
Now don’t get me wrong – I love George Carlin (RIP, brother) and have a lot of respect for him. He, along with Bill Hicks (RIP, brother) and Jon Stewart, constitute my Holy Trinity of comedy. But let’s face it – he was human, and he had his issues like every one of us do. So when he talks in his typical down-to-earth fashion about drugs as a pharmakon 2 to the human condition, I’m right there with him. But when he talks about “religion” as bullshit…well, that’s another story. Needless to say, irrespective of George Carlin this sentiment has been picked up by atheists all over the world as a way of venting their frustration and hatred on religious institutions which are purportedly responsible for a great share of suffering, death, and oppression in the world.
Now I happen to agree with this – I am personally very critical of organized religion of all denominations (remember – even Buddhists have gone to war). Without being atheist or theist, I agree with the general assertion that organized religion is responsible for a lot of misunderstanding and hatred in the world; no one who has the slightest acquaintance with history can disagree with this. But the question I am about to ask is a question that the atheists I’ve surveyed in my (admittedly unscientific) survey of the Intardnets never ask themselves or others – a question George Carlin, bless him, never asked as far as I know – the single most important question, painfully obvious, that all these lesser atheists, in their rush to assert their orgasmic self-assuredness against lesser “believers” – let fall by the wayside in their emphatic belief in the doctrines of atheism. That, my friends and enemies, is this:
What is religion?
If one is going to attempt a rational debate about cultural phenomena (and atheists loooove to call themselves “rational”), well then, “let us define our terms, ladies and gentlemen”…what do we mean when we refer to “religion?” Atheists take this question for granted so often that the assumption that “everyone knows what religion is” has become naturalized like some Althusserian Ideological State Apparatus. But naturalizing an answer doesn’t dispel the question. So to begin with, I’ll take Christianity as one example of many here – certainly not because it’s the most important religion, and certainly not because I’m Christian (which I’m not – in case you missed it), but because it’s a favourite target for atheists.
So here we go:
Is religion really nothing more than believing in some bearded crusty old fart in the sky who will smite you with lightning for touching yourself at night? Is religion really nothing more than believing that the world was created in 6 days, or that the universe is roughly 6000 years old, or a massive denial of the inexplicability of the sheer facticity of the universe’s existence (which, incidentally, nobody, theologian, philosopher or scientist, has been able to satisfactorily explain)? Let’s face it – if this is all that religion has ever been in the world, then yes, of course it’s a lot easier to point to the heterogeneity of the universe and the scientific knowledge we’ve managed to amass over the past several hundred years and argue that religion is a fiction. Notice, however, that I said a fiction and not a stupid fiction…but I need to bracket this question for now, since it leads into different territory from the issues before us here.
But let’s get back to the question by way of complicating it. What if this weren’t everything that religion was, is or shall ever be? Because I have news for you atheists….it ‘aint. Now I’m not going to give out any definitive notion of religion – I’m a Deleuzian and believe that, in this case, exploring the infinite productivity of the Question is way more interesting than attempting to “solve” it. So let’s look at one of many examples of how thinking people – people patient enough to inquire into a phenomenon with a balanced and tolerant attitude – have tackled the question of what this thing is we call religion instead of taking it for granted as some commodity in a window we’ve all seen at one point or another (which atheists love to do).
Until his death in 2001, Ninian Smart was widely known for his 7-dimensional definition of religion. His take on religion was profoundly secular (sorry Chris), concentrating on its social functions and not the specific theological or philosophical beliefs championed by any one doctrine (indeed, he was responsible for the differentiation of Religious Studies from Theology; Religious Studies focuses on the cultural/anthropological aspects of religion and not strictly on matters of belief). By focusing on Smart I’m not implying that this is the one correct way of thinking religion, but his importance in scholarly discussions of religion cannot be denied. Here are the seven dimensions of religion he defines:3
- Doctrinal: a collection of codifications and beliefs about the nature of reality and humanity’s place in that reality.
- Mythological: Parables, sacred stories (which can change over time) narrating and explaining the origins of the world/cosmos and of various aspects of human experience (birth, death, sexuality etc).
- Ethical: a set of rules and precepts telling human beings how to act in relation to themselves and the Divine; a framework of judging human actions as “good” or “evil.”
- Ritual: Actions and ways of communicating with the Divine that confirm (and reconfirm) a religious group’s relation to the Divine.
- Experiential: the feeling/affective aspect of religion; one’s feeling of immediate contact with the Divine that provokes various responses, i.e. fear, love, awe, reverence, ecstasy.
- Institutional/Social: the societal organization (or organizations) which cohere a religious group as a relatively discreet entity; churches, schools, mosques, etc.
- Material: Artifacts; books, buildings, etc.: manufactured objects that signify or symbolize various aspects of the group’s religious beliefs.
Notice how belief in a theist God isn’t mentioned (even if it’s allowed for in the dimensions). What’s important for us here is that these dimensions do not tidily coexist side by side; they interpenetrate each other and often contradict each other. This is nothing more than saying that “religion” is a complex and contradictory social formation just like any other human phenomena. The salient point here: any “ism” – including atheism – can be seen as a religion. As Smart and others demonstrate, “religion,” although it may include “a” God, is more authentically defined as a human organization attempting to articulate a Being that will forever remain irreducible to any explanatory paradigm – religious or scientific (by “Being” I’m not talking about a theist God – I’m talking about the philosophical concept of Being as existence). Atheists don’t get out of this “dilemma” of a belief system by distancing themselves from some crusty old fart in the sky. And believing they can by making up their own definitions as to what “religion” is without looking at broader scholarship on the issue is an instance of what Freud called magical thinking – saying something and believing it to be true as a result.4
Using this model, one can argue that Elvis is a religion: for the devout, Elvis is a “religious” figure to whom one can make pilgrimages (Graceland), whose pelvis gestures one can ritually imitate, whose mythological narrative leads some to believe that “Elvis lives!”…and what about the ecstatic feeling people had when he performed? Or perhaps when his Apostles – Elvis imitators – perform nowadays? While some think this foolish, ask the devout what they think.
But if that example doesn’t work for you, try capitalism as a religion: its mythological narratives of the “overcoming” of “socialism”/”communism,” those ritual trips to the bank, business rules and regulations…and how about that fervent desire to communicate directly with the divinity of capital as we wish for that numinous moment of winning the lottery? the list isn’t exhaustive, but you get the idea – the idea of religion is less to do with one or another Big Father In The Sky and more with the articulation of a universal human social formation with both positive and negative outcomes in lived experience.
But there’s one important – in fact the most important point to be made here: fundamentally, religion is not reducible to rational thought. While as we’ve seen there is logic to certain aspects of religion, at its core is the fact that what we call “reason” is only one way of apprehending the world and experiencing it. There is an element of belief here that you can’t simply oppose to “reality” and dismiss. Christopher Hitchens, in his fervent desire to destroy religion (or “evolve past it” or whatever), represses this fact in his discourse. No surprise that he does, because it fatally undermines his rational-idealist effort to dismiss religion as mystical hogwash, which is really nothing more than the logical equivalent of scolding one’s dog for being a poor excuse for a watermelon. So much for Hitchens’ logic.
But to my mind, one can make a useful distinction between (institutionalized) “religion” and “the religious” – what Smart would call the experiential aspect, the profoundly personal apprehension and experience of the numinous in human experience which is irreducible to any logical paradigm (although belief systems certainly can – and have – come out of such experiences). My point is that one can “be religious” (some might call it “spiritual,” but I don’t) without subscribing to a religion. For those of you who have never had such arational, acausal experiences: I hope you do at some point. I have no problems with “rationalism”…but it’s only one way of experiencing and understanding the world.
So with all this in mind, let’s briefly turn to some of the main points that atheists believe dispels “religion” as hogwash. I take some of these from Lady Atheist (who, like many self-professed atheists, makes comfy-cozy distinctions that don’t stand up to criticism – she makes me giggle), That Fat Atheist and a few other such intellectual dump-sites in cyberspace…they’re all pretty much the same. Sooo, my freehand rebuttals:
The Typical Atheist Arguments.
“Faith is anti-scientific.” This belief reflects one of the grossest misunderstandings of religion (let me give it a Big Bang Theory episode title: The Dog-Watermelon Misconception), and one that comes up again and again in so-called critiques of religion. Two problems: 1) duhhhhhh…of course faith isn’t a rational experience! 2) The conception that science sees things “as they really are” is seriously outmoded…like the old belief that the atom is the smallest particle in existence.
This also applies to accusations that “mythology is ‘false’ because it ‘never happened'”…if you really think that entire cultures unilaterally, absolutely believed in the same story (cf. the exploding of absolutist statements below) – that skeptics and disbelievers only came about in the past few years – your problems are bigger than you think.
“People take religion too extremely [sic].” Massive generalization. Some, yes. Others, no. Duuhh. Next…
“Religion enourages tribalism and closed-mindedness.” Funny how yes, religions can do this (although I wonder what the Bah’ais would say to this), but gee….so do atheists! In fact, a certain amount of tribalism is precisely what differentiates one group from another and gives them their identity (see Societal aspect of religion, above). Next….
[From Lady Atheist] “Fantasy of being able to make things go your way. This has probably been going on since before recorded history. Make it rain. Make it stop raining. Make the crops grow. Make the antelope slow down. Make the stock market improve. Make my team beat your team. Make the little girl with leukemia survive. ” Funny how every point she makes here is applicable not only to religion, but to scientific endeavours, from insider trading to genetically-modified foods to steroid abuse. Science has its fantasies too (artificial intelligence and “conquering death” being two doozies). It isn’t a religious idea per se to want everything to go your way – it’s a fundamentally human wish.
She makes one other point (there are others – go to her site if you want) about “resistance to change.” Again – while some fundamentalists want to either maintain the current status quo or to return to an earlier nostalgic picture of the world, it’s impossible to paint all of “religion” with this brush. In fact, if one recognizes that religions around the world (and any other life-encompassing paradigm, I suppose) are ultimately about accepting and dealing with death as the ultimate change….this criticism sounds just stupid.
But simply trawling random stupid atheists on the Intardnets isn’t a real challenge. For that – well, for something closer to that at any rate – we need to look at someone like Christopher Hitchens, who presents himself as an articulate, serious thinker. Articulate? Yes. Charismatic? Yes. Serious? No. But still, we have all the ingredients here for what one, using Smart’s schema, could describe as atheism’s religious icon.
Christopher Hitchens: A Naive Mouthpiece For Pop-Cultural Angst.
I’ve been aware of Christopher Hitchens for a while now, but have never bothered until recently to look into what he says. As a doctoral student in English and a trained reader, I see book titles like God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and think to myself “Come on, dude…I know that you know that being controversial about religion will sell books and give you a tidy retirement sum, but can you possibly throw around any more unrealistically absolutist terms? Hell, even studying for the American GRE taught me that people who use absolutist arguments like “everything is X or Y” are logically flawed”…ditto with other such book titles as What X Really Said or X Was Wrong: etc. etc. So when I see a book title arguing that X Poisons Everything I bin it with Amway scams, spam email and other such snake-oil projects.
Now Hitchens isn’t wrong – he’s “wrong.” Lemme qualify this: if one chooses to define religion as Hitchens does – solely in terms of a bunch of hateful fanatics who believe in the Bible’s literal truth – then he isn’t wrong to criticize it (and I’m right there with him on that point). But let me be blunt: Hitchens’ conception of religion is that of a pimply-faced, rebellious 15 year-old who hates his Dad because he was told to go to his room. Hitchens’ line of argument – “religion has produced hatred and intolerance, so religion is hateful and intolerant, we must get rid of religion” is nothing more than the logical equivalent of arguing that “some homosexuals have molested children, therefore all homosexuals are child molesters so we need to get rid of all the homos!” Think for a minute and you’ll see how absurd this method of argumentation is.
Thankfully, the reality on the ground is quite different; if one chooses to accept a more comprehensive definition of religion – one that takes into account its complicated existence in human culture as constituted by human beings whose beliefs are paradoxically similar and differentiated (“you and I believe in the Christian God, but He appears differently to both of us”), then Hitchens’ arguments get into a lot of trouble. Hitchens apparently considers himself above such niggling questions as to exactly what the material, existential phenomenon of religion is. Instead, like all the naive thinkers he panders to, he takes the term completely for granted, happily constructing it arbitrarily as the scapegoat he needs to blindly perpetuating the naive binarism between “religion” and “rational evolutionary thought” (but this said, someone please let me know if there is a point where he tries to define the term).
Any thoughtful understanding of history must accept the fact that such human disciplines as “religion,” “science” and “philosophy” have never developed independently of each other; human history is constituted only through the cross-fertilization of different areas of human knowledge. For example: Schelling and Hegel, as philosophers in late 18th/early 19th century Germany, did more to explore issues of evolution, ontogeny/phylogeny (recapitulation theory), theories of the organism and the earth sciences than Hitchens ever could. Now, of course, their inquiries were focused through their knowledge of science, and much of the empirical science of their time has been disproven. Leaving aside the fact that the underlying theories behind these insights are beginning to be reappraised, and that they aren’t so far off from some contemporary theoretical insights, my point is this: in their own ways they thought God in terms of the very evolutionary processes of change and natural mutation that we now take for granted as, broadly speaking, “evolution.” This is far different from simply thinking about some crusty old fart sitting on a cloud, and it isn’t what atheists understand as “theism.”
(Brief) Case Study: Christopher Hitchens – Religion and the Neurotic Construction of Knowledge
Ok, so I picked a clip on YouTube that seems to encalspulate what Hitchens has to say on the phenomenon of religion (link in section title), which is pretty monolithic across the clips of his I’ve seen (had he lived longer, I’m not getting the sense he’d have changed his opinion on this one!). Apart from building himself up as the self-anointed martyr of atheism (I’ve had death threats, bla bla bla…ok, death threats aren’t cool, but what did he expect when criticizing intolerant Muslims?!)…notice what else Hitchens does in this clip – the topic is about “religion,” but his rhetorical strategy is to implicitly define religion in terms of “loathing, hatred and bigotry” – militant Islam, homophobia, etc.
He can differentiate (as he rightly does) between “Anti-Islam” and “racism” but is incapable of providing anything even remotely close to a reasonable definition of religion?? Does he really subscribe to a simplistic, naive reading of Freud’s Future of an Illusion so wholeheartedly? Can someone so insensitive to the nuance attending these questions really pretend, through the odd sophistic rhetorical turn and quasi-pompous British persona, to be dealing seriously with such a complicated philosophical, political, theological, social phenomenon such as religion? To invoke the Freud he likes to cherry-pick: insisting on such rigid binarisms is part of what constitutes neurosis, and insofar as Hitchens insists on this his is a neurotic structure of knowledge – a case study in it, if you will. Fundamentalism: it’s not just for theists anymore…
It needs to be said: Christopher Hitchens is to atheists what Oprah Winfrey is to bored, disenfranchised housewives – a naive mouthpiece for pop-cultural Angst that revels in its own either/ors, reductive binarisms and unsophisticated fork/spoon arguments. Atheists come from far and wide, confirmed in their beliefs, and they leave even more confirmed in their beliefs than before, satisfied that they’ve been corroborated by pompous rhetoric (perhaps the English accent helps?) based on several grains of perfectly valid truth sandwiched between layers of contempo-atheist-chic pop-cultural reasoning. I couldn’t care less what Hitchens “believes” or doesn’t, rant as he may about it; his ham-handed rationalism does nothing more than create paper tigers that a high-school student could tear down. 5
I’ll go you one further. I don’t typically use terms like “good,” “evil,” or “monster,” and I don’t know what happened in Hitchens’ life to make him so neurotically fixated on invalidating religion, but if “monsters” exist, those who insist on fundamentalist binarisms (good/evil, religion/science)…those who want to destroy an archetypal human phenomenon because of its potential to work both “good” and “evil” in the world – a potential shared with science, philosophy, psychoanalysis and the felafel truck on my university campus – they are the real moral monsters.
Note to Hitchens’ pilot fish (err, ardent atheist admirers)…thinking for yourself and educating yourself will more than likely lead you not toward “religion,” but away from Hitchens. There it is – your daily dose of non-dualism. Thank god…
For those of you who just skipped to the bottom…some recap:
- Despite Hitchens’ most ardent desire to accept this as an article of faith, “theism” is not absolutely synonomous with “religion,” taken in its most encompassing view; cf. my distinction between “religion” and “the religious.”
- Once one accepts the fact that “religion,” “philosophy” and “science” have never been completely separated domains of knowledge (no domain of knoweldge exists hermetically sealed) and that, as a result, there are aspects of “Christian religious thought” that deal with precisely the issues of evolution, process and change Hitchens focuses on (Schelling and Hegel, for example, deal with these issues with much more thought than Hitchens is capable of), then his crusade against the negativity of what he understands as “religion” is severely undermined.
- Despite Hitchens’ rational idealist view of the world, “reason” (whatever that is) is not the only way of apprehending and experiencing the world…arguably, it isn’t the happiest either.
- Hitchens’ neurotic repression of the numinous/that which cannot be thought but only felt and rendered artistically/mythologically after the fact must be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism
- When coming across anyone who insists on unilaterally dismissing something with such passion and single-mindedness without bothering to provide any kind of sensible definion, thinking people should ask themselves why.
My only jihad is against sloppy thinking.
(I use italics cos I mean it, baby…)
- “Huh? Are you calling atheists fundamentalists?? Why, only religious people can be fundamentalists!”…..wrong. Fundamentalism in itself has nothing to do with God – it is a pathological emphasis on one organizational paradigm and a pathological denial of any contesting paradigms. ↩
- Jacques Derrida’s term for something that is paradoxically both a cure and a poison. ↩
- My description of these dimensions is very freehand because I don’t have time to research them…anyone who wants to do so can look ’em up. ↩
- There is an interesting consequence to this argument: even atheists retort that I’m doing the same thing – offering one interpretation among many and asserting it to be true – this only underscores the interpreted nature of reality. If one is forced to accept this, then, one must include scientific discourse with religious discourse as bids to articulate a reality while being painfully aware of its own lack, its ultimate gaps in knowledge that make this Being forever inaccessible to full explanation. ↩
- Gee, Chris….explaining how believing in the literal truth of Genesis, Noah’s Ark or archangelical dictation is a bit flaky from the objective side of things? Ooohhhhh, what a challenge! ↩
I’ll join the chrorus: I hate Christmas. Christmas sucks.
Main reason why? No – it isn’t fighting the urge to run down people who stand in parking spaces at busy malls to reserve them for their friends and family members. It isn’t waiting in traffic, waiting in lines, rushing to stores to grab that last rave-gadget-of-the-moment before they’re all gone; it isn’t the psychological warfare we wage on ourselves in projecting our relationships on to commodities; it isn’t even the awkward moment of smiling and thanking someone who clearly doesn’t know you giving you a gift that you clearly don’t want or need.
No, my friends and enemies – the reason is far more philosophical, far more fundamental than the perennial nuisances of the holiday season. It’s the insipid hypocrisy involved with the holidays – the idea, however theoretical, that if we’re nice to people for one day out of the year (maybe one and a half, counting Christmas Eve) then the magic of peace on earth, goodwill to people, kindness, generosity, and understanding will somehow be closer to manifesting between people. See, the problem is that the whole idea of Christmas needs to be inverted. The point is quick and simple: instead of Christmas Day, the one time of year where we’re supposed to promote peace and love and all that warm fuzzy stuff, we need to have….Asshole Day.
Now, this isn’t the same thing as National Asshole Day (which is rather stupid and banal compared to what I have in mind); as the cure for an insipid and hypocritical Christmas, Asshole Day would be the one day of the year we’re complete fucking shitbags to each other – lying, cheating, stealing, taking advantage of one another for all of the usual selfish, idiotic and solipsistic reasons. The other 364 days of the year we’re as kind and understanding as we can be, sensitive to the fact that we all inhabit the same world yet view it through different lenses; we’re generous, compassionate, thoughtful and cooperative with each other, cognisant of the fact that we are all destined to suffer the same mortal fate someday. That in mind, we’d be committed to making life as peaceful and symbiotic for each other as possible because we’d realize that when you make the people around you happy, a lot of other things just take care of themselves.
So when Christmas Day rolls around, leave that burning bag of shit on your mother’s doorstep! You can clean it up the following morning and hug her like there was no tomorrrow. And then, see, something like heaven might manifest on earth – however briefly, however fleetingly.
At any rate it would work much better than killing trees, buying cheap ornaments and listening to terrible music. Viva Asshole Day!
Tags: randumb, rantrantrant
So here we digress into the banal world of soap-opera opinionation and TV-show rants!
The Walking Dead. If you came here through a Google search I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s quite good in many respects – it offers a lot of fictional dimensionality that, well, let’s face it – the vast, vast majority of zombie fiction lacks (why does everyone assume zombie fiction is a garbage dump for all sorts of stupid plotlines and really shitty writing?). As a zombie freak I must admit – I watch it whenever I can, and despite what I’m about to say I do quite like the show. I almost decided to buy the Special Edition on DVD, but Season 2 made me a bit ambivalent about that – Season 1 was great, but for me the character writing in Season 2 took a bit of a dive (in some episodes why are the women written like bimbos who insist on abdicating responsibility for their actions and blaming the men?).
But enough preamble….let’s get to the point. I won’t be a purist and talk about the disappointing lack of realistic effects in The Walking Dead – I mean the complete lack of recoil on the toy weapons and the lousy editing with regard to so many of the walker deaths – I mean, Sophia (Madison Lintz) doesn’t even get pushed back by the bullet that kills her at the end of Season 2?1 The real point here happens to be the character I hate the most in The Walking Dead – and that, my friends, is Lori Grimes. Oh, you demand reasons why I think she should be punched in the face repeatedly until she’s crying like a little girl and then thrown to the walkers? Well, here they are:
- As the self-professed Princess of the Zombie Apocalypse – and like every other stupid “concerned parent” I’ve seen in real life – she seems to think she has every right to treat Shane like shit and push him away when she finds out her husband is alive…more or less for the sake of her whiny kid, who’s picking up all the bitchiness from his mama. Ohohoh, but that doesn’t stop her from yelling at Shane when he isn’t the surrogate father to Carl that she happens to want him to be…well, whenever she feels like it. Example: when Carl finds those tools and knives in one of the cars at the beginning of Season 2 (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t be bothered to quote verbatim dialogue for something so inane):
Carl: “hey, mom, look what I found…can I keep one?”
Lori: “what, are you CRAZY?”
Carl (to Shane): can I keep one?
Shane: “you go and take those to your father NOW!”
Lori: “what’s your problem? What you said to Carl devastated him!”
Never mind his mother just screamed at him that he’s crazy…
- Same episode: they arrive at the highway with cars filled with all sorts of potentially essential supplies; T-Dog suggests they siphon gas and the group goes about collecting supplies; Lori’s oh-so-intelligent comment? “This is a graveyard…I don’t know how I feel about this.” HEY EVERYONE…let’s all STOP being practical because the Princess doesn’t know how she feels….
And while I do understand her rationale thinking Rick was dead in her, umm, extracurricular activities with Shane, really…to be in such denial by the end of Season 2 that the child could be his instead of Rick’s? Stupid cow, have you learned nothing? She needs a good slap upside the head to remind her that the world she knew was gone. Period. Please, god, let her be the redshirt2 in the next season…
Ahh….talking about completely irrelevant bullshit can indeed be liberating!
- And with all that experience you’d think the group can get a few more headshots and not aim for the shoulders so often? Oops…guess I am a bit of a purist…sorry. ↩
- Really? Do I have to explain this reference? Watch the oldschool Star Trek and you’ll see what I mean: the redshirt is the security person whose only purpose is to die. ↩
I won’t waste space here reiterating the basic arguments against Abbas’ upcoming bid for statehood at the UN – the uniformity with which these views have been reported means you can read them pretty much anywhere. What I want to do here is rant about the sheer stupidity of America and Israel regarding this travesty. A few points I wanted to put down here – points I have written elsewhere in commentaries to news articles:
- Nowhere have either America or Israel given any sort of rationale or thoughtful, detailed argument outlining why they think Abbas shouldn’t bid for statehood at the UN. From Obama you hear all sorts of rhetoric like “we strongly disagree, precisely because it would be counterproductive” (this is a near-verbatim quote from a newspaper article…wish I could find it!); Israel warns rather ominously of dire consequences and punitive measures are often mentioned. For what? How is this bid perpetrating violence on either or two states that are clearly more powerful than any Palestinian state would be? How is this anything more than schoolyard bullying?
- Abbas has repeatedly and clearly stated that the statehood bid (or statehood, for that matter) does not cancel out negotiations, as America and Israel so neurotically insist. Seems as if America and Israel are unwilling or unable (both?) to realize this.
- I think it’s quite true that Palestine, in its bid, is calling out America on its seriously flawed Middle East policy – America insists on negotiations that have gone nowhere for decades; Palestinians are fed up with it and want to get things done, which is quite understandable. Now America must veto (it would be a historical moment if they didn’t) just as assuredly as Abbas must move forward with the UN bid. Change is coming…whatever it ends up being.
- All the nitpicking about whether or not the negotiations should conform to pre-1967 borders, then, is in a sense quite superfluous. Irrespective of whether or not it passes, the bid for statehood is not going to resolve this question – nor was it meant to. It’s meant to change the political topography against which the inevitable negotiations will take place.
Tags: teh thinkingz
Reading (as I often do, for better or worse) the cavalcade of political e-pinions has gotten me to thinking about the rather insipid anti-intellectualism that has persisted in North America since the Me Decade (the 1980s, for those of you born later). It’s funny the way this plays out in pop culture…leaving aside all the movies that lampoon naive graduate students and professors of the “Ivory Tower” supposedly disconnected from “real life”1, I’m thinking about how a liberal arts eduction is engaged with by people outside the academy. When I was an undergrad and an MA student I was told that my education was valuable – people just couldn’t tell me why. Tell them you’re in English: you’ll inevitably have “teacher” and “journalist” thrown at you as two of the only jobs in the “real world” one can get with an English degree.
Apart from this, though, is the way intellectuals tend to be received in public debate in my experience. We’re pretentious; we place ourselves above others; to some, we use lots of big words in an effort to disguise our lack of knowledge. Now all of this might be true in certain cases…but I wonder if the anti-intellectualism of the current age isn’t mired in its own materialist limitations.
See, a non-plumber or non-welder wouldn’t dream of visiting an online forum on plumbing or welding and start telling plumbers or welders how to do their job. The reasons why are obvious – we, as non-plumbers/welders, don’t have the training and experience possessed by those within the trade. No one scowls at plumbers or welders for thinking they’re better plumbers or welders than others. My question: why should this be different for liberal arts and thinking…or, as I’ll call it for the sake of argument here – the “trade” of thinking?2 Not all of us can or would want to go through the hassle of training to be a plumber or welder; but here the crux lies. Not everyone’s a welder or plumber; but everyone can think and voice an opinion. This leads a lot (and I mean a lot) of people to assume that just because they can think their opinions and insights are as “worthy”3 as those of “intellectuals.” Somehow, because thought lacks the materiality of trades such as welding or plumbing, the playing field is levelled and everyone’s opinion is just as right as the other.
The crucial flaw in this argument lies in the fact that thinking is a trade acquired by study, training and apprenticeship, just like plumbing and welding, and this remains unrealized by a hell of a lot of people out there. Liberal arts academics such as myself train. And we train hard in an unfriendly and overly competitive culture. In this we have it much worse than a lot of people in the so-called “real world.” Where people quote website after website and (cringe) Wikipedia to corroborate their opinions, we are trained to go to libraries and research. To compare and weigh competing arguments and synthesize them into an original work that contributes to the field in which we write. In the course of a project we will often change our viewpoints and arguments as we go, because you often don’t know what you think about a topic until you’re relatively immersed in it…and at the end, the project you hold in your hands is never anything like the phantasy you entertained in your mind when you began. Real academic research isn’t about voicing your opinion and defending it against infidels and lesser-thans; it’s about judging the integrity of the argument and being as critical as possible of yourself and others in an effort to find the truth. It’s about having your ideas criticized – sometimes too harshly – be peers in your field who may, at any given time, know more than you on your pet subject. It’s about having to assimilate these viewpoints and admit that you might not know everything you thought you knew.
And yes, I know what I just said. “Truth.” What I mean here is really the process of truth. And yes, this is an idealist vision of what scholarship should be, and I am well aware that it’s rarely like this. But at least scholarship, in principle, keeps open the space in which this process can flourish, however frustrating and demoralizing it can sometimes be
This should be remembered. And this is why I consider myself a better thinker than a lot of people in the so-called “real world.” I train for it every day.
- And what is this thing you call “real life” anyway? Hate to tell you, but as a graduate student I live in exactly the same world as “the rest of you” – I just do it on several hundred dollars less per month, thank you very much. Now that’s a dose of reality… ↩
- This label isn’t so far off the mark in the information age anyway – at my doctoral orientation sessions they made a lot out of our shift away from being “consumers” to being “producers” of knowledge. A naive binarism, yes, but it gets the point across. ↩
- I put “worthy” in quotes here to make this point: all opinions are worthy of being voiced; not all opinions are as “worthy” as others in terms of thoughtfulness and articulation. ↩
Tags: 911, terrorism
Now I know it’s easy for me to say that, although the events of Sept. 11 were indeed horrific, I’m not going to mourn. People usually assume the wrong reasons for this – that I’m a cynical bastard (ok, well I am that), that I’m a heartless and unfeeling human being, etc….but the fact of the matter is that I refuse to mourn for no other reason than to pay lip service to a historical event. To do so, for me, would be to somehow make light of the very real suffering and trauma suffered by the people who were directly affected by such events. It’s also why I don’t wear a poppy on Remembrance Day for example – who am I to say I sympathize? Who am I to say I “feel with them”? For me, it’s far better to respect events so far removed from oneself by refusing to mime an uninformed sympathy.
That said….instead of mourning the tragedy of 911, I think it’s better to offer informed critical opinion that ideally every person on this planet should read:
There are other great articles here too, but hey – Chomsky’s the man. Too bad the Western public at large still isn’t interested in principled critical debate…