by Joe Palmer
[ opinion - september 08 ]
Evil angels have all but seized control of the world
- Philip Rieff
In order to write a bestselling book like JR Corsi's The Obama Nation, one needs a topic people have strong feelings about, such as a popular politician or the divinity of Jesus, so the author of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, knew what he was doing when he cooked up that far-fetched tale of highly dubious validity with a detective plot based on a cock and bull story put together by Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh, who sued Brown for stealing their specious material. Their books Holy Blood, Holy Grail and Messianic Legacy had to seem like scholarly works in order for readers to take them seriously, just as readers had swallowed Alan Sokal's magnificent hoax 'Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity'.
Naïve readers also took seriously The Da Vinci Code, which is nothing more than a pot-boiler, a formulaic whodunnit, proving that there is still a big market out there for a dime novel. The book wasted a lot of trees, and made a lot of work for movie producers and for preachers, who had to denounce both the popular book and the crowd-pleasing movie from the pulpit.
People who write for a living love to find hot markets, and the God-market is a perennial one usually exploited only by journeyman writers like Dan Brown, and like Tim LaHaye with his 'Left Behind' series of books about the Rapture, giving religion, theology, death and final things (eschatology), the sort of media attention they need to be profitable topics for mass-market books, Harry Potters for dimwits.
Now there is a spate of recent God books available to the gullible that pander to their juvenile minds, giving science a bad name. Writing about atheism, or atheology, is a sort of pornography of atheism that we may call atheography. Just as pornography takes all the charm and romance out of sex, so does atheography take the enigma and fantasy out of religion, theology, and eschatology, brutally demysifying them. It's like saying, "Adam, Abraham, Job, Moses, Jesus, Mary, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny do not exist as we know them. Bah! Humbug!"
Science and myth (religion) both assert the same thing: that the universe operates according to rules and that those rules can be discerned. Both science and religion are wrong. You cannot get to a place where you can make out the rules from there, so The one and only commandment of modern culture is: THOU SHALT NOT BELIEVE, wrote Philip Rieff, who was perhaps the most damning thinker of the 20th century, whose profound discontent with civilization convinced him we are facing an age of barbarism, and so we must embrace 'inactivism' in order to slow down the process of cultural decline. Married to the writer Susan Sontag, Rieff was generally dismissive of feminism, gay rights and much of what has come to be regarded as social progress, including atheism and irreligion, and, for that matter, science.
Rieff knew we are all going to Hell in a handbasket, as witnessed by Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, among others, who have cranked out a thousand reasons to distrust true believers and to fear the religious believers' passionate insanity and deadly solipsism.
In their books, the (supposed) Enlightenment is used as a form of coercion: if you are against us, you are with the forces of darkness, unreason, superstition, backwardness, jungle drums, and chaos. They all hold that finally scientism is essentially different and truer than mysticism, mostly because it is harder to share your personal revelations than those you find through scientific procedures.
For instance, see Hitchens' latest, God Is Not Great. It "summarizes the arguments of a lifetime, or the life that he has had since he was nine years old and decided firmly that God did not exist, a fact he is given to bragging about. But then, as someone remarked to me, perhaps this only means he still thinks like a nine year old. God Is Not Great is sometimes witty, or at least half-witty, which is better than average" [lenin]. Hitchens' motto: " What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." For example, "God is great". And it also can be believed, we might add, "without evidence."
If you're looking for a biology/evolution/science related Christmas gift, I Believe in Science sells T-shirts with this pretty tree of life on it and the text 'I Believe in Science'. There are lots of different colors and models to choose from.
Since the Enlightenment, religion has been passé.
What is the Enlightenment? In brief, it is a word referring to a perceived trend, not to a concrete thing, a philosophical movement during the 18th century, which emphasized the use of reason to evaluate accepted doctrines and traditions, and so, "common sense" assumptions about religion, politics, and social relationships are questioned and often abandoned as if suddenly a light has gone on in a dark room, revealing truth. The Enlightenment and its legacy are still actively debated, with the Enlightenment acting as a basic organizing concept in philosophy, social theory and the history of ideas.
We think with such metaphors, conceits, or frames as the Enlightenment at our peril. They make us think our thoughts are true, when they are merely consistent. We take it for granted that such-and-such is so (for example, that there is an Enlightenment), and soon we find ourselves not comparing apples but oranges and kiwi fruit, and not knowing what we are doing. We think we are talking about only apples, when gooseberries may be our true topic. We babble on about the Reformation, for example, as if it were the seventh baseball game of the World Series in 1560. Like the Enlightenment, the Reformation didn't know it was happening. The use of new terms like Enlightenment and Reformation is our way of simplifying history, avoiding complexity, lumping things together for convenience, talking about something that seems to have happened to a large number of people, or to a smaller number of more important people, dismissing by negation, and gaining authority by right of eminent domain. We bluster and cheat. When in doubt, we yell like hell.
The emperor often has no clothes. We know that. It's no big deal. The fact that we are phonies and it is mostly fakery is common knowledge, the beginning of wisdom, Holden. As Flannery O'Connor said about the "concept of the Eucharist", if I thought the Enlightenment was a concept, I'd say to Hell with it, and I do think it is a concept, and not a fact, so to Hell with it.
As Isaiah Berlin asserts in his essay 'The Counter-Enlightenment', the triumph of reason and the natural sciences, and the rejection of revelation, tradition, prescription, transcendence, and sacred writings were opposed by the Church and the State, but they had no common assumptions, no common ground on which to grapple, except the repression of ideas dangerous to authority. For example, the Church could only censure Galileo and make him abjure his position, but it would not show why Galileo's ideas were bad for ordinary people, which was that religious and social myths were traditional and sufficient to serve people very well just as they were, without change. We cannot change the basic stories, like the one about man being made in the image of God, without threatening the whole bless'd structure. And what purpose would that serve? It doesn't make any difference to 99% of mankind. Many of us now die happy, secure in the knowledge that Jesus loves us. Without a God to receive our deaths, we die in despair. And the myth of science just won't do to serve as religion. There is no me in the myth of science. In the myth of science I am a pissant.
The Enlightenment story has its own version of Genesis, and the themes are well known: The world woke up from the slumber of the "dark ages," finally got in touch with the truth and became good about 300 years ago in Northern and Western Europe. As people opened their eyes, religion (equated with ignorance and superstition) gave way to science (equated with fact and reason). Parochialism and tribal allegiances gave way to ecumenism, cosmopolitanism and individualism. Top-down command systems gave way to the separation of church from state, of politics from science. The story provides a blueprint for how to remake and better the world in the image and interests of the West's secular elites. [Richard Shweder]
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
We all live for today, anyway.
"What do you mean 'There ain't no Hell'? The Hell there ain't! I just came back from there, and I would rather be in Philadelphia."
Science and technology lead to more and greater death. Just consider the dead in the wars of the 20C, in the millions, uncountable. Just how many atomic bombs going off in the atmosphere will it take to convince you we are at an end?
And the CERN LHC (Large Hadron Collider) is being built upon antiquated precepts with half of the 'Standard Model' of physics missing, shrouded within a mathematical haze of pure speculation (guessing), so there is no telling what surprises await the CERN experiments! It will take these experimental discoveries to extricate the physics community from their current stagnated, depressing, and quagmired positions (If it does not create a black hole that swallows us)! Anyway, the planet is raped, choked, and dying.
People go to bed hungry and live in a delirium of desire for food, while we dig tunnels to nowhere (the Collider is a circular tunnel 27 kilometers long). Bridges fall down while we build Stealth bombers. We need a Higgs boson like I need a hole in the head.
"But science can be proved," a scientist would say. "The whole point of science is experimental proof." Yet we non-scientists have to take that experimental proof on faith because we don't know what the scientists are talking about. This makes science a matter of faith in men while religion, of course, is a matter of faith in God, and if you've got to choose...[PJ O'Rourke]
It was Isaiah Berlin who established the notion of a counter-enlightenment in the history of ideas. He used the term to refer to a movement that arose primarily in late 18th and early 19th century Germany against the rationalism, universalism, and empiricism commonly associated with the Enlightenment. Berlin's widely read essay 'The Counter-Enlightenment' was first published in 1973, and later reprinted in a popular collection of his essays (Against the Current) in 1981. The term counter-enlightenment has only had wide currency since. The term refers to something that is counter to something that is only an assumption. The notion of "enlightenment" replaces fact and thought, rather like "reformation." The word is a feeble simplificaton and personalization of the value of thought, scientific method, and general truth.
In its broadest sense, rationalism is any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification. In more technical terms it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive." Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge to the radical position that reason is the unique path to knowledge.
Universalism is a theology that generally holds all persons and creatures are related to God or the divine and will be reconciled to God. A church that calls itself Universalist may emphasize the universal principles of most religions and accept other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine. Other religions may have universalist theology as one of their tenets and principles, including Christianity, Hinduism, and some of the New Age religions. Universalist beliefs exist within many faiths, and many Universalists practice in a variety of traditions, drawing upon the same universal principles but customizing the practice to suit their audience. A consequence of this belief is that animism, spiritualism, and pantheism in all their varieties must be respected also. Universalism trivializes religion by magnifying it, a paradox. It is ecumenism, the death of religion.
Empiricism is a theory that holds that the origin of all knowledge is sense experience. The term also refers to the method of observation and experiment used in the natural sciences. There is great irony here since historically it was the rationalists (Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) who had the vision of a knowable universe, of laws governing all the parts of the whole, of a unified whole, of minds made for knowing this universe, which is essentially today's vision of science. On the other hand, the empiricists' (Locke, Berkeley, Hume) vision of subjective perceptions limiting knowledge, of the need for faith to believe anything beyond immediate perceptions, of minds incapable of knowing much of anything, of dire skepticism, is the vision of anti-science.
To claim that rationalism, universalism, and empiricism somehow work together as shared insights into the acquisition of knowledge is either to say that a revolution in human nature has occurred, or it is to say nothing. There was no revolution in human nature. Therefore...
Graeme Garrard's book Counter-Enlightenments (2006) broadens the term Enlightenment even further, arguing against Berlin that there was no single 'movement' called 'The Counter-Enlightenment'. Rather, there have been many Counter-Enlightements, from the middle of the 18th century through to 20th-century Enlightenment critics among critical theorists, postmodernists and feminists. The Enlightenment has enemies on all points of the ideological compass, from the far left to the far right, and all points in between. Each of the Enlightement's enemies depicted it as they saw it or wanted others to see it, resulting in a vast range of portraits, many of which are not only different but incompatible, proving that the Enlightenment is a chimera.
This argument has been taken a step further by some, like intellectual historian James Schmidt, who question the idea of "the Enlightenment" and therefore of the existence of a movement opposing it. As our conception of "the Enlightenment" has become more complex and difficult to maintain, so too has the idea of "the Counter-Enlightenment." Advances in Enlightenment scholarship in the last quarter century have challenged the stereotypical view of the 18th century as an "'Age of Reason," leading Schmidt to speculate on whether "the Enlightenment" might not actually be a creation of its enemies, rather than the other way round. The fact that the term "the Enlightenment" was first used in English to refer to a historical period in 1894 lends some support to this argument that it was a later construction projected back on to the 18th century.
What are the elements of this emergent conservative vision of those who defy the current trends? The fundamental importance of religion in maintaining political order, a preoccupation with the perils of intellectual and social license, the valorization of the family and history, the critique of abstract rights, the dangers of dividing sovereignty, and the need for a strategic alliance between throne and altar - these all feature centrally in this "new-old" ideology. Even more fundamental is a Manichean readiness to divide the world in two: between good and evil, right and wrong, Right and Left.
When people saw the churches as absurd, they turned back to even more absurdity, the superstitions that the Apostles' Creed had replaced ñ mysticism, occultism, arcane magic, cabalism, astrology, channeling, voodoo, alchemy, tarot, Ouija, exorcism, sorcery, witchcraft, telepathy, telekinesis, reincarnation, demonic possession, fortune tellers, clairvoyants, oracles, magicians, sexual license, and Satanism. Devil-worship and spiritualism came out of hiding. Actually, they had been hidden so that priests and ministers would not find them. "Bad ju-ju," they called them.
The early Protestant reformers confused religion with the democracy that was racing through the Western world. Because monarchy and religion were intimately interdependent, they threw down the kings, and started their own churches. Democracy was the natural right of every person no matter the form of government he lived under, whatever tribe, collective, oligarchy, or kingdom. The ideal individual person, in order to realize his full potential to gain self-confidence and the consolations of self-expression, must be free from all restraint, yet the democracy he cherishes rests on consumerism, on socially induced wants and needs in which the sexual urge, eros, is turned into ambition to own necessities ñ real estate and slaves, and luxuries ñ white teeth, perfect breasts, a fancy car. Still, beneath this model citizen's placid demeanor there lies a hidden self, the unconscious mind that makes us all more or less a little or very crazy
The power redistributions of the 21st century have dealt representative democracies out, which are a poor fit to the challenges ahead, and reorganizing them is not enough. "The future looks nothing like democracy, because democracy, which sought to empower the individual, is being made old hat by a new social order that hyper-empowers him." Democracy, religion and science are old obsolescent ideals. It is a brave, new world.