It will no doubt do my blood pressure good not to have to read any more of Madelaine Bunting’s vacuous, self-righteous, self-contradictory religiosity and cultural relativism in this Monday’s (UK) Guardian. But will I miss her? Time will tell: I get a certain kick out of working myself up into a paroxysm of rage over complete and utter bollocks especially if it’s pretentious bollocks into the bargain. Bunting ‘s valedictory column last Monday (June 19th) was a typically shoddy, dishonest (or else, maybe, just stupid) piece of rambling nonsense, including the extraordinary claim that:
“Many areas of science are legitimising religious thought in ways regarded as inconceivable for much of the past centuary and half. Quantum physicists question our understanding of reality and Hindus respond: ‘So what’s new?'; neuroscientists formulate understandings of consciousness and Buddhists retort as polititely as possible: ‘we told you so.'”
Now I ask you: what the hell are we supposed to make of that? What is she actually saying? That quantum physics and neuroscience validate religion? Or just that reality and consciousness are complicated and difficult and that religion sort-of recognises that…and so does science? So science and religion are sort-of the same? Actually, Bunting’s drivel was nicely demolished by one Josephine Grahl in a letter published in the next day’s Guardian:
“Religious beliefs are based upon a blind certainty without material proof; scientific theory is built on empirical evidence which must suggest a testable theory. Madeleine Bunting’s equation of developments in neuroscience and quantum physicswith the beliefs of Buddhists and Hindus is sloppy romaticism and shows a surprising level of scientific illiteracy…”
“Hear, hear, Ms. Grahl” says I , except for the word “surprising”: there can surely be nothing “surprisng” about scientific illiteracy eminating from Our Maddie.
Previous Bunting outrages against reason, logic and sanity have included: her attack on the Enlightenment (it “never happened“, but was, nevertheless, a “retrospective creation in the nineteenth century designed to make the eithteenth century look silly”) ; her claim that Richard Dawkins’ militant atheism helps creationists; that western liberalism is an “intolerant…arrogant assumption of…superiority…as dangerous as any other form of fundamentalism” and that “liberalism is right to assert that there are universal moral principles (such as the rights of women, free speech and the right to life), but wrong to insist there is only one interpretation of those principles…Rights come into conflict and every culture negotiates trade-offs between them”.
If you’re as baffled by that last quote as I was, Maddy’s true meaning is revealed by her finest hour: her notorious ‘interview’ Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi published in the Guardian on October 29 2005. You can just picture our Maddie, simpering before the great man like a latter-day Diana Mitford, while he explains how suicide bombings are justified in Israel (but nowhere else, so he’s a ‘moderate’) and expounds his views, unchallenged by Maddie, on homosexuality (“humans should not succumb to their lusts” – he doesn’t mention that he favours stoning gays) and domestic violence (“Islam doesn’t call for beating but it is necessitated by certain circumstances for a certain type of woman and within limits” - and there is no record of Maddie the great feminist even challenging this; maybe those words “within limits” makes it OK?).
Maddie first came to my attention on December 3, 2001, with a Guardian article (“The new anti-semitism” – strangely now absent from the Guardian‘s internet archive of Buntingology) calling for “a comprehensive religious descrimination law comparable to that which covers racial discrimination. Only that would trigger the reshaping of the welfare state (education, health, housing, social services) to meet the specific needs of Britain’s biggest minority -the near 3m Muslims”.
This divisive, dangerous nonsense recieved a crushing reply on the paper’s letters page a few days later from a Dr Sara Gwenllian Jones of Cardiff University. It should have shut Our Maddie up once and for all; but – of course – it didn’t:
“Madelaine Bunting argues that ‘the welfare state (education, health, housing, social services)’ should be reshaped to meet the religious needs of British Muslims. Is this special treatment to be extended to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Mormons and pagans? Will atheists, agnostics and casual believers in a Higher Something be catered to? What will be the qualifying criteria for special treatment? Population numbers, vociferousness, formal structures of worship that conform to establishment notions of what constitues a bona fide religion?
“How about people who whose political beliefs are held as intensely as any religious belief? And when this increasingly atomised multi-theocratic British society erupts into the inevitable violent antagonisms, which group does Madeleine Bunting imagine will suffer most from the fallout?
“Religions are acquired belief systems of sentient human beings. Faith is not and never will be comparable to inborn identities such as race, gender and sexuality. In a multicultural liberal democracy, the rights of everyone to follow their own religious or non-religious path are protected not by state-funded religious isolationism but rather by a secular state wherein religion is a matter of private practice.
“The state needs to become more, not less, secular. Of course Muslims, like everyone else, must be protected from harassment, abuse and assault. But we already have plenty of laws designed to protect us from these things – on the basis of our common humanity”.