“Patriotic and Tribal feelings belong to the squalling childhood of the human race, and become no more charming in their senescence. They are particularly unattractive when evinced by a superpower. But ironies of history may yet save us. English language and literature, oft-celebrated as one of the glories of “Western” civilisation, turn out to have even higher faculties than used to be claimed for them. In my country of birth the great new fictional practitioners have in their front rank names like Rushdie, Kureishi, Mo. This attainment on their part makes me oddly proud to be whatever I am, and convinces me that internationalism is the highest form of patriotism” – C Hitchens, ‘What Is Patriotism?’, The Nation, July 15/22, 1991.
Someone who for reasons best known to themselves, appears to love me very much, brought me ‘And Yet …’ for Christmas. This was, undoubtedly, the most welcome present I could have hoped for, containing as it does, the full panoply of Christopher Hitchens’ wit and wisdom on subjects as varied as Hillary Clinton, Hezbollah, Orwell’s “list” and … male body-waxing (hilarious, of course).
The publishers’ blurb is slightly misleading in describing this collection as being made up of “previously unpublished” material: in fact all these essays were first published the various publications (Slate, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, etc) to which Hitchens was a regular and prolific contributor. But it’s excellent to have them brought together and readily available in book form.
Inevitably, we start speculating on what the man would have to say about contemporary political developments, like the West’s betrayal of Afghanistan, the resurgence of neo-Stalinism and Putin-worship on sections of the “left”, or the rise of that piece of sub-human excrement calling itself Donald Trump; Hitch’s 2007 thoughts on the subject of Jerry Falwell give us a pretty good clue as to the latter:
You don’t like it? Go back to Atheostan
More of the comedy of “politically correct persecution of Christians” from the UK:
Militant atheists should “get over it” and accept that Britain is a Christian country, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said.
That’s what a “Communities Secretary” is for is it? I wouldn’t know, because we don’t have one in the US, not at the federal level at least. We don’t have one for sport, either, or one for faith. How impoverished we are. Anyway so the job of the Communities Secretary is to piss on people who are part of the wrong kind of “communities”?
“I’ve stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish,” said Mr Pickles.
“Heaven forbid. We’re a Christian nation. We have an Established Church.
“Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.”
Get over what? Wanting to keep politics out of religion and religion out of politics?
Funny that he’s accusing other people of intolerance.
NB: Comrade Coatesy, with his knowledge of France, has an interesting take on all this
KB Player, December 20th 2013, (cross-posted from That Place)
The London School of Economics (LSE) has today issued a long-awaited apology to students Chris Moos and Abhishek Phandis, representatives of the student Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (LSEASH), who wore t-shirts featuring the popular Jesus and Mo cartoon at the SU Freshers’ Fair on 3 October, and who were asked to cover their t-shirts or face removal from the Fair.
The incident . . . was described as an “effective blasphemy law”, and said to be indicative of a wider trend around various university campuses across the country, wherein minorities are singled out and targeted under the guise of “political correctness”.
The LSE has published a statement (linked to above), including an apology for the disproportionate action and confirming that the students in question did no wrong. The British Humanist Association (BHA) and National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Students Societies (AHS), of which the LSEASH is a member, have both welcomed the LSE’s statement.
What with this, and the UUK “urgently reviewing” their guidance on gender segregation, it’s been a good week.
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Above: Michael Coren exposes himself as a stupid bigot, even in this friendly interview
Standpoint magazine, a publication supposedly dedicated to enlightenment values, seems to be increasingly in thrall to religion – or at least to Christianity and to a lesser extent Judaism. The mag maintains a hostility to Islam that I would describe as “healthy” but for the evident fact that it takes such a sympathetic line on other religions.
Last month’s edition carried a particularly crude and self-righteous attack on Richard Dawkins, penned by one Michael Coren (billed by Standpoint as “a broadcaster and columnist in Canada”). A clue as to where Mr Coren was, so to speak, coming from, might have been picked up from his comments about Catholic child abuse (involving “at most 3 per cent of clergy” and “the vast majority of cases were in the past”) as well as his approving reference to a particularly silly quote from the Catholic fake-“Marxist” Terry Eagleton. Oh, go on then: read it for yourself here.
Matters were made worse by the fact that the magazine (as part of its regular “Overrated … underrated” feature, compared Dawkins unfavourably to the egregiously overrated misanthrope and ontonologist, C.S. Lewis.
I intended to write in, mainly to point out Lewis’ grotesquely inflated reputation and all-round unpleasantness, but of course didn’t find the time. The eulogy to Lewis remains unanswered, but I’m pleased to note that at least two Standpoint readers have rallied to the defence of Dawkins and their excellent letters are worth reproducing here (especially as they don’t appear on the mag’s website):
Michael Coren’s foam-flecked hatchet-job on Richard Dawkins (Overrated, November) is one of the most singular examples of the pot calling the kettle black that I can ever recall reading.
He castigates Dawkins for having “this selfish, perhaps genetic, need to be noticed.” This is rich coming from a notoriously abrasive, attention-seeking controversialist who has regularly appeared on shouty talk shows on North American television such as Two Bald Guys with Strong Opinions.
Having sneered at Dawkins for having “suburban” views, he proceeds to accuse him of being “snobbish”, albeit in a context which suggests he is ignorant of the meaning of the word.
He claims that Dawkins would be anonymous were it not for his “ostentatious” atheism. His own Catholicism, as expressed in books entitled Why Catholics are Right and Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity, is no less ostentatious. Dawkins’ followers, he alleges, often act in a “cult-like manner”. What is the Catholic Church if it is not a cult? (OED: “a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object”.)
Dawkins, he further alleges, “is a man happy to silence those with ehom he disagrees”. Has no pontiff ever done this?
If Coren doesn’t enjoy the experience of being “ridiculed with contempt” by the likes of Dawkins, the remedy is in his own hands: he can refrain from slash-and-burn polemics in trying to defend the indefensible.
Martin Green, Bridgnorth, Shropshire
So for Richard Dawkins to expect that the prevalence of abusers in the Catholic clergy might be less than 3 per cent was for him to operate with a “deeply flawed premise”.
I am sure that Dawkins will have no difficulty in lowering his future expectation so that it more accurately reflects the empirical evidence. And he might do so even though “the vast majority of cases were in the past” because it is not as if they could be anywhere else.
However, for my own part, I think I shall abstain from expecting that an Emeritus Fellow and retired Professor for Public Understanding of Science be at the “cutting edge” of evolutionary biology. I would not wish to incorporate a false premise into my own arguments.
R. Thomas, Newcastle upon Tyne
Ive only just discovered QualiaSoup, an artist and thinker whose YouTube videos present the case for rational, critical thinking and the scientific method. It’s excellent stuff, that anyone with religious hang-ups, belief in the “supernatural,” tolerance of backward ideas in the interests of “open-mindedness” and indeed quite a few people who consider themselves “Marxists,” would do well to watch and ponder. Here’s an example:
P.S: It transpires that QualiaSoup has a brother, TheraminTrees (!)
How has it come to this? And how is that some who regard themselves as on the “left” not only tolerate religious bigotry and censorship of this sort, but actively promote it?
Statement from the British Humanist Association
LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society incident at freshers’ fair
October 4th, 2013
Representatives of LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society have been threatened with removal from their University’s freshers’ fair by their Students’ Union after refusing to remove t-shirts depicting the online comic ‘Jesus and Mo
’. The society’s members were threatened on the basis that the t-shirts were could be considered ‘harassment’, as they could ‘offend others’ by creating an ‘offensive environment’.
In a statement, the students have explained:
‘When the LSE security arrived, we were asked to cover our t-shirts or leave LSE premises. When we asked for the rules and regulations we were in breach of, we were told that the LSE was being consulted about how to proceed. After a period of consultation, Kevin Haynes (LSE Legal and Compliance Team) and Paul Thornbury (LSE Head of Security) explained to us that we were not behaving in an “orderly and responsible manner”, and that the wearing of the t-shirt could be considered “harassment”, as it could “offend others” by creating an “offensive environment”. We asked what exactly was “offensive” about the t-shirts, and how the display of a non-violent and non-racist comic strip could be considered “harassment” of other students.
‘At the end of this conversation, five security guards started to position themselves around our stall. We felt this was a tactic to intimidate us. We were giving an ultimatum that should we not comply immediately, we would be physically removed from LSE property. We made it clear that we disagreed strongly with this interpretation of the rules, but that we would comply by covering the t-shirts… After that, the head of LSE security told us that as he believed that we might open the jackets again when was going to leave, two security guards were going to stay in the room to monitor our behaviour. These two security guards were following us closely when we went in and out of the room.’
You can see their statement of events on the second day.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), commented, ‘The LSESU is acting in a totally disproportionate manner in their dealings with our affiliate society. That a satirical webcomic can be deemed to be so offensive as to constitute harassment is a sad indictment of the state of free speech at Britain’s Universities today. This hysteria on the part of the SU and University is totally unwarranted; intelligent young adults of whatever beliefs are not so sensitive that they need to be protected from this sort of material in an academic institution. Our lawyers are advising our affiliated society at LSE and we will be working with them, the students, and the AHS to resolve this issue.’
The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies strongly condemns the actions of the LSESU. President Rory Fenton said, ‘Our member societies deserve and rightly demand the same freedom of speech and expression afforded to their religious counterparts on campus. Universities should be open to and tolerant of different beliefs, without exception. That a students’ union would use security guards to follow and intimidate their own members is deeply concerning and displays an inconsistent approach to free speech; if it is for some, it must be for all. The AHS will work with our partners at the British Humanist Association and National Secular Society to assist our affiliated society and seek engagement with both the LSESU and LSE itself. It is the duty of universities countrywide to respect their students’ rights, not their sensitivities.’
For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07855 380 633 or Rory Fenton on 07403141133.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.
Above: Dawkins interviewed by devout Muslim Mehdi Hasan earlier this year
In case you missed it, Richard Dawkins caused a minor row last week with some comments he tweeted about Muslims, viz:
“All the world’s Muslims have fewer Noble Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”
The twitter storm that followed included comparisons between Dawkins and David Irving and the suggestion that he be ‘no platformed’ as a racist.
Dawkins defended himself by pointing out that his comments about Muslims’ lack of (recent) scientific achievement is simply a statement of fact, and that Islamism is a belief, not a form of ethnicity. Both those points are plainly true and the suggestion that Dawkins is any kind of racist is plainly nonsense.
Nevertheless, his comments about Muslims (as opposed to other religious people) are worrying, and the reason isn’t difficult to fathom:
* Dawkins states some ‘outrageous things’ about Catholics – in a vacuum, objectively more provocative than about Muslims.
E.g. Dawkins (defending himself against Mehdi Hasan when challenged on an earlier statement that growing up Catholic is a form of child abuse worse than sexual abuse) states: “Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.”
But, there is no significant anti-Catholic bigotry / racism in mainland British society at present. The Left is – on the whole – fine with a critique of Catholicism, and can tolerate negative generalisations of Catholics, Catholic priests, etc.
* Dawkins states some ‘outrageous things’ about Muslims – in a vacuum, objectively less provocative than what he says about Catholics.
E.g. “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Noble Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”
But, there is significant bigotry and racism specifically targeted at Muslims in the UK right now. Partly for that reason (there are other, less honourable reasons as well) the Left isn’t fine with a critique of Islam (it has a knee-jerk reaction to such a thing being racist), and cannot tolerate negative generalisations about Islam, Muslims, etc.
Dawkins is a splendid polemicist and I wouldn’t for a moment suggest he tones down his attacks on religion, including Islam. But he can makes those attacks while making it clear that he opposes bigotry and racism directed against Muslims – something he doesn’t do, or at least doesn’t do clearly or outspokenly enough.
None of which should be taken as siding in any way with many of the critics of Dawkins, one of the most egregious being Owen Jones, whose column in the Independent
of 9 August is so bad as to be not even wrong. Amongst the many insults to the intelligence in his wretched piece is this:
“What is really meant [by those who point out that religion isn’t race] is that while skin colour is not optional, religious conviction is. This is a claim I simply cannot subscribe to. It understates just how powerful and life-consuming beliefs can be — ironically, something that is simultaneously used as a criticism against religion by anti-theists. Personally, I cannot imagine being me without my atheism or my socialism. For those brought up all their lives in a religious environment, who are strongly emotionally welded to their beliefs, their faith is not something that can be switched off. It is beyond unrealistic to describe religious belief as a “choice” like, say, what clothes you should wear to a friends’s party or whether to have a ham or chicken sandwich for lunch.”
In other words, atheism is appropriate for a sophisticated western intellectual like Owen Jones, but not for poor, uneducated simple folk bought up in “a religious environment.” Dawkins himself has an answer to this sort of thing:
“What patronizing condescension! ‘You and I, of course, are much too intelligent and well educated to need religion. But ordinary people, hoi polloi, the Orwellian proles, the Huxlian Deltas and Episilon semi-morons need religion.’
“… Obviously there are exceptions, but I suspect that for many people the main reason they cling to religion is not that it is consoling, but that they have been let down by our education system and don’t realize that non-belief is even an option. This is certainly true of most people who think they are creationists. They have simply not been properly taught Darwin’s astounding alternative. probably the same is true of the belittling myth that people ‘need’ religion. At a recent conference in 2006, an anthropologist (and prize specimen of I’m-an-atheist-buttery) quoted Golda Meir when asked whether she believed in God: ‘I believe in the Jewish people, and the Jewish people believe in God.’ I prefer to say that I believe in people, and people, when given the right encouragement to think for themselves about all the information now available, very often turn out not to believe in God and to lead fulfilled and satisfied — indeed, liberated — lives.”
“Again, nothing infuriates the current crop of evangelical atheists more than the suggestion that militant unbelief has many of the attributes of religion. Yet, in asserting that the rejection of theism could produce a better world, they are denying the clear evidence of history, which shows the pursuit of uniformity in word-view to to be itself the cause of conflict. Whether held by the religious or by enemies of religion, the idea that universal conversion to (or from) any belief system could vastly improve the human ot is an act of faith. Illustrationg Nietzsche’s observations about the tonic properties of false beliefs, these atheists are seeking existential consolation just as much as religious observers” – John Gray in the New Statesman, 30/11/12)
Here at Shiraz, we’ve previously had occasion to identify him as probably the most profoundly reactionary writer in respectable, mainstream journalism today. Gray can be difficult to follow precisely because his writing is vague, evasive and often illogical. In the New Statesman article from which the quote at the top of this piece is taken, for instance, it is difficult to discern even what he understands by the word “toleration” (as opposed, for instance, to “indifference”) and why he seems to think that irrational beliefs are a positively good thing. His repeated approving references to Nietzsche do, however, provide a telling clue.
Like Nietzsche, Gray despises humanity in general, and enlightenment humanism in particular. I’m not sure whether Gray would share his hero’s dismissal of democracy (“liberal” / “bourgeois” or otherwise) in favour of the artistocratic ideal of the Übermensch. Gray certainly seems attracted to Nietzsche’s emphasis (present from the first in in Die Geburt der Tragödie) on the unconscious, voluntaristsic ‘Dionysian’ side of human nature, as opposed to the rational ‘Apollonian’ side. Also, like Nietzsche, Gray is in fact an atheist, but seems to regard this as being entirely unconnected to any rational belief system, and simply a personal judgement that the ignorant masses cannot be expected to understand.
Gray’s contempt for humanism (and humanity) was well expressed in an earlier piece he wrote for the New Statesman:
“The idea that humankind has a special place in the scheme of things persists among secular thinkers. They tell us that human beings emerged by chance and insist that ‘humanity’ can inject purpose into the world. But, in a strictly naturalistic philosophy, the human species has no purpose. There are only human beings, with their conflicting impulses and goals. Using science, human beings are transforming the planet. But ‘humanity’ cannot use its growing knowledge to improve the world, for humanity does not exist.” – John Gray, ‘Humanity doesn’t exist’, New Statesman (10/02/11)
I’m not arguing, by the way that Gray’s views shouldn”t be published, or are unworthy of debate. I would question, however, what such an enemy of the Enlightement is doing as lead book reviewer in a publication whose strap-line is “Enlightened Thinking for a change.”
By the way, Nietzsche’s thinking contains an essential contradiction (explained by Antony Flew, thus): “Of course, Nietzsche goes on to use his views about the essentially ‘falsifying’ nature of language, and therefore of rational thought, to give theoretical backing to his favourite belief in the superior veracity of action and ‘will’. But here the central paradox in Nietzsche’s theory of knowledge emerges: he cannot himself, in all consistency, take that theory too seriously.”
Or as a letter to the New Statesman in response to Gray’s article, put it: “It is amusing to read yet again a rational man, John Gray on this occasion (‘Giant Leaps for mankind’, 30 November), arguing rationally for how very irrational we all are.”
Ophelia (“Butterflies and Wheels’) Benson on Gray, here
Salman Rushdie deals with another relativist, pseudo-intellectual enemy of Enlightement values, here.
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