Monday, September 12, 2011

Intellectual pornography

Sometimes you come across a piece of writing that is so partisan, so indifferent to ordinary standards of truth, that it isn't even propaganda. It's not attempting to convince other people, or even to strengthen and bolster the faithful. It only exists to excite the believer, in the crudest possible way; it plays to arguments so shallow they can only occur in the privacy of one's own head without mortifying embarrassment. In other words, the intellectual version of pornography.

American Thinker is such a rag. As a perfect example, here's an article so feckless with the truth that I'm not even sure what its goal was. It looks like Accommodationism, that auto-masochistic hobby wherein atheists flagellate other atheists for being too atheistic. But it contains sops to every conceivable audience, sort of the same way porns have at least one scene for every perversion (how democratic!).

At first we have the "atheist admiring religion" shtick:

it is high time for a non-believing scientist to express my love and admiration for the great religious traditions.

OK, fair enough. But in the next paragraph, we run into a problem:

It (Religion) is how civilized morals and values have been taught from one generation to the next for the last 6,000 years of recorded history, and probably for 100,000 years before that.

Um. Just a moment. Isn't one of the great religious traditions that history is only 6,000 years old? In fact, isn't Biologos (the premiere science and religion compatibilist organization) currently imploding over the dueling facts of a) science proves humans are not descended from one couple, and b) without Adam and Eve's fall, there is no original sin, hence no redemption, hence no Christ, hence no Christianity?

For a guy who's all into revering great traditions, Mr. Lewis doesn't object to just stomping on one of them right out of the gate.

Nor does he bother to mention that not all religious traditions are good. Genocide, slavery, witch-burning, polygamy - what about these grand traditions? And that's just Christian tradition. With Islam we get marriageable nine-year-olds; with Hinduism a racism so stringent it applies to social classes; and of course the old pagan stand-by of sacrificing virgins to volcanoes. Really, how much more traditional than that can you get?

But perhaps it is supposed to be evident from context that Mr. Lewis only approves of good Christian traditions. Like a porno flick, the question of why the plumber is there when the housewife is in the shower isn't even supposed to be asked. This stuff doesn't work if you analyze it too much!

It is possible to make an argument that religion served (or serves) a necessary role in expanding communities from tribes to nation-states. If Mr. Lewis were making such an argument, it would be possible for me to make a counter-argument. However, Mr. Lewis is not making an argument. He is simply throwing out vacuous talking points that the reader can construct into whatever fantasy meets his or her needs. You know... like pornography.

Mind you, this is just the first two paragraphs. The rest of the article is worse. He staggers from one poorly-constructed scene to the next: a bit about the World Heritage sites being mostly religious simply ignores the fact that religiously dominated societies of course produce monuments through religious labor and themes, that often those sites were constructed with slave labor to honor gods that Americans would find horrific, and he includes cave paintings on the list. Has every magic ritual now been classified as religious? Why, yes, it has, as he makes clear later on when he writes:

Such panpsychic experiences are reported by mystics throughout human history.

Painting with a bit of a broad brush, aren't we? Are the readers of the American Thinker really prepared to grant the validity of all supernatural claims and experiences? Or do they just fast-forward past this part, the way viewers fast-forward past the scenes that indulge perversions they aren't interested in.

Next comes a series of encounters with literature. Honestly, people, the only time you can cite literature as evidence for your theory is if you are doing literary theory. It's one thing to point out that great novels use religious themes; it's something else to point out that in great novels, scientists are often religious, and therefore we can conclude that scientists were often religious!

But of course my favorite paragraph has to be this one:

Today's crusading atheism is a fanatical cult that desperately needs to make converts, to silence its own inner qualms. Intolerance is progressive, see?

Followed by the usual conclusion which asserts that liberals are intolerant, and therefore bad. Yes, once again we have an article reeking of intolerance complaining that other people are intolerant. Never mind the factual distortions of the above paragraph; many, many religions today are evangelical. Catholics and Protestants each strive to convert the other, and both claim the other are bound for Hell and damnation. So if atheism really were just another religion trying to make converts by criticizing other denominations, why would that be bad? Didn't Mr. Lewis just argue that we should tolerate that kind of behavior from every other religion? Why single out one particular religious viewpoint for denigration in an article asserting that only crass philistines denigrate religious viewpoints?

Why does the plumber have KY Jelly in his toolbox? Once again, stop asking those pesky questions! I'm trying to enjoy myself here. If you know what I mean.


  1. I love the comparison -

  2. Don't "love" it too much. If you know what I mean.

    A nod's as good as a wink to a blind man! Nudge nudge wink wink!