Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Accumulated Wisdom

From Michael Lind's NYT review of Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule (8/17/08):

Frank's analysis of why there are so many libertarian think tanks in a country with so few libertarians is dead on: "The reason that we have so many well-funded libertarians in America these days is not because libertarianism suddenly acquired an enormous grass-roots following, but because it appeals to those who are able to fund ideas...Libertarianism is a politics born to be subsidized."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation is an unvarnished polemic against religious belief in the modern world, occasioned by the voluminous hate mail from Christians that Harris received following the publication of his previous book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. While particularly addressed to the Christian Right in the United States, reference is also made to the Islamic fundamentalist worldview, in itself a Judeo-Christian offshoot.

Some of the most basic assumptions of Judeo-Christian religion are taken to task, particularly the absurd role of the Bible (a deeply self-contradictory text) as a book of moral instruction. Hot button issues in the United States, such as abortion and the evolution/creationism
“debate ”are also discussed and dismissed as being based on emotionalism born of religion-based ignorance and wishful thinking, rather than on one iota of common sense or scientific fact. This book also effectively dismisses the bogus “atheism is a religion, too!” argument, and the bizarre assumption that atheism and immorality are equivalent.

At 96 pages, Harris blows through a lot of issues at hurricane force. While there are not pages and pages of point-counterpoint, the simple common sense of Harris’s rebuttals show the absurdity of viewpoints based on supernatural prejudice and provincial bigotry rather than on observable and logically conceived facts.

Please take note that your humble reviewer does not lay all hope on rationalism. Particularly in the realm of human creativity, the irrational is invaluable. But as a matter of public policy, the irrational is dangerous. This is a verity that we in the United States must come to terms with. Religious fundamentalists can no longer be stereotyped as backwoods kooks, handling snakes and singing about “that ol’ time religion”. They are now policy makers with sophisticated tools and plenty of money at their disposal, and they have no compunction about establishing policies which diminish the rights of nonbelievers while leading the United States down a path of scientific ignorance and apocalyptic longing which will have real repercussions for the country, if not for the entire planet.

Good luck to Harris. Separating people from their tightly held delusions is, practically speaking, an impossible task. As so many other reviewers have noted, the people who most need to read this book will be those most resistant to it. Harris doesn’t sugarcoat his approach to the religious right. He is acerbic and mocking, but the simple fact is that one sometimes must come to the stark realization that what is invisible is invisible precisely because it does not exist. The future of humanity depends upon our liberation from these harmful paradigms.