Friday, August 31, 2007

Compare and contrast.

[Vulgar language alert.]

I like to think I understand how reasonable, decent people can be atheists. Weighing the claims of the particular religion, the findings of science, looking at the incomprehensively vast, howling and apparently lifeless waste that is the cosmos, and considering the often-bloody record of religion across the pre-history and history of mankind, I can see someone saying: "Sorry. Can't buy it. Too big a leap, thanks."

All right--I can respect that.

What I can't respect is the sophomore bullshit that focuses on Christianity as the locus of evil in the Western world. The atheists who essentially spray "F*ck Christianity" on the wall and proceed to mock and indict it for every failing in civilization, as though the purging of Christendom from the veins of man will usher in Utopia. The same cavalcade of juveniles also seems to think that all the good things of our modern world somehow winked into existence at the time of the Enlightenment and owes nothing to the Western Christian past:

"There were enlightened Greeks and Romans, sixteen hundred odd years of Dark Age idiocy brought on by Christianity, and then, voila, Voltaire, Rousseau, Darwin, Einstein and now X Boxes, eBay and iPhones and soon enough, embryonic stem cell research that will end the twin scourges of erectile disfunction and saggy titties. Sweet!"

That's pretty much Sam Harris' entire schtick, to use the parlance of our times. Exhibit A, his junior varsity attempt to pull a Weekend at Bernie's with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. What is remarkable about this alleged paladin of reason is that he is remarkably incurious about how the Western world, which marinated in the "contemptible history of religious atrocity and scientific ignorance" the jackhole shrieks about, nevertheless birthed "biology, meteorology, medicine, physics, and a dozen other specific sciences" he now waves as totems against the Christianist horde plotting to take away his porn stash.

"Well, the scientific, just sort of spontaneously generated. The end."

Well, no. It didn't. Without a Catholic Christian worldview that preserved the tenuous findings of antiquity and gave an honored seat to reason (albeit precarious at times), you aren't reading this today. Our culture, as worn out as it is, is the offspring of the Christian West. You rip out the Christian superstructure, and Sam Harris, if he's lucky, is saddling up his mule in response to the muezzin call from a minaret.

Actually, no, that won't happen, what with Islam also drawing a good deal from a Christian well. In all likelihood, Sam Harris' world of annulled Christianity finds him scratching out a living from a field tilled for the benefit of a lord who holds the power of life and death, while he hopes that the rain god will favor his toil. He and his would live in a static dark age far darker than the candlelit one he shakes his fist at.

In other words, you can't get here without Christianity, as much as Harris fervently believes otherwise.

Fortunately, some atheists do recognize this. For that, I give you this fascinating read about the late, great Oriana Fallaci and her friendship with an Italian bishop over the last year of her life.

Fallaci's credentials as a non-believer were never in doubt. She once defined Christianity as "a beautiful fable," and wrote: "I'm tired of having to repeat, in writing and also orally, that I'm an atheist. In addition to being a secularist, I'm also profoundly anti-clerical. Priests don't sit well with me, just as they didn't with the anarchists of Lugano." (That's a reference to a city on the Swiss-Italian border where 19th century anarchists were chased out because of their opposition to the ultra-Catholic Hapsburg Empire.)

* * *

A colleague of Fallaci and a fellow non-believer, Italian journalist Vittorio Feltri, summed up their position during the Tuesday panel: "All of us have been shaped by a Christian culture. Facing a threat from the outside, and we all know where it comes from, we have to rally around our culture, which is the culture of Christianity, even if in the end we can't bring ourselves to believe in God, except perhaps, every now and then, at night. This was Fallaci's argument, and I share it from the first word to the very last."

A "beautiful fable"? That I can understand. A recognition that the West was formed by Christianity? Good--that's actual reason at work, as opposed to some fetishized rationality that can't rise above flinging turds like a red-assed baboon. Sam Harris, take note.

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Be reasonably civil. Ire alloyed with reason is fine. But slagging the host gets you the banhammer.

It'll be fine.

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