Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The stupid atheism of Christopher Hitchens

I am myself the most complete atheist you will meet. I don't even think the word "God" has any real meaning. But I have great respect for Christianity and its Jewish sources so I agree with the article below from James Lewis. Anybody who doesn't understand religion doesn't understand humanity and if you cannot FEEL religion in hymns such as "How great thou art", you are missing out on a profound human experience

Christopher Hitchens is one of the more sensible voices on the Left. He has not lost his moral sense on the matter of terrorists randomly murdering innocent men, women and children for the greater glory of their twisted fantasies of God. But his latest book reveals his feet of clay. Titled "god (with a small 'g') is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" it is little more than a sermon on Karl Marx's throwaway line that "religion is the opiate of the masses."

Well, so it is: It's called the consolations of religion in traditional language, and in a world of pain and loss, as well as love and joy, consolation is nothing to be sneered at. All the world religions are full of words and rites of consolation in the face of loss and death; it is one of the supreme uses of religion.

But Hitch trots obediently in the footsteps of Herr Marx to tar all faiths with the same brush, as if your local Unitarian minister is now using his fiery weekly sermons to whip up his foaming-at-the-mouth congregation, getting them to rush out and mob the kindergarten across the street for deviating from strict Unitarian doctrine (whatever that might be this week at that particularl congregation). It's just bizarre.

Religion is a great many things, including many decent and noble things, and deflating them all into a soggy rubber balloon for the sake of Leftist analysis is much like trying to reduce all of human sexuality to physical friction between genital organs. Hitch could easily write a book called "Sex is not great." Well, it is and it isn't. What kind of sex? Practiced by whom? To what end?

Hitch's book actually stands for a whole Leftist attitude of sneering superiority in the face of religion. The Left just doesn't get it -- maybe because they have never read any serious works on the subject, or haven't paid any attention lately to the vast body of music, writing, art and architecture inspired by religious feelings, giving it an honest effort to understand. Simple Peruvian peasants understand religion very deeply, even living all their lives in tiny villages on the isolated highlands of the Andes. But sophisticated liberals just can't wrap their minds around this weird stuff. They are suffering from a giant intellectual lacuna: A hole in the intellect, if you will.

Hitch is simply befuddled with humanity's most passionate quest, to live and die in dignity, to partake in some small way of the vast and awe-inspiring universe, to keep trying to understand, and indeed to die trying. Until the 20th century the greatest artists dedicated their finest efforts to religious works: A flood of masterpieces from Bach, Mozart, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Verdi, Mahler, Handel, even skeptics like Ralph Vaughn Williams, would be reduced to a small trickle if their religious works were left out.

And that isn't even touching on the great libraries of religion itself, beginning from the very earliest invention of writing. At its towering peaks, the works of civilization are almost always religious in spirit and belief: Think of the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, the buried grave ships of Viking chieftains, or the great carved mountain statues of the Buddha that were systematically blown up by Taliban barbarians only a few years ago. Sumerian ziggurat pyramids rise from the very earliest strata of human civilization: They are nothing if not expressions of religious awe. Even earlier, some 30,000 years ago, the cave paintings at Clerveaux and elsewhere in Southern France and Iberia express much the same awed engagement with an overwhelming reality. Hunter-gatherers express it one way; farming and herding peoples say it another way; settled cities after Sumeria discovered yet more magnificent ways to say it. The human message was much the same.

Religious art begins abruptly about 50,000 years ago, for totally unknown reasons: Suddenly human graves are marked with red ochre, and oriented to a single lode star in the night sky. All over the prehistoric world physical symbols of power and devotion are laid in the ground, next to the honored dead; giant neolithic stone works are found all over the Old World, like Stonehenge but spread far and wide; and even the utilitarian stone hand axes that did not change over hundreds of thousands of years, are suddenly refined into ritual shapes too fragile for any practical use. Something very profound happened to human nature fifty or seventy millenia ago, and it has all the earmarks of what we inadequately call religion.

Just try breaking that great phenomenon down into the tiny pebbles of understanding our Left shows itself to be capable of. Trivial minds reduce even awesome achievements to the only level they can grasp. But that doesn't change the reality.

Now Hitch's hero Karl Marx went right ahead, of course, and concocted an opiate for the masses even purer, more intoxicating, and far more destructive in the 20th century than any religion in history. Marxism killed some 100 million people over a hundred years, trying to coerce its idea of human perfection on earth. Today North Koreans are still dying by the hundreds of thousands at the whim of a chubby little Stalinist monster in Pyongyang. At bottom, of course, Marxism is a secular religion, with its own infallible Prophet, its parasitical priesthood, and a doomed repetition compulsion to create a paradise on earth by coercive force. For any "Man of the Left" like Hitchens not to be utterly thrown and humbled by the last Marx-made century of catastrophes shows a deep deficiency in his moral sensitivities. And in his book "god is not Great," Hitch shows us why he is a basically silly man when it comes to this subject.

I speak not as a religious person myself, but as a skeptic who is nevertheless looking at the facts -- such as the constantly expressed sense of the numinous that pervades human works over the past five hundred centuries. That doesn't mean I like or approve all religious expressions; that would be impossible. It's just that it makes no sense to tar millions of ordinary people living good and decent lives with the same brush as the head-chopping sadists who grab the headlines today in the name of religion. Hitchens is asking us to make precisely that kind of wild, illogical leap.

There's an interesting contrast between Mr. Hitchens and the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, notorious for the slogan that "God is dead; we have killed Him." Contrary to the Left, Nietzsche had the utmost respect and even reverence for religion. That's because he was an extremely well informed scholar, who understood his own cultural history in depth. He studied works from the ancient Greeks to modern Europe with all the finicky care of a trained classical philologist. He believed that Christian religion (and implicitly Judaism) were on their last legs in the 19th century. And he was not entirely wrong about that.

But Nietzsche always spoke about the breakdown of faith as a great cultural disaster, and a devastating challenge for the future. For him, "God is dead" was not a Hitchenesque self-preening slogan about the moral superiority of the secular Left. On the contrary. Nietzsche saw the loss of Western faith as the most profound historical shock, an invitation to cultural disaster. Well, the secular religions of the 20th century, like Nazism and Marxism, have certainly made a strong case for him.


Australia: Exposure could help kill judicial arrogance

PUBLICITY, rather than a new system of appointing judges, is the best way of eliminating judicial activists, according to a leading conservative lobby group. Once the extent of judicial activism on the nation's courts is revealed, governments will realise they need to exercise far more care in appointing judges, said Samuel Griffith Society secretary John Stone. "Labor governments have appointed most judicial activists, but Liberals have also appointed activists because they were asleep at the wheel," Mr Stone said. He said Saturday's disclosure in The Weekend Australian about the extent of support on the bench for judicial activism would do more to address the problem than a new appointment system.

He was responding to recent research showing that a significant number of the nation's top judges believe they are entitled to step in and make new laws when parliament fails to deal with difficult issues. The judges have revealed their support for judicial activism in more than 80 confidential interviews with visiting American academic Jason J. Pierce that were never expected to be published in Australia. Mr Pierce's research, which has been published in the US, has revealed a deep divide in the Australian judiciary between those who back activism and those who see it as illegitimate.

Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said he was not surprised by Mr Pierce's findings, particularly in relation to the High Court under former chief justice Anthony Mason. "A number of commentators have drawn attention to the view of some judges of the need for a more activist approach because of alleged parliamentary inertia," Mr Ruddock said. "What is new is the extent to which a number of judges - albeit anonymously - have affirmed that this approach has been taken."

However Mr Ruddock, like Mr Stone, did not favour changing the system of selecting judges in order to make it easier to identify activists. "I do not think any system attempted abroad such as contested election, parliamentary confirmation or government-of-the-day-appointed judicial commission would alter an individual judge electing to take a so-called activist approach in the future," Mr Ruddock said.

Mr Stone said the publication of Mr Pierce's interviews had revealed a degree of arrogance by activist judges that was beyond belief. One High Court judge told Mr Pierce: "Perhaps it's illegitimate to pull the rabbit out of the hat, but it is nice to see it emerging."

Mr Stone said this approach indicated that law schools were failing society by producing a significant number of lawyers who believed it was their responsibility to step in and displace parliament when difficult issues were left unaddressed. "The sheer presumption of these people is breath-taking," said Mr Stone, whose organisation defends federalism and the original intent of the Constitution. He said the only effective way of addressing the problem was by ensuring it received a extensive public attention. "That will alert governments to what these people are about."

Mr Stone said activism was still on the rise within the judiciary, even though it had been addressed on the High Court by recent appointments. "The real danger is at lower levels. The Victorian Supreme Court and Court of Appeal are a standing indictment" of the activist approach favoured by state Attorney-General Rob Hulls," said. "Hulls is a nightmare."


The dishonest Michael Moore exposed

Like all Leftists, Moore often finds the truth rather pesky. His response is to edit it away. Story below by Debbie Melnyk

Having just made a film about a conservative, we wanted to rinse our palate and take a look at someone who shared our leftist ideals. Then it hit us: what about Michael Moore? We like his films, we like what he stands for and we loved his Oscar speech. He has long had a soft spot for us Canadians: as fellow lefties, we were almost certain he'd participate in this film. For better or worse, Moore has become the unofficial spokesman of the Left. Raised in the city of Flint in Michigan, the son of car industry workers, he has crafted a remarkable career by challenging and exposing the ugly side - the hypocrisies - of American society and political life through a series of satirical documentaries. He started in 1989 with Roger & Me, which examined the massive layoffs in, and destruction of, his home town by what was then the world's largest corporation; followed it with the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine, a scathing indictment of the US's gun-crazy culture; and in 2004 in Fahrenheit 9/11 he attacked George W. Bush's administration for its war on terror.

In the beginning, we thought we'd make a straightforward biography looking at Moore's life. But somewhere along the way things changed. Our film gradually became an examination of his filmmaking methods and the serious political debates they provoked. As firm believers in Moore's political agenda, our decision to refocus the film wasn't an easy one. But as we kept having to remind ourselves, you can still be an old leftie without buying everything Moore says wholesale.

May 2004: Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 was about to premiere in Cannes. It would be the perfect time to start talking to him. We told an editor who was working on the Black film that we'd be back in four days. We weren't. The film ended up taking more than two years to finish. We couldn't get an interview in Cannes. Moore's publicist said he was doing "limited" press. But we did make the media conference. Most of the talk surrounded Disney's refusal to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11 in the US, even though they'd given him $US6 million in financing through Miramax. Meanwhile, he couldn't buy the press he was getting in Cannes. Moore won the Palme d'Or and the documentary went on to gross more than $US220 million worldwide.

Back home, this was proving to be our most difficult film. Practically everyone we spoke to was nervous. All too frequently when we tried to interview people - friends, colleagues, former and present employees - they refused to talk on camera but had plenty to say on the phone. A former producer explained: "There's a great story about how he is impossible to work for and he's an impossible person. That's the story most of us would like to do. I just don't want to do it." Soon enough we realised we were taking on a taboo subject, a sacred cow, especially in the documentary world. You're not supposed to take on "one of our own", we were told.

Once Fahrenheit 9/11 was released, Moore arrived in Toronto to promote the film. I asked him in person for an interview, explaining that we were doing a documentary on him. He seemed flattered but then spoke the words that are the kiss of death for journalists: "These guys (his publicists) know how to reach me." With that, he disappeared.

Next stop: Flint, Michigan, the city Moore made famous in Roger & Me. This entertaining film shows his repeated attempts to interview Roger Smith, General Motors' then chairman, to get him to acknowledge the damage GM was causing in Flint by laying off thousands of workers even as the company posted record profits. The closest Moore gets to challenging Smith on film is a fractious, seconds-long exchange at a GM Christmas party. We arrived at the multiplex theatre the day Fahrenheit 9/11 opened. Everyone has an opinion about Moore. Some people know him and love him. Others hate him and "what he has done to Flint". I was surprised at the rift. I thought he would be a hero in his home town. Instead, it is a microcosm of how the US feels about him. He's polarising.

Greg Fiedler, organiser of the Flint Film Festival, told us: "(The city) took a big hit for that movie economically. A lot of companies that might have located here said 'we're not going there, they eat rabbit'." This is a reference to a scene in Roger & Me in which Moore visits an impoverished woman, Rhonda Britton, whose roadside sign reads: "Rabbits for sale, pets or meat". She is seen skinning a rabbit to sell for food, and the scene is meant to be emblematic of the economic problems many Flint residents faced.

We began following Moore on his Slacker Uprising tour in the northern autumn, hoping to get an interview. This 30-day, 60-city tour through 20 swing states in advance of the US presidential election of November 2004 was Moore's attempt to remove Bush from power. Our first stop was Syracuse, New York. Outside the arena where Moore was speaking were groups of protesters. One side was anti-Moore, with "Moore lies" and "Moore emboldens our enemy" signs. The other side was carrying placards reading "Troops out of Iraq" and "Bring the troops home alive". Inside the arena, Moore wound his way to the stage. He was surrounded by men he jokingly referred to as his "fitness instructors". The sellout crowd of 10,000 hung on his every word. He ranted to the students about Bush. "Shouldn't we be able to believe the President of the US? Is that too much to ask for; that what comes out of his mouth is the truth? Of course, some people would say Clinton lied, right? Exactly ... about a blow job." By the end of the night, he was urging every student to vote and dethrone Bush.

During the tour I wrote to Moore's lawyer, Andrew Hurwitz, asking for an interview. Nothing. At some point during our filming of Moore's appearances things became more difficult. In Detroit, a security team unplugged our sound equipment to keep us from recording his speech. Moore has repeatedly encouraged people to "tape anything you'd like", saying "I don't agree with the copyright law". With this in mind, Rick approached the guards for an explanation of why we were unplugged while other camera crews were not. Initially the bodyguard spoke into the microphone in his sleeve, attempting to get a serious answer, but inevitably dismissed us with a non-explanation: "I don't know the answer to that. The only thing I have the answer to is me saying no. I'm also being told if you continue to bother and harass us about it, you're gonna be asked to leave." Fortunately the guard didn't see the other, smaller camera I used to tape this exchange.

We started to discover things about his films that we never knew, the most startling being that Moore had got rather more access to Roger Smith than he let on in Roger & Me. We spoke to Jim Musselman, a former activist for Ralph Nader who was organising the community of Flint to fight back against General Motors and claims that Moore did question Smith for 15 minutes during a General Motors expo at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. "He sat there and answered questions for about 10 or 15 minutes," says Musselman, who told us that he had watched the footage himself, in the edit suite. "It was great footage because it was Smith answering questions one-on-one from Michael." Then I found an article from a 1990 issue of Premiere magazine in which several people, including Nader, asserted that Moore had also filmed an exchange with Smith at a 1987 General Motors shareholders meeting; that was reportedly left out of the film, too. The magazine published a transcript of the exchange, which was mostly about taxes. Indeed, Moore told Premiere he was at the meeting representing a tax-abatement group, not as a filmmaker. "Nowhere in the transcript does it say anything about me asking him to come to Flint," he said. "That's the narrative thread of the movie." This last point is open to debate: one original poster for the film depicts Moore pointing a microphone at an empty chair.

Though we didn't want our documentary to concentrate solely on debunking Moore's work, we did find other incidents that deserved a second look. In Bowling for Columbine, for example, Moore comes out of a bank carrying a gun he has been given after opening a bank account. This suggested you could open an account and the bank would give you one of the guns it had in its vault. Just like that. But in our film, Jan Jacobson, the bank employee who had helped Moore open the account, maintains she told his crew that the bank would have to do a background check and he'd have to pick up the gun from a licensed firearms dealer another day. Jacobson told us that Moore's crew insisted the gun be in the bank for him to take away the same day. Moore was told the guns were in a vault 500km away, but in the film he omits to mention this point. Yet the result is a memorable scene that shows Moore walking out of the bank holding up a gun after opening an account.

In Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore uses the following snippet from a speech to show Bush as the moneyed, arrogant man I'd assumed him to be: "This is an impressive crowd, the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base." I thought Moore had nailed Bush when I saw that. But Moore fails to mention that Bush is speaking at the Al Smith Memorial Foundation dinner, a Catholic fundraiser at which politicians are expected to make fun of themselves. The quote is taken out of context: at the same dinner, Al Gore jokes about having invented the internet. When seen in its original light, the President comes off as a guy who is capable of self-mockery: surely that's surprising enough in itself. As for Bowling for Columbine's claim that people in Toronto leave their doors open at night, well, I don't and I don't know anyone who does.

We first screened our documentary at the South By Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. The crowd was made up of the same people who were probably cheering Fahrenheit 9/11 a few years ago. Having included some criticism of Moore in our film, we weren't sure what the response would be. It was provocative. On one hand, we had Moore supporters telling us we shouldn't be attacking a man who does so much good. On the other we had leftist activists applauding us for questioning him. Moore has been given every opportunity to respond to the questions raised by our film. Thus far he has refused to comment.

At a recent event in New York, Moore was asked about our film, which we'd decided to call Manufacturing Dissent. "The Noam Chomsky film?" he replied, coyly referring to the Chomsky documentary Manufacturing Consent. The journalist who had asked the question persisted: "No. Manufacturing Dissent, the film about you and your filmmaking methods." But Moore claimed he knew nothing about it.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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