Seven Types of Atheism by John Gray (Penguin Random House, 2018)

It is always refreshing to open a new book by John Gray as he is so adept at stripping away much of the white noise which characterises so much atheist discourse, in order to let the reader see clearly right through to the guts of the matter.  This book is a useful contribution in that the author, in his usual incisive style, embarks upon a forensic dissection of the various models of atheism which are imbibed, often in the most uncritical manner possible, by modern secularists.  Gray has identified seven main variants, but much like the proliferation of gender identities (56 and counting on FaceBook), no doubt there will be those amongst the throngs of the godless who will complain that they have been overlooked in what is otherwise a meticulous categorisation.

And John Gray should know.  As a convinced atheist himself, but possessed of an uncannily objective frame of mind, he is able to present these seven models, warts and all.  This is immensely helpful for those of us who are at times baffled by the various permutations of atheist thinking.  And it’s clear that Gray shares a similar bafflement, at least when it comes to the kind of unquestioned presuppositions which appear to underpin most of the more modern variants.  The ‘Seven Types of Atheism’ covered by his treatment are:

  1. The New Atheism (a 19th Century orthodoxy)
  2. Secular Humanism (a Sacred Relic)
  3. A Strange Faith in Science (the abolition of man, evolution vs ethics & transhumanism)
  4. Atheism, Gnosticism and Modern Political Religion (Bockelson, Bolshevism etc)
  5. God-haters (Marquis de Sade and Empson)
  6. Atheism without Progress (Santayana, Conrad et al)
  7. The Atheism of Silence (Schopenhauer, Spinoza & Shestov)

Of these seven variants, Gray is self-confessedly drawn to the last two, and I suspect (judging from the tone of his commentary), it’s the last one which holds the most sway.  This is the bleakest of all possible positions, but it is, I suspect, the most logical, given the starting presuppositions of an atheistic worldview.  It is not a perspective which one encounters very frequently, as most modern atheists are riffing off models 1-5, with (usually) a very heavy emphasis on model 1.  It is this first model which yodels most loudly about its intellectual credentials but which, according to Gray, actually has the flimsiest basis for such pretensions.  In practice, as we observe the secular hegemony attempting to maintain its ascendent position within Western culture, the strands woven into this kind of ideology tend to be drawn most frequently from models 1-4.

I think that John Gray would have enjoyed a constructive exchange with Francis Schaeffer, despite coming to a conclusion about the existence of a Creator-God which is diametrically the opposite of Schaeffer’s conviction.  In his treatment of model 1 (the New Atheism) he demonstrates persuasively how the whole house of cards stands (and therefore falls) upon the philosophical contributions of Henri de Saint-Simon and his disciple Auguste Comte, effectively spawning a new religion in the shadow of Madame Guillotine.  Schaeffer had a world-class mind when it came to excavating the bedrock upon which ideologies are founded.  This backdrop to modern atheism is all-but invisible to its adherents, yet (as Gray states) “…it formed the template for the secular humanism that all evangelical atheists promote today” (p10).  Swiftly, he moves on to demonstrate ‘Why science cannot dispel religion’, an intriguing statement, given that most populist exponents of atheism make precisely the reverse argument.  He gives his reasons at some length and they are actually the mainstream lines of reasoning advanced by Christian philosophers and theologians.  This is neither rocket-science, nor the kind of blinkered metaphysical eccentricity which is supposed to be the unique disability of those ‘faith-heads’ that Dawkins and his cohorts love to revile.  After all, John Gray is singularly uninfected by anything resembling faith when he says, “…unless you believe the human mind mirrors a rational cosmos – the faith of Plato and the Stoics, which helped shape Christianity – science can only be a tool the human animal has invented to deal with a world it cannot fully understand” (p13).  This is perhaps a more nuanced way of restating the profound doubt that Darwin himself articulated in a letter to his friend William Graham Down in July 1881, when he stated “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the minds of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.  Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”  If our explanation of origins is (i) undirected, (ii) unintelligent and (iii) solely a product of physical functions of matter, then there can clearly be no hierarchy of ‘science’ over and above ‘religion’, despite all the most optimistic pronouncements of the most devoted disciples of what Gray categorises as a ‘new religion’.

For all these positives, there remain the usual frustrations with Gray’s thinking.  He very correctly identifies the key truth that, uniquely, “…Christianity is liable to falsification by historical fact” and then accurately comments that “In contrast, Christianity will be badly shaken if the received story of Jesus can be shown to be false” (p15), a line of thinking which directly echoes what the Apostle Paul himself argued in 1 Corinthians 15 verses 16-19.  And then, having stated the proposition with admirable clarity, he immediately dives down the rabbit-hole of Enlightenment scepticism, as embodied by the theories of Reimarus (18th C) and Strauss (19th C).  There is nary a reference in the direction of modern scholarship which has systematically exposed the pathology of this form of  scepticism and which instead supplies an abundance of support for the historicity of the New Testament narratives.  This is a surprising defect in a new book, published in the UK only a month or two ago.  It is, however, indicative of the lengths that atheists have to go to, to prop up their ideology, once models 1-5 have been convincingly trashed.  As another  contemporary atheist thinker made clear, in 1997:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.” (Richard Lewontin).

This is a minor, and entirely predictable disappointment, however.  Overall, this book is a model of clarity and rigour, and I do highly recommend it.

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Thankfully, there’s always Easter

IMG_0893Sometimes, it is simply a relief to discover articles embodying the current penchant for secular idiocy within right-wing organs of public opinion, such as The Telegraph.  Linda Woodhead’s daft, and profoundly uninformed piece in the 27th March edition, entitled ‘Is Jesus the latest – or was he the first – victim of #MeToo?’, after the initial irritation, leaves one with a sense that all is right with the world.  Reading a distinctly 21st century fad back into 1st century Palestine makes, oh-so much sense.

After all, as if there is a kind of competition in vacuousness, we then have Simon Jenkins’ rather sad exercise in reductionism in the 30th March edition of The Guardian, entitled ‘Happy Easter to you.  Now let’s nationalise our churches’.

It’s as if Easter has morphed into a kind of special occasion for the triumph of ideology over sensible enquiry and discourse, but at least it is reassuring to be reminded that this is not a market that the Left has entirely cornered.  Give it time.

You can virtually guarantee that the liberal media will bulge like overripe plums with this kind of guff at Easter time.  Perhaps one should be relieved that they find it impossible to let the occasion pass without some sort of baseless sermonising; it is encouraging that we have not yet made Christ’s resurrection so anodyne that it may be ignored with impunity.  Simon Jenkins does not content himself with merely another shallow observation about declines in attendance within the established church.  No, as a self-professed ‘non-worshipper’, he is not slow in his demand that ‘our churches’ should be nationalised.  The pathology of appropriation appears undiminished over the passing years.

The sadness of this kind of material lies not in the nature of the criticism, but rather in the apparent inability of these writers to consider matters with any degree of rigour.  Linda Woodhead may be ‘Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University’, but you’d never be aware of that simply from the content of her article in The Telegraph.  Perhaps she is just another example of political ideology masquerading as academic competence within our universities, contexts which increasingly appear to be more driven by politics than by academic enquiry.  Perhaps sociology is a discipline which lives within its own little silo and specialises in ignoring reputable academic texts.  Perish the thought.

Alongside the sadness lies an inevitable frustration.  If one seeks to assess this material with any kind of thoughtful critique, one is spoiled for choice.  The quality of this channel of public discourse is now so profoundly denatured, that the act of engagement itself becomes a stretched and unproductive exercise.  Where does one start?  The path of sanity lies in consigning all of it to the bin, and hoping that it may not be recycled in any intelligible format.  But the kind of marxist ideology running through Simon Jenkins’ article should not be allowed to pass unchallenged, especially when it is so reflective of the kinds of agenda played out by Stalin and Mao.  Jenkins argues that “…churches should be at the beating heart of each community – but a secular heart, as well as a religious one.”

It is difficult to imagine that such a comment could have been made without some kind of awareness of historic trends within Anglicanism.  Firstly, these buildings did, historically, represent the ‘beating heart’ of the community, and the nature of that heart was, essentially, a religious one.  Without that vital faith, there would have been none of these buildings whose emptiness Jenkins decries, and it is difficult to discern any residual ‘beating heart’ within a secularised culture that would be sufficient to sustain them if communities simply comprise ‘non-worshippers’ such as the author.  The problem of these buildings is all wrapped up in the decline of the impulse which created them in the first place, and repurposing will solve nothing – unless the secularists have in mind delegating that function to islamists.

And secondly, speaking as someone who has been a reasonably regular partaker of Anglican services over the last forty years, it would be difficult to overstate the degree to which the ‘religious’ heart has already been replaced with the mechanical, secular alternative.  Agreed, there are pockets of resistance to this trend, but in so many instances what one encounters are the forms and the words which have been hollowed out from the inside.  Scratch the surface, and the values underneath are often secular values, the responses to culture are secular responses, the underlying beliefs owe more to secular ideology than anything one might associate with Christian belief.  Secularism has already done it’s job – that’s why those buildings lie empty on Sundays, and throughout the week.  There’s a whole lot more to Christianity, than a kind of communal articulation of the words of the liturgy, especially when those words no longer reflect the convictions of so many of the clergy.  Besides which, we’ve been there before:  Christian universities have, in many instances, been exhorted to ‘share’ their spaces with secularists, and we all know where that ended up.

Thankfully, there are many other churches which do not mirror the narrative of decline that Simon Jenkins appears to revel in – and many of them were built to support astounding revivals of biblical Christianity at a time when a kind of proto-secularism was attempting to shut down the religious life of the nation.  Thankfully, there is always Easter.

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The take-down of Jordan Peterson

It’s fair to say that many of us were caught on the hop by the phenomenon that is Jordan C. Peterson.  My own initial response, whilst knowing precious little else about him, was one of amusement when I encountered a few YouTube videos which demonstrated his preternatural ability to deal with the kind of politically-correct banalities which have pervaded our academic institutions.  Latterly, I have followed his debates with various groups, generally on the theme of academic freedoms, and was (of course) entranced by that TV interview with Channel 4 journalist, Cathy Newman, which was like a kind of ideological train-wreck, in slow-motion.  Within the left/secular hegemony which now dominates our universities, people seem to be losing their jobs for a lot less than this, yet Peterson doesn’t seem to care who he offends – and, for a while at least, he appears to be getting away with it.  Coming from a Christian tradition, where the challenging of authorities and power-groups has been very much central to evangelical thought, it is hard not to warm to the man even though I struggle to know where to place him.

Nathan J. Robinson, Editor of the leftwing ‘Current Affairs’ magazine doesn’t share my struggles, but then he is so keen to parade his apparently clear insights into Peterson – insights which run contrary to a wide range of authorities that he is happy to reference – that I am forced to conclude that he must be privy to a special kind of divine inspiration which has passed the rest of us by.  Either that, or there’s a whole lot or virtue signalling going on in his March 14th piece, entitled The Intellectual We Deserve.  Perish the thought.

I’ve read a fair bit of Peterson, and it would be true to say that I don’t find him easy.  I’ve listened to rather more of him, and I find that a whole lot easier to follow – but what Robinson is attempting is a kind of hatchet-job, sufficient to satisfy the leftwing faithful, but which somehow manages to miss the point.  Caleb Terekhov’s frustratingly brief analysis of Robinson’s piece does accurately identify the tactics that are deployed by the author: poisoning the well, the use of cherry-picked or uncited or out-of-context quotes, making a variety of unsupported claims and wilfully mis-interpreting passages in Peterson’s writings.  He is quite right – I’ve verified those extracts and it is difficult to conclude anything other than that Robinson is quite deliberately misrepresenting Peterson to the faithful.

In some areas, however, Robinson is quite correct.  Credit where credit’s due.  Cathy Newman did spend much of that Channel 4 interview putting words into Peterson’s mouth, but then that kind of tactic, within that media channel, is hardly a surprising rarity.  What was surprising was how unfazed Peterson was by it all, and how congenial his responses were in the face of a belligerent interview technique that has been crafted over the years in order to silence and demonise dissenters.  He is also quite correct when he says, “But here the left and academia actually bear a decent share of blame” and “…we need to think seriously about what has gone wrong.”  Given that on the Venn diagram of influences on culture, the terms ‘left’ and ‘academia’ now largely overlap, the failure that he describes is more a cultural void that someone like Peterson is speaking into, because the other voices are, relatively speaking, merely white noise.  And thirdly, Robinson is correct that “…you can’t escape politics”.  I suspect that he wouldn’t question that state of affairs, but I think that I would.   A hundred years ago, you might have successfully escaped politics, but that is no longer a possibility.  As the Christian worldview has been rolled back by the secularists, what has filled the void has been politics, to such an extent that it is now almost impossible to say anything at all, without someone accusing you of political biases – even if one was unaware of it at the time.  And, over time, that political infill is becoming increasingly depleted of intellectual content, to such an extent that it could well be replaced by militant Islam.  I, for one, welcome the fallout from Peterson’s interventions if they do at least highlight the intellectual vapidity at the heart of the current consensus and perhaps cause us to consider how much we have lost under the secularists.

Of course, in being ‘right’ in these observations, Robinson is conveying relatively little in terms of new information – a shortcoming which is almost identical to the one that he insists on castigating Peterson for, repeatedly, throughout his article.  He clearly dislikes Peterson’s use of abstruse terminology, and whilst I agree that it does not make the man easier to understand, it’s worth noting that he (Robinson) makes no allowance for the fact that Peterson is a devoted student of Jungian psychology.  The diagrams which Robinson deprecates (“They are masterpieces of unprovable gibberish”) are a direct product of that area of study, one that I am quite happy to admit that I am largely ignorant of.  Robinson deals with his own ignorance either by ignoring it, or by pretending that it is Peterson’s fault.  There are in fact plenty of “masterpieces of unprovable gibberish” out there, and for around a century, many of them have dominated our academic institutions.  Increasingly, we are seeing the variants of Darwinism as one example, plus also the various ideological offshoots which have come to exercise a degree of intellectual authority out of all proportion to their evidential basis.  In that latter connection, may I commend to you Wendell Berry’s excellent essay on E. O. Wilson’s Consilience (entitled ‘Life is a Miracle:  An essay against modern superstition’)?  It would be great if our secular overlords were as finely attuned to all kinds of ‘unprovable gibberish’, and the academy might then be able to get itself back into some kind of intellectual order.

It is true to say that there are moments when Peterson’s terminology lapses into an almost liturgical rhythm.  Robinson gives us a few examples and then belittles them by stating, “These are pompous, biblical ways of saying…”  This is one diagnostic of the left/secularist’s antipathy towards Peterson, for he certainly does resort to a great deal of biblical analogy and there are those for whom even the articulation of such words is a kind of affliction of their comfortable atheism.  It must be one of the unforgivable sins to be seen quoting a biblical construct without then immediately consigning it to the naughty step.  Of course, Peterson references biblical examples, (a) because they are familiar to him, and (b) because he feels that in some way they are symbolic of his Jungian psychology.  There is a pragmatism to this kind of allusion – it is not, I suspect, driven by any personal convictions about the Bible or the nature of God, but rather simply because he feels that it works.  In a culture where pragmatism is everything, you would have thought that this might pass with relatively little comment, but when one reads the negative reviews of his book, one realises that anyone who treats the Bible as in any way authoritative must be demonised.

I do not therefore believe that, for all of his admirable qualities, Jordan Peterson is a modern-day equivalent of Martin Luther, nailing his ’12 Rules for Life’ to the door of the Cathedral of Political Correctness.  I think that, on balance, people would be better off reading this book than by not reading it, and if it does help people to question the relativistic pap that they are being force-fed through the media, and think about what it means to lead an ethically good life, then that would be a huge step forwards from where the secularists have taken us.  But that, on its own, is not enough:  Peterson hints at how much more we need to do.

 

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Backwards glance: David Berlinski

Recently, I had occasion to revisit David Berlinski’s essay The Deniable Darwin, published in the June 1996 edition of Commentary magazine.  It is a classic piece from the pen of the mercurial Berlinski, a man whose beautifully-honed phrases frame the sheer exuberance of his take-down of Darwinian tautology.  Halfway through the piece, he acknowledges that what he has written so far cannot be regarded as an argument, but is, rather, “..an expression of intellectual unease…” given the sheer massive scale of the logistical difficulties facing Darwin’s model (and the later evolution of the thing) when contrasted with the sheer smugness of its proponents, and their determination that every byte of data available to us should be viewed through the lens of Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

It is a beautiful piece (Berlinski’s essay).  Even if you agreed with only a fraction of it, it may be enjoyed for what it is, and still provide useful food for thought for any thinker on the spectrum of opinion.  It is therefore interesting, as it always is, to fast forwards to the responses that were afterwards published across 35 pages in the September 1996 edition of Commentary.  There is a remarkably courteous (dissenting) response from H. Allen Orr (University of Rochester, NY) who, whilst disagreeing profoundly with Berlinski’s arguments, nevertheless admits that he is “both sincere and tentative”.  Would that this kind of culture were more representative of the way in which such thinkers interact.  Unfortunately, one is brought immediately down to earth with the next published response from Richard Dawkins where brevity is only matched by his commitment to misrepresentation, characterising Berlinski as a ‘creationist’.  Anyone with even some appreciation of the man’s work would find that a laughable suggestion, but this does appear to be the caricature du jour to be served up against any denier of Darwinian dogma.  As personal attacks go, it says rather more about the favouring of polemic than any commitment to grappling with the issues.

Next in line is Daniel Dennett (Tufts University, Medford, MA).  As perhaps one might expect this takes the line of a continuous flow of abuse, adorned with much clever language, as if someone had attempted to gild a stream of ordure in mid flow.  Conspicuous by its absence is any attempt to rebut or even address Berlinski’s arguments, a tactic to deny legitimacy.  There is an “intellectual unease” which legitimately exists in the minds of many, the antidote to which is an interaction which requires intellectual effort, and Dennett represents a constituency which prefers to deal with the matter through a form of intimidation and name-calling.  Since there is plenty of that going on within the academic community, it was interesting to note that the next (dissenting) respondent, Arthur M. Shapiro (University of California, Davis, CA), goes out of the way to justify the strength of the evolutionary consensus amongst his professional colleagues, despite their contentious bickering, as if that must therefore establish the truth of the matter.  But that is hardly a proof: there are moments when our multifarious and fractious politicians are driven to unite around one random piece of political correctness, without even a trace of scientific basis.  It takes a surprisingly short time for political correctness to morph into a kind of default orthodoxy, which is promulgated and preserved via a culture of compulsion, redolent of the worst days of the Inquisition.  Academic freedom is not what it once was.

A version of that political correctness operates within academia where productive, long-standing and reputable careers may be wiped out in a moment, upon the articulation of Darwin dissent.  Indeed, we have recently observed Wikipedia erasing even the virtual memory of one of Europe’s leading palaeontologists for this very reason.  What Pinochet got up to in Chile, (some of) our universities now achieve on a reputational level, with a kind of insouciance, and apparently without even the trace of a memory of our own cultural history.  This is, in itself, a byproduct of the encroachment of scientism as a modus operandi, where other forms of knowledge and insight only attain validity if they are malleable to the tools of materialistic empiricism.

There are other responses, some less brutal than others, but they are all, in their own way, somewhat revealing – a steady and sustained attempt to shoe-horn Berlinski into the ‘creationist’ pigeon-hole, because that facilitates a disdainful dismissal, with a minimal wave of the hand.  Even Eugenie Scott, late Director of the NCSE, plays that game, albeit with a pleasanter tone of voice, compared to some of her colleagues.  Those who followed the Royal Society’s November 2016 conference with some interest will already know that Berlinski has genuine, objective reasons for his “intellectual unease” with the explanatory powers of Darwinian and neo-darwinian models.  That same unease was clearly evident amongst many delegates attending that conference, where even Dawkins’ enthusiasm for shoe-horning dissenters into the ‘creationist’ mould would be frustrated, if only definitions were applied accurately.

Indeed the passage of twenty years of research into the genome and molecular biology has punched such holes through the Darwinian consensus that it is increasingly evident that the thing is held together only by an unwavering commitment to Greek pagan philosophy, rather than by a discernible dedication to ‘science’.  On balance, it feels that, whilst the paleontological model for human evolution is now unraveling on an almost continual basis, and research at the molecular level increasingly supplies persuasive evidence of an intellect behind ‘design’, Berlinski’s essay has aged remarkably well over twenty-two years and shows a degree of rigour in the scope and depth of its referencing that is conspicuous by its absence amongst his detractors.

DD_BerlinskiA collection of Berlinksi’s essays, including the key one referred to here, was published in 2009 and is still available in paperback form.  In a volume of some 547 pages, ‘God’ is only mentioned twice (Godel another matter) in reference to someone else’s theories – Berlinski is a troublesome candidate for the kind of creationist caricaturing much beloved of the new atheists.  It’s well worth reading for anyone whose ‘intellectual unease’ might engender a wider and fuller exploration of the subject.

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Radical – or what?

It’s quite possible that living in Wales has something to do with it, but I have been struck, repeatedly, by the sheer volume of coverage the Beeb has given to Darren Osborne, the misfit who took it upon himself to hire a van from Pontyclun, in order to drive to London so that he could mow down Muslims.  Admittedly this is my own (subjective) estimate, but the extent of the Beeb’s focus on this case has been significantly greater than that devoted to the Manchester Bombing or the Westminster Bridge terror attack.  At times, the sheer repetition of the coverage has left me wondering about the broadcaster’s capacity to report on events which may take place outside of the metropolis, or which do not support its own progressive ideology.  The Beeb demonstrates abundant past form in this kind of tactic.

Coupled with the pathology of reporting focus, there has also been the adoption of a certain kind of terminology.  When Muslims cross over the line into violence, we now describe them as having been ‘radicalised’, ignoring the inconvenient fact that Jihad is at the heart of both the Qur’an and any understanding of Islamic history.  But now we operate within the plain vanilla constraints of secular reductionism, so if Muslims are ‘radicalised’, we must apply exactly the same terminology to a dysfunctional and unhappy Cardiffian who behaved incoherently and fatally.

When I look at the pictures of Darren Osborne on the news, and read the extracts from his statements, ‘radical’ is certainly not the term which comes to mind.  Indeed, there are a plethora of other terms which are apposite, none of which would be complimentary or even printable, but…radical?  C’mon, the Beeb!  ‘Radicalisation’ presumes an ideology of sorts.  Islam provides that kind of ideology, especially within political islam – the kind of belief system espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood, whom you rarely hear the Beeb mention.  Darren Osborne comes across as an ideology-free-zone.  A man with a grievance, motivated by anger, with barely a coherent idea in his head, someone who has looked online at the EDF website, or something similar.  Does that combination of factors comprise ‘radicalisation’ as Daniel Sanford stated on the BBC News last night?

Osborne might well have been mean-spirited, irrational, vengeful and criminal, but he also comes across as profoundly inept.  I mean, why bother driving to London, if your objective was to kill as many people as possible?  There are, after all, plentiful targets within the locale, which would at least save the protracted commute, and avoid the congestion charge.  And then, when Osborne arrived in London, it appears that his poorly-formed ideas were entirely frustrated by circumstances, so that he then headed off towards Finsbury Park Mosque as a kind of ‘stand-in’ target.  He might have wanted to kill “as many Muslims as possible”, but there was in fact one fatality, an older gentleman whom we were told died later of a heart attack, no doubt triggered by Osborne’s actions.

I wonder at times if the BBC simply thinks that its audience are all idiots, so it can use any terminology that it likes, in order to manipulate the credulous into its own worldview.  Or perhaps Daniel Sanford genuinely believes that he is using the word ‘radicalisation’ accurately in this instance – in which case he needs to be extremely careful, for the whole point of that word is that it describes a process that occurs before someone takes action (such as blowing himself to bits in the middle of a concert).  I’ve visited the website of the Communist Party of Great Britain (several times) in order to do research on their political beliefs:  does that make me a radical?  (I am hopefully not in any imminent danger of becoming a card-carrying communist).  I regularly read the intellectually-denuded output of the BBC and get quite angry about it (I’m paying a licence fee for this garbage).  Doesn’t that suggest that I am being ‘radicalised’, at least according to Mr Sanford’s definition?  There may well be plenty of people out there who notionally sympathise with Darren Osborne’s grievances, and are confused by obfuscatory media reportage, but would never, ever take action based upon their misapprehensions.  The BBC, by virtue of this kind of misrepresentation, might possibly be guilty of ‘radicalising’ people.

Apparently, Darren Osborne was radicalised, in part, through watching a BBC docu-drama about the Pakistani Muslim gangs which groomed young white girls for prostitution.  I think that, just to be absolutely safe, the BBC ought to keep clear of any material that has any connection with the real world, lest we are all somehow infected with this radicalism thing.  Secular reductionism removes too many valuable distinctions to allow us to reliably consider a controversial subject in any kind of objective way.

Postscript

Jesus said “Love your enemy” and “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor  as yourself.” Now, in the current context, that’s radical.

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Behold the Meme…

Here’s another of those mindless memes that seems to be doing the rounds on social media, one that is much more informative about the mindset of its creator, than it actually is about it’s target – that baneful force for evil, otherwise known as religion.

Secular_Bigotry

We’re pretty used now to the empty aphorisms of the new atheism, but this one is such a concentrated bubbling brew of ignorance, bile, extra-added ignorance with cheese on top and monumental hypocrisy, that it’s actually quite difficult to know where to start in commenting.  Perhaps the serious point is that, the kind of intellect which generated this nonsense is so deprived of functioning critical faculties, that it is actually safer to assume that the text on the page is simply a random assemblage of pixels delivered by a room-full of monkeys hitting typewriters with mallets over several billion years.  Yes, that would make much more sense than what we actually find written in the meme.  However, this stuff gets repeated sufficiently on social media to leave the nagging impression that someone out there must take it seriously – so it’s worth highlighting toxic garbage when one encounters it.

I don’t hate religion” says the author, but then goes on to say that he hates a whole bundle of pet peeves, pretty much all of which are the standard pejoratives levelled at religious belief via the scattergun of the new atheists.  So, even the title is meaningless, for these days it is impossible for any Christian to hold consistently to his or her beliefs without this kind of accusation, which apparently bypasses the intellect, so swiftly and easily does it attain meme status.

The author also hates “self-righteous condemnation” and “patronising condescension” andreligious hypocrisy and arrogance“.  Last time I looked, religious people hadn’t exactly cornered the market in these unlovely characteristics, and it does seem as if the author is giving himself a free pass for exactly those same crimes, judging by his tone of sneering put-down.

He hates “religious justifications for atrocities” but remains quite silent on the mendacious secular justifications for industrialised abortion, claiming some 894,000 lives so far this year (2017) in the USA alone.  Compared to this, murder by gun crime (USA) runs at a mere 1.24% of this astounding figure – and there are those lobbyists who get all uppity about that.  As well they should.

He hates “religion in politics” but I’m willing to bet that he likes human rights legislation, which has its origins in the Protestant Reformation, and that he’s very happy with politics in religion, insofar as external political lobbying seeks to intrude into Christian practice and secularise it.

He hates “religion disguised as science” but it does sound a little as if he is profoundly uninformed about the historic Christian foundation for modern science, giving rise, as it does to a worldview which makes the doing of science rational.  Christians were doing the philosophy of science, and cataloguing and exploring the natural world for centuries before Dawkins came along and grabbed all the toys for himself and his mates.

I love it that he hates “zealotry’s ignorance of its own scripture’s content and context“.  Having spent years of my life, debating with atheists who relished flourishing a favoured source of textual embarrassment in my face, without even the faintest hint of a suggestion that context was even a valid concept, this feels like the pot calling the kettle black.  Perhaps the author has spent an unfortunately long portion of his life surrounded by empty-headed fundamentalists, but, frankly, this is poor fare – and sets the bar low for any kind of informed discourse.

That’s a whole lot of hate, packed into one little meme.  I note, in closing that he also hates “hellfire“, and would comment that if there is a just God, and if there is something like a Judgement, then however this chap feels about it is going to be immaterial.  But, thankfully, we’re at that time of the year when celebrating Christmas allows us to focus on much more positive values – of the coming Christ, the angel tells us ‘”and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)’ (Matthew 1:23).  Christianity has always been about rescue and redemption, rather than about hating things.

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Parris’s heaven and hell

Matthew Parris’s Comment piece in The Times on the 4th November is an intriguing one:  “Heaven and Hell have no place in the Church“.  Mr Parris is an interesting atheist.  He self-identifies as a Protestant atheist, and clearly has a sneaking admiration for Luther – and he writes again in this article, as he has written before, of the generally positive and constructive work of missionaries in Africa.  This is always a refreshing change to the garbled and revisionist mantras of colonialism and racism parroted ad nauseam by the liberal pundits.

But Mr Parris doesn’t like the biblical concepts of heaven and hell.  Like those cohorts of liberal scholars whose worldviews have been largely subsumed by naturalism, he wants to declare the very idea of such places or states as anomalous in a bright, shiny new Enlightened World.  What he wants is a kind of pick ‘n mix, secularised Christianity, one designed to appeal to his own recondite palate.  Well, he won’t be the first to want such a thing, and he certainly won’t be the last.

On which, a few meandering thoughts…

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Coalbrookdale by Night by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, 1801

Mr Parris speaks of ‘the church’ as a repository of such unmodern concepts as heaven and hell, but even that terminology is question-begging.  If he wishes to take the care to shop around, there are clearly institutions which have already conducted the kind of radical editing of dogma of which Mr Parris would no doubt approve – indeed, the hollowing-out process would presumably leave very little source of offence for the most liberal of minds.  And, as an added bonus, God Himself is something of a stranger, the clockwork of liturgy, bells and smells continuing on a kind of autopilot without Him.  These are churches where atheists with Mr Parris’s sensitivities may reside happily, with their intellectual ease unviolated by inconvenient truths.

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Killing Fields Memorial, Cambodia

Of course, ‘the church’ should not be singled out as uniquely the cause of offence in this respect.  If one has eyes to see, the evidences of hell, at least, trip us up at every turn.  After all, human beings are past masters at taking some kind of idea – let’s call it Utopia – and turning it into Mordor.  Mr Parris’s article includes a detail from a quaint imagining by Hieronymous Bosch, but you don’t need to waste time and energy in inventing this kind of imagery.  You just need to open your eyes: the ‘satanic mills’ of the industrial revolution, the violence of the French Revolution (all in the name of the new rationalism), the industrialised butchery of WW1, Hitler’s Final Solution, the body count from Russian and Chinese Communism, the inexorable rise of human slavery in the modern world (40,000,000 victims currently)…  Human beings appear to have little problem in imagining hell, and even less difficulty in creating it.  Our difficulty lies in the matter of justice.  At least the biblical doctrine is based upon the whole idea of a just God who, one day, will hold each individual human being accountable for their own personal wickednesses.  I suspect that Mr Parris’s problem in this area has less to do with the idea of hell, and rather more to do with a God who embodies justice in the purest and most absolute form, and has the authority over our final destination.

To support his position that heaven and hell are redundant and obsolete concepts that may cheerfully be trashed, Mr Parris refers approvingly to two Thought for the day broadcasts, where the contributors made no mention of these ideas whatsoever.  In so doing he ignores the well-known fact that the Beeb’s editorial policy in such matters is designed to result in a Thought which is, generally speaking, the perfect embodiment of the word ‘anodyne’.  Inevitably, as one reflects on such a line of thinking, one is taken back to Fawlty Towers:

Basil: Listen, don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right. [returns to the Germans] So! It’s all forgotten now, and let’s hear no more about it. So, that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads.

Of course, Jesus did not spend his entire ministry just talking about heaven or hell.  He covered many subjects which affect us in the here and now, which (at least based upon the comments in this Comment piece) Mr Parris might seem to approve of.  But he did speak about hell – not in a vengeful, threatening manner, as a kind of bludgeon to coerce submission, but rather as a kind of concerned, loving warning.  After all, it’s not unreasonable to surmise that the Son of God knew what He was talking about.

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