Sunday, March 19, 2017
A few days back I posted on Facebook about the recent obscene provocation to come from our demented feminist avant garde. My post garnered a few comments from friends sympathetic to my disgust, but also resistance from a British atheist friend which allowed me to explain some of my thinking on the key role the Christian tradition plays in our culture. I reproduce the comment thread here, having changed the names of the participants.
Go to this LifeSiteNews piece for an an account of what went down.
My caption on the Facebook post: “Horrendous, but not surprising. These people don't know the divide they're creating.”
JOHN GREIST: This is just sick.
PAUL WILKS: If ever a group of assholes deserved a smiting . . .
GRACE LEE: Stupidity redefined.
KAREN DORN: This is appalling. I cannot fathom why so many women are choosing to speak out in such offensive, sacrilegious ways. This seems similar to the type of "speech" that is burning the American flag; there is something inherently violent about it. This will backfire. I am deeply offended and saddened that these demonstrations will only erode the diminishing options women will have, especially women of lesser means and resources.
DALE CHATWIN: Why not? Virgin birth? The concept does invite, even require, mockery. If a woman was given this blessing, then the question is why are women 2nd class citizens in most societies around the world? I am a feminist. Any woman who is not, has some pretty serious issues imo.
ERIC MADER: @Dale Chatwin: Don't be such a dull positivist vulgarian.
1) If there exists a God anything like God as understood in Western monotheism, then the virgin birth as a literal event is of course eminently possible, as are any other miracles, including the universe suddenly folding up into nothing or being rearranged on entirely new laws. As an orthodox Christian, I view miracles in this lens.
2) There are however many Christians who do not believe in the virgin birth as a literal event, who understand it as a myth, but show respect to the story itself as an ancient part of their tradition, that Christian tradition that grounds some of the most crucial elements in their present-day culture: its legal norms, its concepts of history, its notions of justice, its critique of vulgar wealth and power.
On at least this second basis you might at least recognize that in mocking Christianity you are a little like the man high up in a tree sawing away at the branch he's sitting on.
In any case you should have enough of a sense of history to understand the following: All great civilizations have risen up on myths and died when these myths fell into disrepute. You as a person wouldn't be what you are today, and your country, England, wouldn't be what it is today if it weren't for Christianity. Many of the things you take for granted--the Western concept of human rights for one--arose from and because of the Judeo-Christian inheritance.
Which is to say: Westerners who think there's any virtue in mocking their own culture's religious tradition are like spoiled teenagers who scoff at their parents, the people who fed and raised and taught them. How do such kids look to you? This is where you're putting yourself with these kinds of statements.
KAREN DORN: Yes!
DALE CHATWIN: Did you mean The Vulgate? St. Jerome? I wager he would have been a laugh. Kind of bloke you'd be itching to share a pint of Guinness with.
Are you suggesting that The Life of Brian should be banned for mocking Christianity?
The Catholic Church: "Christian tradition...its critique of vulgar wealth and power." The Catholic Church is the epitome of vulgarity and obscene shows of wealth. The Vatican Bank. A church with a bank holding a minimum $8 billion. Very Christian. Jesus (or whatever his name was) would have been proud.
ERIC MADER: @Dale Chatwin. Typically, you haven't addressed a single one of my points.
DALE CHATWIN: Oh, dear. I thought I had addressed a few.
I find it difficult to take most of human history seriously, especially religious dogmas. I prefer a pinch of salt over everything.
Doesn't everyone scoff at their parents? Of course in religion, this is often terms for ostracism. Religious indoctrination begins in the home. The clothes worn, the food eaten.
I think you put too much emphasis on how tradition, both religious and secular, has formed my own personal belief system.
Anyone could write thousands of pages on what we, as a species, have learnt from history. The opposite is equally true.
The culture of monotheisms will also, given time, fall into myth.
Which points, specifically, am I missing?
DALE CHATWIN: Why shouldn't Christianity, or any other set of unsubstantiated, unproven, fanciful beliefs, be open to mockery like anything else? Are religious types that sensitive?
ERIC MADER: Well, in fact if you go back and read my comments starting "Don't be such a . . ." I can't see how you imagine you've even addressed one of my points. Read those comments again, and then realize that your answer amounts to:
1) St. Jerome was a prude and would have been a bore to drink with (or, in another possible interpretation, would have been fun to tease over beers).
2) The Vatican Bank is corrupt.
One key thing that is preventing you from even seeing my points is that you don't understand myth in anything like a more anthropological sense. Your understanding of it is the common one (I dare say the vulgar one) as in: "People once believed the seasons were a result of Hades' rape of Persephone. Now we know that's a myth." In short, in your understanding, myths are essentially things that humanity overcomes via scientific advancements. In my understanding, this is not so, myth is still with us, and always will be. An enormous range of cultural phenomena is guided by thinking that is mythical; even the social thinking of secular, educated people is largely based on mythical constructs that can't be grounded in empirical research and in fact AREN'T grounded--but still prove decisive in culture. What is key, and in my view most dangerous, is that Enlightenment notions of reality have somehow convinced our contemporaries that their secular societies' norms are NOT grounded on myth, that they're based rather on reason and research, that their societies have largely left myth behind, and that progress means leaving more of myth behind. I say No. We have not left myth behind. We have just changed the names of the agents in our myths. Our very notions of the arc of history, of justice, of the power of reason as it relates to social reality and the universe, of progress, of human rights, etc.--all these are based on myths no less flimsy than the story of Hades and Persephone. And it will ALWAYS be so. Why? Because story and the stories we tell ourselves will always guide our group behavior. It is a fact that applies to Dawkins and Sam Harris as much as the Pope. The reason the former are shallow and the latter is not is that the former don't recognize this fact. They don't see the degree to which they're raising things discovered by empirical research to the level of guiding mythical principle. What science discovers about how the universe is structured (and it has discovered a lot) can tell us virtually nothing about existential or ethical questions. Those secularists who try to make science into a cultural guide are not practicing science any more--what they're doing is called scientism. Which is why serious philosophers, and many scientists besides, think the New Atheists are a joke and, in terms of the field of discourse the New Atheists are trying to enter, are in fact way out of their league.
So, to sum up: You still believe myth is something that is to be overcome. That's very 19th century of you. I however know that myth is something humans never overcome. You believe myth is inherently, to the extent it is believed, a negative thing. I believe we can't escape myth, that it is neither negative nor positive, but simply HUMAN, and the key is recognizing which myths show the deepest grasp of the human reality.
You write: "I think you put too much emphasis on how tradition, both religious and secular, has formed my own personal belief system." Sorry, but I think this is extremely naive. All of us, even the most skeptical, have been formed by tradition in ways we can't even fathom. That is what philosophy is for: to help us glimpse our own blind spots. In your case, even the nature and structure of your skepticism, how you see your skepticism as it relates to the relative naivety of others--even this is part of a tradition that you've internalized and modified in some ways. You say that you don't take history too seriously, that you take it with a grain of salt. Sure, but that doesn't mean you have escaped your inscription in history. To begin thinking is to think in language. To enter the realm of language is to be drawn into a lexicon of inherited concepts. End of story.
As usual, I didn't intend to type so much. I'll say one more thing. Given that you're a reader of John Gray, I'm amazed you seem so obtuse on this question of myth and how it is constitutive of culture, how it is inescapable on the social level. My point: On most of these issues, at least in terms of argument re: what myth is or how individual thinking can relate to traditions, Gray would agree with me.
Cheers. Since I took time to write all this, I hope you give it some thought.
DALE CHATWIN: That's a ten-course meal to get through . . . very French. Thanks.
A propos, I do not consider myself a New Atheist. I have no desire to proselytize one way or the other. I became an atheist long before the New Atheists took to the stage . . . long before I knew the meaning of the word atheist.
I searched for religious meaning on and off for years, but came to the conclusion that it really is all random, essentially meaningless, and misery for most of humankind. And who directs this misery? Well, humankind of course.
I believe humanity is a plague.
ERIC MADER: Bon appétit.
* * *
UPDATE: Rod Dreher at The American Conservative, writing on the same Argentine provocation, featured some of my remarks. In the comment thread that followed, various writers argued that I was mistaken in tracing so much of the political culture of the West back to the Christian influence. The real roots of our current institutions, so the argument goes, are classical Greece and Rome. You can check the thread there, but my basic response was the following:
ERIC MADER: Some here suggest that I’m mistaken in identifying Christian tradition as a key ground of our political and legal norms. And so Forbe, above, argues that the cloth of our political culture as Westerners is woven entirely of Greek and Roman materials.
Of course I’m well aware of the classical heritage. But I would say that this pagan heritage, while decisive in providing us most of our political terminology and many of our structural norms, does not finally account for certain huge differences between us and our ancient pagan models. Especially our concept of inalienable human rights, that political doctrine that all people, regardless of class or nation, are created equal and thus embody a fundamental dignity (before the law, before the divine, etc.) that is prior to accidents of class, race or gender. It is this doctrine that allowed the Christian West finally to defeat slavery, and this that explains things like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The classical thinkers of Greece and Rome recognized no such thing. We have it because of the Christian soil from which we’ve sprung.
The earliest statement of such a fundamental equality is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. And really, there’s nothing else like it in in the ancient world: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26-28)
Race, class and gender are to take second place to a new fundamental equality? Gee, that stuffy old Apostle was quite radical, wasn’t he? Stop the presses, Slate and Salon! Your grounding social doctrine, the very litmus test by which you judge something progressive or not, is 2,000 years old. And, sorry to inform you, it came from one of those hateful Christians.
The Enlightenment, and the American Founders in particular, merely abstracted this “one in Christ” to “one in being created by the same Creator”. And so we have our modern concept of human rights.
When Rod suggests that these Argentinian feminists are unwittingly undermining the very conceptual ground on which they stand, this is what he means. Not just the radical feminists, but the whole sick SJW crew is bent on savaging the hand that feeds them. I agree with Rod on the stupidity of it. They certainly will not like what their hardball identity politics becomes once the other side begins to practice it. Which is already happening.
Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. at Amazon.com and begin the long, hard reckoning.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Fifty now, for most of my adult life I've been an active supporter of the progressive wing of the American left. Educated as I was in university, tolerance and open-mindedness, as well as a careful respect for dialogue, have always been crucial to me. I’ve had close Muslim and Buddhist friends, atheist friends, feminist friends, gay and lesbian friends, black and Asian friends, Jewish friends. Needless to say, I’ve learned things from all of them.
But that was then, back in the early days. I’d like to say--back in the last century, because this new century is becoming something quite different.
I'm thinking the atmosphere shifted decisively around 2010, a dark spark of some sort shot through the ether wind. Actually I’m ashamed I didn’t notice it when it happened. But now I get it. Because myself, now in 2017--white, male, Catholic--my progressive friends and acquaintances have more or less made it clear: My presence isn't really welcome.
Sorry I didn’t realize it sooner, in 2012 say. It would have saved everybody a lot of trouble. I’m a slow learner.
For the feminists around me, our 21st-century feminists, maleness itself is the root of all evil. So although I’ve long believed women and men are equal (that quaint old 20th-century notion!) it makes no difference now. I’m guilty as charged. And always will be.
For our SJWs, Europe and Western cultural traditions are to be denigrated and fought at every turn. Though I recognize the West is also guilty of some of history's most systematic abuses, I study and cherish European culture, and the American culture that stems from it. But the important thing about Europe now is no longer its humanistic learning, its concepts of rights and law, its philosophy and literature--no, it’s this abstract evil called “whiteness”. Again: I’m guilty as charged.
For the “new atheists” and the many secularist keeners who get their soundbites from them, progress means openly and loudly mocking people of faith because, well, religions are silly, outdated, and oppressive--especially, of course, Western religions. This crowd has been setting the tone for more and more of our young people. Well, here you find me again: Being Catholic, I'm guilty as charged.
I've always valued dialogue, almost to an obsessive degree, especially dialogue with people who disagree with me. Such a thing can hardly exist now. If I’m in a group with American women present, and attempt to clarify or discuss some point, I’m “mansplaining”. Online, if I point out how Barack Obama’s pro-Wall Street, pro-corporate policies undermined his legacy, I’m “supporting white supremacists” (as I just learned today, from a friend of many years, a prominent black poet and professor, who informed me of this, then summarily unfriended and blocked me on Facebook!). Never mind that I voted for Obama twice, as my friend well knows, never mind that I blogged for years in Obama's favor--no, being white, I’m “racist” for daring to criticize Obama’s actual policies.
I should add: Never mind that I've heard this professor friend himself criticize Obama: "He's doing nothing for us, but we'll still vote for him." Words spoken in a kind of resigned sigh.
This friend, or ex-friend, would he unfriend black Obama critic Cornel West? I don’t know. Maybe he already has. You know: Cornel West--self-hating black man.
Then there’s the LGBT crowd, which has really changed in recent years. I was an ally in the late 1980s and 90s, even heading into this new century. I treat gays and lesbians with respect, have gay friends I openly admire, gay and lesbian writers I recognize as geniuses, but this matters nothing. If I disagree with one point on their ever-growing list of rainbow dogmas, I’m a “bigot” who must be run out of polite society, a hater who deserves to lose his career.
And that's not idle talk. I know very well that if I were still living and teaching in the States rather than overseas, the zealots in this movement likely both would and could destroy my career because of my position on various aspects of the trans movement. Which fact is, at the very least, a sad commentary on what has become of our civil liberties.
What all these so-called progressives now praise as “diversity” is not diversity at all. It’s a dogmatic new groupthink. It’s a creeping (and really not-so-creeping) authoritarianism. What they mean when they say this word, in this new climate, is something like: “Agree with us on everything, or you’re not diverse enough. And if you're not diverse, we will ruin you.”
Well, here I am. Officially Out. Guilty as charged. Bring it on, bitches.
I believe in pluralism, the deeper pluralism that recognizes possible intellectual or cultural disagreements at the most fundamental levels--but that still insists on reasoned dialogue and the right to free speech. I believe in cultural and intellectual pluralism, not this ersatz replacement concept called "diversity", a word that now virtually sickens me whenever I hear it.
Diversity, the way the SJW left has weaponized it, is the most transparently hypocritical social concept framed in our culture in decades. And although the tendency to abuse was already there as early as the 1980s, the new climate is markedly worse. Again, I pick 2010 as the year critical mass was reached.
After years now of this hard-edged double standard on full display, the faith in tolerance and pluralism that many people like myself have long held to is starting to appear, well, naive. Can you blame us? Civil discourse with this angry new identity politics"left" is impossible. Because the only game they play is identity politics, and they play it as a zero sum game. Bizarrely, this has become their whole idea of the left. For every one article in the progressive press about economic justice or the depredations of corporate-sponsored imperialism, there are now nine or ten about some lame identity spat. This new left has almost zero connection to the bread-and-butter politics of the 20th century American left. And besides, it's clear their identity obsessions are only making things worse for everyone, themselves included. To judge from what I've seen in recent months, they haven’t learned a thing from Donald Trump’s election: why it happened; how they are implicated in it; how they are in no small part responsible for the counter-reaction their behavior has provoked.
Who’s going to tell them what they’re bringing about?
Here’s what I’d tell them, if I had any hopes they’d listen:
If it’s hardball identity politics you want, then hardball identity politics you’ll get.
Do you hear that? Do you understand?
I know you, and even those of you capable of grasping my point, you won’t heed the warning; you won't desist from your systematic demonization of the identity groups you suppose are oppressing you: whether it's white people, Christians, or daft abstractions like "heteronormativity" or "the Patriarchy". You won't desist in railing against these largely imaginary oppressors because you've constructed an imaginary self that depends on their existence. And so this new century, perversely, may very likely end up delivering just the demons you're conjuring up. Funny how that works, isn't? I think Hegel would have something to say on it.
Myself I'm saddened to the core to see dialogue die, over and over, and to be forced to write off so many friends because they can't accept actual diversity when they encounter it. And I'm saddened also to have to leave the left, but leave it I will, because it is an utterly fake left, finally rotten to the core. Your identity politics has nothing to offer America but polarization and speech codes, thought police and inter-racial hate--whereas me, I'm still interested in possible communities.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Some good vampire stories from the kids in my ZEI class E3-5A. I’ll type out Aaron’s, the best written and organized of them. I made a few small corrections as usual.
The assignment was as follows:
Hans and Gunther are now eleven years old. They are twins. They’re also vampires. They grew up in a castle in Germany, but moved to Taiwan.
Hans and Gunther’s mother wanted them to come to Taiwan because she read in Vampire News that drinking Taiwanese blood is very healthy for vampires. Now they live in a big house on Yangming Mountain and bite as many students as they can.
Hans and Gunther invited some students from ZEI to a party at their house last night. They also invited the teacher, Eric. The two vampire stayed home all day yesterday and prepared for the party.
. . . .
We gave you eight sentences. Write twenty more sentences to finish your composition. Your composition should tell
1) how the vampires prepared for the party;
2) who came to the party and what they talked about;
3) who the vampires bit and who escaped!
In the morning, Hans and Gunther prepared for the party. First, Hans hung lights on the walls. Then he cut the grass. Gunther was busy planting flowers in the garden, like lilies, tulips, roses and tree peonies. Then he set the table.
After they completed their preparation, the stood by the gate to welcome their guests. When the guests arrived, they led them to the dining room.
The party started when all the guests had arrived. They ate every kind of delicious food and talked with each other. They were talking about many kinds of topics, some people talked about their children, some people talked about the weather, and some people talked about the decorations in the vampires’ house.
After dinner, the vampires and their guests watched National Geographic Channel and brought everybody to look around the big house. When the guests were looking around the house, Nick was bitten by alligators when he was in the bathroom. (Hans and Gunther keep alligators there.) The vampire, Hans, sucked Jovia’s blood. And then Gunther cut Alan’s face with a sickle and bit Lucia with his fangs and made her become a vampire.
After the party, everybody was hurt and went back to ZEI. Some of them had become vampires and could not go home safely.
Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. at Amazon.com and begin the long, hard reckoning.