Monday, 10 March 2014

Dawkins Atheism, Right Wing fundamentalism and the death of indifference

 I hadn't meant to write this today, but a few things happened that made me question the state of  dialogue, academic pursuits and the general public's ability to perceive things beyond a few simple catch phrases.

Let me begin at the beginning.  A few days ago I wrote a piece about Lent. Those who read right away were predisposed to being of a particular spiritual bent, others were less quick to read it. Had it been about say Daleks or  the rise of the Ultra right wing in Central Europe, they would of gladly clicked the link. But no, each group in it's way seemed less inclined to explore the territory it felt less comfortable with. One of my mates, a devout defender of the down trodden seems to have developed a blind spot for Russia, another for Israel and yet others just avoid anything about religion on the basis it's all rotten and not worth wasting the time on, yet others hate politics all together. There are multiple dogmas.... atheist dogma, ultra left dogma, feminist dogma, you can't say that ...can you ? dogma, classist trade union dogma, working class dogma, anti Catholic dogma, anti Muslim dogma and lastly, anti sick and poor dogma ( I can go on). I apologize if I  in any way insinuated the existence of a functioning class system btw, there of course isn't one . Some of the avoidance is down to not wanting to stray from favoured topics and opinion trends, some of it is frankly fear of being challenged. This I regret and it grieves me that even among some of my smartest friends, they have allowed these little oases of  fear to flourish.

The particular thread in facebook that got some of us going was an article about Richard Dawkins in the Independent. It matters little what the  piece said, but if you must know, it stated that saying no it's not a lot won't stop a load of people from going to church or believing in G-d or spirits. There was one person in the conversation who took the early Dawkins approach and the rest of us aligned, rather surprisingly along the centre, and managed a nice well developed discourse without a single person going " No it's not", "Yes it is"  then going off in a strop. But it did bring forward the rather amusing notion that I had decided to go back to church mostly as a reaction to Dawkins telling me I was a silly person if I did and that I would burn in his Atheist hell if I did. Thanks Richard Dawkins , I think.... but the kind of discourse you represent is not how humanity ever reached for the stars, pasteurized milk or created Democracy.

Watch the Python version of this article
Just because some people can't spell, doesn't mean grammar and spelling don't exist. Dawkins and his kind are quite clear that the spirit world and all things associated with it do not exist. I cannot help what he can't feel and I can. His not feeling or knowing something will not eradicate my knowing or feeling. Scientifically and philosophically his position is untenable.

The argument goes like this. I say that I just had a cup of tea ( because as far as I can tell... I did) He says I didn't because apparently I washed the things and put them away after I finished and there is no evidence of my drinking tea. He says I'm delusional because he does not believe. At least with the cat in the box there is a 50 50 chance it's dead or alive. Here I am a liar or I drank some tea.

If all arguments are reduced to a need for absolutely empirical proof of a statement, then even the invisible pillars that hold up democracy, law and good order would be unprovable. And yet here we are with an imperfect system that manages to keep us all from eating each other with mint sauce.

Trust is a belief, love is a belief, forgiveness is a belief that the person or thing will not revert to previous form. Without it we would be savages. Yet you cannot touch or smell or quantify any of these things. As strong as water or wind, these beliefs are at least as responsible for the direction we walk in every day.

But if we surrender to the questionable dogmatism of unvarnished Dawkins theology, we find ourselves becoming very bitter unhappy un trusting greedy people who's only joy is to stick our fingers into other people's wounds to prove they aren't lying. Oh look there, I accidentally referred to the new testament.... Better edit that out before somebody says I'm preaching.

Dogmatic atheists like  Richard Dawkins and their crusades to rid the world of any religious influence whatsoever are no better than the loons on the right that take things written thousands of years ago, translated poorly, lost in a jar, found  and transcribed even more poorly sometimes, then translated yet again., poorly... as the basis of a divinity's literal unalterable message to man. In either case, if you disagree with them they will make sure you are branded as some sort of social deviant or worse.

Where these atheists and myself part company is at the fork in the road that asks us to accept that things change, things evolve and that not all things that were true or appropriate 2000 years ago, are now.  If a text attempting to teach a person, usually in the form of a letter, instructing us in a particular duty is important, it will do so using 2000 year old context and examples. The core message may remain the same ( principle )  but the details ( dogma) will change. Atheists and particularly those who have taken an extreme dislike of religion,  which can be separated from spiritualism  for the purposes of this discussion, have not allowed for the abandonment of what might have once been sacred holy law  but is now anathema to most people, neither have they allowed for the fact that some eras in history have created interpretations of the basic tenets of scripture based on who was regarded a "person" or worthy of inclusion in the club.

I don't see Democracy being rejected out of hand by humanists scholars because the principles were applied to male Atheneans only, and that those outside of the city were treated as no better than slaves at times. If anything, in the grand scheme of History, as political philosophies go, democracy has been a failure, having been the guiding principle of most of  Western society for less than 250 years.  It is the critical thinking required to recognize the goodness that any movement is capable of and that like all things the movement too changes and usually for the better, over time. The scientific method itself springs from the desire of  religious people to understand the beauty and mystery of nature and how it works. Frankly the more I see, the more terms like G-d particle and the fingerprint of G-d come up.  As for modern social reforms that even now are being dismantled by the greedy right and alleged G-d fearing conservative streams in the USA, Canada and the UK, these sprang from the desire of  church going people of means to spread the simple but important principles laid out in Torah and the Christian Bible of  sharing the wealth, being honest, not being greedy and trying to build a better world where we all share in the bounty of that which surrounds us,  all the while making sure it's preserved for future generations. Nothing happens in a vacuum . The catalyst for much of the good in the world started with a few religious  types saying what if we were a bit more like the people asking us to be good and  answering the question ; What makes the world work and how do I fit into it. By what miracle is it that we don't just collapse into a heap of spineless jello? ( Nick Clegg, boom boom )

Now let's  let's have a go at the equally dogmatic religious and fiscal right. Theirs is the only way of doing things and all attempts at reform and tinkering ,but  heresy writ large. Heresy of the kind that denies the luxury of some among us to close their  minds to the changes and new conditions that constantly erode the absolute certainty with which we hold the idea that that which was irrefutably correct 6000 years ago let alone half an hour ago must still be true now, however retrograde it appears. These people have used this orthodoxy to disallow rational reforms in dietary laws, as well as intellectual, social and scientific day to day activities. They have, on the basis that change is bad, isolated themselves into communities who over time had to detach from general society a bit more with every new reform. But where the Mennonites and other ultra orthodox sects of Christianity, Judaism and other faiths kept to themselves, others have attempted to impose their particular brand of conservatism on a community that is nothing like them. Out of the the same belief the Atheists share.... they are the anointed ones, the only carriers of the truth and no one else shall matter, because they know best and we should just go along with it.

 Jesus and his followers said to the Rabbis at the temple "We would like to continue with the principles of what makes us Jewish, but we'd like to modernise it a bit, if you don't mind, pretty please" they went on to say , "it's been a few thousand years since the laws and teachings were written and things have changed a lot, can we at least try to reflect some of  that?". And now depending on what part of Christianity you look at , some are clinging on dogmatically to out of date practices set up about 200 years after that particular conversation, and others are making room for change on the basis of simple questions.... What and who are people? What does history, science and medicine bring to the application of  principles that have survived in the case of Judaism 6 to 8 thousand years and Christianity and the Muslim faith, a little under 2000 years. I would argue the case that most of those principles are the very same ones viewed from a slightly different angle. Jews in fact have had conversations like this several times resulting in the creation of Hasidism which rejected  growing bourgeois tendencies and reforms of the top layers of Jewry in the 14th century that themselves are later viewed as conservative and worth preserving in the Voltaire era debate that questioned the need for isolationism and  supported the desire to integrate more into general society without destroying their own inherent Jewishness. Catholicism of late, starting with Benedict and now going full steam with Pope Francis is conducting a root and branch review of the Dogma. It will shock people who cannot tell the difference between the "literal word of G-d" and a good story or the equally important codes of conduct that are not per se in the Bible, but allegedly based on interpretation. As we've seen from the above, interpretation, like the conditions, changes, but the basic ideals do not, that is what makes an institution or belief system solid. I take this moment to ask those who have till now have gone out of their way to avoid information, to take note. Things are changing  due to pressure from below, pressure from regular Catholics and maybe you need a new whipping boy.

The fact that there is so much ossification in both the left and the right with each pointing to an idealised world that never existed or if it did, not for long, is the manifestation of a human desire to grasp something and hold onto it like a blanket that was there when you were a child. The reality is that my youngest son's blanket was reduced to a thread, as far as I know, he still had it on him to remind himself of the security and simplicity of  when he too was a baby till he was about 14, then he grew up. If we accept that to get the same result every time we need to do things  differently sometimes, we then are ready for reform. Great ideas are exposed as flawed, flawed ideas are recognized as not entirely awful. From this we get growth and reform and the preservation of those things most precious to us.

I discovered from my own reaction to the extremes on both sides  but particularly the Atheist who wanted to exclude even my most basic manifestations of my faith from popular culture and politics, that it was worth fighting for. It was worth going back to Church for those regular masses and it was worth defending the principles and the history that was being white washed as I stood there waking up. I grew up as those who've read me before will know, in a multi ethnic, multi religious and multi cultural community. We shared holy days, we helped each other and learned from each other. If I let the isolationists and atheists win I would be denying myself, my own experiences and the possibility of future generations to also experience that eye opening education you only get if you dive in feet first.

There is an other important aspect as I said in the beginning,... nobody is going to determine for me what I have seen, felt, smelt and tasted. No one is going to force me to retreat from my own experiences on the grounds they think they never happened. No one will ever be able to convince me or anybody else that the essence of being as we feel it and know it, is a figment of our imagination. This is why indifference is the last complacency to fall. When my way of life, however benign and harmless and even to be frank, dull, is being actively denied me by an Ivory Tower brigade from both the religious right and the Atheist left, I feel the need to make a stand and protect my boring, benign, simple principled life that these people seem to think is so flawed that in practising it I will corrupt others with it.  I never stopped people from not doing things or doing things, I never demanded of my closest or even farthest acquaintances to recant football, dancing, chic flics, animé or anything else that fell well within the norm of generally accepted political, social and moral codes we all claimed to be familiar with.

Yet now I am accosted from both sides with demands that I set aside decades of tolerance, openness, and curiosity in the name of the safety of the great white Christian nation, the great non de-script humanist nation  that dare not define itself  lest it offend anybody and the great me me me nation that is frankly interested in itself only and cares little for the rest of the world  and the future.  I am often confused by the commandment that I must accept evolution as a scientific principle but  not also go along with the logic that some functions and abilities are weaker or stronger depending on where you are and what your role in society is. That's code for race, gender, social standing and other environmental variables. I'm asked to believe that we are all equally abled and there are no differences. I am asked to say mouthfulls  like baby woman or pregnant person, as  pregnant woman is sexist. If I point out that Kenyans are on the whole incredible runners, I am racist. If  I, using a large representative sample of people within a general area come to the conclusion that Poles don't trust Russians, I'm told I'm making assumptions and how could I know that?

I have a real problem with the informationally challenged,  or using the more sensitive term "morons". There is almost a pride in ignorance, knowing too much leads to opinions and as we all know, opinions are dangerous and could lead to facts and differences of opinion which again we are told , are bad. This should at all cost be avoided.  So then how are we supposed to evolve or grow if we cannot know or say such things? How can we begin to question when some fundamental questions are taboo themselves? How can I predict the reaction of Ukranians to the acts of Russians in the Crimea If I don't allow myself the ability to see that the people I'm looking at are in fact nothing like London bankers or farmers from Corwall. Why must I pretend to be nice and nod agreeably when some barely there person tells me there is no such thing as a New York school or London style of photography or poetry? Of course there are diffirences, and they matter. The fact some can spot a person to within 50 miles of where the family is from by the way they speak, react and phrase things, surely is testament to the need to stop sublimating things to the point that we are nothing. I had to fill out a survey and it asked me if I was Asian, black or white. I'm a slav, that will tell you more than me telling you I'm white any day of the week. I'm a Catholic, it shapes my thinking, I'm an upper class twit socialist who loves G-d. But no they just want t know if I'm white and male. When knowledge dies,questioning dies, so does curiosity and the ability to reason and absorb new ideas

This is a great time to be a demagogue with simple answers to complex questions. In this last week the Tories were revealed as having held back economic studies that backed up multiple other such studies that showed immigrants were not a danger or a drain, if anything they were good for the economy. Not without coincidence , within days the government used the chief vet to launch an attack on Halal and Kosher. Nice one, I call that fancy skating if ever I saw any. Shift the focus back onto something the Tories can play with.  As and when it becomes patently obvious to even the thickest, that the large corporations and multi nationals are the reason there is such a huge deficit through non payment of tax  and abuse of  government latitude on regulations, I have to wonder how long it will take to  shift it back on the the shoulders of the poor and the sick? Ignorance is bliss say some, I'm sure the dogmatists agree.

Between the PC left and the equally dogmatic right, the centre has been squeezed and along with it the ability to debate, tolerate and get along. People who might otherwise be prepared to try something new, won't. People who were prepared to accept that sometimes some things are not possible due to basic immutable facts and that one must find ways around them are now often faced with intransigent fanatics on both sides that will not allow for reality,  however weird and wonderful it is, to unfold and do it's magic.  Yet others who retain the basic curiosity we are all born with, feel the need to suppress the questions and the explorations lest they themselves be seen in a bad light by one or the other side.

I like to think that I represent a growing part of society that is militantly reclaiming the middle ground of life, the universe and everything. That wonderful mix of science, curiosity, G-d, spirituality, imagination, innovation, humour, exploration, comfort with the known , the unknown and the bits that work, that for better or worse has gotten humanity this far. Join me on the shady side where nothing is ever as black or white as it seems on first inspection. If anything, it's very colourful.

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