The most recent proposal from the Project for a New American Century has certainly struck a nerve among Americans—although that shouldn’t make us think it won’t sail through successfully, like the invasion of Iraq. In a recent press release, PNAC called on the U.S. government to institute the military draft, and induct U.S. servicemen and women directly into the Israeli Defense Force.
“We decided it would be easier simply to cut out the middleman,” said William Kristol, chairman of PNAC and editor of The Weekly Standard. “We’re pretty sure that in the next few weeks Bush will finally greenlight our attack on Iran, and we’ve let him know through ‘channels’ that air strikes simply aren’t going to be enough. We want Army divisions in Teheran, Navy carriers all along the Straits of Hormuz, and National Guard units patrolling the length of the Iranian border with Syria. And the Israeli border with Syria. Nothing else will preserve the security of the UnitedstatesandIsrael,” Kristol said, using the new, contracted form of the two political entities which has become common in the news media, particularly in discussions of the Iranian threat.
“The political party that gets on board with our patriotic plan will receive our concerted support. The party which argues for a less proactive policy will pay an electoral price for its extremism,” said Kristol.
Predictably, centrist and progressive Jewish groups denounced the suggestion. Historian Tony Judt called it “outrageous,” while representatives of the Israeli Labor party called for caution, warning that the conscription of American troops under the Israeli flag might empower the most hawkish elements in that country, and provoke anti-Semitism in the U.S. In National Review, editor Rich Lowry condemned these “voices of hesitation and appeasement,” warning that he “smelled some, er, Jewish self-hatred” on the wind.
Writing in the New York Sun, Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz described the plan as “bold, candid, and Churchillian,” and urged President Bush to consider adopting it before “Islamo-fascist appeasers, isolationists, and anti-Semites” could rally their opposition. “These nativists will raise once again the tired old cry of ‘dual loyalty’, impugning our patriotism,” warned Podhoretz.
Christian Right leaders quickly got behind the proposal. Televangelist Pat Robertson described the plan as “the single best way to assure that the blessing of Almighty GOD will descend upon this country,” and offered the warning that “if we reject this opportunity to stand with God’s own people, He will smite us once again—as he smote the sodomites, drunken idolaters and welfare queens of New Orleans.”
All serving military officers approached for comment declined to speak to the press, but several retired brass raised doubts about the plan. Retired General Eric Shineski questioned whether the proposal was “workable.” In response, speaking on Face the Nation this past Sunday, former Bush administration speech writer David Frum described Shineski as “a tired, cashiered old military failure who has ranged himself this time with the likes of David Duke and the Aryan Nation.” Frum announced that he had contracted with Crown Publishing for a book celebrating the “bold new future of our merged military might, which will finally provide an insecure America with the know-how and manpower it needs for the War on Terror.” Frum’s book will be entitled: Chicken Hawk Soup for the Soul.
The night Diana died I was dining with Jeremy Menuhin, son of the great violinist, and my close friend Oliver Gilmour, a symphony orchestra conductor. This was in Gstaad, and we got into an argument over Diana’s behavior. “The mother of the future King of England cannot be seen with a coke snorting no good playboy like Dodi Fayed,” said Oliver. “But she’s only doing it to bother that asshole,” said yours truly, referring to Prince Charles, “and she’s definitely not sleeping with Fayed, and I know this straight from the horse’s mouth.” (I had spoken to her that afternoon and the way she explained the situation convinced me she was telling the truth).
After awhile drink got the better of us and Gilmour and I began to argue in earnest over Diana. To the extent that I left the room, went downstairs and turned on the television in order not to escalate the disagreement. That is when the news bulletin announced her death. I went upstairs, asked Oliver and Jeremy to come down with me, and when they heard the news, they both burst into tears. This was ten years ago tomorrow night. A lot has happened since, but one thing is for sure, the Windsors, like the Bourbons, have learned very little.
Take the case of the man whose ears are more like radar dishes than listening devices, Prince Charles. Until this week he insisted his wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles, now known as the Duchess of Cornwall, sit next to him in the front row for Diana’s memorial service tomorrow morning. This is the same woman who caused Diana more pain and misery than any other individual, yet dumbo ears insisted until the last minute that Camilla the cow should be present at an occasion celebrating Diana’s life. Worse, he has used Diana’s children, William and Harry, by making it known that it was they who invited Camilla (Diana called her the Rotweiller) to attend their mother’s service.
Charles’s behavior is par for the course. This was simply an echo of his past treatment of Diana. In the week before his wedding Diana looked on helplessly while he delivered a bracelet to his mistress engraved with their pet names for each other. I am no one to talk about fidelity, but even I wouldn’t publicly humiliate a young woman a week before I married her. His determination to have the Rotweiller next to him until wiser heads prevailed (she would have been booed by the public and that’s what made him agree to her absence) is proof that he always put Diana second to Camilla, and himself first before anyone.
The service for Diana is more about consolidating the redemption of Charles than celebrating the life of his ex-wife. This is for sure. The other thing that’s sure is that Diana was left alone without her children as she headed towards a mangled death in an empty city after weeks rattling around the flesh spots of Europe with a man she found physically repellent. She deserved and deserves better.
Students of the subject know that far from being an outgrowth of Christian culture (or even historic Christian anti-Semitism), Nazi ideology consisted of an interweaving of Germanic ultra-nationalism and a neo-Germanic paganism, from its earliest manifestations in the völkisch clubs and wandervogel groups, through its intellectual development in proto-Nazi eugenics and race-theory, to the movements aimed at political activity which culminated in the Nazi party itself. Throughout it was imbued with a fanatical sense of national/racial superiority, and permeated with a revival of a romanticized Teutonic paganism, replete with the revival of “ancient” gods, rites, rituals and symbols, including the swastika, and imbued with an active occultism coming from Eastern religions via theosophy.
The same is true of the culture adopted by the Nazis, as shown by its favorite cultural expression, the operas of Wagner. His famous “Ring Trilogy”, for instance, is at least on the surface an exaltation of Teutonic paganism. And his Parsifal, although more ambiguous, served the Nazis’ purposes equally well. Some see its mixture of magic, occultism and Christian symbolism to be thinly veiled paganism; others see it as Christianity, expressed in allegory. Whichever Wagner’s intent might have been (and his personal comments on the matter are highly contradictory), this very ambiguity perfectly suited the Nazis’ plan. For, faced with the task of converting a population who thought of themselves as Christian to Nazi neo-paganism, one of their prime techniques was to co-opt Christian concepts and incorporate them into their new diabolical religion.
The most blatant example of the Nazis’ perverse cooption of Christianity is the assigning of the role of Messiah to Hitler. In this blasphemy Hitler takes the place of Christ; the thousand year reign of the Third Reich is the Messianic Era on earth; the Aryan race takes the place of the Jews as the Chosen People; and blood purity takes the place of holiness as the essence of salvation. Hitler alluded to this messianic role when he said: “Humanity accomplishes a step up every 700 years and the ultimate aim is the coming of the sons of God. All created forces will be concentrated in a new species. It will be infinitely superior to modern man”, and again when he said: “Those who see in National Socialism, nothing more than a political movement know scarcely anything of it…It is more even than a religion. It is the will to create mankind anew”. He explicitly asserted the underlying paganism when he said: “The old beliefs will be brought back to honor again. The whole secret knowledge of nature, of the divine, the demonic. We will wash off the Christian veneer and bring out a religion peculiar to our race.” (Nazis: The Occult Conspiracy, Discovery Channel; also Joseph Carr The Twisted Cross, p. 203.)
The promised “thousand year reign” of the Reich was an overt allusion to Christ’s thousand year reign, part of the Second Coming, prophesied in the book of Revelation:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended…Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God…They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years…This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection!…they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-6)
Already in 1931 a Protestant pastor in Germany identified the extreme nationalistic movement of the Nazis as a perverted reflection of messianic prophecy in a lecture entitled “Political Messiahship”: “even Protestant pastors confuse the secularized eschatology of the völkisch movement with the legitimate eschatology of the church’s proclamation and enthusiastically fall in with the National Socialist camp.” (Klaus Scholder, A Requiem for Hitler, quoting R. Karwehl, ‘Politisches Messsiastum. Zur Auseinandersetzung zwischen Kirche und Nationalsozialismus’, Zwischen den Zeiten, 1931, pp. 542 ff.)
The cause of Satan’s fall was his desire to take the place of God, whose role he apes among his followers; in parallel fashion, his earthly representative aped the role of messiah and claimed his own advent as the “Second Coming.”
The 1935 German Farmer’s Almanac provides an example of this replacement of Christianity. In it every single Christian feast day was replaced with a pagan celebration, earning the following protest from the Catholic Bishop of Trier:
“I am surprised and deeply shocked that the Reich Agricultural Corporation, to which every German farmer, man and woman, must belong, should have offered this Almanac…it is a deep insult to every Christian and Catholic feeling. The Saints’ Days, the mention of every Christian Feast Day, even Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, have disappeared. January 6th (The Three Kings) is ‘The Three Asir Day.’ February 22 (The Feast of St. Peter’s Chair) is the ‘Feast of Thor’s Chair.’ Ash Wednesday is ‘Ash Woden’s Day.’ On Maundy Thursday, the feast of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, there takes place the ‘consecration of the night-light oil.’ (!) Easter, the Resurrection of Our Lord, is the ‘Feast of Ostara’ (a German Spring goddess). Ascension Day is ‘Rescue of Thor’s Hammer.’…Christmas Eve is ‘The Birthday of Baldur, god of Light, and the Visit of the Infant Yule.” (Bishop Franz Rudolf in the Official Gazette of the Diocese of Trier, February 1, 1935, cited in The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich, p. 355.)
A few years later it was another bishop of Trier, Msgr. Bornewasser, who complained of the Nazis’ intent to eliminate the celebration of Christmas. In his New Year’s Eve sermon at the close of 1937 he said:
“You have heard of the so-called Winter Solstice celebrations. A few years ago I said: “I am not sure whether there lies therein a hidden danger for our youth.” Today I am sure. This artificially stirred-up old Germanic pagan Consecration of Fire is meant as a direct challenge to the highest mystery of our religion, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ on the Holy Night of Bethlehem. I leave it to you to judge for yourselves. What I am going to read is taken from the periodical Fuhrerdienst (The Leader’s Task) of the Jungvolk (Junior Section of the Hitler Youth), 12th Number, December, 1937, page 6.”
Msgr. Bornewasser quoted the Fuhrerdienst: “At another meeting the Winter Solstice will be celebrated. We have to train our young members in order to enable them to celebrate this Christmas stripped of all the parasitical excrescences which were implanted in the hearts and minds of the German people by the Christian denominations.”
The bishop demanded: “What is the meaning of this blasphemous remark? Our young children are told that they have to get rid of all parasitical excrescences implanted in the hearts and minds of the German people by the Christian denominations. What are these? The mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ on the Holy Night. From the hearts of the young, the memory that Christmas is the day of the birth of our Saviour is to be eradicated, and an old Germanic pagan Consecration of Fire is to take its place. Christian Fathers and Mothers! Now you know the real meaning of the celebration of the Winter Solstice. Up to now it had been concealed behind a mask, but today this mask has been dropped. We know now that all this talk about the German Winter Solstice is in reality directed against the most sublime mystery of Christmas, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God. (The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich, pp. 487-8.)
This is particularly interesting since now in the U.S., there is an attempt to replace Christmas with “winter solstice” or “festival of light” celebrations in many schools and other public settings. One must wonder whether it is not the same spirit at work among us today.
It is also interesting that it was the Farmer’s Almanac which was the vehicle for this attempt to eradicate Christianity. It calls to mind today’s New Age movement, in which the paganization of agriculture is also a recurrent theme. Those interested in new farming techniques, motivated by a reverence for the earth which can border on, or cross over into, actual worship, are also in the forefront of the movement to replace Christianity with a pagan, ‘earth mother’ religion. Again we must ask if it is the same underlying spirit at work in both cases. The fact that the Reich Agricultural Organization was in the foreground of the attempt to eliminate Christianity was evident. One of its leaders succinctly stated: “Hitler is our Savior; it is to him that we must pray.” (Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich, p. 357.)
In saying this, he was merely putting in a nutshell the heart of the Nazi religion. It was a theme constantly repeated by devoted followers of Hitler. When a Nazi journal asked readers what “the Fuhrer meant to them”, typical responses included:
“The Fuhrer is the visible personal expression of what in our youth was represented as God.”
“I have never felt the Divine Power as near as in the greatness of our Fuhrer.”
“What the Fuhrer has given me is not only a political ideology, but also a religion.”
“How shall I put in words what I feel for my Fuhrer…I look up to him now as I prayed to God in my childhood…”
“[the Fuhrer] is the bread of which the soul stands in need. I would like to say openly that the high teaching of the Fuhrer is to me a religion, the German religion!”
“Adolf Hitler means the same as the word God means to a fanatical and orthodox Christian.”
“[the Fuhrer’s portrait] hangs in my office as well as in my drawing-room at home. [Every glance at it releases in me] the feelings that devout people allege they experience in earnest prayer.” (Ibid., pp. 487-8.)
The Nazis made no secret of what the future held for Christianity should they have their way. At a meeting of the German Faith Movement in Hanover in 1937, the provincial leader was asked “What is to become of the numerous churches when the present generation which still clings to Christianity has died out?” He replied:
“Churches of artistic and historic value will, of course, be preserved; they will be used for the solemn festivals of the German people, but naturally only after removing all Christian symbols…second and third rate churches, however, will be demolished…” (Ibid., pp. 487-8.)
As the devil “apes” God, always providing a distorted, grotesque caricature of God and true religion, so too did the Nazi religion “ape” the Christianity it sought to supplant. For instance, it took various Christian symbols and rites and imbued them with its own perverse, usually occult, significance. Thus, upon the Nazis’ triumphant entry into Vienna, Hitler immediately took possession of the Holy Lance, the spearhead thought to have pierced the side of Christ, in the belief that the possession of this Christian relic would magically guarantee success to his schemes of world conquest. The Christian use of sacred relics was aped with the “blood flag”, which was a Nazi flag used in the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923 and stained with the blood of Nazi Storm Troopers killed in the unsuccessful coup. It was considered to be sacred and imbued with magical power which was transmitted to new Nazi flags when Hitler touched them to the “blood flag” in a rite which only he could perform.
And in a striking way, the extreme nationalism of the Nazi religion “aped” the role of the Jewish people in Christianity. The Jews had two key roles to play to prepare for the Incarnation – one related to the line of descent which would culminate in the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the other related to the land. In the Old Testament there is a deep mystery to line of descent, or “bloodlines” – one need only think of how the Jews were blessed in perpetuity for having descended from Abraham, of how the priests in Judaism had to be descended from Aaron, (Exodus 28) and how the Messiah was to come from the line of David. This sense of Mary as the culmination of the most perfect line of descent was beautifully expressed by the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich, a Catholic nun, stigmatist and visionary of the late eighteenth century:
“The Blessed Virgin Mary was the one and only pure blossom of the human race, flowering in the fullness of time. All the children of God from the beginning of time who have striven after salvation contributed to her coming…She alone was the pure immaculate flesh and blood of the whole human race, prepared and purified and ordained and consecrated through all the generations of her ancesters, guided, guarded, and fortified by the Law until she came forth as the fullness of Grace.” (Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, p. 145.)
The other role the Jews were to play involved conquering and defending the Holy Land, the sacred land promised to them by God, which was to become the home on earth of God as man. Both of these roles were aped in the Nazis’ religion of Blut und Boden (‘Blood and Soil’), in which they dedicated themselves to preserving (or restoring) the purity of the Germanic bloodlines, and protecting the sacred German soil. And as Judaism was to be followed by Christianity, which would universalize the salvation offered to the Jews by extending the covenant to all mankind through faith rather than through blood, so too was the völkisch movement to be followed by the Third Reich, which would universalize the Aryan “salvation” by exterminating or enslaving all non-Aryans.
There are many indications that Hitler’s relationship to the satanic was intentional, explicit and extensive. No less an authority than the current chief exorcist of Rome, Father Amorth, stated that “certainly Hitler was consecrated to Satan.” (New York Times, January 1, 2001, cited in The Wanderer, January 17, 2002, p. 3.) Masks of Satan by Dr. Christopher Nugent extensively details Hitler’s explicit involvement in Satanism. This book was praised by Rev. Lawrence Gesy of the Vatican Commission on Cults as “a masterpiece of historical research.” A final, macabre confirmation was given by Hitler’s choice of one of the most significant dates of the year in Satanism to commit suicide—April 30, the pagan Feast of Walpurgis Night.
Excerpted from Salvation is From the Jews, by Roy Schoeman, with the author’s permission.
The Greek fires which are ravaging the country may be a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy fuelled by greed. Once upon a time, Athens was the most romantic city of Europe. Laid out and built by Bavarians—the first post-independence King was Otto of Bavaria—it was a marvel of wide boulevards, sidewalk cafes, parks and neo-classical public buildings. I remember as a child living in the Kolonaki area, on a hill above the royal palace and embassy row, walking to the tennis club below the Acropolis via the royal gardens, and smelling only jasmine. There were few cars and no tourists except the cognoscenti, and the place was the closest thing to Arcadia.
It all ended very quickly once the countryside was denuded through lack of government interest in maintaining farmland and farmers. After the war the city’s population exploded. It was like the Wild West. Developers built wherever their fancy took them and the delightful small city became the most hellish place in Europe. In the summer the air was unbreathable. So what did the authorities do about it? They imposed severe restrictions on building around the lungs of the city, the foothills of Mount Parnis, Mount Pendeli, and Mount Hymettus, all green and lush forests. (Ancient Athens had the three mountains as defenses against invasion from the north, east and west, and the sea as a bulwark in the south.) And what did the developers do? That’s an easy one. Since the 1960’s they have annually set the forests on fire, and after the land has been denuded of green, have built on it. Successive governments have refused to dismantle illegal built houses, among which are some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
What is there to do? Again, an easy question to answer. Apply the law, jail any official who turns a blind eye to illegal building, classify and designate lands as forest lands which even if burned will never be allowed to be built on, and presto, no more arson, just natural summer fires which ironically is the forest’s way of regenerating itself. It is as simple as all that, but never count developers out. They are worse than a fire, they’re a plague.
In the Peloponnese, the most verdant and wild part of the ancient land, home of the great Spartans, the developers had been kept at bay, until now, that is. The fiercely independent and conservative people of the peninsula have remained close to their lands, farms and traditions. Their virgin lands were, needless to say, a magnet for the greedy ones. The sandy beaches of the southern Peloponnese have yet to be discovered by the package tourist, making it a corner of Europe that is not only Arcadia, but one that needs to be preserved above all others. And that is the spot the developers chose to ruin. This rich scum are not the ones who sneak out at night with a can of petrol and light the matches. They get illiterate drifters to do their dirty work while the swan about in their yachts. If any good can come of this terrible tragedy, it must be the end of arson, and that can come about only by strict government laws forbidding any burned land from ever being built on. It is up to the Greeks, but I will not be holding my breath.
Unlike my eldest daughter, who is a mathematician and econometrician, I have about as much training in statistics as did St. Anselm of Canterbury or Augustus Caesar. But I did check out the recorded hits for major paleoconservative and paleolibertarian websites with those who have knowledge of such matters, and so I am surprised that my figures did not always match those cited by others. From information received, it seems that I understated the monthly hits for vdare.com, a mistake that I shall happily acknowledge. What has been demonstrated, however, is that the surge reported by leftist websites is also occurring on our side, but neither the Left nor the neoconservative media seems interested. Their lack of curiosity is especially striking given that the upsurge of Ron Paul as a presidential candidate seems directly related to the activity of his supporters on websites.
An interesting criticism of one of my readers concerns my application of the term “right” to the antiwar Taft Republicans, who are now making a comeback. Apparently such types have more in common with Cindy Sheehan than they do with Blue Flower’s conception of the “Right.” But the problem with this interpretation is that it does not correspond to the way the political class, including the media fans of Mrs. Sheehan, see friend/enemy relations. Has Blue Flower noticed that both the establishment boosters and detractors of the antiwar activists never mention such controversialists as Lew Rockwell, Justin Raimondo, or the world-famous antiwar zealot Paul Craig Roberts? Why exactly is this so? The opponents of America’s entry into World War Two grouped around America First made no such distinction between right and left in attracting its members. Norman Thomas and Chester Bowles joined that movement from the left; Henry Regnery, Sr. and Charles Lindbergh from the right. Why does the antiwar Left, which appears on TV programs and in the national press in the company of neocons, not run to embrace its potential allies on the right?
The answer quite simply is that there ain”t a dime’s worth of difference among the chatterers in the media class. What Sam Francis called the “verbalizers” are so much alike socially and cosmologically, that they are happy to talk to each other without inviting along the Old Right. One might wonder whether much of what is now the antiwar Left wouldn”t go back to being pro-war, with a Democratic administration in power. If memory serves, I don”t recall establishment liberals complaining when Bill Clinton decided to blow up Serbian settlements in Kosovo. It may be a matter of which party’s ox gores whom or what. Unlike Democrats, however, Republicans are non-discriminatory gorers. They happily support military violence, no matter which party’s president happens to launch it.
There are of course isolated exceptions but those are fully explainable, and they do not challenge the generality. Gore Vidal, who occasionally blurbs for antiwar libertarians, is simply a WASP maverick, who combines his nostalgia for an older America with pro-gay activism and anti-Zionist invectives. The stimulating military historian Andrew Bacevitch is a non-leftist who is allowed to express his opposition to the war in Iraq in the New York Times. But despite his occasional references to himself as a “paleo,” I find no hard evidence that Bacevitch is what he sometimes says he is. Note I am not criticizing this courageous and spirited gentleman. I am only trying to show why the liberal and neocon establishments bend the rule by featuring Bacevitch’s antiwar observations in their publications. But such exceptions are so rare that it is almost painful to look for them.
Opus the Penguin has seen his share of controversy, especially back in the 1980’s, when Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County was a more liberal (and more intelligent, and more funny) version of Garry Trudeau’s (even then) tired Doonesbury.
But this last weekend, the penguin dove in where angels fear to tread, and Breathed’s current comic-strip, Opus, found itself blacklisted by a number of papers for providing a humorous look at Islam. The two-part storyline (the second part is scheduled to run on Sunday, September 2) features the main female character, Lola Granola, converting to radical Islam and taking the name “Fatima Struggle.” (You can view the first part here, courtesy of Salon.com.)
More fascinating even than the reaction from newspapers has been the attempt to obfuscate the issue. Reports, such as this one from Editor & Publisher, have tried to claim that some newspapers chose not to run the strip because it contained a “sex joke,” and not because it made light of conversion to Islam.
That explanation beggars belief, however. The “sex joke” consists of Lola Granola telling her boyfriend, Steve Dallas, about all the positive things he can expect from her conversion. After a couple panels in which a thought clearly appears to Steve, he turns to Lola and says, “Anything else I won’t be getting, Fatima?”
Technically, that is a sex joke, but it’s hardly one that would make Blondie or even Mary Worth blush (let alone Brenda Starr). Back during the height of The Scandal, newspapers routinely ran much more explicit “jokes” about priestly pedophilia without batting an eye.
No, this is all about the fact that some newspapers, according to Editor & Publisher, “won’t publish any Muslim-related humor, whether pro or con.” The strangest thing about it, though, is that the comic strip isn’t making fun of Islam. It isn’t even making fun of serious converts to Islam, such as “Abdul,” the eighth-generation German-American convert whom I have been profiling in a series for Chronicles. Rather, it’s satirizing moronic liberals who change their “spirituality” more often than they change their underwear. And it might be poking a little fun, too, at those conservatives who find Islam attractive because of its supposedly conservative social values.
Perhaps Breathed can devote his next series of “controversial” strips to newspaper editors whose idea of a “free press” is running away from anything that even hints at the politically incorrect.
By now the news that Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested for “lewd conduct” at the Minneapolis airport rest room—thereby carrying on a long tradition of ostensibly anti-gay, pro-“family values” Republicans caught with their pants down—is all over the place. But what, exactly, is he accused of doing, specifically?
The Senator pleaded guilty to the charges, but now says that “in retrospect” he wasn’t guilty, didn’t do anything wrong, and is denying everything. Not very convincing, but here is an account that raises the question of what, if anything, did he actually do that was “lewd”?:
“At 1216 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. While this was occurring, the male in the stall to my right was still present. I could hear several unknown persons in the restroom that appeared to use the restroom for its intended use. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area,” the report states.
“Craig then proceeded to swipe his hand under the stall divider several times, and Karsnia noted in his report that “I could … see Craig had a gold ring on his ring finger as his hand was on my side of the stall divider.”
“Karsnia then held his police identification down by the floor so that Craig could see it.”
Okay, so Craig was “cruising,” as they say, but what, exactly, did he actually do that was illegal? Tapping his foot? That’s illegal in Minneapolis? Craig says he touched the cop’s foot by accident, and admits to nothing. Having read up on this “cruising” business, I can tell you that he was definitely giving the signal, as the cop put it, but, then again, he didn’t actually commit a public sex act—only indicated (nonverbally) his willingness to do so. If that’s a crime, then half the population of the US ought to be in jail—except, perhaps, in Idaho.
In over three decades of a vagabond life, I”ve had the good fortune to know some colorful atheists. The most memorable encounter, however, took place during a lunch in Lithuania. I had recently graduated from a small liberal arts college and, unable to find gainful employment in my native United States, flew to Eastern Europe to earn my daily bread as an English teacher. Thanks to some connections established through my alma mater’s Lithuanian librarian, I learned of some teaching positions in Klaipeda, a small Lithuanian port city that hugs the southern coast of the Baltic, and whose chief claim to geopolitical fame is a passing mention in the old German anthem “Deutschland Ãber Alles.” Now, Klaipeda hosts a fair number of expatriates, not only from North America but also from Scandinavian lands, and my most promising interview was with an oil company executive from Norway. BjÃ¸rn was managing a Swedish-Lithuanian joint venture oil project, and for some reason, felt it necessary to have the Lithuanian side of management learn conversational English. BjÃ¸rn’s need for an English teacher, and my aching need for funds, brought us together for our fateful interview at a Klaipeda cafe.
Everything about that lunch was pleasant, and yet pale. The cafÃ©’s cream yellow walls were pleasant but pale, and so were the low-hanging Northern sun, the chilled and unsalted herring, the tepid tea in our little cups, and BjÃ¸rn’s own atheism. I had always associated atheism with passion”red-eyed anarchists swearing “No God, no master;” Milton’s tragically majestic satanic rebels, Prometheus” daring theft of Olympian fire, and Nietzsche’s hypnotic dirges lamenting the death of the Judeo-Christian God. BjÃ¸rn’s atheism, however, had no suggestions or intimations of a soul-unnerving GÃ¶ttersdÃ¤merrung. One could find more Wagner in a poached egg. Instead, atheism weighed lightly on BjÃ¸rn’s shoulders. God was not dead, but simply nonexistent. The daily rounds of life, the ordinary structure of a pleasant and bland existence, continued peacefully even in the absence of a God, heaven or hell. After finishing my herring and tea, I concluded that atheism was not a homogenous thing. There are great varieties of atheism, differing not just in intellectual content, but also in terms of feeling and emotional depth.
My memories of my lunch with BjÃ¸rn recently came to life again in the wake of a recent publishing buzz. Books attacking religion, faith and theism have become hot bestsellers. In particular, there is a troika of books that currently dominate the atheism publishing boom: Christopher Hitchens” God Is Not Great, Sam Harris” The End of Faith, and Richard Dawkins” The God Delusion. Together, these three books make a formidable frontal assault on religious faith, particularly its Christian and Islamic varieties. They have different styles and emphases”Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, stresses scientific topics, whereas Hitchens the journalist draws on his experience in reporting on religiously colored war zones such as Lebanon and Afghanistan. What they all have in common is an unrelenting hostility to religious faith as such. Faith is not just wrong or irrational. It is a positive evil, like drunk driving, diabetes or racism. There have been plenty of atheistic and anti-religious writers over the past two hundred years, but it is hard to think of any other period since the Enlightenment when such a concerted attack on the entirety of religion has made such an impact on the popular book market. What is it about our time that makes these books so appealing? Why do they resonate with a substantial portion of the reading public?
In the 1930’s, in the wake of the catastrophic Great Depression, everyone was talking about economics. During the Cold War, secular totalitarianism and nuclear weapons were the hot topics in political conversation. Since 9-11, the problem of religion has risen to central prominence, especially with respect to Islam. From suicide bombings to controversies over the veil, Westerners are debating whether and how Islam and democratic modernity co-exist. Islam, however, is not the only ingredient in today’s world that is causing political consternation. Religious conservatism around the world, from Baptist churches in the American South to Hindu temples in Calcutta, has made a vigorous and often noisy resurgence. In America, Evangelical and Catholic movements, often tagged with the labels “fundamentalist” and “religious right,” have been in the front lines of the so-called “culture wars” over issues such as abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and the teaching of evolution and intelligent design. Thus, in both domestic and international news stories, we see the same theme of religion in conflict with modernity. This appears as a monstrously unsettling situation for many, especially for those who are secular or religiously liberal. To them, it seems that the whole edifice of post-Enlightenment modernity, from scientific naturalism to separation of church and state, is under attack by a pan-sectarian, global fundamentalism. Believers in the literal truth of the Quran, the Bible, and the Bhagavad-Gita, although they differ in their dogmas, seem to be united in their common hostility to secular democracy, and in their desire to impose a medieval theocracy upon the world.
Like all fears about universal conspiracies, this panic on the part of agnostics and liberals is somewhat exaggerated, but it has gained plausibility thanks to the efforts of two men. George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden are by no means twin brothers, but they have much in common. Besides coming from vast desert regions abounding in oil (Texas and Saudi Arabia), they are both prominent figureheads in the exploitation of religious faith for political advantage.
Bin Laden’s Al Qaida claims to be the liberator of an oppressed Dar-al-Islam, and casts itself as the heir of Mohammed, Saladin, and the Ottoman Empire. Everyone knows the Islamic (or apparently Islamic) character of this vile group. Bin Laden, however, embodies religious propaganda in the deepest personal way. Bin Laden does not rant and gesticulate like a Hitler or a Mussolini. His mannerisms and intonation are gentle and mild, and his posture is slightly stooped, giving an air of pious humility. Bin Laden affects the appearance of a pious religious teacher, as if he were some holy Sufi sheykh who has just emerged from a session of meditation and prayer.
George Bush, in a different way, also flaunts his personal religiosity. Many presidents have compelling narratives, using their personal autobiographies to give their administrations rhetorical legitimacy. Lincoln had his log cabin childhood, and John F. Kennedy had his PT-109 naval adventure. George W. Bush has always used his “born again” status to appeal to the evangelical base of the Grand Old Party. Born into wealth and privilege, Bush had no achievements of his own in college, the military or business. His one personal accomplishment is giving up alcohol, which he credits to his faith in Jesus Christ. Likewise, he tells the story of how his pastor convinced him that he was called by Christ to run for president. Although Bush does not explicitly mention Christ or the Bible with the frequency of Bin Laden’s quranic quotations, the theme of “faith” is the keynote of his presidency. The Bush White House specializes in launching grandiose ventures with an utter disregard for criticism, opposition, or any kind of feedback from reality. This is most famously clear in the case of the Iraq War, which will be remembered as one of the great instances of imperial hubris and disastrously smug self-confidence. This is also true, however, of his education, Medicare, social security and immigration endeavors. Bush has defended all of these quixotic ventures in flowery and idealistic language, at the heart of which is an appeal to faith. At bottom, Bush believes that he has a special relationship with Providence, and his confidence in his “gut feelings” does not waver one centimeter. The result of his confusion of obstinancy with faith is that the latter has become discredited. It is now common to speak of “faith-based” in opposition to “reality-based.” The appeals to faith made by these two very different”but equally reckless”leaders to justify their destructive decisions have helped ensure that the very word “faith” how leaves a dirty taste in the mouths of many. Thus, after 9-11 atheism takes on a special flavor”like a kind of mouthwash. It takes on a special appeal in a world dominated by a clash between two men who have divorced themselves from reality, to pigheadedly follow irrational and bloody projects in the name of “faith.”
Although I am not an atheist myself, I too share this repugnance to the use of faith as an instrument of political and ideological megalomania. And although I believe in God and revelation, I have a philosopher’s respect for good critical arguments, and I have always enjoyed the pugnacious style of fervent infidels such as Voltaire, Nietzsche and Mencken. Hence, a certain thrill of excitement and anticipation ran through me as I picked up my copies of Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins. What arguments would I encounter? What thunderous barrage of critical discourse would wake me, to use Kant’s phrase, from my “dogmatic slumber?” Would my faith be shaken by these reputable and bestselling authors?
Alas, instead of a terrifying and interesting storm of doubt, my ship of faith only encountered a few annoying water balloons. The sales of Dawkins, Hitchen and Harris might be red hot, but their content is just as pale and anesthetic as my herring lunch in Lithuania. Hitchens relates some telling anecdotes in graceful language, and Harris raises a few interesting points, but all in all these books have an imaginative and emotional flatness one does not encounter in the writings of classical atheists and agnostics. In style and content, these books have the same blend of quasi-journalism and sterile indignation that characterizes most op-ed pieces. Paradoxically, what separates Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris from the classical atheists and infidels of Western literature is the former group’s absence of religious feeling. As an example of atheism that has the depth of religious emotion, consider the statements of one eminent 19th century antichristian:
If God is dead, it is we who have killed him….We are the assassins of God….How did we come to do that? How did we manage to empty the sea? Who gave us a sponge to wipe out the whole horizon? What were we about when we undid the chain that linked this earth to the sun? Are we not continually falling? Forward, backward, sideways, in every direction? Is there still an above, a below? Are we wandering as through an endless nothingness? Do we not still feel the breath of the void on our faces? Isn”t it growing colder? Is not night always coming on, one night after another, more and more?
Nietzsche’s vivid and compelling language taps into humanity’s well of religious experience. Since God (or some supreme being or principle) has been the keystone of order and meaning in human existence, Nietzsche understands the atheistic denial of God to be a momentous event, at once titanic, tragic, and full of heroic promise. The point in saying that God is dead is that He was once alive. For Nietzsche and other “titanic atheists,” God’s non-existence does not contradict the historical fact of His importance. Nietzsche, along with other great infidels of the nineteenth century, could understand the psychological appeal of religion, and could thereby invest their language with something of the power and sublimity of a Gothic cathedral or a Bach cantata.
But what has happened to the atheism of our generation? Are we doomed to have an atheism without awe? For Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins emphatically do not feel the “breath of the void” upon their faces. For them, belief in God is a simple error, akin to a child’s faith in Santa Claus. Hence, for them disbelief in God has no earth-shattering social, moral or cultural consequences. In the absence of religious faith, we will continue to eat, drink, work, make love and sleep as before. The death of God occasions no dislocations to the cosmological or ethical first principles that frame our lives. As a substitute for religious faith, Dawkins and Harris advocate a naÃ¯ve scientific realism, ignoring the basic questions of a modern or postmodern skeptic. In fact, it is fairly astonishing how Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens are oblivious to the whole rise of postmodern skepticism. They do not bother to address the objection that, from Hume and Kant to Foucault and Derrida, a progressively secularizing West has grown increasingly less capable of maintaining the rational foundations of scientific realism. In short, they are oblivious to the whole problem of the loss of absolutes in the modern and postmodern eras.
Secure in their philosophical obtuseness, they confidently preach that morals are independent of religious faith. Of the three, Harris is the most philosophically explicit. He argues that ethics without God is possible because we can apply the scientific method to the investigation of the conditions of human happiness. This ignores the basic observation that ethics is not an empirical discipline like physics or chemistry, partly because of the disparity between “is” and “ought,” and partly because ethics relies on concepts such as “happiness,” “obligation,” and “humanity” that cannot be defined by laboratory experiments. Furthermore, on the issue of ethics without God, Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens misrepresent theologians” traditional positions. Most classical theologians (at least Christian ones) argued that natural law and right reason support the basic moral principles that undergird society. The problem is that most people are not philosophers, and in practice we need the assistance of revelation and religious experience to make ethics a living reality. Ironically, our atheist authors make some shady ethical judgments of their own. Dawkins supports both abortion and euthanasia, and Harris makes extremely specious arguments for the use of torture (which is a strange position, since elsewhere in his book he inveighs against the Inquisition and witch trials).
The strange confidence of Hitchens,” Dawkins” and Harris” assumption that atheism has no destabilizing social consequences is closely related to a popular fallacy which they all repeat and elaborate. The most common contemporary argument against religion is the charge of bloodiness. The Inquisition, witch trials, the Crusades, religious wars and conflicts from Northern Ireland to Lebanon and Sri Lanka, suicide bombings and jihad”again and again, some people have killed or tortured other people in the name of God and faith. For many of our contemporaries, this is a decisive argument against religion. Does not religious belief create divisions between people that result in persecutions and war? Hitchens and Harris both make this argument the centerpiece of their books. Hitchens draws upon his wide-ranging experience as a globe-trotting journalist to flesh out this argument with memorable stories and anecdotes. Harris uses both contemporary Islamist violence and on the history of the Inquisition and witch trials to make the generalization that religious faith as such has a murderous streak. Dawkins spends somewhat less time on the history of religious violence, but dwells on abortion clinic violence and religious opposition to stem cell research, homosexual rights and euthanasia, all of which he assumes the reader agrees are self-evidently good. Despite their variations, they all agree that the history of religion shows that it is an unmitigated evil.
This “religion is evil” argument suffers from a triple weakness. First, it ignores the fact that the twentieth century is one long proof that collective homicide can occur quite independently of religion. The militantly atheist regimes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Enver Hoxha and other Communist tyrants far surpassed, in both absolute and per capita terms, the worst excesses of Christian or Muslim theocrats and inquisitors. Hitchens argues that Communists had a form of religious faith, but he misses the point that a godless cosmology provides no proof against fanaticism. Second, the “religion is evil” argument assumes that whenever religious differences are invoked, they are the primary causes of ethnic conflict. In fact, civil wars in the twentieth century show that ethnic differences are often primary, with religion serving as a strictly secondary factor. For example, the perennial Israeli-Palestinian-Arab crisis began as a largely secular conflict. The state of Israel was settled by secular Zionists, who were much more inspired by nineteenth century romantic nationalism than the Torah. And up until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Arab opposition to Israel was led by pan-Arabist nationalists, such as Nasser, the Baathist Parties, and the PLO. In Northern Ireland, the modern IRA is a semi-Marxist secular army, and Protestant and Catholic differences are often cultural rather than religious. In northern Iraq, Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans have all historically been at each other’s throats despite their common allegiance to Sunni Islam. The murderous war in Sri Lanka”which saw the first extensive use of suicide bombing”is driven far more by ethnic than religious differences. The Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda share the same religion”as do the combatants on both sides in Darfur, Sudan. The third and most serious problem with the “religion is evil” argument, however, is the way it selectively picks events from religious history. It seizes upon every awful thing done in the name of God, while ignoring all the others. In the Middle Ages and early modernity, Christians did persecute heretics, kill witches and wage religious wars. Christians also built schools and hospitals, established systems of poverty relief, and re-established the rule of law after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. Almost every achievement in the areas of art, music, literature, philosophy, science, law and even engineering (think of the Gothic cathedrals) was associated with faith in the Bible, Trinity and Incarnation. Similar points can be made about other traditional religious civilizations, whether Muslim, Hindu or pagan Greek. Hitchens” mantra that “religion poisons everything” is a selective misreading of the historical record. Since in pre-modern societies everything was done in the name of religion, one could more easily say, “religion creates everything.” Singling out the evil from the good in the history of religion creates a gross caricature. It is actually astonishing how the authors fail to see this fallacy. Both Hitchens and Dawkins cite the Taliban’s destruction of the monumental Bamyan Buddha sculpture as an example, not of the barbarism of Islamic fundamentalism, but of the savagery of religion in general. And yet, the very object of the Taliban’s iconoclastic wrath was itself the product of religion. Why do they blame religion for vandalism but not credit it for the beauty that was vandalized?
Dawkins and Harris couple this blindness to the general structure of religious history with a sometimes sloppy disregard for details. Although Harris is a doctoral student, his chapter on the Inquisition and witch trials relies on secondary sources that are seriously out of date (in one instance, by over fifty years). He neglects the most basic current works on these topics that would be de rigeur for a freshman history paper. As a result, he exaggerates the tortures of the Spanish Inquistion (which would have been fearful enough had he stuck to the facts), and relates an anecdote that has no basis in fact which detracts from the reputation of a Jesuit opponent of witch trails (I happen to be writing a book on the Jesuit in question, so I have reason to know). On a more fundamental level, Harris’s neglect of the current literature on witch trials leads him to make a fundamental category error. He regards witch trials as an example of the evil of religious faith, when in fact they arose out of bad science. Demonology was a developed part of medieval and early modern natural philosophy, and the witch hunters thought they had empirical grounds for believing in witches, such as the testimony of pagan authors and the evidence of contemporary confessions.
But whereas Harris actually took the labor of reading some books, Dawkins apparently palmed off much of his research onto a lazy graduate assistant. This is not an exaggeration, but a plausible explanation for why an eminent scientist could give such a butchered account of St Thomas Aquinas” five proofs for the existence of God. St Thomas” famous five proofs, found in his Summa Theologica, are a staple of philosophical discussions about the existence of God, and I was actually looking forward to Dawkins” critique. It had been some time since I studied these proofs, and I always had a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction with them. I was hoping that a lucid critique would shed some light on this important part of our Western heritage. Alas, Dawkins not only failed to engage St. Thomas at a philosophical level; he even failed at summarizing or paraphrasing him correctly. There are legitimate problems with St. Thomas proofs (mainly, that they are so tied to certain questionable principles of Aristotelian physics), but Dawkins fails to give them.
Dawkins” sloppy reading of St Thomas Aquinas is a sample of his more general refusal to understand theologians. He makes it clear in The God Delusion that he has no respect for theology as an intellectual discipline. As a consequence, although he turns to elementary secondary sources (such as The Catholic Encyclyopedia) and a few primary sources, he can only give cartoonish renderings of theology. In my opinion, this is a far worse error than atheism. God is invisible, so disbelief has some justification. But the works of human beings are visible and tangible, and to deny the creativity and intelligence that has gone into centuries of theological argumentation is an insult to humanity. For example, St Anselm’s famous a priori ontological argument for the existence of God (i.e., that the very notion of God implies His existence) may not be sound, but it is a subtle piece of reasoning that has occupied the minds of geniuses such as Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, and Bertrand Russell. As such, it is a testimony to the sheer power of human thought. Dawkins paraphrases it as a piece of schoolyard sophistry, a play on words that would be patently unconvincing in the twelfth century. At a deeper level, Dawkins fails to understand what theologians mean when they say God is “simple,” or how cosmological arguments for the existence of God operate. Dawkins denies the distinctions among science, philosophy and theology, and thinks that the existence of God is a hypothesis that can scientifically be shown to be probably false. The heart of Dawkin’s rejection of theism is his assertion that positing the existence of God implies an infinite regress. For Dawkins, if God started the universe, then something must have started God; if God intelligently designed the universe, then something must have intelligently designed God. He even calls God “the ultimate Boeing 747,” i.e., if a Boeing 747 must have been designed because it is so complex, the same must be true of God. Dawkins fails to get the basic theological point that the unity of God precludes any such infinite regress. If God exists, He is a purely spiritual principle beyond time and space, having no parts, interior divisions, or imperfections. Theologians do not assert that the mere existence of things implies God’s existence. Rather, certain qualities of physical things, such as motion, contingency, and composition of spatial-temporal parts implies the existence of a First Mover and Supreme Architect. Since God by definition does not have motion, contingency or composition of parts, God has no creator or designer. This is an elementary point that a scholar as smart as Dawkins could have gotten, if he had bothered to respect theologians” humanity and actually read their works, rather than lazily allowing his eyes to glance over their printed words.
In contrast, Sam Harris does not address arguments for and against God’s existence (which is a pity, since he does ably philosophize about epistemology in The End of Faith). He seems to assume that the reader already accepts the thesis that faith in the Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic God is as mythical as belief in Zeus or the Easter Bunny. The chief target of his criticism is faith itself. For him, it is the way religious people believe, not what they believe, that is the greatest evil. Harris defines faith as holding something to be absolutely true in the absence of proof or evidence. The Kierkegaardian leap of faith is, for him, a leap into the dark that disconnects the mind from external reality. In an interesting move, Harris does not deny the validity of spiritual experiences, or the possible existence of a spiritual realm. Like many who claim to be “spiritual, not religious,” Harris endorses spiritual experience, but rejects giving spirituality a dogmatic shape through supernatural revelation. Revelation, concretely expressed in holy texts such as the Bible or the Qur”an, is a double evil: it demands absolute convictions divorced from evidence, and it binds people to outdated and barbaric beliefs and practices. For Harris, only the fundamentalist is a true believer. Harris calls the religious liberal “a failed fundamentalist,” because he believes in the sacredness of a text while selectively ignoring or rejecting whatever does not fit with modern civility. For Harris, faith, religion, revelation, fundamentalism and irrationality are all synonymous.
In his critique of faith and revelation, Harris does make some telling points. If faith is understood as a blind stubbornness to a conviction, it is the kind of evil that he describes (which Bin Laden and Bush illustrate). And its ill effects are compounded when it is combined with what he and others call “fundamentalism,” i.e., the kind of rigid adherence to a text that we see among the Taliban, less sophisticated evangelicals, and others. Still, Harris has no understanding of traditional religion or mainstream theological thought (including mainstream conservative religious thought), so his whole book attacks a polemical straw man. The vast majority of theologians and religious thinkers, especially in the premodern era, do not define faith as belief in the absence of any kind of evidence. Faith does transcend human reason, but it is not arbitrary, because it proceeds from rational signs and indications that point to the plausibility of faith. In the older kind of apologetic, one could prove the existence of God and His goodness, and establish that it would be fitting or reasonable for Him to reveal certain truths to us. Many contemporary theologians have less confidence in our ability to prove the existence of God in the manner of geometry. Nevertheless, they argue that the existence of a personal God fits the needs of the human heart. Human life becomes meaningful and rational once we posit the existence of a loving God, so it is not an arbitrary leap to believe in Him. Likewise, Harris” assumption that all religious believers are either fundamentalists or radical liberals is a grossly false dichotomy. Orthodox religious thinkers such as John Henry Newman, C.S. Lewis or Hans Urs von Balthasar accept the whole of the Bible as a divine revelation, including all of the bloody parts of the Old Testament, but they do not advocate stoning adulterers or smiting Amalekites. The mainstream of orthodox Jewish, Christian and Muslim offers rules of interpretation that allow the believer to apply a religious text in a humane manner. In mainstream Christianity, for example, a distinction is made between the provisions of Mosaic law, which were binding only on ancient Israel, and the more general and flexible dictates of natural law, which is expressed in the Ten Commandments. For its part, rabbinical Judaism has an interpretative tradition over 2000 years old that also humanizes Mosaic Law. For example, whereas biblical law prescribes that a father can whip his children for certain offenses, rabbinical jurisprudence specifies that the lash be no thicker than a shoe lace. A similar tradition also exists to some extent in Islam. The philosopher Averroes served for years as a sharia judge, and he always managed to avoid chopping off someone’s hand or head. In short, Harris completely ignores how traditional Christianity, Judaism and Islam are able to combine faith and scriptural revelation with reason and compassion.
In the end, my final experience of our recent atheist bestsellers is a profound feeling of disappointment. An educated believer has nothing to fear from atheism, but he does have a beef with atheism that is poorly thought out. Anti-religious thought is valuable for theology as a kind of photographic negative of faith. It depicts the same scene, but with an inversion of light and darkness. Instead of being the ultimate principle of existence, God is a nothing”but then, negative theology is able to say that God is “no thing.” Atheism’s inversion of theology, through its bracing criticism, brings to light problems that lay hidden so long as we doze away in what Kant called “dogmatic slumber.” The emotions of the more sensitive atheists, such as Nietzsche, Mencken and Foucault, also reveal the significance of the presence of God by making us alert to the consequnces of his absence. But what value is an atheist book when the author knows neither the ideas nor the experiences of religious faith? Such an author ends up not attacking religion at all, and the believer is left with nothing to learn. Atheism after 9-11 begins with political concerns (terrorism, “culture wars,”) but it should move on to examine what thinkers such as Aquinas, Newman, Soloviev, Buber and Plantinga actually wrote. Perhaps some brilliant seminarian, after having immersed himself deeply into theology and religious history, will lose his faith and write a brilliant atheist book that has a bite. Until then, we will have to content ourselves with books by the older, more reflective infidels.
Erasmus Root is a pseudonym living in California.
Here’s a bagatelle, a French word denoting something unimportant, however cute. It has to do with Paul Gottfried. History has repeatedly proved that the nobility has always been better fitted for the business of ruling. Paul, mind you, is noble in his mind and behavior, which as far as I’m concerned, trumps nobility of birth. Recently he had invited me to speak to one of his seminars—an honor—one which I failed to attend because I … got drunk the night before in New York. Getting drunk is not important, but Paul’s reaction is. Once I told him the truth, he reacted like our Lord Jesus. Not only did he forgive me, he actually managed not to make me feel as if I had put him on the spot. Which I had. The sign of a real gent. I write this because Paul has written a book about the American Right. The Weekly Standard. WSJ, Fox and other neo-con crap carriers will do their best to ignore it. I will be writing about this in my London Spectator column, the trouble being the Brits are not familiar with a Taft Republican—the subject of Paul’s brilliant last chapter, which explains how the world would be so much better off if Taft had won in 1952. Take it from me—and alas, I know I’m preaching to the converted—Paul’s book on the American Right shines a light on the greatest hoax perpetrated on conservatives since Germans mistook Hitler for a patriot.
It is rather late in the day, granted, but perhaps we can learn something from the track record of the British, especially from their mistakes. The British went everywhere, it seems, for various reasons, some good some bad, and created along the way the greatest empire the world has ever seen or ever will see. The problem was, they lost all perspective on what they were doing and why, became too full of themselves, and got hopelessly overextended. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? All roads lead to World War I.
In the summer of 1914, I believe the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, could have halted the slide to war by simply telling the French to calm down and by suggesting to Tsar Nicholas II that he have a talk with his cousin-in-law, Kaiser Wilhelm II, a grandson of Queen Victoria, about the regicide in the Balkans, and for them to work out a deal with Vienna and Serbia. All that could have been done without much difficulty, but was not on the agenda because Sir Edward and others in Whitehall regarded Germany as a danger to British Empire preeminence in the world. The continental brouhaha, which began in the Balkans with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, presumptive heir to the throne of Austro-Hungary, had nothing to do with England, but it was viewed by London as an opportunity to throttle and corral Germany, utilizing France and Russia. Hence, the Great War.
Germany lost big, but so did England and France, although they did not realize it right away and were the nominal winners. The greatest beneficiaries of the war “to make the world safe for democracy” were unscrupulous outsiders, namely, the Communists and the Zionists. They did not start the war. They simply picked up the pieces, and took advantage of the mistakes and the difficulties of the major players. Who can blame them? The most culpable major player in my view was the British establishment, armed with its mindset of meddling and with its proclivity toward combativeness without reason.
Thanks to World War I, the Communists ended up in charge of Russia for decades, after the German General Staff shipped Lenin and his gang to St. Petersburg in a sealed train. The Zionists ended up with Palestine, perhaps forever, when the scheming triumvirate of Lloyd George, Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill transferred it to them in 1920 and installed the English/Zionist politician, Mr. Herbert Samuel, as British High Commissioner for Palestine. Never mind why. It has been downhill for the Palestinians and for the Arabs ever since. In short, World War I and John Bull gave us the tinderbox we have today. Washington inherited it after World War II, and instead of rectifying the situation, has been fighting fire with gasoline, producing predictable results ever since.
Which brings me to the Anglo-Irish writer Frank Harris, one of the great critics of the British establishment during its bombastic imperial heyday. Harris is famous for his immodest autobiography, My Life and Loves, but there is plenty in that book which is fascinating and instructive, having nothing to do with Harris’ love life. The book was written in the aftermath of the Great War, or more precisely in the aftermath of the peace conferences and the dishonest arrangements following the war.
Frank Harris was perhaps the most successful editor of his time, astride the two worlds of London and New York. He also knew the Continent well, spoke German and French, and for a brief time taught at Heidleberg University and was, also briefly, a restaurateur and hotelier in Eze and Monte Carlo. He was born in Galway, Ireland in 1856 died and in Nice on the French Riviera in 1931. Harris wrote books, short stories, novels and nonfiction. A life of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde and three volumes of “Contemporary Portraits”, among others. He wrote a book in 1915 entitled England or Germany? which essentially took the side of Germany in the war. As you may imagine, that did not go over well in London.
My Life and Loves was published in Paris and Berlin in 1922. Harris starts off: “Here in the blazing heat of August, amid the hurry and scurry of New York, I sit down to write my final declaration of Faith as a preface or foreword to the story of my life…. My journalism during the war and after the armistice brought me prosecutions from the federal government. The authorities at Washington accused me of sedition…my magazine (Pearson’s) was time and again held up in the post, and its circulation reduced thereby to one-third. I was brought to ruin by the illegal persecution of President Wilson and his arch-assistant Burleson [Postmaster General] and was laughed at when I asked for compensation.”
Further on, make note of the following: “Now one word to my own people and their peculiar shortcomings. Anglo-Saxon domineering combativeness is the greatest danger to humanity in the world today…. At all cost we must get rid of our hypocrisies and falsehoods and see ourselves as we are—a domineering race, vengeful and brutal…we must study the inevitable effects of our soulless, brainless selfishness as shown in the World War.”
In 1925, Harris wrote in the foreword to Volume II: “The childish unreason of the world fills me with fear for the future of humanity. On all sides I still hear idiotic defenses of the World War in spite of its fifty millions of untimely deaths and the consequent misery and impoverishment of our whole generation. The lying slogan, “the war to end war,” has not even put an end to armaments or munitions-makers. The old lies are as popular as ever and pass uncontradicted, almost unquestioned.”
And then, further on: “The English and American people have enormous, preponderant power, power of numbers, power of wealth, power of almost unassailable position; but who does not see that their strength is out of all proportion to their brains?”
The only point I am trying to make here is that in similar ways, it has all happened before, and that in our current predicament, we cannot just blame the “neocons” and the politicians and the war lobbies in Washington for setting the Middle East ablaze in a self-destructive crusade to nowhere. We should first of all blame ourselves for our own naÃ¯vetÃ©, gullibility, laziness, arrogance, ignorance and presumption, which qualities have made it all possible, and without which we could not have been so thoroughly hoodwinked and taken advantage of.