Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Atheists, Fanatics ... and Afghanistan

Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics.
[Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]
When Christians first appeared on the scene the Pagans of the Roman world (which included not only much of Europe but also all of North Africa and much of what we today call the Middle East) classified this new sect as atheistic. After all, they denied the existence of all the Gods worshipped by all the peoples of the world, and instead insisted that the only "real" God was a man who not only was now dead, but who had never claimed to be a God while alive. And even if one were to take their "God" seriously, nevertheless the difference between one God and no Gods, compared to the essentially infinite number of Gods, Goddesses, Nymphs, Daemones, etc, etc, of the Pagans, was so slight as to be no real difference at all.

But today the roles are reversed. Christianity is no longer just another variety of atheism, so much as Atheism has become just another sect of Christianity. The important thing is that they both agree that the only question is whether there is one God or none. The Atheists provide invaluable theological assistance to the Christians by supplying what appears (falsely) to many to be independent verification of their view of themselves as the only religion that matters.

Listening to, or reading about, "debates" between New Atheists and their Christian "adversaries" is a lot like listening to Thomas Friedman and George Will "debate" US foreign policy. It doesn't matter who "wins" such debates - the important thing is the way in which the debate is framed, so that the universe of possibilities is narrowly defined to exclude what neither side wants to even think about - or, more importantly, wants anyone else to think about, either.

Take, for example, Jerry Coyne and Andrew Sullivan. Please. When these two "debate" each other all spiritual/religious/theological/philosophical issues are reduced down to: Do you believe in the God of the Christians, or not? Period. That's it. There is no door number three!! I was reminded of this recently while looking through two very interesting blogs, Prometheus Unbound and Thoughts From Kansas, both of which are written by very thoughtful people who have many insightful things to say about New Atheism (and other subjects), but who nevertheless, in my opinion, fail to transcend the terms of the debate as set by the likes of Coyne and Sullivan.

I get worked up about New Atheism when I see something that is at least somewhat directly relevant to Paganism, like Sam Harris' revealing comments about witchcraft, astrology and Tarot cards; or when something rises to a certain level of broader social/political significance, like the New Atheists' bigoted hate-campaign against Francis Collins in which they openly flaunted their disdain for and abandonment of the basic democratic principle of freedom of religion. But other than that I find that there is nothing substantial enough either in the idiocies of Dawkins & Co. or in their Christian debating partners to merit the effort of even making a blog post.

But then I saw that Glenn Greenwald has written something new on "The Suffocatingly Narrow Afghanistan Debate", in which he points out that this "debate", as it is framed by the political class and their media droogies, claims to include "a very, very serious review of all options", according to administration officials, and as reported by the Washington Post and AP. But, as Greenwald further points out:
Apparently, "all options" does not mean "all options." As usual for American wars, examining "all options" means everything other than "ending the war."
It all reminds me very much of that scene from the movie War Games, or that old Genesis standard, The Battle of Epping Forest:

Along the Forest Road, there's hundreds of cars - luxury cars.
Each has got its load of convertible bars, cutlery cars - superscars!
For today is the day when they sort it out, sort it out,
'cos they disagree on a gangland boundary.
They disagree on a gangland boundary.

There's Willy Wright and his boys -
one helluva noise, that's Billy's boys!
With fully-fashioned mugs, that's Little John's thugs,
the Barking Slugs - supersmugs!
For today is the day when they sort it out, sort it out,
yes these Christian soldiers fight to protect the poor.
East end heroes got to score in...

the Battle of Epping Forest,
yes it's the Battle of Epping Forest,
right outside your door.
You ain't seen nothing like it.
No, you ain't seen nothing like it,
not since the Civil War.

Coming over the hill are the boys of Bill,
and Johnny's lads stand very still.
With the thumpire's shout, they all start to clout
- there's no guns in this gentleman's bout.
Georgie moves in on the outside left
with a chain flying round his head;
and Harold Demure, from Art Literature,
nips up the nearest tree.
(Here come the cavalry!)

Amidst the battle roar,
accountants keep the score: 10-4.
They've never been alone, after getting a radiophone.
The bluebells are ringing for Sweetmeal Sam, real ham,
handing out bread and jam just like any picnic.

It's 5-4 on William Wright; he made his pile on Derby night.
When Billy was a kid, walking the streets,
the other kids hid - so they did!
And now, after working hard in security trade, he's got it made.
The shops that need aid are those that haven't paid.

"I do my double-show quick!" said Mick the Prick, fresh out the nick.
"I sell cheap holiday. The minute they leave,
then a visit I pay - and does it pay!"
And his friend, Liquid Len by name,
of Wine, Women and Wandsworth fame,
said "I'm breaking the legs of the bastard that got me framed!"

They called me the Reverend when I entered the Church unstained;
my employers have changed but the name has remained.
It all began when I went on a tour,
hoping to find some furniture.
I followed a sign - it said "Beautiful Chest".
It led to a lady who showed me her best.
She was taken by surprise when I quickly closed my eyes.
So she rang the bell, and quick as hell
Bob the Nob came out on his job
to see what the trouble was.
"Louise, is the Reverend hard to please?"
"You're telling me!"
"Perhaps, sir, if it's not too late.
we could interest you in our old-fashioned Staffordshire plate?"
"Oh no, not me, I'm a man of repute."
But the Devil caught hold of my soul and a voice called out "Shoot!"

To save my steeple, I visited people;
for this I'd gone when I met Little John.
His name came, I understood,
when the judge said "You're a robbing hood."
He told me of his strange foundation,
conceived on sight of the Woodstock nation;
he'd had to hide his reputation.
When poor, 'twas salvation from door to door.
But now, with a pin-up guru every week,
it's Love, Peace & Truth Incorporated for all who seek.

He employed me as a karma-ma-mechanic, with overall charms.
His hands were then fit to receive, receive alms.
That's why we're in

the Battle of Epping Forest,
yes it's the Battle of Epping Forest,
right outside your door.
We guard your souls for peanuts,
and we guard your shops and houses
for just a little more.

In with a left hook is the Bethnal Green Butcher,
but he's countered on the right by Mick's chain-gang fight,
and Liquid Len, with his smashed bottle men,
is lobbing Bob the Nob across the gob.
With his kisser in a mess, Bob seems under stress,
but Jones the Jug hits Len right in the mug;
and Harold Demure, who's still not quite sure,
fires acorns from out of his sling.
(Here come the cavalry!)

Up, up above the crowd,
inside their Silver Cloud, done proud,
the bold and brazen brass, seen darkly through the glass.
The butler's got jam on his Rolls; Roy doles out the lot,
with tea from a silver pot just like any picnic.

Along the Forest Road, it's the end of the day
and the Clouds roll away.
Each has got its load - they'll come out for the count
at the break-in of day.
When the limos return for their final review, it's all thru'
- all they can see is the morning goo.
"There's no-one left alive - must be draw."
So the Blackcap Barons toss a coin to settle the score.