Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gentleman's Disagreement

Going on Arni Zachariassen's report here of the debate between Rowan Williams and Richard Dawkins it sounds as though it was a very civilised affair indeed. This is a breath of fresh air.

In contrast, I can't help feeling that the politicisation, polarisation and primitive savagery we see nowadays on both sides of the debate is in good part down to the growth of fundamentalism; and Christian fundamentalism has its fair share of the blame here: Disagreement with particular Christian fundamentalist "jot and tittle" doctrines provokes charges of compromise, heresy, paganism, apostasy, siding with a conspiracy and even of being an emissary of Satan.  Posts where I have touched on fundamentalist extremism can be found here:

Trying to sum up my thinking here: It seems to me that the paranoiac and hysterical Christian fundamentalist overreaction that we are seeing today has its roots in the sixties when Christianity started to face some fundamental challenges and was quasi-disestablished.


Anonymous said...

I think that the essay to be found at this reference sums up the mood and impulse of fundamentalist Christians in the USA (in particular).

The Cross, The Flag and American Idolatry

But then again this precipient fascism is the inevitable result of the Christian group identity and its associated world-view. Or what happens when it is seriously under threat, and its self appointed cultural hegemony is thus challenged.

Christians place a great deal of significance in history as a presumed objective "fact".

But history is essentially a dream - the dream of reason. As long as humankind believes in this dream and seeks to acquire and maintain an historical identity, he remains unconscious of the fact that he is a bridge between the cosmic realms of heaven and earth. Within the dream man's hopes will always focus on a future utopia that is progressively manifested as a kakatopia, a psychotechnological intensification of hell on earth (have you read the "news"?) His only escape from this fatal circle is to wake from the dream and realize a cosmic, mythic, and fundamentally timeless identity.

Time, distinguished from space, sequentialized into history, intellectualized into units of hours, minutes, and seconds, and further abstracted into money, loses its psycho-bilogical significance.

The source of this misunderstanding is to be found in the orthodox Christian doctrine of the presumed uniqueness of Christ, which alone gives meaning to all other events. From the Chist-"event" to the hoped for Secnd Coming, in the Christian view, ALL human activity takes place in unrepeatable units, "redemption" being possible only by relation to the presumed unique Christ-"event". This doctine is absolutist and terrifyingly single-minded. It breaks from the everywhere traditional view, common to most world cultures, that time is cyclic and that the meaning of human existence is related to certain recurring cosmic patterns.

The anti-ecological force of the Christian "world"-view lies in its assertion of a significance for humans SEPARATE from that of the World Process. That Nature is lacking in either soul or intrinsic intelligence.

This anti-ecological presumption is most notable in the response of right-wing Christians to the obvious fact that human activity is THE primary cause of global warming, climate change and the destruction of the biosphere.

Paraphrasing and extending Joyce: History is the (collective) nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.

Timothy V Reeves said...

Hello Mr. Smith!

(If you’re not going to give yourself a name, I’ll find one for you.)

Thanks for the link. Yes, there is definitely is a cause for concern here: The attack on Obama, for example, goes well beyond sensible political criticism and starts to plumb the depths of fanatical conspiracy theory. I’m very concerned for America and its intellectual health, especially as we in the West (at least in the UK) look to it for leadership.

True, there is a prima fascia case for a link between Christianity and Nazism – Nazism quickly found a place in the hearts of the Lutheran north Germany. (Lutherans also seem to have a fondness for YEC). However, I don’t think it’s as simple as that: The homunculus ID movement makes much of the connection with Hitler and “Darwinism” (sic). Also, let’s not forget Christians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Dutch family of the Ten Booms who held out against Nazism; and there were others. So basically I am cautious about making a simple link between Hitler and Christianity or between Hitler and atheism. I have to admit that I haven’t studied the subject to do it any justice.

I don’t see a necessary connection between a Christian world view and fascist bigotry. For example I would hardly call Rowan Williams or Arni Zachariassen (to whom I have linked) bigoted – both are people of faith and reason. We must also recall here that many who identify with “New Age” ideas can be rather wacko and also prey to conspiracy theories. In fact William Thompson touches on the subject of New Age extremists in his book “At the Edge of History”.

A lot of it seems to be down to the sort of person you are: As far as I can see Rowan Williams and William Thompson are both very reasonable and intelligent people (and I admire them both). But Williams and Thompson can’t stop fanatical interpreters of either Christianity or New Age.

As I haven’t studied your works on the nature of history I find your comments here difficult to grapple with. I have to confess that being of a mathematical bent I find that I am completely unable to cope with a time that I can’t measure in units. It would be a great loss if I couldn’t think of things in a mathematical way. God forgive my infirmity of mind.