Phillips on “The Rage Against God”

I’ve been meaning to read this book. In fact, the Salvo managing editor let me borrow it well over a month ago and, for various reasons, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But after reading this short article by Robin Phillips about Peter Hitchens, i think it’s definitely time I got started on it. From Robin’s article “Transforming Evil into Good“:

. . .

The notion that ideas have consequences is one of the themes in Peter Hitchens’ latest book, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. Published last year by Continuum, the book tells the fascinating story of Peter’s rejection of his boyhood faith, his pursuit of socialist utopianism, and finally his return to faith in later life.

Hitchens’ return to Christianity was a slow process involving many factors. One of these factors was the time he spent in the Soviet Union as a reporter during the 90’s. Living in Moscow during the twilight of the Soviet empire, Hitchens was able to witness firsthand what happens to a society that tries to structure itself on atheistic principles.

The brutal and dehumanizing aspects of the Soviet Union are common knowledge, as is the fact that the nation tried to structure itself on an atheistic worldview. While no one disputes these two facts, some people have doubted that there is a necessary connection between them. The value of Hitchens’ book is that he shows that there was an intimate causal link between the Soviets’ rejection of God and their dehumanized society. He establishes this by drawing on his own experiences, as well as primary source materials from Soviet archives.

One of the most chilling parts of the book is when Hitchens shows that many Soviet thinkers were prepared to reverse the moral continuum, believing that under certain circumstances evil could be transformed into good.

. . .

Some Girls, Part 1: Use Your Words

(In which Intern 2 raises the major moral implications of a minor rhetorical imprecision.)

The first time I heard the problematic phrasing was in a high school class. We were being educated about date rape.

A boy in my year, an athlete, commented, “Girls sleep with you at parties and then lie and say you raped them.”

We were very young, and most of us only beginning to consider the issues of sex and its abuse in much depth. The boy was expressing what was likely a very present and legitimate fear among his teammates. He’d probably picked it up from older boys on the team, and they’d have all been aware of the relevant stories of accused college and professional athletes. The boy was just relaying this fear to our class, in such words that occurred to him to use.

This was understandable. I understand it now. But all those years ago I didn’t think it through. All those years ago the comment was absolutely infuriating.

And it wasn’t so much the comment itself that was infuriating, though I did unjustly fail to what its context or cause or intended meaning might be (I was very young).

What got me, and what I got hung up on, was the phrasing.

Because the boy, who was very young as well and hadn’t thought this through, didn’t say, “Some girls sleep with you and then lie.”

And he didn’t say, “There’re girls who’ll sleep with you at parties and then lie.”

He said, in effect, “Girls sleep with you and then lie.”

Which my very young, very reactionary, very dramatic self interpreted as his saying, “All girls can and will sleep with athletes and then lie that they were raped, so they can get money or look innocent. All girls believe that gain for oneself is worth a lie that could destroy someone else. All girls, inlcuding Intern 2 and all her female friends and loved ones and all the girls and women she knows and has heard of, are capable of monstrous dishonesty. All girls are liars who hurt guys.” Which implied, conversely, (thought my brain that had only recently grasped the proof processes of logic), “Rape is not real. Girls, all girls, are just making it up.”

This cannot be what the boy wanted to say. One word, one “some,” would have made his real meaning clear. But he was a young boy making an impulsive comment in a high school class. I acknowledge that now: now I would like to discuss the same issue in a different context.

There is a tendency now, in the online conversation about the impact of feminism on our contemporary culture, to use such phrasing as the boy used. The discourse at hand happens occur mostly in written form, mostly among adults. “Rhetoric” is a more fitting term here than “phrasing,” because “rhetoric” implies the careful consideration of the meaning of words we choose and how they’re arranged.

This is not high school: this is the Internet.* We are not young teens grappling with the world’s troubles for the first time: we are maturing and continuing to gain degrees of perspective, experience, and understanding. We have the outward and inward resources to shape and perceive what our writing means to readers.

In short, we have no excuse not to try our hardest to say what we mean. Which includes employing the vital word “some” when we talk about women and feminism and all the ensuing issues we find relevant.

I forgive my classmate his statement, such as may be necessary to forgive. But I call us now to do better by our language.

Please see Part 2 for why.

Sincerely yours,

Intern 2

*Which, as a free public forum, is as good or bad as we make it.

Reclaiming Dignity in a Culture of Commodification

Some of the Salvo staff will be attending this conference on bioethics–with a focus this year on women’s health issues–this Thursday through Saturday (July 12 – 14) at Trinity University in Deerfield, Illinois. Salvo columnist Paige Comstock Cunningham will be giving the opening plenary talk on the topic “Reclaiming Her Dignity: From Commodification to Community.” See below for more information.

About the Conference

Human dignity, once a cornerstone for bioethics, is increasingly obscured by a contemporary culture of commodification. Myopic fixation on sexuality, fertility, and reproduction reduces the female body to a resource for medical exploitation and reproductive tourism. Procreation is being engulfed by the reproductive imperative and the child of choice. Without neglecting the ongoing emphases on beginning- and end-of-life issues, our task must include attention to prenatal discrimination, the neglect of the girl child, worldwide disparities in women’s healthcare and maternal mortality, and the objectification and exploitation of the female body. Responsible Christian bioethics embraces her dignity as essential to her community and foundational to our common humanity. Join us as we explore important ethical considerations surrounding developments in reproductive practices and global women’s health through the lens of reclaiming dignity in a culture of commodification.

And speaking of our culture of commodification, you should really read this statement written by Robert P. George and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. A thought-provoking read. Pornography, Respect, and Responsibility: A Letter to the Hotel Industry

Chesterton on “The Ethics of Elfland”

  This summer I’ve been reading some Chesterton. I’ve just finished The
Man Who Was Thursday (Salvo readers, any reviews?), but “The Ethics of
Elfland,” from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, has always been a favorite of
mine. I’ve included some related excerpts below, but you can read the
entire essay here.

Chesterton suggests that the fairy tales of his youth, the ones that
instilled wonder and humility, have proved the most “sensible” of all
the stories he’s encountered; it is these “fairy tales,” not the lies
of materialism or romanticism, that form us to appreciate the good
order of God’s created world.

…we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the
ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when
we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need
tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by
being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of
three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like
romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales–because they find
them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should
think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring
him. This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal
leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were
golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they
were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember,
for one wild moment, that they run with water. I have said that this
is wholly reasonable and even agnostic. And, indeed, on this point I
am all for the higher agnosticism; its better name is Ignorance. We
have all read in scientific books, and, indeed, in all romances, the
story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the
streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember
who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has
forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego;
the self is more distant than any star. Thou shalt love the Lord thy
God; but thou shalt not know thyself. We are all under the same mental
calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what
we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and
practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of
our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and
art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that
we forget.

But though (like the man without memory in the novel) we walk the
streets with a sort of half-witted admiration, still it is admiration.
It is admiration in English and not only admiration in Latin. The
wonder has a positive element of praise. This is the next milestone to
be definitely marked on our road through fairyland. I shall speak in
the next chapter about optimists and pessimists in their intellectual
aspect, so far as they have one. Here I am only trying to describe the
enormous emotions which cannot be described. And the strongest emotion
was that life was as precious as it was puzzling. It was an ecstasy
because it was an adventure; it was an adventure because it was an
opportunity. The goodness of the fairy tale was not affected by the
fact that there might be more dragons than princesses; it was good to
be in a fairy tale. The test of all happiness is gratitude; and I felt
grateful, though I hardly knew to whom. Children are grateful when
Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I
not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of
two miraculous legs? We thank people for birthday presents of cigars
and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?

Well, I left the fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I
have not found any books so sensible since. I left the nurse guardian
of tradition and democracy, and I have not found any modern type so
sanely radical or so sanely conservative. But the matter for important
comment was here: that when I first went out into the mental
atmosphere of the modern world, I found that the modern world was
positively opposed on two points to my nurse and to the nursery tales.
It has taken me a long time to find out that the modern world is wrong
and my nurse was right. The really curious thing was this: that modern
thought contradicted this basic creed of my boyhood on its two most
essential doctrines. I have explained that the fairy tales founded in
me two convictions; first, that this world is a wild and startling
place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite
delightful; second, that before this wildness and delight one may well
be modest and submit to the queerest limitations of so queer a
kindness. But I found the whole modern world running like a high tide
against both my tendernesses; and the shock of that collision created
two sudden and spontaneous sentiments, which I have had ever since and
which, crude as they were, have since hardened into convictions.

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they
find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his
legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because
children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce
and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They
always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until
he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult
in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It
is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and
every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic
necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every
daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be
that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and
grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature
may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE. Heaven
may ENCORE the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and
brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat,
or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal
fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has
touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and
that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again
before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by
mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the
earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his
positively last appearance.

Citizens Gone Wild

. . .

So great is his individualism that he resents ever being told what to do, under any circumstances. He thus deems moderation a “want of manhood” and thriftiness “illiberal”; he dignifies license as “liberty” and shamelessness as “manly spirit” (560d–e). In such an unruly ethos, teachers fear and fawn upon their students; children have no reverence for parents, and servants none for masters; and even animals aggressively bump people in the street (563a–d). Ultimately, democratic men “pay no heed even to the laws written or unwritten, so that forsooth they may have no master anywhere over them” (563d). Democracy leads to anarchy, and thence to tyranny (562a ff.).

. . .

From the most recent issue of Salvo (Summer 2012), Cameron Wybrow looks at Plato’s Republic and discovers the disturbingly familiar characteristics of the unrestrained democratic man. That’s not the whole story though. Read the rest.

And I just stumbled upon this blog post at Had Enough Therapy? about some, uh, unrestrained democratic women. The post is referring to a reality TV show called Miss Advised:

Like it or not, these women demonstrate that liberation is an exercise in negativity. It is not about following rules. It’s about breaking rules. Two of the three make a point of saying that they do not know how to follow rules or to take advice, as though that is something to be proud of.

Of course, if your only rule is the ideological necessity to violate all the old rules, you are being defined, negatively, by the old rules. If you cannot calculate the real cost of such behavior, you are a zealot.

If the old rules told women to be demure and modest, these women are outrageously immodest.

You can read his review of the show here: Miss Advised: Living the Feminist Nightmare

The Mind is Willing but the Body is Unable

The Battle to Reclaim Free Will

Most neuroscientists today are materialists who believe that everything we do is determined. But this ignores our rationality and free will. There must be a better way.

An article from our friends at Mercatornet. I recommend it to you.

A few issues back Tom Gilson made some great points about this in the pages of Salvo. A very amusing read too.

Hunter-Gatherer Nut Cases: Let’s Just Reduce Our Altruism, Morals & Love to Brain Waves

I opened up “The End of Morality,” Discover magazine’s latest article on ethics and the brain (July/August 2011),1 and I wondered, “Will this be any different from the others?” Articles on this topic seem to follow a consistent pattern: (1) Researchers can pinpoint physical events taking place in people’s brains when they make ethical decisions. (2) Thus, science is discovering, finally, what ethics is all about: it’s chemistry and electricity doing their chemical and electrical thing inside your skull. And that’s it.

It’s an approach many thinkers call reductionist. Reductionism in this context means that crucial aspects of human experience, like consciousness, love, ethical decisions, the ability to make choices (free will), and so on are best understood as biological processes, which in turn are best understood in terms of chemistry and physics. It’s a matter of bringing down—reducing—these things to the lowest level of physical explanation.

According to reductionism, in fact, the only real thing going on is what happens at the level of chemistry and physics. Everything else—whether it’s an ethical decision, a seemingly free choice, the love we feel for that special someone, whatever we think makes us human—is just a by-product. Some say everything but chemistry and physics is an illusion. So society is an illusion? Love is just a neuron in heat?

read the rest . . .