Sunday, September 11, 2011

How to Remember 9/11: Blasphemy is a Civic Duty

Any historian knows that there are moments upon which everything turns. Leftists have a problem with that because it reeks of anti-Marxism, though that shows only how poorly Marx's thought has propagated into modern leftoid thinking. I think liberals like the notion of the turning point for the same reason that reactionaries like it - they figure it will finally prove that they have been right all along.

Historians know that in turning points are many horrors prefigured.

The right successfully seized the interpretation of 9/11 and liberal responses have not been to the event but to the reactionary interpretation of the event. So, on the one hand, liberals try to out-do the right wing in sympathy for victims, and then further extend victimhood as far as the eye can wander. On the other hand, liberals have tried to defend the vast array of the stigmatized that the right has created.

Liberals are wrong on both counts. Instead of being reactive to our opponents we need to understand what this turning point exposed about society, and what it portends for the future.

What 9/11 exposed is that the worldwide religious revival of the last 50 years remains a grave threat to freedom and democracy. What it portends for the future is that humanity will face the greatest crises of our existence with religious fantasy on the ascendant and scientific rationalism under its thumb.

And that means that now more than ever, blasphemy is a civic duty.

Among liberals these days one finds an astonishing failure of reason in its defense of religion. There is a confusion between the defense of the right to believe and the defense of belief. I like to put it this way: you are free to believe any nonsense that you want to believe, but keep that nonsense out of the public sphere. Do not invade the corridors of governance or the public debate with bronze age fantasies that have never died the airless death they so richly deserve.

The corollary of this error is this curious form of bad thinking: you can't condemn a religion for its published point of view because there is one member of that religion who doesn't agree with that point of view. That opinion is often expresses thus: I know this muslim, and he's really nice and he has gay friends, so you can't say that Islam is virulently homophobic.

This is a thin form of know-nothingism. Think of it this way: you can't say that the Catholic Church is not opposed to abortion because I know this nice Catholic lady who had an abortion. Or, you can't say that Mormonism isn't homophobic because I know this nice Mormon guy who went to a gay bar once.

The individual does not count in religion because any religion is a system. The system by its nature is composed of contradictory parts - let's call this the dialectical nature of religion. I could snidely remark at how little dialectical thinking one finds on the left, but that would not be nice. And leftism nowadays seems to consist mostly of supererogatory appeals to niceness rather than hard analysis of social conditions. But I digress ...

Any religion is a system composed of contradictory parts. A religion has to be valid for all conditions. In war and in peace, in love and hate, in richness and poverty, at home and abroad, among believers and infidels, for the past and for the future. Killing is wrong, and you must kill. Love is supreme, but you must not love. Share with your brethren, but poverty is divine. Speak not to the infidel, but spread the word of god among the unwashed.

We cannot understand religion without admitting its essentially contradictory nature. When liberals - again seeking appeal to niceness rather than deriving response from analysis - make arguments based on "true" religion, they fall prey to the most pernicious form of religious thinking. We see all the time appeals to the notion that such and such a religious fanatic has betrayed his religion which is at bottom about peace and love. People repeat this blather as if they did not have the opportunity to read the holy books and see how violent and bloodthirsty they actually are.

That most pernicious form of religious thinking is this: that being contradictory is the inner truth of religion which is understandable only by god. "God works in mysterious ways", that sort of nonsense. So when one points out a contradiction, that proves your misunderstanding. When one bemoans the vicious actual actions of the religious - beheadings, suicide bombings, hangings, honor killings - we are chided that we cannot see that these perpetrators are not representative of the "true" religion which is all goodness and niceness.

As long as liberals accept that religion is divine, we have no argument against that. But once we accept that religion is a human social system, we can call things by their true names.

It comes down to this: there is no god. 5,000 years later, there is still not one jot of proof anywhere that there is a divine plan or divine planner. We know that the sun did not stand still at the walls of Jericho. We know that Noah did not cram a pair of every living thing into a small wooden boat. We know that there was no angel whose saliva transmitted truth into the mouth of Mohammed. We know that Mohammed was not magically transported from Medina to Jerusalem. We know that no one who was later called Jesus rose from the dead or walked on water.

We know that religion is nonsense.

And now more than ever we are challenged to speak truth to these terrible death-dealing powers.

After 9/11 many of our reactionary neighbors sought to villainize individual Muslims. This was stupid and mean and wrong. But that does not mean that I cannot argue that al-Quaeda represents an ancient and prominent mode of thought and action in Islam that has operated in numerous and varied contexts throughout Islamic history. That does not mean that I cannot see the connection between the bloodthirsty operations of the theocratic Iranian state and the party of Islam that seeks to impose theocracy everywhere. That does not mean that I cannot aver that Islam is irreducibly antagonistic to genuine democracy and individual freedom. That does not mean that I cannot call upon Muslims to provide answers for the crimes committed by their co-religionists.

I apply to Islam the same standards that I apply to holy mother church. I think it is a pile of nonsense, and I say it is a pile of nonsense. I respect the civil rights of the believers to believe, but I do not respect the beliefs which are dangerous and anti-social.

Religion is a curse, and some curses are worse than others at different times in history. Today, Islam is the most powerful reactionary political force operating on the planet, unbowed as its Christian brethren are by a history of defeat at the hands of an Enlightenment. Islam freely does all over the planet what the papists did to Giordano Bruno in 1600, what the Inquisition did to heretics in Spain. Our freedom is a result of those countless courageous men and women who over the centuries took away the power of Christianity in the West to murder and torment those who disagree.

Islam needs an Enlightenment. It needs to be defeated by its own in its own home.

And our duty as secularists and liberals is to aid that in a relentless blasphemy, calling out religion - all religions without exception - exposing its lies and its depredations.

So let's start right now.

There is no god. Period. Arguments based on god are false. Without exception.