The New Enlightenment, Part 4: Newsweek’s Prattle

Well, now, somebody finally did it. I must roll up my sleeves for a brief moment and allow pooh bear, Part 1, to express a few sentiments.

Lisa Miller’s Newsweek commentary on Collision is unfortunate (for context, see part 3). One would have thought that journalism involving a colleague that writes for the same magazine would have at least made an attempt to offer journalism. This is perhaps more than unfortunate; this seems to be a bit of political cannibalism in the journalism industry.

Miller notes that, for her, the Collision ‘movie’ was boring. As will be seen, Miller’s boredom is not the best litmus test for worthiness. However, I have no doubt that the Collision ‘movie’ was disappointing for many. I do not need to see it in its entirety to know why: it is a 90 minute ‘movie’ of Hitchens having center stage to preach to, educate, and admonish fundamentalist Christians, punctuated at times with Wilson muttering in reply the same non-interactive silliness about Dr Pepper cans fizzing (you know, referencing the recent advance in neurobiology). The Collision thing is a Kirk thing, in case no one has yet noticed; it is Wilson and marketing crew’s latest successful grab at some more public attention – this time by merely attaching itself to Christopher Hitchens – rather than foaming about persecution, or ridiculing local neighbors, or disproving the Shroud of Turin, or discovering real medieval pedagogy for first graders, or exhorting Americans about the wonderful hierarchical harmony that existed between black slaves and their owners in the deep South, or quibling over the theological meaning of a word in an old Presbyterian confession.  Hitchens was a good sport and attended the events. Personally, I prefer this latter Kirk strategy.

And yet Miller would like us all to see the Collision occasion as an opportunity to finally put to rest our intellectual interest in the claims and consequences of fundamentalist religion. Miller questions the motives of Hitchens on the sole basis of how many books he has sold lately and asks Americans to stop finding interest in Hitchens’ talking. He is just a middle-aged white man talking, after all. Who would be interested in that? There are many problems with this part of Miller’s ‘journalism,’ but I will focus on just one: Miller is middle aged, and white – from the looks of the picture – and although I grant she is not male, she is just talking too, and just like us men do. And after reading this tripe just when I expected to read some journalism, I can certainly say that reading Hitchens’ books – in which he just talks – is far more exciting than Miller pretending to offer a journalistic piece on religion. In fact, making the comparison between two middle aged people taking, I would liken Hitchens’ writing to a ride in a fighter jet and Miller’s to pulling out a large splinter.

Miller lumps together the pompous frill of Dawkins’ recent work, Harris’ single shot, and Hitchens’ most recent book, this time on religion, and she claims that Hitchens, as with the rest of them, has now become a celebrity. Sure, Hitchens, still a struggling unknown journalist was just looking for that right moment to finally gain an audience. Miller appears fond of exiciting tactics, at least when poisoning the well through forced association and obtuse, manipulative use of stereotypes when it comes to the unthoughtful denigration of another proven journalist. But when it comes time to sell her own academic selections, she is more than boring. She becomes inane. Instead of Hitchens’ literary approach to communicating what he has seen on the ground, such human suffering under authoritarian regimes throughout the world, we should rather enjoy the more “productive” ways to frame the discussion, illustrated by Jennifer Hecht’s statement: “I don’t think it’s so bad if religion survives, if it’s getting together once a week and singing a song in a beautiful building, to commemorate life’s most important moments.”

Profound! Now this is the exciting stuff waiting for us if we just get away from that middle-aged male talking. It’s just not all that bad if religion survives. I’m cool with that, Hecht avers. So long, that is, as its just people getting together once a week to hang and to commemorate life’s most important moments. I have another suggestion for discourse on religion in America: the Hallmark store. I would also recommend Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, but he is just a late aged white man talking, and I doubt Miller would understand this more philosophically astute approach. I am sure she would be quite bored after the first five pages.

Miller’s piffle is related, I suspect, to her inability to understand the arguments on display in the Collision ‘movie’. She fails to notice that Hitchens’ approach to religion is not in line with traditional “sparring over God” and it is certainly not a matter of “submitting God to rational proofs and watching God fail.” She did admit to loosing concentration after the 13 minute introduction; maybe she is just guessing here. This sort of thing, generally, does not appear to be Miller’s cup of tea: she admits that “The whole thing has started to feel like being trapped in a seminar room with the three smartest guys in school. . . “  But she seems equally uneasy over discussion at a pub, or the drab halls of Seminaries and colleges. Just what kind of guys and what kind of places did Miller prefer as a school-gal?   Two white guys in a bar are boring, but her alternative, she admits “won’t be sexy.”

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1 Comment

  1. [...] Bloc Raisonneur, Why Evolution is True,  Mind Droppings, Reason.Science.Metal , Think Atheist and Poohsthink – although it gets a friendlier and altogether more subtle reading from In Living Colour. [...]


    Pingback by Rationalist judo « Back Off Science — November 2, 2009 @ 12:57 pm


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