It's the Thought That Counts, Which Is Why These "Gentlemen" Can F**k Themselves with a 2X4


So, um, yeah, it's embarrassing to admit, but sometimes when I'm too busy to devote time to my own blog, I neglect other people's as well, not reading for a few days and then catching up on entries in batches. Which is what I'm doing this morning. I found this entry on Rebecca...and all that entails about trying to find a decent print news magazine to subscribe to. She asks for recommendations, and someone recommended "The Economist."

Which prompted me to leave this comment, which I am reproducing here because I like the story.

The Economist? Oh god, no! Run away in horror from The Economist! What a load of conservative tripe. My father gave me a subscription to said horrorshow for Chirstmas 2004, explaining his decision to do so by saying, "They endorsed Kerry for president."

To which I replied, "Dad, the freakin National Review, the conservative rag started by William F. Buckley, godfather of contemporary American conservativism, endorsed Kerry for president! Virtually everyone in the whole freakin' world [The Economist is British] realizes that George Bush should not be president!"

So then I got The Economist every freakin' week but couldn't bear to open it. It just started cluttering up my magazine stand and one day I decided to open an issue and saw that letters to the editor all still began with the saluation "Gentlemen."

It's the freakin 21st century and there's still some horrible retro news rag stressing that it's editorial board is male.

So that was it; I had to cancel my subscription. I called the toll-free number and talked to a very nice young woman who had to ask why I was canceling. I explained about the "Gentlemen" thing, adding, "Jesus fucking christ, can't these guys not act like assholes?"

To which she replied, very warmly and sympathetically, "It appears not."

And then I had to explain that it was a gift and ask her not to tell my dad that I was in essence returning his Christmas present.

She had no problem with that and agreed to send me the check for the refund, which was in the neighborhood of 60-70 bucks, and this was late April! If only I had canceled in early January.

p.s. Dale, I included a semi-colon in this post just for you.
p.p.s. Here's a great editorial by my idol Karen Armstrong on why what the pope said last week was bad.


This is my favorite part:

"Jesus fucking christ, can't these guys not act like assholes?"

To which she replied, very warmly and sympathetically, "It appears not."

I'd pretty much already decided not to subscribe to "The Economist" JUST because it's so much more expensive than a lot of the others. And I am cheap. I am, however, glad to know that I won't be missing out on anything.

I'm not certain if this is still available, but The Guardian used to have a weekly edition for North American readers. Subscribers would also get the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique (in English) each month. Even if this combined deal is no longer available, I am sure that if you go to the LMD website it is still possible to subscibe to it directly.

Wonder if I can get my $10 back for my Ensign subscription! Ha. Ha. Ha.

I'm curious if you've ever read Sam Harris? It is interesting to compare and contrast Armstrong's fine editorial with Sam Harris's at:

I find little in Armstrong's editorial to disagree with. Christianity or Catholicism criticising Islam is the pot calling the kettle black.

Having said that, how does one go about criticizing Islam (or Christianity, Catholicism, or Mormonism, for that matter)? Despite what Armstrong says of our "Islamophobia," the West remains largely mute in its criticism of the religion, especially, according to Harris, politically correct Western liberals: "So let us now make sense of the impossible by acknowledging the obvious: there is a direct link between the doctrine of Islam and Muslim terrorism. Acknowledging this link remains especially taboo among political liberals. While liberals are leery of religious fundamentalism in general, they consistently imagine that all religions at their core teach the same thing and teach it equally well. This is one of the many delusions borne of political correctness."


I agree with Armstrong that the West cannot tolerate religious bigotry, but is open acceptance and tolerance of all religions the only alternative? How do you accept the good Muslims and reject the bad Muslims? More important and difficult, can you criticize Islam itself for creating an environment that gives rise to bad Muslims, without alienating the good Muslims? The parallels to Mormonism are intriguing.

I remembered the original post Holly and when I read this one, I felt there was something different. Thank you.

Hey Rebecca--you won't be missing anything at all with "the Economist," except some annoyance. And it is remarkably expensive, isn't it? Hard to believe that hot air costs that much.

Spike, thanks for the suggestions.

SML--I would give the Ensign ten bucks just to get them to promise never to send me that again. Every so often someone gives me a gift subscription; I call up and just insist it stop being delivered IMMEDIATELY.

Dale, glad you see how semi-colons make the world a lovelier, sparklier place.

Matt, I haven't read "The End of Faith," but I've read a lot of interviews with Harris and such. I'm somewhere between Armstrong and Harris in finding the spiritual impulse very valuable and thinking most religion is a load of bunk. I will admit that I have always found Islam repellant because whatever its doctrines, women in many Islamic cultures are treated with barbarity and cruelty.

I did find this particular statement from the second link you include very apt:

Moderate Muslims must accept and practice open criticism of their religion. We are now in the 21st century: all books, including the Koran, should be fair game for flushing down the toilet without fear of violent reprisal. If you disagree, you are not a religious moderate, and you are on a collision course with modernity.

As I have said, and taken a lot of heat for, I keep my distance from any and all people who are devoutly religious--all the more so if they are politically conservative. I might like them as decent individuals and respect them as colleagues or associates, and I have learned by experience that it brings me nothing but misery to discuss religion with such people, so I would avoid raising the issue at all. But no matter how admirable such people might be in terms of how they treat their families, or how great their senses of humor, or whatever, unless they're members of my immediate family, they'll never be close friends, because their world view is too different from (and in some ways inimical to) mine. And even with family, it's really, really hard.

So I don't have a good answer to your question about how to criticize religion. So many of my attempts have brought me condemnation and censure, even from people who claim to acknowledge that religion is a flawed institution. I would echo Richard Wright's statement from Black Boy here: "Whenever I found religion in my life I found strife, the attempt of one individual or group to rule another in the name of God. The naked will to power seemed always to walk in the wake of a hymn."

I realize that this is a bit off-topic, or perhaps just not in line with the original post, but I have a little disagreement with the way Sam Harris characterizes the problems of American liberals. Matt Thurston quotes him: "So let us now make sense of the impossible by acknowledging the obvious: there is a direct link between the doctrine of Islam and Muslim terrorism. Acknowledging this link remains especially taboo among political liberals. While liberals are leery of religious fundamentalism in general, they consistently imagine that all religions at their core teach the same thing and teach it equally well. This is one of the many delusions borne of political correctness."

The first observation I should make is that I tend to be more sympathetic with Karen Armstrong's analysis here than with Harris's, because Armstrong resists the temptation to reduce Islam (or any other organized religious belief) to a single system. There are many forms of Islam, just as there are many forms of Christianity or Judaism, and the Muslim world is incredibly diverse culturally.

It is important to acknowledge this diversity when considering political Islam, just as it is important to try to grasp the changing degrees to which the sensibilities of many people -- perhaps the majority, as Edward Said argued -- in the Muslim world are secular.

But Harris is right, that there is a crisis among American liberals. But when he chides them for not recognizing the "direct link" between Islam as a doctrine and political violence or terrorism, he is contributing to that crisis. Tony Judt argues instead that American liberals found themselves at much at sea as anyone after the Cold War ended, and that the creation of an ideology of "Islamic threat" by the neoconservatives suited the liberal habit of seeing the world as divided into irreconcilable ieological camps locked in a struggle to the death. The Cold War, after all, was the age of liberalism in the US. Liberalism's inability to break these habits has lead to a wholesale surrender to the neocons on all matters concerning foreign policy: remember John Kerry did not say he would withdraw from Iraq, despite the prevailing mood among the American electorate; he said he would fight the war "smarter."

Harris makes a good analysis of the anti-modern, anti-Enlightenment sentiments of the Pope is his analysis of the infamous speech. But elsewhere, he does the same thing that the American liberals who fall over themselves not to appear soft on Islam, sorry, terrorism do: he makes outrageous claims like:

In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal.

Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise.

I wonder if Harris has tried to compare the number of military casualties with the number of civilian casualties in the current Iraq war. Or in Israel's recent invasion of Lebanon. Or in any war that the US has been involved with or supported since Korea. Israel has only been involved in one war that it did not precipitate: the 1973 war when Egypt invaded Israel. Israel has always held that pre-emptive war was its right and Arab civilians have paid the price over and over. Now the neocons have made the pre-emptive war doctrine US policy and American liberals have gone out of their way to give it ideological cover. And the fledgling democracies in Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories have had no defense from outside the region: the bitter irony is that it is the anti-modern Islamists who provide the most effective defense for them.

Understanding the crisis of modernism and of the Enlightenment project is, in my view, among the most pressing of our political tasks today -- they are failing to deliver any form of emancipation for the vast majority of the people of the world, and this is why people are searching elsewhere for freedom or security or identity. Marx is infamously mis-quoted for suggesting that religion is the opium of the people. But what he was really trying to do, in a nineteenth century way, was to figure out exactly the question of how to critique religion. What he actually wrote, in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosphy of Right, was this:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Very interesting, Spike. You help me pin down certain discomforts I have with Harris. I feel that as I am so skeptical of religion, I should be more receptive to his ideas. But there's something about him that puts me off. The passage I quote is preceded by some stuff I found appalling--that moderate Muslims should embrace racial profiling as a way of showing good, uh, faith to the rest of the world. Practicing self-criticism and encouraging a certain kind of suspicion because of what people look like--those seem to me to be vastly different behaviors.

I've enjoyed reading the comments by both Holly and Spike. I've got The End of Faith in the "on tap" position on my reading list. Like Holly, I can't agree with everything I've read or heard from Harris, but I think he writes with real brio and I admire his guts. I'm also looking forward to his forthcoming Letter to a Christian Nation.

By the way, Letter to a Christian Nation appears to have been released today. Expect to see a lot of Harris on the news in the coming weeks.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on September 18, 2006 9:16 AM.

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