Category Archives: religion

Hitch is not great

Lying not far beneath the surface of neo-atheist books, writes Dalrymple,

is the kind of historiography that many of us adopted in our hormone-disturbed adolescence, furious at the discovery that our parents sometimes told lies and violated their own precepts and rules. It can be summed up in Christopher Hitchens’s drumbeat in God Is Not Great: ‘Religion spoils everything.’ What? The St Matthew Passion? The cathedral of Chartres?

The emblematic religious person in the neo-atheist books

seems to be a Glasgow Airport bomber—a type unrepresentative of Muslims, let alone communicants of the poor old Church of England.

It is

surely not news, except to someone so ignorant that he probably wouldn’t be interested in these books in the first place, that religious conflict has often been murderous and that religious people have committed hideous atrocities.

So have secularists and atheists, and

though they have had less time to prove their mettle in this area, they have proved it amply. If religious belief is not synonymous with good behaviour, neither is absence of belief, to put it mildly.

In fact, says Dalrymple,

one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and I.G. Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide.

Hitchens, Dalrymple notes, fell prey to the illusion that the striking of trivial attitudes was generosity enough for a lifetime. He

commodified his dissent, albeit in a niche market (though niches in America are larger than entire markets elsewhere).

While his brother has thoroughly repented, Hitchens retained

an emotional sympathy for his former views. In others, he would no doubt espy in this intellectual dishonesty and historical distortion; in himself, he sees truth to his own generous principles.

Hitchens’s review of a reissue of Deutscher’s three-volume biography of Trotsky, for example,

presents Trotsky principally as a gifted journalist and sage — a little like Hitchens himself, in fact — the force of whose ideas, or phrases, made the unjustly powerful tremble everywhere.

Why Hitchens’s unusual delicacy over this moral monster? Because, says Dalrymple, he

was himself once a follower of Trotsky and does not want to admit that he was, by implication, a supporter of mass murder, the ruthless suppression of opponents and the kind of tyranny that made all previous tyrannies appear bumbling and amateurish.

It was not that Hitchens wanted

to bring about such a tyranny, let alone live under one (anyone who did would hardly decamp to the US). Rather, he fell prey to the adolescent illusion that the striking of attitudes is generosity enough.

Gifted journalist and sage

Other people had only

walk-on parts

when Hitchens was striking attitudes, which was most of the time, and his hatred of religion

strikes me as adolescent. We most of us know by now that religious bigotry is a bad thing — though the record of hardline secularists in the 20th century is not exactly spotless — but only an adolescent sees in the religious history of mankind nothing but intolerance. Compulsory attendance at school chapel must have been a traumatic experience for Hitchens.

Gifted journalist and sage

Fashionable Leftism of the kind espoused by Hitchens is not, says Dalrymple, a case of Lenin’s ‘infantile disorder’ or like a childhood illness such as mumps, but rather

a chronic condition with lingering after-effects and flare-ups. Those who suffer it only very rarely get over it, Hitchens being a good example of one who did not. He could never bring himself to admit that he had for all his life admired and extolled a man who was at least as bad as Stalin, namely Trotsky; and his failure to renounce his choice of maître à penser became in time not just a youthful peccadillo of a clever adolescent who wanted to shock the adults but a symptom of a deep character flaw, a fundamental indifference to important truth.

Sartre’s serial dictator-worship

Its religious nature is evidenced, writes Dalrymple,

in the title he gave the newspaper he relaunched in the 1970s and which still publishes today: Libération. Liberation from what? France is hardly a tyranny.

The sense conveyed is of

a mystical or other-worldly liberation from the existential conditions under which mankind is constrained to labour forever.

What we are dealing with is the

religion that dare not speak its name.

The loss of a sense of a hierarchy of value

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-22-58-44There is in Britain, says Dalrymple (from 1:01:03),

a very crude materialism, and skewed values. Parents used to ask me why their child was so horrible when they did ‘everything’ for it. I asked what they meant by ‘everything’. The answer was: providing it with the latest tennis shoes, things of no value, rubbish. I’ve known a case of murder over the brand of tennis shoes.

Why is this?

Probably because there’s nothing else. There’s no cultural continuum, no pride in country, no political project, no religion.

There is, Dalrymple points out,

a loss of a sense of a hierarchy of value, as well as of a social hierarchy.

Dalrymple remembers his father, who was born in a poor quarter of London. The education he received there

was better than 99.9% of children today. His teachers — to whom he was always grateful — never took the view that he was poor and couldn’t be expected to learn Latin or appreciate science or art. They aimed to open his eyes to science and art. He told me that they would take children to museums in their spare time.

There is very little sense of that now because

the idea that one thing is higher than another has disappeared, especially from the intellectual class, who are all playing the shepherdess like Marie Antoinette. They don’t really like their own children not to have any sense of hierarchy, but they will propound the theory that there is no higher and lower, and unfortunately this affects everyone.

Man and meaninglessness

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-10-27-27Lack of meaning is a serious problem in modern Man, says Dalrymple. This is so particularly in Europe.

Dalrymple asks us to consider the possible sources of meaning in people’s lives:

  • the struggle for existence. This no longer applies. It is impossible to starve in the West.
  • religion. In England, and certainly in France, it is nearly dead. England is a very irreligious country, and France is an anti-religious country. (The English are too lazy to be anti-religious; they’re just not religious.)
  • politics. Whatever you say about Marxism, it provided people with a transcendent purpose. They thought they were taking part in something bigger than themselves. They were. Unfortunately, it was something very bad.
  • Participating in or contributing to culture. There has been an almost deliberate cutting-off of people from any sense of continuation of a culture. It’s not as bad in France as in Britain.
  • patriotism. In Europe this is shunned. It is equated with the worst of excesses.

What is left? Advocates of the unitary European State try, says Dalrymple,

to make the European Project (as they call it — they never tell you what it actually is) a source of meaning, but it is no source of meaning.

Islam: global force for a new totalitarianism

Emblem of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

Emblem of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

Dalrymple wonders whether Islam is

an intrinsically totalitarian religion.

It is worth remembering, he says,

how few of us gave any attention to it as a serious political force only twenty years ago.

He suspects that

the downfall of the Soviet Union and the consequent destruction of the possibility of socialistic nationalism as a means for poor or desperate countries (poverty and desperation not being the same thing) to escape their predicament, stimulated the rise of Islam to the position of latest utopian pretender.

There had been Islamists before the downfall of the Soviet Union,

but they offered only one bogus solution among other bogus solutions. After the downfall, Islam had the field to itself, apart from liberal democracy, which is inherently messy and unsatisfying for the lazy and impatient.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 08.03.02Islamism, Dalrymple points out,

is a real threat, made far worse by the cowardly response to it by most Western governments, including that of the United States.

Take the Danish cartoon crisis, which, Dalrymple notes, was highly

significant for our civilisation and way of life in the long run. There the British and American governments failed the test miserably; de facto, they gave aid and succour to the Islamists.

As for the neo-atheists, they are right to see the threat of theocracy in Islamism, but

in attacking all religion, they are like the French government which banned not only the wearing of the headscarf in schools, but the wearing of all religious insignia, despite the fact that wearing a Star of David or a crucifix has and had a completely different social signification from wearing a headscarf. In the name of non-discrimination, the French government failed to discriminate properly: and proper discrimination is practically the whole business of life. If there were large numbers of Christians or Jews who were in favour of establishing a theocracy in France, who had a recent record of terrorism, and who terrorised each other into the wearing of crucifixes and Stars of David, then the banning of those insignia would have been justified too.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 08.06.20The wearing of the headscarf should be permitted again

when Islam has become merely one personal confession among others, without the political significance that it has now.

In attacking all religion so indiscriminately, the atheist authors are

strengthening the hand of the Islamists. In arguing that for parents to bring up a child in any religious tradition, even the mildest of Anglicanism, is to abuse a child, with the corollary that the law should forbid it, they are giving ammunition to the Islamists, who will be able with justice to say to their fellow-religionists, ‘See, it is all or nothing. If you give the secularists an inch, they will take a mile. No compromise with secularism is possible, therefore; cleave unto us.’

To suggest

that all forms of religion are equal, that they are all murderous and dangerous, is not to serve the cause of freedom and tolerance. It is to play into the hands of the very people we should most detest; it is to hand them the rhetorical tools with which they can tell the gullible that our freedoms are not genuine and that our tolerance is a masquerade. It is to do what I should previously have thought was impossible, namely in this respect to put them in the right.

To regret religion is to regret civilisation

The thinness of the new atheism, says Dalrymple,

is evident in its approach to civilisation.

To regret religion, Dalrymple writes,

is to regret civilisation and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy.

Grand Mosque of Córdoba (begun 784), part of interior

Grand Mosque of Córdoba (begun 784), part of interior

The Savonarola of atheism

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 07.15.38Richard Dawkins, the atheist proselytizer, has tweeted that the destruction of the ancient Semitic city of Palmyra by the desert-tribal warriors known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant demonstrates the doleful

power of religion.

Dalrymple points out that it seems to have escaped the notice of Dawkins, whom he describes as a Savonarola of atheism,

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 06.45.12that temples are generally built in the first place from a religious impulse, and that Palmyra had survived for two millennia in a region to which religion was by no means entirely unknown.

Dalrymple notes that

Satellite image confirming the destruction of the Temple of Baal (dedicated 32 A.D.)

Satellite image confirming the destruction of the Temple of Baal (dedicated 32 A.D.)

such destructiveness is not confined to the fanatically religious. The greatest outburst of cultural vandalism in recent history was probably Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which had nothing cultural or revolutionary about it—nor anything religious.

Of course, it is always gratifying for Dawkins

to contemplate the stupidity or barbarism of others.

Actually the destruction of Palmyra ought to warn Dawkins to turn his gaze inward and consider himself. And what he will discover when he does so is less than reassuring.

A religion of peace

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 08.21.04It’s just that Muslims choose strange ways of showing it

At Sousse, 38 people — 25 of them British — were murdered by a Mohammedan fundamentalist gunman at an hotel (in an atrocity prefigured in the 2001 Michel Houellebecq novel Plateforme).

The attack possessed, writes Dalrymple, logic from the Islamo-Leninist ‘the worse the better’ point of view. Tourists

like sun, sea and sites, but not at the cost of their lives. Tourism can survive a dictatorship such as that of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but not a democratically elected government that cannot guarantee security.

After the attacks, David Cameron

made a statement in which he reiterated, among other things, that Islam was a religion of peace. He was under no pressure, except that of his own pusillanimity, to say any such thing, which is in flat contradiction both to history and to the state of the world today. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt would not have said anything as stupid or as cowardly.

Leadership, says Dalrymple, should not

propound blatant untruths. It is true that most Muslims are peaceful and want to get on with their lives; the same is true of almost everyone, including Marxists. It is blatantly obvious that not all terrorists are Muslim; but when they are Muslim, their religious ideas are a necessary precondition of their acts.

Goddess of climatic destruction

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 08.37.56

The climatic Kali, bringer-about of global catastrophe: do not seek to deny her, for all our sages say that prayer rituals and sacrifice are the only means by which she may be appeased

How the climate theology has taken hold of people’s minds

Dalrymple comes across this paragraph in an article in the British Journal of Psychiatry:

Climate change is the largest global health threat of the 21st century, and despite limited empirical evidence, it is expected directly and indirectly to harm communities’ psychosocial wellbeing.

Dalrymple comments:

This is not so much science as religion, in which the destructive bringer-about of catastrophe, a kind of Kali, must be appeased by word, puja and sacrifice.

Europe’s death wish

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 19.59.34A forensic examination by Dalrymple of Europeans and their sad, secret sickness. He probes the continent’s sclerosis and decline, its inability to confront the challenges facing it.

This atheist writes that the mandate of heaven has been withdrawn from Europeans, for whom God is dead. But

not quite everything has been lost of the religious attitude. Individuals still think of themselves as being of unique importance, but without the countervailing humility of considering themselves as having duty towards the author of their being. Far from inducing a more modest conception of man, the loss of religious belief has inflamed his self-importance.

There used to be Marxism, of course, which

might have been deficient as an explanation of the world, but for a time gave people [such as Dalrymple’s father] the feeling that they were contributing to the dénouement of history, when all contradictions would be resolved, all desires fulfilled, and all human relations easy, spontaneous and loving. It was obvious nonsense, but not more obvious nonsense than the religious ideas of those whose religious ideas we do not share. And while Marxism was discredited for all but a few ageing faithful, the impulse transferred seamlessly to other causes: environmentalism, nationalism, animal rights, feminism.

But even these are minority pursuits. Most Europeans — above all national élites — are indifferent to most things of value, especially to their history and civilisation. What is left for them?

The present being all that counts, it remains to seek the good life, the enjoyable and comfortable life. So important is the standard of living that they see children not as inheritors of what they themselves inherited, but as obstructions to the enjoyment of life, a drain on resources.

The tragedy of Europe, which has become a collection of failing states, is this:

A healthy modern society must know how to remain the same as well as change, to conserve as well as to reform. Europe has changed without knowing how to conserve.