Sunday, May 29, 2005

Rushdie and Atheism

Salman Rushdie has an interesting article in the Toronto Star, written with his (characteristic) wit and candor. In response to books published by some scientists who argue that athiesm's hostility to faith is responsible for the rise of creationism in America and that "Not believing in God is no excuse for being virulently anti-religious or naïvely pro-science," Rushdie points out (correctly, I think) that such a gesture can be real only if reciprocated. And clearly, that is not forthcoming. In his words:

Such a truce would have a chance of working only if it were reciprocal — if the world's religions agreed to value the atheist position and to concede its ethical basis, if they respected the discoveries and achievements of modern science, even when these discoveries challenge religious sanctities, and if they agreed that art at its best reveals life's multiple meanings at least as clearly as so-called "revealed" texts.

No such reciprocal arrangement exists, however, nor is there the slightest chance that such an accommodation could ever be reached.
That said, arguments like this are invariably of the I-would-do-it-if-he-could variety; you know, the ones when you want a kid to stop fighting and he won’t do it because he claims the other guy keeps hitting him. Just look at all the arguments whether the American media has a liberal bias or a conservative one. Eric Alterman of the Nation has been screaming himself hoarse about the media’s conservative bias. Paul Krugman keeps saying it time and again in his NYT columns. And Andrew Sullivan, in his blog keeps reiterating the opposite. Me? I take refuge in Daniel Okrent’s NYT column as the public editor. Speaking for the NYT, he says that “the paper is the inevitable product of its staff's experience and worldview, and that its news coverage reflects a generalized acceptance of liberal positions on most social issues”. Amen to that. (And a generalized acceptance of liberal positions is inevitable, no?)

But back to the atheism question. Who is undermining whom? I believe that the so-called resurgence of the religious right is a rear-guard action. No, I don’t mean to minimize its significance. True, it’s a pretty big movement and it won’t be easy. But that’s what it is: the dying gasp of an institution that has been forced inexorably away from public life. Look at the debate raging in Kansas on Intelligent Design. (I wasn’t even aware of the damn thing till some time last year…). I won’t go into the scientific basis for ID (except that it is not falsifiable and hence not scientific). But the very fact that people who support the introduction of ID in schools come from the religious right tells us something. That in order to oppose “godless” evolution, the religious right has come to support a theory that is as far removed from creationism as can be. Except for some vague allusions to a Designer what does ID really have in common with the Book of Genesis? Isn’t it highly significant that the debate in Kansas is on Intelligent Design and not on creationism? We should be rejoicing, not moping!

Once the religious right is seen as a dying force (albeit a powerful one even in its death throes), the question remains: how do we deal with it? For the life of me, I have no idea. As always in a democracy, we could perhaps strike a balance. Stand firm on the issues that are genuinely important (abortion, the study of evolution, church-state separation) and maybe, giving in on the less important ones (such as the public display of the 10 commandments)?.

ps: I was only going to blabber on about movies in this blog. But then I thought - what the hell? Whats the use of having these thoughts if I don't vent 'em? :)

1 comment:

David said...

I believe this article on atheism is a excellent indication that the Rushdie is entirely correct about creationist not having any respect for attheism.