Skip

Don't teach kids to sneer
December 18, 2010 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Atheist Camille Paglia slams atheist Christopher Hitchens for not doing his research and suggests we should value the bible like literature.
posted by aunt_winnifred (101 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. Perfect storm.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:57 AM on December 18, 2010


Atheist fight!
posted by Joe Beese at 11:59 AM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Much like Hitchens vs. Blair: whoever wins, we lose. In fact I am beginning to think that willingness to debate Christopher Hitchens is, by itself, sufficient sign of valuing empty publicity over substance to suggest that the debater, too, is best ignored.
posted by RogerB at 12:02 PM on December 18, 2010 [11 favorites]


The loser has to attend a church of the other's choice for a month.
posted by hermitosis at 12:03 PM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I could not follow her argument and had to close down. Study religion which is more important than science but view it as anthropology sans belief? Besides, her watch is too big and distracts. She needs smaller, different color watch, but I have already sent out my Xmas gifts. Does she ever get around to Koran and what it offers us?
posted by Postroad at 12:05 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Save me, O God,
for the water have come up to my neck.


- Psalm 69
posted by fairmettle at 12:05 PM on December 18, 2010


I don't think she mentions science or anthropology.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 12:09 PM on December 18, 2010


This is what is they call a target rich enviroment.
posted by Artw at 12:10 PM on December 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


Paglia always appeared to parallel her idol Madonna by engaging in increasingly desperate attempts to shock in a pathetic ploy to remain relevant. c.f. Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin

Though, to be fair, for all we've heard of her recently, you'd think she had been encased in amber in '99 following the Clinton presidency. It seems that as matters of public discussion increased in relative importance she had proportionately less of relevance to contribute. (e.g. terrorist attacks vs. blowjobs)
posted by leotrotsky at 12:14 PM on December 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Which, in turn, may say something about whether she was ever worth listening to at all.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:14 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, I hope Camille Paglia becomes relevant again soon. Because it means that we as a society don't have any actual problems to worry about.
posted by Etrigan at 12:15 PM on December 18, 2010 [12 favorites]


The main competition between Hitchens and Paglia is which one has suffered the nastiest descriptive takedown that remains accurate.

Greasy drunken flap of skin vs. Norman Podhoretz with breasts. Round one: fight!
posted by delfin at 12:17 PM on December 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


Never heard of her, but she made me smile. Once she called the kids today ahistorical, I had to laugh. From then on, instead of religion, I imagined she was talking about pop music, and everything she said made perfect sense. Except the dangers looked kind of ok.
posted by stonepharisee at 12:19 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Western culture (North American in particular), for better or worse, seems to base a lot of its assumptions upon so-called Judeo-Christian principles. I can certainly see a value in knowing more about where those principles come from. In fact, I'm damned glad I got some education in that regard at a very early age (Catholic religion classes).
posted by philip-random at 12:20 PM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I stopped taking Paglia seriously on any subject (not that I ever took her seriously for more than a few paragraphs in, in any of her articles - the incoherence just became too overwhelming) back in the days when starry-eyed Louis and Jane at Wired magazine mooned over her blatherings along with those of equally fatuous, self-important and reactionary figures like George Gilder.

Hitchens doesn't dismiss the Bible as literature insofar as it informs a huge part of the Western canon; he just insists that it should be seen only as literature - hugely flawed literature at that. And like many an atheist, he can appreciate the music, art, architecture, etc. that Christianity inspired without feeling the slightest need to concede any validity to its supernatural beliefs.
posted by Philofacts at 12:21 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Atheist versus Atheist? I don't know who to pray for!
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:23 PM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Penn Jilette on the value of reading the bible cover to cover.
posted by benzenedream at 12:27 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, I hope Camille Paglia becomes relevant again soon. Because it means that we as a society don't have any actual problems to worry about.

One of the deepest truths every spoken.
posted by spicynuts at 12:28 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


She's a provocateur, and fearless. Of course half the things she says are completely bone-headed, but you know...great talking points (very much like Hitchens)! And I like her pedagogical stance in this interview - debunking isn't good enough, you've got to offer something. We've all heard the arguments for science a billion times and I'm a science-o-phile myself. But it's refreshing to hear an argument for art.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 12:33 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Penn Jilette on the value of reading the bible cover to cover.
posted by benzenedream

I was going to link this. dabnabbit

Eloits' 'Evangelical Teaching' has some things to say one the bible that Hitchens includes in his "the Portable Atheist".
posted by clavdivs at 12:35 PM on December 18, 2010


Thanks for posting the Ivins link, Delfin. That should really be the only response necessary when Paglia's name comes up.
posted by steambadger at 12:36 PM on December 18, 2010


I saw the entire interview and I think she's bluffing. She makes a good point about replacing the lack of religious education with something based on art, and for knowing Christian mythical origins, but then talks as though religion is mainly this art she speaks of (disregarding its political effect as pseudo-science, pseudo-morality and pseudo-history). She dodged all direct challenges by the atheist interviewer and appealed to her own expertise as casually as she blasts others for "their lack of research" without noting any other errors in their work. I also don't think that studies back up her belief that religious people know more about world religions or Western history. Then there's her sweeping claims about the historical merit of vanquishing barbarism with organized religion, as though democracy, agnosticism and reason were never suppressed as historical options for that business.
posted by Brian B. at 12:36 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Penn Jilette yt on the value of reading the bible cover to cover.

I don't necessarily disagree with Jillette -- I am an atheist and I have read the Bible back to back many time -- but his description of passages of the Bible are so far off what it actually says as to undermine his point.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:40 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


That gave me a headache. Her speech kind of dissolves into a drone at the end.

I kind of do agree that Hitch tends to rant like an evangelical preacher when talking about religion. He doesn't engage in a debate, he just creates a very speedy monologue of provocative superficial allusions -- and overwhelming your opponent with spacious rhetoric is not a very satisfying way of conducting an argument. I think he's also intellectually dishonest when he equates pre-enlightenment religion with the modern version. To argue that it had no beneficial social functions, in an age when people weren't sure what function blood served inside the body, is kind of myopic and ahistorical.
posted by Omon Ra at 12:41 PM on December 18, 2010


She's a provocateur, and fearless.

Provocative in 1990. Fearless of everything except the future.
posted by blucevalo at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Look at me. Over here. I'm disagreeing with Christopher Hitchens. PAY ATTENTION TO ME.
posted by three blind mice at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I actually like Paglia. Hitchens I just feel sorry for. Which I am sure would piss him off immensely.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:45 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dear Paglia haters,

Thank you.
posted by uraniumwilly at 12:47 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Astro Zombie, what parts of the bible are vastly different from what Penn said? The only thing I picked up on was that Lot's daughter wasn't raped, it was his concubine (although he did initially offer his daughter). Anyway, that interview resonated with me. I was relieved to lose (have stolen?) my bible about 1/3 of the way through reading it cover to cover, since it was the most disturbing thing I'd ever read. Definitely was the final straw to becoming an atheist.
posted by Humanzee at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2010


Blowhard filter.
posted by warbaby at 12:57 PM on December 18, 2010


See a a rule of thumb, when dealing with fiction, it that it has to make sense.
posted by MrLint at 1:01 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oops, upon re-reading the relevant passage, it appears I (and possibly Penn) confused two different yet similar stories where men under siege offer up their daughters. Lot offered up his daughters, but in the end no one was raped in his story.
posted by Humanzee at 1:03 PM on December 18, 2010


I attend the University of the Arts, where Paglia teaches, and managed to get into her Gender Roles in Media course this coming spring Semester. I don't know if I've ever been as excited to take a class. While I disagree with a lot of the things Paglia says, I always feels like she's thinking in interesting directions.

Though I get confused at some of the criticism directed towards her, because it always assumes that her beliefs are concrete or some sort of endpoint. As in, we look at something she's said or written, and begin talking at her statement, as if it's some finished statement that refuses to nudge. But everything I've seen her write and speak makes it pretty obvious that she's always constantly responding to and with other people, reacting to their statements. Self-important? She's saying what she thinks about things. The fact that she's become famous just by saying what she thinks about things might mean you think her fame is undeserved — I might agree with that. Hell, I wish I could get paid to write what I think about things. But she's interesting and entertaining.

I think the same about Christopher Hitchens, actually, who I met last year when he spoke at Haverford College. I'm not always satisfied with the things he says and writes, because he frequently does the same thing as Paglia, which is to just say what's on his mind for a certain length and then stop. God Is Not Great didn't feel like more than the sum of it parts, it felt like a few hundred pages of a bright guy talking about things on the spur of the moments. I'd favorite it if it was a MetaFilter comment. As a book it felt ephemeral. But a lot of people react to him like he's a force rather than a person, or that it's necessary to somehow "defeat" what he says by arguing over it and picking it apart and meanwhile he's gone on to say a bunch of other things because he cares much less about his words than the people who hate them do.

So when Paglia says here that she thought God Is Not Great could have been a great book, she's not exactly trying to dismantle the guy. She says what she thinks, and then responds to the guy who's talking to her. It's interesting to listen to. I'd have loved to jump into that conversation. But she's not releasing some official statement blasting the guy. She said this in February on a radio show. What makes this so important/fascinating that we have to somehow respond to it in any way?

In fact I am beginning to think that willingness to debate Christopher Hitchens is, by itself, sufficient sign of valuing empty publicity over substance to suggest that the debater, too, is best ignored.

So if somebody mentions Christopher Hitchens and what they think about him, suddenly they're worth ignoring? I mean, Hitchens is fun to read. He's written some terrific articles and he continues to have wonderful pieces. He doesn't have much quality control but fuck quality control. His good stuff is worth reading and worth talking about.

And this isn't a debate with Christopher Hitchens, is it? He never shows up and starts talking. I'm confused.

She dodged all direct challenges by the atheist interviewer and appealed to her own expertise as casually as she blasts others for "their lack of research" without noting any other errors in their work.

This too. Challenges? She's talking. He's asking questions, guiding the conversations, but he doesn't exactly call her out. He asks sometimes for elaboration, and she elaborates.

And of course she doesn't note specific errors. She's stating an opinion that's part of a larger point she's trying to make. Probably she isn't horribly concerned with debating whether or not she's right; she thinks she is; the guy doesn't ask her to provide examples, which means he probably thinks she knows what she's talking about to some extent. A radio discussion isn't the place to start making citations anyway.

Cultural discussions shouldn't be treated like they're scientific proofs. While the conversation has to remain overall logical, people should be allowed to say what they think things are like without immediately following up on proofs, unless that's the focus of the discussion. That way the dialogue can flow instead of getting stuck up on all those diversions.

Also, Jesus Christ MetaFilter are you possibly able to discuss the cultural benefits of religion without starting to be assholes? She's pretty clearly not saying that she thinks God is real and we should all be worshipping His name. She's an atheist. Durr. But she's saying that religion offers certain lessons and contexts that we don't necessarily appreciate today, and that it would be good if we had that appreciation.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:08 PM on December 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


Of course Paglia's an atheist. Like she'd ever believe there's anything out there greater than herself.
posted by grounded at 1:09 PM on December 18, 2010 [14 favorites]


Always found Paglia to be more interested in listening to the sound of her own opinions than actually thinking about them. That doesn't appear to have changed. God knows Hitchens isn't the greatest thinker in the world and "God Is Not Great" is probably the weakest of the recent(ish) crop of atheist books, but he looks like David bloody Hume compared to Paglia.
posted by Decani at 1:20 PM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ok, at 6:50, she tries to support her claim that a lack of religious educations leads to a lack of historical perspective by claiming that "in meeting people who've never gone to college from the south, who may have been high school dropouts, who know the bible, have a better command of western history than the graduates of the elite schools that I often meet in Journalism, who've now gone on to journalism, their sense of the present, even Susan Sontag, who's sense of the world, of history, is essentially enlightenment, and affluent."

I think I'll just let that quote speak for itself.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:21 PM on December 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I have plenty of issues with her but it's hard for me to argue with her framing in this particular interview - on almost any topic - although I would claim, sneer as they might, Harris and Dawkins absolutely provide art and science as a "replacement" for religion.

But I think she nailed the Hitchens book.

Being a huge fan of End of Faith and God Delusion I was disappointed by how shallow the research (and therefore often dead wrong the conclusions) were in Hitchens' book. Just one example is the emphasis he put on Gould's Wonderful Life study of pre-cambrian fossils which had been proven wrong long before Hitchens book was written.
posted by victors at 1:21 PM on December 18, 2010


Aww, cut Paglia some slack. She invented blogging; that must be worth something.
posted by hades at 1:39 PM on December 18, 2010


Huh. That link doesn't work if you click on it, but if you copy and paste it, it does. Stupid referrer checks. *mutter*
posted by hades at 1:42 PM on December 18, 2010


She's pretty clearly not saying that she thinks God is real and we should all be worshipping His name. She's an atheist. Durr. But she's saying that religion offers certain lessons and contexts that we don't necessarily appreciate today, and that it would be good if we had that appreciation.

She imagines that educated left can't see the richness in religion when this actually says more against her position than for it, because the undereducated overvalue it and quote it as absolute dogmatic authority. Anyone can simply claim there is no disputing taste, or that it simply worked out that way for her, therefore this isn't that important.
posted by Brian B. at 1:49 PM on December 18, 2010


The Old Testament is just a comedy of errors. A lot of the time, God fucks something up in the worst way, and has to fix it all back up again, only fucks that up too, and He blames it on other people, whom he threatens to smite. He's basically the original Ralph Kramden. Except, you know, more genocidal.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:22 PM on December 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


Re Paglia's claim that Christians know their Bible: Crisis in America's Churches: Bible Knowledge At All-Time Low.
Re: Bible as literature ("God is the strongest character in the greatest story ever told") and the deeper struggles of faith: Harold Bloom: 'Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine' : NPR.
posted by psyche7 at 2:28 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm an atheist, and I don't understand why so many atheists think they must be anti-theist.

We don't have to hate Christians. We don't have to feel contempt for them. We don't have to work against Christianity. We don't have to badmouth it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:39 PM on December 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


She's pretty clearly not saying that she thinks God is real and we should all be worshipping His name. She's an atheist. Durr. But she's saying that religion offers certain lessons and contexts that we don't necessarily appreciate today, and that it would be good if we had that appreciation.

Asatru offers certain lessons and contexts that we don't necessarily appreciate today, to say nothing of Zoroastrianism, yet I don't see any "atheists" who believe that the blot is "our best chance to see the universe whole", or that The Avesta should be one's desert-island book. Pagila's choice of oh-so-enlightening religions (Christianity-minus-God, Hinduism, and Buddhism) seems as suspicious as it is familiar to anyone who has dealt with this argument before.

Likewise, she leads with anthropology and The Golden Bough, and uses "presentist" as an insult, yet goes on to claim that religion is fundamentally good because it "places limits on potentially primitive and barbaric behavior" and "prevents anarchy". She has "a long view of history", but claims that the West "won't go on forever" because of technology and/or nihilism (rather than because nothing goes on forever). She strikes me as someone who has thought out relativism exactly to the halfway mark before running back the other way -- this video makes me want to tape a copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra to a copy of Godel, Escher, Bach and toss the whole thing over her back fence.
posted by vorfeed at 2:58 PM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm an atheist, and I don't understand why so many atheists think they must be anti-theist.

We don't have to hate Christians. We don't have to feel contempt for them. We don't have to work against Christianity. We don't have to badmouth it.


How many states can a light switch be in? Most people would say two: on, allowing power through, and off, denying power through. The answer is three, the third state being unconnected to any power source, in which case the up-or-down debate is irrelevant.

And so it goes with religion. It doesn't have to be a you're-with-us-or-against-us affair; you can view religion as being irrelevant to your life without being actively anti-Christianity and head over heels in love with Satan and all his little wizards.
posted by delfin at 3:02 PM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


We don't have to work against Christianity.
I basically agree, except we do have to work against willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism. This applies to both sides of the science/religion wars. Picking up one and bashing the other with it has proven to be a real dead-end strategy (much as I am a fan of Punch n Judy shows). The critical tools developed in the humanities are necessary for thinking hard about both science and religion. (take a look at philosopher of science, Mary Midgley)
posted by aunt_winnifred at 3:05 PM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm an atheist, and I don't understand why so many atheists think they must be anti-theist.

We don't have to hate Christians. We don't have to feel contempt for them. We don't have to work against Christianity. We don't have to badmouth it.


Of course we don't. We don't have to do anything, other than not believe in god(s). One might even say that's the entire point.

Anti-theism is the sport package of the atheist world; it's a bit more work, some people think it looks cool, and you might need it for the iPod jack, but you don't have to get it in order to have the same car. The real question is why so many people opt for it, despite the fact that it's an add-on... and if you ask yourself honestly, I think you'll find the answer has more to do with Christianity than with atheism, much less with what atheists think they have to do.

/atheist by birth, anti-theist by choice
posted by vorfeed at 3:32 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hitchens vs. Paglia? Why even read it. It's like two old whores fighting over a john who doesn't really want to go out with either of them.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:49 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


the third state being unconnected to any power source, in which case the up-or-down debate is irrelevant.

What are you describing? Death? Unconsciousness?
posted by fleetmouse at 4:05 PM on December 18, 2010


She dodged all direct challenges by the atheist interviewer and appealed to her own expertise as casually as she blasts others for "their lack of research" without noting any other errors in their work. I also don't think that studies back up her belief that religious people know more about world religions or Western history. Then there's her sweeping claims about the historical merit of vanquishing barbarism with organized religion, as though democracy, agnosticism and reason were never suppressed as historical options for that business.
Well, yes. That's what Paglia does. She's the only person I've ever read who constantly name-drops herself. At the end of the day, her ideas are interesting but her arguments have little force: they're all When I Was In Brazil In 1978, My Fellow-Travelers In The Transgendered Mariachi Whirlwind Anticipated Madonna's Ouvre With Their Coy Allusion To Militarized Innuendo, A Subject I Have Always Thought Received Too Little Attention After My Treatment Of It In...

And then I come to and I realize, holy shit, what was I reading? Where am I?
posted by verb at 4:09 PM on December 18, 2010 [11 favorites]


On the topics of atheists who understand the Bible and have a real appreciation for it, I really dug this lecture from Robert Price: "Is The Bible Mein Kampf?"
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:11 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


And so it goes with religion. It doesn't have to be a you're-with-us-or-against-us affair; you can view religion as being irrelevant to your life without being actively anti-Christianity and head over heels in love with Satan and all his little wizards.

Religion will never be irrelevant to my life as long as it is a majority opinion among religious individuals that religion needs to be very important in my life.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:19 PM on December 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


What are you describing? Death? Unconsciousness?

Neutrality. Indifference. If the breakers are off, it doesn't make any difference at all whether the light switch is up or down; the end result is the same.

Fervently religious people tend to cast the world in very us-versus-them, good-versus-evil terms, as if all of existence was an endless war between Yahweh the Mighty and Lex Lucifer and his Legion of Doom. They tend to discount the possibility that not only does that holy war have a neutral Switzerland, but a buttload of people live happily there, and that the only time they care at all about religion is when it's being aggressively thrust at them.
posted by delfin at 4:22 PM on December 18, 2010


Q: But supposing you could have a penis for just a day, Camile? What would you do with it?
A: [...] I would -- (imitates Groucho Marx) go find Catherine Deneuve in a hurry!


I've liked Camile ever since then. Can't argue with her priorities one bit.
posted by Capt. Renault at 4:34 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Paglia, Hitchens: blowhards if you want to pimp-slap them with a label. But my life is happier for having read both of them.

Also, teaching literature in a school of adolescent artists who are predominantly atheists, this is a video I'm planning on showing them next semester, especially for the benefit of those who finished Grendel last week.

As per the FPP title, sneering is, as the word itself sounds, not an attractive intellectual stance. It is too common in atheists, as Paglia points out. In adolescents, it is 100% excusable, of course.
posted by kozad at 5:10 PM on December 18, 2010


"I think Paglia is a frustrated, jealous bitch, whose star is very much on the wane and who has always wanted to fuck Wolf Hitchens. And, of course, she could barely pull a skunk without money changing hands, she's so disgusting. And that's my considered opinion on the matter. "
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:51 PM on December 18, 2010


If the breakers are off, it doesn't make any difference at all whether the light switch is up or down; the end result is the same.

But if your finger happens to be in the light socket when somebody flips the breaker back on, then it will make a difference.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:08 PM on December 18, 2010


In fact I am beginning to think that willingness to debate Christopher Hitchens is, by itself, sufficient sign of valuing empty publicity over substance to suggest that the debater, too, is best ignored.

Splendid. I came in here to say much the same thing, but you did it perfectly.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:17 PM on December 18, 2010


How many states can a light switch be in?
Four, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, if you carefully place it. A larger light switch makes the task comparatively easier.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:31 PM on December 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Also, Jesus Christ MetaFilter are you possibly able to discuss the cultural benefits of religion without starting to be assholes?

Are you new here?
posted by zarq at 7:55 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Four, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, if you carefully place it. A larger light switch makes the task comparatively easier.

Come to think of it, a sufficiently large light switch could be in all fifty at once.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:53 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Once she called the kids today ahistorical, I had to laugh.

Well, I have to ask whether you spend a lot of time with kids, in order to understand your amusement. The students in my place of work don't know what the Cold War was, much less the ideological struggle it represented, and yeah, that's partly my fault as a teacher, but something larger than school is unhooking kids from an understanding of the context of fundamental concepts like citizenship and democracy.

The Old Testament is just a comedy of errors. A lot of the time, God fucks something up in the worst way, and has to fix it all back up again, only fucks that up too, and He blames it on other people, whom he threatens to smite. He's basically the original Ralph Kramden. Except, you know, more genocidal.

Are you saying that God actually wrote his own story, like it's his autobiography? That's a simplistic reading of the text. We don't say, of the Greek texts, that Zeus "fucks things up and then fixes it," and so on because we know that Zeus is a creation of the Greek mind and ethos, and that is in some way instructive of how they saw themselves in the world. Since we recognize our debt to the Greeks, studying the classics is still instructive to us today. Why can't we talk about the Bible that way too? The Judeo-Christian portrayal of God tells us something about how they/we see themselves in the world, and so on. Isn't this the nub of what Paglia's saying? That we ought to pay attention to what's made us what we are?
posted by kneecapped at 9:11 PM on December 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I had this big thing about the cultural value of the bible but it tossed it when I read what kneecapped said. That's it right there.
posted by falameufilho at 9:57 PM on December 18, 2010


Humanzee wrote: Oops, upon re-reading the relevant passage, it appears I (and possibly Penn) confused two different yet similar stories where men under siege offer up their daughters. Lot offered up his daughters, but in the end no one was raped in his story.

Yes, and you both missed the bit where Lot is one of the bad guys. This episode is the origin story for two of the countries neighbouring Israel: Ammon and Moab. They were bad people. The story of the destruction of Sodom explains the bad antecedents of these bad people.

The bit about the rape of the concubine is an even worse example for "things that are weird in the Bible": the whole point of the story is that it's the most awful thing imaginable, that when people found out about the atrocity the immediate reaction was to destroy the city where it took place, and that when that city's tribe defended the city the entire tribe was attacked and nearly wiped out. In case you miss the point, the episode finishes with a moral: In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. In other words, this is why you need a central government, to stop things like these.

So when I read Penn's claim, I think "Wow, he seemed like a smart guy, but I can see that he lacks very basic comprehension skills. Since he boasts about his comprehension of the Bible it's pretty clear that I should take his other claims with a grain of salt." The same goes for Hitchens and some other pundits: since they're so obviously wrong about the things I can check, they're very likely wrong about other things too.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:34 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: " We don't have to hate Christians. We don't have to feel contempt for them. We don't have to work against Christianity. We don't have to badmouth it."

I'm not an atheist. I don't hate Christians. But certain Christian fundamentalists in the US most certainly deserve my contempt and my resistance. They are the Dominionists who try to impose their religion on the rest of us. The anti-intellectuals who fear that science and logic threaten their faith and press school boards to teach their religion on an equal level with science and history. The folks who think that their rights should be a higher priority than anyone else's. The intolerant bigots who think their religion should give them the right to label others as deviants, and withhold their civil rights and legislate hatred and inequality.

Fundamentalist Christians reap what they sow. When they decide to treat the rest of us with respect, and live and let live, they'll get that in kind. But until then, I'll happily badmouth any of their practices that deserve it and work against them when necessary.
posted by zarq at 5:55 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm an atheist, and I don't understand why so many atheists think they must be anti-theist.

I'm an atheist and a MeFite and I don't understand why so many athiest MeFites think they have to defend religion's honor and malign the "new atheists" in every thread about atheism. We get it, you're a Nice Person, a white knight valiantly defending the powerful from those who might hurt their feelings with a sneer. It's almost 2011 and gays still can't get married in most states solely due to religion's influence, but the important thing is that we respect religion and don't say mean things about it.
posted by callmejay at 8:25 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not about defending organized religion's "honor". It is about recognizing its relevance as a means toward understanding how our various cultures have come to be (the bad of them and the good of them). If you can't see any value in this at all, then I fear you as much as any blind idiot true believer who kowtows to dubious scriptures written down many centuries ago.
posted by philip-random at 9:20 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not about defending organized religion's "honor". It is about recognizing its relevance as a means toward understanding how our various cultures have come to be (the bad of them and the good of them). If you can't see any value in this at all, then I fear you as much as any blind idiot true believer who kowtows to dubious scriptures written down many centuries ago.

Meh. We manage to appreciate the cultural influence of Hellenism just fine without letting it run our lives.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:42 AM on December 19, 2010




Yes, and you both missed the bit where Lot is one of the bad guys.

I don't mean to derail, but can you point me to a reference for this? When Abraham is pleading for Sodom, he bargains God down to sparing it if there are ten righteous people in the city, not one. There aren't ten, of course, but the angels sure seem intent on getting Lot and his family out before they destroy the cities. Is that just because Lot is Abraham's nephew, then? I guess Lot seems kind of greedy in Genesis 13; is that what makes him one of the bad guys? If so, why did Abraham rescue him after the sacking of Sodom and Gomorrah by the other kings of the region?

I'm honestly curious about this; if Lot is one of the bad guys, spared purely through God's affection for Abraham and his family, that gives the story a different spin than if he's a good guy who just lives in Sodom. I've never seen any textual evidence for that version, though, so I'd love a pointer. Or is that one of those things that's just understood -- Moab and Ammon are bad places; this is explained by their founders being bad people, and since they are the (grand)sons of Lot, so must Lot also be a bad person?
posted by hades at 11:14 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Way to miss the point, phil. Yes, it has an influence; that's why I brought it up. My point was that it's not necessary to sacrifice cows to Juno to appreciate it.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:16 AM on December 19, 2010


The Judeo-Christian portrayal of God tells us something about how they/we see themselves in the world, and so on. Isn't this the nub of what Paglia's saying? That we ought to pay attention to what's made us what we are?

If so, then I would reject her. I assumed she knows what she's doing by pointing to the origins of Christianity that include Osiris, Adonis, Attis, Demeter, Mithra and others. Christian history never began with Jesus and she knows this. It was a continuation of rituals associated with cereal grain agriculture, symbolized as birth and resurrection, which now apply to human beings through religion. What she seems to be doing is a soft sell, lauding present-day Christianity to introduce her material to her target audience (but sneering works for others, and this seems to annoy her). Her approach comes across as trying to have it both ways with both sexually rebellious atheism and religious knowledge, ignoring the political realities of religion. She obviously knows that Christians buried their own past through populist intimidation and official destruction of countless pagan scriptures and art, but she's willing to up talk the enforced Christian version by way of having been steeped in it; to pretend it is some working gateway to the past, as long as she's the one leading the way.
posted by Brian B. at 11:47 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not about defending organized religion's "honor". It is about recognizing its relevance as a means toward understanding how our various cultures have come to be (the bad of them and the good of them). If you can't see any value in this at all, then I fear you as much as any blind idiot true believer who kowtows to dubious scriptures written down many centuries ago.

As I implied above, "what's made us what we are" and "how our various cultures have come to be" is a created narrative. Our heavy emphasis on Greek->Roman->Christian history already downplays many other influences which make us what we are; in a lot of ways, Pagila's thinking reflects our ongoing attempt to make history fit a convenient just-so-story, rather than the other way around. Religion (and we may as well admit that we're just talking about Christianity, here) is but one means of understanding how our various cultures have come to be, and the idea that it's a necessary and/or sufficient means seems to come straight from Christianity itself, not from an honest examination of its relevance to understanding.

As an anti-Christian, I do believe that there's value in studying the Bible, if only to know thy enemy. In fact, I think the Bible would be just fine as one book among many, in a course meant to give an overview of historic literature and beliefs, or even as the centerpiece in a course concentrated on the social relevance of Christianity. However, the Bible is not fine as "our best chance to see the universe whole", "the only thing which has prevented anarchy", or even "the book that's made us what we are"... and I think we both know how it'll be taught in public schools, given the chance. If even Pagila can't help but put the Bible on a pedestal, why should we believe that the people in charge of the school system can?

In short: trying to combat American high-school ahistoricity with More Religion is like trying to put out home-ec kitchen fires with More Grease. There's an entire list of things which are more vital to understanding the origins of our culture which aren't getting taught, starting with reading (seriously, many of our high-school kids cannot read at a fifth-grade level) and running on through basic numeracy and critical thinking. Without those, the best teaching religion is going to do is reinforce the ridiculous idea of history as a straight line drawn from Greece through Jesus and on to America; at worst, you'll be prepping the next generation for Dominionism.
posted by vorfeed at 2:33 PM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Way to miss the point, phil.

Sorry about that and, ummm, point taken, Sys Rq. I blame Satin.
posted by philip-random at 2:44 PM on December 19, 2010


Camille is a provocateur. I could easily disagree with half of what she says, but she always raises useful discussions. She encourages interesting arguments.

At first I was annoyed by her breakneck speed style of speech, spitting out words like a dervish, but now I find her enthusiasm endearing.

I liked Break, Blow, Burn; You Go, Cute Classics!

I could agree with her general point in the interview here, it reminds me of what E.O. Wilson said (looose paraphrase): You may not like Religion, but it ain't going away soon, so try to understand it as much as possible.
posted by ovvl at 2:52 PM on December 19, 2010


Hades: I don't think we're ever really told why Lot gets rescued, but "because he was Abraham's nephew" is plausible enough. We never see him do anything morally virtuous or have a positive influence on the people around him. Note that Lot is unable to persuade his sons-in-law to evacuate Sodom ("they treated it as a joke") and his wife disobeys a direct order from an angel. And then, of course, he gets drunk and his daughters seduce him, giving birth to Ammon and Moab, the very bad nations that can't marry into Israel "for ten generations". And the Bible is just full of Ammon and Moab attacking Israel, which shows their bad nature. On the other hand, the Book of Ruth is about a Moabite woman who gets to be King David's great-great ... grandmother, having found a loophole in the rules.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:32 AM on December 20, 2010


I guess I always took the author of 2 Peter at his word when he called Lot "just" and "righteous". And weren't the Ammonites and Moabites being punished for something that happened during the Exodus, around five generations after the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah? I dunno, the evidence for Lot being one of the bad guys seems pretty shaky to me. He offers up his daughters to the mob, the angels save him anyway, his sons' cities aren't cursed until a few hundred years later when their leaders try to drive away the Israelites, and he goes down in history as a righteous man. Clearly he does some pretty vile things, but it's not at all clear to me that they are considered vile in context.

No, I'm going to stay with my original thought, which is that Penn and Humanzee and I aren't missing the bit where Lot is one of the bad guys because that bit just isn't there.
posted by hades at 1:42 AM on December 20, 2010


to clarify: The Sodom + Gomorrah Video Project
posted by philip-random at 7:21 AM on December 20, 2010


hades: "I guess I always took the author of 2 Peter at his word when he called Lot "just" and "righteous". And weren't the Ammonites and Moabites being punished for something that happened during the Exodus, around five generations after the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah? I dunno, the evidence for Lot being one of the bad guys seems pretty shaky to me. He offers up his daughters to the mob, the angels save him anyway, his sons' cities aren't cursed until a few hundred years later when their leaders try to drive away the Israelites, and he goes down in history as a righteous man. Clearly he does some pretty vile things, but it's not at all clear to me that they are considered vile in context.

No, I'm going to stay with my original thought, which is that Penn and Humanzee and I aren't missing the bit where Lot is one of the bad guys because that bit just isn't there.
"

There's a Christian saying I rather like: "The devil can quote Scripture for his own ends." It has always struck me as deeply ironic, since as we know, Christians wholly appropriated the Jewish Torah for their own religious purposes.

So, the Torah and New Testament explain Lot differently. 2 Peter refers to him as a "righteous man dwelling among" the wicked. Very cut and dried. But that's not how Lot is presented in the Torah, which paints a far more complex picture of the man and his actions. Lot is discussed as someone who was righteous, who moved to and lived in a land of wicked people, perhaps with the initial intent of steering them on a righteous path. But instead of having a positive influence on Sodom, the city's inhabitants had a negative influence on him. He fell in with them. He also resisted leaving. Note that the angels practically had to shove him out.

Jewish and Christian religious authorities have interpreted the story of Lot, Sodom and Gomorrah in a variety of ways, and often deliberately place emphasis on specific aspects. My understanding is that some Christian sects focus on it as a sort of morality tale against homosexuality. But Jewish interpretations tend to focus on the importance of keeping company with others who are righteous, and to establish governments that establish rules for all to follow, lest you be swayed to the dark side (so to speak.)

hades, I suspect you and Joe are seeing this through different lenses.
posted by zarq at 8:29 AM on December 20, 2010


hades, I suspect you and Joe are seeing this through different lenses.
It's worth noting that the most objectionable flavors of Christianity in North America -- the dominionist "literalists" -- would have to concede hades' point.

Even the idea of there being different readings of Lot between the old and new testaments is offensive to them.
posted by verb at 11:09 AM on December 20, 2010


"The devil can quote Scripture for his own ends."

This is the theological equivalent of "Correlation does not equal causation" -- a perfectly true statement that is only ever used when someone is backed into a rhetorical corner. When you quote Scripture as a source of authority, then someone else points out a piece of Scripture that contradicts yours, then you don't get to say, "The devil can quote Scripture for his own ends."

Unless you're okay with admitting that you're the devil in that situation.
posted by Etrigan at 1:01 PM on December 20, 2010


Actually that statement about the devil quoting scripture? That comes straight from a New Testament passage where he does exactly that-to Jesus Himself.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:50 PM on December 20, 2010


Forgot to add-that Scripture quoted out of context, or with perhaps a word or phrase left out, is what we are talking about in this passage, and from it we are taught that yes, just because someone quotes the Bible doesn't mean they are handling the scriptures correctly.

Just sayin'.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:52 PM on December 20, 2010


I'm confused. Which of us is the devil in this case? Is it me?

Just askin'.
posted by hades at 3:02 PM on December 20, 2010


Unless you're okay with admitting that you're the devil in that situation.

You are aware that I'm not taking sides in this situation, yes? Nor am I referring to either hades or Joe in Australia as the Devil but rather applying the metaphor in a somewhat general way to Christians for appropriating the Jewish Torah.

Nor am I trying to imply that one interpretation is superior or more correct to another. It's a story, and each side presents it differently, emphasizing their own narrative. The Jewish version is more complex than the Christian one, and prioritizes different lessons.
posted by zarq at 3:05 PM on December 20, 2010


Actually that statement about the devil quoting scripture? That comes straight from a New Testament passage where he does exactly that-to Jesus Himself.

Forgot to add-that Scripture quoted out of context, or with perhaps a word or phrase left out, is what we are talking about in this passage, and from it we are taught that yes, just because someone quotes the Bible doesn't mean they are handling the scriptures correctly.
Well, yes. Presumably the Devil can quote that part, too. "Scripture and Scripture Alone" leads, inevitably, inescapably, to tribalism and hypocrisy: it can't acknowledge the existence of an interpretive framework, because that framework can't itself be weighed by Scripture. Eventually we arrive at Darbyism and everything gets silly. So everyone accuses each other of twisting and distorting scriptures, but they're using prooftext to prove themselves correct, which only proves they're really mendacious, and...
posted by verb at 3:07 PM on December 20, 2010


I'm confused. Which of us is the devil in this case? Is it me?
Everyone is the devil. It's how group dynamics work.
posted by verb at 3:08 PM on December 20, 2010


St. Alia: Actually that statement about the devil quoting scripture? That comes straight from a New Testament passage where he does exactly that-to Jesus Himself.

Forgot to add-that Scripture quoted out of context, or with perhaps a word or phrase left out, is what we are talking about in this passage, and from it we are taught that yes, just because someone quotes the Bible doesn't mean they are handling the scriptures correctly.

Just saying.


One can quote all of a specific passage word for word and still create an interpretation that is not applicable across multiple religions. Jewish concepts and stories are often translated through a specific filter by Christian authorities -- one which meets their specific purposes and ends. Nor is emphasis placed equally. If it was, then Christians would shun shellfish. :)

Take the Book of Isaiah. It holds vastly different import for Jews than it does for many Christians.
posted by zarq at 3:12 PM on December 20, 2010


hades: "I'm confused. Which of us is the devil in this case? Is it me?

Just askin'.
"

I know I commented after you asked this, but to be clear....

I was trying to highlight a bit of the futility of arguing across religious traditions, when one religion claims a story should be interpreted one way, and a second religionˍ claims it should be interpreted another. Jews, Muslims and Christians all share the Lot story. Each of them emphasizes specific aspects of it while de-emphasizing (or refusing to acknowledge) other traditions' narratives.

Neither you, nor Joe are the devil here. I'm sorry if my comment seems to say you are -- that really wasn't my intention. But if I'm reading you both correctly, you're never going to come to an agreement here unless you agree on which narrative to follow. Christianity says Lot was righteous. Judaism says his story's more complex than that. Which is right? Well, they both are, according to them. It's easy for each side to declare that the other is wrong.
posted by zarq at 3:20 PM on December 20, 2010


verb: " It's worth noting that the most objectionable flavors of Christianity in North America -- the dominionist "literalists" -- would have to concede hades' point.

Even the idea of there being different readings of Lot between the old and new testaments is offensive to them.
"

Yes, absolutely.

There are ultra-Orthodox Jews who are also Torah literalists. They'd disagree with hades. :)
posted by zarq at 3:23 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Zarq wrote: There are ultra-Orthodox Jews who are also Torah literalists.

I don't think this is correct. A Torah Literalist would be a Karaite, and they're not part of orthodox Judaism.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:47 PM on December 20, 2010


No offense taken, zarq; I was being unduly snarky in response to the idea that there was a "correct" way to handle the scriptures. (And maybe fishing for an "eponysterical".) I was also missing that Joe was coming from a different tradition, with other textual sources. I've had this conversation with people from different Christian sects who disagreed with each other on Lot's righteousness, despite pointing to the same single source as their authority, but hadn't until now looked into the Jewish interpretation.
posted by hades at 3:59 PM on December 20, 2010


Well, as far as "righteousness" goes....the Bible says that Abraham believed God-and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Lot's righteousness, biblically, was probably positionally, if not always manifested in everything he did. He was a believer, in the OT sense.

And as far as his daughters are concerned...THEY are the ones that got him drunk and then lay with him. As far as sin goes, it's on them. Now, he did indeed offer these same daughters to the drunken crowd (who were there demanding to be given the angelic visitors, that they might rape them) but in the mores of the day, one of the worst things one could do is not practice hospitality properly, which indeed meant you did what it took to protect your guests. Sucked to be women in those days.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:58 PM on December 20, 2010


Lot's righteousness, biblically, was probably positionally, if not always manifested in everything he did. He was a believer, in the OT sense.
This is pretty much as clear a demonstration of the "interpretive framework" bit I mentioned as is possible. Thanks. :-)
posted by verb at 5:10 PM on December 20, 2010


Well, there is a reason many of us believe we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit in understanding the Book. ;-)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:55 PM on December 20, 2010


Well, there is a reason many of us believe we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit in understanding the Book. ;-)

That sounds like it must be a tricky Job.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:01 PM on December 20, 2010


Well, there is a reason many of us believe we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit in understanding the Book. ;-)
Well, yeah. Saying, "You're wrong because the Holy Spirit says" is even easier than actual theology.
posted by verb at 9:06 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is the theological equivalent of "Correlation does not equal causation" -- a perfectly true statement that is only ever used when someone is backed into a rhetorical corner.

Or when somebody is bullshitting.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:19 AM on December 21, 2010


Joe in Australia: " I don't think this is correct. A Torah Literalist would be a Karaite, and they're not part of orthodox Judaism."

This is far too complex a topic for me to cover in a single comment on MeFi, but there are plenty of ultra-Orthodox rabbis who view the Torah as non-allegory: the word of G-d, a truth which was handed to Moses on Sinai. This truth is then subject to interpretation, debated and discerned by them with the help of the Mishnah and other Talmudic writings. This is not incompatible with a mainstream Jewish understanding of Torah, but there are ultra-Orthodox rabbis who take it one step further. They are the spiritual and intellectual descendants of the Tz'dukim, and typically reject science, the theory of evolution, and are either proponents of Intelligent Design, or more frequently just plain creationists. All because the Torah tells them that the universe is 5700+ years old, and that's absolutely not open to interpretation.

Look at what happened to Natan Slifkin a few years back. He's known as the "Zoo Rabbi," teaches a course in biblical and talmudic zoology at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Israel, and regularly publishes books and papers that covering a range of scientific topics including evolution. 23 ultra-orthodox / chareidi rabbis issued a statement denouncing him in 2005, for his book "Science of Torah." Note that nothing in "Science of Torah" outright refuted the Torah. It made an attempt to reconcile modern scientific thought on naturalism with what is written in the Pentateuch.
In ''The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax,'' Rabbi Slifkin examined the difficult separation of animals into kosher and nonkosher, and discussed apparent exceptions and contradictions to the claims of Jewish law. (The aardvark and the rhinoceros, for example, meet one test for being kosher but not another.)

And in ''The Science of Torah,'' he took a scientist's eye to the Torah. Evolution, he wrote, did not disprove God's existence and was consistent with Jewish thought. He suggested that the Big Bang theory paralleled the account of the universe's creation given by the medieval Spanish-Jewish sage Ramban. And Rabbi Slifkin wrote, to quote his own later paraphrase, that ''tree-ring chronology, ice layers and sediment layers in riverbeds all show clear proof to the naked eye that the world is much more than 5,765 years old.''

The latter statement was particularly galling to the rabbi's critics, who support a literal reading of Genesis that they say puts the earth's age at 5,765.

The rabbis who signed the letter denouncing Rabbi Slifkin are widely respected Torah authorities; one of them, Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, 91, is a leader of Israel's United Torah Judaism Party and one of the most respected scholars in Orthodox Ashkenazi Judaism. As a result, the letter has had repercussions far beyond the congregations of those who signed it. Rabbi Slifkin's publisher, Targum Press, and his distributor, Feldheim Publishers, have stopped carrying the books. Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox outreach organization, has removed most of his articles from its Web site.

Revered though they are, however, most of the rabbis signing the letter are not known as community leaders or public voices; only one of the Americans, for example, sits on the eight-member Council of Torah Sages at the head of Agudath Israel of America, an influential national Orthodox organization. Rather, they represent the most unworldly segment of the ultra-Orthodox community, in which learning is prized and contact with the secular world, including secular education, is shunned.

The letter against Rabbi Slifkin is not the only recent outburst against science among the ultra-Orthodox. Last November, during the annual conference of Agudath Israel, Rabbi Uren Reich, the dean of Yeshiva of Woodlake Village in New Jersey, said, ''These same scientists who tell you with such clarity what happened 65 million years ago -- ask them what the weather will be like in New York in two weeks' time.''
Per Wikipedia:
In 2005 about twenty prominent Haredi rabbis in Israel and the United States, including Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rabbi Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach and others, put a ban on Slifkin's books, which in effect meant that Haredi Jews in communities that accepted the Rabbis' authority could neither purchase nor read Slifkin's writings without running afoul of a rabbinic dictate. The main reasons given for the ban were Slifkin's suggestions that the Sages of the Talmud were mistaken in certain scientific matters, and that the universe is in fact billions of years old. All of the condemning rabbis belong to the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) stream of Haredi Judaism.
Rabbi Shlomo Eliyahu Miller was also among the signatories.

Back to the topic at hand: I understand your point that if the rabbis accept that the Torah is subject to interpretation, then they are perhaps not strict literalists. But very, very often, they do indeed stick to the letter of the Torah as fact, rather than allegory, making them rejectionists of anything that might shake their worldview.
posted by zarq at 8:01 AM on December 21, 2010


But what are each of their positions wrt Lady Gaga?
posted by Apocryphon at 10:41 AM on December 22, 2010


But what are each of their positions wrt Lady Gaga?

Fine, as long as she doesn't wear the meat dress with the cheese hat.
posted by vorfeed at 4:06 PM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


« Older The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of?   |   A Jessica Harper Holiday Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post