In particular, White is outraged that Hitchens would say that “proteins and acids … constitute our nature.” White says no poet would concede this. I would say that no contemporary poet worth his or her salt would deny it.
Synopsis of Jeff Nichol’s film Mud: Women are like cottonmouth snakes. You fall in with one, you are going to get bitten. You may live. You may die. Either way, you are going to be in a world of pain.
Towards the end of Jeff Nichols deeply flawed film, Mud, the sometimes girlfriend of the main character says to the young protagonist of the film: “You don’t know Mud. He is a liar and people like him because he makes them feel good about themselves.” Therein is the answer to the question Why the appeal of the lie? that we posed in the first part of this fractured essay.
People listen to liars because liars, expert liars, make people feel good about themselves, and what better way to make people feel good about themselves than by telling them that they have an eternal soul and that a giant sky-pappy loves them.
That this is errant nonsense that an intelligent 10-year-old can see through is not a hindrance to its acceptance, in fact, it facilitates the spreading and assimilation of the lie because, as Oscar Wilde with characteristic perspicuity pointed out, people will believe the impossible, but not the improbable.
Impossible: Sky-daddy made the earth and everything on it in 6 days about 6, 000 years ago. Improbable: Life on earth evolved through a non-externally directed process of natural selection over the course of several billion years.
Modern science has two distinct disadvantages when it comes to combatting religious non-sense — it is improbable and it is incomplete. Science instills uncertainty and doubt: the engines of inquiry. Religion shuts the brain down by offering answers that are, on the surface, complete, and it is so patently ludicrous that it is silly to question its dictates, so you don’t.
For too long poets and artists have hitched their wagons to the sky-pappy fantasy train, taking the easy route of the lie that makes people feel good about themselves with words like “soul” and “spirit” and “god.” Of course, for several hundred years there has also been a line of humanist art, and for several thousand years, a staccato history of art rooted in nature, doubt and wonder that eschewed, or at least downplayed religious sentiment, but the facile appeal of hoodoo has a powerful pull.
A recent article on Salon by Curtis White, an excerpt from his book The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers, illustrates the appeal of woo-woo lies. The excerpt is an attack on Christopher Hitchens, an attack largely driven by envy of his success, that attempts to say that Hitchens was not aware of the cultural contributions of religion, which is of course complete nonsense, and that Hitchens misleads about history, also nonsense. Hitchens was eminently aware of these contributions and the history, but he felt they should always be tempered by the humanism of the Enlightenment and that religion’s days as a productive member of human society were long gone, something to be acknowledged, like slavery, and then shelved for more humane options. White claims to be an atheist, but he comes off more as a new age wannabe.
In particular, White is outraged that Hitchens would say that “proteins and acids … constitute our nature.” White says no poet would concede this. I would say that no contemporary poet worth his or her salt would deny it. The route to true wonder is not the dead end of the soul, the spirit and gods, it is the open ended quest for knowledge in a material universe that may forever elude our complete understanding.
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Anyone who read the Curtis White article cited above would find it enlightenening to read this rebuttal by Carlo Dellora, especially if you have not actually read God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.