Conversations: Genocide and Dogma

Consider the Holocaust: centuries before the mid 20th century, Christian Europeans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, while the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, its roots were religious, and the explicitly religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued. The anti-Semitism that built the Nazi death camps was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity.

Examples aplenty, the Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914. And both Catholic and Protestant churches have a shameful record of complicity with the Nazi genocide.

Hang on, what is this so-called blood libel? Continue reading

On The Importance of Books

“It tells me that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.”

– Henry Jones Sr.

Conversations: Evil Atheists?

If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers. In fact, they should be utterly immoral. Are they?

No. Do members of atheist organizations in the United States commit more than their fair share of violent crimes? Do the members of the National Academy of Sciences, 93 percent of whom reject the idea of God, lie and cheat and steal with abandon? We can be reasonably confident that these groups are at least as well behaved as the general population. And yet, atheists are the most reviled minority in the United States. Continue reading

On a Nice House

“What is the good of having a nice house without a decent planet to put it on?”

– Henry David Thoreau

Orwellian and Huxleyan Dystopias

Journalist Christopher Hitchens, who himself published several articles on Huxley and a book on Orwell, noted the difference between the two texts in the introduction to his 1999 article “Why Americans Are Not Taught History”:

We dwell in a present-tense culture that somehow, significantly, decided to employ the telling expression “You’re history” as a choice reprobation or insult, and thus elected to speak forgotten volumes about itself.

By that standard, the forbidding dystopia of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four already belongs, both as a text and as a date, with Urand Mycenae, while the hedonist nihilism of Huxley still beckons toward a painless, amusement-sodden, and stress-free consensus.

Orwell’s was a house of horrors. He seemed to strain credulity because he posited a regime that would go to any lengths to own and possess history, to rewrite and construct it, and to inculcate it by means of coercion. Whereas Huxley rightly foresaw that any such regime could break because it could not bend. In 1988, four years after 1984, the Soviet Union scrapped its official history curriculum and announced that a newly authorized version was somewhere in the works.

This was the precise moment when the regime conceded its own extinction. For true blissed-out and vacant servitude, though, you need an otherwise sophisticated society where no serious history is taught.

Some years before that, the social critic Neil Postman had contrasted the worlds of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death:

  • What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
  • Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism.
  • Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
  • Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.
  • In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.

Orwell on Orthodoxy

‘Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.’

– Orwell. G. 1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (2008) p. 56

On Evidence-free Ideologies

“Today, Nazism is considered to be a political ideology; it was, however, as opposed to Fascism, a worldview, a faith.”

– Lina Heydrich