War, Noir, Atheism

October 2, 2010

On the beach

In earlier posts, I have commented on the connection of film noir and the experiences of millions of men during WWII.  I thought of this yet again after reading this human interest story in the NYTimes about two men who both landed at Normandy on D-Day and happened to be next to each other in a hospital ward in NYC awaiting open heart surgery.  Naturally, they formed a bond quickly.

Before the surgery, the doctor told one of them not to be afraid.  The patient, who is 90, scoffed.  He said, ‘There’s nothing you can do that I can’t get through — I’ve been through Normandy.”  There’s a man who has built his life on bedrock.  Later on, he remarked, “After getting out of World War II, I’m not afraid of nothing and I’m not impressed by nothing.

The two men profiled worked in retail and construction.  Another war story I have read comes from Victor Brombert, who taught 19th century French literature at Princeton for many years.  (He is a noted expert on Flaubert and Stendhal).  He came from a family of secular, unreligious,  prosperous, bourgeois, French Jews who had the sense to leave before Hitler could rout them out and gas them.  After attending school in the USA, Brombert enlisted in the army and found himself on the beach at Normandy on D-Day.

The saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes.  I’ve never heard much evidence for this – to me it sounds like wishful thinking on the part of advocates of religion.  I have read stories similar to Brombert’s.

He relates that he was scared beyond belief, scared senseless.  He was trying his best to make his body as small as possible, clawing the ground so hard that his fingernails were in agony as he forced sand under them.  He was deafened and stupefied with terror at the sound and concussions of the shellfire around him.  At that moment, he came as close to prayer as he ever came in his life.  He promised himself that if he survived, he would never complain about anything again.

Not exactly a prayer to God, but not a bad way of life, either.


Religion falling, religion rising

March 11, 2009

thing_religion

A recent study shows that Americans are less self-identified with religion than ever before.  Still, the impulse yet lives…

There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. The ethics of environmentalism are being taught to children in kindergartens, schools, and colleges all over the world.

Bill McKibben, with his anguished cry of loss for our pre-lapsarian existence, The End of Nature, comes to mind.

As Freeman Dyson points out in the review of a book about global warming from which this excerpt is taken, this is not a bad thing in many ways.  But it is not science.  He has more to say about the actual science of global warming here:  Heretical Thoughts.


What’s the good word?

March 10, 2009

no_religion

Broadcast the Good News!  America is getting with the program, reality!

All religious denominations are loosing ground.  American Religious Identification Survey, 2008.

Once again, let’s all try to imagine no religion!


Let Us Damn Godless Men

February 26, 2008

hellfire preaching

The religious right in our country has been busy for some time trying to get over the falsehood that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Yes, the founders were raised as Christians. Yes, only a few were atheists, although many were Deists of the Jeffersonian-Voltairean sort. Yes, the words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the Constitution, but then, neither do the words “separation of powers.” Those two ideas, however, are clearly central to the meaning of the document.

Perhaps no better evidence for the non-Christian, secular nature of the state our Founders bequeathed to us (aside from the fact that God isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence only mentions the Creator, and the only mention of religion in the Constitution is negative, i.e., there shall be no religious test for office) is the testimony of the contemporary evangelists who did not like the point of view of the Founders. Here we have a quotation from the emminent Timothy Dwight, a prominent evangelical of the time who later headed Yale College:

“The nation has offended Providence. We formed our constitution without any acknowledgment of God; without any recognition his mercies to us as a people, of his government or even of his existence. The [constitutional] convention by which it was formed, never asked, even once, his direction, or his blessings, upon their labors. Thus we commenced our national existence under the present system without God.”

Amen to that, Tim!

This quotation can be found in the article linked here.


Anatomy of the “Dismal Science”

February 9, 2008

am_i_not.jpg

Reading Carlyle’s history of the French Revolution got me curious about him. A friend of liberty? He describes the epochal event in 700 close print pages of exciting narrative. A stormy, breathless, you-are-there quality, with dashes of sarcasm and much heavy irony, makes it fascinating reading. What did he mean by writing On Heroes and Hero-Worship? No, he was no friend of democracy, liberty, and the common man, though he did begin as a radical. In fact, he seems to have been a rather tortured intellect, maybe a tormented soul.

While thumbing through his life, however, I came upon this interesting tidbit about him and his coinage, perhaps his most famous, i.e., economics is “the dismal science.” It can easily be interpreted as a protest against the pessimistic, inhumane, and souless discipline of a “science” devoted to money. Well, think again…

Everyone knows that economics is the dismal science. And almost everyone knows that it was given this description by Thomas Carlyle who was inspired to coin the phrase by T. R. Malthus’s gloomy prediction that population would always grow faster than food, dooming mankind to unending poverty and hardship.

While this story is well-known, it is also wrong, so wrong that it is hard to imagine a story that is farther from the truth. At the most trivial level, Carlyle’s target was not Malthus, but economists such as John Stuart Mill, who argued that it was institutions, not race, that explained why some nations were rich and others poor. Carlyle attacked Mill, not for supporting Malthus’s predictions about the dire consequences of population growth, but for supporting the emancipation of slaves. It was this fact—that economics assumed that people were basically all the same, and thus all entitled to liberty—that led Carlyle to label economics “the dismal science.”

The Secret History of the Dismal Science: Economics, Religion and Race in the 19th Century
by David M. Levy and Sandra J. Peart

The image at the top is a medallion produced by the abolitionist industrialist, Josiah Wedgewood. JW was good friends with that practitioner of the dismal science and fellow abolitionist, Adam Smith. (Darwin was married to one of JW’s family, and was also an abolitionist, as well as being about 100 years ahead of his time on the question of race. Not only was he against slavery, not only did he think that Africans were the same (species) as Europeans, but he was actually friends with some.) This children of The Enlightenment – that fearsomely evil, anti-moral, godless, soul-destroying ideology – seem like pretty good guys compared to Thomas Carlyle, romantic apologist for dictatorship and slavery.

Still, he was a pretty nice looking fellow, don’t you think?

carlyle.jpg


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