Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The appeal of incoherence to the intellectual.

I’ve discussed the wacky nature of Andrew Sullivan when it comes to religion before. His political commentary is often endowed with his ruminations on the spiritual. While he often contradicts himself politically, the price one pays for having few clear principles, his religious opinions are even more absurd.

He is one of those “intellectuals” who falls for the con game of the incoherent. What do I mean? Take as an example an “artist” who creates his “art”. I refer to the non-representational, “modern” artists in particular. One might, for instance, paint the inside of a room white and hang one light bulb from the ceiling. Voile, it is suddenly declared “great art” and intellectuals line up to “oh” and “ah” over it. Another might throw some loose change randomly into an empty room and it is proclaimed a masterpiece. It is the type of thing a monkey can do. And has! Andy Warhol once took a canvas, slapped copper paint on it and then invited a group of friends to piss on the painting. You can find a long, intellectual tribute to this piss art here.

The more incomprehensible the “art” the more valuable it becomes. Theology is rather similar. The more incoherent the opinion the “truer” it must be. I should add that philosophy often falls into the same category. The artist learns to speak in “aesthetic babble” and the theist learns to use “theobabble”. It has to sound religious. It need not actually express a coherent, rational thought.

In a recent blog entry of his Sullivan takes a swipe at the loony Dinesh D’Souza saying that his new book “is called What’s So Great About Christianity.’ Er: that it’s true?”

That is the whole comment. Well, one good thing about that entry is that he wasn’t talking about himself again.

Now what does Mr. Sullivan mean when he is noting that what is so great about Christianity is that it is true? In actuality nothing.

How is Christianity “revealed” to people? Well, first there were a group of men who supposedly went around preaching and they laid out what God was saying. None of them are alive today. But there were manuscripts written decades later which purported to tell people what these men said. But none of the original pieces of those survive as well. What there is of them are copies of copies of copies, each hand-written and open to human intervention, that were found decades after that. Then centuries after that the Catholic Church evolved. They like to pretend they existed right from the time of Christ onwards but that is as bogus as the Pope’s smile. And then various people through the centuries concocted their own brands of the same faith. Some like Joseph Smith invented entirely new versions of the faith.

No individual church was there when Christianity was founded. No denomination was there. All are later inventions. And since none of the prophets exist all we have is the Bible. And here is where Sullivan gets weirder. He dismisses the Bible acknowledging that it is not the literal, inerrant word of some deity. So what other source for Christianity is there for him?

He is a Catholic who doesn’t believe in Catholicism and a Christian who doesn’t believe in Christianity. Try to pin him down on any theological doctrine of Christianity in general or Catholicism in particular and he’ll evade and slide around trying to say absolutely nothing. And when it comes to religion he slides around saying absolutely nothing very well. In fact I think he says more absolutely nothing than anyone else I can think of writing on the topic today.

He says “it’s true”. But what is the “it” which “is true”? He actually evades defining the “it”. Is “it” just theism? At times he sounds as if that is precisely what he saying. He asserts there is a God but what makes that God uniquely Christian is left vague. He would look askance at miracles, revelations, encyclicals, and dogmas. He strips all of them out of his Christianity and asserts that what is left is what is “true”. And what makes it true? It makes him feel good.

He admits there is no rational foundation and goes into theobabble about the incomprehensibility of the deity. He says Christianity is true but has a Christianity which is indecipherable from general New Age mysticism. He likes the “drama” and the “ritual”.

The problem I have is that he takes the individual components of Christianity and dismisses them and then asserts the entity as a whole is true. Imagine owning an antique chair which the expert proclaims is a “masterpiece” and quite valuable. You start to ask him some questions.

First, you ask about the veneer. He tells you it is not the original and reduces the value. You point to the legs of the chair and ask him to tell you the name of their style. He informs you that they didn’t come with the original chair and were added on later. That’s something of a blow.

You run you hand on the seat of the chair and he tells you that it was reupholstered, which is too bad since the original is very rare. You point to the arms. “Recreation, I fear,” he says. And what about the back? Also a recreation.

So what makes the chair a masterpiece and valuable? In fact what makes it the style of chair it was proclaimed to be? It has nothing original left. It is a collection of all modern additions with no genuine pieces left. To proclaim it genuine is dishonest.

Sullivan’s Christianity is like that chair. He dismisses piece after piece of his own religion and sect and then says the religion as a whole is “true”. No doubt at his birthday parties he eats his cake and has it too.

Photo: The photo is of a "masterpiece" done by a chimpanzee. It sold at an "art" auction with two other such paintings for $25,000

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Blogger howie said...

Those "masterpieces" by Congo the Chimp are actually currently on display in a museum in Trento, Italy. Dunno what it means to your argument about religion other than that humans no longer have a monopoly on being artist...but maybe they'll always be able to claim the role of "ar-TEEST"


May 22, 2007

Blogger GodlessZone said...

The point is relatively simple. The more incomprehensible something is the stronger the tendency of some people to assume it must be profound.

May 23, 2007

Blogger Ethereal said...

I agree with you NGZ


May 24, 2007

Blogger Amy said...

Great post. I read that on Sullivan's blog and thought it sounded like one of those Japanese T-shirts written in English, but entirely unhinged to any sort of comprehensible meaning.

May 24, 2007

Blogger Amy said...

Ugh...that was from me, Amy Alkon. I make a point of publishing comments under my full name to be accountable.

May 24, 2007


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