Monday, September 03, 2007

Wild atheism

Yasmin Alibhai Brown is a strange character. I was a guest on a radio programme last year with her, a Muslim Brotherhood MP from Egypt and callers from around the world on the BBC World Service. She arrived late and launched into an impassioned attack on the MB MP about Darfur, attacking him for failing to condemn the slaughter of fellow Muslims. It was a wonderful show of passion, but why should it matter that they were all Muslims? Why does the religion of the raped and murdered matter, or for that matter of the outraged? And why didn't she point out (I couldn't get a word in at that stage of the programme, because she had missed some of it and was being given time) that the regime in Khartoum is linked with the MB and so the lack of condemnation was not least because the man was a part of the very group responsible for what was happening?

She has condemned the attitude of Muslim men in Britain towards white women, a rare thing and very honest. Yet she can write this sort of dishonest drivel:

There are no experiments and tests to explain love, empathy, longing, the agony and ecstasy of the heart, the wild and wonderful creativity of the brain, that thing that happens to you when a full moon appears above the sea and is reflected in it. Sorry, but knowing the science of why the moon shines is irrelevant to the experience. Faith is the light of the moon above and that light in the sea, reality and spirituality, both making you tremblingly conscious of forces vast and beyond words. Impertinent scientists cannot know what they speak of.
Apparently, she hasn't heard of evolutionary biology, which can at least formulate explanations of all those things. From this lofty height of ignorance, she condemns "impertinent scientists". Knowing the science of moonlight is not necessarily irrelevant to the experience. If you know anything of it, it augments the other reactions that Yasmin herself feels, without in any way diminishing them. And you can see where the gears of her brain are missing teeth: faith is not moonlight. People without faith experience this just as she does. To claim beauty for a mental trick - the ability to believe something that is plainly untrue, as faith is - is deceitful. Beauty is available to people of no faith, whether or not they are happy with that absence.

Here's another example:
Some aspects of our nature are not susceptible to scientific enquiry, cannot be dissected, categorised and validated in terms that would satisfy the "rational" disbelievers, whose intellect is colossal but imagination puny.
This is just untrue. Every aspect of our nature is susceptible to scientific enquiry. Yasmin doesn't like that fact, but has a - again the word is appropriate - dishonest way of putting that into words.

There's good stuff amid the dross:
Since 9/11 Islam, Judaism and Christianity have become dangerously politicised. Too many people today have developed an intensified religious identity. I also believe strongly that public spaces and institutions should be wholly secular. An established church, state-funded faith schools and increasing encroachment of religion into politics are bad for us all.
But ultimately it is she who has an inability to understand, and either this makes her mind whirl so much that she becomes incapable of coherent thought, or she believes she can slip this sort of thing past her readers:
In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins proclaims that faith instruction to the young is worse than paedophile abuse. John Cornwell, the Cambridge ethicist who has just penned an elegant riposte to the Dawkins' rant, points out that this was the imagery used by Nazis too, for whom their country was a healthy body invaded by multiplying, Jewish bacilli.
(emphasis added) The imagery - paedophilia on the one hand, disease on the other - is different in these examples, but she claims it is the same even though she has quoted the very words that show her to be misleading. And the really obvious point is missed, perhaps because it would condemn her too. She says:
Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and Mao were driven to genocide not by religion but cold, cruel power. None of these men feared God.
But of course the thing that united these monsters, and in turn unites them with Jihadists and the ghosts of the Spanish Inquisition, is totalitarianism. They all claim the whole of their subjects, the whole of every person alive. This scope permits, even demands, atrocities in the names of communism, fascism and religion alike.

From there to the most stupid but predictable thrust of the religious is but an inevitability:
Fundamentalist atheists want to replace old religions with their own. To them all previous prophets were false. Their fervour makes them as blind and uncompromising as those following the religions they detest. Science gave them no immunity – they too are infected by the virus of faith.
While it is funny to see a religious person use the language of religious observation - fundamentalist, atheism is a religion - as a condemnation, it is so depressingly inaccurate that it becomes a labour to hit the keys to point out the lie. But of course atheism, and more particularly science, come from a lack of faith, from a scepticism, a refusal to believe, even in the work of other scientists and atheists.

By writing these hysterical sentences, Brown and others move from the arena of debate into that of psychological study. What should have remained a private sorrow between Yasmin and her analyst becomes public knowledge - a blind anger at the irreligious that mutates into a rant that has abandoned any pretence of rationality.


Anonymous said...

Faith, a just another word for ignorant fantasy.

Countingcats said...

Faith, a just another word for ignorant fantasy.