Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hitchens on the politics of Hell-fire

Slate now offers, for the discriminating and non-sentimental sort of skeptic, excerpts from Christopher Hitchens' new book: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens/Slate/Xtians

"""We do not believe in heaven or hell, yet no statistic will ever find that without these blandishments and threats we commit more crimes of greed or violence than the faithful. (In fact, if a proper statistical inquiry could ever be made, I am sure the evidence would be the other way.) We are reconciled to living only once, except through our children, for whom we are perfectly happy to notice that we must make way, and room. We speculate that it is at least possible that, once people accepted the fact of their short and struggling lives, they might behave better toward each other and not worse. We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true—that religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow ..."""

Mahster Hitchens raises an important if somewhat obvious point (obvious to anyone who ever bothered with the cliffsnotes to Hume) in opposition to those religious conservatives who suggest that without threat of Hell-Fire, society falls into decay or anarchy (of course that never stopped centuries of warfare waged by xtians, muslims, jews, etc.). CH however arrogant does have a certain gift for putting forth skeptical arguments in a coherent fashion (and quoting some of Hitchens' bon mots will generally piss off both biblethumping idiots and whiny-ass liberals). And whether you agree with him or not (or his politics) one might respect his courage (he, like his pal Rushdie, also lives under threat from the muslim nuts, if not from some zealous Catholics or fundies).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut on the death of eloquence

"""I'm writing about the death of eloquence. Eloquence was so ordinary back then, in the time of Shakespeare. In contrast to Shakespearean speech, I was watching one of those television talk shows the other night where people air their disagreements with other people. There is a scene in Othello where Iago wants to get Cassio drunk on alcohol and.... ......""

"So Iago says, "Come, lieutenant, I have a stoup of wine; and here without are a brace of Cyprus gallants that would fain have a measure to the health of black Othello." Cassio turns down the drink and says, "Not tonight, good Iago; I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking: I could well wish courtesy would invent some other custom of entertainment." And then we get back to what I saw the other guy say on tv — well, I read his lips actually, because we don't get anything real on our televisions. And this talk show guy said, "Fuck you — you know what I'm saying?" [Laughs] I just don't think people get off on language anymore. Language used to be an elevated art. It used to be for people what music can be. But people don't learn to do that anymore, so eloquence is merely a matter of waste now. Who needs a good vocabulary and proper English? Eloquence — it's dead and who needs it? We use shorthand nowadays. Fuck you — you know what I'm saying? [Laughs] """"

Indeed, Mr. V . As with the scrawlings of his literary ancestor Twain, Vonnegut's screeds have been approved by Contingencies: KVSpeak may not have been sufficiently posh-- or marxist--- for east coast lit. snobs, yet still, shall we say, Jeffersonian (and KV, Cornell guy, was fairly well read in sciences, reportedly). Better some yankee cynicism--- even bad, stoner yankee cynicism-- than English lit. melodrama, or space operas for that mattter (or Catholics, Inc.) . We don't care for all of his writing---Slaughterhouse 5 may have been overrated (the Dresden sections are pretty powerful)--- but Breakfast of Champions not a bad book (and possibly a parody of Updike?). Dwayne Hoover is alive and well, and defending Dick Cheney in some bar. JG Ballard approved of KV, apparently. A few years ago, Vonnegut also penned an interesting column on Nelson Algren, one of America's legends of the literary underground (as KV noted, Sinatra made far more from "Man with the Golden Arm" than Algren did). So it goes.

(and note, Vonnegut fans, how many so-called "liberal" bloggers didn't even bother to mention Kurt's death: that's par for the course for the new sort of cyber-apparatchik).

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Are we better off without religion?"

Richard Dawkins, the delightfully fiendish Christopher Hitchens, and Grayling vs. Roger Scruton (a great windbag in the Kantian tradition) and some other pious tories. Reports indicate that the bad guys (D. & H.)) proved victorious.

"Christian: One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor." (A. Bierce)
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