Saturday, February 20, 2010

Readings: The Cynical Shepherd


In this previous post, centered on an excerpt from Rebecca Goldstein’s novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, I discussed the dangers inherent in the infusion of logical positivism into the liberal arts. A bit further on in her novel, Goldstein treats the issue of neo-conservatism as it relates to our society’s politico-religious life.

In this excerpt, the character Cass Seltzer (whom I designated only as the younger of the two grad students featured in my earlier post) is now all grown up and a faculty star in his own right. He is a professor whose discipline is Psychology of Religion. Seltzer has hit it big, both academically and financially, as the author of a best-seller with the distinctly William Jamesian title, Varieties of Religious Illusion. I.e., Professor Seltzer is to be classified among the “professional atheists.”

Seltzer has accepted an offer to publicly debate a man named Felix Fidley: “a Nobel-laureate economist who has been taking his stand on a wide range of issues by publishing in the neoconservative magazine Provocation, [and who] has been challenging the so-called new atheists to debate him on the existence of God.”

Addressing his partner, Lucinda, also a star academician (and a staunch rationalist), Seltzer sums up the current situation thusly:

“For lots of people it’s become a matter of political coalitions more than anything having to do with theology. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. If liberals are going in one direction in the religion-versus-reason debates, defending the theory of evolution and secular humanism, neocons feel they have to head off in the opposite direction. Or they think that it’s okay for people like them, who are thoroughly civilized, to question God’s existence, but that it would be moral anarchy if the teeming masses started to doubt God. I suspect that’s what Fidley believes."

How accurately this describes the political herding of Christian evangelicals, conservative Catholics and Jews, and other socially conservative Christians, by the rightwing extremists operating within the American political system. If these types were symbolized by an Orwellian ultimate leader, that figure might be called “the Cynical Shepherd.”

I am more than a little concerned that a neologistic compound such as “politico-religious” [see paragraph one above] is even possible, let alone meaningful.

Given this scenario, put me down—for now—as a “moral anarchist.”

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Note on the illustration: This is another of the doodles gleaned from the margins of my college notebooks. If you are wondering why I found it appropriate for this particular post, only realize that it is a left hand, and note the condition of the fingers.

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