May 31, 2007

Fisking Tapu Misa

Now that Garth "Vader" George has hopefully ridden into the retirement sunset of newspaper column writing, his place is being rapidly taken by Tapu Misa, a Polynesian mother and member of the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority. Her latest column is in response to a Christopher Hitchens's book "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" (NY Times book review here).
She's as good as doddery George in avoiding the real issues at stake here (whether religion, any religion, can be any good for the world, society and everything) and rather attack that breed of
New Atheists" who, apparently distinguish themselves from their more polite forerunners in "their virulence, hostility and arrogance.
"New Atheists?" She obviously hasn't read her Voltaire (or Sade) recently.
A few other clangers of hers:
[The New Atheists] display the kind of absolute certainty they scorn in the most fanatical extremists. Atheists know best; atheists have reason on their side.
No, they don't know best, they just know, instead of having to believe in something that isn't proven or provable. And having reason on your side, I would think, is A Good Thing.
Yes, we all know that bad things have been done under religious pretexts. But why blame religion for its failed recruits?
Because, Tapu, religions never admit to failure. They can't without losing credibility. Many can't even stand the notion of apostasy: both Christianity and Islam preach, fulminate, legislate and sometimes have killed over this principle.
And why give so little credit to religion's good works; to the debt owed by Western society to the Judaeo-Christian tradition; to the fact that without Christianity we wouldn't have public hospitals and schools, human rights, the protection of children and women, the abolition of slavery, our charitable institutions, and the legal protections and freedoms we cherish so dearly?
The Judaeo-Christian tradition? A meaningless term because Christian medieval Europe was never happy with the Jew in its midst. It is what it is: tradition dissipated by social change, progress and knowledge.
Public hospitals and schools? They are here due to secular state policy, sharply and long resisted by religious bodies running religious hospitals and schools.
Human rights? They were an invention of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution - anti-clericalism in the 18th century was a far fiercer force in human emancipation than the meek media players in today's "culture wars".
Protection of women and children? They have always been treated by religions as second class citizens or downright property. Was she not awake during social history lessons?
Slavery? It took Christianity 1,807 years (well, one preacher managed to) to get it abolished in England - and much longer in the USA. Ms Misa should be grateful that the missionaries to her Polynesian homelands didn't arrive 100 years earlier to relieve her ancestors of their native culture. (I doubt somehow that they were secretly longing to be in harmony with Christ or whatever the Pope said about the Latin American natives)

It's also pretty poor form to claim there are 500 million Christians in Europe. New Zealand is as little a Christian nation as most of northern and western Europe is. In our census the category "no religion" is growing strongly, hardly an indicator in New Zealand that
Christianity in its various forms is the fastest-growing religion in the world.
And in the rest of Europe, if it isn't secularism that is killing off all those Orthodox Christian Russian Nazis, it's alcohol - or just plain ridicule in the case of those silly Poles upset by the Teletubbies. Perhaps Ms Misa could get a BSA ruling on the Teletubbies sexuality for her Polish colleagues. Her anti-secular credentials would stand her in good stead with them, obviously.

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