Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Brother Minister

Christopher Hitchens wonders whether Michelle Obama is behind her husband's unfortunate association with Jeremiah Wright. This is an interesting question in itself, but even more interesting was something Hitchens reminds us of in his essay that I had completely forgotten:

So numbed have I become by the endless replay of the fatuous clerical rantings of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright that it has taken me this long to remember the significant antecedent. In 1995, there appeared a documentary titled Brother Minister about the assassination of Malcolm X. It contained a secretly filmed segment showing Louis Farrakhan shouting at the top of his lungs in the Nation of Islam's temple in Chicago on "Savior's Day" in 1993. Farrakhan, verging on hysteria, demanded to know of the murdered Malcolm X: "If we dealt with him like a nation deals with a traitor, what the hell business is it of yours?" His apparent admission of what had long been suspected-that it was the Black Muslim leadership that ordered Malcolm's slaying-is not understood or remembered (or viewed) as often as it might be.

I invite you to look at the film of Farrakhan's sweating, yelling, paranoid face and to bear in mind that this depraved thug, who boasts of "dealing with" one of black America's moral heroes, is the man praised by Jeremiah Wright and referred to with respect as "Minister Farrakhan" by the senator who hopes to be the next president of the United States.

I had forgotten that Farrakhan had been implicated in the murder of Malcolm X, though nothing was ever proven. What was never in doubt, however, was that Farrakhan approved of the killing of the man who was a hero to so many African Americans. In fact, Malcolm's daughter, Qubilah Shabazz, was arrested back in the 90's for trying to hire a hit man to assassinate Farrakhan to avenge her father's murder.

So why do blacks let Jeremiah Wright get away with being cozy with Farrakhan? Why do blacks let the Obamas get away with being cozy with Wright? It's as deep a mystery, perhaps, as why African Americans let the Democrat party get away with keeping them on the political plantation while doing almost nothing to assuage their grievances.


Devil's Delusion

David Berlinski is a charming example of that rare species among our intellectual flora and fauna - a genuine agnostic. Despite his own personal theological uncertainties he has written a book which offers a defense of modern religious belief. The work is titled The Devil's Delusion, an obvious play on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. Here's what the Product Description at Amazon says about the book:

Militant atheism is on the rise. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have dominated bestseller lists with books denigrating religious belief as dangerous foolishness. And these authors are merely the leading edge of a far larger movement-one that now includes much of the scientific community.

"The attack on traditional religious thought," writes David Berlinski in The Devil's Delusion, "marks the consolidation in our time of science as the single system of belief in which rational men and women might place their faith, and if not their faith, then certainly their devotion."

A secular Jew, Berlinski nonetheless delivers a biting defense of religious thought. An acclaimed author who has spent his career writing about mathematics and the sciences, he turns the scientific community's cherished skepticism back on itself, daring to ask and answer some rather embarrassing questions:

Has anyone provided a proof of God's inexistence? Not even close.

Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close.

Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close.

Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough.

Has rationalism in moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough.

Has secularism in the terrible twentieth century been a force for good? Not even close to being close.

Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy of thought and opinion within the sciences? Close enough.

Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even ballpark.

Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.

Berlinski does not dismiss the achievements of western science. The great physical theories, he observes, are among the treasures of the human race. But they do nothing to answer the questions that religion asks, and they fail to offer a coherent description of the cosmos or the methods by which it might be investigated.

This brilliant, incisive, and funny book explores the limits of science and the pretensions of those who insist it can be-indeed must be-the ultimate touchstone for understanding our world and ourselves.

I hope to have more to say about The Devil's Delusion once I get it read.

HT: Mindful Hack