Friday, October 3, 2008

Hurtling Toward the Cliff (Pt. II)

In his article Without God which appeared in The New York Review of Books, Physicist Stephen Weinberg paints a bleak and depressing picture of a life without God, but seeks to redeem that portrait by urging us to enjoy a drop or two of honey before we dissolve into the void of nothingness. Weinberg urges us to be brave, but his prescription is really a form of denial. He tells us that human life is pointless and absurd so we should embrace...poetry. He adds that poetry doesn't need God for its inspiration:

We see already that little English-language poetry written in the past few decades owes anything to belief in God, and in some cases where religion does enter, as with poets like Stevie Smith or Philip Larkin, it is the rejection of religion that provides their inspiration.

Perhaps, but whether the poet loves God or hates him he is still fascinated by him and this fascination is what inspires his art. If it weren't for God what would these poets write about? Weinberg seems to think that a culture can produce great art without God and perhaps it can produce some, but if the art and literature which has been inspired by God, either positively or negatively, directly or indirectly, were removed from our museums and libraries, there would be precious little of value left.

Moreover, we are justified in wondering, where are the great artists from those countries which are officially atheistic? Who are the men and women of genius in those countries whose work is completely indifferent to God and yet rises to the level of greatness? Most of the great writers who emerged behind the iron curtain, for example, were religious dissidents. The record of official state atheism does little to inspire optimism that Weinberg's assessment of atheist art is correct. If history is a guide, it seems more likely that atheism stifles and impedes creativity and artistic genius.

I'll have a little more to say about Weinberg's essay tomorrow.



Last night's debate between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin was remarkable. Biden seemed the more knowledgeable and yet, according to some analysts, he made at least ten misstatements of fact. Palin may also have made some errors but, despite having to rely frequently on her notes, she turned in a stunning performance. She was up against a man who has been involved in such debates in three different presidential campaigns, including the recent Democratic primary. Palin has been on the national stage for about five weeks, yet she not only held her own against the 35 year veteran of Congress, but she came across as a very appealing candidate.

Biden had only to avoid embarrassing himself in order to pass muster (though he certainly exceeded that minimal requirement,) but Palin had to show the country that she was smart, knowledgeable, charming and competent. She had to show that she belonged on the stage with Senator Biden. She did all of that, and by so doing she probably pulled McCain's bacon out of the fire for a second time within a month.

His campaign was beginning to falter going into the convention and Palin's speech at that event turned it around. Then, after McCain moved into a slight lead, the financial crisis hit and the attacks on Palin piled atop her distressing appearances with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric, began to sap the original excitement she generated. McCain could not overcome these problems in his debate with Obama, which was considered an approximate draw, and it looked as if his campaign was about to fade into oblivion. Indeed, NBC analyst Chuck Todd just yesterday declared the race essentially over.

But after last night I'm not so sure. It's not that Biden lost, rather it's that Palin seemed to reassure a lot of people that the calumnies leveled against her abilities were unwarranted, and her disappointing performances in her interviews with Gibson and Couric were correctable stumbles. She re-energized a lot of Republicans last night and probably wooed more than a few independents and undecideds to her side.

We'll have to wait to see what the polls show to be sure, but I'll be surprised if McCain doesn't get a bit of a bump from Palin's performance last night.

A final thought: It occured to me as I watched the debate that the country would be better served if the two debaters, Biden and Palin, headed their respective tickets. Isn't it ironic, for instance, that we may elect in November a man to be commander-in-chief who, because of his past associations with terrorists, would probably otherwise be denied a top security clearance by the CIA or FBI?