Friday, July 06, 2007

Learning from HIstory

Phila is right; I did miss this the first time around. It is a review of Dawkin's The God Delusion by Marilynne Robinson, whom I only know as a writer of fiction, not as a scholar, theologian, scientist, historian, or sociologist. Yet she acquits herself well in all four areas in deconstructing Dawkin's text. At one point, taking on the question of what Dawkins calls the "zeitgeist" (well, his version of the concept), she quotes extensively from the work of Aldous Huxley in the 19th century on the issues of slavery and emancipation. She uses this language to show Dawkins' ignorance of history (he is, in her review, remarkably free of knowledge in several crucial areas, which makes his assault on religion bolder, of course). When I read this passage, I didn't think of ancient history, but of a very recent Supreme Court ruling:

As for the lesser issues of justice that arose in the wake of slavery, Huxley had this to say: "whatever the position of stable equilibrium into which the laws of social gravitation may bring the negro, all responsibility for the result will henceforward Lie between Nature and him. The white man may wash his hands of it, and the Caucasian conscience be void of reproach for evermore. And this, if we look to the bottom of the matter, is the real justification for the abolition policy." No, he wasn't joking.
Chief Justice Roberts has a noble ancestor for his recent remarks. William Faulkner was right: the past isn't over. It isn't even past.

Seems to me Christianity has a great deal to say about that subject. We call it "original sin," and preach humility as a corrective to it. Mind you, as Ms. Robinson ably notes, there is "bad religion" as well as good, and the former today preaches neither "sin" (which did become an overworked and overly simplistic concept) nor "humility" ("We believe in you!"). Maybe we should start applying some of the insights of science and logic, such as the idea that time is an illusion (courtesy of Kurt Godel, who deduced it from Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which says space and time are connected. Interesting, no?). If there is no "time," then there certainly is no "progress" (Ms. Robinson points out this is a central conceit of Dawkins' view of evolution, which he does see as "progressive" from lesser to greater (simpler to more complex, but the same idea). Funny how Darwinism easily shades over into Social Darwinism. I think it may be a flaw in the original concept (one an ardent evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould, wrote an entire book about).

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