Saturday, May 12, 2018

Stephen Greenblatt and New Atheism

It took me a while, but I finally noticed the link between a recent source of aggravation, Stephen Greenblatt

and his profoundly misinformative and hugely popular book The Swerve,

and that earlier source of annoyance, those avid consumers and champions of misinformation, the New Atheists.

I had separated myself from the New Atheists. It was amazingly easy to do: I simply stopped seeking them out, and, to my amazement and immense relief, I rarely came across any of them any more. There was a whole big wonderful world out there which was almost entirely free of them. Almost.

New Atheists are atheists who believe that religion is the source of most or actually all of the world's problems, and who constantly talk and write about religion in this vein while being very careful never to learn anything about it. The classic example is Richard Dawkins, who is constantly going on and on about how Islam is the greatest threat to the world, and has never read the Koran and never will and is freakin' proud of it. New Atheists are constantly discussing a fictitious story about early Christianity and the creation of the Bible, while being very careful never to read more than a dozen or so verses of the Bible specially selected for their awfulness, or to learn anything about the ancient Mediterranean world in which Christianity and the Bible first arose. They live in an echo chamber, only "learning" about the ancient Mediterranean world from each other, distrusting any and all actual experts.

I don't know whether Stephen Greenblatt is a New Atheist or has even heard of New Atheism, but how could New Atheists not love Stephen Greenblatt and his book The Swerve, which is so full of inaccurately hostile denunciations of Christianity?

I don't mind denunciations of Christianity -- I've written a few myself -- but I greatly prefer those which are factually accurate. Like this one, a positively furious book-length denunciation of Christianty which cuts much deeper than any New Atheists have dreamed of doing, although it is much less clumsily broad than their attacks: Der Antichrist,

written by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche had been appointed a full professor of Classics at the University of Basel at the astonishingly young age of 24. He was very well-versed in the literature of the ancient world in which Christianity and the Bible arose. At age 44, writing Der Antichrist, Nietzsche referred often to the New Testament in the original ancient Greek, although he found the Greek New Testament to be very badly-written, and reading it to be a very unpleasant experience. Nietzsche never was interested in taking the easy path, or so his writings make it seem. He was a scrupulous author, concerned, to a very unusual degree, that the things he wrote made sense. He wanted to make sure that his book about Christianity contained no inaccurately hostile denunciations, only accurate ones.

Nietzsche wrote Der Antichrist in 1888, an extraordinarily productive year for him as a writer. (Was he hurrying because he felt the end of his sanity approaching?) This one book was written between the 3rd and the 30th of September, and then he went right on to other things, until the 3rd day of January, 1889, when he went suddenly, thoroughly and permanently insane, perhaps from the effects of a decades-old case of syphilis overpowering his brain at last. Or perhaps he went mad from exasperation at so many people who spoke and wrote on the topics he cared about, without bothering to be well-informed. Like the many people who've been glad to discuss Nietzsche with me, who've never read anything Nietzsche wrote. (What on Earth did they suppose they were discussing?) Like Greenblatt and the New Atheists, so eager to discuss things like Medieval monasteries and atheist philosophy, and so determined not to learn about them. What do they actually imagine they're talking about?

And what should I do about it? Simply avoiding New Atheism certainly has been comfortable. But maybe, ultimately, as thoroughly atheist as I am, I can't be completely comfortable just sitting back and watching religious forms of stupidity be replaced by equally stupid atheist ones. Maybe, as sweetly tempting as it is, I'm just not as Epicurean as that.

Gee, I hope this doesn't drive me completely and permanently mad.

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