Throwing Ishmael Out With The Bathwater @SamiraAhmedUK @RevRichardColes

A little microcosm today of why I find myself (as an atheist) arguing in defence of religious theists, particularly more sophisticated theologian types, when they’re confronted with the stereotypical “flying spaghetti monster” or Dawkins / Krauss  attack formations.

You know the kind, since god is clearly a ridiculous supernatural invention, everything you believe or say you do based on those values is fair game for criticism – ridicule – because that core assumption is ridiculous, obviously, right?

Sure the values captured and conserved within religions are neither exclusive to either any one religion or even the theistic religions in general, nor are they even invented by those religions, more co-opted from civilised experience – wisdom. (And further co-opted by national cultures as a result – think of the current tiresome “there are no such things as British values” mantra. Zzzzz.)

And obviously, does it even need saying, neither do such beliefs represent “objective truths” to a rationalist, whether hard-core or merely wet-apologist.

Clearly if you come up against some naive believer, simplistic arguments based on the ridiculousness of some literal aspect of their belief – preferably with a little wit, irony and satire if ridicule is your wont – then the potentially offensive risk of the ridiculous is a fair – attention-grabbing maybe even though-provoking – choice of weapon.

If your interlocutor’s attention is already there – say a theologian or scholar who’s studied the topic – then this tactic serves little purpose other than to make the point about yourself – you find the idea ridiculous (yeah, we get that) – and, depending on how well you know your interlocutor and /or how witlessly you deliver the criticism, other than to offend for offense’s sake. There’s a lot of it about.

It would need a separate thread – a book – on how best to conduct constructive criticism with a more sophisticated interlocutor – from which you might both learn something, but today I learned something.

Samira Ahmed tweeted a blog today about her upcoming “Something Understood” (Sunday 19th on BBC R4), and I exchanged a couple of comments with her.

I was hooked at the mention of T E Lawrence and the allure of the desert, Ozymandias too. Lawrence of Arabia was a boyhood favourite, and since acquiring David Lean’s cut on DVD, I do indeed sit in anticipation each time of the dot of Omar Sharif’s approach from the horizon – an expectation extended both musically and visually in that edition. (And as she commented, the effect works even through the musical score alone – Post-note the Sharif entrance is actually done in silence – no musical background – interesting. Anyway.)

Ishmael is a motif I’ve referenced several times, as used by many authors post Melville’s narrator in Moby Dick, seeking to discover the (tiny) leviathan in the vast inhospitable desert of the sea. The story of Ishmael is the core of Ahmed’s piece. The story of Hagar and Ishmael that is, banished to the desert wilderness in the bible story. A story I’d forgotten until Ahmed’s tweet reminded me:

It’s like a whole parallel narrative in Genesis.
Why the OT is such a great literary work.

Worth understanding. Literary value is as real as any. This really struck home back in 2002 when I was reading Dupuy on the original 1976 Macy conference on Cybernetics and Cognitive Science – in the days when these subjects were about evolving human systems of self-governance, before being usurped by the AI & Tech fraternity (*). Dupuy described the problem as:

The schizophrenia between the need for formal models
… and the nevertheless deeply held belief that ….
… literature is a superior form of knowledge to science.

I shall be listening to Samira Ahmed on Something Understood this Sunday.

[(*) Coincidentally (!) I was clearly reading Melville at the time I blogged about Dupuy.]

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