A few days ago I received a drive-by email – i.e., one intended to convey emphatic displeasure and have the last word rather than hang around for a reply. I’ll spare you the more colourful bits; what matters is the question that was fired my way:
How can you – an atheist – defend Sarah Palin?!
There’s a lot crammed into those eight words, almost all of it mistaken. Firstly, I don’t recall “defending” Sarah Palin. I recently quoted Camille Paglia’s comments on Palin and noted reactions to the governor from large parts of the left and the feminist sisterhood. In recent days reactions have scarcely been more temperate. For instance, Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, yesterday offered this:
Please understand what you are looking at when you look at Sarah “Evita” Palin. You are looking at the designated muse of the coming American police state… Under the Palin-Rove police state, there will be no further true elections.
Given the illegal hacking and distribution of Palin’s private email by leftwing activists, perhaps Ms Wolf should reflect on her convictions that,
[Palin] uses mafia tactics against critics.
Under the Palin-Rove police state, citizens will be targeted with state cyberterrorism.
And while it’s true such hyperbole is noted with more than a little amusement, I don’t think that technically qualifies as my defence or endorsement of any particular candidate. Though perhaps it lends weight to my suspicion that Palin’s most vehement detractors may prove much more revealing than Palin herself.
Secondly, I don’t recall ever referring to myself as an atheist. If pressed for a label, I’d probably opt for agnostic, insofar as there doesn’t appear to be a satisfactory answer to the question of a benign and ultimate cause intrigued by human beings, which is at least part of what the word “God” seems to mean. Regular readers will know I’m sometimes unkind to religious claims of entitlement and preternatural knowledge. If a person believes that the origin and nature of reality has much to do with the sadistic ravings of a Bedouin pirate, that person is ignorant, probably foolish and possibly unwell. And if a person doesn’t realise that the Biblical Jesus is, at best, a quasi-fictional amalgam of much earlier myths and stories, that person should read a little pre-Christian mythology and note the similarities.
But not being impressed by Islam’s warlord prophet or Christianity’s patchwork messiah doesn’t in itself address the question of how everything that exists came into being and whether or not its existence has numinous connotations. If a person maintains that the Bible is an original, non-fictional account of actual paranormal events, I’m not likely to take that person terribly seriously. If, on the other hand, a person has an ill-defined belief that the universe has some kind of agreeable cause – one not readily expressed in rational terms – then, whether or not I agree or grasp what’s allegedly being perceived, I can’t dismiss the claim in quite the same way.
It’s surprising what you can squeeze out of eight indignant words.