In the second part of her interview with Salon, Camille Paglia offers more opinions that are worthy of serious attention. Paglia reads like someone who is never at a loss for an interesting and cogent opinion. We are all in her debt.
Here, Paglia opens with a show of contempt for the new brigade of atheists, people like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. As she says, these writers, who most pen polemics against religion and against those who believe in God—which is not the same as being religious—sneer at religion and dismiss it.
In Paglia’s words:
I regard them as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.” It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents– they’re still sneering at dad in some way.
I don’t think we gain very much by making it all a Daddy issue, but still, the failure to respect religion renders these writers polemicists, people who care less about rational argument than about manipulating the emotions of their audience.
For her part, Paglia is an atheist, but she explains that dismissing religion means dismissing Western Civilization, the good with the bad and the ugly. And she adds that atheist students today have replaced religion with politics.
All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.
Paglia is correct to note that those who worship at the altar of science have no access to the metaphysical realm, the world of ideas. But, consider this. My own psychoanalyst once astutely noted that before Kepler discovered the law that determined the orbit of the planets, the law was operational. The planets obeyed it. Assuming that it was an idea whose existence did not depend on whether or not Kepler discovered it or whether or not you thought it, it must have an existence outside of your mind and brain. But then, where was it? And, before Kepler thought it, who was thinking it?
Say what you will, these are pertinent and germane questions. As Paglia suggests, the new atheists would have great difficulty addressing them.
On another matter I would offer a mind disagreement. In place of monotheistic religions, today’s young people have joined cults to a multiplicity of gods. It’s called multiculturalism, but it feels like polytheism. As William James predicted, if Darwinism replaces religion it will do so as a nature cult.
Today, we also have cults to Reason, Science, the Earth, Sensuality and Spring Break. In their original incarnations, these were the gods and the goddesses, in order, Apollo, Athena, Demeter, Aphrodite and Dionysius. If you would like to have a cult to the female victim of a predatory patriarchal male, try Persephone.
Paglia believes that those who sneer at religion are disrespectful and narrow-minded. Their sneer identifies them as members of a certain group, a cult, and suggests that their membership depends on their holding the right beliefs. This, curiously, comes from people who sneer at those who believe in God.
Beyond her distaste for sneering, Paglia has no use for snark, especially the kind of smug in-jokes that have been trafficked (and raised into an art form) by Jon Stewart.
In her words:
I think Stewart’s show demonstrated the decline and vacuity of contemporary comedy. I cannot stand that smug, snarky, superior tone. I hated the fact that young people were getting their news through that filter of sophomoric snark.
She continues to evaluate Stewart’s influence:
… I’m sorry, but Jon Stewart is not a major figure. He’s certainly a highly successful T.V. personality, but I think he has debased political discourse. I find nothing incisive in his work. As for his influence, if he helped produce the hackneyed polarization of moral liberals versus evil conservatives, then he’s partly at fault for the political stalemate in the United States.
But Stewart would then be responsible for the fact that today’s liberals or, more properly, leftists, feel no need to consider differing points of view. One suspects that Paglia is referring to her students, people whose minds have in part been formed by the Jon Stewarts of this world.
They do not know how to think. They do not know how to exercise the faculty of reason. When it comes to opposing points of view, they prefer to malign those who purvey them and to dismiss other ideas as thought crimes.
Today’s liberals have dispensed with the free thinking that used to constitute liberalism and have fallen into a habit of group think. As I once said of New York: it’s a city full of free thinkers, all of whom think exactly the same thing.
Paglia has no patience for today’s liberal left:
The resistance of liberals in the media to new ideas was enormous. Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true! Liberalism has sadly become a knee-jerk ideology, with people barricaded in their comfortable little cells. They think that their views are the only rational ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the Koch brothers. It’s so simplistic!
Those who do not believe that they need to consider alternate points of view have been trying their best to bury the recent stories about Planned Parenthood. You see, if no one knows about it, it doesn’t exist and it isn’t real. Even though Paglia strongly supports reproductive rights she is appalled by the media censorship:
When the first secret Planned Parenthood video was released in mid-July, anyone who looks only at liberal media was kept totally in the dark about it, even after the second video was released. But the videos were being run nonstop all over conservative talk shows on radio and television. It was a huge and disturbing story, but there was total silence in the liberal media. That kind of censorship was shockingly unprofessional. The liberal major media were trying to bury the story by ignoring it. Now I am a former member of Planned Parenthood and a strong supporter of unconstrained reproductive rights. But I was horrified and disgusted by those videos and immediately felt there were serious breaches of medical ethics in the conduct of Planned Parenthood officials. But here’s my point: it is everyone’s obligation, whatever your political views, to look at both liberal and conservative news sources every single day. You need a full range of viewpoints to understand what is going on in the world
Indeed, you do.