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Went with taci to see Salman Rushdie at Town Hall this evening. Non-intellectual sod that I am, I've never read his work; nevertheless, it was a stimulating and enjoyable evening. I also spent a significant amount of time trying to puzzle over the proper pronunciation of his name.

Rushdie is brilliant, insightful, and witty. His reading was thoroughly engaging, eliciting spontaneous applause and laughter from those of us in the audience. Some applauded more often and laughed more loudly than the rest: a response, I suspect, to hearing deeply-held affections and convictions lauded from the lectern (it happens in churches across the nation).

Speaking of which, I found myself least appreciative of Rushdie's dismissal of Genesis as "superstition." This was, of course, in the context of creation vs. evolution, from a 1999 essay on Kansas and Darwin. I'm not aware enough of Rushdie to know how much his (often well-informed) concern about religious fundamentalism of all stripes bleeds over into a contempt for God, in concept or in person, and if so, which is the cause and which is the effect.

While he spoke about the folly of creation, I noticed the holes.

The back of the bench in front of ours had four holes in it. As I thought about them and looked around, I realized why: it was a pew. They were all pews— Town Hall must have originally been a church. And now, years later, there was standing room only as a widely read and respected author casually derided Genesis and those who might advocate its account of creation— comments met with great applause and support. Things have changed in Town Hall.

But things haven't changed in the world. Rushdie was largely enjoyable and always thought-provoking; I think I'd like to read some of his work and would definitely see him read again given the chance. Yet if I'm going to choose an author to listen to with my life, I think I'll stick with the Author of Genesis. For all his humor, thoughtfulness, and friendly manner, Rushdie doesn't love me. The other Author, the original, does.

Comments

in the periphery of my eye, i saw a friend finger the holes in our wooden pews and wondered about the thoughts ticking through his mind. and now i know.

ah, my Captain, these were the insights that i expected and that i couldn't wait to hear as revealed. i don't claim to know rushdie's background or his faith. but i think that i can add some depth to his conversation. does he believe that Genesis is superstition? or that faith or fundamentalism do not have a place in this world? i think it's easy to believe so. after all, he does have a death warrant on his life for being "sacreligious".

yet i also remember his strongest criticism of fundamentalism: he worried that faith was worn as decoration, as a trend, fashionable and only for the wearing on the sleeve.

my impulse is to believe not that he discounts faith but that he pushes it heavenward, fearing most that the name of God will be used poorly...as an excuse for ignorance, callousness, false righteousness, or self-negation.

the metaphor weighing Genesis against Darwinism does not simply reduce to a competition between "superstition" and science...but to a battle between tunnel-vision and thoughtful exploration. i may be wrong, dear Captain, and you know you're free to correct me, but it seems to me that not only does God have the same expectation of us, but that He demands and merits that form of worship.



Perhaps I missed that Rushdie was speaking in metaphor: he seemed to me to be speaking directly about Kansas' inclusion of the possibility of creation in its curriculum, then cited other states that had or had considered similar steps. That essay sounded quite specific and direct to my ears.

Yet what his essay protests seems to me to be an opening of a system, not a closing of one. To be clear: no state, to my knowledge, has sought to remove teaching of Darwin's theory from the classroom. That's why his use of the word "superstition" was particularly noticeable– most people see any challenge to consider Darwin's theory as a theory to be anti-scientific. Is this because of their burgeoning knowledge of its framework, premises, underpinnings, social context, evidence, and flaws? No. When pressed, most of us would have to respond (if forced to be honest), "It must be both true and scientific, because I learned it in science class. So many things are based on it. It's in all the textbooks and museums. It must be true." And that's not science, it's faith.

I have no issue with the Darwinist faith or the freedom to practice it (they even have cute little fishies with feet on the backs of cars). Most who claim it as science, however, haven't the foggiest. To claim it as science, it must be claimed as theory, and to be taught as science, it must be taught as theory. Making a theory a "given" in scientific exploration is, quite simply, bad science. I'd have difficulty embracing the idea that the possibility of the presentation of other theories (and this is how they also must be presented) would be to the detriment of science or the development of (crititcal) thought.

Yet Rushdie stands opposed, in this specific case, to anything but a single theory of origin of life being presented in schools (Side note: Rushdie also espoused the Big Bang as nigh indisputable, when my understanding is that it is one of many universal origin theories under investigation. This misstep contributes to my suspicion that Rushdie's objections may not be rooted in science at all.). This stance seems somehow inconsistent with his passion for freedom of thought. So what's the problem? I wonder if it isn't the presence or even the possibility of God, a God who might make Himself known through His very creation– if one doesn't make His non-existence a necessary premise for "science." Because again, that's not science. It's faith.

Regardless, I'm sure I'd enjoy a cup of tea with him, too. And I certainly enjoyed spending the evening with the two of you.

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Ay, my Captain, you have caught positivism in your net, exposing its characteristics and its manifestations. Science is faith. And I would agree with you that this faith blinds us to other paths, other faiths, and other means of experiencing the world. To be honest, I see that you and Rushdie are requesting the same thing: freedom of thought within education and the consideration of multiple perspectives, multiple layers, and multiple theories...pluralism at its best. You both dislike close-mindedness.

Creationism has battled Darwinism in the judicial courts of many states, dear Captain, since the 1920s. And it was fought in the belief that creationism alone should be taught to America's generations. Both creationism and positivism (seen in Rushdie's example of Darwinism) thus stand guilty of requiring faith and demanding blind allegiance. Yes, we should question science. Yes, we should question religion. Questioning opens the mind to better understanding...better faith, better practice.

I'll stick by my stance on this one...Rushdie speaks metaphorically, with layers. And what he spoke against was not religion or Christianity in particular but dogmatism...the unfledging belief that one stance alone is correct and necessarily overshadows all other thought and exploration.

I don't know whether he is an atheist. And I don't think it's important for understanding his thesis. The best essays are those that provoke us to look into and beyond ourselves as well as the essay itself. My guess is that Rushdie deserves more than casual scrutiny that observes only the garment and not the body of the essay.

(and can i say, dear Captain, i very much enjoy our exchanges? ay, yours is an intelle
I didn't know what positivism was, so I looked it up. Still thinking on that.

To be honest, I see that you and Rushdie are requesting the same thing: freedom of thought within education and the consideration of multiple perspectives, multiple layers, and multiple theories...pluralism at its best.

Once I finished shuddering after reading this, I had to examine why: in reference to Kansas, that's not what Rushdie advocated at all. Kansas had one approved origin of life theory for the science classroom (Darwinist evolution). When the expanded to include the possibility of creation, Rushdie balked. Why? I'm not sure, but freedom of thought doesn't seem to be the agenda. Anytime I'm more pluralist than Salman Rushdie, you have to wonder what's going on (and appreciate the irony). It's a rare case indeed.

Creationism has battled Darwinism in the judicial courts of many states, dear Captain, since the 1920s.

My understanding of history here is that Darwinism had to battle to be allowed into schools in the '20s (Scopes trial, etc.). Since then, it's become the de facto standard, to the exclusion of other science. Therefore Kansas circa 1999 can only falsely be cited as a battle of Creationism supplanting Darwinism in the classroom. It's just not so. Yet that certainly seems to be the lens through which we are meant to look.

I'll stick by my stance on this one...Rushdie speaks metaphorically, with layers.

If so, my initial response is that the metaphor is stilted: "Creationists are taking over Kansas [false] = Dogma is bad [worth discussing]." Of course, I also think the reader buys a great deal of interpretive wiggle room with metaphor and layers. It's great fun to see how much we can give the author credit for saying or not saying; much of higher education is devoted to this pursuit. Not surprisingly to you, it also gives me the urge to shout (in Jon Stewart fashion), "It's open bar at the Opinion Lounge– ladies drink free!"

I'm not saying you're wrong about metaphor and layer. I'm just saying that if you're right, he's either accountable to the facts of the case, or it's a free-for-all and we (author and reader alike) can read into it whatever our hearts desire.

And what he spoke against was not religion or Christianity in particular but dogmatism...the unfledging belief that one stance alone is correct and necessarily overshadows all other thought and exploration.

Here's the trick, the "yes but..." or "yes and no...": If dogmatism is indeed as you've defined it here, there are cases in which Jesus requires it of believers. That's not to say every or even most church doctrines are dogma as defined above, but some will be, must be, or else it's not Christianity at all. The only way "around" this is to pick and choose where and when to listen to Jesus. As you might guess, I submit that such a buffet-style approach may lead to a religion, but that religion is not Christianity.

The core issue I think Rushdie should have addressed (and perhaps this was his attempt and I missed it) is science in the science classroom. This means theory– and when there's a plurality, theories– presented as such, within their social context (there's naturally a huge one around both Creationism and Darwinism) and with both evidence and shortfalls. "In the beginning" isn't science, yet there is science to support "In the beginning," and this is what deserves classroom admittance. Current approaches to teaching evolution (preeminiently or solely) place a premature lock on the doors of scientific inquiry. When those who believed in God tried to remove or even loosen that lock in Kansas, some (including Rushdie) took offense, dismissing their argument as fundamentalism. And I'll grant that many "creation scientists" come off as just that, but neither was Darwin a well-regarded figure in his day. The issue is the science, as far as science is concerned.

As to the best construction of the whole of education– of which science is a part, but should not be allowed singular dominance in developing an understanding of all things– aye, there's a deeper discussion... :)

(I wonder if anyone else is reading this.)
In the end, Rushdie is trivial compared to God. So am I. Glibness is the disease of even recognized intellectuals. I recently read Christopher Hitchens dismissing scripture saying, "I'm convinced that there isn't a word of truth in Genesis or Exodus." He based his certainty upon one Jewish scholar. Just one. As my boy Zach put it to an atheist friend, "Okay, you get your five guys from college (professors), and I'll get my five guys from college, and then whom do we believe? How 'bout we use our own brains too?"

You're also right about all of these thinkers who really have a bias as deep as cultists. Think of Karen Armstrong, former nun, who has to justify her having left the church. Or John Crossan. These are people who always start out trying to dodge the embarrassment of ascribing any actual power to God. I'm not sure whom they are trying to impress. The irony is that they have made themselves far more sentimental than you or me.

As bad as my life can seem, I can only imagine it as worse apart from God. If fame and achievement are enough for Rushdie, I am sorry for him.
For all his humor, thoughtfulness, and friendly manner, Rushdie doesn't love me. The other Author, the original, does.

AMEN!
Very well spoken, everyone! I applaud all of you.
:),
Lauren
For all his humor, thoughtfulness, and friendly manner, Rushdie doesn't love me.The other Author, the original, does.

I love this observation. I think this a lot when I feel the need to impress people... that no one in the world loves me like God does, so why am I placing their opinions above his?

The statement itself is so childlike and true and a perfect thing to finish your thoughtful post with!

I thought his name was pronounced like King Solomon only without the middle o. ???

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At the reading, everyone else said it that way, but he said sal-MAHN. I'm neurotic enough to want to get it right, but then again, I don't call Germany "Deutschland."

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I don't call Germany Deutschland either :)