Friday, January 08, 2010

Ross Douthat: "Shockingly Bad"

Hie to Bitch Ph.d, where M. Leblanc says:

Ross Douthat's column about Avatar, which is shockingly bad. And I really can't believe that the NYTimes lets him write something that is basically a whiny defense for Christianity on their pages.
LeBlance's not kidding. The whole thing is (near as I can tell, it's pretty incoherent) about how bad pantheism is compared to monotheism. And, lord is it loopy.

First, it's loopy because Douthat takes cheap shots at Hollywood.

If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”
Let's leave aside how goofy it is to try to call Star Wars "pantheistic" when it's pretty transparent space opera, or how those other movies are far more about "back to nature" themes than Pantheism.

How the HELL can a New York Times columnist get away with such a ludicrous, ludicrous statement? There are THOUSANDS of films that have been made from a Judeo-Christian standpoint. Hell, if you want to get technical about it, almost [i]ALL[/i] films are made from a Judeo-Christian standpoint. That's the context and society they were made in! Pantheism isn't something Americans long for! It's treated as a novelty!

He then transitions to a weird defense of Christianity (well, monotheism, but you know which "mono" we're talking about here):

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.
You got a cite there, Ross? And what does this have to do wtih Pantheism, exactly? It might have something to do with primitivism, which was also a theme in Avatar, but they aren't the same thing.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.
Okay, I'm going to stop right here. This is all too nonsensical to rebut, since it's just a series of bald assertions of monotheism's (read: Jeebus') superiority. That last assertion that "Nature cannot take us back" is little more than "your religion is wrong and mine is right! Nyaaaah!" dressed up.


Pantheistic? Hell yeah, go look up the word "kami" sometime. Primitivist? Not really, their cell phones make the west's look like toddler's toys, and they have a long tradition of techno-fetishism that would make Ross' precious little head spin. Even if it were not logically incoherent to argue that Pantheism is primitivist, it is demonstrably wrong. Yet neither Ross nor any of his editors thought to question whether insulting and trivializing the beliefs of millions in the pages of the New York Times was a good idea.

So, now, there's a better question here. Japan is a nation of hundreds of millions, prominent in American history, one of America's biggest trading partners, a key player in a key region in American policy, and a country that exports cultural products that are hugely popular among America's youth. How the hell could nobody at the New York Times think of any of this? Sure, Ross is an idiot, but why the hell did nobody go "uh, Ross, you are aware that you just told Japan that their religion is bad and that they're full of shit, right? Maybe you could use another draft?"

And, for those of you who have seen Avatar, you'll know that Douthat's whole premise is faulty at best. I don't want to drop spoilers, but there are damned good reasons within the film's setting for that "all is connected" stuff that has less to do with pantheism and more to do with a few other key concepts in SF. Even if Avatar is an allegory about pantheism, there are other, better questions going unexplored as Christian America goes through its convulsions about a non-Christian movie that questions America making bank.

I know that the token conservative columnist at the NYT gets away with a lot. And I know that Douthat is, by and large, beneath contempt. His columns are weak stuff at best, barely worth response. This is no different: it's just a lukewarm swipe at Hollywood and those non-Christian heretics and infidels, intended to solely build up his stature within the conservative movement. And, certainly, his commentators are carving him up for it. One correctly pointed out that he's taking shots at Animism, not Pantheism. Another correctly notes that he sounds petulant and defensive.

But come on, NYT. He's under your damned imprint. He's damaging your damned reputation. EDIT HIM.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:28 PM

    This is a clever little article, do you allow full text in your RSS subscriptions?
    No more hate, no more love. Just be, and everything will make sense. (not)
    I'm not happy about my life, what can I do to be happy?
    How do people blog on other people's blogs? Can I guest post on your site, I have lots of interesting articles.

    I am logged in, therefore I am.