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May 02 2013

Ineffable? Really?

Scott Stephens, the editor of ABC’s (the Oz one) “religion & ethics” page (as if the two are automatically linked, and in no way antagonistic), takes a look at Dawkins and Twitter.

Yes well…as I’ve mentioned several times lately, I think Dawkins and Twitter are a bad mix. The reasons for my thinking that are encapsulated in the (hilarious) sequence a week or so ago which went

  1. provocative tweet
  2. heated responses
  3. tweet saying Twitter is not friendly to nuance

Provocative tweets can be fun, of course, but there’s provocative and then there’s provocative.

But then again the same can be said about nuance.

For instance Stephens on Dawkins’s provocative tweets about Islam.

The wilful ignorance capable of making such statements is not just dangerously uncritical, to the point that it can nestle comfortably alongside the vilest forms of bigotry and anti-Islamic sentiment; it is also inexcusably ahistorical. It evinces a deliberate effacement of the role played by Islam in the formation of modern science and the intellectual foundations of western civilisation as a whole. Moreover, it ignores the productive dynamism evident throughout the development of Islamic jurisprudence, as well as the complexity, and even beauty, of its formulations concerning gender and the constitution of a good and just society. [emphasis added]

That last bit, with the added emphasis, makes me want to punch something. He’s not subordinated by the “complexity, and even beauty, of its formulations concerning gender.” He wouldn’t be subordinated by them even if he lived in an Islamist theocracy. It’s easy for him to call those “formulations” complex and even beautiful. Theocratic “formulations” concerning gender are all about policing gender; that’s the whole point of them. The more policing, the more subordination of one gender in relation to the other.

And then the bullshit about the constitution of a good and just society. That sounds pretty, until you think about existing societies that are officially and overtly Islamic – and then you recoil.

But in the next paragraph it gets worse.

But acknowledging the history and profound humanism of the Islamic tradition – the belief that the realisation of goodness, beauty and peace on earth is indissociable from the true worship of God…

Spoken like a true god-botherer (and Stephens taught theology for years, and was once a parish minister). Humanism = the belief that the realisation of goodness, beauty and peace on earth is indissociable from the true worship of God. No! Absolutely fucking not. It is the opposite. It is the awareness that we are all we have and that we’re all on a level, in place of the anti-human idea that our real job is to worship a hidden magical being that we can’t have any kind of real access to. Making all the good things dependent on belief in the hidden magical being is an insult to all the humans who are realistic enough to notice that a hidden god might as well be a non-existent god as far as we’re concerned.

He talks more of the same kind of “paradoxical” bullshit toward the end.

The genius of the Judaism, Christianity and Islam in particular is their insistence on relativising every claim to self-sufficiency, as well as every attempt to establish political legitimacy by the bare exercise of power or by the refusal of any greater moral obligation. Whether it be the relentless critique of idolatry in Judaism, or the humble insistence on the ineffability of the will of God in Islam, or the manifestation of divine transcendence through self-giving love in Christianity, religious belief sharpens the polemical edge of political critique.

Backwards. The opposite of the truth. Head in the clouds denialism. If Islam is about “the humble insistence on the ineffability of the will of God” then why are all Islamist theocracies such bossy authoritarian shit-holes? If the will of Allah is ineffable why are the Bangladesh atheist bloggers under threat? Why are atheists in jail in Egypt and Indonesia, simply for being atheists? Why is Imad Iddine Habib in hiding in Morocco? Why is Walid Al-Husseini seeking asylum in Paris after spending 10 months in jail in Palestine for being an atheist?

Not because any of the persecutors think the will of Allah is ineffable.

20 comments

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  1. 1
    Raging Bee

    Yes, really. Effing ineffable, one might say. Whatever the eff the effing word “ineffable” means, anyway…and how would we know what’s “ineffable” if no one’s tried to “eff” it?

  2. 2
    Russell Glasser

    “Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.” –Douglas Adams Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

  3. 3
    Raging Bee

    The genius of the Judaism, Christianity and Islam in particular is their insistence on relativising every claim to self-sufficiency, as well as every attempt to establish political legitimacy by the bare exercise of power or by the refusal of any greater moral obligation.

    That’s not “backwards,” that’s just effing word-salad. How can salad be backwards?

    This Stephens guy is an idiot. It says a lot about him that he can’t respond to Dawkins’ stupidity with anything other than pure incoherence. Maybe we should lock these two in a steel cage, turn off the mike, and…change the channel to Al Jazeera or something.

  4. 4
    Raging Bee

    Kazim: I do not remember that quote. Where in the book was that said?

  5. 5
    Russell Glasser

    I don’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure Dirk says it with his usual misplaced bravado while hustling Richard around telling him everything has meaning of some sort.

  6. 6
    Pierce R. Butler

    Raging Bee @ # 3 – Consider the dieter’s lament:

    Salad, alas!

  7. 7
    Kevin

    He doesn’t know what the word “ineffable” means. It means “indescribable.”

    When are we going to hear the effable word?

    Why is it always ineffable? And why then, if it’s ineffable, do people insist that it’s effable? And that they know exactly what it is?

    Fucking language. How does it work?

  8. 8
    Anthony K

    That’s not “backwards,” that’s just effing word-salad. How can salad be backwards?

    I have to admit, I cannot parse the meaning of that paragraph either.

  9. 9
    aziraphale

    Kazim: the quote is from Chapter 20 near the beginning. Richard is present, but Dirk is actually talking to his long-suffering secretary Janice.

    (At last – a use for the word search function on my Sony Reader)

  10. 10
    sheila

    It’s ineffable because it makes no effing sense.

  11. 11
    Kevin

    And “ahistorical”? You mean, before Islam became most known for creating bombers, rioters, asymmetrical warriors, jihad-pronouncing zealots, stoners of women, beheaders of apostates, hangers of gays, and other forms of mindless robots, before it created a culture that treated women like chattel and promises men (and only men) pure women in heaven to mate with, before it engaged in centuries long campaigns of conquest, wiping out entire cultures to replace it with its own backward primitive tripe, before it was even created by primitive war lords as a way to control its own in-fighting — it was OK?

    Well…then I guess it’s all right.

  12. 12
    sailor1031

    Using “ineffable” is a common mistake made by the religious. What they actually mean, of course, is “fucking numinous”.

  13. 13
    Kevin

    Numinous? I think you mean “imaginary”.

  14. 14
    Raging Bee

    Fucking language. How does it work?

    Not the way most god-botherers try to make it work.

  15. 15
    A. Noyd

    Colloquially, the “in” of “ineffable” seems to work the same as the “in” of “inflammable.”

  16. 16
    Ant (@antallan)

    Humanism = the belief that the realisation of goodness, beauty and peace on earth is indissociable from the true worship of God. No! Absolutely fucking not. It is the opposite. It is the awareness that we are all we have and that we’re all on a level, in place of the anti-human idea that our real job is to worship a hidden magical being that we can’t have any kind of real access to. Making all the good things dependent on belief in the hidden magical being is an insult to all the humans who are realistic enough to notice that a hidden god might as well be a non-existent god as far as we’re concerned.

    This.

    /@

  17. 17
    sailor1031

    “Numinous” means more than just imaginary – it means “touchy, feely, warmy, toasty, glowy imaginary”. Look it up in yer Funk&Wagnall!

  18. 18
    Ophelia Benson

    Ha! Good definition.

  19. 19
    'dirigible

    Numinous means “very many”, doesn’t it?

  20. 20
    AYY

    One thing you often do very well is taking down the pretentiousness of those who talk nonsense. Still I’m not sure your criticism is on point OB. As I see it, the real problem with the part of Stephens’s writing that you quote is that for all the circuitousness, the subordinate clauses, the nominalizations, the double and triple negatives, the unnecessary complexity, the imprecise terminology, he’s not saying much of anything., and when he does, he’s either begging the question or saying something that’s so vague that it can’t be confirmed or denied.

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