Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gray Area, Rock n Roll, Sam Harris

Went to see “Gray Area” at the Barrow Group on Monday night. Lots of problems with the play, but it has it charms. It’s about an NPR commentator who’s kidnapped by Civil War re-enactors. John Ahlin, who wrote it, also acts and he’s a lot of fun as an overly-well read hard-core re-enactor. It dissolves into a lot of rhetorical nonsense by the end, but before that happens, it has some very good acting and very funny dialogue.

"Rock n Roll," the new Stoppard, is a bore. Sinead Cusack and Brian Cox are very good. I had a lot of problems understanding Rufus Sewell. It's hard enough for me to follow Stoppard, but if someone has a Czech accent and I'm in the mezzanine, and they're not speaking up, it's a long three hours. The play is just too damn long, to sit around and listen to people passively commenting on the earth-shaking changes going on offstage. There’s got to be a more interesting way to show people caught up in the events of history than ‘the Communists broke into my apartment and smashed up my Pink Floyd LPs.”

Just read “Letter to a Christian Nation” last night, Sam Harris’ little tome. Much better than the Hitchens book, I thought. Harris makes his case much more persuasively, and never falls into Hitchens' shrill hysterics. Also, whatever he feels about moderates and liberals in religion, he makes a difference between them and religious fundamentalists. “Christian Nation” is basically a letter to the fundamentalists, and again – like Hitchens – I agree with Harris 90% of the time. I just don’t agree with his central tenet.

I have to say though – both of these authors, as well read and well reasoned and smart as they are…there’s also something dangerously naïve about their views. They both honestly believe that if you could wave a magic wand, and get rid of all organized religion, we would all be good and reasonable and make decisions based on logic, and science would save us.

Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But they do have this childlike faith in everyone’s ability to embrace reason if only they were free of all of the superstitious cant of religion. And I do not agree. I do think there’s something like human nature, and we are very resourceful at finding ways to behave badly. I think someone could fill up a few books about the abuses and excesses and horrors that ‘science,’ ‘reason’ and what Harris charmingly refers to as ‘the laws of psychology’ have brought us. As if these principles and belief systems were somehow incorruptible.

1 comment:

Martha J Mountain said...

Exactly! People can be counted on to be people.
Let's see, in no particular order: communism, the "free" market, laissez faire social policy, the Tuskeegee project, eugenics, Ayn Rand (who among all her sins was a dreadful writer), brutalist architecture, ....That isn't intended to be complete, either.
Faith in reason is still faith. All ideology ends up with its head up its butt because it reduces human experience to something simple and non-contradictory and explainable, which are three things that humans just AREN'T. EVER.