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Science and Beauty

First, Downie announces the gradual downsizing of The Post, and then dot.com debuts a new religion blog, On Faith. My concerns are not journalistic but eschatological: Smaller papers and faith-oriented blogs are exactly what Nostradamus said would prefigure The Apocalypse.

[By the way, a number of folks read Downie's memo and sent me concerned, fretful emails, apparently because they did not detect, in Downie's list of core missions of the paper, any reference to meandering, inconsequential, fanatically trivial blogs, also known, in the famous Von Drehle formulation, as "toenail clippings." But fear not. I'm a survivor. My strategy is to continue to have multiple platforms -- magazine stories, the column, the blog, the radio commentaries, the screenplays, the lounge act, and the cruise ship performances. Yes, we live in challenging times. But I intend to be the last man standing.]

[Actually that'll probably be Buchwald.]

Back to On Faith. We read this from His Excellency Mohammed Khatami, the former president of Iran:

"The problem that afflicts humanity today is the attempt to disenchant everything everywhere and to reject sacredness. The world denuded of that which is sacred and absolute, is but a cold, callous, unsightly and indeed frightening world: no less than the world in which mundane and essentially non-sacred human affairs are bestowed falsely with a sacred aura."

Wrong. There are many problems afflicting humanity today, and a very big one is that lots of people are trying to kill and maim other people in the name of a god they think will sanction and reward their violence.

Perhaps I fail to perceive every nuance of the Khatami blog post, which does not strike me as a model of clarity. He is in a delicate position: a moderate in a land where extremists rule. (Reminds me of Lincoln Chafee!) Between the lines he is probably coming out against absolutists who think they know everything. But he also seems to be taking shots at secularism. As for his assertion that without the sacred we will have a "cold, callous, unsightly and indeed frightening world," that's a familiar indictment of science, heard on any given Sunday morning somewhere on your AM dial. But Science has given us a beautiful universe, one of marvelous complexity and magnificent scale. Science doesn't deny the reality of love, art, beauty, altruism, selfishness. Many religious people fully embrace the truths of science as part of the Creation they revere. Yes, there are "frightening" ideas in circulation, but the scientific method isn't one of them.

My affection for science and its self-correcting, self-questioning methods is well summarized by Sam Harris, though someone please tell me who Sam Harris is. He wrote a couple books. So? Does he have an actual job? We live in a society in which dogs write books, so being "the author of" is not the same thing as a credential. Is he a professional philosopher, an amateur philosopher, a scientist, a schoolteacher, a standup comic, a mere lowlife journalist, or just Some Random Guy who was shouting from a milk crate on a street corner and got the Schemer's attention?

[Editor's Note: Sam Harris is an "Atheist Evangelist", according to a recent article in The Post's Style section. Lowlife journalism doesn't appear to be one of his pursuits, but the article does mention that he is working on his PhD in neuroscience....Hal Straus]

From the boodle:

This was posted this morning by kbertocci:

"in my interfaith organization we have collectively decided that the internet is not the best venue for people of different faiths to encounter each other. It's better than nothing, but given the tendency of online dialog to degenerate into incivility and misunderstanding, real person-to-person experience is to be preferred. We go to a lot of effort to get people of different faiths in the same room, talking to each other face to face, and also worshipping together, and celebrating common ground. For instance last Friday I attended an interfaith service about Abraham at a local community center. It was hosted by a Jewish group, and attended by Christians, Muslims and others. The congregation included six exchange students from Afghanistan. There was singing, dancing, hugging, praying--it was a worthwhile event."

A shout-out also to Curmudgeon and Shrieking Denizen for their interesting exchanges (see previous item) on submarine development. All that good stuff about firing pins, influence exploders, stress fractures, hydrogen cracking, the "kill zone" of a depth charge. (You just know these guys make sound effects as they navigate toy U-boats in the bathtub.)

By Joel Achenbach  |  November 15, 2006; 7:08 PM ET
 
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