Jun 13, 2007

Speculations about a Humanist Soul

In case I ever forget why I never read garbage periodicals like Newspeak, Chyme, or U.S. Booze & Whirled Distort:

OK, this guy is a nobody. Very smart young man, to be sure, but his documented accomplishments are those of a disappointed rock musician turned perennial student in a fuzzy discipline. There is nothing wrong with that and stating the fact is not disrespectful; after all, as Weird Al would say, he may be Vader someday later - now he's just a small fry. So, as a graduate student at Harvard, with a relevant previous degree, he gets to be the Humanist Chaplain of Harvard University. Wow, that H-word (and I don't mean "humanist") makes it sound so important. But, most likely, for a Harvard student, the position is not much more difficult to obtain than it is to get ordained as a minister on the Internet. And what is the use of any chaplain, anyway?

I am sure he would disagree. It would be unfair to infer that he feels important just because he studies at TETU (The Ego Trip University), but there is more evidence. In his own words, he
might have been forced into attending law school had he not discovered the movement of Humanism and the possibility of a career as a Humanist rabbi and chaplain.

Wait a minute, what did he say? "I could have been a lawyer, easily, but that's beneath me, lawyers are scum - look, I found a career that is so much more important and ethical..." Never mind that Humanism needs good lawyers, not rabbis, and those needs are unlikely to change in the next few decades... Now, if being a "Humanist rabbi or chaplain" is anything like being a leader of very liberal congregations, such as a Unitarian Universalist churches or Ethical Societies (the latter being Humanist organizations, BTW), it can't be very lucrative - people aren't going to give much money to a minister who doesn't threaten them with eternal damnation. In other words, if he wants to keep feeling important (and above lawyering), he needs to find a way to make money on the side. Using the Harvard name to lever a publicity stunt may be a good start. If he insults the right people and entertains the masses, book and speech deals may follow, good enough to pay the bills.

Sure enough, he pulls just that kind of a publicity stunt: he insults Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, calling them "atheist fundamentalists", which would be laughable nonsense if it weren't actually a smart marketing strategy. Dawkins is not only fashionable to attack, he is also just the right person to insult, as he is obviously too smart to write books (or to be allowed to say anything in public). (I haven't read Harris' books, so I can only guess that he is in the same category.) And masses are entertained whenever an atheist is burned at the stake, albeit in effigy. What you say - whether it makes any sense - is not important at all.

I was right: he is smart. And he may be Vader some day.

Of course, it takes two for a publicity stunt: the stuntman and the medium that connects him with the masses to be entertained. If he just keeps insulting Dawkins in the blogosphere, or even in op-eds in the press, he will remain one of the whole army of zombies chanting in unison. What he really needs is to be singled out and made recognizable as a face. He needs a newspaper or magazine or a TV station to do a typical "We Hate Dawkins" story, but centered on him - an individual hater critic - rather than on Dawkins, the target.

Enter Newspeak. First things first: they publish his picture. Never mind that it's a hand-waving photo with a hand-waving caption; he is now a public face. And he is against the Beast. And, lo and behold, he

isn't wrong, he's right: the name-brand atheists aren't friendly, at least not in print. But maybe being friendly isn't their job—it's his.

Being friendly to that writer - or to her magazine - is not something I can endorse. The only useful thing they do is keep garbage collectors employed. But chicken farmers do that far more effectively, while also providing some nutrition.


Anonymous said...

Your insights into Greg Epstein are dead on! I'm sorry to confirm that Greg's life goals are fame and world domination. His actions are publicity stunts to get attention-the need for which stems from serious inadequacy issues. Humanism is just his vehicle of choice. There's nothing well-intentioned about him.

Rex Kramer said...

I know nothing about Greg Epstein, but I am amused to note that Tom Ferrick, Humanist Prof Emeritus, presided over my wedding. He was thoughtful, respectful, and humble.