Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Jung, Joyce, and the Hindu Temple

From Ireland's finest music, I went on Saturday to the new Hindu temple in Lilburn.

Cecile inspired the visit, which provided aesthetic and sacred awareness:

The Temple
Photo: Jameson

ater Saturday I Joined the Jung Society (click),

mory Professor Donald Verene presented a talk on Jung and Joyce and the I Ching,

(see Essays in Honor of Donald Phillip Verene)

After the lecture and discussion, Verene, Cecile, a few friends and I relaxed at the James Joyce pub-cafe in Decatur.

The visit to the new Hindu Temple in Lilburn with Cecile Tougas

(see also the

Journal of Analytical Psychology)

Another Jameson view

Here's the NPR account of the Temple:

Gleaming Hindu Temple to Open in Atlanta Suburb

A full view of the Hindu temple
Kathy Lohr, NPR

The Hindu temple, or mandir, in Lilburn, Ga., is a traditional structure made of stone and marble, constructed in 18 months. It will be dedicated by the spiritual leader, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, on Aug. 26, 2007.

Close up of pillars
Kathy Lohr, NPR

The outside of the temple is Turkish limestone. The interior and carved pillars are made of Italian marble, and the foundation is built from Indian pink sandstone, symbolizing that the culture and roots of the temple are in India.

A Closer Look

  • Height: 72 feet
  • Land: 29 acres
  • Domes (ghumat): 12 small, one large
  • Spires (shikhars): 5, with red and white flags flying on top to represent the battle of good and evil
  • Interior: 27,000 square feet
  • Materials: 106,000 cubic feet of stone, including Turkish limestone, Italian marble and Indian pink sandstone
A close up of the railing
Kathy Lohr, NPR

This close-up of the outside railings shows the detailed carving. All of the stone was hand-carved in India and imported to the United States.

Workers in front of the temple
Kathy Lohr, NPR

Workers finish construction on the stairs and the entrance to the temple. When completed, it will be the largest in the United States.

All Things Considered, August 15, 2007 · The city of Lilburn, Ga., looks like an ordinary Atlanta suburb. Modest homes give way to commercial plazas with a barber shop, a sporting goods store and a large supermarket chain.

But down the road, rising out of a cloud of dust, is a spectacular vision — a gleaming white Hindu temple, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Made of Turkish limestone, Italian marble and Indian pink sandstone, the temple rises 72 feet into the sky and looks a bit like the Taj Mahal, with its soft white spires and 13 domes.

The $19 million temple has been under construction for a year and a half, and this month it will be completed and dedicated in a ceremony expected to draw thousands of people from Georgia and across the U.S.

Lilburn is known for its good schools and affordable housing. Mayor Jack Bolton says that the Indian community approached the city about five years ago with plans to build the giant structure, a reflection of the city's changing demographics: The community is predominantly white, but the Hispanic and Indian populations are growing.

"Lilburn has become a very diverse community, very international. As community leaders, we've embraced that diversity, and so we welcome it and see it as a very positive sign," Bolton says.

The temple is an engineering marvel. No steel or metals have been used in the construction, and each piece, hand-carved and imported from India, was numbered, divided into sections and eventually set in place. The whole structure fits together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

The effort to build the temple involved hundreds of volunteers, among them Manish Patel, who gave up his job as an engineer to work as the site manager, administrator and secretary.

"When they come inside, we want them to feel the atmosphere," Patel says. "When they come out, they'll have some kind of message in their life."

Ritesh Desai, a volunteer in Atlanta with the global Hindu organization BAPS, hopes the temple will draw together an increasingly diverse community.

"Many of us have assimilated into the mainstream American culture. Yet the mainstream American culture does not know about India per se, or they might not have been to India. We're bringing a little bit of India to you," Desai says.

Related NPR Stories

What a weekend plenitude.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

It was All Good...

Last night, Dar and I enjoyed Ireland's best:

Sinead O'Connor and Damien Dempsey.

The latter, a strapping 32 year old with grand voice, belted out the song I've liked for years, one which Sinead sang backup voice for on her Collaborations disc,

It's All Good.

His newest CD, To Hell or Barbados, he signed for me, and we talked of Ireland, briefly. His love of music and of Ireland come through clearly on this new work.

Sinead O'Connor gave us a broad sample of her songs, rousing the crowd to a frenzy at times. We managed to get quite close, noting how, with her short hair, she looked like Elijah Wood-- Frodo Baggins fresh from Hobbit Dale. Amazing that such a petite and fragile lady could pierce the night with a voice powerful enough to make the full moon shimmer.

Today she performs at the VooDoo festival in City Park
New Orleans. Dar and Starr and I will ring in the new year 2008 there.

'Tis time now to meet Cecile and visit the new Hindu Temple.

Love Yourself Today...


Thursday, October 25, 2007

American Idea

Georgia O'Keeffe:
Red Canna, 1923
University of Arizona Art Museum

Atlantic Magazine is having a contest:


Yes, I wrote an essay: 200 words exactly.

In a word, the American Idea is enterprise. As our nation formed, enterprise meant adventure: settling a new world, facing new races, boldly going where none had gone before, as in the expedition of Lewis and Clark. This creative urge informed exploration of all sorts, culminating in an American on the Moon. It spilled over into the arts-- Jackson Pollock's drips, Georgia O'Keeffe's erotic flowers, Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West and John Coltrane's sax. The American enterprise is, a la Shakespeare, of great pith and moment.

Enterprise, though, is a two-edged sword. Melville's Moby Dick has Ahab. For each instance of American innovation, revolution, zeal, or progress, there is aggression, intolerance, greed, or religious superstition. In the eyes of the world, the American idea is as likely to be arrogance or imperialism, as it is to be enlightened leadership or the beacon of Democracy.

The ultimate test of the American idea, our ideal, rests on inspiration. The deism of founders Franklin and Jefferson offers a guide for future enterprises. By serving a spirit of benevolence and of goodness, overcoming fears, we might meet the challenges of global conflict, global warming, and global health. As never before, our enterprises need wisdom.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Buddha

Embrace world with compassion
Practice nonviolence, change lives for good

Published on: 10/24/07

Brute force can never subdue the basic human desire for freedom. The thousands of people who marched in the cities of Eastern Europe in recent decades, the unwavering determination of the people in my homeland of Tibet and the recent demonstrations in Burma are powerful reminders of this truth. Freedom is the very source of creativity and human development. It is not enough, as communist systems assumed, to provide people food, shelter and clothing. If we have these things but lack the precious air of liberty to sustain our deeper nature, we remain only half human.

In the past, oppressed peoples often resorted to violence in their struggle to be free. But visionaries such as Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. have shown us that successful changes can be brought about nonviolently. I believe that, at the basic human level, most of us wish to be peaceful. Deep down, we desire constructive, fruitful growth and dislike destruction.

Vino Wong/Staff
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibet. Since 1959, he has been living in Dharamsala, in northern India, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile.

Many people today agree that we need to reduce violence in our society. If we are truly serious about this, we must deal with the roots of violence, particularly those that exist within each of us. We need to embrace "inner disarmament," reducing our own emotions of suspicion, hatred and hostility toward our brothers and sisters.

Furthermore, we must re-examine how we relate to the very question of the use of violence in today's profoundly interconnected world. One may sometimes feel that one can solve a problem quickly with force, but such success is often achieved at the expense of the rights and welfare of others. One problem may have been solved, but the seed of another is planted, thus opening a new chapter in a cycle of violence and counterviolence.

From the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia to the popular pro-democracy movement in the Philippines, the world has seen how a nonviolent approach can lead to positive political changes. But the genuine practice of nonviolence is still at an experimental stage. If this experiment succeeds, it can open the way to a far more peaceful world. We need to embrace a more realistic approach to dealing with human conflicts, an approach that is in tune with a new reality of heavy interdependence in which the old concepts of "we" and "they" are no longer relevant. The very idea of total victory for one's own side and the total defeat of one's enemy is untenable. In violent conflicts, the innocent are often the first casualties, as the war in Iraq and Sudan's Darfur crisis painfully remind us. Today, the only viable solution to human conflicts will come through dialogue and reconciliation based on the spirit of compromise.

Many truths, religions
Many of the problems we confront today are our own creation. I believe that one of the root causes of these man-made problems is the inability of humans to control their agitated minds and hearts — an area in which the teachings of the world's great religions have much to offer.

A scientist from Chile once told me that it is inappropriate for a scientist to be attached to his particular field of study, because that would undermine his objectivity. I am a Buddhist practitioner, but if I mix up my devotion for Buddhism with an attachment to it, my mind will be biased toward it. A biased mind never sees the complete picture, and any action that results will not be in tune with reality. If religious practitioners can heed this scientist's advice and refrain from being attached to their own faith traditions, it could prevent the growth of fundamentalism. It also could enable such followers to genuinely respect faith traditions other than their own. I often say that while one can adhere to the principle of "one truth, one religion" at the level of one's personal faith, we should embrace at the same time the principle of "many truths, many religions" in the context of wider society. I see no contradiction between these two.

I do not mean to suggest that religion is indispensable to a sound ethical way of life, or for that matter to genuine happiness. In the end, whether one is a believer or a nonbeliever, what matters is that one be a good, kind and a warmhearted person. A deep sense of caring for others, based on a profound sense of interconnection, is the essence of the teachings of all great religions of the world. In my travels, I always consider my foremost mission to be the promotion of basic human qualities of goodness — the need for and appreciation of the value of love, our natural capacity for compassion and the need for genuine fellow feeling. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people.

Our basic oneness
When I first saw a photograph of Earth taken from outer space, it powerfully brought home to me how small and fragile the planet is and how petty our squabbles are. Amid our perceived differences, we tend to forget how the world's different religions, ideologies and political systems were meant to serve humans, not to destroy them. When I traveled to the former Soviet Union in the late 1970s, I encountered widespread paranoia, even among ordinary people who feared that the West hated them so much that it was ready to invade their country. Of course, I knew this was mere projection.

Today, more than ever, we need to make this fundamental recognition of the basic oneness of humanity the foundation of our perspective on the world and its challenges. From the dangerous rate of global warming to the widening gap between rich and poor, from the rise of global terrorism to regional conflicts, we need a fundamental shift in our attitudes and our consciousness — a wider, more holistic outlook.

As a society, we need to shift our basic attitude about how we educate our younger generation. Something is fundamentally lacking in our modern education when it comes to educating the human heart. As people begin to explore this important question, it is my hope that we will be able to redress the current imbalance between the development of our brains and the development of our hearts.

To promote greater compassion, we must pay special attention to the role of women. Given that mothers carry the fetus for months within their own bodies, from a biological point of view, women in general may possess greater sensitivity of heart and capacity for empathy. My first teacher of love and compassion was my own mother, who provided me with maximum love. By speaking of mothers' role in teaching compassion, I do not mean to reinforce in any way the traditional view that a woman's place is confined to the home. I believe that the time has come for women to take more active roles in all domains of human society, in an age in which education and the capacities of the mind, not physical strength, define leadership. This could help create a more equitable and compassionate society.

In general, I feel optimistic about the future. As late as the 1950s and '60s, people believed that war was an inevitable condition of mankind and that conflicts must be solved through the use of force. Today, despite ongoing conflicts and the threat of terrorism, most people are genuinely concerned about world peace, far less interested in propounding ideology and far more committed to coexistence.

Mother Nature's lessons
The rapid changes in our attitude toward the Earth are also a source of hope. Until recently, we thoughtlessly consumed its resources as if there were no end to them. Now not only individuals but also governments are seeking a new ecological order. I often joke that the moon and stars look beautiful, but if any of us tried to live on them, we would be miserable. This blue planet of ours is the most delightful habitat we know. Its life is our life, its future our future. Now Mother Nature is telling us to cooperate. In the face of such global problems as the greenhouse effect and the deterioration of the ozone layer, individual organizations and single nations are helpless. Our mother is teaching us a lesson in universal responsibility.

The 20th century became a century of bloodshed; despite its faltering start, the 21st century could become one of dialogue, one in which compassion, the seed of nonviolence, will be able to flourish. But good wishes are not enough. We must seriously address the urgent question of the proliferation of weapons and make worldwide efforts toward greater external disarmament.

Large human movements spring from individual human initiatives. If you feel that you cannot have much of an effect, the next person may also become discouraged, and a great opportunity will have been lost. On the other hand, each of us can inspire others simply by working to develop our own altruistic motivations — and engaging the world with a compassion-tempered heart and mind.

Monday, October 22, 2007

East meets West

Today, I attended the Dalai Lama's address to Atlanta in Centennial Olympic Park. Thousands gathered in the fog to hear his words of wisdom. I managed to get fairly close to the Emory stage. Civil Rights hero and my Representative to Congress, John Lewis welcomed the Buddhist leader. Of course, the president of Emory where the Dalai Lama has become a visiting professor gave the introduction.

The Dalai Lama spoke for over an hour, emphasizing compassion, positive emotions, and the rising above our differences of religion and culture. We must disarm individually, if we hope to disarm on the global scale, he said, promoting a message of world peace along the lines of Martin Luther King, whom he praised, and Mahatma Gandhi.

Thousands of Atlantans applauded his message through the fog.

Message of Compassion (click)

From the AJC:


Rich Addicks / AJC

The Dalai Lama reaches over to U.S. Rep. John Lewis as Lewis is introduced as a civil rights crusader during a talk at Centennial Olympic Park.

Wisdom of the Dalai Lama:
(from http://www.dalailama.com/)

Training the Mind

The first seven verses of the Eight Verses for Training the Mind deal with the practices associated with cultivating the method aspect of the path such as compassion, altruism, aspiration to attain buddhahood, and so on. The eighth verse deals with the practices that are directed toward cultivating the wisdom aspect of the path.
These are the first three verses from the Eight Verses of Training the Mind, and commentary by His Holiness the Dalai Lama that was given on November 8, 1998 in Washington D.C.

With Empathy,


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Down to Eartha

Last night Starr, Dar, and I got down with the ever sexy Eartha Kitt:

Talk about Purr-serverence!

Purrfect… Eighty years and going strong, Eartha Kitt has a voice and style that put her in a class of her own. Best known for playing the definitive Catwoman on the TV series Batman, her career has spanned stage and screen from films with Orson Wells in the 1950s to recent Broadway productions of The Wild Party and Nine. She’s even been the voice of Yzma in Disney’s animated film The Emperor’s New Groove.

Whatever the vehicle, hearing her rich earthy voice is like the feel of a velvet glove – classy, sexy, and never out of fashion. Her standing room only concerts at the Café Carlyle have recently seen her star on the rise once again. Now, this rare opportunity to hear Kitt with full orchestra offers Atlanta audiences a unique command performance, running the gamut from such early classics as “C’est Si Bon” and “Santa Baby” to powerful vocals in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Here’s to Life.”

Now turning a vibrant 80, Eartha Kitt continues to excite audiences everywhere to want to keep slipping
sables under her tree.

Our show at Symphony Hall much resembled her current show in New York at the Carlyle:

Music Review | Eartha Kitt

Hey, Big Spender, This Purr’s for You (Especially if You’re 82)

Eartha Kitt at The Cafe Carlyle.

Published: September 20, 2007

Who else but that eternal femme fatale Eartha Kitt could announce with a straight face from the stage, “I may be 80, but I’m still burning,” and have it be partly true?

This was how Ms. Kitt followed her rendition of “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” on Tuesday in her opening night show at the newly renovated Café Carlyle. Actually, Ms. Kitt’s face was not so straight. During a show that found her prowling the stage in a dark red velvet dress, she was unable to contain her amusement at her gold-digger routine. Or as she said, widening her cat’s eyes into a ravenous stare and scouring a room filled with well-heeled patrons before breaking into a grin, “Je cherche un billionaire.”

Woe be the male ringside patron who becomes her cat toy for the evening, as she queries him in several different languages and coyly inquires about his financial status. If he is young, the chances are she will soon lose interest and suggest he introduce her to his father. In “Too Young to Be Meant for Me,” one of her wittiest songs on Tuesday, she impatiently brushes off a 20-year-old admirer and tells him not to wait: “Can’t you see I’ve got a date with someone rich and 82?”

It is fascinating to watch the flickers at the corners of Ms. Kitt’s lips and eyes during these audience questionnaires. The peevish scowl of an arrogant siren who has been through this ritual a thousand times can suddenly turn into the cunning grin of a carnivore about to pounce on a juicy morsel of filet mignon.

The gold digger is just one aspect of this performer with many layers. “Everything Changes,” the centerpiece of her new show is a sweet, fatalistic lament with music by Brian Feinstein and lyrics by Diana Hansen-Young that she introduced last year in the Off Broadway musical “Mimi Le Duck.” Ms. Kitt shed several layers of armor to play an aged bohemian whose famous friends and lovers have all died. Her haunted performance of it on Tuesday evening put the final coat of polish on a song that suggests “Memory” from “Cats,” but with famous names dropped, including Picasso and Sartre.

For a music critic the extensive renovation of the Café Carlyle promises much. The room is brighter and airier without having lost its cozy elegance. The raised ceiling has improved its muffled acoustics, which are further enhanced by the installation of a modern sound system. Ms. Kitt’s band (Daryl Waters on piano, Jon Burr on bass, Joseph Friedman on guitar, Brian Grice on drums and Carlos Gomez on percussion) had noticeably more bite than the past, and Ms. Kitt’s voice was in full growl.

Eartha Kitt appears through Oct. 27 at the Café Carlyle, Carlyle Hotel, 35 East 76th Street, Manhattan; (212) 744-1600, thecarlyle.com.

Sing it, Baby!


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Gone With the Water

lood devastated New Orleans. Now, no water at all threatens Atlanta.

Atlanta: demolished.

Greed in the form of developers and local politicians has used up this vital natural resource. Misuse and mismanagement that built shoddy levees and wasted Louisiana wetlands, that is exploiting Georgia's coast and golden isles, have drained Atlanta. Government incompetency, from Bush on down to county commissioners, is about to strike five million people with empty reality.

Soon, as oil soars to over $100. a barrel, what will Atlantans pay for a tub of water? The epic catastrophe facing Atlanta will make a footnote of New Orleans. The wars on terror, the wars on drugs, the hysteria of decades, even the war on Iraq, will pale next to the drying of Atlanta. Atlanta will burn again. Atlanta will become America's very own Baghdad.



Friday, October 19, 2007

Jacques Brel Lives On

After seeing the Alliance Theatre's entertaining, if not brilliant, perfomance of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well in Paris, last night, we found this truly cabaret-worthy tribute to Brel by David Bowie:

Our favorite song, after Ne me Quitte Pas , is Amsterdam: Both sung below by Nina Simone and Jacques Brel, himself:

Come to the Cabaret...

Here's the AJC Review of the show:

‘Jacques Brel’ @ The Alliance

THEATER REVIEW. “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” Grade: A. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 28. $30-$35. Alliance Theatre, Hertz Stage, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Midtown. 404-733-5000, alliancetheatre.org. Bottom line: Susan V. Booth, who recently picked up the Alliance’s Tony Award for excellence in regional theater, proves she’s at the top of her game.

In the world of Jacques Brel, love is a pas de deux — a dance of desire and loss acted out in a plush red and gold Parisian cabaret.

And what is death?

Death is a tango of back-snapping intensity, between a dark stranger and his submissive victim, acted out in a plush red and gold Parisian cabaret.

Both images work their dizzy magic in “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” — the whirling carousel of a revue that’s getting an intensely imagined workout on the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage.

As directed by Susan V. Booth, “Jacques Brel” captures the breathy metaphysical allure that was the essential trademark of the Belgian-born troubador (1929-1978) who made his name in the City of Light.

A mid-’60s off-Broadway hit that has come bobbing back into fashion with the frenetic, century-surveying pace of its opening number (“Marathon”), this musical is as refreshing and soul-satisfying as a spritzy late-afternoon aperitif in a musty Left Bank boite.

Playing on that conceit, designers Leslie Taylor (sets) and Pete Shinn (lights) have turned the subterranean Hertz space into a delightfully warm cabaret, replete with miniature chandeliers, Chinese lanterns, banquettes, a working bar, a piano strewn with swags and tassels and one tiny guitar.

Keep your eye on that strategically placed ukelele, and don’t be surprised if you hear a few bonsoirs from the ushers.

Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, who conceived the entertainment and translated the lyrics from the French, have kept the piece blissfully bookless, so that the songs tell their own stories without colliding with any forced characters or plot. This lets the director play with the order of the numbers, even edit out or add a few, to emphasize certain themes or showcase the strengths of the cast.

In every choice, Booth and musical director Michael Fauss demonstrate impeccable taste, and the quartet of singers is fantastically adept at interpreting Brel’s inimitable oeuvre.

Songs about frolic and courtship (“Bachelor’s Dance,” “Timid Freida”). Songs of abandonment (“Ne Me Quitte Pas”) and romantic longevity (“Songs for Old Lovers”). Songs about lusty sailors and whores (“Amsterdam”) and the silent-film bustle of Brel’s native burg (“Brussels”).

Lovely Lauren Kling gets to play most of the ingenue parts. Joseph Dellger is alternately sinister and salty in a variety of male roles; his lip-smacking turn in “Amsterdam” is a literal study in the delicousness of grandstanding. Craig A. Meyer uses his bright-eyed boyishness to convey both tenderness and strength — you sort of imagine that he’s the Mr. Congeniality of this ensemble.

A ribald comedian, Courtenay Collins also goes to dark, dangerous and exhilarating places. With the tragic “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” the tears are real, and the performance one of the best of the year.

Arriving at a time when America had been shattered by Vietnam, “Jacques Brel” dabbles in political commentary and has been updated here to make salient points about America’s place in the world.

But Brel’s great romantic spirit, his quirky convulsion of ideas and philosophy, are the core of this superbly choreographed revue. He was tough; he was sentimental. He was sensual; he was cerebral. He was an elegant, protean thinker and a low humorist. At once joyous and funeral, Brel’s songs are meditations on the fickle impulse of the modern age.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Puff the Magic Drag...

Let's hear it for Rick Steves:

From the Los Angeles Times

Europe: Curing, not punishing, addicts

In contrast to U.S. policy, European countries focus on harm reduction -- and it works.
By Rick Steves

October 12, 2007

Europe has a drug problem, and knows it. But the Europeans' approach to it is quite different from the American "war on drugs." I spend 120 days a year in Europe as a travel writer, so I decided to see for myself how it's working. I talked with locals, researched European drug policies and even visited a smoky marijuana "coffee shop" in Amsterdam. I got a close look at the alternative to a war on drugs.
Drug policy: An article on Friday's Opinion page stated that there are about 80,000 arrests annually in the U.S. related to marijuana. There are about 800,000 such arrests each year. —

Europeans are well aware of the U.S. track record against illegal drug use. Since President Nixon first declared the war on drugs in 1971, our country has locked up millions of its citizens and spent hundreds of billions of dollars (many claim that if incarceration costs are figured in, a trillion dollars) waging this "war." Despite these efforts, U.S. government figures show the overall rate of illicit drug use has remained about the same.

By contrast, according to the 2007 U.N. World Drug Report, the percentage of Europeans who use illicit drugs is about half that of Americans. (Europe also has fewer than half as many deaths from overdoses.) How have they managed that -- in Europe, no less, which shocks some American sensibilities with its underage drinking, marijuana tolerance and heroin-friendly "needle parks"?

Recently, in Zurich, Switzerland, I walked into a public toilet that had only blue lights. Why? So junkies can't find their veins. A short walk away, I saw a heroin maintenance clinic that gives junkies counseling, clean needles and a safe alternative to shooting up in the streets. Need a syringe? Cigarette machines have been retooled to sell clean, government-subsidized syringes.

While each European nation has its own drug laws and policies, they seem to share a pragmatic approach. They treat drug abuse not as a crime but as an illness. And they measure the effectiveness of their drug policy not in arrests but in harm reduction.

Generally, Europeans employ a three-pronged strategy of police, educators and doctors. Police zero in on dealers -- not users -- to limit the supply of drugs. Users often get off with a warning and are directed to get treatment. Anti-drug education programs warn people (especially young people) of the dangers of drugs, but they get beyond the "zero tolerance" and "three strikes" rhetoric that may sound good to voters but rings hollow with addicts and at-risk teens. And finally, the medical community steps in to battle health problems associated with drug use (especially HIV and hepatitis C) and help addicts get back their lives.

Contrast this approach with the American war on drugs. As during Prohibition in the 1930s, the U.S. spends its resources on police and prisons to lock up dealers and users alike. American drug education (such as the now-discredited DARE program) seemed like propaganda, and therefore its messengers lost credibility.

Perhaps the biggest difference between European and American drug policy is how each deals with marijuana. When I visited the Amsterdam coffee shop that openly sells pot, I sat and observed: People were chatting; a female customer perused a fanciful array of "loaner" bongs. An older couple (who apparently didn't enjoy the edgy ambience) parked their bikes and dropped in for a baggie to go. An underage customer was shooed away. A policeman stepped inside, but only to post a warning about the latest danger from chemical drugs on the streets. In the Netherlands, it's cheaper to get high than drunk, and drug-related crimes are rare.

After 10 years of allowed recreational marijuana use, Dutch anti-drug abuse professionals agree that there has been no significant increase in pot smoking among young people and that overall cannabis use has increased only slightly. Meanwhile, in the U.S., it's easier for a 15-year-old to buy marijuana than tobacco or alcohol -- because no one gets carded when buying something on the street.

While the

The Netherlands' policies are the most liberal, but across Europe no one is locked away for discreetly smoking a joint. The priority is on reducing abuse of such hard drugs as heroin and cocaine. The only reference to marijuana I found among the pages of the European Union's drug policy was a reference to counseling for "problem cannabis use."

Meanwhile, according to FBI statistics, in recent years about 40% of the roughly 80,000 annual drug arrests were for marijuana -- the majority (80%) for possession.

In short, Europe is making sure that the cure isn't more costly than the problem. While the U.S. spends tax dollars on police, courts and prisons, Europe spends its taxes on doctors, counselors and clinics. EU policymakers estimate that they save 15 euros in police and health costs for each euro invested in drug education and counseling.

European leaders understand that a society has a choice: tolerate alternative lifestyles or build more prisons. They've made their choice. We're still building more prisons.

Rick Steves (ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. He is speaking today at the NORML convention in Los Angeles.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Getting it right about the Turks

As Bill Maher put it, the voters of America gave the Democrats control of Congress so they could stand up to the Ottoman Empire. Right?

So, just what is Nancy Pelosi along with the members of the House of Rep. doing? Why is it so essential to condemn the killing of Armenians by the Turks in 1915, now?

Read the thorough account in Wikipedia (click)

With Turkish bases for U.S. troops vital to the Iraq war, isn't this act of Congress absurd and counter-productive to our interests? Isn't this just a political concession by California Democrats to the Armenian lobby?

Though the answer may well be "yes" to those questions, the end result may turn out to be an acknowledging of an atrocity that is long overdue. U.S. involvement and action with regard to Armenia and its struggles for independence do go back to Woodrow Wilson. Over twenty nations have condemned the massacre of Armenians as genocide, though the Turks themselves deny it. The world would do well to condemn genocide wherever and whenever it has occurred. As Pelosi remarked, there is no "right time"-- and efforts in the past have been frustrated by the same arguments. That we have not condemned this atrocity in the past is no reason not to do so now. Still, if we are to condemn this genocide, we should be careful to condemn them all, perhaps including China and Tibet, not to mention the U.S. slaughter of Native Americans.

The issue is complex. If nothing else, it warrants awareness and serious thought by all of us.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Pagan Woman Singing

Loreena McKennitt: Music of the World

From the loge of the Fox Theatre last night, beneath the twinkling stars, Dar and I transcended the ordinary world of Atlanta by means of the clarity, the purity, and the beauty of the voice and of the vision of Loreena McKennitt. She told us of her travels to the lands of ancient Celts: to China, Mongolia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and of course, Ireland. I thought of what the I Ching told me once about myself, the Wanderer, of passing the boot of Italy at dawn on Dar's and my cruise of the Mediterranean Sea, of Istanbul, of Whirling Dervishes we've seen. As one critique of her performances put it, she gave us a magic carpet ride. Yet it was far fairer than that metaphor conveys.

In addition to her ethereal voice, we were given a bit of Celtic History. All in all, an evening of enchantment.

Celts Historical Background


Great Perfomances:


Another Excellent Review of her latest work:

An Ancient Muse

The Lady of Shallot

Loreena Mckennitt Lyrics

The Lady Of Shalott Lyrics

(Words by Alfred Lord Tennyson; Music by Loreena McKennitt)

On either side of the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the world and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road run by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly
Down to tower'd Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'tis the fairy
The Lady of Shalott."

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay,
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The Knights come riding two and two.
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady Of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady Of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode back to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra Lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces taro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over towered Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance -
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn'd to towered Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher, Lord and Dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."



56: The Wanderer

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

'Til the Cows Come Home

Gertrude Stein

by Picasso

Gertrude Stein, 1906
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)
Oil on canvas; 39 3/8 x 32 in. (100 x 81.3 cm)
Bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1946 (47.106)
© 1999 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Having read from this review: The Last Act (click)
By Michael Kimmelman

Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice by Janet Malcolm

"We had to write about Alice and Gertrude. Had to write, in the Stein spirit, how Alice's cow jumped over Gertrude's moon. and other thoughts. Maybe Mussolini was a lesbian, for instance. There they were, in occupied France, two Jewish (sh!) ladies all alone, Alice with her cows, there in the countryside surrounded by the greatest art of the time, in that horrible time of war, Alice cooking crawfish, which is what makes for genius."

I think to myself, after reading that paragraph,

Or does it? I think Gertrude was like Pablo Picasso, arrogant, bull-headed, unable to have a cow with anyone but him/her self. No one else could bring it home. Narcissus at the waterhole. (see below) I know that mirror. I do remember when, all alone, I wandered from room to room in the Metropolitan Muse, given special permission, writing my dissertation, to wander, yes on my own, all alone, the guard just out of sight, into that entire room of Picassos-- to see Gertrude, to see what she hated. Until she realized it was the birth of cubism and modern painting (not to mention Surrealism), that painting of her, there in the Met, Gertrude Stein by Picasso, and I, staring into it like Narcissus staring at his image in water. And that is my homage to Alice. and to her ever milkable cow.


Salvador Dalí, SurrealistImage:Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Take a Long Look in.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Amicalola Oct.'07

Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge

We enjoyed a weekend hiking Amicalola Falls and dining at the Smith House in Dahlonega:

a glimpse:

Oct 8, 2007

Keep climbing...


Thursday, October 04, 2007

God is a Doppelganger

From Freud, who showed that god is but a dream, a wish for a Daddy, to Jean Paul Sartre, the irrationalist who proved god is a rational and logical contradiction: Being- For- Itself and Being- In-Itself, the non-existence of god has been proven. Buddha's enlightenment included the revelation that there are no supernatural, divine beings. There is no god in Buddhism.

That god is a projection from the self, from the imagination, from the creative depths of the psyche is passionately revealed in the memoirs of Mother Teresa (click for the Wiki overview), a woman as much a saint as any of them. Here is Time Magazine's expose' :

Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith

Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa in a Calcutta orphanage, 1979.
Bettmann / Corbis
Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.
— Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979

Click for the whole article.

Clearly, god was Teresa's doppelganger.

Especially compassionate and wise is the PBS take on her doubt: Oct. 4, 2007

Faith in Doubt
Essayist Richard Rodriguez reflects on Mother Teresa's struggle with faith.

There is also:

Richard Rodriguez: Church Publishing Mother Teresa's Letters is 'Brilliant'

New America Media, Audio, Interview by Mary Ambrose, Posted: Aug 31, 2007

Editor's Note by Sandip Roy: As a schoolboy in a Jesuit missionary school in Calcutta, I remember being taken to the orphanages and homes for the dying run by Mother Teresa’s missionaries of charity. She already seemed impossibly old, tiny and wrinkled and looked nothing like the blissful, radiant saints with perfect halos we saw in pictures at school. To us she was just this remarkable woman who allowed the poverty and disease that swirled around us to actually touch our lives. To the rest of the world she was a living saint. Now comes a new book of her letters, which reveals that for much of her life she was living in a world of spiritual darkness where she could not even feel the presence of God. Essayist and commentary Richard Rodriguez is working on a book on religion and he joined NAM Managing Editor Mary Ambrose to talk about what Mother Teresa’s crisis of faith means for those who still look up to her for spiritual substance.

How will the revelation of these letters effect Mother Teresa’s image?

richard rodriguezI think it’s going to help her image - if that’s the right word – or at least it’s going to deepen our sense of her mystery and possibly her sainthood. I think she turned the world’s attention to people normally forgotten in the world. And to that degree she was an example of something that is all too rare: someone who devotes their life to the care of others. She washed the sick. She touched the untouchable. She sat with the dying. This is not what most people do in their lives. That she turns out to be a person who suffered doubt in her experience with God deepens her mystery, rather than lessens it, it seems to me.

That was a dark night of the soul that lasted decades…

It’s a life long struggle. It’s not unusual in the history of saints in the church that there would be this experience of doubt. Christ himself on the cross experiences doubt. "My God, why have you forsaken me?" That is his last cry into the darkness. Why have you left me alone? This is not a consoling cry. And throughout the history of the church there are these voices, monks and nuns who, we find out in their deepest moments of darkness, felt the emptiness of belief.

We think we go to church, temple or the mosque and it’s all very clear to us. Especially people who do not have faith, they think that people who have faith have no questions. But in fact as the church teaches us, doubt is very much an experience that lives along with faith.

What are the political implications for the Catholic church?

The Catholic Church is brilliant to publish these letters, though Teresa asked that they be destroyed. The church realizes these are very helpful to the world. The world of religion is in chaos, not because there is too little faith in the world, but because there is too much faith. People are killing each other in the name of God. In Iraq at the holy shrine of Karbala, Shia were killing Shia. It seems to me the world is afflicted with people who have no doubt.

They have no doubt that they know what God wills, that God is on their side, that they know God. It seems to me very useful in the world that there be someone, a woman of great, great holiness to be presented as someone who lived with doubt as a way to moderate this extremism in the world.

Everything in the world that is most worrisome is this black and white sensibility. It has infected religion, brings scandal to religion, it seems to me, that people in the name of God have erased all doubt from their mind and denied the human experience of doubt.

That’s what the Vatican has done with these documents. I think the real value of these documents is that they teach us that certitude is not what we want in the world.

I’m a Christian. I believe in the same god that the Jew believes in, that the Muslim believes in, he’s a desert god. He revealed himself to us and we have documents in which we remember that revelation. But that god is also hidden from us. Even within the holy texts, there are moments of great mystery, where we don’t know why God does this or did not do that. Job at the end of his persecution asks God, “Why are you doing this to me?” And there is no answer.

It seems to me, when religion is at its deepest, it allows doubt.

America now is very, very religious or very, very secular.

This feeds atheists. They say, "See, even she didn’t believe."

People like Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens -- they are precisely the kind of problem that they present the religious world to be afflicted by. They are people who have no faith. Period. The whole idea of transcendence, a metaphysical reality beyond that which they normally experience, is foreign to them. This is very dangerous. They appeal to the political left when they should have learned its lesson.

What lesson?

For 30 years the political left has ceded religion to the political right in America. It has given all expression of religion to right wing Christianity.

It seems to me what the left needs to do is shy away from this teenage boy irreverence, these "farts in the chapel" that you hear from Hitchens. It’s not persuasive, not intellectually challenging because it does not admit to doubt. Like the fundamentals, they live in a world of such certitude the rest of us are left wondering, "Where do we belong?"

It seems to me what Teresa was looking for in the face of suffering was the face of God. It’s very moving to me that she did not find that face so often but kept on doing it. It’s an example of great heroism. If I were looking for a saint right now, she would be it.

One of the main theses of the left is about morality and helping the poor. So I don’t understand why they have bailed on religion, the basic tenet of which is to help the poor.

The left in America and probably Western Europe have bailed on religion because the church has criticized their lives. I speak as a gay man.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard priests refer to the love I have for another man as a "lifestyle." My own church denies me the central emotion within Christianity; the experience of love is denied me by own church. There is a tendency to retreat, or say that "religion is only a negative force in my life."

I find that the struggle over abortion, gay marriage, the churches have taken the negative stance in their institutional life. But I find them very consoling. There is much in Christianity that I use, steal, learn from, borrow, depend upon. Its inability to teach me about my experience of love is insufficient for me to walk away from it.

In some way the people in the pew teach the priest, the church, what it means to love. The left, like spoiled children, having been accused of being sinful by the church, they decide the church is really sinful. That’s not useful. The more useful is to spend a life of service to a church that is not easily yours.

By publishing these letters do you think the church is beginning to change and not a granite face of certitude?

I think so. The public face of the church is of certitude, unchanging and truths that are unchallengeable. But anyone who has grown up within the Catholic Church as I have realizes that it is an institution of great failure, compromise, moral and otherwise, and disappointment. The Church is not being uncharacteristic publishing these letters. I think the church is realizing its best face is its own humanity. In that way, Mother Teresa becomes one of the great teachers of the church.

Are religious people in America looking for a certitude that takes them down a path that makes life more difficult?

We are influenced by two things. We think our friends and villains are clearly identified. We live in a world where you are saved or unsaved. This is true on the political spectrum from right to left, believers and non-believers.

The other thing is that America is a deeply Protestant country founded by Puritans who believed that financial success was a sign of God’s favor.

Manifest destiny.

That’s right. Americans have always breathed in this value: the best thing to be is middle class. There is something shameful about being poor.

And self-inflicted.

And self-inflicted. We discuss poor white people as "trash."

The preoccupation with the illegal immigration and the price that the middle class is paying for these peasants coming from Latin America – because that’s what they are: peasants. They are a drag on our national identity and a burden to us. Yet we sing our songs on Sunday because we are good pious Americans who believe in the middle class god.

We are presented with an Albanian nun who spends her life – tormented by doubts – nonetheless serving the very poor, the people we will not touch.

What do we do with her? We sit around now thinking whether she was a good woman, or a hypocrite or she lied to herself.

We mock a life like this because we do not understand it. We do not understand the life that is given to poor people, because we are given only to the middle class fascination and we have told ourselves that we – the middle class – are God’s select. So what do we do when we meet a woman of great doubt, great faith, great durability, who spends her life on her knees, wiping the faces of the dying and dead.

Listen to this interview with Richard Rodriguez from 'UpFront'



They've appeared before on this blog, but they are worth reviewing again: here is Richard Dawkins writing about Christopher Hitchens:

TLS Religion

Times Online September 05, 2007

Bible belter

Christopher Hitchens
The case against religion
307pp. Atlantic. £17.99.
978 1 84354 586 6
US: New York: Twelve. $24.99.
978 0 446 57980 3

There is much fluttering in the dovecots of the deluded, and Christopher Hitchens is one of those responsible. Another is the philosopher A. C. Grayling. I recently shared a platform with both. We were to debate against a trio of, as it turned out, rather half-hearted religious apologists (“Of course I don’t believe in a God with a long white beard, but . . .”). I hadn’t met Hitchens before, but I got an idea of what to expect when Grayling emailed me to discuss tactics. After proposing a couple of lines for himself and me, he concluded, “. . . and Hitch will spray AK47 ammo at the enemy in characteristic style”.

Grayling’s engaging caricature misses Hitchens’s ability to temper his pugnacity with old-fashioned courtesy. And “spray” suggests a scattershot fusillade, which underestimates the deadly accuracy of his marksmanship. If you are a religious apologist invited to debate with Christopher Hitchens, decline. His witty repartee, his ready-access store of historical quotations, his bookish eloquence, his effortless flow of well-formed words, beautifully spoken in that formidable Richard Burton voice (the whole performance not dulled by other equally formidable Richard Burton habits), would threaten your arguments even if you had good ones to deploy. A string of reverends and “theologians” ruefully discovered this during Hitchens’s barnstorming book tour around the United States.

With characteristic effrontery, he took his tour through the Bible Belt states – the reptilian brain of southern and middle America, rather than the easier pickings of the country’s cerebral cortex to the north and down the coasts. The plaudits he received were all the more gratifying. Something is stirring in that great country. America is far from the know-nothing theocracy that two terms of Bush, and various misleading polls, had led us to fear. Does the buckle of the Bible Belt conceal some real guts? Are the ranks of the thoughtful coming out of the closet and standing up to be counted? Yes, and Hitchens’s atheist colleagues on the American bestseller list have equally encouraging tales to tell.

God Is Not Great is a coolly angry book, but there are good laughs too; for example, Hitchens’s hilarious account of how Malcolm Muggeridge launched “the ‘Mother Teresa’ brand upon the world” with his story that, while the BBC struggled to film her under low-light conditions, she spontaneously glowed. The cameraman later told Hitchens the true explanation of the “miracle” – the ultra-sensitivity of a new type of film from Kodak – but Muggeridge fatuously wrote: “I myself am absolutely convinced that the technically unaccountable light is, in fact, the Kindly Light that Cardinal Newman refers to in his well-known exquisite hymn”.

Hitchens also offers an extremely funny brief history of Mormonism: how it was invented from scratch by Joseph Smith, a nineteenth-century charlatan who wrote his book in sixteenth-century English, claiming to have translated the text from plates of gold – which conveniently ascended into heaven before anyone else could see them. Even the amanuenses to whom the illiterate Smith dictated had to sit behind a curtain lest they should catch a glimpse and be struck dead. Do you know anyone so gullible? Yet today, Mormonism is powerful enough to field a presidential candidate, its clean-cut young missionaries patrol the world in pairs, and the Book of Mormon nestles in every Marriott hotel room.

Hitchens’s title alludes, of course, to those famous last words “Allahu Akhbar”. The subtitle has suffered from its Atlantic crossing. The American original, “How religion poisons everything”, is an excellent slogan, which recurs through the book and defines its central theme. The British edition substitutes the bland and pedestrian subtitle “The case against religion”.

I referred earlier to Hitchens’s old-fashioned courtesy, and that was not (entirely) a joke. You can hear it in recordings of his lectures and debates, and you can see it in the first chapter of this book, “Putting It Mildly”.

I leave it to the faithful to burn each other’s churches and mosques and synagogues, which they can always be relied upon to do. When I go to the mosque, I take off my shoes. When I go to the synagogue, I cover my head.

The next chapter, “Religion Kills”, benefits from Hitchens’s experience as a war correspondent. (Others have likened him to Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene, but my own comparison is with Waugh’s intrepid rogue Basil Seal, who couldn’t keep out of trouble or away from the world’s trouble spots.) Publicly challenged by an American preacher to admit that, if approached by a gang of men in a dark alley, he would be reassured to learn that they had emerged from a prayer meeting, Hitchens’s return volley was unplayable:

Just to stay within the letter “B”, I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem and Baghdad. In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance.

He does give his reasons too, and in no case are they vulnerable to the objection “But the dispute in B— is tribal / political / economic, not religious”. It is doubtless true that the people of B— are killing each other over something more than a mere liturgical disagreement. They are pursuing hereditary vendettas, paying back economic injustices. It’s all “them and us” stuff, yes, but how do they know who is them and who is us? Through religion, religious education, sectarian apartheid; through decades of faith-based separation, starting in kindergarten, working up through faith school and on to later life and the inculcated horror of “marrying out”; then, most importantly, the dutifully segregated indoctrination of the next generation.

I once had a televised encounter with a leading “moderate” Muslim, of the kind who gets a knighthood or a peerage for not being an “extremist”. I publicly challenged this “moderate” to deny that the Muslim penalty for apostasy was death. Unable to do so (the Koran is word-for-word inerrant), he wriggled and twisted, and finally claimed that it was an “unimportant detail”, because never enforced. Tell that to Salman Rushdie, of whom the knighted “moderate” had earlier said, “Death is perhaps too easy for him”

. . . . the literal mind does not understand the ironic mind, and sees it always as a source of danger. Moreover, Rushdie had been brought up as a Muslim and had an understanding of the Koran, which meant in effect that he was an apostate. And “apostasy”, according to the Koran, is punishable by death. There is no right to change
religion . . . .

Thus Christopher Hitchens on his friend Salman Rushdie, whom he welcomed into his Washington home and was subsequently warned by the State Department

. . . to change my address and my telephone number, which seemed an unlikely way of avoiding reprisal. However, it did put me on notice of what I already knew. It is not possible for me to say, Well, you pursue your Shiite dream of a hidden imam and I pursue my study of Thomas Paine and George Orwell, and the world is big enough for both of us. The true believer cannot rest until the whole world bows the knee. Is it not obvious to all, say the pious, that religious authority is paramount, and that those who decline to recognize it have forfeited their right to exist.

Hitchens invokes the Danish cartoons to discuss complicity and cowardice in the West:

Islamic mobs were violating diplomatic immunity and issuing death threats against civilians, yet the response from His Holiness the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury was to condemn – the cartoons! In my own profession, there was a rush to see who could capitulate the fastest, by reporting on the disputed images without actually showing them. And this at a time when the mass media has become almost exclusively picture-driven. Euphemistic noises were made about the need to show “respect’” but I know quite a number of the editors concerned and can say for a certainty that the chief motive for “restraint” was simple fear. In other words, a handful of religious bullies and bigmouths could, so to speak, outvote the tradition of free expression in its Western heartland.

While I admire Hitchens’s courage, I could not condemn those editors. There are times when “cowardice” amounts to no more than sensible prudence. But Hitchens is surely right to despise leaders of other religions who, while under no threat, go out of their way to volunteer a gratuitous “respect” and “sympathy” for those who incite murder in the name of God.
To return to Hitchens on Rushdie and the fatwa:

One might have thought that such arrogant state-sponsored homicide . . . would have called forth a general condemnation. But such was not the case. In considered statements, the Vatican, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the chief sephardic rabbi of Israel all took a stand in sympathy with – the ayatollah. So did the cardinal archbishop of New York and other lesser religious figures. While they usually managed a few words in which to deplore the resort to violence, all these men stated that the main problem raised by the publication of The Satanic Verses was not murder by mercenaries but blasphemy.

Moving to today’s Iran (and this may go some way towards explaining his otherwise mysterious flirtation with the neocon blackguards of Washington) Hitchens notes, “as I write, a version of the Inquisition is about to lay its hands on a nuclear weapon”. This is an unexpected threat. Theocracy doesn’t obviously nurture the sort of cultural and educational advancement that goes with modern scientific inventiveness. Hitchens develops his point with respect to September 11, 2001, when

from Afghanistan the holy order was given to annex two famous achievements of modernism – the high-rise building and the jet aircraft – and use them for immolation and human sacrifice. The succeeding stage, very plainly announced in hysterical sermons, was to be the moment when apocalyptic nihilists coincided with Armageddon weaponry. Faith-based fanatics could not design anything as useful or beautiful as a skyscraper or a passenger aircraft. But, continuing their long history of plagiarism, they could borrow and steal these things and use them as a negation.

While my own primary concern as a scientist has been with religion’s claims about the cosmos and the sources of life, Hitchens restricts such matters to two short chapters. Where he really comes into his own is with the evils that are done in the name of religion: “religion poisons everything”. His list is pretty comprehensive. There is a good chapter on religion as child abuse; another on religion as a health hazard, which doesn’t fail to mention those Roman Catholic priests, including at least two cardinals and an archbishop, who solemnly told their flocks, in African countries ravaged by AIDS, that condoms transmit the virus.

Reviewers have variously described Hitchens as an equal opportunity atheist, an equal opportunity embarrasser (of all religions), an equal opportunity ranter, and an equal opportunity bigot. He is certainly not a bigot, nor does he rant (any critic of religion, no matter how mild, is automatically assumed to “rant”). But it is true, as another reviewer of God Is Not Great has put it, that it is “ecumenical in its contempt for religion”. Even Buddhism, which is often praised as a cut above the rest, gets both barrels.

It is no surprise that Hitchens’s chapter “The Nightmare of the Old Testament” effortlessly lives up to its name. The next one, despite its promising title (“The New Testament Exceeds the Evil of the Old”) is more about the unreliability of the texts than about any evil to match the admittedly high standards of the Pentateuch. Many Gospel stories were invented to fulfil Old Testament prophecies, and the shameless candour with which their authors admit it is almost endearing: “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet . . .”. The real evil of the New Testament gets a chapter to itself: that is, the divine-scapegoat theory of Jesus’s crucifixion, as vicarious atonement for “original sin” (the past sin of Adam who had never existed, and the future sins of people like us who didn’t yet exist but were presumed to have every intention of sinning when our time came).

Hitchens is quick to note the similarity of Christianity to extinct cults. Jesus slots right into a cosmopolitan catalogue of virgin births along with Horus, Mercury, Krishna, Attis, Perseus, Romulus and, incongruously, Genghis Khan. Is it Jungian atavism, shrewd PR, or sheer accident that leads the inventors of cults, and the religions into which they mature, to conjure their gods out of virgin wombs, like so many rabbits out of hats? Jesus’s case was abetted by a simple mistranslation from the Hebrew for “young woman” into the Greek for “virgin”.

One of Hitchens’s central themes is that gods are made by man, rather than the other way around. A related theme is plagiarism: “monotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay, of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents”. A pair of chapters explores “The Tawdriness of the Miraculous” and the widespread fallacy that we derive our morals from religious rules such as the Ten Commandments. As Hitchens witheringly puts it, does anybody seriously think that, before Moses delivered the tablet inscription “Thou shalt not kill”, his people had thought it a good idea to do so?

I said that Hitchens comes into his own on the evils that are done in the name of religion: “in the name of” is important. You can’t just point to evil – or indeed good – individuals who happen to be religious. The case to be made is that people do evil (or good) – because they are religious. Crusaders and jihadis are – by their own lights – good. They do evil things (by our lights) because their faith drives them to it. The nineteen murderers of September 11 scrupulously washed, perfumed and shaved their whole bodies in preparation for the martyrs’ paradise, as they set off on what they sincerely, truly, prayerfully believed was a supremely righteous mission.

If ever a man embodied evil it was Adolf Hitler. He never renounced his Roman Catholicism, and affirmed his Christianity throughout his life, but unlike, say, Torquemada or a typical crusader or conquistador, he did not do his horrible deeds in the name of Christianity. Another deeply evil man, Joseph Stalin, was probably an atheist but, again, he didn’t do evil because he was an atheist, any more than he, or Hitler, or Saddam Hussein, did evil because they had moustaches. Hitchens is especially good on the idiotic challenge “Stalin and Hitler were atheists, what d’you say to that?” – doubtless after plenty of practice. Stalin, Hitler and the others may not have been religious themselves, but they understood the ingrained religiosity of their subjects, and exploited it gratefully. Hitchens makes the point only briefly in the book, but he has enlarged upon it in later speeches and interviews:

For hundreds of years, millions of Russians had been told the head of state should be a man close to God, the Czar, who was head of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as absolute despot. If you’re Stalin, you shouldn’t be in the dictatorship business if you can’t exploit the pool of servility and docility that’s ready-made for you. The task of atheists is to raise people above that level of servility and credulity.

The point applies again to Kim Jong Il (the Dear Leader) and to his late father, Kim Il Sung (the Great Leader), who is still the Eternal President of North Korea, despite having died in 1994. Hitchens has personal experience of North Korea, and his observations on its modern cult of ancestor worship are the sort of thing he does best.

Having failed myself to find anything to complain about, I thought it my duty to examine other reviews in the hope of uncovering something negative to say. Most of them have been favourable, but Matt Buchanan, in the course of an otherwise rave review in the Sydney Morning Herald, hit home with this:

He is also occasionally guilty of crassness. For example: “In the very recent past we have seen the Church of Rome befouled by its complicity in the unpardonable sin of child rape, or as it might be phrased in Latin form, no child's behind left.” Hitchens squanders a lot of trust with that vulgar lapse: readers suddenly catch sight of him chortling at his desk and it’s not pretty, or funny, and it impugns his seriousness elsewhere.

An undeniable lapse but not a characteristic one. The slightly odd habit of downsizing self-important leaders by calling them “mammals” is a lesser error of tone that might be corrected in a future edition.

Peter Hitchens begins his negative review in the Daily Mail quite well (“Am I my brother’s reviewer?”), but the substance of his complaint seems to be that Christopher is as confident in his disbelief as any fundamentalist is confident in his belief. The answer to the familiar accusation of atheist fundamentalism is plain enough. The onus is not on the atheist to demonstrate the non-existence of the invisible unicorn in the room, and we cannot be accused of undue confidence in our disbelief. The devout churchgoer recites the Nicene Creed weekly, enumerating a detailed and precise list of things he positively believes, with no more evidence than supports the unicorn. Now that’s overconfidence. By contrast, the atheist says the humble thing: of all the millions of possible entities that one might imagine, I believe only in those for which there is evidence – trombones, pelicans and electrons, say, but not unicorns or leprechauns, not Thor with his hammer, not Ganesh the elephant god, not the Holy Ghost.

The second commonest complaint from reviewers is that Christopher Hitchens attacks bad religion. Real religion (the religion the reviewer subscribes to) is immune to such criticism. Here is the theologian Stephen Prothero in the Washington Post:

To read this oddly innocent book as gospel is to believe that ordinary Catholics are proud of the Inquisition . . . and that ordinary Jews cheer when a renegade Orthodox rebbe sucks the blood off a freshly circumcised penis.

This complaint, too, is familiar, and the answer (even when the point is not exaggerated, as it is by Prothero) is obvious. If only all religions were as humane and as nuanced as yours, gentle theologian, all would be well, and Hitchens would not have needed to write this book. But come down to earth in the real world: in Islamabad, say, in Jerusalem, or in Hitchens’s home town, Washington DC, where the President of the most powerful nation on earth takes his marching orders directly from God. Channel-hop your television in any American hotel room, look aghast at the huge sums of money subscribed to build megachurches, at museums depicting dinosaurs walking with men, and see what I mean.

Finally, there are those critics who can’t resist the ad hominem blow: “Don’t you know Christopher Hitchens supported the invasion of Iraq?” But so what? I’m not reviewing his politics, I’m reviewing his book. And what a splendid, boisterously virile broadside of a book it is.


Richard Dawkins FRS is Oxford's Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. His latest book, The God Delusion, has sold more than a million copies in its first year, and is being translated into more than 30 languages.

God bless...