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Render unto Caesar

June 13, 2017 7 comments

A first for the Counter Argument, a commentary from an outside contributor. I have asked fellow writer David Vann permission to post the English version of the article that was published in French by the daily Libération on the occasion of the Paris Book Fair this past March. Vann forcefully makes the case for pulling God out of the public debate. While I may not agree to see entirely removed fairies and goblins and angels from the lives of people who can only put one foot in front of the other if they feel these entities by their side, the point is most welcome and well-taken that believing in higher powers poisons public life at all levels and in all countries. It didn’t always use to be the case. Despite glitches, the world ran as well as could be expected, given various faiths and beliefs. The tide has turned, though, and sectarianism and harsh or even violent fanaticism have replaced the for-the-most-part benevolent status quo of yesterday. I’m not saying that the past was rosy, far from it. History reeks of bloodshed and massacres, some, but not all, committed in the name of faith. On the other hand, there still exists, I have no doubt, pockets of true spirituality or individuals who live with staunch but strictly personal belief in God or gods. But on the whole, what we see today is beyond redemption. We should heed  David Vann or the late Christopher Hitchens or others who warn of both the danger and the absurdity of belief when it overwhelms public life. In order to continue to exist, our societies need to root out that majestic all-powerful figment of our imagination to whom we have given a thousand names but that we weren’t creative enough to endow with compassion, generosity, or mercy.

(The English version is followed by the French.)

 

Time to Kill God and Country

by David Vann*

I feel honored and lucky to write the editorial today for Libé, especially since my novels are existentialist and I’ve been so influenced by Sartre.  There has perhaps never been a more important time for existentialism than right now.  Faced with the recurring absurdity of Trump and other right-wing nationalistic movements such as Brexit, Le Pen, Wilders, Grillo, and others, our feelings of dread and disorientation are appropriate, and our atheism offers a path forward, because the populist masses voting for thinly-veiled authoritarians and would-be dictators are motivated largely by religion.  It’s on these masses that I would like to focus today, and on our battle against God.

The threats to France and to America, both from within and from without, come from God.  Although it is a foundation of western democracies to respect religious freedom, we have to acknowledge that religions themselves offer not freedom but enslavement and the inevitability of war.  In universities, we tend to think the debate about God was over by the 19th century, so we’ve become complacent and forgotten that our primary mission remains creating a secular world.  That’s the point of learning.

We must always see both sides of how religious war is working.  Young Muslim men attack civilian populations in France and America and elsewhere, and this buoys the election of racist anti-immigration Christian warlords such as George W. Bush or Donald Trump who will punish the Middle East in retribution, which leads to increased recruitment for young Muslim men willing to attack civilians.  There’s no starting point for the cycle and no endpoint.  The only way we might break it is to challenge our part of it, which means the nearly impossible task of somehow educating the tens of millions of religious nationalistic voters in our western countries that the things they believe are simply not true.

In the US, I have to convince my neighbors in rural Florida that facts exist, that the Associated Press and New York Times are more reliable sources of news than Fox or Breitbart, that millions of Syrians are not going to come take their jobs away, that America is not great and should not be great, and that we should never again utter God Bless America.

In France, you have to do the same.  You have to convince your neighbors that a right-wing government is more dangerous than terrorists, that France should not be great, and that God is dead.

There are 70 million Catholics in America, and their vote is the most under-reported story of Trump’s election.  Many of them are “single-issue” voters who voted for Trump only as a vote against abortion.  Until we understand how fully religion undermines our attempts at creating open, democratic, pluralist societies based upon facts, reason, and the rule of secular law, we cannot be prepared for the struggle and will lose.

We still have to weed out religion from every part of our legal codes, for instance.  From American divorce laws that unfairly punish whomever would leave the sacrament of marriage, to the difficulty of making a burka illegal in France, because it targets one religion and takes away religious freedom, we have difficult debates ahead which challenge how we frame the intent of government.

What’s at stake is everything.  If nothing else, what Trump’s rise has shown us is how shockingly quickly a western democracy can fall apart.  Many of our government institutions in America that were built to protect citizens and their heath and work and environment are being dissolved.  Blatant denial of fact and science has become acceptable.  New depths of racism and sexism have become normal.  The end of international diplomacy and trade and cooperation has become possible.  World war, against China and Russia, begun with the flashpoint of North Korea or Taiwan, has become thinkable even though it should have remained unthinkable.

Trump doesn’t care what we write about him, and he doesn’t care about facts.  Marine Le Pen also will not care what I write here.  But the supporters of would-be dictators are normal people.  Demographically we can say they tend to be older, white, rural, not rich, not as well educated, and religious.  We have to go after them.  We have to find ways to kill their God and kill their love of their country.  It’s probably an impossible task, but are you willing to try?

*David Vann is the author of numerous critically acclaimed and best-selling novels and memoirs translated in 21 languages.

Rendez à César

Une première pour ce blog, un post rédigé par un commentateur extérieur. J’ai demandé à mon camarade auteur David Vann la permission de reproduire son éditorial paru dans Libération du 22 mars de cette année à l’occasion du récent Salon du livre de Paris. Vann y présente de solides arguments pour extirper Dieu du débat public. Quoique je ne sois pas entièrement d’accord qu’il faille supprimer les fées, les gobelins et les anges de la vie de gens qui ne pourraient sans doute pas mettre un pied devant l’autre sans la présence à leurs côtés de ces entités, la suggestion est opportune et bienvenue que croire en des puissances supérieures empoisonne la vie publique à tous les niveaux et dans tous les pays. Ce n’était pas toujours le cas. Malgré de sérieux hoquets, le monde fonctionnait aussi bien que possible étant donné les différentes fois et croyances. Mais le vent a tourné et le sectarisme ainsi que le fanatisme dur et même violent ont remplacé le statu quo généralement bonhomme d’hier. Non pas que le passé ait été tout rose, loin de là. L’Histoire abonde de bains de sang et de massacres–certains, mais non tous, commis au nom de la foi, mais dans l’ensemble, ça marchait. Il existe sûrement encore, j’en suis persuadée, des poches de vraie spiritualité ou des individus qui croient de tout coeur mais de façon strictement personnelle en un ou des dieux. Mais dans l’ensemble, ce que nous constatons aujourd’hui est irrémédiable. Nous devrions prêter l’oreille à David Vann ou feu Christopher Hitchens ou d’autres encore qui dénoncent à la fois le danger et l’absurdité de croire quand la croyance envahit la sphère publique. Pour pouvoir continuer à exister, nos sociétés doivent arracher par les racines ce majestueux et puissant produit de notre imagination auquel nous avons donné mille noms mais n’avons pas su doter de compassion, de générosité, ou de pitié.

Il est temps de tuer Dieu et la patrie, par David Vann

Par David Vann* — Libération, 22 mars 2017

Je suis heureux et honoré d’écrire l’éditorial de Libé aujourd’hui, particulièrement parce que mes romans sont existentialistes et que j’ai été très marqué par Sartre. Il n’y a peut-être jamais eu d’époque plus importante pour l’existentialisme que maintenant. Devant l’absurdité récurrente des Trump et autres phénomènes nationalistes de droite tels que le Brexit, les Le Pen, Wilders, Grillo et compagnie, nous avons des raisons de nous sentir effrayés et désorientés. Etant donné que les masses populistes qui votent pour des autoritaristes à peine déguisés et des aspirants dictateurs sont largement influencées par la religion, l’athéisme offre une porte de sortie. C’est sur ces masses-là que je voudrais m’attarder aujourd’hui, et sur notre combat contre Dieu.

Les menaces qui pèsent sur la France et sur l’Amérique, qu’elles soient internes ou viennent de l’extérieur, ont Dieu pour origine. Bien que le respect de la liberté religieuse soit une pierre angulaire de la démocratie occidentale, force est de reconnaître que les religions elles-mêmes n’apportent aucune liberté, mais plutôt l’asservissement et la perspective d’une guerre inéluctable. Dans les universités, nous avons tendance à penser que le débat autour de Dieu s’est achevé au XIXe siècle, aussi sommes-nous devenus complaisants et avons-nous oublié que notre mission première de créer un monde sécularisé demeure. C’est le but même de l’éducation.

La guerre religieuse doit toujours être envisagée sous ses deux angles. De jeunes musulmans attaquent des populations civiles en France et en Amérique ou ailleurs, favorisant l’élection de chefs de guerre chrétiens racistes et anti-immigrants, tels que George W. Bush ou Donald Trump, qui vont en retour châtier le Moyen Orient, suscitant de nouveaux recrutements de jeunes musulmans désireux de tuer des civils. C’est une boucle sans fin. La seule façon de parvenir à, peut-être, y mettre fin serait de s’attaquer à notre part de responsabilité, c’est-à-dire à la tâche quasi impossible de démontrer aux dizaines de millions d’électeurs religieux nationalistes des pays occidentaux que leurs croyances sont tout simplement infondées.

Aux États-Unis, dans un coin rural de la Floride, je me retrouve à devoir convaincre mes voisins que les faits existent ; que l’Associated Press ou le New York Times sont des sources plus crédibles que Fox ou Breitbart ; que des millions de Syriens ne vont pas venir leur piquer leurs emplois, que la grandeur de l’Amérique n’existe pas et ne devrait pas être recherchée, et que la devise du pays, «God Bless America» – que Dieu bénisse l’Amérique – ne devrait plus jamais être prononcée. En France, vous êtes confrontés à la même chose. Chacun devrait convaincre ses voisins qu’un gouvernement très à droite est plus dangereux que les terroristes, que la France ne devrait pas poursuivre des rêves de grandeur et que Dieu est mort.

Il y a 70 millions de catholiques en Amérique, et leur vote est l’aspect dont on parle le moins dans l’élection de Trump. Nombre d’entre eux sont ce qu’on appelle aux Etats-Unis des single issue voters – des électeurs qui se mobilisent sur un seul et unique sujet – qui ont voté pour Trump simplement pour voter contre l’avortement. Tant que nous ne comprendrons pas à quel point la religion sape tous nos efforts pour créer un monde ouvert, démocratique et pluraliste fondé sur les faits avérés, la raison et la loi séculière, nous ne pourrons pas remporter ce combat.

Il nous reste encore à éradiquer les références religieuses de toute notre législation, par exemple. Entre les lois américaines sur le divorce, qui punissent injustement quiconque veut briser le sacrement du mariage, et la difficulté qu’il y a à bannir la burqa de France sous prétexte qu’une telle décision cible une religion au détriment de la liberté de culte, des débats difficiles nous attendent, qui remettent en cause le mode et la raison d’être mêmes du gouvernement de nos pays.

Ce qui est en jeu ? Tout. L’avènement de Trump montre au moins une chose : la vitesse choquante à laquelle une démocratie occidentale s’écroule. Bon nombre de nos institutions bâties pour protéger les citoyens dans leur foyer et sur leur lieu de travail, ainsi que l’environnement naturel dans lequel ils vivent sont en train de se dissoudre. Le déni patent des faits et de la science est devenu acceptable. De nouveaux abysses de sexisme et de racisme sont devenus normaux. La fin de la coopération, de la diplomatie et du commerce internationaux est possible. Une guerre mondiale contre la Chine et la Russie, avec la Corée du Nord ou Taiwan pour point de départ, est désormais envisageable alors que ça n’aurait jamais dû l’être.

Trump se moque de ce qu’on écrit à son sujet, et se moque des faits. Marine Le Pen non plus ne tiendra pas compte de ce que j’écris ici. Mais les supporteurs des apprentis dictateurs sont des gens normaux. Sur le plan démographique, ils sont plutôt plus vieux, blancs, ruraux, pas riches, pas très bien éduqués et tout à fait religieux. Nous devons aller les chercher. Nous devons trouver des moyens de tuer leur Dieu et de tuer leur amour pour leur patrie. C’est sans doute impossible, mais ça ne vous dit pas d’essayer ?(Traduit de l’anglais (Etats-Unis) par Benjamin Guérif)

David Vann est un auteur américain traduit en de nombreuses langues. Sukkwan Island (Gallmeister) a remporté le prix Médicis étranger.

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Categories: Daily life

Military strikes leave me cold, the rest makes my blood boil

April 16, 2017 4 comments

tomahawk-cruise-missile-720To read comments about the recent US strikes in Syria and Afghanistan, one would think #dangerousbuffoon has turned “more presidential” overnight, as some new faithful in the general public and media are happy to report. Actually, this hustler has not become more or less anything, he is simply living the perfect dream in Trumplandia. One can just see him marching into the situation room with all those advisors and five-star generals standing up respectfully as he rubs together his plump little hands and declares that it’s time to unleash the full power of the United States military against ISIS. First, we strike Syria with those Tomahawk missiles, then, we hit them in Afghanistan with the MOAB. Take that, ISIS! Read more…

Categories: Daily life

Not Fake News

February 16, 2017 3 comments

In the zany atmosphere created by #dangerousbuffoon so improbably making it to the White House (though not for long, it seems at this point,) a slew of hilarious news like none other keep surfacing. So, several times a day, I find myself with tears streaming down my face, not only because of the attacks on democracy, on the environment, on ObamaCare, on dedicated and brave civil servants, on the humble and disenfranchised, but from sheer, helpless mirth.

Raucous Town Hall McClintock

Here is a sampling of what I’ve read since day before day before yesterday, howling with laughter. I’m adding chapter and verse to show that these are neither fake news nor come from some alternative reality but actually happened and were reported on.

  • A naked moron–my guess, a disgruntled Trump supporter angered by the media reports on his guy–stormed into NBC HQ in Washington DC. And bit the people trying to stop him, before being carted away. Bit them!

Read more…

Categories: Daily life

Save Islam and Muslims

February 1, 2017 7 comments

After alternating between fury and disbelief since January 20 with each new move by #dangerousbuffoon, I finally force myself to attempt unscrambling my roiling thoughts and emotions.

For the last few days, these thoughts and emotions have been coalescing mainly around the ban, e.i. refusing entry into the United States to people from seven countries, whether travelers with a visa or legitimate U.S. residents. As with every directive or decision from this sick administration, there appears to be great confusion as to principle and application. And very little discussion about the whys and wherefores that led to this.man-praying

I write often enough, when it is warranted, about my lack of interest in faith, belief or religion. This indifference extends to Islam but not to today’s rampant Islamicism for which I have utter contempt. I cannot bring myself to show tolerance for headscarves (this couple-of-decades-old artificial construct adopted by Read more…

Categories: Daily life

Cherish democracy before it disappears

January 17, 2017 5 comments

Returning from a trip to Venice, I remain in a suspended state of mind. Despite the bitter cold that could have–but didn’t–spoiled the short visit, I am still under the emotional shock. That so much beauty could be created in the face of great odds, that the magnificent Serenissima Republic of Venice could rise from a marshy branch of the Adriatica Sea and remain to this day one of the most extraordinary sights of the world is a testament to humanity. Small minds will point to the dark times, the conspiracies, and the permanent struggle against both nature and barbarians (replaced by today’s relentless waves of tourists,) but Venice remains—sheer splendor, a dreamlike vision not easily set aside.

Splendor, however, can only take us so far in these sad and scary times. Our dreams cannot be filled only with archangels and saints and the magic brushes of Titian or Donatello. Right around the corner looms one of the ugliest menaces to today’s civilization, making us realize how tenuous the whole concept is for those countries that through the spasms and convulsions of history have come this far. And yes, I see the myriad fingers pointing at the poverty, the misery, the anguish, not only throughout the world but right here, in these Western countries where, at least on the surface, life is more welcoming than elsewhere.

So many choose to see the civilized world not as an example of what can be achieved, not as something to cherish and protect but as the oppressor, the imperialist powers, the former colonialists, etc. The world is miserable because the West has made it so. Never mind that decolonization happened eons ago. Never mind that corrupt homebred brutes made it their mission to accumulate power and bullions and muzzle any opposition. Look around. Ever since the departure of “blue-eyed white devil,” after some horizons of hope briefly opening up, every continent is struggling with mighty problems.

I happen not to share that view in the least. Venice will always be beautiful. Democracy, as flawed and unfairly shared as it is, remains the best political system humanity has come up with, after countless errors and terrors. And yes, it is not only a work in progress but one, unfortunately, fragile and easily toppled. Look at us now:  after centuries of bumbling progress have, in fits and starts, created relatively functioning societies and minds more or less opening, here we are, stepping into the great unknown. (And no, I’m not forgetting the torn Middle East or any other part of the world where grave strategic errors, often born of sheer self-interest, have created untenable situations.)

The usual dictators bent on tormenting their people and making maximum profit before disappearing in the dustbins of history are either in power or being replaced by more of the same. The worse development is that strongmen/women  are becoming the norm, much appreciated by popular movements veering right. The Putins of the world, the Netanyahus, the Marine Le Pens, Erdogans, etc. are winning supporters, and now we have our own #dangerousbuffoon.

Here in the States, we could be appalled at the injustice, the unfairness, the inequalities, the racism, the bigotry. We could fall back on political correctness, wanting to believe that the awful waves of sentimentality plastered over our Facebook pages, in the Disney World of our minds, the lies we feed our children (“you can be anything you want” yadda, yadda, yadda, creating adults both permanently dissatisfied and entitled) replace actual strong social and educational programs, that paying lip service to gun control and gay rights would actually make them a reality. In other words, that feeling good and righteous and eating organic would keep pulling the world toward progress. In the perfect world of our creation, every American would make a decent living, no cop would kill a black kid in total impunity, prisons would empty by miracle, no woman would die from a botched abortion, one and all would accept gay weddings, respect the LGBT community and create more opportunities for the disabled. In that country moving in sync toward progress and equality, we would be mindful of global warming, of our own environment, of medical care for all, we would have a stake in every important cause.

That is over. Something wicked this way comes. Thugs are on the march. If I believed in superior powers, I’d beg them not to let #dangerousbuffoon wreak too much havoc and destroy everything so painstakingly and so imperfectly created this far. Instead, I’m endlessly chagrined at the coup carried off by a brute enamored of his own ignorance, stupidity, and utter vulgarity in a system that has not yet woken up to the implications for democracy, for the future, for our world.

Three more days before the magnificent First Couple that has served eight years with dignity and good will toward all walks out of that mansion, to be replaced by… oh, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

 

 

Categories: Daily life

La fin de l’islam

August 9, 2016 Leave a comment

L’attentat du 26 juillet, revendiqué par Daech et venant à la suite de tant d’autres, s’est produit dans une église de Normandie où deux hommes ont attaqué les fidèles, en blessant un et prenant les autres en otage, et tranché la gorge d’un prêtre de 86 ans avant d’être abattus par la police. Le Président Hollande s’est rendu sur le site, me faisant me demander jusqu’à quand il trouverait le temps d’accomplir ces pélerinages étant donné la fréquence de ces attaques.

Comme si le chagrin et la répulsion éprouvés chaque jour ne suffisaient pas, nous suffoquons sous les interminables discours, commentaires, et avis de tout un chacun. Il devient pratiquement impossible de comprendre les torrents de mots expliquant, attaquant, défendant, et bien sûr prescrivant. Rarement entendons-nous des arguments logiques ou intelligents ou tout simplement s’appuyant sur une réflexion—et encore moins une connaissance—des soucis actuels. La raison principale en est, hélas, le refus de voir l’inapplicabilité de l’islam aux pays et aux sociétés dans lesquels nous vivons, une situation qui ne changera guère à moins de sérieuses révisions de textes et de traditions, et ce face à une féroce résistance. Read more…

Categories: Daily life

The End of Islam

August 1, 2016 7 comments

Another week in France, meaning another week with a murderous Islamist attack. The August 26 one happened in a Normandy church where two men later praised by ISIS overcame the faithful present, wounding one and taking the others hostage, and slit the throat of an 86-year old priest before being gunned down by police. President Hollande traveled the short distance to the site to pay his respects, having me wonder when he would stop finding the time to honor victims of this violence as the number of incidents increase.

st etienne 2

As if the grief and repulsion we feel daily are not enough, we are overwhelmed by the endless discourse, commentary, and opinions. It’s near impossible to make sense of the torrents of words explaining, attacking, defending, and of course prescribing. Hardly ever does one hear logical or intelligent arguments, or any based on consideration—let alone knowledge—of present-day concerns. Read more…

Categories: Daily life
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