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meanderings – weight loss, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a befuddled reverend gentleman, and a plethora of choices

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our reverend gentleman in a less befuddled moment

our reverend gentleman in a less befuddled moment

Listening to various podcasts and interviews and debates and documentaries, absorbing, absorbing, as well as reading texts about complex ideas which don’t easily mesh with each other, which spin me off in different directions and which of course I only discuss with my undemanding self, all this befuddles my brain a bit, making it hard to know what to start writing about, I’ve forced myself to sit down here, as I must do on a daily basis, and see if I can pin down an idea or two.

Montaigne-like I always feel its safest to start with myself and last night I caught the last few minutes of another Michael Mosley documentary on diet, lifestyle and health, in which he ended up being sceptical of the effort required to give yourself the best shot at living to 200, which I felt was fair enough, but I was alerted to my situation weight-wise by the observation that, as you lose weight, your metabolism slows down, which is one of the main reasons it’s so hard to keep the weight off, and a good example of that is that yesterday was my birthday so I indulged myself a little, culinarily speaking, but not really a lot, but I paid for it with my weight going up by one whole kilogram on the day before, and experience tells me that it’ll take about three days of food deprivation to get that kilo off again, so is there a way to get the metabolism to speed up, if in fact that’s the problem? We’re in the depths of winter here, though winters here are mild, but I still use it as an excuse not to go out in the cold for exercise, and poverty has prevented me from buying an exercise bike and getting my metabolism up through the HIT program, which would surely be my best option. Excuses excuses in short.

I’ve just started reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, having read The Caged Virgin a few years back, and I’m still pissed off by the silly remark about her by Reza Aslan, a supposedly liberal Moslem. The use of a pared-down, low-key style when dealing with horrors is always effective. And even when not dealing with horrors. Also, the courage of this woman – even with the in-your-Moslem-face title of the book – is inspiring. She’s a proud catch-me-if-you-can infidel, whose affront to a particular religion is a challenge to our liberal secular values, a challenge we surely must meet. Also, she’s a human being who sees clearly the damage to human values, and particularly the value of the female species, wrought by many religious and cultural practices.

Interestingly I just happened to watch a debate video yesterday, filmed in 2007 between Christopher Hitchens and one Al Sharpton, a reverend gentleman of some note in the US, apparently. Hitchens was quite genial, for Hitchens, and Sharpton seemed far from sharp, so it was all a bit ho-hum. But I was delighted to find that Hirsi Ali was in the audience, and she asked the last question of the video, addressing it to Sharpton. It was a good question too, just what I would’ve asked him. Throughout the debate, Sharpton complained that Hitchens was avoiding the key point of the debate, whether ‘God is great’ or not, as per Hitchens’ book. But Sharpton was nowhere consistent, claiming in his first speaking opportunity (after Hitchens had kicked off the debate) to be annoyed that Hitchens was focusing on the putative criminal behaviour of the Christian god, and the questionable morality of the gospels, etc, but wasn’t focusing on the existence of this god, and then suddenly switching from the ontological issue to the ethical issue, by claiming that because people used the god in this or that way, or described or interpreted him thus and so, that made no difference to the god himself – as if the Bible wasn’t a written history of that god, and the proper way for that god to be known according to most theologians. In fact Sharpton’s various harpings on this issue amounted to a complete rejection of the Bible, it seemed to me, in favour of a personal relationship with this god in which believers can make of him (or her) what they will. An extraordinarily flexible theology which would seem to render a common morality, derived somehow from this being, completely impossible.

Of course Sharpton tried to make other points, including a variant of the watch/watchmaker shibboleth, all of them equally specious. The only thing going for him was that he seemed a genuinely likeable, kindly gentleman. And to be fair, Hitchens makes some specious arguments too, not about gods but about Iraq.

But to return to Hirsi Ali, her question was multi-faceted, concerning, inter alia, Sharpton’s god’s existence, and how she/he/it came into being, but the last facet was ‘Isn’t it odd that you carry a Christian title and that you refuse, even for once tonight, to defend the church, and the content of the Bible?’  My admiration for her and devotion to her shone in that moment, and of course Sharpton responded by presenting again this relativistic notion of an ahistorical, unparticularised god who is ‘the same’, but of course quite different, whether you’re a Christian, a Moslem or a follower of no organised religion. This conception, which conveniently leaves out the central figure of Jesus, seems a complete denial of the particularity of Christianity, and simply highlights the questioning of Sharpton’s Christian title. However, I really do believe that the poor befuddled gentleman just didn’t get it.

Speaking of befuddlement, while absorbing and forgetting all these ideas and positions and facts I’m reading or hearing about, I get torn about what I should focus and write on – for example if there’s anything to this system 1 and system 2 thinking and the idea that religious thinking is ‘more natural’ than scientific thinking (words must be chosen carefully here), or if it’s true that there’s an asymmetry between liberals and conservatives in their cognitive biases and motivated reasoning, or should I launch into a critique of the marketing scam that is ‘organic’ food, or should I try to elaborate in my own words the reason why the Copernican theory wasn’t considered heretical until Galileo came along quite a bit later? Or should I just give up and watch the Tour de France to its seemingly inevitable conclusion? Help me, oh goddess.

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Written by stewart henderson

July 9, 2013 at 10:50 pm

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