Reviewing the Reviewer: The Walrus’s Daniel Baird Does God

22Apr07

It was a miserable spring afternoon in Paris, nearly twenty years ago. A light drizzle driven between the snaps of my windbreaker by strong gusts, as if the elements themselves were mimicking the turmoil within. I was wandering outside the buttresses of Notre Dame Cathedral’s east side, taking photographs and sulking about a past love, lost months ago, and a current love, dying, back home in Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital. This gorgeous, iconic architecture… would I be miraculously struck down by the creator in my present nonbelief? Or drawn inside, my resistance eroded, only to be embraced by the warmth of the holy spirit and transported to a resplendent religious experience?

I mention this not as a preface to anything dramatic happening; I took some pictures, poked around and left, cold and wet, to go back to my hotel and, later, got laid. Nor do I mention it to imply that I am somehow a worldly fellow or an intellectual or even a particularly passionate person.

I do it to annoy. Because, man, I hate it when reviewers pull that highfalutin’, poetic shit.

God's Slow Death

…like Daniel Baird does in his April 2007 The Walrus review of Sam Harris’s The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto (“God’s Slow Death”). Of all the many, many reviews I’ve read of these books — and of the forthcoming Christopher Hitchens’s God is not Great — it’s fairly easy to distill the negative responses to two categories.

The first, outrage, is the easiest to spot and, naturally, the easiest to dismiss. You get the sort of obfuscation in which blowhards like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough are experts: “you have a lot of people making a lot of money right now irritating Christians” (Real Time with Bill Maher 5.3, a couple of months ago), as if making money is the sole — or primary — reason for atheists coming out of their particular closets in greater numbers these days. And as if delusional thinking is not just constitutionally but intellectually protected, too. Ultimately, though, the outrage is a mask for this truth: that the faith of so many is so shaky that even talking critically about faith must be forbidden.

And then you get the Daniel Bairds of the world, whose unbridled condescension to atheism is masked in intellectual puffery. He uses words like “target” and “polemical” (twice) to describe Harris’s brilliantly reasoned books, and “invective” in his discussion of Dawkins’s elegant and airtight arguments. Unsurprisingly, when Baird mentions an analysis of faith by one of the faithful — Charles Taylor’s Varieties of Religion Today — he calls it “beautiful commentary”, and adorns it with the same florid language as his opening and, indeed, closing statements. Here’s his closer:

A few weeks later, I went to the office of a professor of divinity, expecting to discuss the nature of faith in the twenty-first century. The shelves of his narrow, congested office packed floor to ceiling with books — on theology and the history of religion, of course, but also on cognitive science and evolution. Raised and educated a Mennonite, he had spent thirty years of his career trying to resolve the apparent conflict between science and religion. [And note here that it could only be the faithful who undertake such a measured, liberal approach to such a study — bs] It was not long before he told me that a few years earlier he had, finally, lost his faith. “But I still have a Christian body,” he told me. “My lifestyle is still the same as it was before.”

“Do you think it’s possible that we simply can’t bear to see life and the world as it really is?” I asked him.

“Yes.”

And I can only conclude that any scholar — or intellectual — who finds seeing “life and the world as it really is” unbearable is suffering from a severe lack of intellect with which to appreciate the expansive universe, unadorned by myth and hocus-pocus. Or that s/he suffers from a lack of imagination, to foresee a time when truth could trump lies, and reality can be celebrated over the vile manipulations of those who seek to divide humanity in the cruelest ways.

So cut it with the condescension, okay? Intellectual laziness — tarted up in poetry though it may be — earns you no right to that attitude. Especially when the probability of your correctness is infinitesimally small.

i am much nicer than god
I AM MUCH NICER THAN GOD (Duane Michals)



6 Responses to “Reviewing the Reviewer: The Walrus’s Daniel Baird Does God”

  1. 1 Meghan

    Brilliant, and spot-on! Those reviews annoyed me, as well.

  2. 2 David D.

    An excellent post–and the quote from Duane Michaels is outstanding.

  3. 3 Shahab

    Good one! May be you like “Martin Hughes” website! With its lovely design.You can find the link in my last post: “Swallow the Pills”.

  4. 4 anne

    Nearly every sentence in this is so airtight that I hesitate to single one out, but if I had to, this one, “And then you get the Daniel Bairds of the world, whose unbridled condescension to atheism is masked in intellectual puffery,” is where I think the applause in my head was the loudest.

  5. 5 iansforest

    I subscribed to your blog it’s fantastic! Thanks very much.

  6. 6 Denis

    Hi,

    I was looking for the title of the book from which the Duane Michals quote was taken.
    I remembered seeing the art book at the Canadian Art Museum<s art bookstore a very long time ago when it exposed some of Duan Michals’ portraits. I have been searching for it eversince.
    Can anyone help me?
    If so, please reply at my email address.
    Many thanks!

    Denis


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: