February 26, 2008

Towards a modern heresy

In his trenchant critique of Bernard Shaw, G.K. Chesterton observes the following:

A man must be orthodox upon most things, or he will never even have time to preach his own heresy.

Chesterton never disappoints: he's always a provocative writer, just as Shaw is. Here Chesterton's argument is that Shaw rejected so much of the received wisdom of his fellow men that he was forever explaining himself; hence the lengthy prefaces to his plays. I think if Shaw were a preacher or a politician, this would be a just critique, but Shaw was neither -- something that is all too often forgotten.

In any case, I don't want to go into too much detail about Shaw and Chesterton, but would rather sketch out some heresies that might be too unorthodox to be of value to any fanatic.

The first -- the only one I will treat here -- is what I like to call the theory of the infinite earth. It's a fairly simple postulate: The earth is, for all practical purposes, infinite, and it is only the misapprehension of this fact by the ruling classes of society that explains hunger, want and deprivation.

I believe this can be proven on both scientific and empirical grounds: we can't run out of anything, because matter can neither be created nor destroyed. I was astonished, some years ago, to read that humanity is running out of water. There is exactly the same amount of hydrogen and oxygen molecules on the earth as there were 100 million years ago, as there will be 100 million years from now. This does not mean that there cannot be fluctuations in the distribution of water via rainfall, but it does mean that it is simply not possible to run out of water -- or tungsten or oil or anything else, for that matter.

The misconception of the limited earth -- whether expressed by eugenicists, Malthus, Hitler, or anyone else -- has caused untold human misery. The theory of the infinite earth is a necessary corrective.

Posted by Ideofact at February 26, 2008 01:02 AM
Comments

Bill,

I've been getting into reading Chesterton lately for the first time...I'm starting with the fiction, but I do plan to try to read more of his other work...I've been really impressed so far. I have been a little disappointed by the few stray comments I have found by him on Islam, they don't seem to show much understanding of Islam, but I don't think he ever really claimed any.

As to Shaw, he does seem to have done some writing on Islam, and many Muslims lift some quotes of his which are complimentary towards the Prophet Muhammad (saw) in trying to give da'wah to Islam. (This is a favorite technique of old-school Islamic propagation, trying to find any prominent non-Muslims who have made positive statements of any kind about Islam or Muhammad (saw).)

One Islamic group claims that Shaw was attempting at one point to write a play about the Prophet Muhammad but couldn't get support for it, because of fear of Muslim reaction (at that point, basically Ottoman Empire diplomatic reaction). I don't know the details or even veracity of this story.

Posted by: Abu Noor Al-Irlandee at February 27, 2008 11:58 AM

Based on a little digging around the internet, it appears that the Shaw quotes so often used by Muslim propagators cannot really be traced to any source and so are not definite. So I take back my assertion that Shaw wrote some on Islam -- I'm not sure that he did.

Posted by: Abu Noor Al-Irlandee at February 27, 2008 12:32 PM

Shaw did write on Islam -- in the preface to Androcles and the Lion for example -- had some favorable things to say about the religion and about the Prophet. Shaw particularly liked the obligation to care for the poor. It's important to remember though that Shaw was an avowed atheist and a very effective polemicist. Thus, he argued that what made Jesus such a compelling figure, when you stripped away all the superstitious nonsense about virgin births and rising from the dead, was that Jesus was a socialist. It's not always explicit, but one gets the sense that what Shaw's trying to get across when he writes about religious figures is that the stupid masses can't quite grasp the import of what they're saying, so rather than rationalize the means of production they invent religious myths around them.

I think Shaw was interested in and spoke well of anything that fit with his politics, and rather pitiless toward anything he thought interfered with them. So he might praise the zakat, but condemn the revelation that authorized it.

As to Chesterton, I think his work on Eugenics is amazing and still a timely read. Other than that, I like the Father Brown mysteries and the Man who was Thursday (which is a gloss on the Conference of the Birds).

Posted by: Bill at February 28, 2008 12:06 AM

Here's the preface to Androcles and the Lion.

And here's a typical quote:

Mahometanism, which Napoleon at the end of his career classed as perhaps the best popular religion for modern political use, might in some respects have arisen as a reformed Christianity if Mahomet had had to deal with a population of seventeenth-century Christians instead of Arabs who worshipped stones. As it is, men do not reject Mahomet for Calvin...
Posted by: Bill at February 28, 2008 12:12 AM

Here's the preface to Androcles and the Lion.

And here's a typical quote:

Mahometanism, which Napoleon at the end of his career classed as perhaps the best popular religion for modern political use, might in some respects have arisen as a reformed Christianity if Mahomet had had to deal with a population of seventeenth-century Christians instead of Arabs who worshipped stones. As it is, men do not reject Mahomet for Calvin...
Posted by: Bill at February 28, 2008 12:12 AM