Brother Tayler’s Sunday Salon Sermon

May 4, 2015 • 1:10 pm

Even though 2015 is not even half over, I’m already going to present two yearly awards. Professor Ceiling Cat’s “George Orwell Award for Defense of Free Expression” is going to Nick Cohen, whose work, pretty new to me, must be well known to many UK readers. The other award, the “H. L. Mencken Award for Mockery of Religion,” goes to Atlantic writer and Russia correspondent Jeffrey Tayler, whose weekly articles in Salon (of all places) take religion apart with the opprobrium it deserves.

I call your attention to Tayler’s latest Sunday sermon: “Ted Cruz, our ayatollah: Fight back now, or welcome to the 2016 religious right hellstorm.” This latest piece, nominally a response to a critique of an earlier Tayler piece by goddycoddler Matthew Barber, is really Tayler’s long expression of amazement and disdain for how thoroughly marinated American politicians are in toxic faith. And I’ll give three excerpts showing the Mencken-like straighforwardness that has earned Tayler his award:

Accusations of “bigotry,” trotted out with the intent to silence, should still the tongue of no outspoken atheist.  We attack not religious folks as people, but the irrationality inherent in their religion, which is nothing more than hallowed ideology, and therefore is, or should be, as much fair game as, say, socialism.  Would Evangelicals heed calls to “respect” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who has just announced his candidacy for 2016) and avoid engaging in “anti-socialist” bigotry with regard to his political views?  Of course not.  Nor should they, necessarily, if they disagree with him.  Being a socialist, just like being a Christian, is a matter of choice, save one important fact: at least socialism constitutes a coherent ideology to which nothing resembling the benighted principle of“Credo quia absurdum” (I believe because it is absurd) has ever applied.

The Latin quote, I believe, is from Tertullian, channeled through Kierkegaard. Another:

I chose the term “faith-deranged” with care.  I meant it literally, lest there be any doubt that I intended to be merely incendiary.  Derangement is clearly rampant across large swathes of America.  Citizens of one of the most technologically advanced nations on earth who opt, of their own volition, to believe in a magic book negated by science and peppered with all manner of bilious behests and misanthropic myths cannot be esteemed to be thinking sanely.  Given the extreme nature of the delusions of these citizens and the resulting behavior – for example, petitions whispered to an invisible celestial tyrant with the goal of securing favorable outcomes, otherwise known as prayer, and hallucinated responses from said invisible tyrant – only one conclusion presents itself: faith has disrupted their mental faculties and is producing symptoms that, were they not sheltered under the adjective “religious,” would qualify as pathological.

But there’s some optimism at the end:

Rationalists must resist all calls to show respect for religion, be it Christianity or Islam or any other faith with universalist pretensions.  Recall the damage these stultifying ideologies of control and repression have done the cause of progress throughout history.  And remember the stakes now, with so many of our presidential candidates flaunting their belief, and seats on the Supreme Court likely to free up, especially post-2016.  We either fight back by speaking out now, or we may end up living in a Christian-theme-park version of Iran, with Ted Cruz as our ayatollah.

Yet do not despair!  In the United States the winds of reason are blowing more strongly than ever: since 2012 alone, 7.5 million have abandoned religion.  We atheists have the momentum.  Finally, finally, we can make out religion’s “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.”

Those sleeping the slumber of faith hang DO NOT DISTURB signs about their minds.

No rationalist should feel obliged to comply.

Congrats to Tayler on his prize. He can stop by my office anytime to pick up his award: a specially autographed copy of FvF with a Russian-speaking cat drawn in it, and a fine Cuban cigar.

p.s. Tayler, on his Facebook page, posted this statement from Dan Barker:


32 thoughts on “Brother Tayler’s Sunday Salon Sermon

  1. Tayler, Frum and Cohen. Love all three of them.

    Cruz is running for the same reasons as Carson. To keep their names in the limelight. To spread knowledge of their respective “brands” far and wide. To raise their profile. Fame and fortune.

    1. IMO Cruz actually believes he can win. Remember, he’s the guy who orchestrated the 2013 government shut-down and thought all America would thank him for it. He seems to really think that he’s got a finger on the pulse of the nation, even though in reality he’s far, far outside the mainstream.

      1. Ted Cruz is brilliant. Top student at the Ivy League he went to.

        Shortly before arguing in favour of the death penalty, he went up in front of the Supreme Court and argued that the death penalty should not be used in cases where the prosecution knowingly withholds evidence.

        He is a salesman, and a narcissist. He knows how to appeal to his base. This is just one of many ways. Even Sarah Palin, who isn’t as bright as Cruz, let rumours fly that she was going to run for President, because it kept her name in the news and fattened her bank account.

  2. I cannot begin to explain clearly how good this writing by Tayer is getting. Man that is good.

  3. Darwin used that Latin phrase in his autobiography, when explaining that although he had unquestioningly accepted Anglican doctrine when young, he never carried his acceptance to that extreme.

  4. To be curmudgeonly, I’m less personally affected by Cruz than I am by the trigger happy SJW movement. Talk about a need for gun control.

    I don’t meet Cruz’s minions socially, but I am daily affected by the need to stifle myself.

    1. I especially like the last part:

      Ah, love, let us be true
      To one another! for the world, which seems
      To lie before us like a land of dreams,
      So various, so beautiful, so new,
      Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
      Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
      And we are here as on a darkling plain
      Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
      Where ignorant armies clash by night.

  5. This week we have Huckabee and Carson announcing their intention to seek the Republican nomination. To think that either of these, along with Cruz, Santorum, Rubio, and other candidates who put their religious beliefs before everything else, could be president of the most powerful country in the world is terrifying.

    No matter what you think of him or her, please get out and vote for the best rational candidate. Every time you decide not to vote for someone because they’re not perfect, you’re giving two votes to someone worse.

    I’m looking forward to much more like this from Tayler in the run-up to 2016 – a voice of sanity in the wilderness of potential theocracy.

  6. The Latin quote is indeed from Tertullian one of most avowedly anti-intellectual of the early Christian church theologians/fathers. He is also notorious for saying “What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?” (Not much in his view, in contrast to Clement of Alexandria an early Christian who loved Greek philosophy.)

    The phrase is definitely echoed in Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling”, one of his most troubling books.

    Regarding this quote, H.L. Mencken is said to have quipped “Needless to say, he [Tertullian] began life as a lawyer.”

    There is a Wikipedia article on this phrase but

    also makes good reading.

    1. In fairness to Tertullian, he is misquoted. I googled the phrase and found this out; I’m not very knowledgable about early church fathers.

  7. We have this sports thing on TV called “smash him bro” where big rugby and league (like rugby but not) tackles are strung together for viewing by sports fans.. some of these tackles left you wondering how the tackled player managed to get up and play on…
    Unfortunately American politics effects us all,
    wherever you are on this planet, so if you don’t mind Mr Cohen (for your work) and Mr Tayler… smash them bro! crude as it is, for the sake of reason, rationality and for our collective reputation and sanity as a higher primate species.
    Further to my amusement, sorry Professor, I’d be embarrassed along with the mind numbing frustration I currently hold, if aliens arrived tomorrow and religious and wonky cretins is all we could offer up as elected leaders.
    Your awards are well placed professor, if this is not been made clear.

  8. I’m not happy about this in Tayler’s piece:

    “The universe, we now know, did create itself, arising out of a quantum event – a “singularity,” when time and space were wrapped into one — some 13.7 billion years ago, exploding from a tiny speck of unimaginably dense, hot matter to its present dimensions.”

    We do not know that the universe “created itself”. We do know that our best theories are insufficient to say what, if anything, caused the singularity. This is a case where atheists should avoid the arrogance of unfounded claims to knowledge with which we justly charge the theists.

    1. I agree – fortunately, it was really the only moment of discomfort I experienced reading the piece.

    2. Yes, I was in discomfort there too. It is an open issue, so “know” comes on too strong. My (commented) nitpick:

      The latest Planck data release has the Hot Big Bang at 13.9 billion years ago, and strictly we don’t know that it started as a singularity. Inflation means a slowed entrance into the HBB than earlier assumed, and prohibits the earlier hypothesized singularity proofs. But it is still a likely and simple resolution, which the Planck data supports. (I.e. the raw data implies inflation was short and rapid as possible inflation physics goes, pointing to some sort of initial Planck scale event. There is a neat data model figure in the latest data release in the Planck legacy archive!)

  9. I may have scored very well on the science quiz, but I’m not as broadly read as Prof. C.C. – I had not, for example, run into the phrase Credo quia absurdum before. It fits in nicely with one way I use to categorize hopelessly and dangerously fanatical adherents of religion and other vile ideologies. (I’m sure I’m not original on this.)
    When you’ve backed a fanatic into a corner with a reductio ad absurdum argument, the fanatic surprises you and makes no attempt to show that your logic is flawed when they are faced with a ridiculous or odious result of their beliefs, but instead embraces the conclusion! E.g, (from any number of Christians)… that’s right, mass murder, torture, and slavery are good when God does it!
    It is mind-blowing that fanatics actually admit to having elevated the principle of being absurd to a virtue – but I should have known, I guess.

  10. I tried to read Barber’s piece. I really did. But I had a headache after about two paragraphs for about 5 or 6 headdesks. I made it a little farther but couldn’t get through the incredible wingnut language. Alas.

    Not to read Tayler’s piece. Should be a much easier read. With no headdesks.

  11. Oh, Jeez. I just now realized that Barber’s piece was in the Worldnetdaily.

    That explains much.

  12. I like Tayler’s verve and power but I feel a bit gloomy after seeing him on Russia TV’s ironically named Crosstalk(?), in which four commentators sit together with the rabid host and say nice things about Putin. That was a bit of a shock, although he may have been the token liberal it was impossible to tell.

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