February 24, 2006
As some of you may know (and if you don't, all the better), I published yesterday my correspondence with Mr. Dan Gardner of The Ottawa Citizen - one email of mine, and one of his - regarding his column of one week ago today entitled "The trouble with all religions." My email to him, which I would now like to make into an open letter, was as follows, in italics:
Dear Mr. Gardner,
I read with interest your article entitled "The trouble with all religions," in this morning's paper. I agreed with some of the opinions expressed therein, and disagreed with others. I am all for allowing public criticism of religion, and I sympathize with Mr. Harris's views about religious moderates' self-delusion.
I contest, however, an underlying assumption of the article - namely, that religion is necessarily irrational and that, as you quote from Salman Rushdie, "All religions ... didn't get it right:" that at least some of the claims of every religion are factually incorrect. This assertion is incredibly broad and sweeping; it condemns simultaneously all of the thousands of religions in the world as preaching what is fundamentally falsehood. This assumption seems to be accepted dogmatically within the article; no supporting evidence is provided. I am not so sure that it is true.
Before I suggest very strongly that you read an essay, available on the internet, on the topic of the veracity of Judaism, I beg you not to roll your eyes and proceed to your next email on the assumption that the material I am recommending is just another religious crackpot's mediocre and desperate theological self-justification replete with shoddy evidence, specious argumentation and tautological nonsense. For it is not. It is written by Dr. Rabbi David Gottlieb, a former Professor of Philosophy at the renowned Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and using modern philosophical argumentation, it makes a powerful and compelling case for the veracity of the Jewish religion. It is entitled "Living Up to the Truth," and it can be found at http://ohr.edu/yhiy/article.php/992. The most important sections, in addition to the forward and preface, are Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 6. Please note that, as the preface explains, the essay is actually a transcription of oral presentations; you may otherwise be put off by its somewhat informal tone and occasional stylistic errors. The content, however, is formidable. This work ought to be read and thoughtfully considered by anyone wishing to discount the truth of all religions in one fell swoop.
I would certainly be interested to read any thoughts you have on this matter, and I thank you for your attention.
He Who Must Not Be Named, Ottawa
About fifteen minutes ago, the following comment (which I have italicized) was posted:
Dan Gardner said...
This is Dan Gardner.
I'd like to raise two things.
First, I received dozens of emails after publishing that column, many from people as thoughtful, earnest and sincere as you. Unlike many columnists, I try very hard to answer every email with at least something a little more substantive than "thanks for writing." If my email to you came off as abrupt, I am sorry, but that is because I was slogging away at them on my own free time (of which I have virtually none).
It is simply impossible for me to engage every person who writes in a lengthy and substantial discussion. I'd love to. I really would. But there's only so much time in the day.
Secondly, I would like to ask you a question. You wrote me a private email. I responded with a private email. Now you have published these emails on a blog. Do you think that is a fair and decent thing to do?
I am assuming that this message is, indeed, from Mr. Gardner.
I apologise to Mr. Gardner for having published his email. I assumed there was nothing in it that would have embarrassed him or otherwise made him unhappy about its being shown publicly, but evidently I was mistaken. I have therefore removed it, as I believe he was implicitly asking me to do. (I assume I am authorised to leave his comment on the original post on this blog, since the comment was published for the public (such as it is) to see.)
Normally I would not even consider publishing a personal email, regardless of its content. However, in a case such as this one, I find my usual scruples are tempered by other considerations. Mr. Gardner has, of course, a forum in which to express his opinions - a forum read by over 135,000 people, in a hard-copy print medium, no less, which lends his words more credibility. If I, or if anybody else, disagrees with his opinions, we can try sending in a letter to the editor, and hope that it gets published in a more or less edited form, in which case we will have made our thoughts known to those who read the Letters section, with all the authority that goes along with having been chosen by the Letters editor as sufficiently interesting, or inflammatory, or diverse, or novel, or quirky. Certainly, within the pages of the Citizen, we cannot hope to have an intelligent debate on an equal footing with a regular Citizen columnist.
I attempted to circumvent this problem by appealing to Mr. Gardner directly (and privately), and asking him to look at material that I believe convincingly refutes the assertions he presented in the Citizen and considered so obvious that he did not even bother trying to justify them. I hoped he would investigate the matter, especially as he was only two or three mouse-clicks away from doing so, and that he would, at the very least, get back to me with a thoughtful reply, hopefully accompanied by a modification in position that might find its way into some of his future articles.
As I wrote in the original version of this post, I was disappointed, because while Mr. Gardner did reply (for which I give him credit), he did not seem to have checked the easily accessible source I had referred him to, nor, frankly, to be concerned at all with the issue I was raising. (In deference to his apparent wishes, I will not present here what he actually wrote; you will have to make do with my representation of it.) I felt that my concerns had received the standard brush-off from someone whose mind was already unalterably made up, and I saw no indication from Mr. Gardner's letter that further efforts on my part to discuss the matter with him would meet with a greater degree of interest or open-mindedness.
I therefore used the only public medium at my ready disposal - the internet - to have the closest thing I felt I could get to a fair debate with Mr. Gardner, by publishing my letter to him, and his response to me (his original article being a matter of public record, and under copyright - otherwise I would have considered publishing it, too). I could, of course, have simply criticised Mr. Gardner's article, without making any reference whatsoever to my correspondence with him. I wished, however, to present the discussion in as full a manner as I could, and I therefore included the reply Mr. Gardner had sent me, it being the only explanation I had of his perspective on the matter. I do not really understand why Mr. Gardner would have preferred me not to have published his response, but since those do seem to be his sentiments, I will respect them.
As for Mr. Gardner's statement that he does not have the time for thoughtful discussions with readers who write to him, I believe him, but I feel no resultant sympathy for his position. I consider the opinions he published in the mass media to be not only factually incorrect, but also destructive, and I do not believe that lack of time gives a journalist, or anybody else, carte blanche to write such material and to refuse even to investigate the possibility that he may have been in error.