A note or two on Night Waves.
I think the most striking thing about both Bunting and Khan is the callous frivolity of their claims. This is probably inevitable when religious apologists are invited to defend religions from charges of injustice and cruelty – but then that’s what’s wrong with religious apologetics, isn’t it.
Bunting for instance started by saying, in a tone of well-feigned bewilderment, that she just really didn’t quite understand what I was talking about, because it seemed to her that in any religious tradition there is interpretation, and ‘the way the way Christian teaching has changed over two thousand years is enormous and it continues to change.’ But she must know perfectly well – how could she not? – that ‘Christian teaching’ hasn’t changed so thoroughly that it has managed to catch up to secular liberal thinking on human rights or women’s rights or gay rights. She must know perfectly well that Catholic bishops are currently insisting precisely on the difference between ‘Church teachings’ and gay rights and demanding that the former be allowed to trump the latter – so what does she mean by saying she doesn’t understand what I’m talking about? I don’t think she means anything, I think she’s just mouthing. And that’s what I mean by callous frivolity. She shouldn’t do that – she should be honest about the subject. This isn’t a game, this is stuff that fucks up people’s lives.
Khan was just as frivolous, talking dismissively about ‘what we call in the Muslim community call “Sheikh google”‘ – which apparently means something like ‘track down news items about various incidents of religious brutality around the world.’ Well look – the incidents are there – they’re real – they happen to real people – so what does it mean to shrug them off in that contemptuous way? Khan may have even had that thought herself, because she promptly added that we’d collected a lot of stuff, but then on third thought she said it was nothing new. No, it’s not new, we never said it was new; the point is not its novelty but that it happens at all. Khan said nothing whatsoever to palliate that – which is not surprising, because what could palliate it? In fact later she said something quite remarkable about ‘the things that aren’t quite working, the violence…’ Ah yes, the violence, which is ‘things not quite working.’
She also talked about the upside of patriarchy, and how if you redefine patriarchy so that it doesn’t mean patriarchy then it’s quite a good thing; she talked about tribes in Indonesia that are an example of matriarchy in Islam; she talked about Eurocentrism. Bunting agreed that there is patriarchy but then shouted that to go from that to the accusation that God hates women is an absurd illogical jump and why not ask do men hate women and how daft that is, there are lots of nice men, it’s a banal argument. Well yes it is a banal argument but it’s not our argument so that takes care of that anyway. Then by way of flourish she interrupted me to tell me the tone of the book is strident and shrill. I would call it, rather, indignant, or heated, or impassioned, in places. That’s because the stuff we talk about is bad – cruel, oppressive, unjust; bad. It’s not something to be callously frivolous about. It’s not something to shrug off with palaver about the Anglican church ordinating women or little pockets of Islamic matriarchy. It’s more serious than that.