The rational heresy of Sam Harris

“The problem with religion, because it’s been sheltered from criticism, is that it allows people to believe en masse what only idiots or lunatics could believe in isolation.”

“While believing strongly, without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society. Religion is the one area of our discourse where it is considered noble to pretend to be certain about things no human being could possibly be certain about.”

Sam Harris, philosopher, author (“The End of Faith”)

atheists

Never done with Stephen Dunn

As sort of a literary snack, some lyrical Cheetos, I recently dipped into one of my favorite poetry books, Stephen Dunn’s “Different Hours.” It’s magnificent; so many fine poems, so many lines that quietly slash. The poems are all about wisdom and honesty and breakage, lovers and loss and burying a cat.

Stephen-Dunn
Dunn

I don’t care so much that the book won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, though it surely deserved it. I do care that it contains this stanza:

I was burned by books early/and kept sidling up to the flame.

And I care even more that it has this bracing verse, from the final poem in the collection, “A Postmortem Guide (For my eulogist, in advance)”:

Tell them that at the end I had no need

for God, who’d become just a story

I once loved, one of many

with concealments and late-night rescues,

high sentence and pomp. The truth is

I learned to live without hope

as well as I could, almost happily,

in the despoiled and radiant now.

Those shimmering words shatter me, in a most positive fashion. (“In the despoiled and radiant now”!) The verse is frank but droll, vulnerable and confessional. It’s written with the points of melancholy stars.

Dunn, like his comrade in wry minimalism, Billy Collins, wields an unabashed colloquial touch, his plain-spokenness littered (glittered?) with joyous turns of phrase and often mischievous, tip-toeing humor.

He’s a master of subtlety, but any perceived simplicity is thoroughly deceptive. If you think Dunn’s poems are simple-minded, even pablum, you are sorely mistaken. You haven’t done the work.

Jeff Koons: self-importance as an art form

“Koons’ act, which is perhaps not even an act, is to believe that he is a natural descendant of the great artists of the past, interpreting religious iconography with a kind of contemporary twist, but aspiring to the same level of eternal fame and truth. … Nobody questions the work because Koons’ lock on the market is so thorough. It’s a form of spiritual vandalism.”

 Critic Robert Hughes on artist Jeff Koons, after Koons compared his 1988 porcelain “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” to Michelangelo’s 1498 “Pieta”

koons-michael-jackson-and-bubbles-1988  th.jpeg