The science fiction author, Ursula Le Guin, was recently in town (she lives up the interstate in Portland) to talk about the great threat that hovers Darth Vader's bad breath over civilization: book censorship by fundamentalist Protestants. Huh. Is she stuck in the early 1970s or something? Apparently:
Sometime in the 1970s, a group of fundamentalist Christians in the United States decided that “fantasy was evil,” famed science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin told a standing-room-only crowd of about 200 at the Eugene Public Library on Saturday.
“A lot of school boards had members who were kind of determined to get fantasy and sci-fi away from kids,” the Portland author said.
Le Guin once went to a hearing that would determine whether her 1971 novel, “The Lathe of Heaven,” would be removed from a particular school district’s shelves, and she’ll always remember what one of the students who stood up to defend the book said about it:
“I thought this book was really stupid. But I want to decide that for myself.”
No, no, that isn't the remark alluded to in my headline. And, to be fair to Le Guin, I know a bit about that fundamentalist group she referred to (update: that's a tongue-in-cheek remark. Beware!). It consisted of about thirty people meeting in a "home church" in Plains, Montana. I know, because I was at the meeting. And there was spirited discussion (this was in 1974 or so) about whether or not some of the teenagers there should be reading C. S. Lewis's Narnia books because, first, the books had witches as characters and, secondly, the books used a lion to apparently symbolize the person of Jesus Christ. Although I was only five or so, I recall one man saying, "There is no need for allegory; if people want to learn about Jesus, they can read the Bible." Indeed. And if people want to read symbolism or allegory, they can read the Book of Revelation, which is, um, in the Bible. (And what about The Pilgrim's Progress? That was considered to be near gospel. But wasn't it just a wee bit allegorical in nature?)
Where was I? Well, it goes without saying that no one in our little group mentioned Le Guin, but I'm sure she and her dread book were on our mind.s Or not. I hadn't read it, and I never did.
Here, however, is remark, by Le Guin, that prompted the headline:
“Theism and atheism can be equally dangerous,” she said. “Any belief, any unbelief, is dangerous if it is adopted, enforced, accepted as the only acceptable ideology.”
Whew. If Le Guin is as good of science fiction writer as she is philosophical fiction writer, she's fabulous. This is gold. Fool's gold, glittering in its unashamed casuistry. Because if Le Guin is correct, then it follows that her absolute and uniquely "acceptable" statement—“Any belief, any unbelief, is dangerous if it is adopted, enforced, accepted as the only acceptable ideology"—is itself to be condemned as dangerous. In fact, in one neat and incredibly tidy remark she has exposed a mortal flaw in modern, secular liberalism: the belief that all beliefs are equal, which necessarily holds, as a presupposition, that said belief is itelf above, beyond, and superior to all other beliefs. Which means that some beliefs must be superior to other beliefs, which then brings us back to the key questions: What beliefs? And on what grounds, basis, or authority?
Also interesting is the remark that theism and atheism "can be equally dangerous". That sounds very deep, but it is really just very vacuous, similar to saying, "Love and hate can be equally dangerous", or "Sky diving and scuba diving can be equally dangerous". Except there is a deeper problem, since her claim that theism and atheism can be equally dangerous is, as we've seen, based on a completely false assumption about absolutes. Besides, the far better question is: Is atheism or theism more true? Which of the two makes better sense of existence, reality, morality, and human nature? And what sort of "theism" are we talking about? Of course, Le Guin was kept free from having to delve into those deep waters as she preaching to People's Republic of Eugene, Oregon, choir, who are absolutely sure that absolutely nothing is absolute.
Le Guin's statement is what I call the "Wile E. Coyote Philosophy of Life": You don't think through the premises of your plan, you don't calculate the costs if it makes no sense, and you don't bother to look at where you'll end up if you are wrong until it's too late: