Wed., April 1 (8pm):
Rabbi Simcha Weinstein (author of Up, Up, and Oy Vey! and Shtick Shift, about Jewish comics and Jewish comics, respectively) arguing yes
Skeptic Austin Dacey (Center for Inquiry rep, Skeptical Inquirer contributor, and author of The Secular Conscience) arguing no.
A (real) April Fool’s Day social-philosophical smackdown, hosted by Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.
Free admission, cash bar: basement level of Lolita Bar at 266 [NOTE TO TOXICPOP READERS: NOT 466] Broome St. at the corner of Allen St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop (assuming the J and Z lines still exist in one week).
As some of you know, this topic is of great personal interest to me, due to my religious girlfriend, Helen Rittelmeyer — who is scheduled to have articles in a staggering five major conservative publications already this year, from NationalReview.com to Weekly Standard, and is clearly, as one conservative writer put it, going to take over the world — but WHO NONETHELESS COULD REALLY USE A NEW JOB, if some editor out there is smart enough to hire her. By all means e-mail me leads, such as they are in these troubled times, whether from conservative organizations or not (she’s more or less libertarian as well and just fond of reportage, too, as her recent NRO piece suggests, despite one tiny geography error in there that NRO hasn’t gotten around to correcting despite her request).
I’m telling you, let her get a foot in the door, and then we all ride her coattails to success. Don’t miss the opportunity.
But a funny thing about Helen: she doesn’t think religion makes people better (it sure doesn’t eliminate her fondness for violence in various forms), whereas I — an atheist — think it just might make people better. “Behave or go to Hell” is a pretty powerful motivator for some people, love of God an incentive to charity for many, and without question “Thou shalt not steal” one of the most important libertarian memes of all time (such thoughts are what make me able to tolerate the religious right and even have some sympathy for the Straussians — remember the Straussians? — with their belief that atheists should defer to religion to maintain social order). Still, those beneficial impulses might exist to roughly the same extent, albeit with different philosophical glosses, in a world without religion. It’s a tricky question, but luckily Dacey and Weinstein can work out the details while I listen.
And Helen and I have managed to keep the peace for six months now, if you start the counting (perhaps a bit early) from the Echo and the Bunnymen concert we went to back on October 1. And counting from that day lends extra weight to April Fool’s Day, so why not make that a night of both combat and celebration, the way Helen likes it? Be there in one week.
A few other random thoughts about religion as a mixed blessing (so to speak):
•One of my fellow ABC News veterans (not anyone I knew) was murdered this week in the midst of gay rough sex with a reportedly Satanist-anarchist teenager he met through Craigslist, which is about as tawdry an end as one could come to, I’d say — and somehow when I first heard the victim’s neighbors being reported as saying how nice he was to total strangers, I had a feeling it’d be something like this, though not quite to this extreme. To plenty of Americans, of course, this incident would be proof that we need to be on guard against Satan, anarchists, gays, and New York media personalities, though I can’t help thinking every time something bad happens involving a self-proclaimed Satanist that there’s only one place, ultimately, that people learn Satanism, and that’s from Christianity. You don’t see materialists like me trying to summon demons or expecting magic from goat sacrifices.
•I had brief fallings-out with two, count them two, very political Catholic acquaintances, right-wing Dawn Eden and left-wing Sander Hicks, years ago over Lolita Bar merely hosting a speech about Pinochet’s good points (there are some). The guy who gave the speech wasn’t too happy with the whole ruckus, either, nor, most likely, with my JOKING suggestion that we scrap the controversial planned speech in favor of a defense of Hitler. It’s hard to keep everyone happy when they think eternity or the historical dialectic is at stake, or both at the same time. Sander’s gone on to become something of a conspiracy theorist — but he also hates the banks bailout, so by the time the revolution comes, we may yet see all the interesting people fighting on the same side, which will be nice. (Our debates moderator, Michel Evanchik, is also Catholic, as it happens, and for a “moderator” he’s pretty opinionated himself.)
•Michael Malice has joked that people he prays for (just as an experiment) seem to get cancer, as in the cases of a man who was hoping to give Dawn Eden a job and then later Dawn herself — and though Dawn is doing fine now, I can’t help noticing that she just mentioned her fellow religious author (and our fellow New York Press veteran) Mark Gauvreau Judge also having cancer. Best that Malice not pray for him, I think. Coincidentally or not, both Howard Stern and director Vincent Gallo have also joked (?) that they suspect themselves of having the power to give people cancer — specifically to give Roger Ebert cancer, in Vincent Gallo’s case (for Ebert’s harsh review of Brown Bunny). And there are undeniable personality commonalities among Stern, Gallo, and Malice. Not that I’m suggesting any actual supernatural forces at work here (or anywhere), of course.
•Meanwhile, I see Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (or “bee-otch,” after his drubbing in debate with Christopher Hitchens a year ago) is battling one of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in a public debate, or rather a former Power Rangers actress who has just written her second pro-libido book on being a “Hot Chick.” Strange world. As it happens, I recall that shortly before my time at ABC News, there was a John Stossel special about gender differences that illustrated the concept of males being willing to do embarrassing things to gain power by showing Newt Gingrich shaking hands with people dressed as the Power Rangers at some event. Reality seems so very distant at times.
•And this week, anyone keen to show the social benefits of religion must contend with the fact that a horde of Orthodox Jews here in New York — for all their admirable sense of community and traditionalism — went berserk and attacked a deli owner for accidentally selling them non-kosher hotdogs. You know, Jonathan Swift was one of my early inspirations to be a writer, and even when I was young and more enthusiastically and simplistically anti-religion, I thought his characterization of religious disputants as akin to people fighting over which end of an egg to eat first was unfair. Yet in my ostensibly modern and cosmopolitan city, a food vendor was just reduced to using an electric carving knife to fend off an angry mob that thinks God hates their hotdogs. Maybe Jonathan Swift had the right idea after all.
But again, you can discuss that with us on April Fool’s Day (really) — and chat with Helen before hiring her, if you want to kill two birds with one stone.