Fifty years ago Bob Dylan sang “the times they are a changing,” and indeed they were. But our times are not so much changing as confusing! So Melanie Phillips, an eminent and learned English journalist, says: “It is as if one has wandered onto the set of a Bunuel movie scripted by Kafka. Nothing is really as it is said to be. Society seems to be in the grip of a mass derangement” (p. x). Phillips details and seeks to understand her bewilderment in The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power (New York: Encounter Books, c. 2010), a probing analysis of significant phenomena that threaten the survival of our civilization. She writes as “a journalist who believes in telling truth to power and following the evidence. What I have concluded is that power has now hijacked truth and made it subservient to its own ends. The result is a world turned upside down” (p. xi). This results from two centuries of intellectual developments which can “be summed up as man first dethroning God in favor of reason, then dethroning reason in favor of man, and finally dethroning man himself. This was done by replacing objective knowledge with ideology, which grew out of the belief that man was all-powerful and could reshape the world in whatever image he chose” (p. 303).
This loss of rationality haunts Phillips. “The replacement of objective truth by subjective experience has turned some strands of science into a branch of unreason, as evidence is hijacked by ideology. The perceptive Anglican bishop Lesslie Newbigin grasped this fact back in the 1980s. In his essay The Other Side of 1984, he wrote, ‘I have started from the perception, which I believe to be valid and widely shared, that we are nearing the end of the period of 250 years during which our European culture has been confidently offering itself to the rest of the world as a torchbearer for human progress’” (p. 393). President Barack Obama provided “a startling example of this genuflection to the forces of irrationality and antimodernity” in his “speech of conciliation to the Muslim world in Cairo in June 2009.” He amplified the twisted Arabic rendition of the history of Palestine, “sanitized Islam and its history,” and “selectively and misleadingly quoted the Qur’an to present a passage that is a prescription for violence and murder against Jews and ‘unbelievers’ as instead a precept affirming the value of preserving human life; and he also claimed that Islam played a major role in the European Enlightenment” (p. 399).
Phillips’ treatise charts the unexpected parallels and shared perspectives of left-wing “progressives” such as Obama, Islamists, environmentalists, fascists, militant atheists and religious fanatics. “From manmade global warming to Israel, from Iraq to the origin of the universe, the West has replaced truth with ideology. Faced with an enemy that has declared war upon reason, the West has left the citadel undefended” (p. 406). All these movements are “united by the common desire to bring about through human agency the perfection of the world, an agenda which history teaches us leads invariably—and paradoxically—to tyranny, terror and crimes against humanity” (p. xiii). This pervasive utopian desire is, at heart, a repudiation not only of Western Civilization but of its Judeo-Christian roots. Its blatant irrationality betrays a deeper betrayal of the very civilization that birthed it. There thus exists a curious but powerful chain—“the Red-Black-Green-Islamic Axis”—that gives Phillips’ treatise its synthesizing persuasiveness. These very disparate movements share a deep commonality: all are utopians who seek to establish their “alternative reality” (p. 219).
To do so—to transform the world—Jews and Christians and their theological worldview must be marginalized if not banished. This requires replacing the Mosaic God and His moral standards with something better—an evolving Mother Earth or benevolent Nanny State or Islamic Sharia. Consequently: “In Britain and America, dominant ways of thinking have simply reversed the notions of right and wrong, normal and abnormal, victim and victimizer, truth and lies” (p. 289). Formerly immoral behaviors “such as sexual promiscuity or having children without a father, was treated as normal. Correspondingly, those who advocated mainstream, normative values such as fidelity, chastity or duty were accused of bigotry because they made those who did not uphold these values feel bad about themselves—now the ultimate sin. Alternative lifestyles became mainstream. The counterculture became the culture” (p. 286). Still more: “the tyrannical ideologies of the modern age . . . [have] forgotten that the reason upon which it prides itself and the science that flows from that reason owe their existence to religion” (p. 337).
To explore this transformation, Phillips begins with a brief and illuminating examination of “cults and conspiracies from Diana to Obama” which illustrate “an increasing tendency to live in a fantasy world where irrational beliefs in myths are thought to restore order to chaotic lives” (p. 6). The Brits’ response to Princess Diana’s death—an “orgy of sentimentality” (p. 7)—revealed “the extent of Britain’s transformation—from a country of reason, intelligence, stoicism, self-restraint and responsibility into a land of credulousness, sentimentality, emotional excess, irresponsibility and self-obsession” (p. 6). For mourners emoting over Diana, feeling bereaved validated one’s character and shedding copious tears proved one’s goodness.
Across the Atlantic an equally irrational frenzy appeared as Barack Obama tugged on heartstrings and elicited the fantasy that “he would both redeem America’s shameful history of slavery and racial prejudice and bring peace to the world” (p. 8). “Brushed aside were highly troubling details of his personal history: his ambivalence about his fractured identity, his efforts to conceal or misrepresent crucial details about his background, and a pattern of unsavory or radical associations. The fact that his pre-election statements were intellectually and politically incoherent, frighteningly naive or patently contradictory was of no consequence” (p. 8). Obama invoked messianic claims, saying his election signaled “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal’” (p. 10). “Presented with this absurd display of hubris and narcissism, American reacted by junking rationality altogether and elevating Obama not just to the presidency but to divinity” (p. 10). Haunted by guilt for America’s “original sins of slavery and racism” (p. 259), Obama supporters elected a President in hopes of national (and personal) redemption.
The irrationality evident in the cults of Princess Diana and Barack Obama is equally evident in “the myth of environmental Armageddon,” one of the most appalling hysterias now plaguing planet earth. The scandal that rocked the scientific community—the 2009 revelations regarding the deceptions perpetrated by the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia—should give us pause! Many of the apocalyptic claims, many of the end-of-time anthropogenic global warming pronouncements of Al Gore, may well prove to be nothing more than myths. Indeed, Phillips says, it “is perhaps the single most dramatic example of scientific rationality being turned on its head” (p. 15). When carefully examined, empirical evidence fails to demonstrate the computer-driven theory of anthropogenic global warming: sea levels are not rising, polar bears are not disappearing, Arctic temperatures are not soaring, and Antarctic ice sheets are not declining.
Historians, of course, know that the earth has (for three thousand years) experienced significant temperature changes. To misinform the public about this, however, climatologist Michael Mann constructed his famous “hockey-stick” graph that simply air brushed away both the Medieval Warming Period and subsequent Little Ice Age! Mann’s graph buttressed his claim that industrialization caused the 20th century’s rapid and atypical rise in temperatures, and one of the scientists promoting his agenda sent colleagues an “email that said ‘We have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period’” (p. 27). Falsifying data is fine as long as it leads to social change, it seems! Indeed, Paul Watson (a Greenpeace leader) admitted: “‘It doesn’t matter what is true; it only matters what people believe is true. . . . You are what the media define you to be. [Greenpeace] became a myth and a myth-generating machine’” (p. 31). Phillips concludes: “Manmade global warming theory lies in shreds, and yet this fact is denied and ruthless attempts are made to suppress it, even as they counterargument has gained ground and exposed the hollowness of its claims. That is because the theory is not science. . . . it is rather a quasi-religious belief system; and the only reason it was sustained for so long was through the abuse of authority and intimidation of dissent” (p. 32).
Radical environmentalists, promoting a return to a pagan “progressive spirituality,” should have met resistance from Christian thinkers. But significant sections of the Church have embraced rather than repudiated the pantheism basic to much of environmentalism. This was particularly evident in the Church of England when, in 1989, the World Wide Fund for Nature “took over Canterbury Cathedral, its precincts and other church property for a Celebration of Faith and the Environment, including contributions by Buddhists, Sikhs and other Eastern faiths—but no mention of Jesus. One of the highlights was a Celebration of the Forest, which took place in the cathedral” with a high school choir singing “‘The trees have power. We worship them. . . because they give us life’” (p. 358). A year earlier, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, husband of the Queen Elizabeth (titular head of the Church of England), “made this notable remark: ‘In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, in order to contribute something to solve overpopulation’” (p. 299). Alarmed by such developments, Phillips says: “In the face of the obscurantist and pagan onslaught against truth, reason and enlightenment, the most ‘progressive’ forces within the church thus not only have failed to hold the line for the civilization to which Christianity had given rise but have chosen to forsake its doctrines and join in the attack” (p. 363).
The Environmentalists’ quasi-religious belief system is, ironically, rooted in the “scientific triumphalism” or “scientism” evident in various claims made by scientists such as Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins, whose “belief that matter had probably arisen from literally nothing at all seemed itself to be precisely the kind of irrationality, or ‘magic,’ that he scorns” (p. 73). His fellow atheist, Francis Crick, confessed that the information-packed DNA molecules could not have resulted from simple natural selection and proposed instead a “directed panspermia”—the floating to earth of living organisms from outer space! Anything but God suffices to explain the mystery of life on earth! In fact: “Although the view that living systems arose from inorganic matter is widespread enough to amount to an orthodoxy of thought, it is hard to find any evidence to support it. The experiments proving the origins of life all depend crucially on the intervention of the chemist conducting the experiment. If the current orthodoxy is not true, then the only alternative—let us be honest—is some form of designing intelligence. Which leads inescapably to religious or metaphysical belief” (p. 84).
Materialists such as Dawkins and Crick, upholding the “creation myth of scientific naturalism,” apparently fail to discern the difference between matter and information. But the more we know about DNA and RNA etc. the more we realize that information, not bits of matter, orchestrate all that transpires in the physical world. “To understand the role and character of biological information,” Phillips says, “is to see the limits of scientific materialism. As the director of the German Federal Physics and Technology Institute, Professor Werner Gitt, has observed, ‘A physical matter cannot produce an information code. All experiences show that every piece of creative information represents some mental effort and can be traced to a personal idea-giver who exercised his own free will, and who is endowed with an intelligent mind. . . . There is no known law of nature, no known process and no known sequence of events which can cause information to originate by itself in matter. . . . Information is something different from matter. It can never be reduced to matter. The origin of information and physical matter must be investigated separately’” (p. 86).
So too much of the information spread regarding the Iraq War was fundamentally flawed. Dispassionate examination of the evidence reveals that neither Prime Minister Tony Blair nor President George W. Bush launched the war because of stockpiled Weapons of Mass Destruction. “The overwhelming emphasis was instead on Saddam’s refusal to obey binding United Nations resolutions and the need to enforce the authority of the UN” (p. 35). Nevertheless, when no WMDs were discovered, the left’s mantra mushroomed: Bush lied; people died. “Yet at every level, this claim was itself demonstrably untrue” (p. 35). Still more: it’s quite likely, Phillips shows (relying on the testimony of Georges Sada, Iraq’s air vice-marshal), that the WMDs were removed from Iraq shortly before the war began. Sada, an Assyrian Christian who is now president of the National Presbyterian Church in Baghdad, says “he had lived and worked with the ever-present daily reality of Saddam’s tactics of hiding his WMD from the weapons inspectors” (p. 43). Sada’s firsthand evidence has been ignored by the mainstream media, but it probably indicates the truth regarding Saddam Hussein’s WMD. To Phillips: “The sustained distortion, misrepresentation selective reporting and systematic abandonment of evidence and reason over the war in Iraq clearly reflect something rather more profound than simple opposition to a divisive war” (p. 49). There is, she suspects, a deep unwillingness to see Islam as a militant movement engaged in a systematic Jihad against the West. Consequently, opinion-makers in England and America prefer to blame America and Israel for Muslim rage and terrorism.
Indeed, one’s stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict serves as an accurate litmus test regarding one’s moral compass! To Phillips, “The Middle East impasse is the defining issue of our time. It is not an exaggeration to say that the position an individual takes on the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is a near-infallible guide to their general view of the world. Those who believe that Israel is the historic victim of the Arabs—and that its behavior, while not perfect, is generally as good as could be expected given that it is fighting for its existence against an enemy using the weapons of religious war—typically have a rational, nonideological approach to the world, arriving at conclusions on the basis of evidence. Those who believe that Israel is the regional bully hell-bent on oppressing the Palestinians, and who equate it with Nazism or apartheid, are generally moral and cultural relativists who invert truth and lies, right and wrong over a wide range of issues, and are incapable of seeing that their beliefs do not accord with reality” (p. 365). The fact that only in Israel are Christians safe in the Middle East validates this generalization.
Repeatedly Phillips reconsiders the animosity towards and “misrepresentation of Israel” that is everywhere evident. Indeed: “The fraught issue of Israel sits at the epicenter of the West’s repudiation of reason” (p. 53). The history of Israel’s emergence as a nation is sorely distorted by both academics and journalists. “History is turned on its head; facts and falsehoods, victims and victimizers are reversed; logic is suspended, and a fictional narrative is now widely accepted as incontrovertible truth.” To set the record straight she provides a brief account of the Jews’ “historic claim to the land of Israel,” the “false ‘Palestinian’ claim to the land of Israel,” the “myth of the Arab expulsion from Palestine,” the “myth of Israel’s ‘illegal’ occupation,” the “myths of Israel’s ‘genocide and ‘apartheid,’” and “false allegations against Israel.” Sadly enough, “There is no other world conflict that is so obsessively falsified. Where Israel is involved, truth and reason are totally suspended. Irrationality and hysteria rule instead” (p. 71).
This is evident in “the Middle East Witch-Hunt” wherein Israel and her supporters are demonized. Claims in pamphlets published by the notorious antisemite Lyndon LaRouche were touched up and certified by the New York Times and the New Yorker! The most strident anti-Israel statements come from elite academics such as Noam Chomsky. Virulent Arabic propaganda, cooked up by Hamas and other radical Islamists, takes on the simulacra of truth in many Western newspapers and journals and “is also specific to the intelligentsia. It correlates overwhelmingly with education and social class” (p. 182). The highly educated social elites (Harvard professors, Nobel Prize winners, “humanitarians” controlling dozens of NGOs) are bastions of antisemitism! Thus former President Jimmy Carter, in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, actually alleges that Israel illustrates “‘worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa’” (p. 189).
In truth, “Muslim hatred of the Jews is the root cause of the war between Israel and the Arabs” (p. 160). Such hatred, clearly enunciated in the Koran, has shaped Muslim-Jewish relations since Mohammed. “Islam seeks to obliterate Judaism altogether by appropriating its foundational story and doctrines, radically altering them, and claiming them to be authentic Judaism, while accusing the Jews of falsifying their own sacred text so as to disguise the alleged priority of Islam” (p. 164). Islamic hatred is especially fueled by the role of women in Jewish society. The immorality of “Jewish women dressed in shorts, enjoying relative sexual and political freedom and near equal status with men” deeply offends radical Muslims. Venturing an explanation of this, Phillips says: “Women embody fecundity, earthiness, a bodily commitment to this world and to the human senses. Female sexuality is therefore essentially life-giving and life-affirming. To Islamists such as [Seyd] Qutb, however, sexuality was intrinsically ‘animalistic’—precisely because it affirms this life and not the next world. . . . . So the Islamists hate them because the Jews love life, have tenaciously hung on to it and have pursued happiness and fulfillment as the highest goals of existence. Islamists by contrast define death and the afterlife as the highest goal and believe in the abnegation of the self and the denial of humanity” (p. 171).
Radical Muslims, environmentalists, and scientific triumphalists, drawing a “false polarity between religion and science, deny the Judeo-Christian understanding of the world that enables science to flourish. Only in the West, where it was believed that One God created an orderly universe that could be rationally studied, has science developed. As C.S. Lewis said: “‘Man became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver’” (p. 327). Though Muslims obviously believe in One God, Islam’s “concept of reason departs radically from that of the Hebrew Bible and Christianity. It presents Allah not as the creator of a universe that runs according to its own natural laws, but as an active God who intrudes on the world as he deems appropriate. Natural laws are thus deemed blasphemous, for they deny Allah’s freedom to act. So Islam does not teach that the universe runs along lines laid down by God at Creation but assumes that the world is sustained by his will on a continuing basis” (p. 328).
Jews and Christians believe God created a world that runs according to His natural and moral laws, His Logos. “In repudiating Jewish teaching and its moral codes,” Phillips says in the books concluding paragraph, “the West has turned upon the modern world itself. In turning upon the State of Israel, the West is undermining its defense against the enemies of modernity and the Western civilization that produced it. The great question is whether it actually wants to defend reason and modernity anymore, or whether Western civilization has now reached a point where it has stopped trying to survive” (p. 408).
# # #