Author: Ben Sixsmith

Why Are Non-Believers Turning to Their Bibles?

Even in the middle of the atheism boom, Richard Dawkins described himself as a “secular Christian”. To the author of The God Delusion this meant an appreciation of “aesthetic elements” such as church bells. Christopher Hitchens felt the same. At the end of one interview with the firebrand antitheist the interviewer invited him to the pub. “That’d be nice,” he said, “But actually I really want to go to Evensong.” Hitchens, the interviewer reflected, “had some enthusiasm for the words and sounds of the church, which he could easily disassociate from the actual believing part.” Decades before, Philip Larkin had admitted, in “Church Going”, that a church was: A serious house on serious earth… In whose blent air all our compulsions meet Are recognised and robed as destinies. The poet would later describe religion as “that vast moth-eaten musical brocade” but he felt a certain awe inside a church: If only that so many dead lie round. Europe and America, of course, have Christian heritage and there is no excuse for intelligent citizens to lack …

Haruki Murakami, Poet of Loneliness

Do you ever want to take a walk? Not around the neighbourhood. Not around the park. Not around the city. Nothing planned. Nothing orderly. A walk with a beginning but no middle and no end. That is the fate of many characters in the novels of Japan’s Haruki Murakami. It is also his appeal. The reader goes for a walk: starting somewhere familiar and going somewhere strange. There is much one could dislike about Murakami’s books. The prose can be cliche-ridden. The tropes can seem cloying. The characters and plots can seem predictable. While he has been consistently popular, Murakami’s critical reception has been mixed. “Falling out of love with Murakami” was the title of one essay in the Guardian. His popularity, indeed, exposes him to cynicism as his fans can be among the most cultlike in literature: whimsical “Harukists” who love his most formulaic elements and bemoan his annual failure to win the Nobel Prize. One could easily imagine a satire of his books. A single man lives alone, cooking miso soup and listening to the Beatles. He …

Why Can Comedians Be So Irritating?

I am bored by comedians. Everywhere you turn, people are telling jokes on talk shows, panel shows, sketch shows, stand up specials, sitcoms, podcasts and films. Most of them are worthless. There is “biting” comedy that nibbles; “searing” satire that is tepid; “laugh out loud” humour that is met with weary silence. I am being unfair, of course. One could say with at least as much justice that is one is bored by political commentators and if we can have fresh insights, they can have fresh jokes. Still, I wonder why so many comedians are so unfunny. There are Dave Chappelles and Bill Burrs but these are the exceptions. Some ramble about their sex lives like drunk men in boring pubs. Some drop cultural references, mistaking them for punchlines. Some steal jokes from Twitter about Donald Trump’s hairdo. Some, worst of all, forget they are comedians, posing as authorities on religion, politics and science. So, we are treated to Ricky Gervais on God; Amy Schumer on sexism; Russell Brand on everything. The problem is not so much that …

Defending Western History From Political Propaganda

History, Rudge tells us in Alan Bennett’s 2004 play The History Boys, is “one [bleeping] thing after another.” Yet history as a discipline is not solely concerned with facts, or, in other words, with what [bleeping] happened. It also involves interpretation, or, in other words, why things [bleeping] happened, why they [bleeping] mattered and what [bleeping] lessons can be taken for the future. Such interpretations can be controversial. Classical Studies—as Sandra Kotta detailed in these pages—have been subjected to violent fits of politicisation. Donna Zuckerberg (yes, she is Mark’s sister) edits the Classical Studies journal Eidolon. In a recent essay she announced her desire to “model a Classics that is ethical, diverse, intersectional, and especially feminist”. “Classics as a discipline,” she wrote: …has deep roots in fascism and reactionary politics and white supremacy, and those ideologies exert a powerful gravitational pull on the discipline’s practitioners. If we want to fight those forces, we need to actively work against them. How Classical Studies has “deep roots” in fascism when the field predates the dogma is a mystery. More interesting is Zuckerberg’s reference to …

An Argument Against Open Borders and Liberal Hubris

No one except a militant nativist would deny that some level of immigration is beneficial and should be accepted. After that, we face a question of scale. There are those, however, on the opposite end of the spectrum, who believe that no level of immigration should ever be denied. These are advocates of “open borders”; an idea as strange as that of the nativist—yet more dangerous for being considered respectable. The liberal Economist magazine contains an essay promoting open borders. It imagines a world in which people are free to live and work wherever they please. It is an astonishingly biased and unreflective piece, which illuminates dangerous extremes of progressive utopianism: Perhaps I sound inhuman. Who could dislike people living and working whereever they please? It can be a splendid thing, but if everybody did it think of what that would entail. The Economist reports that if borders were opened, 630 million people would be likely to migrate. Perhaps 138 million would go to the US, expanding its population by almost a half. About 42 million would join the British, expanding their numbers …

In Defence of Anonymity

Few recent events have united public opinion more than CNN’s petty, vindictive and astonishingly self-defeating investigation into the life of an anonymous Redditor who had created a mischievous GIF aimed at the station. It had repurposed a clip of Donald Trump clotheslining WWE CEO Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania by putting a CNN logo on McMahon’s face. Many thought it puerile and obnoxious when the President tweeted the GIF out to the world but when the media giant targeted its obscure, anonymous creator—discovering his real-life Facebook page and implicitly threatening that they would expose him if his postings annoyed them again—their bullying angered even Trump’s liberal critics. One did not have to like “@HansAssholeSolo” to dislike the power imbalance. Being so dense as to think that people would side with the multi-billion dollar corporation says something about the delusions of the media classes. Still, some sympathised with the network. Most of them were journalists. David Frum, the Atlantic columnist, proclaimed: Predictably, this did not go down well on Twitter. “Spoken like someone who does not fear for their safety,” wrote “@SaucissonSec”. …

The EU’s Cosmopolitanism Gap

Senior figures in the European Union are growing impatient with its Eastern members over their refusal to accept refugees. Emmanuel Macron, the new president of France, has threatened sanctions if Poland and Hungary remain stubborn. Why is this? I hope to avoid unduly extending generalisations. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe are all different. All contain multitudes. In Poland, where I am fortunate enough to live, I have met progressives, liberals, libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists and, perversely, given recent history, adherents of communism and national socialists; as well, of course, as many people who hate politics. Nonetheless, it is a matter of undeniable fact that nations of the CEE tend to be less receptive to mass immigration—and, especially, Islamic immigration—than their Western cousins, on the level of elites and on the level of the masses. A simple explanation is that they are more homogenous. Western Europe has been rich enough, and liberal enough, to attract migrants for decades. The British are about 5% Muslim. Germans are about 5% Muslim. The French are probably more. People …