Für Madeleine Bunting – eine Meditation über Religion

For Madeleine Bunting, a few lines by Heinrich Heine (1797–1856) on the absurdity of religion:

“Augen gab uns Gott ein Paar,
Dass wir schauen rein und klar;
Um zu glauben was wir lesen,
Wär ein Auge gnug gewesen.
Gott gab uns die Augen beide,
Dass wir schauen und begaffen
Wie er hübsch die Welt erschaffen
Zu des Menschen Augenweide;
Doch beim Gaffen in den Gassen
Sollen wir die Augen brauchen
Und uns dort nicht treten lassen
Auf die armen Hühneraugen,
Die uns ganz besonders plagen,
Wenn wir enge Stiefel tragen.”
“Eyes we got from God, a pair,
So we’d see things straight and clear;
To believe the things we read,
Just one eye were all we’d need.
Two of them thus God supplies,
Thus to ogle, as He bade us,
At the pretty world He made us,
On which we may feast our eyes;
Yet, whilst ogling in the allies,
Just these eyes we ought to use,
For it pains the man who dallies
In those boots that so abuse
Corns, or “hen’s eyes” as we call them,
Such affliction must befall them.”

Taken from “Zur Teleologie” (On teleology) – translator unknown.

It was in Heine’s time that religion died its intellectual, moral and spiritual death. Since then it has been festering in the tomb, occasionally belching noxious gasses over a fragile and unstable Earth.

Meanwhile, 150 years after Heine’s passing, the BBC reports that Nepal’s state-run airline recently sacrificed two goats to appease a Hindu deity, following technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft. The blood offering was made to Akash Bhairab, the Hindu god of sky protection whose symbol adorns the Nepali airline’s fleet.

The company said that after the ceremony on the tarmac, the plane successfully completed a flight to Hong Kong.

As for the English equivalent, I shall leave the penultimate words to CiF commenter “freepoland”, who asks us to pray for his beloved garden:

“O God our heavenly Father, who by thy gracious providence dost cause the former and the latter rain to descend upon the earth, that it may bring forth fruit for the use of man; We give thee humble thanks that it will please thee, in our great necessity, to send us at the last a joyful rain upon our inheritance (especially in postcode area NE65) and to refresh it when it was dry.”

And may the Prime Mover heap blessings aplenty upon the goodly Dr Dawkins.

Hat tip: Will


Never before have I caused so much trouble with other people’s words.

The above article was earlier today uploaded to the Comment is Free pseudo-blog. A couple of hours later I received an email from CiF editor Georgina Henry complaining about all the disparaging remarks on CiF about Madeleine Bunting. These, Henry says, are always from male bloggers and commenters, and my offering is in the same vein. Henry said that she would not allow publication of my latest piece, and went on to complain about all the name-calling, such as the now universal “Maddy of the Sorrows” coined by Norman Geras.

I’m quite happy to refer to Bunting as “Our Maddy of the Sorrows”. She is thoroughly deserving of the epithet, and the name chimes with many who react negatively to her naively postmodern and ill-informed take on religion. But you may have noticed that the offending words do not appear above.

When I pointed this out, Henry replied that my tone is sneery, belittling and patronising, and accused me of launching a sexist attack on Bunting. She also complained about my hat tip to Will.

Since then I’ve looked again and again at the text, and asked several other people to check it over. None think it sneery, belittling or patronising. Mocking, maybe, but so what? As Norm wrote to me earlier, this is a perfectly acceptable mode of public debate.

The accusation of sexism is silly. To prove her charge of sexism Henry would need to show that I do not similarly mock male writers. Readers of this blog, and my CiF offerings, will know that I’m an equal opportunities mocker.

The women who are “targeted” on CiF suffer this indignity because of the content of their columns. It does occasionally go over the top, but by and large the attacks are justified, and no professional comment journalist can justifiably complain when the poverty of their ideas and writing is exposed by vocal bloggers.

Anyway, after this afternoon’s email exchange I decided that I no longer wish to write for CiF. Of late I’ve not been publishing many articles there, and tend not to unless commissioned. Even then, however, it’s barely worth my while, and my NUJ branch is unhappy with the Guardian’s exploitation of professional writers published on CiF.

Bunting thoroughly deserved the kicking she received today from CiF commenters. Even Richard Dawkins intervened, and was quite snotty in his comments. I don’t blame him.

Comment is Free is to a large extent a wind-up forum, and that is to the benefit of the business. That is, the site encourages this style of writing and debate, and Guardian Media Ltd reap the rewards in terms of click-throughs and advertising revenue.

Keeping a lid on the inevitable excesses must be a challenge, but the editors are inconsistent in their actions, and I feel that in this case Henry’s judgement has been clouded by loyalty to a friend.