Monday, November 15, 2004

On The Mark --We Are In the Presence of the Past

For months I've been struggling to describe what is happening to our country culturally and intellectually. I've said things like, "we're regressing to the 1950s," or "the only difference between now and the beginning of time is technology, nothing else has changed." There are a gazillion examples. Take the movie "Private Ryan," for example. Two different years in this short decade the television networks showed the intense World War II drama with the disclaimer about violence and language. This year, all of a sudden, the language and violence are too graphic for some affiliates to air. Huh? Dr. Kinsey's books on human sexually probably would be banned from mainstream bookstores today or, at the least, wrapped in brown paper. Recently, William Safire, the conservative columnist for the New York Times, said the turning point was when Janet Jackson bared her breast on national television. I find it somewhat ironic that I was in Paris when that happened. And don't even get me started about civil rights and liberties.

So, anyway, it was a struggle to summarize all my frustrations. But Sam Harris, the author of the new book, "The End of Faith -- Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason" (I wouldn't be surprised if the religious right tried to ban this book), put it succinctly when he wrote, "we are in the presence of the past." Take, for example, stem-cell research. As Harris states in his book, "Those opposed to therapeutic stem-cell research on religious grounds constitute the biological and ethical equivalent of a flat-earth society." Harris reminds us in a different section of the book that the Catholic church didn't absolve Galileo of heresy until 1992!

"We are in the presence of the past" wasn't the name of a chapter, or even a subhead within a chapter. It was a simple sentence buried in the book. In my opinion, it would have made a good title for the book.

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