The Long View 2004-09-17: Millennials; God; Holy Censorship; Rathergate

John was absolutely right here about the relative influence of C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud. Lewis is a big deal to British and American Christians, but Freud was a big deal everywhere.

Let's use Google ngrams to illustrate:

Sigmund Freud compared to C. S. Lewis in American English

Sigmund Freud compared to C. S. Lewis in British English

Sigmund Freud compared to C. S. Lewis in French

Sigmund Freud compared to C. S. Lewis in German

Millennials; God; Holy Censorship; Rathergate

I know that watching the WB network just encourages them, but I had to see the premier of John & Bobby, the new series about two present-day teenage brothers, one of whom grows up to be president in the 2040s. The premise smacks of Strauss & Howe's model of history, with the currently maturing Millennial Generation set to become a heroic Civic Generation later in the 21st century. (By the way, if you are looking for S&H sites, see TimePage: very lucid.)

I don't really think this series is a keeper. It's wonderful high-concept, and you don't have to be familiar with the Generations model to understand the premise. (I don't know what influence, if any, Strauss & Howe had on the producers.) However, I question whether the intended audience will appreciate the historical resonance that is supposed to set the show apart from other high-school dramas. If kids wanted to watch the History Channel, they wouldn't be watching the WB. For that matter, perhaps only Boomers will automatically recognize the Kennedy reference in the title.

Also, in the introduction to the first episode, when we see a selection of the presidents between now and the 2040s, why didn't they mention Sideshow Bob?

* * *

Meanwhile, PBS is addressing no less a question than The Problem of God. The four-part series dramatizes a Harvard seminar offered by a Dr. Armand Nicholi, which uses the biographies and writings of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis to explore the relationship of faith and reason. We see excerpts from the seminar, which is conducted with a panel of solid, professional types from various walks of life. They are united only by a common interest in metaphysics (a characteristic that most emphatically includes the guy from Skeptic magazine). Most airtime, however, is taken up with tableaux from the lives of Lewis and Freud, with an overlay narration, or with actors playing Lewis and Freud who quote their works directly into the camera.

There are problems here, aside from the fact that Lewis was never that blissfully plumy, and Freud was not that rabbinical. A major objection is that, fan though I am of C. S. Lewis, it does not seem reasonable to me to cast him as the equal of Sigmund Freud in cultural influence. Lewis's ideas have perhaps aged better, but he is a minor figure. Freud was one of the great factors in the first half of the 20th century.

But a bigger objection is that: Freud is miscast as a proponent of science. He did ordinary neurological research in early life, but that is not what he is famous for. Freudian theory just is not science; it's psychologically astute literature. That is how it achieved a mass audience. Lewis's literary studies were not science either, but his standards of textual analysis were much closer to the scientific method than were Freud's meditations.

Freud was, arguably, a good choice as a proponent of "the scientific worldview," but that worldview is not science. No scientific theory, and certainly no observation, could say that all phenomena have a natural explanation, or that the scientific method is the only way to certain knowledge. One could even argue that the scientific worldview is ultimately incompatible with the scientific enterprise in the long run, because it undermines the Pythagorean assumptions that made science possible.

Monty Python managed the question best. In a skit involving a skeptic and a theologian, the contestants did not debate the existence of God; they fought an exhibition-wresting match about it. The result was that God exists, two falls to a submission.

* * *

Speaking of the wrong way to settle a religious dispute, consider this report:

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Deeming its contents insulting to Christianity, Lebanese authorities have banned "The Da Vinci Code," a novel that has drawn harsh criticism -- and millions of readers -- with its depiction of Jesus Christ marrying Mary Magdalene and fathering a child.

This impulse to censor is not unknown in Western countries, but there it usually takes the form of laws whose primary purpose is to prohibit criticism of Islam. Such measures are very ill-advised. Come the Great Revival, all this impediments to proselytism will be swept away.

* * *

The CBS Memos Scandal has reached the point where only one event could save Dan Rather's reputation, and some Republicans are trying to make sure it happens:

Top Republicans on Wednesday tried to tie the Kerry campaign to disputed documents used by CBS News for a story examining President Bush's Vietnam-era service in the Texas National Guard and called for a congressional investigation.

Show-trial congressional investigations have been undermining the legitimacy of the federal government for thirty years. With the exception of Richard Nixon, they have for the most part served to excite sympathy for their victims.

CBS is clearly in the wrong here. However, the Republican Party still has the power to obscure that fact by demonstrating that it, too, is untainted by principle.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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