Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wisdom from Melanie Phillips

The following is an interesting interview with British journalist Melanie Phillips in which she discusses the West’s civilizational crisis. She is interviewed by Daniel Allott.

Melanie Phillips is an award-winning columnist for London’s Daily Mail. Educated at Oxford, she won the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996. She is the author of Londonistan and All Must Have Prizes, among other books. Phillips spoke with CWR about her new book, The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle Over God, Truth, and Power (Encounter Books).

Allott:  How did you select the title of your book?

Melanie Phillips: It arose in my mind because that’s how I think about the situation in the West. So often I’m writing about all manner of things happening, where everything’s been turned backwards and inside out. Right has turned into wrong, justice into injustice, victim into victimizer and so on. And I know from the response I get from my readers that on very many issues they think that too. But they are perplexed by the fact that what they think of as clearly demonstrable reality is represented in a way that makes white black and black white. They feel absolutely perplexed and bewildered, and that’s why I called the book The World Turned Upside Down.

Allott: Could you explain the “Princess Obama” syndrome?

Phillips: Yes, it comes from the fact that I look at two phenomena, the cult that surrounded Princess Diana in Britain and the cult that surrounded Barack Obama when he was running for president. Of course the shine has come off Barack Obama, but I was looking at this extraordinary hype that surrounded him when he was running for president.

In both cases it seemed to me that the reason for the hysteria and the hype was that the public was projecting onto both of these personalities its hopes and fears…and they thought that both of these characters would transcend these difficulties.

For example, Princess Diana was perceived as one of life’s victims. She was the product of a broken home, she had an eating disorder—she had a lot of problems. She was unhappily married to a man who was perceived to be cold and unfeeling. And yet she transcended all of this because she was beautiful, she was a fairy-tale princess. She was the “Queen of Hearts” and all that sort of nonsense. And so it was a kind of psychological projection and transcendence, and that’s why she was so important to people, and that’s why there was so much hysteria when she died.

Similarly, Barack Obama seemed to me to have achieved near-divine status because he was seen, I think, as someone who—by virtue of what he was and where he came from—would transcend some of the more traumatic problems that America felt it had, in particular its terrible history of slavery, its history of discrimination against black people, and the current situation in which America was fighting against the Islamic world. Obama, who himself fused black and white, Muslim and Christian, seemed to represent a kind of promise of global harmony.

[Obama] became a kind of mythic figure just as Princess Diana had been a mythic figure. So in order to illustrate this phenomenon of psychological projection, I called it the Princess Obama syndrome.

Allott: You talk about how science and religion were not always regarded as being at odds with one other, but that “scientism” (the belief that scientific materialism alone can answer all the questions in the world) has taken over. How did it happen that religion became the enemy of science?

Phillips: I think the explanation is that science became identified with materialism. When Western science led the way there was no problem—religion and science were held to be completely compatible with each other. They were simply exploring different things. Science was the attempt to explore and explain the world that could be seen. Religion was the attempt to explain reasons behind the world, and these were considered separate spheres which could co-exist very happily.

Some of the most distinguished scientists from that time onwards have been religious believers. Now for various reasons this doctrine of materialism grew up that made no room for religion. One can trace this way of thinking to the Enlightenment, to Francis Bacon and other thinkers who tried to make science basically take over from God. And for various reasons this strain of thought took root particularly in the 20th century and thus caused science, in my view, to overreach itself.

So science became scientism, which is this argument that says explicitly that there can be no explanation for anything in the universe or in the whole of experience that is not a materialist explanation. -- Read it all here.

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