Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Ronald Knox and the Omniscientists

Listening in is a subtle idiom. It seems to indicate a voluntary direction of auditory attention by someone. That which they listen in to would go on without them. People were invited to listen in to BBC programs. Perhaps ‘listen’ seemed too imperative to the polite English. In the 30‘s the invitation would be to listen in to Ronald Knox , Julian Huxley, Bertrand Russell, Gerald Heard and John Langdon-Davies. A book which I bought last Saturday for ein euro by Ronald Knox called Broadcast Minds is a critique of what he terms Omniscientism in the others listed. That portmanteau word is of course a coinage of Knox’s and suggests ‘know all ism’ in a smattering sense combined with a touch of scientism in its reverence for the empirical method. Such we have always with us but in the age of the wireless the power of such shallow thinking was enhanced. He likens it to gunpowder and printing which changed everything in their respective spheres. His book was published in September 1932. In 1933 Goebbels having just introduced a cheap radio to the German public was expressing his view of the power of broadcasting as a way of creating a unified nation.

 We on the other hand intend a principled transformation in the worldview of our entire society, a revolution of the greatest possible extent that will leave nothing out, changing the life of our nation in every regard.
(from  propaganda)

What Knox as a cleric impugns in the written works and the broadcasts of those listed is their animus towards religion which is never frankly admitted but advanced by distortion and omission. H.G. Wells in his Outline of History likened by Knox to 1066 and All That set the tone for others.

He has not been without imitators. Nobody, of course, has dared to cover precisely the same ground; he would be afraid of the comparison, for Mr. Wells is readable. But he has pointed the way to a number of anti-Christian writers, and in some case thinkers, who have learned to abandon the old method of direct attack, and bury all religious and metaphysical issues under a cloud of scientific information. This is the technique of the omniscientist; he does not make any sustained attack on religion; he dismisses it in a series of contemptuous allusions, giving us to understand that he is too busy talking about science to delay over such trifling matters. Meanwhile he contrives to insinuate that religion and science are necessarily incompatible; that everything, therefore, which he has said in praise of science is ipso facto a condemnation of religion. He will belittle Christianity by forced contrasts; now dwelling on the long “aeons” which elapsed between the appearance of Moses, now showing how ignorent and brutish the Middle Ages were by comparison with the civilization that dates from Darwin. He is the prophet of a new age, and he has the public ear. He astounds with outpourings of quaint scientific facts; he dazzles with glimpses of the incomprehensible. He creates the impression that religion is of yesterday, science of today.

New Atheists have gone back to firing plague corpses from catapults over the battlements. The Internet has changed everything and perhaps such sly acerbities as ‘and in some cases thinkers’ may be too subtle for distributed micro attention. Knox’s discussion of Sir Julian Huxley’s Religion without Revelation pub. in 1927 and in a revised edition in 1957 must be the topic for a separate post as it dissects the idea of 'religiosity without religion' which continues to coruscate and lure the magpie thinker.

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