Bible/Darwin: Here Comes The Hair Dryers

According to Fox News, a group of atheists are performing de-baptizing rituals with hair dryers (thanks for the link Tad). This is one of these moments where as an anthropologist you feel a certain smug self-congratulation that human beings are in fact just as culturally creative as you keep on telling people they are. But it also speaks to deeper issues in the so-called atheism/religion debate that flares up periodically in America and England and is increasingly diffusing all over the place.

Just mentioning people likeRichard Dawkins is likely to draw tons of aggro to this blog, so I will keep it short: most commenters on the cage match between the rabid evolutionist-cum-atheists and the rabid evangelical christians-cum-creationists imagine this conflict to involve two separate groups. The genius of the hair-dryer ritual is that it demonstrates so clearly that what we actually have here is a case of what Simon Harrison calls ‘mimetic conflict’ — two groups competing to occupy a single identity. The opposition is not one of Christian versus non-Christian, but rather a conflict between two different permutations of protestant culture.

Consider: one side believes it possesses an infallible book written by an omnipotent author with a huge beard with completely explains the dynamics all living things on earth. The other side believes in the literal truth of the bible. One side believes it will go to heaven, the other advocates a space program to achieve “Mars in our time” as a mission to direct and shape human aspiration. Atheist parodic appropriation of Christian identity even comes with (according to the article) a ritual officiant who “doned a monk’s robe and said a few mock-Latin phrases” before the drying began — and of course there is nothing more protestant than damning your opponent for their popery.

This de-baptism makes clear in a single ritual what is at the heart of much of this debate: that within American culture, science and religion are two different things but two versions of the same thing, both of which rely in shared, rather intellectualist understandings of human nature and the role of the bible/Darwin: humans attempt to ‘find meaning in the universe’, explain natural phenomenon, and live regenerated lives free of the corrupting influence of earlier, false doctrine. These are notions that are, in general, not shared by members of other religions.

Partially is a way of saying that the anthropological notion of culture often cuts across what other people’s ‘ethnocultural’ notions — we see a single system made of oppositions where others see two discrete ‘cultures’ or groups. But mainly this is just a way to give props to atheists for such a well-designed ritual. I’m not particularly big on running other people’s beliefs down, but setting aside the mean-heartedness that comes across in the interview with the atheists, I have to say as a piece of cultural practice the ritual is superbly imagined.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

54 thoughts on “Bible/Darwin: Here Comes The Hair Dryers

  1. 1. in order to really train the mind to observe the “suchness” of now, and to incorporate so many perspectives, it requires a meditative practice. A specific kind of way to train your brain to be aware without thought, and see phenomena before form and color. It’s really what Nagarjuna brings to the table.

    I used to believe in the possibility of experiencing the world like that, and I used to believe in the possibility of enlightenment, of living in the now, and all of that. But I can’t say I think it to be at all possible now.

    It is not possible to see something and not see its colour or shape – that’s just people see. Objects appear intuitively discrete and whole to most brains, and their characteristics lead to categorisation. That’s just how it works. If you could see things without any human biases, then you wouldn’t be seeing at all. Your brain cannot simply use the eyes to see a mass of essentially undifferentiated particles, which would be closer to the “truth” of what is actually in front of you than the images created by the brain, but which would be impossible to comprehend.

    Your brain and therefore your mind is fundamentally practical, and has evolved to cope with life in the universe – not to understand quantum mechanics on an intuitive level, or to be able to “see” individual atoms or the one-ness of everything, or any other philosophical notion in that vein. These things are knowable but not realisable, I think.

    I tried all kinds of meditation techniques when I was younger. I started qigong when I was ten, and yoga when I was an undergrad, and actually, most of the first philosophy that I read when much younger was Chinese – Zhuangzi, the Four Books, the Daodejing, Gongsun Lun’s white horse dialogue. I’m not unaware of non-“western” philosophy. I’m also not unaware of the existence of the idea that people can directly experience the cosmos and one-ness and so on. I just don’t believe it to be the case any longer. I’m willing to be persuaded, of course – it’s definitely not an idea I’m hostile to, just one I don’t think is correct.

    There’s nothing written in the Madhyamika school of Buddhist philosophy that really contradicts the world of Hume or his student.

    Well, to me, Hume is useful as a reference for when I can’t be bothered or am not able to fully outline the argument. It doesn’t matter to me who created the is/ought argument, and whether it was Hume or someone else doesn’t really matter. The rest of Hume’s views are to some extent irrelevant to the issue.

    So while there may not be any inherent problems between Hume’s views and those of Nagarjuna, for instance, the reality is that reality is the determiner. If someone proposes that the division between the individual and society is not real for both metaphysical and ethical purposes, then I would say that that person is incorrect. Metaphysically, I would say, there is no society, and practically, society exists but the aggregate of views in a society are not those of any individual within it (or certainly most individuals in it).

  2. As for the Condell thing, I used to enjoy listening to him, but his anger seemed a little misplaced (always looking for an excuse to be angry – not the greatest attitude in the world) and in the recent election here he proclaimed his support for UKIP. His speech also contains what are to UK ears xenophobic dogwhistles, associated primarily with the rise in anti-Islamic violence and EDL (“English Defense League”) bigotry. Condell himself is almost certainly not an EDL member, but he is employing the same language and views, and his words sound disjointed, xenophobic, and arbitrarily angry.

    I haven’t listened to him in several months. Perhaps he has changed.

  3. You two need to get a room!

    I’m closing comments on this thread, which has wandered far off topic and could best be pursued over email or on your own blog. Thanks for your interest in the topic though!

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