Monday, September 22, 2008


Dirk Gently Meets Jake Killjoy

I took the opportunity the other day to read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. I’ve also started Adams’ The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, the second Dirk Gently adventure.

Sad to say, it’s taken me this long to get around to reading anything of Adams’ work other than the four books of his Hitchhiker trilogy. Adams, rest his soul—presuming, of course, that he was wrong about evolution in that he actually had a soul to rest—was a brilliant humorist and observationist, and I’ve always been a tremendous admirer of his work. His greatest strength was his ability to create an absurd event—say, a sofa impossibly jammed up a staircase—and develop it as a thematic element foreshadowing epic consequences.

Where Adams and I part company, however, is in our general outlook concerning religious faith. Clearly, Adams was a secularist who viewed religious faith as mostly harmless (to use the phrase from Hitchhiker) but ultimately silly. A case in point from DG is the Electric Monk, a being created by aliens for believing all the nonsense the aliens were to busy to be bothered with. In the early chapters of the novel, the Electric Monk sits atop his horse, staring down at the valley below, rapt in his belief-du-jour, in this case that everything is pink. This is, Adams suggests, what believers do. They believe. Some believers believe that the universe was created by an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent creator. Other believers believe that everything is pink. Not a great deal of difference between the two, really. Also, note that the Electric Monk is a monk, and not an electric politician or electric dentist or electric scientist or electric assistant director of sales for the Atlantic seaboard not including Hoboken. “Electric monk” is just another way of saying “religious nutbag.” Seems to me, Adams would look upon such a term as needlessly repetitious.

However, this oversimplifies the nature of belief. Some beliefs are arbitrary, sure. But some are not. Some beliefs come about through experience and observation. For anyone who says that belief is wholly arbitrary, allow me to suggest they poke their fingers into the whirling blade of a running lawnmower. I believe they’ll come off.

It is true, though, that some beliefs defy all good sense. What my own comic detective, Jake Killjoy, will attempt to demonstrate is that there are lots of really looney, whack-a-mole beliefs out there—but these are paraded as scientific, and anyone who dares express doubt about them can find himself subject to attack, whether verbally, academically, professionally, or even physically.

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