Category ►►► God and Man In the Blogosphere
December 17, 2010
Proud of Mel, on the Occasion of Winona's Denunciation
Aaron Worthing at Patterico's Pontifications recently wrote a post about an interview in GQ with Winona Ryder -- who is Jewish; who knew? -- in which she offhandedly charged that, "like, fifteen years ago," she was at a Hollywood party, where she met a drunken Mel Gibson... and that, when she mentioned her religion, he jokingly referred to Jews as "oven dodgers." (Ryder also claims that Gibson "made a really horrible gay joke" to her gay friend.)
We couple this with the iconic antisemitic rant another drunken Mel Gibson made -- rather, the same Gibson during a different debauchery -- while being arrested for DUI, and the pattern is fairly clear: In his heart, Gibson is a raging antisemite.
And as a USDA-certified non-religious Jew, that makes me very, very proud of him.
We pause briefly to allow readers to finish caroming around the room, flapping their arms like emperor penguins trying to take to the air.
Settled again? Good; I can explain what in blazes I mean very concisely...
We all have demons; no one but a saint is so free of evil that he hasn't even a single moral blindness, a single skeleton in his skull. On those issues, the beast screams to be released to rend and eviscerate someone who, while he may be irritating or offensive or even thuggish, doesn't actually deserve the level of irrational vitriol or violence that we feel, in those moments, like dishing out.
How many of you -- be honest -- had flashes of rage following the 9/11attacks that induced fantasies of flattening the entire Arab world with nuclear Armageddon?
But wait, think a second time: Should we really kill hundreds of millions of people, the vast, vast majority innocent of that act of war, out of sick revenge at what, at most, half a hundred people plotted and maybe fifteen or twenty thousand actively applauded? All but the mad among us quickly suppressed that first idea and swallowed our rage, choosing instead to do as George W. Bush said: Find the people who knocked those buildings down and kill them personally, or capture them and hold them indefinitely, crushing every scrap of usable, actionable intel out of them. (Or at the very least, if we couldn't keep silent about our general fury at Arabs and Moslems in general, we confined those ravings of universal slaughter to close friends who wouldn't broadcast our intemperance to the world at large.)
And who here has never, ever, ever been so enraged by some nitwit driver that he hasn't screamed out loud, in his car, that he was going to ram the son of a bachelor and drive his car into a telephone poll? Sure, we yell it... but if we retain our sanity, we don't actually do it.
Civilization is largely a voluntary act of mass repression; and that's a good thing. An awful lot of thoughts and desires we experience throughout a given day should be repressed, jammed down so deep we barely feel them except for a burr in the brain -- notwithstanding that stupid sixties philosophy of "let it all hang out" and "never repress what you feel."
Sometimes it takes a heroic effort to suppress saying or doing something that Seems Like a Good Idea at the Time™, but upon sober reflection would be a horrific and life-destroying indulgence. But that's one of the prices we pay for living in a society, surrounded by other people.
I'd say that the definition of a civilized human being is the ability to look past anger to a later time, when we will have calmed down, and imagine ourselves saying, "My God, what have I done? My life is ended!"... then to return to present time and not do it in the first place.
Those with the loudest demons have the greatest struggle; and quite evidently, Mel Gibson's demons are very loud and vile indeed. But the point is, when not in the madness of strong drink, he does manage to suppress them. He suppresses them so well that until that videotaped, besotted rant during his arrest, I daresay the vast majority of us had no idea he struggled with such internal Hell.
Some Gibson critics have tried to claim that his movie the Passion of the Christ was antisemitic; I believe they do so precisely because they realize that to condemn Gibson, they must show that he indulges his demon even when stone cold sober... as when he is writing and directing a movie.
Yet I watched that movie as a Jew (having been "primed" to believe it would be antisemitic); and while I was unmoved by the story, I certainly felt no stirrings of anxiety over religious persecution, as I did when watching Leni Riefenstahl's the Triumph of the Will, glorifying Adolf Hitler's 1934 Nuremberg rally.
In fact, in the twenty-one Gibson movies I've seen, including Passion and Apocalypto, both of which he only wrote and directed, I've never seen anything to indicate he was a deliberate Jew hater or "homophobe." Knowing as I now do how he must struggle against the irrational illnesses of racism and xenophobia, I am astonished at what a great job he does.
Gibon's conscious, intelligent mind realizes one of two things, the first more creditable than the second but both being acceptable marks of civilization:
- Either that his "feelings" are simply wrong, as feelings frequently are; and there is nothing inherently inferior about Jews, gays, or any other human, even if he believes that some of the things they do -- deny Christ, engage in the "abomination" of homosexual acts -- are sins. He may honestly believe he must hate the sin but love the sinner.
- Or at the very least, he must believe that he cannot live in this American society and express such loathing that is rejected by nearly everybody else here (Europe and the Orient are friendlier to Jew hatred); and Gibson must believe that the benefits of living in the United States outweigh any personal satisfaction he might derive from venting venom at Jews and gays. And that, as I said, is practically the definition of a civilized man.
I don't know which, but either way, Mel Gibson "gets it" -- when he's sober. And he doesn't seem to be a habitual drunkard; such incidents are few enough and far enough apart that they still shock us.
Of course Gibson still has a drinking problem; anytime someone allows himself to get so drunk that he cannot control his inner demons, he is a menace to himself, and what is infinitely worse, to the rest of society. But I feel as proud (as a fellow civilized human being) of his personal achievement as I would of a kleptomaniac who controls himself and does not steal, or a drug addict who steers clear of the needle, or a believing Catholic who is gay, yet who lives a celebate life so as not to commit what he believes to be sin. It must take a mental effort of mind-over-glands more monumental than most of us can imagine -- a true "triumph of the will" -- for Gibson to bottle his imp of rage and hate and cast it into the sea, even if it does occasionally come bobbing back ashore when he's in his cups.
By contrast, I have heard many and many a man or woman of the Left openly, brazenly, almost tauntingly fling antisemitic, anti-gay, and racist ideas and epithets into the maelstrom of his political and ideological madness without having touched a drop of "the creature" all day. Which, by the way, is practically a textbook definition of barbaric savagery.
Even as a Jew, who would you rather luncheon with: Mel Gibson? Or Special Assistant to President Barack H. Obama Samantha Power, head of the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights?
The defense rests.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
September 18, 2010
As Hecate Is My Witness, I Never Dabbled into Witchcraft
Not even once. Oh, I knew a lot of witches; I was even (common-law) married to one at one point. But even she will tell you that I was never, ever into witchcraft at all: no covens, no cauldrons, no bells, books, nor candles.
I consider witchcraft (or Wicca) to be puerile, usually leftist, wish-fulfillment twaddle. Besides, I'm allergic to all those "blessed wanna-bes." (Stolen from Willow on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer tv series.)
I consider Wicca a nonsensical non-religion, fit only for ridicule. (E.g., Brad Linaweaver's short story, "My Wiccan, Wiccan Ways," found most easily on page 223 of Clownface.)
By stark contrast, I am an ordained Archdruid in the Reformed Druids of North America, and I used to dabble into [or alongside of] Discordianism on the side. On both sides, actually.
We druids are not a bunch of hysterical, middle-aged, planetoid, political lesbians and their PWed girly-men, acting out Gardnerian fantasies of a non-existent, matriarchal "Old Religion;" we're stuffy pseudo-academics and self-styled scholars of esoteric and useless lore... it's completely different.
But as Nuadha of the Silver Hand and Eris, Goddess of Chaos are my witnesses, I never thought witches could fly. And I never dabbled into [or onto, or under] witchcraft. (All right, I did read Drawing Down the Moon, and I once observed a Dianic sabat led by Marion Zimmer Bradley; but I vow I was cynical and jaded throughout the entire ritual.)
There is only one outright lie in this entire post.
May 3, 2010
Great Britain Outlaws Christianity
Or so it appears, if this story from the Daily Telegraph is accurate. Ministers in Jolly Olde E. are being arrested under the Public Order Act of 1986 -- for saying out loud that Christianity dubs gay sex a sin:
Dale McAlpine was charged with causing “harassment, alarm or distress” after a homosexual police community support officer (PCSO) overheard him reciting a number of “sins” referred to in the Bible, including blasphemy, drunkenness and same sex relationships....
Police officers are alleging that he made the remark in a voice loud enough to be overheard by others and have charged him with using abusive or insulting language, contrary to the Public Order Act.
Evidently, it's legal to preach the Christian faith (or the Jewish faith, for that matter)... so long as you whisper inaudibly.
Christian campaigners have expressed alarm that the Public Order Act, introduced in 1986 to tackle violent rioters and football hooligans, is being used to curb religious free speech.
Sam Webster, a solicitor-advocate for the Christian Institute, which is supporting Mr McAlpine, said it is not a crime to express the belief that homosexual conduct is a sin.
“The police have a duty to maintain public order but they also have a duty to defend the lawful free speech of citizens,” he said.
“Case law has ruled that the orthodox Christian belief that homosexual conduct is sinful is a belief worthy of respect in a democratic society."
Unless you run into "the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender liaison officer for Cumbria police;" in which case, thousands of years of religious teaching are swept into the dustbin of history, along with free speech, to make way for acceptable speech that doesn't offend anyone -- rather, anyone opposed to Western civilization. (You're allowed to offend Western civ. itself, of course; soon it may become mandatory.)
This is our future if we continue down the route of "hate-speech" laws and codes. The busts may start out restricted to clearly repugnant speech that is deliberate and intended to inflict emotional distress; but inevitably, their scope will expand to cut off controversial political opinions... where "controversial" is tendentiously redefined to mean "bucking the secular leftist trend in the European Union." Thus the anti-Judeo-Christian argument becomes a paradigm of "Shut up," he explained. Give 'em an itch, and they take a snarl.
Oh... did I forget to mention until now that I personally find nothing at all sinful or criminal about homosexual activity; and that I completely support Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruling that overturned all so-called anti-sodomy laws nationwide? It's irrelevant to my point; but I suspect that liberals who started this post already stopped reading long ago; and they're now busily telling their friends that I'm a right-wing, fascist, homophobic bigot who wants all gays arrested, branded, and send to concentration camps.
The point is that I have a number of crabbed and cranky opinions of my own that flout in the face of conventional wisdom, so I have a vested interest in seeing that everybody gets to exercise his freedom of speech. An almighty State big enough to take that fundamental liberty away from a Bible-thumping religious zealot like McAlpine -- is big enough to take away my fundamental right to say that Barack H. Obama is a national socialist.
So I make common cause with people who reject probably 75% of my core beliefs... because within the remaining 25% lurks the most sacred creed in my generally secular worldview, my own rewrite of the slogan of the French revolution: "Liberty, Accountability, Individualism!"
I reckon that's no longer fashionable in the United Kingdom -- and is rapidly becoming quaint and déclassé in my own land as well.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
December 21, 2009
Thou Shalt Not...
This struck me -- an agnostic not-yet-believer -- as rather... odd:
A clergyman has been criticised as 'highly irresponsible' after advising his congregation to shoplift following his Nativity sermon.
Father Tim Jones, 41, broke off from his traditional annual sermon yesterday to tell his flock that stealing from large chains is sometimes the best option for vulnerable people.
It is far better for people desperate during the recession to shoplift than turn to 'prostitution, mugging or burglary', he said.
Evidently, he believes that poor people are criminal by their very natures. Well, in a sense I agree, though I think he has it backwards: Thieves are in general poor -- because of their very criminal natures.
As an irreligious person myself, it seems to me that a more effective sermon would be to instruct his congregation to develop the workplace and interpersonal skills necessary to hold down a job and earn a living. They're easily learnt, and we all had to do it; nobody is born knowing how to be a good employee, employer, or independent contractor. We all had to be taught how to act "appropriately" at work.
I refer to virtues such as:
- Getting to work on time and staying until quitting time, if your job is time-based;
- Finishing the projects you undertake;
- Working diligently, rather than goofing off with your friends or sneaking off to the beach;
- Attention to detail -- useful in virtually every endeavor including politics, where you really need the ability to keep track of which donors paid how much in bribes in exchange for what government goodies;
- Understanding that other people exist; you are not the center of the universe;
- Respect for other peoples opinions (and their space);
- A sense of decorum;
- Brevity (I need to work on this one myself);
- Thrift (the last government needed remedial instruction in this virtue; the current one is irremedial and should be sacked).
Again, seems to me that if Daddy-Guy Jones were to help his flock attain more of these kinds of virtues, they wouldn't even need to shoplift, let alone mug. Too bad he's uninterested in teaching them. (Or perhaps he never learnt them himself.)
July 1, 2009
The Membrane Connecting Science, Morality, and Aesthetics - More Thoughts
In the comments of a previous post, frequent commenter Geoman wrote the following:
Which brings me to this: the involvement of god or supernatural forces, in any way shape or form, automatically negates your argument as science.
This is true, as far as it goes: Of course discussion of the nature of God is not "science." But not being science is not synonymous with not being worth discussing or not rational or not serious... or even not real. That error -- made by virtually all those particular scientists (or science writers) who also happen to be atheists, is just as egregious as Michael Behe claiming that evolution requires the specific finger of God to arrange various systems of a bacterium into a flagellum.
All that science can say about non-scientific questions is -- science can't say anything about non-scientific questions.
That does not translate to, "Non-scientific questions are nonsense that need never be considered." It also doesn't translate to, "Things outside science are fantasies that don't really exist." But we do need to recognize that they can be neither proven nor disproven by the scientific method; they may well be urgent, vital questions -- but they must be discussed and debated without the imprimatur of "science."
The danger of mistaking any systematized mode of thinking for the only such available is twofold:
- That we try to drape the mantle of science over questions of politics, religion, morality, aesthetics, or sociology.
This results in, e.g., "social Darwinism," where the undeniable reality of evolutionary biology (henceforth "evo-bio") is abused to declare one race or class of people to be superior to another. (Oddly enough, those making such declarations invariably find themselves in the superior, never the inferior group.)
As noted earlier in the comments of the linked post, such ideological abuse-of-theory does not invalidate the original science that was perverted; but it can taint it politically, causing people wrongly to reject it, in the mistaken belief that the abuse is a "natural consequence" of the real science... and under the well-known fallacy that if the natural consequence of something is bad, its supposed source must be false. ("It can't be true, because it would be so dreadful if it were!")
The corollary danger, though, is just as grim:
- That we reject anything not provable by science as fiction, fantasy, or meaningless sentimentality.
What an ugly world that would be! And a dangerous one; as above, you cannot "prove" traditional morality (justice, decency, loyalty, courage, and such) by science... so such hyper-rationalists must reject morality as a guide to behavior. They must also reject aesthetic considerations such as beauty, taste, and love; as well as frivolities such as play and recreation. One becomes an automaton.
To be a whole person, we need both scientific rationalism and other varieties of rationalism. To be a whole society, we need all of the above, but also religious rationalism -- a certain kind of religion, that which Dennis Prager identifies as "ethical monotheism." Individuals may not need religion to be moral, but Prager has convinced me that societies do.
Each kind of reasoning must stay in its proper sphere, but each sphere must have some limited volume of overlap with all of the others. As organic minds, we cannot compartmentalize, say, our scientific from our religious reasoning: Each must take account of the other, or we fall prey to Multiple Epistemology Syndrome -- one mode of thinking tells us something is true, while another tells us equally strongly that it is false; and there is no way to mediate between the severed pieces of mind.
The proper answer to the question of evo-bio and Mankind is to accept that evo-bio is how our bodies biologically evolved... and also, that if a theistic God exists, He clearly chose evo-bio as the means to create us (and also as the means to create porpoises, penguins, pike eels, petunias, and paramecia).
By definition of omniscience, a theistic God would know that setting the various laws of the universe and physical constants the way they are, along with a particular initial state of matter and energy, would result eventually in us. But that also requires us to accept that the same space-time and mass-energy "initial condition" might also have created (and continue to create) similar evo-bio elsewhere. In other words, if God works miracles by science, we might not be unique. There may be others out there going through similar intellectual angst, confronting equivalent crises of faith or science; we cannot rule it out by glib vanity and Biblical narcissism.
That same God would necessarily transcend the physical universe (or else He couldn't have created it!) -- so if He exists, he can also be the source of kinds of reasoning that transcend scientific reasoning. That doesn't make them better; they just answer different questions than does scientific reasoning.
In other words, the religious have no reason to reject science a priori; nor do the scientific have any reason to reject religion a priori. They exist quite comfortably side by side; and neither pursuit is inherently useless, meaningless, sterile, or Orwellian.
This seems very obvious to me (and to such prominent religious scientists as Francis Collins), and I've never understood why it seems such a stumbling block to a majority in both camps, the scientific and the religious.
July 27, 2008
Barack H. Obama visted Israel a few days ago; on Thursday, he went to the Western or Wailing Wall -- the last surviving wall of the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans under Titus Caesar in A.D. 70 -- and placed a "prayer" in one of its cracks. Almost immediately, "a student at a Jewish seminary" purportedly removed the note and gave it to at least two Israeli newspapers, one of which (Maariv) published its contents.
Many visitors place such prayers in chinks of the wall, prayers of mourning for the loss of the Second Temple and confession of and atonement for their sins. The remains of the Second Temple is a site holy both to Jews, for obvious reasons, and for Christians, because that is where Jesus drove out the moneychangers and restored the temple to a house of prayer, not a den of thieves.
But what is rare, I suspect, is for visitors to fill a crack in that wall with a putative prayer that is as cynical, as manipulative, and as obviously intended for public consumption as Obama's was.
Having read the so-called prayer, I am completely convinced that Obama fully intended for it to be "intercepted" and published... and may even have arranged for it. The "prayer" is impersonal and vague, yet contains the perfect code phrase designed to help Obama with evangelicals; I do not entertain the slightest doubt that he wanted it to be published -- and published in a way that makes him out to be the "victim" of a spiteful invasion of his privacy. (In fact, Maariv says that the Obama campaign itself released the prayer to the media before the supposed theft.)
I'm agnostic, and it still infuriates me.
Here is the text as published in Maariv:
Lord -- Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.
Let's break it down...
The "theft" of the prayer
It's odd that we know so little about the "student at a Jewish seminary" who supposedly filtched the paper and handed it over to Maariv. I cannot even find out his name, let alone why he did what he did. I have looked at recent stories in Haaretz, the J-Post, CNN, and several other media sources; nobody has a single word about the so-called "seminary student" prayernapper.
So if nobody knows anything, how do they know he is a seminary student? How do they know he is not, say, a political operative?
Second, Maariv has an amazing defense against the charge of trafficking in stolen prayers; according to Haaretz:
Ma'ariv issued a response Sunday, saying that "Obama's note was published in Ma'ariv and other international publications following Obama's authorization to make the content of the note public. Obama submitted a copy of the note to media outlets when he left his hotel in Jerusalem [That would be before he placed the note in the wall]. Moreover, since Obama is not Jewish, there is no violation of privacy as there would be for a Jewish person who places a note in the Western Wall."
The second claim is simply a bigoted quirk of Israeli law as it relates to religious privacy (which, if it really is a defense, is abominable). But the first claim is substantive: If true -- and the Obama camp has not, so far at least, denied it -- then this was unquestionably a "prayer" intended for public consumption, hence political profit, because he released it himself. If this is true, it was not a heartfelt "private communication between [Obama] and God," as Obama told reporters.
I saw video of Obama placing his prayer; he appeared to take an extraordinarily long time to find a crack where he could put it... it took him at least three tries. But even so, there were several other prayer slips nearby; so the "seminary student" must have been standing very close and watching the operation like a hawk to make sure he got the right slip. (That is, unless he, too, was given a copy of the note, as Maariv claims "media outlets" were, and it was that copy that he submitted to the newspaper.) I admit skepticism that the Secret Service would allow a man who looked in any way hostile to stand to close behind the presumptive Democratic nominee -- in a region known for senseless political violence. They must have been very comfortable with the presence of that "seminary student."
Come to that, the Obama campaign -- now widely seen as a "victim" of some rights-violating (presumably right-wing) Israeli Jew -- is being unbearably coy about the note itself; according to CNN:
Obama's senior strategist Robert Gibbs told CNN, "We haven't confirmed nor denied" [sic] that the note is from the Illinois senator....
CNN's Sasha Johnson, who was a part of a pool of journalists who accompanied Obama to the wall, said when reporters asked Obama what he wrote, he declined to share the contents of his prayer.
Obama told the reporters it was a private conversation between him and God, Johnson said.
There's that phrase again: private conversation between Obama and God. So this is a good time to take a closer look at that "private conversation."
Text, context, and subtext
As a reminder, here is Obama's private conversation with God, which he may or may not have shared with the media before poking it into the Western Wall, depending on whether one believes Maariv or not:
Lord -- Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.
Well! I can certainly see why he would be anxious to protect the privacy of such a personal, sensitive, individual communication. One certainly wouldn't want something like that to leak out!
He asks God to "protect" his family and himself from unspecified harm; he asks forgiveness for sins he does not enumerate (does he even believe it's possible for a higher being like himself to commit sin?); he asks help to guard against pride and despair -- again, no specific examples offered, and he is evidently unafraid of falling into sloth, gluttony, avarice, and whatnot; then he asks for wisdom without mentioning any prior instance of folly. Finally, he uses a phrase guaranteed to turn a few Democratic evangelicals to his side: "Make me an instrument of your will."
Anent that last, can you imagine the furor and hoopla that would have erupted following the revelation of those words -- had they come from John S. McCain or George W. Bush? I suspect that in such a case, a Google search on "Bush theocracy hypocrite" would have produced 750,000 hits... instead of the mere 71,000 hits it produces today. ("Obama theocracy hypocrite" generates 65,200, and "McCain theocracy hypocrite" generates 62,800, so that's probably the base level for virtually any well-known politician.)
I expect to take a lot of heat for this post, delving as I am into the private (?) religiosity of Obama... but frankly, this seems exactly the prayer I would expect from a non-believer trying to ape Christianity for the consumption of the masses, all the while rolling his eyes at the hoops he must jump through in order to take his rightful place as Supreme Leader of the Western World (of which he is a citizen). It's Bill Clinton's Bible in miniature.
Forgive me my (unspecified) sins, but I cannot imagine anybody thinking this sort of prayer should constitute a "private conversation" with God. It reads for all the world like wearing one's irreligion on one's sleeve, hoping to befuddle the religious masses, who one imagines to be illiterate and easily bamboozled boobies.
Is Barack Obama religious? I don't believe he is. The church he frequented for two decades -- until it became politically non-viable (like Howard Dean, who quit his church over a bike path) -- preaches black liberation theology, which is to Christianity what Wahabbism is to Islam: an extremist cult that preaches hatred and separation, rather than love and assimilation. Since Obama does not preach hatred and separation and denies believing any such nonsense, I can only conclude that his presence at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago was purely for political theater... else he would have quit and joined one of the many other, more mainstream Christian denominations in that city.
I conclude that, while he may be a believer, he sure "doesn't work very hard at it," as the character Henry Drummond puts it in the 1955 Jerome Lawrence - Robert E. Lee play Inherit the Wind. And when a man who doesn't work very hard (or take very seriously) his supposed religion wants to be seen as a religious and righteous man, as in a presidential campaign, he often turns to exaggerated playacting of the trappings of religion, rather than faith itself. He carries around a gigantic Bible in a wheelbarrow, or he makes an elaborate ritual of writing a vacuous "prayer" on a piece of paper and invites two dozen journalists to come see him place it in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
And in the latter case, of course he wants the public to read his nondenominational call for continued guidance by the higher power he wants us to think he believes in... else what is the point? He could just stick a blank piece of paper in the crack, and nobody would be the wiser (well, no human, at least).
I've frequently been accused of being the most cynical and suspicious fellow in the building, when it comes to the motives and intentions of professional politicians; I quote my hero, Bill Clinton: "I plead guilty to that." But for God's sake, somebody has to at least raise the possibility that this entire incident -- which fits so perfectly into Barack H. Obama's political campaign -- is just a cynical ploy to gain sympathy and make a play for the "Jeebus Crispy" vote.
However, let me initiate a preemptive apology process: I hereby announce that I am very sorry if anybody is offended by anything I say. My enemies accuse me of caring too much, and I admit the charge. I apologize for all the bigoted actions and statements of my remote ancestors. And I want everybody to kneel down right here and now and join me in prayer... that the hate-filled hearts of those who disagree with me may be softened and filled with love, as mine is.
So having fulfilled my obligations in advance, I leave you with this final conundrum. Numerous newspapers and other media outlets reported that Maariv claims that "Obama submitted a copy of the note to media outlets when he left his hotel in Jerusalem," before visiting the wall. This is either true or false:
- If it's false, why didn't the reporting media who had reporters present with Obama in Israel say something like, "however, our reporter did not receive any copy of this prayer?" That would certainly have put the onus back on Maariv to prove their statement.
- Contrariwise, if it's true, then shouldn't the reporting media point that out in the story, thus putting the lie to the Obama campaign's claim that this was a terrible violation of the privacy of his divine conversations?
Yet instead of providing the evidence they clearly had, evidence that would either have supported Obama or Maariv, every last media source chose to stand silent.
May 15, 2008
Californichusetts - bumped from March pending new post
Surprise, surprise, the California Supreme Court is currently deciding (yet again) whether to tell California voters to go to hell, and to order the era of gender-neutral marriage... just as Massachusetts did! Thanks; I always wanted us to take our lead from Hyannisport.
So let's put on our manly gowns, gird our loins, and pull up our socks: It's time to deal with this invitation to cultural suicide once more.
It boils down to two questions:
- Doesn't the "equal protection" clause of the state constitution require the legalization of same-sex marriage (SSM) as a state constitutional right?
- Even if there is no "right" to SSM, isn't it a good idea to expand marriage to be more inclusive?
On a nutshell, he answer in each case is No -- it doesn't and it isn't. The rest of this post explains why.
How equal is "equal protection?"
In California, it's not just the state legislature that has defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman (explicitly in 1977, implicitly earlier); the people themselves did so in 2000 via Proposition 22, which added Section 308.5 to the state's California Family Code:
The citizen initiative passed overwhelmingly. If a court overturns it, it had better be because the court found it violates a clear, undeniable, and unambiguous right... not just because four justices voted against it seven years ago, and now they have their revenge.
But the only legal argument ever offered is that the rule violates the "equal protection" clause of the California constitution, Article I, Section 7:
Proponents of SSM say equal protection is violated for a homosexual, because he cannot marry the person that he wants to marry. But of course, a heterosexual also cannot marry the person he wants to marry if one of them is already married, they're too closely related, or one of them is too young. Throughout human history, marriage has always been strictly limited to certain types of unions; it has never, in thousands of years of human history, been an unrestricted right.
Gender is just one of the restrictions; if the others don't violate equal protection, then neither does the gender restriction. And if it does violate equal protection... then what's the legal rationale for banning polygamy?
Cat got your tongue? "But my four wives and I really love each other!"
With all restrictions dropped but the declaration that "we love each other," what's to stop gang members from all marrying each other, so that none will be able to testify against another? How do you prevent an entire building full of spinsters marrying the same guy, so each can receive Social Security? How do we prevent one American citizen from marrying five hundred Argentinian women and men to bring them all here as permanent residents?
Marriage needs restrictions: Without them, it's no more special a relationship than a bowling team or union membership.
So you're in favor of banning interracial marriages too, huh?
A ban on racial intermarriage has never been a piller of Western civilization; racism itself (per Dinesh D'Souza's the End of Racism) dates only to the sixteenth century. And most of the miscegenation laws in California were passed from 1901 onward, during the "Progressive Era" -- they were Jimmy Crow Lately laws.
Miscegenation laws were not repealed not by the courts, which never found any equal protection violation; in fact, they found no problem with them at all. It was the people, speaking through their state legislature, who rejected racism in the marriage laws in 1948 (after the Progressives and other socialists made those laws progressively restrictive through 1945).
Why did the legislature repeal those laws? Because society decided that there was no significant difference between the races; the differences are purely cosmetic. Thus, there was no compelling reason why a black man could not marry a white woman, or a white man marry a Hispanic woman.
However, nobody except self-described "queers" (radical "gender-free" advocates who proudly use the term on themselves) believes that there is no significant difference between males and females. In fact, we're discovering new differences every year, including distinctions in thought processes, temperment, and styles of exercising authority.
Unlike marriage between black and white, a marriage between two men or two women is completely different in character from a marriage between a man and a woman.
It has a great effect on child rearing -- the correlation between fatherlessness and violent crime and other antisocial behaviors is admitted by every sociologist -- and even on the behavior of the spouses themselves. When men mix only with other men, or women with other women, all the negative traits of each sex are magnified. But when men marry women, both parties moderate their behavior, and we achieve at least some union between yang and yin.
(As kids who grow up with divorced parents now, having two fathers can be terribly confusing and can also lead to the kids playing one Dad off the other. Fatherlessness and overfathering are both very sub-ideal.)
Finally, experience teaches that cultures that allow polygamy, such as traditional Moslem cultures, end up devaluing women and girls to the point where the papa will kill his own wife or daughter if he thinks (or imagines) she has shamed the family name. It's much, much rarer for a father to kill his teenaged son for such imagined shame, because males are so much more important in polygamous cultures. (They may encourage sons and daughters alike to become suicide bombers, but that is completely different: Radical Moslems consider that to be enhancing the family honor. It's like sending sons off to war. But the father rarely murders his son as punishment for shaming the family.)
Societal survival is a compelling interest
Thus, society does have at least three compelling interests in restricting marriage to one man and one woman: The effect on getting and raising children, moderating behavior of individual men and women, and promoting the full equality of the sexes. And equal protection is not violated, because every resident, regardless of sexual preference, may legally marry anyone he wants, provided both meet society's qualifications anent age, sex, number, family relationship, and of course willingness.
If we ever decide to change any of those restrictions, it must come from the people themselves... via the legislature or directly by citizen initiative. The courts should never drive society willy nilly towards the utopian leanings of the judges. That is the difference between leftists, who favor totalitarian, top-down rule by "experts" in all areas of life (from economics to religion to marriage)... and those of us on the right, who prefer individualism, Capitalism, and democracy, where the women and men in society get to decide for themselves, through the ballot box, what axioms define society.
For a perfect example, let me explain why I absolutely support Lawrence v. Texas (the U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down anti-"sodomy" laws across the nation) -- yet I oppose with equal fervor Goodridge v. the Department of Public Health, the ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts forcing the state legislature to legitimize SSM.
Simply put, Lawrence is individualistic and democratic: It does not require you to accept gay relationships as the equal of heterosexual relationships -- it just prevents you from throwing them in jail for it. It's one aspect of "the right to be let alone." Thus, Lawrence is individualist and conservative... modern conservatism has always recognized freedom of conscience in principle, even if some individual choices carry enough "ick" factor to tempt conservatives to make an unwarranted exception.
But Goodridge is totalitarian and leftist: It requires you to treat SSM exactly the same as mixed-sex marriage, and to hell with your deeply held religious beliefs. That is not the role of the courts.
SSM supporters twist words to impose a total, top-down transformation of society to fit the utopian ideology of the Left, using the phrase "equal protection of the laws" as a weapon to overthrow the democratic process -- quite literally, in the case of California and our Proposition 22. So on to question two...
What's so bad about SSM anyway?
This section will be briefer than it could be -- I could write an entire book! -- because I'll just sketch the argument; if you want more specifics, type "same-sex marriage" into the search box in the right sidebar and read my earlier posts.
Simply put, here is the syllogism on which I operate:
- Our society ultimately rests on a small number of irreducible axioms: inalienable rights, government by consent of the governed, etc.
- One leg of the stool of Western civilization is the marriage of one male to one female. This has been the definition in our society going back thousands of years. It encourages the interaction of male and female and the civilization of boys, female equality and women's rights, and the rights of children. It has dramatically shaped our culture.
- But not irreversibly shaped; if you knock out one leg of the stool, it may still appear to stand; but it becomes ricketier, less stable, and more prone to topple over when hit by something external... such as militant Islamism, to pull a random example out of my hat.
- While many people (especially the young) are eager to "change everything," a certain level of stability is vital to society, both culturally and legally. Our experience of societies that have a different set of axioms -- such as the Moslem and African cultures -- warns that treasured rights and privileges that we take for granted would not survive such ham-fisted tampering.
- So for God's sake, don't do it!
Here's what's so bad, wise guy...
The law of unintended consequences applies in full force here. For example, the easier we make it for any group of two or more people to be legally considered "married," the less special is the marital relationship; as it becomes less special, it attracts fewer people. Fewer marriages means fewer children, hence a waning, dying culture (cf. Northern Europe, esp. Scandinavia).
Fewer marriages also mean kids who are born are more likely to grow up in fatherless homes. Looking at America's black population, we see an extraordinary rate of out of wedlock births (69.3% of all births, compared to 31.7% of white babies - Table 14) and fatherless households (60%, compared to 22% for white children). If we compare that disparity to the disparity in violent-crime offender rates between blacks and whites (blacks were nearly three times times as likely, 2.8:1, to commit violent crime in 2005 as whites; Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2000 Census), we see a strong correlation between out of wedlock birth and fatherlessness on the one hand and the commission of violent crime on the other. This is hardly surprising; a strong and law-abiding male role model teaches boys how to resolve problems peacefully and legally.
That correlation should tell us that the very last thing we should be doing is discouraging heterosexuals of any race from getting married: Raising kids in an intact, married family makes them much less likely to become either violent criminals or the victims of violent criminals. But diminishing the "sacred specialness" of marriage by opening it up to any and all groups of people who declare "love" for each other does exactly that: If marriage means nothing, then why get married?
The West is the best
Our Western culture is unique in many ways: It's the strongest and most economically successful culture in human history; it's the freest and most respectful of individual rights; and it's also the most conservative culture on the planet, in the sense of conserving the virtues and mores of the classical liberalism of the nineteenth century -- derived from Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and first enshrined into law by the American Founding Fathers at the tail end of the eighteenth century.
Asian cultures (excepting Japan, which is completely Western) are mostly radical socialist cultures (Socialism includes both Marxist and fascist versions), still vainly trying to transform the world and create the New Socialist Man. And Moslem cultures are too often reactionary, trying to recreate the days of the Prophet -- more than thirteen centuries ago.
The Western culture converted to what we now call "traditional marriage" more than two thousand years ago; traditional African and ancestral American cultures never enforced "traditional marriage;" the socialist cultures of the East rejected spiritual unions (marriage) in favor of civil partnerships many decades ago; and traditional misogynist Islamic law still treats women like cattle.
Why on earth would any sane person want to monkey with the Western marriage model?
Jonah swallows the whale
Finally, I love this very appropos passage from Jonah Goldberg's new masterpiece, Liberal Fascism (pp. 133-4), which perfectly captures those radical activists trying to transform America into their own utopian vision:
Anybody who has ever met a student activist, a muckraking journalist, or a reformist politician will notice the important role that boredom and impatience play in the impulse to "remake the world." One can easily see how boredom -- sheer, unrelenting ennui with the status quo -- served as the oxygen for the fire of progressivism because tedium is the tinder for the flames of mischievousness. In much the same way that Romanticism laid many of the intellectual predicates for Naziism, the impatience and disaffection of progressives during the 1920s drove them to see the world as clay to be sculpted by human will. Sickened by what they saw as the spiritual languor of the age, members of the avant-garde convinced themselves that the status quo could be easily ripped down like an aging curtain and just as easily replaced with a vibrant new tapistry. This conviction often slid of its own logic into anarchism and radicalism, related worldviews which assumed that anything would be better than what we have now.
A deep aversion to boredom and a consequent, indiscriminate love for novelty among the intellectual classes translated into a routinized iconclasm and a thoroughgoing contempt for democracy, traditional morality, the masses, and the bourgeoisie, and a love for "action, action, action!" that still plagues the left today. (How much of the practiced radicalism of the contemporary left is driven by the childish pranksterism they call being subversive?)
Sadly, that is exactly what's going on here and now; and our enemies without and within call it "historically inevitable" that they will succeed. If so, fellow right-wingers, then it's our bounden duty, as William F. Buckley, jr. wrote in the National Review mission statement in 1955, to "stand athwart history, yelling Stop."
So to all those leftists who are screaming, arguing, threatening, cajoling, extorting, commanding, and suing to cram same-sex marriage down Californians' throats, and most particularly to the California Supreme Court...
May 13, 2008
Hagee Non-Recants and Issues Non-Apology Apology for Words He Never Said
The neverending quest by liberals to find a "conservative Jeremiah Wright" to bash over John McCain's head -- uh -- never ends. The newest wrinkle is the putative "open letter of apology" that Pastor John Hagee sent to the President of the Catholic League, William Donohue.
Nearly every elite-media source has falsely reported that Hagee admitted he made the attacks he has been denying all along... thus, they falsely accuse him of hypocrisy and perjury. (Wouldn't the Ten Commandments call that bearing false witness?) Here are a couple of examples...
Televangelist John Hagee, one of John McCain’s highest-profile supporters from the religious right, has apologized for calling the Roman Catholic Church “the great whore” and “the apostate church....”
Pastor Hagee, leader of San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church, had said his anti-Catholic remarks had been taken out of context, but in the letter he appeared to own up to them.
“Neither of these phrases can be synonymous with the Catholic Church,” he wrote. [How exactly does this quotation "own up to" the supposed "anti-Catholic remarks?"]
The Catholic League called on McCain to repudiate Hagee at that time, stating that he had "waged an unrelenting war" against the church and noting the pastor had referred to the Catholic Church as a "false cult system," among other terms. Hagee also said Hurricane Katrina was "the judgment of God" on the city's "sin...."
In his letter to the Catholic League today, Hagee said he now understands that other terms he used to describe the church -- "the great whore" and the "apostate church" -- are "rhetorical devices long employed in anti-Catholic literature." He said he had gained a better understanding in recent weeks of the Catholic Church's relationship to the Jewish faith. Hagee wrote of his "profound respect for the Catholic people" in the letter and said he hoped to advance "greater unity among Catholics and Evangelicals."
The New York Times:
Some have interpreted Mr. Hagee's references to “the great whore” prophesied in the Book of Revelation, as a slur on the Catholic Church. Mr. Hagee now says that was never his intention. In his book, “Jerusalem Countdown,” he accused the Vatican of collaborating with Hitler in the Holocaust. [Given the Times' record, can we please see the passage in question?]
Note the cowardice of the New York Times, which poltroonishly attributes the interpretation to "some," rather than to the Times itself -- which is what the author really means. This is an old and dishonorable rhetorical trick to say the most appalling things with "plausible deniability" when someone calls you out.
I was intrigued by the selective quotations and strange refusal to quote the letter at length... and I suspected foul play, particularly after reading one somewhat less-unfriendly source, the Political Intelligence blog on the Boston Globe's website. That story raised this cryptic point, quoting from William Donohue:
"And while he stresses that his invocation of terms like 'apostate church' and the 'great whore' were never meant by him to describe the Catholic Church, he acknowledges that anti-Catholics have long employed such language," Donohue said in his statement.
But was that really true? Phrased better, did John Hagee ever actually call the Catholic Church either "the Great Whore" or "the apostate church," either of which would be clear and unambiguous anti-Catholic bigotry? I know that many conservatives say he has not; yet that is the type of negative claim that is virtually impossible to prove but easy to disprove -- all you need is one example.
So far, however, such a clear example has not forthcome... in contradistinction to Jeremiah's jeremiad, which triggered scores of similar examples from primary sources -- newsletters, sermons, publications, speeches, interviews, interviews with parishoners -- and YouTube after YouTube, until we were nearly inundated in Jeremi-ism:
And more, and more, and more --
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.
Here is the usual source cited by liberals trying to make Hagee out to be as bigoted and conspiratorial as the Right Reverend Wright, Barack Obama's spiritual mentor (until political expediency forced a schism), a sermon on the Great Whore and apostate church, a snippet of which was shown on YouTube:
Again, this is unsatisfying to anyone with a skeptical mind: Nowhere does Hagee say that those two terms represent the Catholic Church today, or as a whole in any era. While I am certainly no specialist in eschatology, it sounds as if Hagee is talking about one specific manifestation of some (unnamed) church during the eventual Apocalypse.
So I really, really wanted to read Hagee's entire letter. Did he really "own up to" calling the Church "the Great Whore" and "the apostate church," as Fox News claims?
It took some digging, but at last, I found a newspaper with guts enough to print the full letter that Hagee sent. It was the Wall Street Journal; here is what the Journal had to say in its Washington Wire blog about the letter:
John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who endorsed John McCain, will issue a letter of apology to Catholics today for inflammatory remarks he has made, including accusing the Roman Catholic Church of supporting Adolf Hitler and calling it “The Great Whore....”
Hagee’s letter explains some of the harsh words he has used when describing the Catholic Church. “I better understand that reference to the Roman Catholic Church as the ‘apostate church’ and the ‘great whore’ described in the book of Revelation” -- both terms Hagee has employed -- “is a rhetorical device long employed in anti-Catholic literature and commentary,” he wrote. [Again with the vague implications! All right, he "employed" those terms -- but in that context?]
After Hagee’s endorsement of McCain, both came under fire after the spotlight was placed on other disparaging comments Hagee has made in the past. The dissection of their relationship -- How did the McCain campaign court Hagee’s endorsement? Did he know about Hagee’s comments at the time? -- coincided partly with the attention placed on Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of Barack Obama.
(It's important to understand that, other than their editorial pages, the WSJ is pretty much just as left-liberal as the rest of the elite, drive-by media.)
The article contains a link to a PDF of the letter -- just a graphic image, not OCRed. As a service to the blogosphere, I transcribed it to ordinary text; you'll find it in the "slither on."
Despite years chronicling what I call "media madness," I was nevertheless stunned by the sheer mendacity of the mainstream press, and by their casual willingness to destroy a man's life just to try to mitigate the relationship between Barack Obama (their favored candidate) and a truly horrific example of "Black Liberation Theology," the racist, America hating, conspiracy monger Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Let's start with the repeated claims that (a) John Hagee used those terms to refer to the Catholic Church, (b) lied about having done so, and (c) has now confessed to his religious bigotry. A few newsies covered Hagee's defense of himself by quoting a scant single sentence out of context; here's the Fox News version:
“Neither of these phrases can be synonymous with the Catholic Church,” he wrote.
By itself, that is baffling... especially after the same article has just told us that "Hagee... has apologized for calling the Roman Catholic Church 'the great whore' and 'the apostate church.'" The obvious conclusion we're expected to draw is that Hagee is simply lying, and clumsily so.
Yet here, from Hagee's actual letter, is the entire paragraph ending with that sentence, quoted in full:
I hope you recognize that I have repeatedly stated that my interpretation of Revelation leads me to conclude that the "apostate church" and the "great whore" appear only during the seven years of tribulation after all true believers -- Catholic and Protestant -- have been taken up to heaven. Therefore, neither of these phrases can be synonymous with the Catholic Church.
I'm not a theologian, either... but a person who believes the above would never use either term to identify the Catholic Church. Just as no religious Jew could believe that a man can be "the Messiah," no matter how holy, if he has already died -- without gathering all the Jews together again from the Diaspora, rebuilding the Temple, or ushering in the world of Isaiah's dream of beating swords into ploughshares.
Eschatologists believe in a particular sequence of events during the End Times, and the "Great Whore" and "apostate church" do not come before, but after the rapture. So Pastor Hagee has a pretty good argument that he did not mean to identify today's Catholic Church with those terms.
Any purveyor of so-called "news" with the least interest in truth would have investigated the slurs before repeating them, being squeamish about libeling an innocent man. But journalists are made of sterner stuff: For the cause, they're always willing to sacrifice -- the nearest conservative, Republican, or Christian.
So there we are. The news media live by a Spartan ideology:
- Anent conservatives, good news is no news;
- The media motto is "All the news we see fit to print;"
- Truth is negotiable; its definition is "That which advances the prospects of the Democratic Party;"
- November elections are decided in May -- so by election day, the Democrats have already won;
- If the Republicans win, see (4);
- And the typical American is liberal headed towards socialist, angry at conservatives, and an atheist, as proven by the fact that this describes the typical respondent in any media-sponsored political poll.
If you bear this in mind, a lot of otherwise inexplicable actions by the elite media suddenly make perfect sense.
As promised, click the Slither On to read the complete (two full typewritten pages) letter from John Hagee to William Donohue.
Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights
Attn: Mr. William Donohue, President
450 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10123
Dear Mr. Donohue,
Insofar as some of my past statements regarding the Roman Catholic Church have raised concerns in your community, I am writing in a spirit of mutual respect and reconciliation to clarify my views.
Out of a desire to advance greater unity among Catholics and Evangelicals in promoting the common good, I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful. After engaging in constructive dialogue with Catholic friends and leaders, I now have an improved understanding of the Catholic Church, its relation to the Jewish faith, and the history of anti-Catholicism.
In my zeal to oppose anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its ugly forms, I have often emphasized the darkest chapters in the history of Catholic and Protestant relations with the Jews. In the process, I may have contributed to the mistaken impression that the anti-Jewish violence of the Crusades and the Inquisition defines the Catholic Church. It most certainly does not. Likewise, I have not sufficiently expressed my deep appreciation for the efforts of Catholics who opposed the persecution of the Jewish people. It is important to note that there were thousands of righteous Catholics -- both clergy and laymen -- who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. According to many scholars, including historian Martin Gilbert and Rabbi David Dalin (author of the Myth of Hitler's Pope), Pope Pius XII personally intervened to save Jews.
In addition, I better understand that reference to the Roman Catholic Church as the "apostate church" and the "great whore" described in the Book of Revelation is a rhetorical device long employed in anti-Catholic literature and commentary.
I hope you recognize that I have repeatedly stated that my interpretation of Revelation leads me to conclude that the "apostate church" and the "great whore" appear only during the seven years of tribulation after all true believers -- Catholic and Protestant -- have been taken up to heaven. Therefore, neither of these phrases can be synonymous with the Catholic Church.
In recent decades, Catholics and Evangelicals of good will have worked together to defeat the evil of Communism, promote what Pope John Paul II called "a culture of life" that protects every human life from conception to natural death, honors the institution of marriage, and defends the rights of the poor.
As I wrote in my tribute to Pope Benedict XVI after President Bush welcomed him to the White House, he "spoke for all of us when he said that 'any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted' and called for Christian participation 'in the exchange of ideas in the public square.'" Both Catholics and Evangelicals have been engaged in an effort to assert the primacy of faith and values in our increasingly secular society.
My profound respect for the Catholic people has been demonstrated in my own ministry. For example, when the Ursuline Sisters of San Antonio were on the verge of losing their home, our church bought the property for our school and allowed them to continue living in their home free of charge for twelve years. The sisters were part of the daily life of the school, walking the grounds and the hallways where the children would embrace them and hold their hands in friendship. The love of our school children for these sisters symbolized my own feelings as well. I pledge to address these sensitive subjects in the future with a greater level of compassion and respect for my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is this sense of Christian fellowship I hope to reestablish with Catholics with whom I and all Evangelicals must unite to be a voice for life, the family, marriage, and Christian values to our nation and the world.
Pastor John Hagee
December 11, 2007
Read This Column!
I rarely do this. You know I rarely do this, and you know why: I'm far too enamored of the sound of my own typing to spend my time hyping someone else's griping.
But I have to say, just click here and read this splendid piece by Dennis Prager... and I don't say this just because I'm trying to suck up to the man (not just because).
Just a para or three, for the flavor:
It is not for this Jew to define a Christian. I only explain evangelical Christian opposition to Mormons calling themselves Christians to make the point that even as I understand their opposition to Mormons calling themselves Christian, I equally oppose voting for anyone based on his theology. Evangelicals have the right to proclaim Mormons as non-Christians, but they hurt themselves and their country if they measure a candidate's theology. They should concern themselves with a man's theology only when choosing a religious leader. When choosing a political leader, theology should not count.
The reason is -- and I have come to this conclusion after a lifetime of interaction with people of almost all faiths and writing about and studying religion -- theology does not appear to have much impact on people's values. Liberal Christians and Jews share virtually no theological beliefs yet think alike about virtually every important social value. So, too, conservative Christians and conservative Jews share virtually no theological beliefs, yet they think alike about virtually every important social value.
Meanwhile liberal and conservative Protestants are in agreement on theological matters -- both believe in the Trinity, in the Messiahship of Jesus, on Jesus being the Son of God, on salvation through faith rather than through works, and more -- yet they differ about virtually every social value. Obviously, shared theology doesn't create shared moral or social values.
It is, of course, a meditation on those evangelicals and others who call themselves Christian but don't appear to practice much Christian charity... on those men who wear their religion on their ballots, and who loudly proclaim they can never vote for Mitt Romney because Mormonism is "a cult." (What do they think Christianity started out as, during the days of imperial Rome?)
It's a fine, fine hymn which every him and her should hear.
March 26, 2006
Christian Conversion Case Dismissed - Rahman to Be Released
The death-penalty case against Abdul Rahman -- for daring to reject Islam -- has been dismissed because of "problems" in the prosecution's case. While the district attorney "investigates," Rahman is to be freed.
An Afghan court on Sunday dismissed a case against a man who converted from Islam to Christianity because of a lack of evidence and he will be released soon, officials said....
An official closely involved with the case told The Associated Press that it had been returned to the prosecutors for more investigation, but that in the meantime, Rahman would be released.
We sure hope somebody has the good sense to whisk Rahman out of the country to somewhere safer... like Iraq. (And while we're on the subject, how does "a lack of evidence" cause a man to convert from Islam to Christianity? Well, let it go.)
On Friday, Big Lizards noted that what was needed here was a little Talmudic reasoning: everyone in the ummah knows that Islam is self evident, and only a madman could reject it; since it is impermissible to put a madman to death for his madness, therefore no apostate can be put to death.
That is how a Jewish Talmudic scholar would reason his way out of a policy that puts his religion at odds with the real world.
So what reasoning did the court use to dismiss the case?
"The court dismissed today the case against Abdul Rahman for a lack of information and a lot of legal gaps in the case," the official said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter....
Abdul Wakil Omeri, a spokesman for the Supreme Court, confirmed that the case had been dismissed because of "problems with the prosecutors' evidence."
He said several family members of Rahman have testified that he has mental problems.
Heck, we just knew Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would find a way to pull a rabbi out of a hat!
March 24, 2006
Abdul Rahman: the Killer Cost of Conversion
The question of what the United States should do -- and even what it actually is doing, since none of us actually knows -- about the potential death sentence against Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan, for the "crime" of converting to Christianity sixteen years ago, is not as easy as we might wish it were.
Let's start with a basic distinction that is typically lost, even when the president or members of his cabinet speak: we never did attempt to "nation build" in Afghanistan the way we did in Iraq. Rather, we deposed the Taliban, encouraged Hamid Karzai to run for president, and that was about it.
It was hardly a democratic election, in the sense of a campaign with strong, competitive candidates from different parties. Karzai became the Chairman of the Transitional Administration about a month after we booted out the Taliban; the Loya Jirga appointed him Interim President in June, 2002; and in the 2004 elections, Karzai crushed his 22 "opponents," winning 21 of the 34 provinces, despite worries that he had no support outside the capital, Kabul. Karzai is to Afghanistan as George Washington was to the United States of America, or as Ho Chi Minh was to Vietnam (how's that for a comparison?)
There is a reason we did not expend anywhere near the effort to "democratize" Afghanistan as we have in Iraq: Afghanistan is such a primative, tribal country that it's highly unlikely democrazy will ever be anything but a tribal electoral college. Karzai is sort of an honorary member of nearly all the tribes in Afghanistan and the only person perceived as being simultaneously a quintessential Afghan -- yet so outside the normal tribal politics that he won't throw his weight behind any one tribe over the others. He's "safe," probably the only man in Afghanistan who makes the tribal chiefs feel secure.
Afghanistan is not a democracy in the sense that Iraq is now, nor the sense of an Indonesia, a Philippines, or a Turkey. Likely it never will be... or at least not in the forseeable future. The Pashtun -- the tribe from whose ranks the Taliban mostly come -- are still the most powerful tribe in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Pashtun control many areas (the tribe, not the Taliban, which was a popular group within the tribe).
If we were to withdraw from Afghanistan, Karzai would simply turn to other countries: Russia almost certainly, but perhaps also India (as Pakistan's mortal enemy; Kabul and Islamabad don't work or play well together). That would hurt us far more than Karzai or Afghanistan... and Karzi knows it. Thus, he knows that any such threat is just hot air on our part, and he will not be impressed.
Therefore, there simply is nothing we can do to force Afghanistan not to execute Abdul Rahman... other than trying to take over the entire country and hold it -- just as the Russians tried -- or else a "rescue" (kidnapping), which would amount to the same thing in the end. We won in 2001 because we explicitly did not try to do that; instead, we concentrated on booting out the Taliban and handing the country over to Hamid Karzai. We consulted, aided, funded, and rebuilt; we kibbitzed, and out of respect and gratitude, Afghans more or less listened to us.
And it was a miraculous success: the Taliban are gone; al-Qaeda fled to Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, and other places, fragmenting and falling into backbiting and infighting; and Afghanistan has not returned to its terrorist ways... so far. But we just don't have the same hold over Afghanistan that we do over Iraq, where most folks are desperate for us to stay, if only to protect them from each other.
We cannot force them not to execute Rahman; but we can probably persuade them... provided we do so quietly, backchannel, sotto voce, and in a way that nobody loses his face. And that, I hope, is what Bush is doing right now. As the Washington Post notes, the groundwork is already being laid for a face-saving way out:
Diplomats from several countries said yesterday that Rahman, 41, now seems unlikely to be tried or executed. Prosecutors in Kabul said he might be mentally unfit to stand trial, a sign that the government may be seeking to avoid confronting its Western allies without giving ground on Islamic law, under which conversion to another religion is punishable by death.
Strident demands that Bush "confront" the Afghans, threaten them, or even send Special Ops in to extract Rahman are very counterproductive in the long run. It's a sad fact, but we may have to turn our backs on the individual (whether Christian or Moslem shouldn't make a difference) in order to maintain an al-Qaeda-free zone in Afghanistan. Just as "we go to war with the Army we have, " as Donald Rumsfeld explained, we also must pick carefully the wars we go to at all.
There is only one valid reason for the United States to go to war: to protect the security of the United States or our allies (by extension, since alliances keep us safer than isolation). Every call to military action -- and a threat is a call to action in potentia, with identical moral value -- must be judged against this standard: will such action or such a threat make us safer or less safe?
If Rahman is executed, Bush should call a press conference to report the tragedy (so it won't look like he's trying to hide anything), but then make the point that we are not trying to turn Afghanistan into a democracy the way we are in Iraq. He can express disappointment and even anger in the decision... but he should still note that, brutal as it may be, neither the Taliban nor al-Qaeda control Afghanistan anymore, and that is what we set out to do. We have not invested in democracy in Afghanistan; our national honor is not at stake here.
Iraq is another question: Bush's strategy is to plant democracy in the heart of the Middle East... not Southern Asia.
There may simply be nothing we can do -- officially. Let's leave the president to quiet, whispered conversation with Hamid Karzai and hope that "something" can be worked out. I think that is the best course for America in the long run.
Demanding Bush make public threats would be "unhelpful," both for America and even Rahman himself.
November 19, 2005
Agnostic Defends Faithful Against Atheist
This case could not have come at a better time:
Atheist Now Sues to Take Motto Off Money
Nov 18, 2005
By David Kravets
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (AP) - An atheist who has spent four years trying to ban the Pledge of Allegiance from being recited in public schools is now challenging the motto printed on U.S. currency because it refers to God.
Michael Newdow seeks to remove "In God We Trust" from U.S. coins and dollar bills, claiming in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that the motto is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. [Emphasis added]
I believe the result of this case is obvious: the Supreme Court will rule against Newdow, probably on a 5-4 decision led by the Chief Justice.
Let's start with the specifics: there is no constitutional prohibition against an "endorsement of religion." There is a First-Amendment ban on establishing a religion, but establishing and endorsing are completely separate. To the extent that judges pretend there is such a ban (for example, the Ninth Circuit in Michael Newdow's first Pledge of Allegiance case), they are covertly amending the Constitution -- and they well know it.
For this to stick, however, you need a Supreme Court to go along with the game and pretend that merely mentioning the fact that the nation was founded by men who believed in God, or at least "Nature and Nature's God," and who did in fact put their trust in that deity, violates the Constitution written by those very same Founders. If that's a logical inference, then I am Marie of Romania.
This should perhaps ring a bell:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of the divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
The Declaration of Independence is the foremost foundational document of our nation; all else, including the revered Constitution, was derived from this document. And this document itself was incorporated into federal law more than 125 years ago as one of the Organic Laws of the United States (along with the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787... and to answer Scott Johnson's question at the end of the Power Line piece, the Northwest Ordinance was the first piece of legislation from the Continental Congress -- predating even the Constitution -- that made it clear the United States would expand westward across the continent... and would do so by creating new states, rather than by making existing states larger; thus, it was every bit as influential on the "shape" of the United States as was the Constitution itself).
Sorry about the digression. Where was I? Oh yes, the primary foundational document unambiguously puts trust in God... hence the money motto. The phrase "in God we trust" is therefore historical, traditional, and descriptive; while the First Amendment only prohibits a prescriptive establishment of religion, such as the Church of England, and any proscription of the free-exercise of religion.
But Scott notes an important point in that Power Line piece I just linked, discussing the Ninth Circus Court of Appeals' agreement with Newdow that the Pledge was unconstitutional:
One interesting facet of the decision is that it only modestly extends the Supreme Court's misguided First Amendment jurisprudence on the subject of religion in the schools; I have read very little suggesting that the decision misapplies the jurisprudence.
So in fact, Newdow is making a good "paper bet" that the Supreme Court will play along with the charade; after all, it always has in the past. Even when they struck down the Ninth's decision, they did so on the weakest of all possible grounds: the Court simply found that Michael Newdow had no standing to sue on behalf of his daughter because he did not have custody. They never addressed the merits of the case.
So why is this the best possible time? Because we are virtually assured that this time, the case will actually be decided on the merits -- and that this time too, the Court will prune away that "misguided First Amendment jurisprudence on the subject of religion."
Not because of the changes in the makeup of the Court; Sandra Day O'Connor and William Rehnquist, replaced by Samuel Alito and John Roberts respectively, joined with Clarence Thomas the last time through, calling on the Court to decide the actual issue, rather than punting.
So why did they punt last time? I deduce it was because it would have ended up a four-four tie had they ruled on the merits.
The problem with the Pledge case was that Antonin Scalia recused himself, since he had given a speech on the subject of the case; so there were only eight justices hearing it. Now, let's suppose there were five justices ready to rule that the Pledge was indeed unconstitutional. In that case, I cannot imagine they would have gone along with booting the case on a technicality that they well could have ignored, or at least signaling in their opinions that if he refiles properly (as he now has done in Son of the Pledge of Allegiance), he'll be very happy with the results.
But by the same token, we know there were three justices who believed it was constitutional: Thomas, O'Connor, and Rehnquist. If there were two more, even without Scalia, then they would have done what they said they wanted to do: ruled on the merits and struck down the Ninth's decision more substantively.
Ergo, with my two lemmas above -- no five justices in favor of upholding the Ninth, nor five in favor of overturning it on substantive matters -- plus the Scalia recusal, I finally conclude that the score was 4-4... hence the compromise.
And that leaves Antonin Scalia. I believe that Scalia would have seen the light on the Pledge case and will do so in the coinage case: that the phrase is no more an establishment of religion than is the eye-and-pyramid seal an establishment of Freemasonry. Therefore, assuming Scalia can keep his piehole shut this time and needn't recuse himself, the case will probably hinge 5-4 in favor of sending Newdow away with a flea in his ear.
In fact, I think I can even name the five justices who will so rule: Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy. Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens (assuming he's still sucking air and not retired by then) will vote with Newdow... and David Souter is a coin-toss on this issue, in my opinion.
Hm, just as I thought: it was obvious, after all!
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