Category ►►► God in the Dry Dock
August 25, 2012
You see this kind of thing pop up on a regular basis, but usually not until toward the end of the year when the Yuletide is nigh and the forces of political correctness wage their annual war on Christmas. In this case, however, it seems the atheists were out to make their mark on the electoral season -- at least until Fox News highlighted their shenanigans and caused the kind of outrage you'd expect:
American Atheists and Adams Outdoor Advertising are removing two Charlotte billboards slamming Christianity and Mormonism after the national atheists' group said it received an outpouring of public anger and threats.
The billboards, targeting the faiths of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, went up about two weeks ago. They were supposed to be present for the duration of the national conventions, though there were only billboards in Charlotte.
Amanda Knief, the managing director of American Atheists, said that a report from Fox News about the billboards this Wednesday incited a national outpouring of "vitriol, threats and hate speech against our staff, volunteers and Adams Outdoor Advertising."
For the record, the Fox News version of the article has a photo of the billboard in question -- and the subtle message it converys: "Sadistic God; Useless Savior. Promotes Hate, Calls it Love." How in the world could anyone resist such an enticing pitch? Why, it's enough to make me want to turn in my right-wing religious conspiracy membership card right this second.
Honestly, I don't understand how people who hold themselves up as paragons of intelligence and reason could be so monumentally stupid in their approach. Here's a hint, guys: when you start off by taking a big ol' leak all over a person's faith, you're going to provoke this kind of response. And what's with this "vitriol" and "hate speech" business? Isn't that precisely what the athetists were dumping on Christianity with that billboard? Playground rules state clearly that if you're going to dish it out, you best be prepared to take it.
No, what we're seeing here is yet another example of Leftist Logic: My position is the correct one, therefore anything I say and do is justifiable. If, on the other hand, you believe the opposite and respond in kind, you're a hatemonger and a threat. Everybody got that?
Good. See you next Christmas!
March 28, 2012
A Universe Perhaps From Something - a Second and Conciser Critique
of the Central Tenet of Lawrence M. Krauss's a Universe From Nothing
I have not read Krauss's book, a Universe From Nothing; I cheerfully admit as such up front. But funnily enough, I can still shatter its core argument... and in a lot fewer words than used by David Albert a few days ago in the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times, in his equally devastating (but overlong) piece, "On the Origin of Everything."
And I promise that the sentence above will be the longest and most convoluted in this post.
Krauss purports to prove, whether he admits it or not, that God did not create the universe, and indeed does not exist at all. His thesis culminates with what he alleges to be a scientific -- i.e., non-supernatural -- answer to the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?", which he sees as the crux of what his cohort, militant atheist Richard Dawkins, who wrote the afterword to Krauss's book, would call the "God delusion." (I'll deal with this -- the "God of the gaps" argument, a.k.a. the Thunder Fallacy -- in more depth below.)
Krauss's answer to his question is thus: Contemporary quantum mechanics demonstrates that what we have historically called "nothing," an absence of any physical substance, is in fact something, quantum fields interacting with other quantum fields; and that the original "nothing-something" can reformulate itself as "something-something," that is, physical particles and suchlike.
Distinct quantum fields can combine in various ways. When they combine in some ways, they create physical particles -- electrons, protons, neutrons, other, more exotic critters, and their quark building blocks. But when they combine in other ways, they create "things" that have no mass, no charge, and no other detectable properties... in other words, what earlier scientists would have called "nothing." (I'm doing my best here as a non-physicist; but even if I get the specifics of Krauss's scientific argument wrong, that doesn't change my point, as you will see.)
Under current theory, quantum fields can interact, break up, and realign themselves into different configurations. Which means that fields that are currently combined in ways that create so-called "nothing" can recombine in ways that create physical somethings.
And that is what he means by saying he has solved the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"
Albert's critique is a bit of handwaving -- appropriate because he's responding to an argument by Krauss that is a lot of handwaving. Albert essentially argues that, by Krauss's own description, previous ages of scientists, philosophers, and theologians were simply wrong to think that "empty space" actually comprised literaly nothing; it was always something, to wit, quantum fields arranged in certain ways. Therefore, Albert argues, even Krauss agrees that the universe was not created out of nothing but rather out of something; and the title of Krauss's book is misleading.
And who, Albert argues, created the quantum fields in the first place, not to mention the rules by which they can combine, and the rules preventing them from combining in other ways? Albert argues that all Krauss has done is push divine Creation back one step: Instead of asking, "Who or what created the physical world with us on it?", we must instead ask, "Who or what created the quantum fields and the physical rules that govern them, such that our physical world came into existence with us on it?"
Which is logically the same question, and Krauss is simply begging it.
Krauss complains that his critics are moving the goal posts. The theologians said that God must exist because how else could the universe be created out of nothing; I have proven that physics itself says things can be created out of nothing; but now the critics say that's not good enough, because those very theologians were wrong about nothingness in the first place!
Is that unfairly moving the goal posts? No; and for Krauss to maintain that it is ensnares him in the same trap that has caught many religious folk, when they argue, e.g., that evolutionary theory keeps "moving the goal posts."
Evolutionary science evolves -- pun noted -- because all science evolves. By the very nature of science, theory is constantly checked against observation; and when empirical measurement finds anomalous results, they must be explained. If they cannot be explained by finding some demonstrable error in the testing or analysis of results, then current theory must be changed to accomodate the new observation.
Science is therefore self-correcting, in a way that other disciplines are not. That is not a bug, it's a feature.
However, philosophy, to the extent it is grounded in physical reality, must necessarily also change along with the scientific concensus: When Johannes Kepler discovered that the planets orbited the sun, not in circles (with or without "epicycles") but rather in elipses (squashed circles), philosophy, including religion, had to change its fundamental theory that God pushed the planets around in circles because He is perfect, and the circle is the perfect curve.
Likewise, contemporary religion must remake itself to take into account the scientific truths that the species of Earth, including humans, physically evolved from simpler creatures; and also that quantum theory indicates that what appears to be nothing can reorganize itself into what is obviously something. It's not "moving the goal posts;" it's simply philosophy accepting the evolving nature of scientific understanding. Why should that get Krauss's knickers in a twist?
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of Krauss's (or Albert's) science; but fortunately, there is no need. The better critique is to get at the core of Krauss's argument and bypass the question of who or what created quantum fields.
And here it is: Who cares if Krauss has an explanation of how physical somethings can spontaneously spring into existence from nothing? How could that prove the nonexistence of God? The only logical connection that would make that argument work is that Krauss must assume that there is one and only one reason why believers believe in God: because they think there is some "gap" in scientific understanding that can only be filled by God.
Plug that gap, and poof! No more need for God. This, Krauss appears to think he has accomplished.
Francis Collins, author of in indispensible book the Language of God (which I did read) -- former head of the Human Genome Project -- calls this the "God of the gaps" argument, and it goes much like this:
- Current scientific theory cannot explain why X occurs.
- Thus there is a gap in science.
- Aha! That gap must be where God lives! Clearly, God causes X to occur every time it's necessary.
But what happens when scientific theory is changed, as above? Suppose science does now explain very nicely why X occurs? What happens to the God of the gap?
There are two general classes of response: The gapper can quibble whether new theory A really does explain gap X; or he can find another aspect Y, a deeper part of X, that is not fully explained by current theory... and aha again, that's where God actually lives!
Yep, it's turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down. But that other aspect Y is almost necessarily narrower and more technical than the original X. And as Collins (who is himself very Christian) argues, the gaps in which God lives get smaller and smaller, until finally He is squeezed right out. And that's why "God of the gaps" theologians oft become atheists: They run out of gaps in which God can hide.
More melodramatically, I call this argument the Thunder Fallacy -- that we need God to explain the thunder and lightning, the floods, the earthquakes, and the other scary threats that seem to arise out of nowhere. They're punishments by God for some sin we have committed.
But isn't that quite a primitive, petty, and meagre conception of what is supposed to be an omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-good being? I don't know why the sun shines, so God created it. I don't know where people came from, so God individually created them. I don't know how the Bernoulli Effect works, so God reaches down and grabs all the airplanes, holding them in the sky. You may as well say it's ju-ju.
Your dog doesn't understand how food keeps appearing in the magic bowl; but to humans, there is a simple explanation. Alas for Fido, it's simply beyond his ken. And much of the universe is beyond the ken of even the most genius human being; but is everything unexplained therefore unexplainable?
Krauss phrases his killer question as a "why," but it's actually a "how" -- Under quantum field theory, how, by what mechanism, does something materialize out of what appears to be nothing? Assume Krauss is correct: How in cosmos does that prove there is no God?
Even if it's possible for a universe to spring into existence ex nihilo, by itself and without being created by God, how does that prove that our own universe was not created by God? At best, Krauss can prove that we cannot use the Thunder Fallacy, the God of the gaps argument, to prove that the existence of Universe requires special creation by God.
Krauss might be able to demonstrate that God is not required to create a universe, but he surely cannot demonstrate that there is no God, or that God did not create this universe; maybe God is not a necessary condition for our universe, but He certainly would be a sufficient one, if He existed. Likewise, believers cannot use science to prove that God does exist and did create this universe, for the same reason you can't crack a walnut by hitting it with a hard calculus equation: Nutcrackers and mathematics are both useful tools, but they're hardly interchangeable.
And that is all Krauss has done; he has clearly shown that the existence of God cannot be proven by scientific reasoning... an insight that philosophers and theologians latched onto several centuries ago: If God's existence and/or nature could be proved by pure reason, argue the religious, then there would be no need for faith.
Speaking as a bona-fide agnostic -- not like most, who declare themselves agnostics but in fact are cowardly atheists -- I have always understood that God can neither be demonstrated nor refuted by logical or scientific means; He cannot be measured or deduced. I wrote a paper about it at university nearly 35 years ago, and it was an ancient, almost trite argument even then.
Congratulations, Lawrence Krauss... your scientific ontogeny has recapitulated philosophical phylogeny!
All right, all right, so my critique wasn't any more concise than Albert's after all. But by golly, it's more universal and doesn't fall prey to the Thunder Fallacy. So there. Krauss's argument that something can arise from what used to be called nothing proves nothing at all about the existence or nonexistence of God. It proves only that that particular "gap" in science has (perhaps) now been filled, thus it cannot be hiding a mysteriously shy and reticent Almighty.
But we already knew that, didn't we?
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
July 28, 2011
Right-Wing Folly, Another Reason Why I Am Not a Conservative
Two epigrams bubble up in my cerebrum at the moment. The first is just a statement of principle that seems to encapsulate the essence of Americanism; too bad so few on the side of goodness affirm it:
- For society's sake, it's best the consensus of the people sticks to the traditional values of monogamy, loyalty, decency, and faithfulness; but for liberty's sake, it's best that the people's government sticks to encouraging, not enforcing, such tradition.
And the other is more flip but equally true in my opinion:
- Extremism in defense of conservatism is -- still extremism.
A momentous civil-liberties lawsuit in Utah pits two opposing forces against each other, forever locked in battle unto the end of time (like that old Star Trek episode). Both sides spin their arguments around the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, like planets orbiting the same sun. On its face, the Court simply struck down all federal and state laws against "sodomy," however defined; it did not make any findings anent marriage.
But each side accepts the same central folly, spinning the consequences of of that supposition in opposite but equally extreme directions. Side A, which we generally call the Dark Side, abuses and twists that case pretzel-like in order to argue that laws banning polygamy are unconstitutional (as the same partisans also argue that laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional); by extension, Side A argues that every state in the United States of America must immediately allow "plural" marriages.
The flip side -- which conservatives ironically call Righteousness -- uses the same argument used by polygamists: Some radical marital "reformers" make paralogical arguments, twisting the principle of simple liberty and "the right to be let alone" into a paeon to perversity; therefore, conservatives argue that liberty itself is suspect and must be curtailed. Side B ripostes that citizens must be legally prevented from doing icky things that might nauseate decent folk and frighten the horses.
But let's get less airy-fairy and more specific:
The suer is Kody Brown, who stars in a TLC "reality" show called Sister Wives, which I've never seen; the dissenter is Power Line's own Scott Johnson. And yes, on this subject, both are equally extreme and impervious to reason.
Brown argues from Lawrence that if a man has the right to cohabitate -- to live with -- more than one woman, then clearly he has the right to marry them all. That is a complete non-sequitur, of course; the principle of liberty means we can do as we please, so long as we're not harming others. In Lawrence, the Supreme Court found (albeit via flawed reasoning from the noisome Griswold v. Connectucut) a principle of liberty that it nevertheless true; it ought to be considered "self evident"... that there is a fundamental right to a zone of independence around each individual, inside of which government cannot intervene save to protect another and non-consenting individual.
That us, under liberty, if two adult men want to have intimate relations with each other, privately and without coercion, then government cannot arrest them for it. Likewise if one man and three women want to have intimate relations, or two men and one woman, so long as all are consenting adults. Prior to Lawrence, trysts of this sort were lumped under the label "sodomy" and were criminal acts under the laws of a number of states. For that matter, the same statutes often criminalized certain types of sex between husband and wife -- fellatio and cunnilingus, for example. It was an extraordinary, pre-modern burst of authoritarianism, now defended only by some movement-conservatives.
I assert that a government with the legal power to dictate what sexual positions a husband and wife, or any other group of consenting adults, can legally perform is a tyranny of the most grotesque and unAmerican sort, where citizens are owned by the State.
Yes, I know full well that the Founding Fathers, to a man, supported such laws against sodomy; they were wrong. They were misled by the emotional and religious baggage of their society and upbringing, which prevented them from seeing that the logic of their own arguments for liberty belied their emotional inconsistency, just as it belied acceptance of slavery and of state-established churches. Either one believes in freedom of conscience; or one believes that ultimately, the State can condemn you for dissent, thoughtcrime, or nonconformity. There really is no middle ground.
But granting the fundamental right to do something perverse does not obligate society to applaud the perversity: The same freedom of conscience that says I cannot stop Brown from living with three "sister wives" in addition to his legal spouse likewise prevents him from forcing me to sanctify such a relationship by calling it "marriage." But that is exactly what Kody Brown demands:
Reality-TV star Kody Brown and his “sister wives” may not intend to be an example of the “slippery slope” in the gay-marriage debate, but their new lawsuit against Utah’s anti-polygamy laws bolsters the argument that legalizing marriage for same-sex couples could open the door to recognition of other kinds of marriages.
Mr. Brown; his legal wife, Meri Brown; and “sister wives” Janelle Brown, Christine Brown and Robyn Sullivan, who appear with their 16 children on “Sister Wives” on TLC, want Utah’s anti-polygamy laws declared unconstitutional and unenforceable on their “plural family.” [Emphasis added -- DaH]
I readily admit there is a serious problem with the Utah statute, if it's being accurately and honestly reported by the Washington Times (and I have no reason to believe otherwise): The law evidently bans not only polygamy itself, the marrying of more than one wife, but something more sinister:
In the Brown lawsuit, Mr. Turley and Mr. Alba said the Brown family, members of the Apostolic United Brethren faith, has committed no crime except to live together, “motivated by their sincere religious beliefs and love for one another.”
States cannot “criminalize consensual intimate relationships, including homosexual relationships, between unmarried adults,” the lawyers wrote, citing the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas.
And yet Utah has a law that forbids a legally married person from “purport[ing] to marry another person or cohabit[ing] with another person,” the lawyers wrote. [Emphasis added -- DaH.]
With this and other anti-polygamy laws, Utah “criminalizes not just polygamous marriages, but also an array of plural intimate relationships and associations of consenting adults,” Mr. Turley and Mr. Alba wrote.
In other words, the Utah law bans not only plural marriage, it appears also to ban plural living arrangements, even those not legally blessed as "marriage." Only one of the women with whom Brown lives is his legal wife; to the eyes of the law, the rest are just honeys.
The Brown family’s “basic liberties and equal protection” are being violated, they added, asking the court to “preliminarily and permanently” block enforcement of Utah’s laws that ban and criminalize polygamy.
I absolutely agree that the "basic liberties" of Brown and the individual women are violated by the Utah anti-polygamy statute, but only to the extent that it criminalizes living together. But I reject the "equal protection" argument, the ground used in most cases that seek to overturn the traditional definition of marriage; and in any event, the solution to the unconstitutionality of one part of a law is not to toss the entire law out, but to make the smallest possible change consonant with the demands of liberty, as enunciated by the Court.
In this case, toss out the part that bans "cohabit[ation] with another person," but keep the part that bans declaring such relationships legal "marriage." That is, ban polygamy but not shacking up.
This is where the logic of the Left flies to flinders: Under liberty, you can do a great many bizarre, outre, unconventional, kooky, or perverse things; but one thing you cannot demand is that society embrace and ratify your perversities and eccentricities, a democratic State's imprimatur and nihil obstat. You have the right to give yourself a high colonic with Liquid Draino, but it's a stupid idea; and don't expect me to shout "mazel tov" when you finish.
I would have thought it obvious: I am allowed to write what I please; but the State isn't required to support my writing or even give me a prize. In the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson, "duh!" But it appears that Brown believes that anything he has a right to do, he also has a right to demand official praise for doing.
In a freakish twist of fate, contemporary conservatives appear to have locked themselves into supporting the same paralogia, albeit to prove the opposite conclusion.
It seems monstrous to me to argue that any government, even at the state or local level, can put you in prison for using an unapproved sexual position in the privacy of your own home. But when movement conservatives argue that Lawrence v. Texas should be overturned -- as nearly all of them do -- that is precisely the position they stake out: They're all in favor of "individual liberty" -- but not when that means engaging in sex that conservatives don't like. Casual day has gone too far; there oughta be a law!
If it was simple prejudice, t'would a simple task to point out the hypocrisy; more than likely, a fair-minded person would admit being led astray by thinking with his heart, when the proper organ for such cogitation is further north. But our movement-conservatives (with whom I typically ally) buttress their glandular rejection of homosexuality and polyamory with specious, backwards reasoning: They argue that Lawrence must be wrong because it leads to overturning traditional marriage. Or as a pal of mine says, "It can't be true, because it would be so dreadful if it were true!"
In other words, conservatives typically argue that the liberal argument is right: If you have a right to cohabitate with anybody, that necessarily implies a right to marry anybody.
Therefore, you have no right to cohabitate. (Supposed "reductio ad absurdum.")
But the absurdity is not Lawrence v. Texas; the absurdity is inventing a nonexistent and inconsistent rule of inference, that allowing an action means approval of that action... the invalidity of which we surely have proven by now (ad nauseum).
But here is Scott Johnson making that exact argument in the Power Line post:
Now comes Professor Jonathan Turley to the defense of polygamy. Professot Turley represents one Kody Brown, a man, and his four wives and 16 children -- who, he notes in a New York Times op-ed column, are the focus of a reality program on the cable channel TLC called “Sister Wives.” One of the marriages is legal and the others are what the family calls “spiritual.” Professor Turley is lead counsel in the recently filed lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Utah law criminalizing polygamy....
Professor Turley relies for his argument on the logic of the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision overturning state sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas. Professor Turley has a point -- indeed, some of us criticized the Lawrence decision on precisely that ground -- though Justice Kennedy’s opinion waltzed away from the question of polygamy. And it didn’t even mention laws against bestiality and incest. Perhaps Professor Turley will undertake the glorious cause of extending Lawrence to them in another case.
The link, supplied by Scott himself, points to a Power Line post of his from 2003, just after the Court decided Lawrence. Here is the smoking gun:
In one sense the Supreme Court’s opinion today in Lawrence v. Texas, asserting the existence of a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy, was utterly predictable. Thirty years ago the liberal constitutional scholar John Hart Ely wrote a classic law review article (“The Wages of Crying Wolf”) condemning the jurisprudence of Roe v. Wade, and Lawrence is in a sense only a few steps further down the jurisprudential arc that will end, as Justice Scalia notes in dissent, in the constitutional right to homosexual marriage, prostitution, bigamy, and adult incest.
There is a trivial sense in which Scalia could be right; lawless judges can seize upon and twist the language of Lawrence to argue something radically different from the actual findings. However, the true source of Scott's position would seem not to be reason and logic but something more atavistic: a visceral loathing of certain icky kinds of sex (as opposed to other, more privileged positions and partners). He continues in lurid prose:
Among the founders, sodomy was universally condemned as a crime against nature. It was illegal in each of the thirteen states existing at the time the Constitution was ratified and the Bill of Rights was adopted. In Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia, it was a crime punishable by death. When Jefferson wrote an amendment to the criminal code lessening the penalty for sodomy, he nevertheless classed it as a crime with rape, polygamy, and incest.
Today the Supreme Court declares that homosexual sodomy constitutes “a form of liberty of the person in both its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.” Justice Kennedy, the author of this nauseating palaver, is obviously so in love with what he thinks is his own eloquent rhetoric that he fails to notice his laughable double entendre. What is not funny, however, is the destruction of the recognition of the laws of nature and nature’s God on which our true rights depend. The Supreme Court’s opinion today is an act of political destruction that should be recognized as such.
All that -- for holding that private sex between consenting adults is none of the State's damn business! It's a marvel Scott didn't toss in heresy, treason, crimes against humanity and the future, and the ritualistic summoning of the Elder Gods as further indictments. (I can only infer he was so hopping mad, he didn't think of them.)
So what do we have? The same conservatives who are outraged that the government dares tell them what to wear, how much to eat, where to recreate, who to choose as their doctors, how to finance and invest, and whether companies can fly corporate jets, now welcome (with gusto!) government control of sexual relations.
What's wrong with this picture?
The only distinction between the activities above is that the last is the most personal, the most intimate, and lies most thoroughly within the "zone of independence" of them all. Is the conservative argument that the more private and emotionally intimate the activity, the greater the authority of the State to control and regulate it?
Where else does that priority hold? What parents teach their children about right and wrong is surely more intimate and private than what they teach them about fashion and hairstyle; should the former therefore be subject to rigid governmental review and control, with only the latter trivia left to the discretion of individual parents? The argument is risible.
I wish I could call it a straw-man construction, but I can think of no other reason why conservatives argue that the State can tell us who to make love to -- but for God's sake, don't monkey with our Happy Meals!
But lose not sight of the point: Scott Johnson embraces the cri de coeur from fellow movement-conservative, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, that the freedom to be intimate with whom you want (rather than with whom the government allows) is logically equivalent to license to legally marry persons of the same sex, close relatives, and persons already married, and license to commit the inhumane crime of bestiality and even the horrific, violent crime of forcible rape! Yes, I can certainly see that those acts are all of a feather.
And where is Scott's argument why this should be so? It doesn't seem facially obvious to me. Would he likewise argue that if government allows nude beaches, we'll be constitutionally required to legalize public orgies in middle school? The route between point A and point B on the "slippery slope" seems no less preposterous than the connection between decriminalizing "sodomy" (in private, among consenting adults) and legalizing bigamy, same-sex marriage, consanguineous marriage, bestiality, and rape.
I don't know about Scott himself, but I speculate that for most conservatives, they have no real syllogism; their "thoughts" on this issue are actually feelings, emotional responses that have no, and need no rational explanation.
Where does this leave us? It's not the only issue on which conservatives can be as mulish and irrational as liberals. Immigration and drug policy are two others, but the worst is modern biological evolutionary theory. The last is the most similar example to conservative allergy to sexual liberty:
- Many dyed in the wool atheists -- including Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, Philip Pullman (of the wretched His Dark Materials books) -- insist that accepting the idea of evolution by natural selection requires one to reject God and faith and embrace atheism.
- A large number of conservatives with inadequate scientific schooling -- including Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Michael Medved, Ben Stein -- completely swallow the liberal argument.
- Therefore, being unwilling to reject God, they instead reject modern evolutionary biology, casting overboard more than a century of brilliant and apolitical science.
In fact, there is no logical or rational connection between allowing sexual freedom and requiring the definition of marriage to include any old relationship somebody might want; just as there is no reasoned conflict at all between biological evolution and faith in a theistic God, as Francis S. Collins conclusively proves in the Language of God; but there you are: Conservatives reject both as unthinkingly and reflexively as liberals denounce the Koch brothers, and for eerily similar reasons.
So I say again: Extremism in defense of conservatism is certainly less annoying than the liberal strain... but it's no less extremist -- and no more rational.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
July 18, 2011
Comin' In on a Swing and a Prayer
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (or the "Froms!;" I spells 'em as I hears 'em) are atheist kissin'-cousin to the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. (Shortform: the "United Separators" -- imagine the crossover membership!)
The Froms! are bedeviled by Texas Gov. and potential presidential candidate Rick Perry's upcoming come-to-Jesus meeting, which he dubs "the Response." The Froms! insist that any religious worship, prayer, speech, or other external manifestation of (deep breath) faith violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution -- "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." So they're suing in federal court to shut down the Response:
FFRF president Annie Laurie Gaylor says the suit is warranted because Mr. Perry does not see a distinction between his personal beliefs and his duty and obligations as the state’s chief executive. “He has taken an oath of office to uphold a completely secular and godless Constitution where there is no religion in it - much less Jesus, much less days of prayer and fasting,” she told The Washington Times in an interview. “It’s way over the top.”
Godless? Shh... nobody tell Ms. Gaylor about the phrase "in the Year of our Lord," which occurs in the penultimate sentence of the Constitution; a skosh Christian, that. Her head might explode. Oh, and try not to upset her by quoting the free-exercise clause of the same amendment she cites in support of enforced atheism: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
But Ms. Gaylor marches to the tune of a different little drummer boy:
Mr. Perry had issued a proclamation declaring Saturday, Aug. 6 to be “A Day of Prayer and Fasting for Our Nation.” The official document invited Texans to join him at Reliant Stadium to “pray for unity and righteousness - for this great state, this great nation and all mankind....”
Such statements by a public official are prohibited by the Constitution, in Ms. Gaylor’s view. “The First Amendment means that the government does not engage in religious speech,” she explained. Her organization’s goal is to stamp religion out of government, even the daily prayer that has opened Congress since 1789.
I'm puzzled how “The First Amendment means that the government does not engage in religious speech” jibes with the second part of that same amendment, the part commanding that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech;" but I'm sure she has a slick and glib argument she simply didn't have time to enunciate.
I am always amazed by those who wear Godlessness on their sleeves. I myself am an agnostic; but when I say agnostic, I mean just that; it's not code for "atheist." I would very much like to believe in what Dennis Prager calls an "ethical monotheistic" God, but I cannot without some evidence. And try as I might, with the strongest of motivations, I am unpersuaded by everything from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity to the latest attempts to derive faith from physics.
Well, many religious have claimed for centuries that faith is unprovable; I may be on a fool's errand.
But the very last thing I want for the United States is for it to become "Godless!" The triumphantly Godless societies that spring to mind are North Korea, Mao's China, Stalin's Russia, and Hitler's Nazi Germany. I don't want to live in any of those countries.
(Yes, I know that the Third Reich cynically encouraged the great unwashed to "revive" the Germanic/Norse beliefs; but the Nazi high command were almost uniformly atheist, seeing Wotan-worship as nothing but a way to deflect Germans from the "Jewish conspiracy" of Christianity.)
Similarly, I don't want to live in a world the religion of which sprouts, not from ethical monotheism, but from a God who is either not unitary or who doesn't have justice and mercy between people as his primary commandment.
I don't want to live in a world driven by a polytheistic gaggle of competing gods and godlings, where any act of violence, betrayal, treachery, or thievery can be justified simply by finding the right god (Loki, Hermes, Kali) to worship. Nor do I want to live under the thumb of priests or imams who believe that God's most urgent commandment is to follow every tot and jittle of ritual and tightly scripted prayer, at the expense of the lives, fortunes, and sacred honor of the fallible human beings caught in the maelstrom of rigid religiosity and soulless rulemongering. I will not live in a world of dead ritual and ossified tradition that constricts my every thought.
As an agnostic living in a modern (post enlightenment, post renaissance) Christian country, my fundamental right to be my potty self is protected, by religious and irreligious alike. But an agnostic under Communism; or under the pantheistic nature-worship of central Africa; or the forced faith, blood-reddened, heartless fanaticism of Iran; or even in a world spawned from a modern American flying-saucer cargo cult, in which an awful lot of holistic healing, crystal dangling, chakra hallucinating, hippie "atheists" eventually immerse themselves... an agnostic like me in any of the alternatives to Judeo-Christian culture would live a terrifying, and abbreviated, life indeed!
So if you don't mind, Ms. Gaylor, and even if you do, will U. kindly F.O.? When pushmi comes to pullyu, what I really don't believe in are the Froms!, the United Separators -- and Annie Laurie Gaylor.
None of you exists. So there.
April 25, 2011
Easter Egg on B.O.'s Face
Given that Barack H. Obama has commemorated every Moslem holiday and holy day on the calendar; and given that he had ample notice what time of year it was, since he participated in the annual "Easter Egg Roll" at la Casa Blanca today, the day after Easter Sunday; and given that he signally and (it is obvious) deliberately refrained from any form of commemoration of the most important holy day in Christendom... I cannot but take as my default position that Barack Obama is, in fact, a Moslem.
It's still a rebuttable default; but if he has been trying to rebut it, it's not evident to me. He can ramble on about being beyond good and evil, or whatever he claims; but I say it's spinach, and I say to heck with it. If he were really above the fray, then either he would commemorate all major religious holy days, or none.
So until he proves otherwise -- and I no longer take his bare word for it -- I shall consider Barack Hussein Obama to be a Moslem, or as near as makes no difference.
(Could that be why he won't release his full, long-form birth certificate? Back in '61, many states still listed the religion of the newborn baby -- I don't know whether Hawaii was one. Admittedly, even if it did, it would be logically meaningless: A baby has no "religion" per se; that's what confirmation is for. Nevertheless, it might still be terribly embarassing and hard to explain if that box was filled in with an "M"!)
October 24, 2010
The Godot We Know part Bet
As noted before, it's critical to all physical arguments for the existence of God to prove that the age of the universe is not only finite but young, in a relative sense. The reason for this is the heart of Father Spitzer's argument:
- Of all the imaginable sets of physical constants (such as the speed of light in a vacuum, the gravitational constant, Planck's constant, etc.) that define a universe, there are extraordinarily more sets that define a universe in which life as we know it is not possible, than there are sets that define a universe in which life is possible. That is, if you randomly define the physical constants, you'll almost certainly end up with a universe where life as we know it simply cannot exist.
It takes a very special set of constants for life even to be possible.
For example, if gravity decreased by the cube of the distance from matter, rather than the square of the distance (as it does in our universe), gravity probably wouldn't be strong enough to pull matter together into planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies. We would have a slurry of molecules permeating the universe, and we cannot really imagine life arising from such a uniform putty.
- So if we assume that physical constants randomly assume values around the time of a Big-Bang event, the odds of any one particular universe, defined by a random set of constants, being "life-friendly" (allowing life to arise) are vanishingly small. Pick a random universe and it almost certainly cannot give rise to life.
- Yet we know at least one universe allowed the existence of life, because, well, here we are!
- Now, if a literally infinite time is available for repeated universes to emerge, then every possible value for the physical constants will appear at some point; every possible combination of values will appear at some point; and that means that every possible life-friendly universe is certain to appear -- at some point. It won't happen often, but many, many life-friendly universes will eventually emerge.
- However, if there is only a limited, finite time available for emerging universes; and if that finite time is relatively small, compared to the odds against a life-friendly universe; then the odds are vanishingly small that any life-friendly universe would ever emerge, anywhere, anytime... there's just not enough time.
This is an important concept. If some event is very, very improbable -- a life-friendly universe created by a random arrangement of universal constants -- then it will only happen if you have an enormous number of attempts. If you flip a coin enough times, eventually it will land on its edge and balance there, landing neither heads nor tails. But you can only expect that if you flip an enormous number of coins.
Since a life-friendly universe is much less likely than a coin landing on edge, the number of times a (random) universe would have to emerge in order for even a single one of them to be life-friendly is so large, we humans would have a hard time distinguishing it from infinity. It's that big.
- Thus, if any such life-friendly universe emerges in a short length of time (see point 3), we should conclude the constants are not set randomly but are severely constrained, so as to favor those values that lead to a universe in which life can form, and subsequently evolve into intelligence and sentience.
If you flip a coin only four or five times, and it lands on edge, you'd have to conclude that there was something "funny," something non-random, about that particular coin. Same if you shuffled a deck -- and found all the cards arranged by suit and number, from the two of clubs up to the ace of spades. It must have been rigged somehow!
- Therefore, the life-friendly coherence and order we observe in our own universe implies a strong possibility, at least, that some intelligent being created, or at least designed our universe... if, that is, only a finite and relatively short period of time has been available for universes to emerge.
So to be able to conclude that our universe was tailor-made by a designer, there must be an anomaly: A short period of time in which universes can be created via Big Bang events, therefore only a small number of universes -- but we've already gotten one that can sustain life. That's so improbable, the only plausible explanation is that... something or somebody has been busy loading the dice!
That's why it's critical to Spitzer's argument to show that the past age of any collection of universes is both finite and fairly young: Because if the age of a collection of universes is infinite, or even very large compared to the odds against, then it's no surprise that we get the occasional life-friendly universe; sheer random probability can explain it, and there's no need to invoke an intelligent designer.
But we really ought to define what we're talking about. What constitutes "the universe?" What is a "collection of universes," how can there be more than one? And what does it mean to talk about a universe "emerging?"
There are several major competing cosmological conjectures; let's look first at the standard model, where there is only one universe (our own); then we'll look at alternative models that allow for many universes:
- Standard Big Bang Theory (SBBT): There is only one universe; it began with the (one and only) Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago (13.7 Ga), and has been expanding ever since. For a while, the rate of expansion was slowing down; but for the last several billion years, the rate has been increasing. This universe may "exist" forever, in a sense, even after the heat death (complete entropy) of all matter and energy; but it had a definite starting point (for space, time, matter, energy, and every other state or condition) not very long ago.
- Past-expanded BBT: So-called because such conjectures envision a multiplicity of universes, in sequence or parallel, making any conceivable creation event much longer ago than 13.7 billion years... which means there is more "past;" or to put it another way, these conjectures expand the available past, possibly infinitely far into the past.
It's easy to see how SBBT implies a starting point a finite number of years ago: Observation shows us that our universe is finite in size. And we can calculate the rate of expansion of our universe by observing the speed at which other galaxies are moving away from our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
Picture a balloon with little dots all over it. As you inflate the balloon, every dot gets farther away from every other dot. You can determine the rate you're inflating the balloon by picking one dot (call it Home), then measuing how quickly all the nearby dots are receding from Home.
Anyway, with those two parameters -- the current radius and the rate of expansion -- it's a simple mathematical exercise to "run the movie backwards," and see how long ago it is since the radius of the entire universe was zero. That, then, is how long ago the Big Bang occurred.
But what about these "past-expanded" BBTs? What kinds of universes do we have to imagine? Let's take the easiest one first.
I'll write more about the actual argument Father Spitzer makes in later posts. For right now, I just want to introduce the various conceptualizations of "past-expanded" Multiverses that cosmologists discuss. Starting with...
Picture a universe very much like ours; but in this universe, there is enough matter that eventually gravity will slow the expansion, slower and slower, until finally the universe stops expanding altogether -- and begins a slow and stately collapse. (As best astronomers can determine, this does not describe our own universe, where expansion is not slowing. Take this as a hypothetical.)
The collapse gets faster and faster, until finally all matter and energy, space and time come crashing together in what cosmologists call the Big Crunch. In the end, we are left with a point of zero-radius that contains the entire universe... which then, at some point, explodes outward with another Big Bang, starting the cycle all over again.
This occurs over and over for an indeterminate number of times, either a very, very large finite number of cycles, or else an infinite number of cycles. We must ask three questions about such a Multiverse in order to determine whether it implies a designer or creator:
- Is it possible for such a Multiverse to have already cycled an infinite number of times in the past?
If Yes, then out of that infinity of universes (one for each cycle), we should see plenty of life-friendly universes emerge through sheer, random chance. End of discussion; we cannot conclude that the existence of a life-friendly universe means anything at all, and certainly not a creator or designer. (If you deal an infinite number of poker hands, you'll necessarily get an infinite number of royal flushes... no stacking the deck required.)
- But even if an infinite past of cycles is not possible -- meaning there is a beginning point to this cyclic Multiverse -- is that start point be so long in the past, has enough time elapsed, have enough universes emerged, that it's still plausible that one of those universes could have randomly achieved life-friendly physical constants?
Sticking with our analogy, you don't need an infinite number of poker hands. The odds of dealing yourself a royal flush are about 1 out of 650,000; if you deal 50 million hands -- each time shuffling the deck, then dealing five cards off the top -- it's almost dead certain you'll get a royal flush... in fact many royal flushes. But as big as 50 million is, it's still a finite number.
Of course, it would take a very long time to deal that many hands; at five seconds per hand with no rest periods, it would take almost eight years. So how long for a random universe to emerge that is capable of supporting life? Physicists believe the time required would be much, much longer than the full expected lifespan of our universe, from its birth in the Big Bang to its heat death, when entropy is universal and complete. So much longer, in fact, that in comparison to the time required to randomly produce a mix of physical constants that would allow for life, the lifespan of our own single universe would be indistinguishable from zero.
That's a very, very long time... unreasonably long, as it turns out.
Here's a peek into a future post: The best physical estimates show that you cannot have that many Big Bangs. Each time you cycle, entropy increases; that is, more energy ends up in cosmic background radiation and less in stars and planets and such with each successive universe; every new universe is closer to heat death than its predecessors.
Long before you could "deal yourself" enough universes to get one that supports life, the entire cyclical Multiverse would have "bottomed out," reached the point of maximal entropy. And at that point, the universe no longer collapses.
Thus most cosmologists believe that a cyclic Multiverse cannot run long enough to produce a life-friendly universe by random chance; so if our own, observably life-friendly universe is part of such a chain of universes book-ended by successive Big Bangs and Big Crunches, the physical constants are not being generated by random chance: As above, something or somebody is stacking the emergence deck.
But we still cannot conclude that it's a "somebody," not a "something," because there is yet another possible explanation for the non-randomness of physical constants and the bias towards life-friendly universes:
- If the cyclic Multiverse sits within a larger "Metaverse," and if that Metaverse has its own rules and physical laws... do those external laws limit or constrain the possible values of the physical constants, so that it's much more probable that life-friendly universes will form than we have been imagining? In other words, is the emergence of life-friendliness driven by the physical laws of the Metaverse, such that the emergence of life-friendliness is not a random function?
In your hometown, you have probably noticed a curious phenomenon that appears not to be altogether random: Over a six-month period, temperatures tend to get warmer and warmer; but then, over the next six-month period, they tend to get cooler and cooler. Clearly this is not random; if temperatures changed entirely by random, you would expect periods of several years of hotness, followed perhaps by a cooling period of only six days, before things start to heat up again.
It's tempting to conclude that the Temperature Gods simply like to make the thermometer go up and down in a fairly regular fashion. But there is an alternative explanation: Your hometown sits within a larger system -- planet Earth, whose axis tilts with respect to its orbit around our sun, Sol.
As a result of this entirely natural cause, half the year your hometown is tilting towards Sol, while the other half it's tilting away. This explains the phenomena of summer and winter, respectively... with no anthropomorphic, intelligent deity required.
So even if we conclude that life-friendly universes can only emerge from a cyclic Multiverse via non-random processes, that still doesn't mean we have found our proof of God: It's possible there are other, purely natural (not supernatural) causes of non-randomosity.
Review the key points of a physical argument for God:
- There are many more imaginable life-unfriendly universes than life-friendly universes.
- So the odds of any one, specific universe being life friendly are vanishingly small.
- But we know at least one has emerged, because we're sitting in it.
- With literally infinite time, all possible universes, including the life-friendly ones, will eventually emerge, even by random chance.
- Assume finite time, and a relatively short finite time at that; then the odds of any life-friendly universe ever emerging through random chance are also vanishingly small.
- Putting (3) and (5) together implies that our own universe (at least!) was initiated by non-random processes.
- And that non-randomness makes it plausible, at least, to argue that our universe was created or designed by an intelligent being. (To discharge our assumption in (5), we must add, If only a finite, relatively short period of time has been available for universes to emerge.)
(And remember likewise that commenter Nerys Ghemor is correct: These teleological debates are all versions of the "God of the gaps" argument: Science can't explain X at this moment, so X must have been ordained by God.
(However, these physical conjectures sit at a much more sophisticated level than, e.g., Michael Behe's "intelligent design" foolishness. The Spitzer conjectures invoke what appear to be universal physical constraints, such as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, Einstein's General Relativity, and the stochastic nature of quantum mechanics, rather than the "known unknown" (to use Donald Rumsfeld's wonderful phrase) of the exact mechanism of some otherwise plausible sequence of events, like the evolution of the eye or the bacterial flagella. If the Spitzer conjecture is to fail, it must do so due to unknown unknowns, not known unknowns.)
The next two types of Multiverse we'll poke around in are (a) a Multiverse like an ocean filled with bubbles, where each bubble is a separate universe; and (b) a Multiverse comprising many more dimensions than the four we can detect (three spatial dimensions, plus the dimension of time, or duration); each universe is a "membrane," or spatial cross-section of some smaller number of dimensions within the larger-dimension Multiverse.
This kind of Multiverse has many other membranes (which impatient physicists call "branes"), and they can flutter around in the Multiverse and bang into each other, with catastrophic results for inhabitants.
More later, as I become inspired (i.e., less lazy than usual).
October 23, 2010
Waiting for Godot in All the Wrong Places part Alef
This post inaugurates -- I was tempted to type "christens" -- an unbounded series of brief posts exploring the ideas presented in a book published this year titled New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, by Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., a Jesuit priest and doctor of philosophy.
I have always been fascinated by the topic of teleology, the argument that observable coherence, coincidence, and order in the universe cannot be accidental; that the many coincidences are in fact synchronicities forming a design that implies a designer... in other words, a theistic deity. That is the overarching tack taken by Spitzer in this book; he uses contemporary physics to argue two essential points:
- The universe has a begining, which occurred a finite time ago.
- The sheer improbability that various physical constants of the universe would so arrange themselves, by random chance, as to make life of any kind possible implies instead a Master Designer creating the universe precisely to bring about life.
The teleological argument fascinates... and yet frustrates: The former because I am a true agnostic; I don't know whether God exists, but I accept that the question is fundamental to all ethics and morality; and the latter because every proof I have studied eventually flounders, and nearly all for the same reason. At some point, physics always gives way to metaphysics, accompanied by a glorious abandonment of all epistemology. In other words, at some point, every argument devolves into, "But of course that proves God exists, as any fool can see!"
Yes; any fool.
My problem is that I studied mathematics for many years, earning a B.A. and M.A. in the field... which means I have an intuitive grasp of the structure of mathematical syllogisms, lemmas, and theorems; when that structure is violated by some supposed proof, alarm bells go off inside my skull, and I begin writing circles and lines and paragraphs in the margins explaining why the putative "proof" has just gone phooey.
I just began reading, reaching page 25; as I peramulate and percolate through the book, I shall periodically drop a postcard into Big Lizards, giving my impressions of Spitzer's arguments. So far, all he has done is assert Point 1 above: That in the Standard Big Bang Model, the universe, including space and time, has a distinct beginning about 13.7 billion years ago (13.7 Ba or Ga, the nomenclature is in flux) -- which I certainly buy; that's what I was always taught it said. He also posits that in three different alternative Big Bang Models, the same Point 1 is also true; but I can say nothing so far, because I'm not familiar with these alternative models for the Big Bang, and we haven't journeyed far enough into the book for me to pass judgment.
We haven't yet gotten to Point 2, that the improbability of life-friendly physical constants implies a supernatural creator. That's the one I'm most interested in. (You can see how Point 2 depends critically upon Point 1: Time itself must be finite, because in infinite Time, any possibility, no matter how improbable, will occur.)
That's all for this post. Keep watching the skies, keep watching the skies!
July 19, 2010
Obama's Tendentious Redefinition of Freedom
Catholic Online catches President Barack H. Obama in a seismic shift in rhetoric, one that could betoken grave changes in the very concept of religious freedom:
The change in language was barely noticeable to the average citizen but political observers are raising red flags at the use of a new term "freedom of worship" by President Obama and Secretary Clinton as a replacement for the term freedom of religion. This shift happened between the President's speech in Cairo where he showcased America's freedom of religion and his appearance in November at a memorial for the victims of Fort Hood, where he specifically used the term "freedom of worship." From that point on, it has become the term of choice for the president and Clinton.
So what's in a word? Isn't freedom of worship simply a quaint synonym for freedom of religion? Well, no; worship is a much narrower word than religion, and the freedom envisioned is a crabbed and crippled one:
In her article for "First Things" magazine, Ashley Samelson, International Programs Director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated, "To anyone who closely follows prominent discussion of religious freedom in the diplomatic and political arena, this linguistic shift is troubling: "The reason is simple. Any person of faith knows that religious exercise is about a lot more than freedom of worship. It's about the right to dress according to one's religious dictates, to preach openly, to evangelize, to engage in the public square. Everyone knows that religious Jews keep kosher, religious Quakers don't go to war, and religious Muslim women wear headscarves-yet "freedom of worship" would protect none of these acts of faith...."
It also could exclude our right to raise our children in our faith, the right to religious education, literature or media, the right to raise funds or organize charitable activities and the right to express religious beliefs in the normal discourse of life....
Samelson writes, "The effort to squash religion into the private sphere is on the rise around the world. "And it's not just confined to totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia. In France, students at public schools cannot wear headscarves, yarmulkes, or large crucifixes. The European Court of Human Rights has banned crucifixes from the walls of Italian schools."
So why would Obamunism suddenly demand a slimmer creed of freedom than the full-bore freedom of religion? What does the administration gain from the switch to freedom of worship? Alas, I fear it's yet another act of appeasement of the usual suspects, more creeping acceptance of the virulent form of "jihadist" totalitarianism: Barack Obama is signalling that the United States, despite the words of our Founders and in our own Bill of Rights, no longer believes Moslem nations violate fundamental liberty when they discriminate against the infidel -- where "infidel" means anyone who doesn't submit to the precise form of Wahhabism, Salafism, or Khomeiniism demanded by the State.
We no longer vigorously oppose religious violence, from head-chopping and suicide bombing down to "honor" killings and throwing acid in the faces of unveiled women. We don't want to anger militant Islamists by insisting that schools be something less than -- and something more than -- propaganda mills for extremist, anti-Western, anti-Christian, and especially anti-Jew hatred that twists lives and warps souls. America, in the person of the President of the United States, is more solicitous of the feelings of those engaged in a "holy war" against us than he is of the lives and freedoms of their victims.
In other words, it's just another "bow from the waist" abasement to the so-called "jihad."
Catholic Online gingerly points at this explanation but appears too nervous actually to pull the trigger:
In the administration's defense, Carl Esbeck, professor of law at the University of Missouri, is quoted by Christianity Today as saying, "The softened message is probably meant for the Muslim world, said. Obama, seeking to repair relations fractured by 9/11, is telling Islamic countries that America is not interfering with their internal matters."
"Internal matters" such as publicly stoning women to death for the crime of being raped.
Everyday, in every way, the Obamacle expresses his disdain for traditional American virtues and his passionate belief -- probably deeper than anything else he learnt in the pews of Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ -- that there is nothing exceptional about the United States... unless it's that America is exceptionally racist, sexist -- and religist.
May 11, 2010
Believe It - or Not
Does it matter that, if Elena Kagen is confirmed, the U.S. Supreme Court would, for the first time in history, have not a single Protestant justice? Were she confirmed, the Court would comprise six Roman Catholics and three Jews. Does this make a difference?
Honestly, I don't think it does. Sectarian doctrinal and theological differences remain strong, but they no longer translate into policy or judicial differences, in my opinion. There are pro-choice and pro-life self-described Catholics, just as there are pro-choice and pro-life Protestants; the same is true for most other issues, even moral ones like public prayer and same-sex marriage: You can find self-described religious adherents on both sides of every policy issue.
Where we find a stark policy difference, however, is between the religious and the irreligious, the believer and the strict materialist: Those who firmly believe in God and have a strong religiosity tend to think, act, and vote very differently from those who are secular, humanist, and atheist. There appears to be a very big distinction between those who see their religion primarily in terms of identity politics, as if it were a tribe or race, and those who see belief as a religious obligation with behavioral rules they must obey and a "catechism" they must profess.
(I ignore agnostics in this taxonomy. Although there are a few actual agnostics, such as myself, in practice, 99% of "agnostics" are actually practicing atheists: That is, they act as if there is no God, not as if they don't know whether there's a God.)
A religious Jew on the Court, even a liberal, would issue profoundly different rulings than would a very secular Jew; a religious Catholic would rule very differently than a secular Catholic, and so forth. Contrast the jurisprudence of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, both of whom are devout, practicing Catholics, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was raised Catholic but seems to have converted to Feminism and Wise Latina-ism in the intervening decades. I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are also strongly and traditionally religious; I don't know about Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Similarly, though I haven't made an exhaustive survey, my sense is that the two Jews currently on the court, both very liberal and judicial activists -- Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -- are not particularly religious. I cannot find a biography for either that mentions attending synogogue nowadays, for instance.
(Note that "being a Jew" is very different from being a religous Jew; myself, for example... I'm unquestionably a Jew, but I'm not at all religious. Judaism is a religion, but Jewishness is an identity.)
The same appears to be true of Elena Kagan:
A similar murkiness haunts how Kagan handles her Jewishness -- she has alluded to it, but has not explicitly stated it since her nomination.
Her interlocutors in the Jewish community say Kagan is Jewish savvy, but they are hard pressed to come up with her own beliefs.
"Jewish savvy?" I think it safe to say that if she was a traditionally religious Jew, many people who know her would be speaking up and saying so, both those who support and those who oppose her. She appears to be a typical, secular, New York liberal who happens to be of Jewish ancestory.
Though I myself am irreligious, I think it supremely important that society be religious. I really don't care what religion a person practices, so long as it's based upon the Dennis Prager formulation of "ethical monotheism," an omnipotent, omniscient God whose most important commandment is that we humans treat each other with both justice and decency. I would prefer a religious Moslem justice over a totally secular Protestant-background justice, so long as the former practiced a form of Islam that was ethical monotheism (if such an Islamic sect exists).
It makes no nevermind to me whether we have a practicing Catholic, a practicing Protestant, or a practicing Jew; secular humanists and atheists, however, are just too prone to follow the siren song of the Left.
February 23, 2010
God v. State: Steel Cage Death Match, Loser Leaves Town!
Dennis Prager has a wonderfully insightful -- and technically inciteful -- column in today's Town Hall schmeer. Do you recall that I recently contrasted Prager to Michael Medved by saying the former was sometimes profound? This is one of those times.
Profundity doesn't always mean enunciating a brand new revelation; it can also be found in expressing a well-known point in a particularly succinct, understandable, apt, illuminating way. In this case, that:
For the right, the primary moral authority is God (or, for secular conservatives, Judeo-Christian values), followed by parents. Of course, government must also play a role, but it is ultimately accountable to God and it should do nothing to undermine parental authority.
For the left, the state and its government are the supreme authorities, while parental and divine authority are seen as impediments to state authority.
Prager performs magnificently in this piece; it would be difficult for even a leftist to argue against his central point... where "argue" means saying more somewhat than, "You're wrong! And you're a racist!"
Really, who could argue anyway? Lefties would be better served by skipping the unbelievable denials and straightforwardly defending their de facto policy: "Of course we want to undermine the authority of your parents and your 'god'... parents represent old, bourgeois thinking, unsuited to the demands of modernity and the New Soviet Man. And your invisible king in the sky is a throwback to the caesars of antiquity, sitting on his cloud-throne and pronouncing so-called 'eternal' rules that are inflexible and unable to deal with the flowing, inconstant chaos of today!"
For all their faults -- and I admit they had a few here and there -- at least Nazis and Stalinists had the courage to enunciate their philosophy clearly.
But ever since the sixties, the New Left has operated from the shadow world of deceit, conspiracy, and code. Rather than forthrightly say, "We want to supplant your parents and raise you to think our way," they say that your Dad and Mum are too "uptight" to understand that today's kids live by different moral rules than previous generations; your folks are just packed full with envy-cheese, like an overstuffed manicotti, because their parents (Granny and Old Grand-Dad) never let them have any fun... so they don't want to let you have any.
Besides, your parents didn't have the advantages of a real education; when they were in school, universities were all run by Reaganites with Alzheimer's who made your parents stupid! You're much more intelligent; you should be telling them what to do, the retarded, ugly, old ingrates.
And rather than say "God is dead, long live the State," which would at least tell you where they really stood, they hide behind the First Amendment prohibition on the "establishment of religion." Certainly we all agree that allowing a Ten Commandments plaque to lurk somewhere on government land or keeping the phrase "In God we trust" on the coinage is perfectly equivalent to Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, butchering Catholics by the bushel. It's just a short skip from holding Bible study classes to banning all books but the Bible in schools and libraries.
If you guide your life by the divine principles of traditional Judeo-Christian thought, you're a religious fanatic who should be barred from public office, if not locked away where persons in white coats can take care of you (under ObamaCare). If you follow the wishes of your parents, you're positively Mediaeval!
It may seem as though I've wandered far afield, but no; this is the subject of Dennis Prager's column, though in less hysterical terms than I use. As that fellow blogger oft says, read the whole thing.
September 4, 2009
Judicial Home Invasion
This story utterly nonplusses me; not that a judge would want to make a bigotted, anti-Christian decision -- I expect that -- but that she would have the reasonable belief that she'd be allowed to do so by the appellate courts in New Hampshire, or any other state. (Full disclosure: I am not now, nor have I ever been a Christian, a religious or observant Jew, or even a believer in God; nor am I a disbeliever.)
If this story in the Washington Times is at all accurate, a judge has just ruled that a little girl must be removed from homeschooling and sent to a government school -- because the judge hoped that would cause her to lose her religious faith:
A New Hampshire court ordered a home-schooled Christian girl to attend a public school this week after a judge criticized the "rigidity" of her mother's religious views and said the 10-year-old needed to consider other worldviews as she matures....
On Tuesday, the girl, Amanda Kurowski, started fifth grade at an elementary school in Meredith, N.H., under court order. Amanda's "vigorous defense of her religious beliefs ... suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view," District Court Judge Lucinda V. Sadler said.
Perhaps the Times got some elements wrong; but unless reporter Julia Duin fabricated the tale out of thin cloth, which is possible but very improbable, there's no way to spin this decision as other than appalling. None of the normal confounding factors appear to apply here; Judge Sadler herself ruled that the child was well-adjusted, academically ahead of her grade level, and not isolated from other children:
The course load, except for the Bible study, is similar to what public students get and the mother's home schooling has "more than kept up with the academic requirements of the [local] school system," the judge's statement said. The child also takes supplemental public school classes in art, Spanish, theater and physical education and is involved in extracurricular sports such as gymnastics, horseback riding, softball and basketball.
I must assume that each of these extracurriculars involves interacting with other children and with adults who may not share Amanda's and her mother's religion and religiosity, giving Amanda plenty of opportunity to seriously consider other religious points of view. But even if she did not have such activities, what business is it of a judge to judge that element of their religion? Would Judge Sadler order a Moslem girl not to wear a veil, or a Hassidic boy not to wear the distinctive clothing, hat, and hairstyle of that sect of Judaism? Yet such religious uniforms not only have the effect of isolating believers from infidels or goyim, that is the whole idea.
If I understand this ruling, Judge Lucinda Sadler would have been perfectly happy with Amanda's homeschooling if the religious instruction hadn't "taken," if Amanda rejected her mother's Christianity and become a Moslem, Jew, or atheist. For that would prove that Amanda had "considered [another] point of view," you see.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This fundamental right has absolutely, "no bout adout it," been incorporated to the states, meaning that state law cannot violate it anymore than can Congress.
Is this not a textbook example of a state judge prohibiting the free exercise not only of Mom's religion, but of Amanda's as well? Even ten year old children have that right, so long as the belief does not physically endanger them (rejecting urgent medical treatment, for example). Nothing of the sort is involved in this case. One would imagine that a judge in a state whose very motto is "Live free or die" would think a second time before ordering a child into the government schools precisely in order to diminish her religious faith.
And by the way, isn't it an eye-blowing admission against liberal interest that one of the functions of the government school system, deliberate or incidental, is to damage the religious faith of its students? Were I an advocate of compulsory government educational propaganda (which you may infer from my phraseology I am not), I would be aghast that some dork of judge came right out and let the beans out of the bag.
Lest anyone mistake Judge Sadler's motivation, she made it even more explicit, if that's possible:
"[Mr. Kurowski] believes that exposure to other points of view will decrease Amanda's rigid adherence to her mother's religious beliefs and increase her ability to get along with others and to function in a world which requires some element of independent thinking and tolerance for different points of view," Judge Sadler's ruling said.
The ruling quoted Mrs. [Janice] McLaughlin [court appointed "guardian of the child's legal interests"] as saying the child "appeared to reflect the mother's rigidity on questions of faith." The child would "be best served by exposure to different points of view at a time in her life when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief and behavior," it added.
How thoughtful of the court (a previous court) to pick a guardian of Amanda's "interests" who is clearly in complete disagreement with her over those interests. Perhaps if I were in a coma, and some wacko relative was suing to pull the plug so he could collect the insurance, the court would appoint the president of the Hemlock Society to speak for me.
I cannot imagine a state appellate court allowing this ruling to stand; in fact, I suspect it will end up in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit for a ruling on the First Amendment question. And I wonder... is it possible this case will come up in the First Circus shortly before the 2010 elections?
If so, Democrats across the country will be forced to take a stand on federal control of religion -- to supplement federal control of banking, the auto industry, energy, and health care. (Republicans too; but it will be a lot harder for Democrats to avoid infuriating either the liberal nutroots or real Americans.) The Squeaker, the Majority Leader, the chairmen of the two Judiciary Committees, and even the Big B.O., Barack H. Obama himself, will have to opine for the record.
To maintain party discipline and solidarity against homeschooling (which liberals despise, as it interferes with "proper socialization" of children), Democrats will have to tell American parents that their children's religion will henceforth be controlled by the federal government -- and convince them that this is for their own good.
What could possibly go wrong?
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
March 28, 2008
Brave Sir Robin vs. the Mosque of England
In recent years, Moslems in the United Kingdom have gotten bolder. Not only do they commit more violent crime against ordinary British citizens, they demand special treatment from the British government ("All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others"). Yet I am now convinced that the core of the problem in Great Britain is not the Moslems but the Church of England itself.
Great Britain has a state religion, and many British subjects look to the established church for moral guidance. The house of God should be an unwavering, unchanging, and uncompromising spiritual core of the people. Even though we humans often cannot meet God's expectations, we're at least supposed to learn through the churches and clergy what He expects of us.
Isn’t that why people are willing to risk their lives for their fellow men, for what's right, or for their faith? Isn’t that why ordinary people will rise up to fight against evil? People should know what is good and what is evil.
But what if the church tells you that the most important thing is to be "tolerant of the intolerant" and instructs its faithful to be "sensitive" to a rogue culture -- one that demands human sacrifice, no less -- simply to avoid "conflict?"
As unbelievable as it sounds, that is just what is happening in the UK, per Tony Blankley:
Two weeks ago, the story came from a town with a college that has been a leading force in the advancement of Christian civilization for 900 years: Oxford, England. Once again, something more than bluebirds threatens English skies. It seems that authorities at the Oxford Central Mosque have requested permission to use loudspeakers to blast the call to prayer five times a day from atop their minaret across the town that has heard for the past 900 summers, falls, winters and springs only the bells of the local churches.
Unsurprisingly, the Church of England's bishop for Oxford, the Right Rev. John Pritchard, has announced his support, calling on his congregation to "enjoy community diversity." He would be a likely successor to the current archbishop of Canterbury, who called for Shariah law for England recently.
It is not so much the attempt by European Muslims to alter their adopted homeland to fit their faith that's troubling as it is the willingness of Europeans to accommodate them. Sharia creep will continue as long as it meets no resistance.
If Christianity's teachings are now to include “diversity” of faith, then why should it even be a separate religion? A broken moral compass points nowhere, and cultural sensitivity to the violent will not buy peace; all you will get is more confusion, more violence, and fewer Christians.
We have long known that the "Moslem Mafia" has been running drugs and coercing underaged girls into prostitution. When parents seek help from the local authorities, British police often refuse to pursue the criminals for fear of being insufficiently sensitive to minority cultures or even provoking racial violence:
Last night Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, said the police were differentiating between criminals on the basis of race.
He claimed, driven by fear of race riots in places like Blackburn and Oldham, officers were "overtly sensitive" and not clamping down on the sordid practice.
His controversial comments in this week's Panorama reignite a massively controversial issue which exploded over a Channel 4 documentary in 2004.
That programme which claimed Asian men in Bradford were grooming under age white girls for prostitution was pulled from C4's schedules.
This was because police claimed at the time that it could provoke racial violence during the local election campaign.
(Hat tip to Lionheart.)
But it's not just "tolerance" that Moslems demand in Great Britain; some Moslem "youths" are beginning to act more like Hitler Youths, with the children of Pakistani immigrants physically attacking Christian and Jewish worshippers and clergymen:
Canon Ainsworth, 57, who was wearing his clerical collar, was punched and kicked by two Asian youths while another shouted religious abuse outside St George’s on March 5. He suffered cuts, bruises and two black eyes. He was discharged from St Bartholomew’s hospital but later readmitted following complications to an injury.
But British authority does nothing, and church authority coos and placates the aggressors. Actually, that is not entirely true; the rozzers have done something: They've arrested a blogger, Lionheart, for the "crime" of exposing the Moslem crimes above. He was arrested for "stirring up racial hatred" against Moslems.
[Dafydd adds: Thank God the UK has such strong freedom of speech protections...]
Evidently, the UK is less interested in stopping the gradual, frog-boiling takeover of their country by Moslem militants than they are in stopping the mouths of those who speak out against it. When the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali complained about Moslem violence against non-Moslems, he was severly criticized -- even by the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party:
The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, blamed multiculturalism for segregating religious groups and said non-Muslims faced a hostile reception in places dominated by the ideology of Islamic radicals.
He wrote that the integration agenda pursued by the government lacked "a moral and spiritual vision", and he condemned the failure to give priority to the established church [the Church of England], which he believes has led to a "multi-faith mish-mash".
He also questioned whether elements of sharia law were applicable in the UK, particularly the use of loudspeakers on mosques to spread the call to prayer.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, said the bishop had not produced any evidence of "no-go areas" for non-Muslims, a notion he described as "an extraordinarily inflammatory way of putting it".
Mr. Clegg could perhaps have had a little sensitivity himself, realizing how dangerous it was for an Anglican bishop born in Pakistan to blow the whistle on militant Islam, which might well see him as an "apostate," despite the fact that he was born into a Christian family. Not all Islamist radicals stop to consider the niceties of religious freedom. Coming from a Moslem culture, the bishop evidently understands better than many pure-British clergy the fundamental incompatibility between liberal Christianity and militant Salafism from the land of the Taliban.
So what has the head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to say about these outrageous attacks against men of Christian faith? Well, recently he called for incorporating Sharia in England; then he turned about and equated Moslem extremists and their victims.
It doesn't take much imagination to see how internally divided societies find brief moments of unity when they have successfully identified some other group as the real source of their own insecurity. Look at any major conflict in the world at the moment and the mechanism is clear enough. Repressive and insecure states in the Islamic world demonise a mythical Christian 'West', and culturally confused, sceptical and frightened European and North American societies cling to the picture of a global militant Islam, determined to 'destroy our way of life.' Two fragile and intensely quarrelsome societies in the Holy Land find some security in at least knowing that there is an enemy they can all hate on the other side of the wall.
So is it any wonder that Moslems in the UK are emboldened in direct proportion to the rate of dismay and disheartening of British Anglicans? Not that the Cathlic Church is much better; if they have stepped forward to provide moral guidance to Brits confused by the easy acquiescence of government and religious officials to Islamic bullying, they've been awfully quiet about it.
Recently, the marriage rate in the UK has dropped to a record low. As Moslem worshippers grow, the number of churchgoers diminishes; as politicians turn a blind eye to rampaging "Asian youths" and take seriously demands for polygamy under sharia, and as churches abandon their historic role of enunciating God's eternal law in favor of politicaly correct "tolerance" and "sensitivity" to what looks a lot like evil -- sex-slavery of teenaged girls, violence against priests, threats and intimidation -- it's hardly surprising that the British lose respect for the church, for priests and bishops, and even for God.
The voices of Archbishop Rowen Williams and the Right Rev. John Pritchard are heard throughout the United Kingdom loud and clear. The real danger these people create is not emboldening Islamist extremists but driving Christians away from faith. If British Christians cannot rely on the moral authority of the Church of England, where can they seek it? If the church says there is no difference between Moslem terrorists and Christian faithful, why should anyone go to church, pray, obey the laws of the Bible, or even get married before God? And certainly, why risk life and limb fighting back against violent religious zealots?
I am not a Christian, so take this advice for what it's worth. I think what Britain desperately needs is to purge all these multicultural bishops, these "men without chests," as C.S. Lewis called them... "cerebral men" who are pure thought with no courage, no stability, no magnanimity. Just as the Catholic Church had finally to purge child molesters and practicing homosexual priests, no matter what the cost, the Church of England mast rid itself of forever-compromising, socialist, chestless non-believers who pretend to represent faith.
The survival of Christianity in Great Britain depends on purging the clergy; the survival of the United Kingdom in any recognizable form depends upon the survival of Christianity there.
It's hard to watch Great Britain go down without a fight. I cannot believe there isn't a regiment of English yeomen left to stand against this evil, longbows in hand. Of course there are some, such as Lionheart, Melanie, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali; and lets not forget the British troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are ill-served by their Labour PM Gordon Brown (he's no Tony Blair).
But they are too far and too few between. If the Church of England cannot cover the heroes' backs, how can the flock face the enemy front?
June 5, 2007
Gimmie That Ol' Time Religion...
This post was from an idea by Sachi, who did the initial research; it was written by Dafydd.
My best counterargument to the gloom and demographic doom of Mark Steyn's thesis in America Alone -- that the West is non-breeding itself out of existence -- is that Steyn has a bad habit of engaging in a brazen form of static analysis: he assumes that a myriad current trendlines will remain unchanged... the quintessential "if this goes on" conjecture.
The following is pure speculation. I suspect it's provable; and I suspect that it will seem true at the gut level to most readers of Big Lizards. But I'm not willing to do the research necessary to prove it conclusively. (Nor will I apologize for my laziness; take me as I am!)
Birth of a correlation
In particular, any argument of death by demography must assume the fertility rate remains the same, where total fertility rate (TFR) is the number of children per woman per lifetime.
For those of us who do not actually want to see a depopulated Europe taken over by its Moslem immigrants and turned into a sharia continent, the fertility rate is our escape clause: If we can noticibly improve the native-born European Christian TFR, we can forestall the dire consequences that Mark Steyn predicts. (I'll explain why "Christian" matters towards a bit later, but what I really mean is "non-Moslem.")
So what might raise a fertility rate? Well, what lowers one? In Europe, it seems to me that the plummeting fertility rate is directly linked to the lack of belief in the future: If a person sees a bright future, he tends to invest. Children are one of the most satisfying investments in the future; when tomorrow looks better than yesterday, it makes sense for parents to scrimp and save, delaying gratification today so that the kids will have a better life than their parents.
That is the norm. However, if the future looks grim and uncertain, if tomorrow seems like it will be worse than yesterday, then I believe potential parents tend to put off childbearing. Why bother? Why bring a kid into such a rotten world when it's getting rottener by the day?
Instead, I believe a lot of potential parents decide not to have children... instead, they party like it's (still) 1999. The corollary to monetary investment holds: If a market looks like it's headed downward with no hope of recovery anytime soon, a very, very large number of potential investors rationally decide not to invest in that market.
All right, we've reduced the Steyn Dilemma from "inevitable demography" to "raising the fertility rate" to creating a future bright enough to induce people ambivalent about having children to do so. So... how do we go about creating that bright future?
(I really am going somewhere with this; it's not just "turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way down.")
The proposition that "tomorrow will be significantly better than yesterday" is, quite obviously, unprovable. (For one possibility, the Sun could go nova, killing everyone and destroying the planet.)
So if people are to believe in the future, they must do so as an article of faith. Faith, then, is an irreducible component of belief in a better future... and if the rest of my speculations are correct, faith is therefore a necessary component for a society to have a strong fertility rate. But -- faith in what, exactly?
Looking around the real world, societies (or subsocieties) that are strongly Jewish, Christian, or Moslem tend to have a high fertility rate; but so does India, which is mostly (82%) Hindu. According to this paper (page 21), the TFR for India as a whole declined from 3.4 in 1992-1993 to 2.9 children per woman per lifetime in 1998-1999. The fertility rates of both Hindus and Moslems declined over that same period: Hindus dropped from 3.3 to 2.8, and Indian Moslems dropped from 4.4 to 3.6.
Moslems are still growing faster than Hindus, but their rate of growth dropped more sharply: Moslems shed 0.8 over the same period that the Hindus shed only 0.5; put in percentages, the fertility rate of Indian Moslems declined by 18%, while that of Hindus declined by only 15%. "If this goes on," to be Steynian about it, eventually Indian Moslems and Hindus will have the same fertility rate.
What about other religions or quasi-religions (belief systems)? There is no indication that Buddhism or Shinto encourage large families, nor (obviously) does Communism. But considering the demographic trends, it seems the worst culprit is Euro-leftism, which is a faith-based belief in social-welfarism, self indulgence, and nihilism: Some European countries, such as Spain, have fertility rates of 1.1 ro 1.2, about half the bare replacement rate for a society. The United States has a fertility rate of 2.11, just about replacement; because of immigration, our population is growing.
(The highest TFRs tend to be in African countries with large animist populations; but they also have huge infant mortality rates, which somewhat cancels out the fertility rate. The case is atypical and can be ignored for our purposes.)
Looking at the relationship, however subjective, between culture and fertility, and between religion and fertility, I would argue that the best thing for Europe's population decline is a religious revival.
But of course, they're already getting one: Immigration into Europe is primarily Moslem. This particular religion, however, is expansionist, intolerant of dissent, theocratic, ambivalent about terrorism, and narcissistic to the point of believing the only proper function of infidels is as slaves to the faithful. Not every Moslem supports each of these elements; but especially among Moslem émigrés from the Middle East, Algeria, Somalia, and Indonesia, toleration of each of these elements (especially for sharia law) is disturbingly high. Thus, even though such immigration marginally improves the overall fertility rate of European countries, it's a very dangerous deal to make.
Fortunately -- some may say amazingly -- there is a revival of traditional religious worship underway in a number of European countries at this moment...
According to the French embassy in Australia, the last fifteen years saw a significant drop in religious practice:
- Christenings fell from 95% to 58%;
- Religious weddings dropped from 85% to 50%;
- Belief in God fell from 66% to 61%;
- Disbelief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus rose from 37% to 43%;
- In 1960, there were 45,000 French Catholic priests; today there are 22,000.
But in the last few years, this trend has begun to reverse itself; more Frenchmen, particularly French youths, are turning (or sometimes returning) to the religious tradition of France:
But despite these symptoms of decline, there are also hints of renewal. For several years now, the number of prayer groups with a mixed membership of lay people and people devoted to the religious life has been rising, and there are now said to be 3,000 of them. Organised pilgrimages to places like Chartres attract bigger and bigger crowds (of 20,000-30,000 people), as do Church rallies for young people. Millions of people visit the most sacred Catholic sites such as Lourdes or Lisieux; and thousands visit abbeys or stay in monasteries. There has also been a rise, in recent years, in the number of adult baptisms (12,000 in 1997, compared with 8,000 in 1993 and 890 in 1976). Similarly, the number of lay Church representatives in secondary schools, hospitals and prisons has shown a steady rise. Finally, we should remind ourselves of the outstanding success of the JMJ (Journées mondiales de la jeunesse or World Youth Days) in August 1997, during which as many as a million young people gathered in Paris to meet Pope John Paul II.
But has this increase in Catholic religiosity affected the fertility rate of Catholics in France? According to French-language sources cited by Wikipedia, total fertility rate (TFR) in France dropped steadily in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, hitting a nadir of 1.66 in 1993 (remember, 2.1 is replacement rate in civilized countries). From that point, it began inching upwards again at a rate of increase of 1.3% per year for six years.
But then in the year 2000, TFR jumped up 8% to 1.87; it held steady until 2003; finally, from 2003 to 2006, TFR increased at an annual rate of 3.7% per year and is currently at 1.98.
The total rise in recent years -- I arbitrarily define that as when the bigger rise began in 2000 -- has been nearly 0.2, which is about 10.6%. But wait... could the higher fertility rate be due solely to the Moslems population of France?
Moslems compose 7% of the French population; what would the Moslem fertility rate have to be to fully account for the increase from 1999? For 7% of the population to fully account for a rise in TFR of 0.2, the fertility rate of French Moslems would have had to rise by nearly 2.9 children per adult woman.
But this is absurd: Taking the Indian Moslem rate as more or less a baseline, that would mean the Moslem fertility rate would have had to nearly double in the last seven years. Even assuming a slight rise in the percent of Moslems in the population, such an increase would still demand that Moslem fertility in France skyrocket -- while it was shrinking elsewhere.
So mathematically, it would be difficult not to conclude that there was a significant rise in total fertility rate among Catholic French families since 1999... which coincides very neatly with the rise in religiosity. This is not a proof, of course; but it is a strong indicator that our initial supposition was correct: A rise in traditional, religious beliefs, at the expense of atheism, Communism, or secular social-welfarism, tends to correlate to an increase in fertility rates.
This finding fits with studies here in the United States that show that religious families tend to have significantly more kids than irreligious families.
I don't have fertility figures for Germany or Italy, but there is evidence of a religious revival there, too...
The Christian Science Monitor, hardly a right-wing publication, has been keeping track of the rise in regligion in both Germany and Italy:
- Head of state Angela Merkel - the daughter of a Protestant minister - this month renewed calls to include a specific reference in the EU constitution to Europe's Christian heritage.
- There are more theologians in the German parliament than in any other Western parliament, including the US Congress. And when the last government cabinet was sworn in, nearly every member -- instead of the usual 50 percent -- opted for the religious version of the inaugural oath, according to Karsten Voigt, coordinator of German-American relations at the foreign ministry.
- In a recent survey gauging the perceived credibility of different professions, pastors were ranked in the Top 5.
- German students must take either ethics or religion classes, though Berlin recently made ethics compulsory, and religion optional. Mr. Voigt reports that "more and more" high schoolers in the state of Brandenburg are opting for religion too.
- Church attendance is no longer declining, and in one state the number of young churchgoers is going up, says Voigt.
The process is not as pronounced in Germany as in France; but Germany has the legacy of the Soviet Union and its satellite, East Germany, to overcome.
Another article in the CSM discusses religious revival in Italy, home to Roman Catholicism:
Sister Cristina is one of 550 young Italian women who joined the country's 7,500 cloistered nuns in 2005 - a dramatic increase from the 350 who became nuns in 2003. Vatican officials say the sudden rise in Italian monasticism mirrors a resurgence in Catholicism among young Italians during recent years....
Vatican officials say young people's thirst for moral direction is driving a resurging interest in Catholicism. "There's a reawakening after a time of secularization," says Sister Giuseppina Fragasso, vice president of the Vatican's association for cloistered monks and nuns.
The number of Catholic clergy has dwindled worldwide since peaking in the late 1960s. In particular, it's getting harder to attract new blood to the priesthood. According to the Vatican's statistics office, monasteries have been closing too fast for their researchers to keep track. While other Christian sects attract priests by allowing them to marry and by inviting women to ordination, the Catholic church still prohibits such activities.
But the tide is turning in Italy. Nearly half of adult Catholics attend mass at least weekly, up from 35 percent who did so in 1980.
Clergy credit much of young people's interest in Catholicism to the late Pope John Paul II, stressing the impact of the World Youth Days he started in 1984. Catholic fervor reached a crescendo with his death in April 2005. "This pope really brought the faith closer to young people; there was a strong bond between him and us," affirms Giovanna, a young biologist praying by John Paul II's tomb in Rome.
For some reason I have never been able to fathom, it is always tempting to hunt for a negative trend, extend it beyond all reason, and then use it as an excuse to despair. But this is a misuse of the science of demography: You cannot just extrapolate wildly, willy nilly, based upon a few data points. Mark Twain summed it up well in chapter 17 of Life On the Mississippi (1850):
In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period,' just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
I won't say we've turned a corner in Europe; but we're definitely peeping around it and starting to make our turn. Traditional Christian religion appears to be on the rise on that continent; and in one country where we have data, this rise correlates to a rise in fertility rate as well.
I can even see a mechanism at play: As more Moslems pour into Europe and begin demanding separate regions under sharia law, arrogantly demanding that Christian "infidels" accomodate Moslem beliefs, and threatening non-Moslems with violence and lawlessness, angry and frightened Christians may well turn to the religion of their youth (or perhaps of their fathers and mothers). Thus, Christian religiosity in Europe may be rising directly in response to the Moslem onslaught.
So take heart; Steyn notwithstanding, there is no reason to believe that current bad demographic trends will continue as they are indefinitely. Western culture is the most malleable, adaptable culture on the planet, and we can respond to crisis better than any other civilization. I still have full confidence that if the radical Moslems push jihad too far, we'll go Mediaeval on them.
January 2, 2007
The First Victim of the "Big Lie"
Paul at Power Line has an interesting post up about the persistence of blindness by the drive-by media to the murder of U.S. Ambassador to Sudan Cleo Noel Jr. and his chargé d'affaires Curtis Moore back in 1973... a hit that appears to me to have been personally ordered by Yasser Arafat. (Paul links to a post last June by Scott Johnson, in which he goes into more detail about crime and evidence.) Please read these first before continuing...
All right, this is the line Paul wrote that caught my eye:
[W]hy has our MSM which prides itself on exposing government cover-ups ignored almost totally the cable...?
The answer... is that Arafat's role in killing American diplomats runs counter to the MSM's narrative about our world and is, therefore, information that it would prefer the public not know.
I think Paul may be overestimating the role played by mendacity and underestimating the will to deny on the part of the elite media -- and indeed all of humanity: I don't think journalists consciously keep this information from the public; I believe they're unconsciously keeping it from themselves.
I can't believe my eyes
In my early youth, I used to dabble in magic (prestidigitation, not sorcery; sorcery was in my middle youth). I was never very good -- no patience -- but I was a magic junkie who watched every live and broadcast magic show I could find... scores of them by the time I was fifteen, perhaps a hundred individual acts or more. After a while, I caught onto the big secret of magic: the "gimmick," the actual working of the trick, typically takes place in plain view.
So why doesn't the audience see it? Because the magician tells them not to. He doesn't come out and say, "see here now, close your eyes for this bit." Instead, he misdirects their attention to this side, when the gimmick is taking place on that side.
The great magicians (Herrmann, Thurston, Kellar) were sheer artists at misdirection. It was said of Harry Kellar that when he was performing, a brass band could march across the stage behind him, followed by a half-dozen elephants, and the audience would later swear he was alone.
This demonstrates what I call "the will to disbelieve." Your eyes may see, but your brain does all the observing... or in this case, the unobserving.
Everyone who goes to a magic show wants to be fooled. Haven't you noticed that most people, if you tell them how a trick is really done, are not satisfied but instead rather disappointed? That's because, even though they asked, they really didn't want to know.
The hard-headed skeptics are especially desperate to be fooled; they're always the easiest to misdirect. (The hardest to fool are children: they haven't yet learned the knack of willful blindness. By nature, they tend to look in exactly the right place, which is exactly the wrong place for a magician!)
It may twist and turn, but this post has not careered out of control; I'm actually going somewhere with it.
Magic is a universal indicator. It's a synecdoche, which can mean many things: in this case, a small part that stands in for the whole. We all want to be fooled; the world is awash in pandemic credulity.
Song of myself
Every one of us has a "story," the story of himself. This narrative takes all the myriad observations, expectations, and subtle indications our brains receive and arranges them into a more or less coherent plot. In reality, we can say only that A precedes B. It takes a narrative to say that A causes B.
The narrative includes both "facts" and inferences. I use quotation marks around "facts" because, pace John Adams, facts are actually squirmy, gelatinous things that we only experience second-hand, by observing the effect of the fact upon us -- for example, we don't see a Ford Mustang; we observe the light reflected from the Mustang, and our brain draws the inference that a Mustang exists at that spot. But the inferences are the interesting things, because they control or modulate everything we sense... everything we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch is really an inference we have drawn from a stimulus to some part of our brains.
In mathematics -- therefore in everything else -- inferences imply rules of inference: we must have internal rules that tell us when we can take A and B and conclude C. For example, you see a Mustang speed past you and tear around a corner. Seconds later, you hear a terrible crash. Do you draw the conclusion that the Mustang you just saw has wrecked?
Probably; I would. My rules of inference tell me that it's unlikely that a completely unrelated car just happened to have an accident at that second. But of course, I'll be wrong sometimes -- such coincidences do, in fact, happen.
The best is enemy of the workable; as Mason said to Dixon, you gotta draw the line somewhere. (This whole subject is part of the branch of philosophy called epistemology, by the way: "how we know what we know.") Everybody's rules of inference are probability based: it's pretty likely that the speeding Mustang wrecked and was responsible for the accident... so that's what we tell the cops.
Believing is seeing
But the weird part of the internal narrative, the story of ourselves, is the way that the brain constantly edits the file of sensory inputs to match the eventual conclusion drawn: in our little thought experiment of the speeding Mustang, the most likely outcome is that, when the actual civil trial occurs and you're called as a witness (or even earlier, when you talk to the cops), you will say that you saw the speeding Mustang crash into the Volvo!
And you know what? You won't be lying... you will actually remember it that way. As Isaac Asimov put it in one or another of his autobiographies, we remember things the way they should have happened, not necessarily the way they actually did... which, in the absolute sense, is unknowable anyway.
Out of mind, out of sight
Which brings us back, by a commodious vicus of recirculation, to the Human Consciousness Editor.
Let me quote a man I've never read (I can't get past page 5 of anything Friedrich Nietzsche wrote!): "We are all greater artists than we realize." (Actually, I have no idea if he actually said it. Or wrote it. But it's always arrtibuted to him. And anyway, the idea is the important thing, no matter who said it... what are you, a wisenheimer?)
Memory is not like a movie film; it's more like a writable DVD that is constantly being edited by the brain, to bring memory into congruence with the story of ourselves. This applies to everybody -- not just liberals. Quite literally, if an observation simply cannot exist within the central narrative of the brain... then the brain erases it from existence. "if out of sight, then out of mind" is a trivial observation; the deeper version is "if out of mind, then out of sight." In a vivid, real, and literal sense, you cannot see what you cannot believe.
We can't handle the truth
Which brings us back to journalism, the elite media, and Arafat's hit on Noel and Moore (actually, this more or less explains absolutely everything, if you think hard enough about it): Paul was wrong; it's simply not plausible that --
Arafat's role in killing American diplomats runs counter to the MSM's narrative about our world and is, therefore, information that it would prefer the public not know.
The far more likely explanation is that Arafat's role in killing American diplomats runs counter to the MSM's narrative about our world, and therefore the journalists' brains erase such "knowledge" from their memory banks. It's not that they know and they're concealing it from the rest of us; it's that we look at A, B, and C and conclude that Arafat ordered the hits -- while the MSM look at A, B, and C and conclude that Arafat didn't know a thing about it and was distressed when he found out.
We cannot even say we're right and they're wrong; scientifically, about the best we can do is that our reading requires much less editing of verifiable sources than theirs!
They literally don't see it. When liberals say that there is a "100% chance" that Gore actually won the vote in Florida and that Bush stole the election, they're not lying... they really believe it. Just as most Americans actually believe there is an invisible man with a long, white beard who knows when they are sleeping, who knows when they're awake, who knows if they've been bad or good -- and who sends the bad ones to Hell (I'll bet you were expecting someone else).
Tom Tancredo probably looks at a Mexican family crossing our border and literally sees enemy soldiers invading our country; judging from some of the comments when I talk about immigration, I reckon quite a few of you see the same reality Tom does. I see a bunch of potential entrepeneurs and consumers, but that "reality" is as much a product of my own internal narrative as your "reality" is of yours. "We are all greater artists than we realize."
That is the real dilemma of speaking to the enemy: it's not that he hasn't seen all the facts, and as soon as we enlighten him, he'll come round to our point of view. Rather, we don't even agree on what "facts" are on the table: we see one set of facts (while another batch remain stubbornly invisible); and he sees several of our invisible fnords while being unable even to detect some of our critical facts. Neither party will likely be convinced, because each draws rational conclusions from self-cooked data.
Members of the MSM literally sees no connection between Arafat and the murders, just as liberals literally see no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda; and every "fact" that "comes to light" (every observation their brain-modulator allows them to see) simply confirms those non-connections. Conservatives stubbornly refuse to see any connection between liberty and sexual deviance; libertarians refuse even to notice any connection between duty and survival; the religious see a rigid cause-effect relationship between faith and morals, while the irreligious see absolutely no connection whatsoever, unless it's an inverse relationship.
Can't we all just get a loan?
So how can we communicate?
- The first step is to recognize that each of us lives in his own reality net, his own bubble of "fact" and inference, held together in a coherent shape by the web of narrative spun by our own brains. It's counterproductive to say "I'm right and you're wrong;" it's much more effective to demonstrate that my model typically predicts future events with great success, while yours typically fails.
- Recognize that some gaps cannot be bridged; concentrate on those that can.
- Start your voyage of discussion from islands that exist both in your disputant's reality sea and your own: find overlapping subsets of reality and try to expand outward from there; that makes it harder for him to dismiss you out of hand.
- Learn to argue from within the other person's reality net: it works much better. Tell a conservative that holding a job builds character; tell a liberal that holding a job connects one to the community.
- Learn to laugh. It's the best defense mechanism against screaming.
- Remember that you're not alone in being all alone; you're part of a vast community of people who share being all alone together.
- Finally, in a more practical vein, if you want your own reality net to prevail (as who doesn't?), then make it more interesting, joyful, and hope-filled than the reality next door: people who are bored or frightened by one reality net will simply change the channel... and yes, it is that easy. Keep their attention, and they'll keep watching!
That last is the biggest problem the Democrats have: their reality net is one of defeatism and fatalism, two very unpleasant modulators. That's why, even when the Democrats win, they lose: they won the 2006 election, but nobody really thinks they can solve any of our problems. (And to be blunt, they're not even trying... they're simply campaigning for 2008.)
That's the secret weapon of Republicans, whether libertarian-Republican, conservative, neoconservative, or Giuliani-Republican: hope and pride. That is what, in the end, will reel 'em back in. Fill yourself with hope and pride and always aggressively follow your bliss -- not your decadence, your bliss. That way, even if you go down, you'll die a hero's death... and hey, that's something, isn't it?
October 10, 2006
Wretchard over on the Belmont Club -- which I used to think had something to do with horse racing -- links to an interesting study by "Harvard University's Robert Putnam, one of the world's most influential political scientists"... interesting mostly for the elephant in the bedroom that Putnam (or the Financial Times) fails to notice.
The title of the piece at the Financial Times is "Harvard study paints bleak picture of ethnic diversity." But Wretchard posits that what it really shows is the danger of cultural diversity... and that's the point I want to pick up on.
Here is how the Financial Times phrases it:
His research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone -- from their next-door neighbour to the mayor....
When the data were adjusted for class, income and other factors, they showed that the more people of different races lived in the same community, the greater the loss of trust. "They don't trust the local mayor, they don't trust the local paper, they don't trust other people and they don't trust institutions," said Prof Putnam. "The only thing there's more of is protest marches and TV watching."
Putnam adjusted for "class, income, and other factors." But what other factors? Did he adjust for cultural beliefs, including religion, social expectations, and style of social interaction? It's hard to believe he would have done so and not made that clear to the (unnamed) reporter; but it's entirely possible he did make it clear, and the reporter simply botched the story.
Here is Wretchard's take (reparagraphed for easier digestion):
Apart from the FT summary, I can't find a summary of Putnam's work on ethnic diversity anywhere on the web.
About the only question that comes to mind is whether what is attributed to multiethnicity can really be explained by the word multiculturalism. Webster's defines ethnicity as "of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background".
Race is apparently only one aspect of ethnicity and maybe the least important one -- we find Swedes distinguished from Norwegians in one of Putnam's examples of "diversity" -- and it may be that communities which are homogenous with respect to religion, language and culture have a higher trust coefficient than communities of the same racial background but have different religious and cultural contexts.
I think he's got it right here... and this shows why we don't in general have riots in the United States, but we've had them twice in my lifetime in Los Angeles.
It's tempting to use race as shorthand for culture, just as it's easy to use party as proxy for political philosophy. However, anybody can change his culture, while nobody (except Michael Jackson) has yet managed to change his race; which should be a warning sign that Putnam may be barking up a tree of a different color. (Similarly, Republicans can range from Tom Coburn, R-OK, 100%, to Lincoln Chafee, R-RI, 12%.)
One cannot rationally dispute that Clarence Thomas and Louis Farrakhan come from and embrace wildly disparate cultures -- even though they're both black. Similarly, P. Diddy and M&M share a close cultural connection that neither shares with Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole. The vast majority of white conservatives would trust Justice Thomas, Dinesh D'Souza, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose political and lifestyle cultures they share, much more than they would trust Michael Moore or Jane Fonda, in spite of the latter having the same race and country of origin as the white conservatives.
And that brings us to America; we are the only country I know of that both allows massive levels of immigration and also expects -- and generally receives -- very strong assimilation from those immigrants. Yes, I know a lot of Mexican immigrants wave Mexican flags, speak only Spanish, and join groups like La Raza ("the Race"). But many more make a good-faith attempt to assimilate to the American way of life and American values than the yahoos we see parading around downtown L.A. in a massive protest every Columbus Day.
Oddly, Putnam is very much against the very idea of assimilation; therein lies the downfall of his research:
In an oblique criticism of Jack Straw, leader of the House of Commons, who revealed last week he prefers Muslim women not to wear a full veil, Prof Putnam said: "What we shouldn't do is to say that they [immigrants] should be more like us. We should construct a new us."
This is classic multi-culti nonsense, and it's precisely what causes the cultural dislocation that he attributes to "ethnic diversity": when aliens are not encouraged to become American but rather to make their neighborhoods into little, sovereign pieces of a foreign country, then no wonder their neighbors don't trust them!
And when these guests, egged on by scientists like Putnam, instead demand that American customs change and traditions fall to accomodate the rules of the "old country" whence came the immigrant, then cultural Americans will indeed hunker down for battle. They don't want to change and see no reason why they should.
And they're perfectly right. Many foreign customs and legalisms are completely incompatible with the culture we have built here (except in cities like Los Angeles and New York, where city leaders have applauded anti-Americanism for decades). A quick example is sharia law, which allows for "honor killings," rape, perjury, polygamy, mutilation, and other felonies if done in the name of Allah and to advance Islam; freedom, capitalism, and individualism simply cannot coexist on the same spot with a sharia-based culture, and the races of the participants are irrelevant.
In our approach, we demand that immigrants, even those from Islamic countries, conform to American standards; in exchange for this assimilation, we treat assimilated immigrants as full citizens, not just legally but culturally: no American I've ever met actually argues that immigrants should be confined to certain "foreigner zones."
In Europe, by contrast, it's commonplace for people to argue as Putnam does, that immigrants should not have to conform; that instead, society should change itself to accomodate their divisive beliefs. At the same time, they are typically restricted -- always by custom and very commonly by the law itself -- to certain areas and specific jobs.
Clearly, there is a huge difference in the level of trust engendered by these two approaches to "ethnic diversity;" there are Moslem riots in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia; Moslems are even rioting in Windsor now, in Merrie Olde England (home town of ye Merrie Olde Queen -- and I don't mean Elton John). I leave it as an exercise for the attentive reader which approach works best; but the mere fact that such massive differences exist show that for Putnam's results, the cultural element of "ethnicity" trumps the racial.
According to Wikipedia, Putnam is famous for his theories on bonding and bridging:
Putnam makes a distinction between two kinds of social capital: bonding capital and bridging capital. Bonding occurs when you are socializing with people who are like you: same age, same race, same religion, and so on. But in order to create peaceful societies in a diverse multi-etnic country, one needs to have a second kind of social capital: bridging. Bridging is what you do when you make friends with people who are not like you, like supporters from another football team. Putman argues that those two kinds of social capital, bonding and bridging, do strengthen each other.
But he appears to conflate race with culture, as does Wikipedia: "same age, same race, same religion, and so on." And I don't know if he has ever tried to separate them.
I would love to see a new study by Putnam, this one of a series of churches that have racially diverse congregations and others that have racially homogenous congregations. I suspect he would find they had very similar rates of "trust" among parishoners... which should put the racial meme to bed once and for all.
August 2, 2006
A Pro-Christian Jewish Agnostic Speaks Out
Another CQ post (did I ever mention I once had a book reviewed in GQ, not CQ? It was compared to Tolstoy, but Tolstoy won). This one from July 21st, 2005.
Hm... July 7th, 14th, 21st... do I detect a pattern here?
I could have more provacatively titled this post "Are Atheists Actually Demented?" because that is the impression I get from the founder and head of the premier anti-religion organization in the country, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State -- or United Separators, as I call them for short.
Up on their website, the United Separators have come out swinging against Judge John. G. Roberts, who the president named as his nominee to the Supreme Court a couple of days ago. In "Senate Should Reject Confirmation Of John G. Roberts To Supreme Court, Says Americans United," an unsigned article posted yesterday, founder and chief anti-religion guru Barry Lynn draws his line in the sand (hat tip to Michael Medved, who mentioned this on his radio show today):
“John Roberts has long been a faithful soldier in the right wing’s war on the Bill of Rights,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “He does not support personal liberties and should not receive a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.”
He cites only one example of Roberts' "war on the Bill of Rights": his brief, while serving as deputy solicitor general for Bush-41 (that is the say, the position of the first Bush administration, which Roberts, as their attorney, faithfully argued to the Court), which Lynn describes as follows:
Lynn noted that Roberts, as deputy solicitor general in the first Bush White House, drafted a key legal brief urging the Supreme Court to scrap decades of settled church-state law and uphold school-sponsored prayer at public school graduation ceremonies and other forms of government-endorsed religion. (At the time, Roberts was serving as political deputy in charge of crafting policy under then Solicitor General Kenneth Starr.)
“Roberts will work to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state and open the door to majority rule on religious matters,” Lynn said. “In a game with such high stakes, this unwise crusade should disqualify him.”
What? You mean -- Roberts actually supported enforced prayer in the schools, where young tots would be forced to their knees under penalty of physical brutality and forced to mouth words against their own religious faith? Yep, that's exactly what Mr. Lynn would like you to believe. (And note the reverse name-dropping, guilt-by-employment of noting that Roberts' boss was... Kenneth Starr, gasp!)
However, the New York Times, at the end of a lengthy and surprisingly flattering bio-piece [link no longer free] on Roberts, went into somewhat more detail on this case:
The government had asked the Supreme Court to discard an earlier test and overturn a lower court ruling that held a clergyman could not give an official address at a junior high school graduation in Providence, R.I. It asked the court to rule that "civic acknowledgments of religion in public life do not offend the establishment clause" of the Constitution "as long as they neither threaten the establishment of an official religion nor coerce participation in religious activities."
At the time, officials in the first Bush administration told reporters that the reason for intervening was a tactical decision to try to draw out Justice David H. Souter, then the court's newest member, and get him on the side of the administration, which was hoping eventually to change the approach to religion in public settings.
In the end, the court voted 5 to 4 against the administration and upheld the lower court's decision. Among those in the majority were Justice Souter and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whose seat Judge Roberts has been nominated to fill.
Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Wednesday that Judge Roberts's participation in the case makes him "unsuited for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court." He said that if confirmed to the court, Judge Roberts would "open the door to majority rule on religious matters."
So the case was actually about allowing a clergyman to speak at a junior-high graduation. Great Scott, it's a theocracy!
The hair-on-fire hysteria on the part of the United Separators at the mere idea of a guy with a backwards collar being allowed to say a word at a graduation is only marginally less irrational than the ACLU threatening to sue the County of Los Angeles unless they removed the teeny, tiny cross atop a mission in the county seal, lest some unsuspecting and easily influenced Hindu or Buddhist see it and spontaneously combust.
Full disclosure: the "Jewish agnostic" of the title is myself; I'm Jewish on my parents' side, coming from a long tradition of secular American Jews stretching back to about the 1830s. But far from sharing Mr. Lynn's frothing hatred of anyone who believes in God, I myself love widespread Christianity and Judaism in society.
I absolutely believe that it is vital for a free and civilized society that the huge majority of people believe in what Dennis Prager calls "ethical monotheism." Prager defines ethical monotheism (as I understand it) as the belief in one omniscient God who demands that human beings behave towards each other with both decency and justice. Unless ethical monotheism is at the very core of a culture, that culture will retreat from justice and mock decency, and it will become a hellish place to live.
So I hope you're forgive my bluntness, but Barry Lynn and his United Separators can just go to the Hell that I don't believe in!
For the rest of this crabby, pro-Christian, pro-Jewish rant by a secular agnostic, read on.
The necessity is clear: all of our concepts of freedom and liberty derive from belief in the divinity of the human soul, found in both Judaism and Christianity. The rule of law derives from the idea of universal right and wrong -- which derives ultimately from Judaism's belief (even before Jesus) that the law is for all, king and shepherd alike. Even the scientific method also derives from the idea of universal right and wrong: gravity in the United States in 2005 is the same as gravity in Napoleonic France, Mediæval Germany, and the Roman Empire, whether it was recognized or not... which means not only the eternal values of Western civilization and the United States but even the material benefits that derive from modernity all depend upon ethical monotheism.
Which is why the farther you stray from that societal religious belief, the more tyrannical, backwards, and poverty-stricken that society becomes. Europe has turned its back on religion, and not coincidentally, on self defense, on economic growth, and on justice and decency (examples available upon request). But they sure love their anti-American grandstanding!
We may pass lightly over economic basket-cases like Tibet, horrific "atheist" dictatorships such as the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Mao's China, and the Latin American thugocracies (now new and improved in Venezuela!), and... well, the less said about the recent history of sub-Saharan Africa, the less likely I'll get my mug shot up on the wall of the Daily Kos: Wanted, dead or even deader, for crimes against progressivism!
(Note that just claiming to be a Christian does not make one an ethical monotheist; it depends upon one's actual beliefs, not the label.)
And I think it also succinctly answers Professor Bernard Lewis's question, "what went wrong" with Islam? Islam is monotheistic; but it is not, in my opinion, an "ethical monotheism." This is because in Islam, the most important duty that believers owe to other men is not to treat them with decency and justice, but rather to convert them to Islam, by force if necessary; and if they will not convert, to enslave them -- or kill them.
Ethical monotheisms very often behave unethically; this goes all the way back to the reign of King Saul in ancient Israel. But for every King Saul there is a Prophet Samuel who can step up to point out that the Law is for all. Throughout the long and evil history of slavery in the Christian West, for but one example, there were always opponents, some clergy and some lay, who argued that the institution was inherently unjust and wicked, for all men and women had divine souls that could not be herded like cattle. For centuries, the arguments fell on ears deafened by greed and inertia... but the arguments were there, ready to be used, when civilization finally matured to the point where it became the majority view in the nineteenth century.
Those arguments were never made in other cultures, for they made no sense: they did not have the concept of universal right and wrong. And they still don't, even today; I have never heard any deep or heartfelt rejection of slavery within Islam, for example; the arguments are merely of practicality, if they are even made at all.
The highest ideal of Buddhism appears to be acceptance of one's fate, from my reading; this is the ideal of perpetual victimhood. And the highest ideal of Communism and Naziism is obedience to the current party line. As I said supra, I believe the greatest ideal of Islam is conversion by any means necessary.
Only in Judeo-Christianity is the greatest ideal justice. For this reason, hostility towards mainstream Judeo-Christianity deeply offends me as a civilized Westerner, as an American, and especially as a secularist.
I want mainstream Catholics, Protestants, and Jews on the Supreme Court. I want the president and members of Congress to be mainstream Jews or Christians of some specific and heartfelt sect. Not some vague "Christian" who changes his religion over a bicycle path (if you know what I mean, and I think you do); but somebody who actually has a firm belief in some specific religion that actually sets ethical boundaries on his decisions and behavior. To quote my favorite TV show, "no man should be allwed to govern others until he has first learned to govern himself."
To repeat myself (because I like the phrase and because I'm basically too lazy to think of a different ending)... unless ethical monotheism is at the very core of a culture, that culture will retreat from justice and mock decency, and it will become a hellish place to live.
So I hope you're forgive my bluntness, but Barry Lynn and his United Separators can just go to the Hell that I don't believe in!
July 31, 2006
Why I Like Mel Better Than Abe
First off, I should mention that despite my name, I'm a Jew. I'm not religious, but I was raised in the Jewish culture; my father was a (nonreligious) Jew; my mother converted to Judaism when they married; and I had as thorough a Jewish grandmother as ever appeared in a Jackie Mason joke. I proudly refused to be bar mitzvahed, which is about as Jewish as you can get in California.
That said, I will flatly state that absolutely nothing that Mel Gibson said during his DUI arrest makes him an antisemite. By contrast, however, Abe Foxman -- head of the (Jewish) Anti-Defamation League -- is a despicable bigot who shames us Jews... and I wish he would just dry up and blow away.
I'm sure a lot of you are already scratching your heads and wondering if I've been nipping at the cooking sherry. After all, when Gibson was arrested, two newspapers (a reasonably good one and also the Los Angeles Times) report that he kept talking about the "f***ing Jews," saying "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," and demanding of the arresting deputy "are you a Jew?"
So why doesn't that make him an antisemite? It's very simple: I couldn't care less what somebody says when he's drunk. I care what he says and does while sober as a brass monkey.
What does it tell us that when Gibson gets pasted, he rants about the Jews? It tells us that he grew up in an antisemitic household with a father who thinks the Holocaust was "fiction." When Gibson is six sheets and a top-gallant to the wind, he is not rational... so big deal, big antisemite, he says irrational things when he's irrational. Who cares?
But by contrast, Abraham Foxman was presumably perfectly sober and in his right mind when he said of Gibson:
"It's not a proper apology because it does not go to the essence of his bigotry and his anti-Semitism," he said in a statement on the organization's Web site. "We would hope that Hollywood now would realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from this anti-Semite."
And we have to assume Foxman was equally in his senses when he attacked the Passion of the Christ -- through an ADL press release -- thus:
ADL and its representatives have never accused Mr. Gibson of being an anti-Semite. [Well, I guess that one's out the window now!] We do not know what is in his heart. We only know what he has put on the movie screen. The images there show Romans who behave with compassion toward Jesus. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, constantly expresses his reticence to harm Jesus. The Jews, on the other hand, are depicted as blood-thirsty. The Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas, is shown as bullying Pilate, and the hundreds and hundreds of amassed Jews demanding Jesus' death.
Oddly, however, I don't recall the ADL having any similar reaction to Jesus Christ Superstar -- which depicted exactly the same reactions among the Romans and the Pharisees, especially the cynical and murderous Caiaphas. (Or the New Testament, for that matter.) Perhaps it's only a coincidence that the 1970 play, and especially the 1973 movie version, has the sort of liberal orientation that Foxman has increasingly embraced... while the Passion is relentlessly traditional and conservative in its take on the gospels (Jesus doesn't actually order Judas to betray him, as he does in JCSS, for example).
(I myself had a different reason to reject the Passion: I found it boring. Honestly, there was no plot; and since I knew how it all turned out anyway, no suspense either. But that's all ancient hysteria now.)
Foxman is a cowardly traducer whose astonishing ability to find antisemites whenever he goes looking -- with the same zeal and success that Father Barré was able to find witches in Aldous Huxley's the Devils of Loudin -- debases and trivializes the very concept of antisemitism.
At a time when Arabs and Moslems are literally trying to wipe the Jews "from the face of the map," widely reprinting Mein Kampf in Arabic, and just one day after a bitter American Moslem shot several people at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, killing one woman... Abe Foxman is more interested in the urgent task of undermining Christianity and the "religious Right." To Foxman and the ADL, the biggest threat to Jews in the world today is that rampaging Christians, under the command of the Pope and the Rev. Louis Sheldon (the Pontiff's right arm in battle), will undertake a new crusade to recreate the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The glee with which he has jumped onto this momentary, drunken harangue by Gibson is more boorish than the rant itself. What is the danger from what Gibson said? Gibson was clearly channeling his deranged father; many slaves of the grape, when under the influence, revert to long discarded beliefs and stereotypes of their childhood, things they would never say when sober because they no longer believe what they believed when they were seven or eight years old.
When a blotto Mel Gibson bellows about the "f***ing Jews," is that going to encourage more people to become antisemites? Of course not. Far more likely is it that Foxman's demand for what amounts to a hate-speech code, preventing any Christian from expressing beliefs about the necessity of being "saved" that come straight out of their Bible, will infuriate so many of the majority religion that some, at least, will turn their backs on the Jews and on Israel.
Not that Foxman would care; it would only confirm everything he's always hated about Christians. And yes, I do indeed "know what is in his heart," because I take the man at his word.
When drunkards drink, they revert to their childhood and mouth words that Papa or Mama used to say. This doesn't prove them racists, bigots, or antisemites; it proves they're human.
It's much more important what people do and say when they know what they're doing and saying. For God's sake, Hitler didn't need to get drunk to hate the Jews.
All right, I'm done. I hope Foxman and all his little sycophants do not succeed in destroying Gibson's career over this pathetic incident. And I will certainly go out of my way to break any boycott of his future work.
July 10, 2006
Mitt the Mighty Mormon
Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics frets that Mitt Romney will be un-nominatable among Republican voters -- because Romney is a Mormon; it's the polls, you see:
On Monday The Los Angeles Times released the third batch of results from its most recent poll, dealing with religion and politics. The number with the most significance for 2008 isn't very shocking: "Thirty-seven percent of those questioned said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate."
But of course, they wouldn't be voting for "a Mormon presidential candidate;" they would be voting for (or against) Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts... and that can make all the difference.
I'm trying to remember the last time a candidate was rejected because he was a Mormon. Or a Catholic. Or a Jew, or because he was black or Asian, or because he was a woman or she was a man. I think the answer is "not in my lifetime."
Oh, there have been many defeated nominees who claimed they lost because of some completely ancilalry characteristic; former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley ran for governor of California in 1982 and 1986; and when state Attorney General George Deukmeijian just barely defeated him -- after early projections that Bradley would win -- many Bradley supporters (if not the mayor himself) accused Deukmejian supporters of racism (Bradley was black).
I suppose his race could have caused his defeat. Of course, a more likely explanation is that Bradley was very liberal; in addition, just before the 1982 contest, Bradley came out strongly in favor of a state initiative to ban all handguns from California. Prior to that announcement, Bradley was well ahead; but shortly thereafter, his support plummeted. Perhaps it's just a coincidence; perhaps all that latent California racism just happened, by sheer random chance, to catch up with him right after he announced he would work to disarm all Californios. But that's not how I would bet it.
So I'm still trying to think of a case where a candidate was defeated in a clear-cut case of racial, religious, or sexual bigotry... and I'm still drawing a blank, at least in the last forty or so years. All right, maybe in the deep South in the sixties, somebody might have been defeated for some office because he was the wrong religion -- Episcopalian, maybe. But it's far more likely such a person would be defeated because of the liberal or conservative positions that often come hand in hand with particular religions.
The big-C Conservative Jew Joseph Lieberman has been elected again and again from Connecticut, a state not normally associated with widespread Judaism; and of course, he was the Democratic nominee for president in 2002. And for that matter, the subject of this post, Mitt Romney -- remember him? -- was elected governor, not of Utah, but of Massachusetts.
Bevan frets that the attack on Romney would not be overt, where it could be dragged into the sunlight and dried up, but rather a whispering campaign that would lurk and fester in the damp and dark:
In addition to the LA Times poll, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that Romney's religion is going to be anywhere from a moderate to severe handicap, especially in the South (see Robert Novak and Amy Sullivan). And Ross Douthat provides a nimble description of why Romney's problem isn't just confined to the GOP primary:So the Republican primaries would be tough on Romney, and he would be a ripe target for an enterprising Rove wannabe with a taste for dirty campaigns. A few flyers about polygamy in South Carolinian mailboxes, or some push-poll telephone calls about the weirdness of the Book of Mormon in the Catholic Midwest . . . well, you get the idea. And things wouldn't get any easier in the general election, when the media would suddenly discover all sorts of juicy details about Joseph Smith's faith that are just crying out for a Time cover story, or a 60 Minutes special. If you think that journalists have had a field day with George W. Bush's fairly banal brand of evangelical Christianity, well, you ain't seen nuthin' yet.
But neither Novak nor Sullivan cite a single objective source for assuming evangelicals will refuse, en masse, to vote for a Mormon (would they refuse to vote for a small-c conservative Jew like Dennis Prager? I think not)... just unpersuasive anecdotal predictions. Example: Novak writes:
Prominent, respectable Evangelical Christians have told me, not for quotation, that millions of their co-religionists cannot and will not vote for Romney for president solely because he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
So some unnamed folks told Robert Novak that others -- not he, but "millions of [his] co-religionists," primarily, we suppose, in the South -- would prefer a liberal Democrat to a conservative Mormon. Among urban folklorists like Jan Harold Brunvand, this is called a "FOAF," a friend of a friend, and is one of the hallmarks of an urban legend.
Sullivan's "evidence" is even sillier. Discussing the 2002 gubernatorial race between Democrat Janet Napolitano and Republican Matt Salmon, a Mormon, she notes:
A month before election day, the race was neck-and-neck, when a third-party candidate named Dick Mahoney began running a television commercial that raised Salmon's Mormonism in the context of a Mormon fundamentalist sect that openly practices polygamy on the Arizona/Utah border. The ad was offensive and was immediately denounced by religious and political leaders. It was also effective.
On election day, Salmon lost to Napolitano by a razor-thin margin. Napolitano won in part by picking up votes among moderate female voters, but also because Salmon ran far behind congressional candidates in the most conservative and heavily evangelical districts.
So if the race was "neck and neck" before the election, and then, after the anti-Mormon ads, Napolitano won by a "razor-thin margin" -- isn't the most likely conclusion that the ads had no effect whatsoever? Sullivan reports that Salmon did poorly among evangelicals; but she doesn't tell us whether he was doing any better among evangelicals "a month before election day." (She also completely buys into the myth that John McCain was destroyed in South Carolina by vile rumors spread by "Bush surrogates," so I tend to discount her seriousness.)
Simply put, when people say, in the abstract, "I would never vote for a Mormon," it's a relatively meaningless statement from a political perspective: as I said above, nobody pulls the lever for "Mr. Mormon cult leader;" the candidate is "Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, the guy who saved the Olympics in Salt Lake City and a first-rate conservative who managed to get elected in one of the bluest of blue states."
In fact, the whole suggestion that Romney will lose because "evangelicals" (translation: the evil religious Right) think he's one of those Satan-worshipping Mormons smacks not only of anti-Christian and anti-Southern bigotry but also argument by melodrama: it must be true because it would be so wild and bizarre if it were true!
It likewise depends upon believing that those "rightwingnut Christians" hate Mormons, call them cultists, and are so bigotted, they would never, ever vote for one. Big Lizards says, regardless of how they answered in a Los Angeles Times poll, when the time comes, evangelicals will step up and vote for the conservative over the liberal... not the secular Christian over the conservative Mormon.
If Romney loses the primary, it will be because of something he said or something he did... not because of something be believes.
June 12, 2006
Clinton Reveals Bush Is God
Former President William Jefferson "Big Bible" Clinton revealed today that President George W. "Burning" Bush is, in fact, God. One can only conclude, therefore, that the rest of the Republican leadership are the Archangels, Thrones, and Powers of the heavenly heirarchy:
Clinton Links GOP Policies to More Storms
As Tropical Storm Alberto threatened to strengthen into the ninth hurricane in 22 months to affect Florida, former President Clinton predicted Monday that Republican environmental policies will lead to more severe storms.
"It is now generally recognized that while Al Gore and I were ridiculed, we were right about global warming," Clinton said at a fundraiser for the Florida Democratic Party. "It's a serious problem. It's going to lead to more hurricanes."
The Florida Republicans responded in their usual hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners style:
Jeff Sadosky, spokesman for the state Republican Party, decried Clinton's rhetoric. "Bill Clinton's class warfare and race-baiting message gets us no closer to solutions for the issues he brings up," he said.
Sadosky referred in part to Clinton's comments earlier this month in Arizona. At that event, Clinton characterized Republican Party leaders as right-wing, white Southerners.
Thus spake Clinton -- left-wing, white Southerner and the country's first black president. (At least Florida Republican spokesman Jeff Sadosky didn't refer to "the failed policies of the past.")
It is notable that Sadosky, while denouncing other things Clinton said, failed to repudiate Clinton's claim of divine powers for the current president and his party; in the tradition of the antique media, Big Lizards takes silence as assent... thus, the divinity of George W. Bush is now a bipartisan policy position.
Bush prayer rugs will shortly be available via HughHewitt.com; the White House Cathedral and Carniceria recently named Hewitt Archbishop of Blogoberry.
May 19, 2006
The Value of Uniqueness
The most typical response from those who support same-sex marriage to anyone who opposes it is this: "suppose your state adopted same-sex marriage; would that somehow hurt your own relationship with your wife? Would you love her any less just because two guys or two girls could also get married?"
The second question masquerades as a restatement or clarification of the first, but it's actually an insulting irrelevancy. We're not talking about love; pure love between any number of people has never been illegal. Only certain manifestations of love have been legally proscribed.
One such manifestation is sex. Sex other than within a traditional marriage used to be illegal nearly everywhere within Christendom (and Jewishdom); over the centuries, societies recognized the foolishness of trying to enforce marital fidelity by law.
Then, until recently, what were considered the most extreme versions of sex (to some people) were outlawed by the all-purpose word "sodomy," which typically referred, it seemed, to anything the judge wouldn't do with his own wife. I have argued for nearly twenty years that our organic documents -- especially the Declaration of Independence -- recognize a general "liberty interest" that more or less says the government should not try to regulate purely private "matters of conscience."
This, the Libertarian Axiom, has never been accepted as generally true; but in specific cases it has. And in particular, in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court struck down all laws banning "sodomy," however defined.
So let's drop the "love" and "sex" stuff and get back to marriage.
First, same-sex marriage is not itself a "liberty interest." Liberty is the freedom to do something, to undertake some action -- from saying something to assembling to transacting business to having sex. But legal recognition of a same-sex union as "marriage" does not confer any freedom of action; you are already free to have gay sex, to live together, to call yourselves married in other than legal circumstances.
Rather, it's a demand for social approval of certain actions... and "social approval" is never a liberty interest.
Thus, society can restrict what kinds of relationships get dubbed "marriages" without restricting liberty. But should it? Does same-sex marriage actually harm society... and more specifically, does it actually harm already existing marriages?
The answer to the first question above -- does legal same-sex marriage somehow hurt my relationship with my wife? -- is Yes, of course it does... because it cheapens the unique value of that relationship.
Semantic note, it wouldn't hurt my relations with my wife (we would still interact the same)... but it would hurt the relationship as a separate entity, just as it would if we suddenly discovered the rabbi who married us was really an imposter, and we weren't actually legally married.
The reason is that uniqueness is itself a value; take away the unique nature of marriage, and the value is greatly diminished. All that stands between marriage and shacking up is that unique nature.
Illustration: suppose you go out with the girl of your dreams. Or, if you are a girl, the boy of your dreams. (If you are gay, please reverse those... see how ecumenical I am?) You have been friends with this person for some time, and you secretly love her. Him. Whatever.
At the end of the date, this person turns to you, takes you by the hands, and says "Pat" -- let's hope your name actually is Pat -- "I love you." Then the person kisses you passionately.
You're ecstatic. You're walking on air. All the way hope, it's like a Fred Astaire movie.
Then the next day, you tell you friends... and they solemnly inform you that she (or he) says that to every person she dates... kiss and all.
Now how do you feel? You feel like crap, because you realize that there was no uniqueness in that proclamation: she loves everybody, which is the same as saying she doesn't love anybody, especially not you. What made the three words valuable (even holy or sacred) was your mistaken idea that they were unique, something she shared with you and with nobody else. As soon as you realize those same words were offered to every Tom, Joaquin, and Yuri, they cease to have any value.
So we agree, I hope, that uniqueness itself is a quality that can imbue a situation or relationship with high, even holy value. Make the unique universal, and the value it adds vanishes altogether.
Back to marriage. Relationships have value not only to individuals but to the groups and societies those individuals form. A lawyer-client relationship, for example; it's useful to the individuals involved, but it's also useful to society to have an avenue where people can get advice without having to worry that their problems will be spread all over the community.
So we reward such relationships with special privileges (confidentiality, for example) -- and we confine them by special rules (defining who is a lawyer and who is a client of that lawyer). This is because we, as a society, believe that lawyer-client relationships benefit our society -- so we want to encourage them, and we also want to regulate them to ensure people are not just taking advantage of rights without fulfilling the obligations.
Marriage is the same: society has decided (rightly, in my opinion) that traditional marriage is a huge benefit not just to the individuals involved (typically more than two: husband, wife, but also children and potentially Grandma and Grandpa), but also to society as a whole: it nurtures children in the best possible environment, it combines the male with the female principles, it civilizes men, it protects women, and it provides an axis around which the wheels of larger institutions rotate, including property ownership, parental obligations, and our interaction with the government from testimony to taxes.
So we encourage it. But such encouragement is meaningless and useless if it's universally applied to every imaginable relationship of one or more human beings.
A "marriage" of thirteen women and six men is not the same as a traditional marriage: it does not have the same qualities, it does not have the same effect, it does not underpin our society the same way as does the particular relationship we have always called Marriage.
When society jettisons all distinctions between different types of relationships and chooses (or is forced) to call everything "marriage," then Marriage loses its uniqueness as an institution, hence its value to society and the individuals within the marriage.
It's like saying that any two or three or fifty chums chatting with each other are the same as a lawyer talking with his client, and they get all the same rights and privileges. There are rights of universalism and rights of exclusion; marriage is the latter. When an exclusive right is granted to all, it loses any value it obtained from uniqueness... which means all value whatsoever.
So the answer is yes: if California were to change the law to allow same-sex couples to legally marry (or groups larger than two, or persons already married, or consanguineous groups, or groups that do not obtain a license or go through a marriage ceremony), it would indeed damage my relationship (not relations) with my wife: the change would diminish its value, because it would remove the quality of uniqueness that underpins that value.
Thus, there is real damage to society from opening "marriage" up to all sorts of other relationships. And make no mistake: those advocating same-sex marriage also advocate the other changes listed in the paragraph above, because they rightly recognize that their real enemy is the very concept that any form of relationship at all can be excluded from the state of matrimony. If you recognize that society, in the form of the State, has any say whatsoever in determining who is "married," then there is no reason why it cannot restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.
Their only consistent argument is to say "marriage for all, under any form of relationship." And marriage-for-all is ths same thing as marriage-for-none: definitions are by nature exclusionary; and Humpty-Dumpty aside, when you can simply redefine a word to mean anything convenient at the moment -- then that word actually means nothing at all.
There is a fancy word for this: nihilism. And those who are most forceful in advocating same-sex marriage are by and large marital nihilists who simply want to eliminate legal marriage altogether. Bear that in mind when you listen to their blandishment; substitute "polygamy" for "same-sex marriage," and you'll see that their arguments survive intact.
March 11, 2006
Wafa Wafting Into View
Sachi and I followed the Power Line link a few days ago and very much enjoyed watching MEMRI's video of Dr. Wafa Sultan -- a psychiatrist, but don't hold that against her -- rip apart some hapless Imam somewhere in debate.
It was carried on al-Jazeera, and MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) added English subtitles.
Well, "debate" is somewhat misleading. The Moslem cleric simply stood there, opening and closing his mouth like a turbaned carp, while Dr. Sultan danced up and down his spine in hobnailed pumps. (If you dislike watching online verbal dissections -- or you have a dial-up connection -- you can read a partial transcript here to whet your appetite. But the video is fuller and much funner!)
The Jews have come from the tragedy (of the Holocaust), and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror, with their work, not their crying and yelling. Humanity owes most of the discoveries and science of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists.
15 million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge. We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people.
The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a Mosque, kill a Muslim, or burn down an embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people, and destroying embassies.
This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them.
Now she's hit the "big time," being profiled by a two-pager in the New York Times. And it's even a sympathetic story! I find that amazing, considering that she compared the battle between Islam and the West to "a clash between... barbarity and rationality." I would have thought the Times would do one of its patented hatchet jobs, perhaps implying she had helped George Bush drag James Byrd behind that pickup truck.
If you haven't checked these out yet, it's time.
February 3, 2006
Bride of Radical Prophetism
A commenter raised a couple of good arguments against my previous post, When Radical Prophetism Eats Radical Secularism, arguments that deserve a wider response.
- If artists can caricature icons of other religions but not Islam, then that means Islam is more important than the rest.
Let's think about this one. When Andres Serrano produced the photograph Piss Christ, what was the general reaction among believing Christians and among conservatives? It wasn't that long ago, and I remember quite well: the reaction was outrage -- absolute outrage. The argument then was that the only possible reason to immerse a crucifix in urine (Serrano claimed it was his own) and take a picture of it was to blaspheme Jesus Christ and inflame and insult Christians for no valid purpose.
Nobody on the right suggested censorship, and I'm not suggesting it here. But they argued that simple decency should restrain artists from needlessly offending people just to watch them hop about.
Those objecting to Piss Christ didn't kill or attack anyone, of course, because modern-day Christianity and conservatism are civilized belief systems; but that speaks only to their reaction, not the original provocation. Such provocation is equally morally offensive whether the target is civilized or savage.
Fast forward to today. What is the argument here? That while it's wrong to childishly insult and outrage Christians and conservatives, who are civilized, it's perfectly all right to do exactly the same thing to Moslems, because they're more likely to react violently?
Anybody here see the Mel Brooks movie High Anxiety? When Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Brooks) visits the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous for the first time, one of the doctors there, Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman), introduces Thorndyke to a patient who thinks he's being chased by vampires.
When the patient appears calm (and thus might provoke Thorndyke into releasing him, costing the Institute money), Montague puts fake "vampire teeth" in his mouth and growls at the patient to provoke him into hysteria.
Is that the argument we now make? That because a great many Moslems are psychotic, it's perfectly all right to play to their worst psychoses and provoke them into a frenzy of religious agony just to watch them squirm? This is like teasing the retarded kid. And to hell (of course) with any people they may kill, after we've poked them sufficiently; can't make an omlet without breaking a few heads.
This is sheer lunacy, and I mean on the European newspapers' side as much as on the Moslems' side. And it's also sheer hypocrisy, because many of the same sources egging on the newspapers today demanded that Piss Christ not be shown back in the 1980s.
- If Moslems want to live in a European democracy, they must accept the fundamental rights and liberties.
All right... so what would be the reaction here if a German newspaper -- Der Spiegel, let's say -- began running pornographic, antisemitic cartoons straight out of Der Stürmer of the Nazi days? When German Jews felt humiliated, insulted, and outraged, would we applaud Der Spiegel's "courage" for bucking the PC trend against antisemitism?
Bear in mind that I never once argued that European governments should clamp down on the newspapers and prevent them running it; I argue that the newspapers themselves should have made the decision not to publish, that there is nothing wrong with decency and discretion, and that it's as valid a principle as freedom of speech.
I am a libertarian of the Right: I believe very strongly in the civil liberty of freedom of speech. But liberty and responsibility are two sides of the same coin, something the "civil libertarians" on the Left regularly forget. The simple reality is that widespread acceptance of the former is predicated upon widespread fulfillment of the latter. Freedom is never free; it depends upon people by and large doing the right thing, without coercion, simply because it is the right thing.
The Founding Fathers had a great fear of tyranny, but they had just as great a fear of the mob: and that's the only way to view the knee-jerk reaction applauding newspapers for needlessly outraging and inciting Moslems: it's the same impluse that drives the chanting mob at a bear baiting.
It's disgusting; it's low; and it should be beneath us.
There are many areas where we need to confront Islam, most obviously the attempt of some Moslems to conquer the world and impose Sharia law on the unwilling rest of us. But this does not help that cause; if it does anything, it cripples it, because it drives moderate Moslems (yes, they exist) towards their radical brethren and away from the sanity of liberal democracy.
And the ugliest point is that I can see only one reason why people don't argue, as I do, that while newspapers have the "right" to do this, they should exercise their discretion and refrain; only one reason why folks should instead stand on a chair and egg them on: simple anti-Moslem bigotry. Actually cheerleading for anti-Mohammed cartoons is acting the part of a bigot; there is no other reason for applauding those -- while condemning Ted Rall and that disgusting cartoon of the quadruple amputee soldier and Dr. Rumsfeld classifying him as "battle hardened."
If we're going to win the war against militant Islamism, we must fight it from high ground... which includes not merely "rights" but also the responsibility to behave as adults and the duty to stand and fight only when there is a reason to stand and fight... not just anytime we feel feisty.
When Radical Prophetism Eats Radical Secularism
Did I write "eats?" My error; I must have meant "meets."
It takes a great deal of courage to tug on Superman's cape -- or the Prophet's beard. Courage, that is, if the tugger has sense and reason and actually understands what the hell he's doing -- and the likely reaction.
Suffice to say, I do not believe the European newspapers publishing the mild cartoons of Mohammed are actually courageous. I think instead that they're functionally illiterate in the language of religion: their defiance is like a drunken sixteen year old who picks a fight with Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) in Goodfellas.
This whole thing leaves a sour taste in my mouth: Europeans are such radical secularists, I'm not sure they really understand that some people actually believe in religion and are willing to die -- or kill -- for it. Here is the editor in chief of a French newspaper that ran the cartoons:
The Egyptian publisher of France Soir, which printed the controversial caricatures Wednesday, fired the paper's managing editor, Jacques LeFranc, late Wednesday night, saying, "We present our regrets to the Muslim community and to all people who have been shocked or made indignant by this publication."
But the dismissed editor's boss, Faubert, wrote an unrepentant editorial in Thursday's editions: "We had no desire to add oil to the fire as some may think. A fundamental principle of democracy and secularism is being threatened."
What fundamental principle is that -- that actions have no consequences? I believe the newspapers have the right to publish the pictures; and if they were dealing with a sane religion (Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Odin worship), it might even be salutory... I'm not sure what the point would be to call all Christians "Jesus freaks," as Ted Turner did, but at least it gives Christians the opportunity to turn the other cheek.
But they're not dealing with a modern, civilized religion; there aren't many "Moslem Methodists," as I noted back in September. One needn't always rush to do whatever one has the "right" to do; a bit of circumspection is often in order. In this case, shouldn't somebody ask "is this the right time and place for a war, and is a cartoon the cause under whose banner we march?"
This is imbecilic. I would love to see Europe pick a real fight with militant Islamism... but the first rule of war is only to declare it on people you really want to fight -- not on a billion people at once, many of whom would be your allies under better circumstances. Here's another example of European tone-deafness when it comes to religion:
In another day of confrontation between the largely secular nations of Europe and Muslim countries where religion remains a strong force in daily life, Islamic activists threatened more widespread protests and boycotts of European businesses. While some European officials sought to defuse the crisis, many journalists insisted that despite Islamic outrage, religious sensibilities should not result in censorship.
"We would have done exactly the same thing if it had been a pope, rabbi or priest caricature," wrote Editor in Chief Serge Faubert in Thursday's editions of France Soir, one of the newspapers that printed the cartoons.
Yes, you slope-browed, prognathic buffoon; but Catholics, Jews, and Protestants won't strap on bombs and blow up your newspaper offices. This isn't courage, it's adolescent recklessness.
If they want to demonstrate courage and respect for freedom of speech, they can editorialize in favor of the Iraq war or put out an Arabic-language version of their newspaper in the Middle East -- one that promotes civilization, not the antisemitic, anti-American insanity European newspapers so often validate. They can have the guts to face up squarely to the fact that most people in the world believe in some form of God and religion, instead of pretending that the extreme secularism of Europe is the global norm.
Courage? How about a series of articles about the economic fecklessness of European socialism, with its twenty-eight hour workweeks, month-long vacations, and semiweekly general strikes? Or how about a call that the governments of Europe start spending at least half as big a percent of GDP on defense and their "militaries" as the United States does, rather than their typical one-tenth as much?
Those might take some courage; the fine citizens of the City of Lights might start heaving overbaked baguets through newspaper windows. But at least the battle would actually be in service to some cause other than provocation solely for sake of Europe's ego!
Newspapers in Denmark, France, the UK, and elsewhere across Europe act as if voluntarily choosing not to publish something that is needlessly and foolishly inflammatory is "censorship," as if they have never even heard the word "discretion."
There are many battles we must fight against militant Islamism; but this isn't one of them. This banal donnybrook blurs the distinction between terrorism and mere religious hysteria, which is a traditional component of even moderate Islam. It drives together the Moslem groups we have so carefully pried apart over the last year and a half. It angers those whom we had rather calm down and heartens those we should rather anger. It's blind, lame, ham-fisted, and typically obtuse, as only those who are well protected by their betters can be.
This isn't an act of courage, for God's sake; it's poking a stick into a scorpion's nest to see what comes bubbling out.
God, do I dislike Europeans.
(Hat tip Scott at Power Line, who reads this stuff so the rest of us don't have to.)
January 27, 2006
Freedom From Religion
So now we know:
Priest May Be Tried for Saying Jesus Existed
January 27, 2006
VITERBO, Italy — An Italian judge heard arguments Friday on whether a small-town parish priest should stand trial for asserting that Jesus Christ existed.
The priest's atheist accuser, Luigi Cascioli, says the Roman Catholic Church has been deceiving people for 2,000 years with a fable that Christ existed, and that the Rev. Enrico Righi violated two Italian laws by reasserting the claim....
"The point is not to establish whether Jesus existed or not, but if there is a question of possible fraud," Cascioli's attorney, Mauro Fonzo, told reporters before the hearing.
Cascioli says the church has been gaining financially by "impersonating" as Christ someone by the name of John of Gamala, the son of Judas from Gamala.
He has said he has little hope of the case succeeding in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Italy, but that he is merely going through the necessary legal steps to reach the European Court of Human Rights, where he intends to accuse the church of what he calls "religious racism."
Now we know what atheists really want: not freedom of religion, but freedom from religion... and to paracontextualize Erich Fromm, atheists want an "escape from freedom."
It's not that they simply don't want you to force your beliefs on them; they don't want you to have the freedom to have beliefs that contradict theirs in the first place... for if Cascioli wins his case, Christianity will be outlawed in Italy.
Thanks for the heads up, Mr. Cascioli!
January 18, 2006
Ideological Crazy Quilt
A follow-up to and expansion of my previous post, Offered For Your Approval.
Today, on Daniel Weintraub's usually excellent Bee-blog California Insider, under the title Ideological samplers, he opined the following anent Hillary Rodham Clinton Rodham:
It's one thing to waffle, straddle or flip-flop, and both Clinton and Schwarzenegger have done some of that at times. But that is not the same thing as being an ideological sampler, picking and choosing positions from across the partisan spectrum. The critics would do well to note the difference. [Emphasis added]
Pardon my frankness, but this is absolute rot. And I'm surprised at Daniel for falling for this line; he is, I believe, a Democrat, and I'm sure he has been hearing this claim -- that the Democrats are not wafflers, they're ideological samplers -- ever since 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for office. It's the standard dodge to rationalize voting for the $87 billion before voting against it.
There are two ways to go about deciding one's positions on important issues. The wise way is first to decide what you really believe, deep down in your soul: what are your core principles? What animates your philosophy?
For example, some of my core beliefs are:
- Human liberty is the most important goal.
- Decent life is precious, but it is not infinitely precious.
- We must have the courage to fight for what we believe.
From just these three animating principles (three among many others), I can draw a conclusion: we must fight to preserve and expand human liberty, even if the fight puts our own lives at risk. I would have been a patriot in 1776, not a loyalist. But this is a conclusion, not a core principle: it is derived from core principles.
I can also conclude that it's morally right for us to fight to liberate the Iraqis -- hence, that this war is honorable. Someone else might conclude the opposite, that since there is little chance (he may believe) that this fight will be successfull, we'll simply squander precious lives and put our own liberty at risk (by drawing counterattack, he decides, which would cause our government to curtail our liberties for the sake of our lives). Each of us draws valid conclusions from the same core principles (depending on our view of the facts on the gound), even if our conclusions are polar opposites.
When a person derives his conclusions from core principles, it shows: he is consistent, articulate, and even stalwart, because unless one of his core principles is that he is more important than anyone or anthing else in the universe, he will be willing to lay down his life to achieve critical goals derived from his core principles: protecting his family, defending his country, fighting for liberty and freedom, even -- in the case of jihadis -- dying to destroy the infidels who threaten the souls of the faithful. The principle, whatever it is, comes first; the policies are derived from the principles.
But there is another way to arrive at one's positions on the major issues... and that is the method here defended by Weintraub. If a person has no animating principles, he can simply pick one position from column A and two from column B, selecting them based upon expediency, the nature of the Now. The ideological sampler becomes an ideological crazy quilt, "a thing of shreds and patches" hastily stitched together, the banal seascapes sewn right up next to the hellish glimpses of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
In this mad worldview, the position du jour is the primary source, and any "principles" must simply be deduced from what the subject does. Sensationalism, sensualism, solipsism, and nihilism are the four main branches of this epistemology; its followers comprise adrenaline junkies, decadent dilettantes, ultimate egoists, and visionaries of the Void. Nowhere is coherence. All is higgledy-piggledy:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(From W.B. Yeats, "the Second Coming," emphasis added)
It's easy to justify voting for it before voting against it, because in between Then and Now, the wind shifted: Then, the forces of wartime solidarity prevailed; but Now, the elections loom and Democrats seek ways to differentiate themselves from George W. Bush and the Republicans.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we oppose same-sex marriage, because the American people have our ear; but on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the Advocate and GLAAD are more strident, so we applaud Gavin Newsom and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. "Saturday night Bill" and "Sunday morning Bill" -- Dick Morris was specifically talking about Bill Clinton, but the strange interlude serves as metaphor for the entire Democratic Party, with a tiny number of exceptions (Joe Lieberman, Zell Miller, that lot).
Alas, as a Democrat -- or at least, a liberal Republican à la Lincoln Chafee -- Weintraub cannot see that a country founded upon core principles and moral certitudes cannot be run as an ideological crazy quilt, any more than a naked atheist can be the pope.
When we have peace and prosperity, we can indulge the crazy quilters... for a short while. But in times of national stress, whether military, sociological, or economic -- well, like Paris Hilton, they simply become too high maintenance to afford.
January 12, 2006
In Defense of (Some) Elitism
The only charge against Judge Samuel Alito that seemed, at the end, to animate the Democrats crouching on the Senate Judiciary Committee was the revelation (should we say confession?) that he was a member once of a group called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP), which he described in a November 15th, 1985 job application to be Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Reagan administration (duh), as "a conservative alumni group" (page 3).
Naturally, this charge is meaningless without an included charge that CAP itself was disreputable somehow. CAP's raison d'etre was to demand that Princeton rebuild the ROTC building after ungrateful radicals burnt it down. The Princeton Board of Trustees had refused to rebuild, presumably out of exaggerated deference to campus radicals, which appeasement was then occurring at many elite higher institutes, according to Robert Bork.
Of course, few today would hold it against a man that he was a member of a group that supported rebuilding a fire-bombed ROTC building (unlike in the early 70s, when such membership would be a black mark indeed); so the Democrats had to scratch somewhat deeper.
CAP was a very traditionalist social-conservative group, and they opposed other changes: for example, they opposed quotas for racial minorities. But again, this is currently a pretty mainstream opinion, hardly conducive to ginning up a lynch mob against Judge Alito. The Dems dug hard and deep.
Besides being pro-ROTC and anti-racial-minority-quota, CAP also demanded that "every humanities and social science department include one or two conservatives," according to a New York Times article of 1974, available only as a smeary pdf, unless you're anxious to fork over some money to "Pinch" Sulzberger.
The group is calling for a more active alumni role in decision-making, a greater representation of conservatives among the faculty, more regulations governing students' academic and social lives and more-favorable treatment of athletes by the Admissions Office.
But again, little of this agenda seems destined to rouse the peasants to descend, with sharpened torches and burning pitchforks, upon the Capitol steps demanding the exile of Judge Alito. Sens. Biden (D-DE), Schumer (D-NY), and especially Kennedy (D-Margaritaville) kept up the spadework, finally breaking out in China, where they dangled upside-down from the hole they'd dug. No matter, they had found their final line of attack.
Back in 1969, Princeton -- until then an all-male Christian university -- began to admit some women. As a compromise, however, they required that 800 admission slots be reserved for men -- a male quota. As total admissions were likewise capped, this amounted to a de-facto ceiling above which the number of female admissions could not rise.
But in January 1974, the Board of Trustees voted to remove the reserved slots for men. As the Times put it:
The subsequent adoption of an equal-access admissions policy last Jan. 19, along with the decision to retain undergraduate population at current levels, are expected to result in a decrease in the number of males matriculating each year.
CAP opposed this change to the traditions of Princeton, as its founders had opposed the original decision five years earlier to admit women at all (though CAP did not yet exist at that time). CAP was pro-quota for males (and the spawn of Princeton alumni), but anti-quota for racial minorities... which the Democrats of 2005 see as a contradiction. (They are of course untroubled by Wellesley College or the racially separtist Congressional Black Caucus, but that isn't the point here.)
The past is prologue; this line of attack by the Democrats on Judge Alito failed, producing only one direct casualty (Mrs. Judge Alito, who was driven from the hearing room in tears by the calumnies flung at her husband by weasels) and likely several indirect casualties come November. I'm more interested in the underlying question: is there a non-racist, non-sexist argument in favor of the CAP position?
Actually, I have no difficulty coming up with one -- which paradoxically relies upon the central organizing principle of the contemporary Democratic Party. I argue that exclusivity -- elitism -- is an essential element of a commitment to "diversity."
A libertarian of the Right would argue that the only diversity that matters in an anti-racist, anti-sexist society is diversity of thought. Unless the Left is formally willing to embrace pure racism and racial separatism, they would be forced, however reluctantly, to agree.
But thought does not arise in a vacuum. It is not encoded in our chromosomes how we'll think about certain issues: some identical twins think alike, but others do not, which clearly implies the relationship is more complex than simple genetic determinism might suggest. This is just a roundabout way of saying that how you think is to some extent a product of your raising... the environment in which your thought processes form.
Environment comprises many layers: there is the overall "gloss" of being a human being; call that Layer 0. Overlaid upon Layer 0 is one's time in history (people in 1506 think differently than people in 1006 or 2006), one's country and language, and one's general social and physical stature. Call these collectively Layer 1. But beyond these macro-layers, there are also more localized micro-layers, from state and city to neighborhood, family, friends, to the university faculty and fellow students, in the present case. Let's call this Layer 2.
And finally, there is Layer 3, which is one's individual "self," the Ego that uniquely identifies each person. For shorthand, we can call these the universal, class, local, and individual layers of environment, respectively.
The problem is that it's unclear how these layers interact, or even whether they interact in roughly the same way for each person or wildly diverge from individual to individual. But it's clear that Layer 0 is completely unchangeable without massive genetic engineering of the species; Layer 1 is uniform for vast gulps of people (in the millions or tens of millions); and Layer 3 is pretty much beyond the reach of the Princeton Board of Trustees.
And that leaves only Layer 2, the Local Layer, that can be affected by university policies; in particular, by the selection of an individual student's professors, classmates, and the staff with which he must deal.
The first, naive method for creating diversity of thought that typically occurs to folks is to require that every university's staff, faculty, and student population exemplify diversity of thought. In other words, trying to hire one of each school of thought for each department.
The problem with the simplistic method is that some philosophies (usually socialist) are specifically designed to be extraordinarily attractive on first glance; it's only later, after hard, rigorous thought, that the implicate flaws and absurdities emerge. Alas, the untrained mind of a typical university freshman is not inclined to do the heavy mental lifting required to achieve enlightenment. As the old saw puts it, a man who is not a socialist at twenty has no heart; a man who is still a socialist at forty has no head.
Too, since flavors of leftism tend to bifurcate endlessly, eventually there are hundreds of branches. Conservatives are by nature conservative (duh again), so they tend to shun schismatics. Thus, trying to represent every school of thought that claims independence usually means the faculty includes fifty-seven varieties of socialist, from Stalinist to Bakuninite to Kropotkian to Keynesian to Deaniac to Kerryite to bush-league collectivists like Hillary Clinton -- versus one center-right conservative à la Walter Williams. Sheer weight of numbers overwhelms one whole school of thought.
But there is a better way to establish diversity of thought in the nation: encourage universities as universities to develop a "way of thinking" that is similar across the campus -- and then encourage a diversity in these various similiarities. Thus, there would be a "Yale" way of thinking, a "Harvard" way of thinking, and a "University of Chicago" way of thinking, each (one hopes) significantly different from the others. Kids and their parents could select the style of thought they will be encouraged to adopt by selecting the particular university to attend.
Since the university would hire according to this mode of thought, most of the faculty would represent it. Thus, even if the philosophy were not immediately accessible without serious pondering, the faculty would work together to force students at least to think hard enough about it to have an informed reaction: if the economics program at the University of Chicago pounds the ideas of Milton Friedman into its students' heads long enough, they'll at least understand monetarism well enough to accept or reject it on its merits, rather than because "hey hey ho ho Western Civ has got to go!"
The biggest danger to this technique is if all the schools begin to think alike. Then you have, not universities, but uniformities.
At the moment, and even more so back in 1974, the normative mode of university thought was liberal: pro-racial minority, anti-white, pro-female, and anti-male. (It was never "pro-equality of opportunity;" that's a myth. Liberalism always chose sides.) As Layer-1 environmental glosses, a student's sex and racial/ethnic background likely have an impact (at least) on how he thinks. Hence, an all girl campus, an all boy campus, and a co-ed campus will likely have differing modes of thought. Similarly, campuses that are mostly white, mostly black, mostly Hispanic, mostly Jewish, and racially and ethnically mixed will probably have notable differences in their cultures of thought.
So CAP could argue that they were trying to preserve at least one university as a bastion of white, Christian, male thought, in order to increase diversity by giving students an opportunity to choose to attend Princeton instead of, say, Yale or U.C. Berkeley.
I actually have a lot of sympathy for this effort, though I suspect it's doomed: universities will always more or less reflect the Layer-1 worldview of the larger society surrounding them; as King Canute demonstrated, you cannot command the tides. But it's not always clear whether certain changes are actually a "tide," or merely transient fads and whims: it's best to fight vigorously for any university's unique character, even if some others find it repugnant, to retain it as an option for future generations of student body.
(The only exception would be modes of thought that our society finds so dangerous that we really do want to eradicate them: an all-male student body doesn't equate to misogyny, and a mostly white student body doesn't equate to racism; but an explicitly misogynous or racist campus -- one that teaches that women or minorites are inferior -- is something that should be obliterated. But that does not describe the Princeton that existed in 1968, which is the Princeton to which CAP wanted to return.)
If a certain thought pattern become discredited enough, applications to its schools will plummet, and they'll go out of business; so it goes -- it's a free market. But until that happens, it's an extraordinarily stupid idea to artificially limit our diversity of thought by pushing for uniformity among universities -- stripping uniqueness in the name of "relevance" and "access."
January 6, 2006
Two? Why Not Two Hundred?
Rachell Zoll, religion writer for the Associated Press, reports that two stations are refusing to air a new NBC series, the Book of Daniel, about an evidently delusional, apostate priest and his irreligious family:
Two television stations are refusing to broadcast a new NBC series about an Episcopal priest who abuses painkillers, has a gay son, a promiscuous straight son, a daughter who deals marijuana, and a wife who drinks too much.
I should note that I am not a Christian; I am a very secularized, agnostic Jew. But even I have become appalled over the past ten or twelve years at the increasingly disreputable and slimy attacks on Christianity on television. My own recent example is the show Seventh Heaven on the Dubya-Bee, which I started watching from the first episode. At first, I was quite happy, as the Camden family was portrayed as actually religious and not hypocritical -- good heavens, what a concept: a minister who actually believes what he preaches! Liberal but sincere in their faith.
Within short order, however, the WB corrected this oversight. They started giving the family one liberal crisis after another: drugs, sex, slutty attire for the girls, a sudden attack of Vagina-Monologue feminism in the mother, Catherine Hicks, and various crises of doubt for the minister father, Stephen Collins, that began to rack up like Jan Brady's schizopheric attacks of identity crisis on the Brady Bunch.
Finally, when the gal who played the eldest daughter, Jessica Biel, posed naked for Gen-Next nudie magazine Maxim and denounced everyone on the show for being insufficiently New Leftist, and when the young male sibling (Simon, played by David Gallagher, I think) was made over into a Menudo-aged teen stud, I just tuned out. I'd had my fill; my hypocrisy meter was pegged.
Except for those few shows actually executive-produced by sincerely religious people (Highway to Heaven, for example), religion on the tube has become so grindingly tendentious that it's unwatchable, at least by me.
Here is an exchange reported by Ms. Zoll about the new NBC show, all emphasis added by me:
In a statement Thursday, NBC said, "We're confident that once audiences view this quality drama themselves, they'll appreciate this thought-provoking examination of one American family."
But the American Family Association said the series was another sign of NBC's "anti-Christian bigotry." Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, an anti-defamation group, called the series the "work of an embittered ex-Catholic homosexual."
The show's creator and executive producer, Jack Kenny, said he drew on the emotionally guarded family of his male partner for the series. He said his goal was to depict how "humor and grace" help a flawed man struggle with his faith and family. He said the writers never meant to mock religion or Jesus.
However, Bob Waliszewski, of Focus on the Family's teen ministries, said the show portrayed Christ as a "namby-pamby frat boy who basically winks at every sin and perversity under the sun."
(Note that Zoll herself does not come to this issue with clean hands; she wrote a very dismissive piece about Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ that quoted several Jewish and Christian groups denouncing the film but did not quote any supporting it, not even Gibson... she only paraphrased their responses, a favorite trick for biasing a story.)
Considering that most Americans are religious and very large percentages already believe that Christianity in particular, and religion in general, are under attack, one would think that somebody at NBC might have raised a few questions about why the television world needed yet one more show depicting a priest as a hypocrite who has "regular chats with a robe-wearing, bearded Jesus" who essentially says that sin is no big deal.
And one would think even if no one at the network even thought about it, that more than two affilliates would refuse to carry such a show, assuming they're not masochists who actually enjoy hemorrhaging viewiers. But one would be wrong, wouldn't one?
December 21, 2005
Unintelligent Redesign of Creationism
I have the queasy feeling I'm about to be pilloried... but I just can't keep my big, fat mouth shut. Fat fingers, whatever. The fact of the matter is that, needlessly insulting as it was, the ruling by Federal Judge E. Jones III that "intelligent design" (ID) is not science was exactly correct: it is not.
A point to note: I am not saying ID is false; in fact, I find it very persuasive. Not in its strong sense, that an amoeba or a flatworm or an angry clam could not evolve entirely naturally; I find variation plus natural selection a very satisfying and compelling theory to explain the evolution of life from its very beginnings in the primordial ooze right up through the evolution of primates.
Where I think it falls flat is only in the development of the massive cerebral cortex found only in genus Homo, and especially in the fairly sudden appearance of self-awareness, time-binding, and foreknowledge:
I know that I am me, a separate entity from you, and I am aware of myself, my thoughts, my thoughts about being aware of my thoughts.
I understand that I used to be a child, but now I'm a man, and that the events of my life happened in a particular order in time. And I know that I will age, and unless there are some tremendous breakthroughs in medicine and gerontology, I will eventually die. Despite many desperate attempts by PETA-people to convince me otherwise, I know that no other animal has these elements of intelligence or even a rudimentary version of them. So I am very open to the ideas of ID.
Nevertheless, E pur si muove: I cannot hold my tongue and pretend that ID is science by any rational definition of that word.
It makes no difference that some people with scientific degrees claim it's science; nor does it matter that some of them even hold positions that ordinarily would only be held by scientists. Any one who says that ID is science is either ignorant of science or is telling you a tale.
Twenty-three years ago, Judge William R. Overton decided the case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, the first federal case to examine the curious hippogriff of "creation science" -- an attempt to resurrect pure creationism as some sort of "science," so it could be taught in the public schools. Note that this was not the case that was appealed up to the Supreme Court in 1987; that was Edwards v. Aguillard (482 U.S. 578; 107 S. Ct. 2573; 1987 U.S. LEXIS 2729; 96 L. Ed. 2d 510; 55 U.S.L.W. 4860), decided in 1987. Though McLean went against the creationists, they decided not to appeal, waiting an additional five years for a case they thought was stronger.
McLean never made it past the district court phase; but unlike Edwards, McLean was a knock-down, drag-out fight between various religious and scientific expert witnesses... and Judge Overton's decision was probably the best informed of any of the creationism cases. He did something no other judge had ever done: he constructed a legal definition of science against which competing doctrines could be measured.
William Buckingham, one of the Dover school-board members in the current case, said:
I'm still waiting for a judge or anyone to show me anywhere in the Constitution where there's a separation of church and state.
I completely agree, as does anybody who can read. But that isn't the point, is it? Judge Jones didn't rule that we had to rub "In God We Trust" off the money and erase "under God" from the Pledge; he only ruled that ID was no more a science than was creation science, which itself was no more scientific than pure creationism, for all that its inventors tarted it up to look techno-cool.
In the McLean decision, Judge Overton addressed the real issue head on:
In addition to the fallacious pedagogy of the two model approach, Section 4(a) lacks legitimate educational value because "creation-science" as defined in that section is simply not science. Several witnesses suggested definitions of science. A descriptive definition was said to be that science is what is "accepted by the scientific community" and is "what scientists do." The obvious implication of this description is that, in a free society, knowledge does not require the imprimatur of legislation in order to become science.
More precisely, the essential characteristics of science are:
(1) It is guided by natural law;
(2) It has to be explanatory by reference to nature law;
(3) It is testable against the empirical world;
(4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and
(5) Its is falsifiable. (Ruse and other science witnesses).
I would collapse these into just four tests; but a candidate for consideration as science must pass all four tests. ID, like its forebear creation science, in fact fails all four:
- The theory must arise from and refer only to natural, ongoing processes.
- It must arise in a logical, compelling way from previous scientific theory and take into account (explain) all previous measurements.
- It must be tentative: that is, it must be able to change as the observed evidence changes, rather than being immutable and invulnerable to future evidence.
- It must be falsifiable, which means it must be possible to devise an experiment one of whose possible results, at least theoretically, contradicts the theory, resulting in the theory's rejection.
Intelligent design flunks all four tests: rather than arising from natural, ongoing processes, it assumes "creatio ex nihilio," creation out of the void by a supernatural entity. Even if you call this entity Gid or Gad, everyone knows (wink, nudge) it's really God.
The central tenet of ID, direct supernatural intervention in species development, makes no reference whatsoever to previous scientific findings supporting this proposition... because of course there aren't any.
It is not tentative: it is fixed and inviolate, and it is never taught (that I've seen) as a possible explanation for the origin of the various species but rather as the only possible explanation -- regardless of the disingenuous claims of its boosters, such as Michael Medved.
And it is surely not falsifiable, as it is impossible even in theory to devise an experiment that could possibly disprove ID... because any unpredicted result can be explained as being willed by the very same supernatural entity that caused all the evolution. The perfect alibi!
All the school board's horses and all of its men cannot put the "science" into ID. The only difference between ID and the earlier, discredited creation science is that the latter rejected all forms of evolution of one "kind" (species) into another, while the former accepts the idea of evolution in theory -- but argues that it can only occur with God's personal intervention. Whether this is true or false is a fascinating discussion... but it's a debate, not about science, but about religion and sociology.
Which, oddly enough, is exactly where the new Dover school board has decided to offer a class in intelligent design: as a sociology elective. That would be the school board members elected in place of the previous, ID-requiring board members in an startling election result for a conservative city:
The new school board president, Bernadette Reinking, said the board intends to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum and place it in an elective social studies class. "As far as I can tell you, there is no intent to appeal," she said.
The bashing of this judge and this decision by some cultural conservatives is unfair, uninformed, and unbecoming: while some of the dicta in the decision is intemperate, I have argued with creationists all my adult life -- and I find it very plausible indeed that they lied about the God factor... which completely justifies the judge's ire. Indeed, I have never had a debate or discussion with a proponent of ID (or creation science) who would ever admit that Genesis was the true origin of his thesis... even though he introduced both creation out of nothingness and also the Noahide flood to explain marine fossils in arid deserts!
Intelligent design is not science, and it should not be taught in the public schools as such. Put it where it belongs: the home, the house of worship, or even a public-school class on comparative religions.
November 25, 2005
The Afghanistan Effect
John over at Power Line has just posted what I consider to be the most engrossing and fascinating blogpost of the past twelvemonth... and he decided to write it on Thanksgiving Day, when everybody's page views, even including a powerhouse blog like Power Line, is way, way below normal. The fool!
Since John has always been my mentor in everything (unbeknownst to him, the fool!) -- if John jumped off a cliff, I would definitely dive off in slavish imitation -- I shall likewise follow suit by posting my own sparklingly original observation about the same Pew Center survey that John discussed... also on Thanksgiving Day. Hey, turkey see, turkey do!
[Oh well, as the poet (Bobbie Burns) says, "the best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men gang aft agley." This was meant to be posted before midnight, but well, we got to watching Danny Kaye in the Court Jester, and I was tending the turkey, and of a sudden, I had no time. Pretend it's still yesterday, and before you know it, tomorrow will be upon you! -- the Mgt.]
Every four years from at least 1993, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (in collaboration with the Council on Foreign Relations) has conducted a series of surveys called America's Place in the World; the most recent was polled from September 5th through October 31st this year (the link is to the Iraq War section of the poll; there is an index, so you can check out the rest of the questions, too).
Pew asks a number of questions not only of the general public but also of a number of selected groups of "opinion leaders" in various fields; that is, besides regular blokes, they also queried journalists, foreign-affairs specialists, security specialists, state and local government officials, academics and members of think tanks, religious leaders, scientists and engineers, and retired generals and admirals.
Hardly surprisingly, every group but the last clocked in much further to the left than the ordinary Joe and Jane. This is especially unsurprising considering the way these elites were selected, which I'll let John explain:
Now the survey's results are less mysterious. If you define leaders in foreign affairs as members of the Council on Foreign Relations, it is no surprise that surveying the group generates liberal results. (It would be interesting to poll the same people on a question that has nothing to do with foreign relations--say, abortion. My guess is that the results would be identically left-leaning.) Likewise, liberal as academia no doubt is, it would be hard to find a more left-trending group than "officers (President, Provost, Vice-President, Dean of the Faculty) of the most competitive schools." It's not hard to see why "military leaders" divide so equally on the war, either; those "leaders" turn out to be mostly the retired talking heads, many with an axe to grind, that we see on television. As for those left-wing engineers, Pew didn't survey rank and file members, or even the most eminent members, of the profession; rather, their "leaders" are the 2,000 members of a group that exists largely to advise the federal government on issues relating to science. And, as we have noted before, the professional hierarchies of America's religious denominations are far to the left of their churches' memberships.
John is interested in this precise aspect; and he brilliantly analyzes the difference between self-appointed elite opinon leaders, especially those who have spent their entire lives trying to achieve that status, and the general public on a host of issues -- why the elites are typically so much more liberal than hoi polloi. You must read this post; it's very insightful, even for John (and that says a lot, as John is an unusually perceptive blogger).
But a completely different aspect of this survey struck me, and I instantly thought of what, twenty years ago, I dubbed the Afghanistan Effect.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas eve day in 1979, they clamped down hard on any press coverage. Not a word of the war was published throughout the Evil Empire except for the propaganda scripted by the Politburo... which was of uniform victory, massive destruction of the Mujahideen enemy, and a swift, triumphant end to the war. But the years passed, victory continued to elude the Soviets, and the losses began to mount. Eventually, the Reds were in a desperate strait: helos were shot down, transport aircraft exploded in balls of fire, and whenever they tried to send a tank column from Pakistan across the Hindu Kush along the Khyber Pass, they would be set upon by hundreds of jihadis shooting Stinger man-fired missiles... supplied to the Mujahideen by the United States, courtesy of Ronald Reagan.
The Soviets struggled to keep word of this from their people; and for a while, they were successful, and the Soviet subjects thought the war was going well. But you cannot keep troops in the field forever; eventually, they must rotate home to be replaced by fresh soldiers. And that was the downfall of the Empire.
For when the soldiers returned home, the tales they told of collapse and catastrophe, death, defeat, and disaster, so markedly contradicted the pravda (literally "official truth") that the people lost all confidence in the government. Perversely, besides taking out their ire on Gorbachev, the Soviet people also turned on their own soldiers -- the very ones who had brought the news of defeat. They were reviled as cowards and incompetents... and this, along with economic depression and the inability to keep up with the United States in the nuclear race (and the prospect of missile-defense via the Strategic Defense Initiative) completed the collapse of the Empire. The Kremlin bosses launched their eleventh-hour abortive coup against Gorbachav; Boris Yeltsin climbed atop the tank; and the Soviet Union fell.
The war in Afghanistan had a major impact on domestic politics in the Soviet Union. It was one of the key factors in the de-legitimization of Communist Party rule. Civil society reacted to the intervention by marginalizing the Afghan veterans. The army was demoralized as a result of being perceived as an invader.
And all because the returning troops told the real story of the debacle of Afghanistan. That is what I dubbed the Afghanistan Effect: when the lies of the government are exposed by the eyewitness evidence of the soldiers themselves.
I believe what we are seeing in Iraq is the Afghanistan Effect in reverse. Only this time, it's the lies of the liberal elites that are being exposed, as more and more soldiers and Marines return home from the war. In response to ludicrous fairy tales of bitter defeat, the troops are educating their families, friends, and neighbors about the tremendous victories we've won: the terrorists killed, the territory captured, the schools, dams, and generating plants rebuilt. They're telling everyone about the joyous Kurds and Shia, so glad to be rid of that vontz who lorded it over them for so many decades. Even many of the Sunni have embraced the Americans, thankful for the end of the monster and his spawn.
Our troops are extolling the virtues of the new Iraqi Army, and how well they fight against the butchers and beheaders. They've made tremendous and enduring friendships, the kind that can only be forged in the flames of side-by-side combat.
But against all this, the politicians (even on the Right), the religious and foreign-policy leaders, and academe, all led by the "news" journalists, are insisting that not only is the war a "quagmire" and "unwinnable," we already lost it.
So you have a choice. Who will you believe -- Chris Matthews, John Kerry, and Professor McQuisling... or your own son, brother, husband, sister, cousin, best friend, or next-door neighbor? What brought this to mind is the extraordinary similarity in the Pew Research study between the opinions of the ordinary Mooks -- and the "military elites," as selected by Pew: the "retired generals and admirals quoted in American news sources in the past year."
Asked about whether we should have gone into Iraq, the right decision/wrong decision split was 48 right, 45 wrong among the general public -- and 49 right, 47 wrong among the retired flag-ranks. Within all the other elites, wrong wins out over right. Wrong decision wins by a moderate 59 over 34 among government officials (that includes at least a few Republicans!); wrong wins big, by 70-something to 20-something, among all the other elites... except scientists and engineers, who say we shouldn't have invaded Iraq by a whopping 88-11.
Will we achieve success in Iraq? The general public says 56 yes, 37 no; the generals and admirals say 64 yes, 32 no. Among the other "opinion leaders," the only group that is optimistic, even slightly so, are government elites by 51 to 45. All other elites are wildly pessimistic, from 41 to 56 for religious leaders to a huge 13 to 84 pessimistic by (again) scientists and engineers.
On all the most important issues, the opinion of the retired military leaders neatly echoes the opinion of the general public. The most likely explanation to me is that that's where the public is getting its information... from the military. Not from the military elites, the generals and admirals, but from the men and women on the front lines themselves. Nevertheless, the opinions of men with stars on their collars more or less matches up with the opinions of the rank and file soldiers, enough so that the generals are reasonable proxies for the general public.
And just as the Afghanistan Effect was the beginning of the downfall of the Soviet Empire, with its Ministry of Truth that told only lies, so too will the Reverse Afghanistan Effect be the beginning of the end of mainstream media hegemony over "the truth." People have already lost confidence in the news media (note how out of synch the media journalists are with the American people in this poll). And in just a few short months, when massive numbers of troops begin returning home, having secured a tremendous victory in the Mesopotamian heart of the Middle East... well, the MSM may never again regain its face.
[Hat tip to Patterico for correcting a Yeltsin mistake of mine.]
October 1, 2005
Bill Bennett, Won't You Please Come Home?
UPDATED: See below.
The Bill Bennett imbroglio is about the all-time stupidest dogpile I've ever seen.
All right, all right, so it's not as stupid as the attacks that drove Dr. Laura Schlessinger off the TV airwaves. And yes, I reckon it's not as absurd as the scrum of imbeciles who insisted that Rush Limbaugh said that all feminists were members of the American Nazi Party.
And I suppose I have to confess that the most barking mad pile-on in recent history was the mob that grabbed their torches and pitchforks and marched off to assail silicone breast implants. So let me rephrase my opening comment: this is about the stupidest dogpile I've seen in weeks.
Let's start with fact number 1: Former Drug Czar and Secretary of Education William Bennett did not at any time suggest that we should abort all the black babies in order to reduce crime.
Fact 2: Nor did he at any time say, imply, or suggest that blacks were responsible for all crime in America.
Fact 3: He didn't even offer his comments as a valid analogy; he offered that argument -- which is taken from a rather silly book called Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner -- as a reductio ad absurdum showing that all such extremist extrapolations are ridiculous and tend to be morally reprehensible.
However, we also have Fact number 4; a lot of people are dancing around this one, because even conservatives have been cowed into political correctness. I, however, simply care more about the truth than I do about people's hurt feelings.
Fact 4: The violent crime and homicide rates are tremendously higher for blacks and Hispanics than they are for non-Hispanic whites, Asians, and many other groups (Jews, for example).
If half of all violent Asian criminals were to reform, turn over a new leaf, and become honest citizens, it would slightly lower the violent-crime rate of the United States; but if half of all violent black and Hispanic criminals were to cease committing crimes, it would drastically lower the national violent-crime rate.
Here is what Bennett actually said:
Bennett's comments came Wednesday, during a discussion on his talk show "Morning in America." A caller had suggested that Social Security would be better funded if abortion had not been legalized in 1973 because the nation would have more workers paying into the system.
Bennett said "maybe," before referring to a book he said argued that the legalization of abortion is one of the reasons the crime rate has declined in recent decades. Bennett said he did not agree with that thesis.
"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," Bennett said, according to an audio clip posted on Media Matters for America's Web site. "That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, you know, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."
First, we should sit down, have a good, stiff martini, and then read the allegedly "extremist" remarks. Perhaps the calming effect of the alcohol will paradoxically allow us to react with the intellect, not the emotion. There is nothing remotly offensive to blacks in Bennett's words. If a person thinks he's offended, he has allowed knaves and demagogues to make a fool of him.
The only offensive thing that I saw was Howard Dean -- in between bleating that Republicans never worked a day in their lives, are evil, and are full of hate -- rushing to the microphones to scream about "Bill Bennett's hateful, inflammatory remarks," which Dean caricatured as "reprehensible racial insensitivity and ignorance," and demanding that the Republican Party "denounce them immediately as hateful, divisive and worthy only of scorn." Dean went on to laud "the virtues that bring us together, not hatred that tears us apart and unjustly scapegoats fellow Americans." Hm....
I'm still waiting for the word from Byrd: will Sen. Robert Byrd take a break from comparing Republicans to Nazis to chastise Bennett for being divisive?
And perhaps we'll be treated to the spectacle of Rep. Charles Rangel, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and Rep. Major Owens pausing for a moment from saying the George W. Bush is "more diabolical" than Bull Connor to lecture Bill Bennett on being racially insensitive.
I do think the Doofus On Parade award must go to whichever rocket scientist at the Associated Press came up with the headline to the AP article "White House Condemns Bennett's Remarks."
That condemnation? Here it is:
"The president believes the comments were not appropriate," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Oh, the humanity! Move over, Emile Zola.
Before retiring from this field of screams, I should note some voices of sanity out there in Blogoland. Paul Mirengoff at Power Line notes that several leftist sites have to some extent defended Bennett's remarks, or at least called for some proportionality. [Correction note: I had originally attributed this post to John Hinderaker, but it was Paul's post. --the Mgt.]
John particularly singles out Matthew Yglesias and Brad DeLong. Here is DeLong:
Bennett did not "concede" that "aborting all African-American babies 'would be... morally reprehensible.'" That was his point. His caller said: "Abortion is bad because it has worsened the financing of Social Security." Bennett says: "Stay focused. We're anti-abortion not because we think that abortion is a means that leads to bad ends like a higher Social Security deficit; we're anti-abortion because abortion is bad; make arguments like 'abortion is bad because it increases the Social Security deficit' and other people will make arguments like 'abortion is good because it lowers the crime rate' and we'll lose sight of the main point."
Bennett is attempting a reductio ad absurdum argument.
Never attempt a reductio ad absurdum argument on talk radio. You can't keep exact control over your phrasing in real time, and so somebody is bound to think you are endorsing the horrible absurdity that you are rejecting.
DeLong is entirely correct... and the first paragraph of his post should dispel any tentative thoughts that he might be a closeted fan of William Bennett.
A tip of the hat to a couple of Bennett-hating lefties who nevertheless are able to separate their dislike for the man from a dispassionate evaluation of the words. Such finesse is found all too infrequently on both Left and Right.
UPDATE October 1st, 2005 15:06:
Over on Captain's Quarters, Captain Ed makes a point that requires response. He takes issue with my example above thus:
Less convincing is Dafydd's argument supporting Bennett's assumption. Dafydd says this:If half of all violent Asian criminals were to reform, turn over a new leaf, and become honest citizens, it would slightly lower the violent-crime rate of the United States; but if half of all violent black and Hispanic criminals were to cease committing crimes, it would drastically lower the national violent-crime rate.
But part of that argument's veracity comes from the fact that the Asian population accounts for 3.6% of US population as a whole, while blacks and Hispanics account for 24.8%. Dafydd's argument is obviously true, and just as obviously irrelevant. And Bennett still would have been better off choosing white babies as a way to lower crime, because they would account for roughly three-quarters of all births and could contribute much more to the lowering of the crime rate. In 2003, white births outnumbered black births 6-1.
The Captain, while well intentioned, is simply wrong here; my argument's "veracity" (I believe he meant accuracy) derives, not from the relative proportions of the population, but rather from the relative rates of criminality of different cultures within the United States.
Captain Ed seems to be under the mistaken impression that all races are equally represented at the table of criminal victimization. This simply is not correct. Nota bene: I will confine my discussion here to blacks, not Hispanics, for two reasons: first, Bennett used the example of blacks; second, the best source of data on criminality in the United States is the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and they do not segregate Hispanic whites from non-Hispanic whites.
Before getting to the stats, however, an important caveat is in order. One thing Captain Ed said is completely correct... but he wrapped it inside something profoundly incorrect.
At the heart of that assertion, Bennett has to assume that all other things being equal, blacks are more likely to commit crime than non-blacks as part of their innate nature, and not as part of an environment.
The Captain is perfectly correct that there is nothing "innate" within blacks (or any other race) that compels them to commit crime; there is no evidence of any sort of connection between melanin and criminal tendencies. However, he errs in assuming that the only two possible explanations for crime are either racial -- which every serious researcher rejects -- or environmental, by which Ed appears to restrict himself to factors such as poverty. He completely ignores the importance of culture. The sad fact is that most blacks grow up in a culture that tells them violent "acting out" is not only permitted, it's a sign of rebellion against a racist system.
Most blacks overcome that conditioning, of course; the great majority of blacks are not criminals. Alas, a much higher percent are than people who grow up in different cultures which teach different behaviors. This is hardly a shocking or unprecedented observation; the exact same tragedy has been noted by a number of black commentators -- from Spike Lee to Louis Farrakhan to Al Sharpton, Charles Rangel, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Larry Elder, the late Carl Rowan, and Colin Powell. The late Sen. Patrick J. Moynihan (who was not black, obviously) produced a lengthy "white paper" (no pun intended) on the problem of black illegitimacy and violence back in the 60s, and the problem has only gotten worse since.
The problem is not race. The problem is culture. But culture, unlike race, can be voluntarily chosen -- or rejected. Larry Elder is a very vocal proponent of this point of view: blacks cannot choose their parents (as who can?), and they have the disadvangate of growing up in a culture that teaches a lot of destructive behavior; but they have the ability and the duty to reject those teachings... just as I had to consciously reject the teachings of exclusionism, bigotry, racism, and cultural isolationism that I inherited from my Jewish upbringing: I kept the good parts of Jewish culture and rejected the bad.
That said, let's look at the crime problems of black culture (not "race") in America.
The seminal statistical snapshot of criminal victimization in the United States is the annual National Crime Victimization Survey, published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the United States Department of Justice. It includes a number of statistical tables, which you can access here.
Take a look at Table 40 in the complete set: Percent distribution of single-offender victimizations, by type of crime and perceived race of offender.
Although self-reported blacks account for only 12.3% of the population (according to the census figures Captain Ed linked), they account for 21.3% of all crimes of violence. Individual crimes show even greater rates: blacks account for 39.5% of all attempted robberies, 40.9% of attempted robberies with injuries, 49.5% of completed robberies, and 55% of completed robberies with injuries.
This particular publication does not discuss homicide, because it's based on surveys of the victims of crimes. In another BJS publication, however, Homicide Trends in the United States: 2002 Update, we find the following statistic for 2002:
Blacks were 6 times more likely to be homicide victims and 7 times more likely than whites to commit homicides in 2002.
During the study period 1976-2002, 86% of white murder victims were killed by whites, and 94% of black victims were killed by blacks.
Another important measure of criminality is the annual FBI publication Crime In the United States, which reports arrests. Table 43 breaks it down by race:
In 2002, 50% of people arrested for "murder and non-negligent homicide" were black, though only 12.3% of the population were black; and only 1.2% were Asian, even though 3.6% of the population are Asian. 47.7% were white, and the white percent of the population is 75.1% (both the census and the FBI stats lump Hispanic whites in with other whites). Similar distributions exist in every category of violent crime and most categories of property crime. (Whites are overrepresented only in DUI, liquor laws, and drunkenness -- three areas where blacks are not overrepresented... in fact, underrepresented in the first two).
Therefore, it is simply erroneous to assert, as Captain Ed does, that the race of the babies aborted in the grotesque example that Bennett was decrying would not matter in lowering the crime rate:
Do we know that the crime rate would go down, any more than if we aborted every white baby in America? No, we do not, and that mistaken assumption creates the much smaller but legitimate criticism of Bennett's remarks....
And Bennett still would have been better off choosing white babies as a way to lower crime, because they would account for roughly three-quarters of all births and could contribute much more to the lowering of the crime rate.
Mathematically, since whites are underrepresented in both the crime and violent crime rates, aborting white babies would raise, not lower, the crime rate. Bennett, who understands these statistics very well (and grieves over them), chose the example that made statistical sense, even though it turned out to be offensive to those who don't want to hear certain home truths. Talk to Larry Elder sometime about some of the bad elements of black culture, and how they can be overcome without having to abandon "being black" at all.
Again, an important caveat is worth repeating: these are not problems of race; they are problems of culture. What Bennett was saying -- not as adroitly as he would have written, had he the opportunity -- was that crime is not evenly distributed by culture, and it may be tempting for some to wish away, via abortion, those subcultures that contribute so much more crime than others... but that such fantasies are ludicrous and offensive. Similarly, it's ludicrous and offensive to offer some asinine economic argument against abortion. Abortion is either right or wrong entirely on its own, without regard to ancillary questions of either crime or the funding of Social Security.
The example Bennett chose, while disturbing, was nevertheless a truth we need to confront: cultural relativism is a comforting but thoroughly discredited idea: it is a dangerous fantasy to believe that all cultures are the same.
Since culture, unlike race, can be chosen, it's the responsibility of each individual, no matter what color he is or what culture he inherited at birth, to choose a culture of decency, not one of indecency. There are many areas of black culture that are positive, beneficial, and uplifting, as with every other culture. Most blacks manage to retain these elements while dropping the elements that are destructive and degrading. Others, however, trap themselves in the negative aspects: it is the task of the decent to bring the rest to their senses.
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