J irritates. Not because he is antagonistic, he isn't. Not even because he disagrees with me, since I am sympathetic to his observations. Besides, a politically and religiously oriented blog will attract and greet disagreement.
But he makes me work, forcing me to think introspectively. We published his thoughts about my own beliefs three days ago, and it falls to me to respond. His challenge is as age old as Pilate's "What is truth?" I think the essence of his objection to my beliefs comes toward the end of his comments: "However, for me God is not the answer. God is another question."
I cannot do him justice in summarizing. His comment is here. His capable dialogue with Manifesto Joe is here. I can tell some of what I like about his friendly critique. He starts off in style. Rather than going bare knuckle, attacking at the outset, he congratulates me on managing the difficult mental gymnastics any glimmer of intelligence would require in accepting something so silly as Christianity. He suggests a better approach, which is for me to admit I do not have the answer. "It is foolish to say you have the answer to a puzzle when you do not have enough pieces to work it out."
He suggests a dropping off of weekly worship attendance is explainable. As people become more educated, they are likely to be "less indoctrinated with fables presented as fact." (I being one exception). A modern thinker will reject faith because faith is a false claim of certainty. Admitting we don’t know may be uncomfortable, but belief in God should not transcend reason. Belief should come, not because something seems like it ought to be that way, but rather because it is actually true. Religion can be a positive personal force but, still, belief in a Supreme Being is an absurdity.
I suspect Jesus might be okay with at least one of J's observations. The Apostle Paul devoted much of the first chapter of his letter to the Romans suggesting that much that we see as sinful is really affliction caused by the human habit of building a construct and claiming it to be God. Idolatry is as old as humanity. Claiming we have God in a box, measuring it's dimensions, defining God, is more than absurdity. It leads to tragedy. Paul seems to join in objecting to "filling in the details" as J puts it. But J objects to faith itself. The "evidence of things unseen" is, to my critic, no evidence at all.
Any relationship is transcendent, providing its own inner evidence. I love my wife. I do not see her as a mass of swirling atoms and electrical impulses. There is, in her being, a consciousness that goes beyond matter. I could be wrong in the details of what composes human existence. I could even be wrong about whether, as the psychology professor of my younger days insisted, consciousness is an illusion. But personal experience leads me to a relationship that, I think, would be difficult if I could not accept a transcendence of being.
J is right in that faith is not empirical evidence. I do not expect others to accept personal experience as proof. But might he not surrender to me the right to accept for myself my own internal evidence? It is, after all, God given.
The tendency to turn human judgments into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world.
- - Georgia Harkness, Methodist Theologian, 1968
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster brings word on voting independence in party primaries which the GOP would ban in SC and Prop 14 would enforce in CA.
Chuck Thinks Right finds a Democrat in California who thinks there are racists who back the Arizona law. So, naturally, a line being the shortest distance, Chuck concludes she is calling all voters who support that law racists. Distinctions are not Chuck's greatest strength. Brings to mind how John Stuart Mill defended himself after saying Conservatives made up the stupidest party: "I did not mean to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative."
James Wigderson mourns another loss of freedom as Wisconsin joins the rest of the known universe in requiring motor vehicles carry liability insurance.
Slant Right's John Houk finds support from World Net Daily (oh stop rolling your eyes) in his theory that the flotilla tragedy involving Israel is part of the end of the world as predicted by the Book of Ezekiel. John's close friends, Gog and Magog, agree. Wormwood is undecided. And, yeah, you can resume the eye rolling.
- David Everitt-Carlson of The Wild Wild East Dailies is reminded of a lost relationship. Beware automatic music on your PC speakers.
Economic recovery looks like a distinct possibility. Let's hope for progress on behalf of good people who are hurting. For good measure, let's include a prayer for the environment.
It was 1988 when yet another seamy scandal hit a White House administration that had not been around for 14 years. President Richard Nixon had been out of office since August of 1974. It is possible that other Presidents conspired to a matching degree in subverting basic freedoms, but nobody had come up with any indication of it.
The Alien and Sedition Laws under John Adams made "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" about officeholders a criminal act, punishable by imprisonment. But that was done in the open, with an expiration date of 32 months. Horrible, but not permanently damaging to the Republic.
Abraham Lincoln's administration had repealed the Writ of Habeas Corpus, which mandates due process before anyone can be sentenced to jail. But this was during insurrection and was pretty plainly allowed by the Constitution. Still, it was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
Andrew Johnson's racist rants inspired lynchings of black people. FDR put Americans into camps because they or their ancestors were from Japan.
But President Nixon was something special. In effect, he secretly chose his own opponent in 1972. That comes pretty close to canceling an election. The plots against political opponents, the break-ins, the cover-ups, all were part of a larger picture. You would think that, after a decade and a half out of office, it couldn't get any worse. Then tapes began their slow release.
Fred Malek, floating around the Nixon administration in a number of deputy positions, accepted a special assignment. He targeted suspects in the Bureau of Labor Statistics for firing. Their offense was that they were Jewish, and Jews were not to be trusted. In 1988, Nixon tapes brought the anti-Jewish campaign to light. Malek denied having had any suspicion his research would be used to fire Jews. He finally resigned as deputy chair of the GOP. He was allowed into campaigns, but Republican consensus was that such people should be kept from positions of public trust forever.
Well, not quite forever. In the Bush/Cheney years, Bradley Schlozman was assigned to force black female attorneys from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. At the time, he told friends that the women were to be replaced with "right-thinking Americans" which he specified would be white Christian males. He was later sent here to Missouri to invent ID laws making it harder for elderly and poor people, mostly Democrats, to vote. In 2009, he narrowly avoided federal indictment for lying under oath about his actions.
Memos are still surfacing on Fred Malek, this time documenting his actions against Jews during the Nixon era. Turns out he is lying about how unwitting his participation was. In May, he was appointed by the new Republican Governor of Virgina to head a commission on improving state government.
Meet the new GOP.
We need to purge the Republicans of the weaklings, and we’re on a...RINO hunt. And we’re going to drive them to extinction.
- - Mark Williams, Tea Party Express 3 Chairman, April 12, 2010
RINO: A derisive term meaning "Republican in Name Only"
A comment from a reader whose comments are usually provocative and always, always, well thought out:
I agree with your last statement: No one needs to walk alone, especially if you live in a more seedy neighborhood, like Earth.
However, walking with God is a bit tricky, as He is diaphanous to the blessed and invisible to benighted sinners like me.
I think many very intelligent, very intellectual folk like Mr. Deming, embrace religion, and back it up with an intellectual approach. Very intelligent people end up on opposite sides of the belief spectrum all the time. Anyone who judges another’s intelligence by his position on any specific matter, has a very shallow view of what intelligence is. However, it is usually difficult for one who practices critical thinking to also embrace religion, a feat that requires a greater degree of excellence, then rejecting it. Religions are universally based on faith. It is usually more logical to say: "I don't have the answer," than it is to say: "Here is the answer to this complex question on which people do not agree." The idea that one must provide an answer to any important question laid before him is flawed. It is foolish to say you have the answer to a puzzle when you do not have enough pieces to work it out.
I think this is why more people are becoming less religious. They are becoming more educated and aware, more critical, and less indoctrinated with fables presented as fact. People are backing away from claiming to have the answer (that is not atheism and in some cases is also not agnosticism. It is critical thinking-ism). Many people who claim to not have the answer, also claim to believe there is probably a higher power. The difference is that they do not claim that there is a higher power, but only that they suspect there is, and they do not start assigning attributes to their theoretical God. They do not say He is all-good or all-loving or all-purple or omniscient or omniscient. If He were any of these things, those “facts” would not be discoverable by us, as we have no actual comprehension of what it means to be “All” any of these things.
Saying “I don't know” brings with it a certain discomfort, a cognitive dissonance that must be justified: I am an intelligent person. Others have the answer, or will tell you they do. Why don't I know? However, saying, I know because I have faith is becoming its own source of dissonance, as it can make one feel intellectually childish. To accuse someone of arguing a position on faith without a logical supporting argument is a common source of attack on one's position in any secular discourse. It is only forgiven in religious circles, because it is accepted as OK that a belief in God transcends reason. The problem is: It does not. Believing controversial things because it seems that way to you is not logical. To call that belief truth, because you feel it is true, may not be as logical as it sounds.
To believe that we could have been created or monitored by a Supreme Being seems logically absurd. To believe that it is possible that someone with abilities greater than that of mankind may exist makes perfect sense, so long as you do not readily accept the first fairy tale that comes along. It is when we start saying it is so, and then filling in the details, that many people find it off-putting. Religion is a wonderful tool to guide your life in a positive direction. I can see embracing the wonder as very valuable. However, for me God is not the answer. God is another question.
Mr. Deming, I suspect, will not respond, as he wishes not to offend his fans with direct confrontation. I respect this annoying little policy of his, and wish to circumvent it.
If anyone can tell me how to provoke him, please do.
My aim is to argue that the universe can come into existence without intervention, and that there is no need to invoke the idea of a Supreme Being in one of its numerous manifestations.
- - Peter Atkins, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford, September 9, 2005
Prolific Author, noted Scientist, Atheist, Winner of Royal Society of
Chemistry's prestigious Meldola Medal
Your kids become deathly ill and you discover the smelting plant down the street has been secretly dumping waste. Nobody wants to pick up the tab for treatment as your children struggle to live. You have a pretty good case against environmental recklessness. So you sue.
The judge glares at you, glances at apprehensive looking corporate lawyers, and announces that, for today, we're going to put aside all man-made regulations, and look to the Lord for a higher law. There might be a relevant passage in Leviticus. Here is Steve Benen's report at the Atlantic Monthly:
New reports out of Afghanistan point to a province where Taliban followers hope to become judges, so they can apply their religious beliefs to court rulings, rather than the secular tenets of the law.
Wait, did I say the Taliban in Afghanistan? I meant Christian conservatives in California.
The temptation to impose belief is the flip side of the spiritual enrichment that comes from faith. It is a common threat to the spiritual wholeness of pretty much every persuasion. Certainly there are differences in degree, differences which are very real. Those who live in relatively primitive conditions, oppressed by economic circumstance, will sometimes be tempted by more primitive religious outlooks, sometimes to the abandonment of any respect for the inner voice that might be heard by others. But the correlation between prosperity and openmindedness is not a straight line, is it? Terrorists are sometimes recruited from universities, and those who would impose religion on those who have the temerity to resist are not always unschooled.
One element extremists hold in common, no matter their education or openness to violence, is an antagonism to critical thought. The law, in a religiously neutral society, bends toward those who think and consider. The law is evil, not only because it is neutral toward God, but because it is biased toward thought. Partaking of the tree of knowledge is a repetition of the sin that expelled us from Eden.
Fundamentalists who use the democratic process are different in kind from those who speak with weapons. The Aryan Christian brotherhood, the Irish Republican Army of a few years ago, and last month's midwest Christian militia (now, thankfully behind bars) have more in common with al Qaeda than do traditional Sunnis and Shiites.
What brings a profound spiritual experience around a fatal corner into the darkness of religious bigotry is the leadership of the most dangerous beings on the face of the earth: those who would impose the will of the Lord in the certain knowledge that His will is reflected in their own.
It’s important that we unify our votes so we ensure that solid men and women of high morals, who will not legislate from the bench, are elected to office.
- - Joel Anderson, R-La Mesa, March 12, 2010
On a video arguing for judges willing to apply Christian values
It is a taunt. The clear intention is rebuke, and some will find it offensive.
This is taunting. This is an absolute insult, especially to those 9/11 families who are going to be able to go down there shortly, in a couple of years we hope, anyway, and give tribute to their loved ones– that’ll be, essentially, their cemetery, a place to go and learn about that day. And across the street you’re going to have an Islamic learning center?
The words do not approach the rage carried in the tone. The speaker was Brian Kilmeade of Fox News. A Manhattan community board approved plans to build a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center.
It is more than 8 years since the attacks on buildings filled with workers, executives, secretaries, and janitors of all races and a multitude of nationalities. But the images, imprinted forever in our brains, still provokes.
Violence and fear will do that. The old adage defines a conservative as a liberal who has been mugged. An adult friend whom I idolized as a kid, watched from the northern suburbs of Detroit, as distant flames from rioting lit the night in the summer of 1967. In that one night, she went from a mildly open minded sympathizer of civil rights to a Wallace supporter.
My daughter called me from Washington, DC on the day of the 9/11 attacks. Friends working in the Pentagon were, mercifully, spared. Friends of friends were not. She wept with fellow college students over the loss of loved ones. Some of those grieving also went into hiding for a few days, not wanting to be caught by random violence that might be aimed at Muslims.
In the aftermath, one of the few things I admired in my President was his insistence that our war was against the attackers, not against the world of Islam. It was a message mocked by bin Laden and his supporters in a series of video tapes. Of course the United States was at war with the Muslim world. The terrorist message has, at least in part, unraveled since then. Mosques are attacked as Shiites worship. The Sunni dominated al Qaeda seeks to exterminate Muslims who worship in the wrong way, much as Catholics and Protestants did in Ireland not so long ago. President Obama carries the same message as did President Bush.
The Bush-Obama message is beginning to get traction. The US enemy is composed of terrorists. We are not against the Muslim world. Terrorists are killed or captured in increasing numbers as indigenous populations quietly disclose whereabouts. The idea that true Muslims must conduct war against innocent non-adherents is mocked by religious leaders.
Yes, a Muslim center so near the center of bloodshed is a taunt. The targets are supporters of terrorism.
(Originally submitted 2 years ago about a chance meeting)
Last evening he reacted with amazement. "You gotta be kidding me!" I had just mentioned I was writing about him. I thought for a moment he might object. As it is, I hope he forgives me for the details I may have gotten wrong.
It was one of several encounters I had happened upon with this impressive, self-deprecating man. I often stop by the local library, and that's where we kept bumping into each other. The first time, he was trying to recover a lost file on a library computer. I tried to help him, unsuccessfully as it turned out. We talked about the coming election. He was for McCain, I for Obama.
Then he told me a little of himself. He is a war hero from the Vietnam era. That's my description not his. He seems hesitant as he talks about it, and he talks about it sparingly. "I just went a little crazy," he says. His "craziness" saved others who were in mortal danger, pinned down and taking enemy fire. He was later awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. That medal is awarded for any of several acts, but when earned for bravery in combat, it is the fourth highest possible military citation given by the U.S. Armed Forces.
For years, modesty and uncertainty of how it might be regarded prompted him to keep the award stored out of view. He would not expose this symbol to derision. It was his father who changed his mind. His dad had served in the Air Force in World War Two, flying over the Empire of Japan with General Curtis Lemay. He confessed to his son that he felt just a little envious. The younger veteran was incredulous and so his father explained, it was that hidden Bronze Star. The son objected. The old man was a hero many times over. He pointed to the many ribbons, medals, and awards the elder hero had on his own wall. "But I never earned a Bronze Star," the father stated simply.
They are everywhere, these heroes who have our lasting thanks and admiration, earned in far off lands. They are lucky to have made it back, and we are blessed in having them back. A choir director, members at church, workmates, and casual acquaintances are among them. There are many more unknowingly met in bank lines and pharmacies, the routine encounters that are part of everyday life. I have a letter from a onetime coworker, recently assigned to Afghanistan. He has my prayers until the moment he returns.
My friend in the library had a special relationship with his dad. They each shared an admiration of the other, quiet and well deserved. The last act of that regard came as the son gazed into an open casket. He placed next to his father the Bronze Star that had been awarded for an act of desperation decades ago in a land far away.
The father had chosen his son well.
Fewer people see themselves as religious than ever, especially young people. About a quarter of those under 30 describe themselves as "atheist" or "agnostic" or "nothing in particular" according to a Pew study this year.
Could younger people simply be more secular? Scientific explanations for the mysteries of life might have more appeal than the simplistic selfcenteredness of literal biblical interpretation. Comedian Lewis Black discusses on stage those who insist that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. "...these people are watching The Flintstones as if it were a documentary." Critics of religion on the scientific front, Richard Dawkins and others, have some fun with this.
I think a purely materialistic view leaves a bit of a hole in spiritual experience. The way-back machine in my brain sometimes brings to me a decades old conversation with a psychology professor who explained that consciousness is an illusion. The question of just who is around to be fooled was of no concern to him. The great late priest and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, performed a sort of intellectual jujitsu with a counter proposal: Atoms and electrical impulses possess a sort of proto-consciousness.
None of this seems like a problem for those under thirty. Although a higher proportion will say they are not religious, the proportion who describe their beliefs in spiritual terms is pretty constant. About two out of three say they strongly believe in God, which is about the same as in previous generations. More simply go it alone.
"Church is difficult because young people today want to engage actively," says a religious leader. "They just want to experience God." This would explain the growth of non-traditional services. Contemporary music combines with more participatory worship to provide a more active spirituality.
I identify with contemporary worship. I attend both kinds of services at our church, but I am more enthusiastic about a release from old traditions and passive rituals. The identification of Olde Englishe with holiness, and centuries old hymns with piety, leaves me a little cold.
I suggest that the politicization of Christianity by extreme conservatives has also alienated those who might find more appeal in the actual teachings of Jesus. The idea that God loves you and joins you in hating gays and immigrants finds its adherents, but alienates many more who might find meaning in a more worthy message.
I encourage folks to seek out the fellowship of those with similar spiritual outlook. I see benefit and nourishment in walking in spiritual journey with others. So I am always hopeful that folks will seek out their Church, Temple, Synagogue, Mosque, or Ethical Society. When Jesus taught us to pray, first person pronouns were in plural. It was "we" and "us," not "me" and "I."
Nobody needs to walk alone.