"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, May 22, 2015

At least they called it a 'riot'

Because it looks like white kids were involved.

Maybe the cosmic scales of justice have been balanced now.

Breaking News

Nothing says "Dangerous thug" like "Veterans of Bell County" or the USMC logo

NPR has reportedly decided the real story out of Waco is the arrest of 170+ persons without probable cause.

Which falls more on the DA and the judge who arraigned them all and set the bail.

The story is supposed to be broadcast this weekend.

Stay tuned.....

Thursday, May 21, 2015


"I hope people always question government," [former Governor Rick] Perry continued, "but don't question your military. Don't question the men and women who have put their hands up and sworn this oath to our Constitution and defended this country.”

And while we're at it, let's get government outta our Medicare!

Perry's idea is even scarier than the one about not trusting government.

Location, location, location

Oh, and: film at 11. 

Coleman noted that protests, some violent, that flared up around the police killings of black men, most of which involved an overwhelmingly black crowd, were called "riots" while college and professional sports championship celebrations and losses that turned violent, most of which involved an overwhelmingly white crowd, are not.

"But when you look at Ferguson, or you look at a Baltimore, when you look at these sorts of incidents, we have a tendency vis-a-vis the media to actually question why it happened to the victim, and we go further and then we impute liability on the entire community and sort of do this systematic victim blaming of black America," he said.

Texas Monthly's Dan Solomon wrote Monday in a column that comparing Waco with Baltimore or Ferguson "was probably not an apples-to-apples situation."

"But it's nonetheless difficult to imagine that if a shoot-out involving dozens of young black men that ended with nearly 30 casualties had happened in a strip mall in Waco, it would be perceived as an isolated incident involving only the people who drew their guns — or that police would be chatting and friendly with people in the area in gang attire afterward," Solomon wrote.

The gathering at the Twin Peaks in Waco was not a protest.  Bikers didn't gather to object to the commodification of America, the strip-malling of America, the objectification of women in "breastauraunts," or the ugliness of urban sprawl (most of I-35 between Dallas and San Antonio is now a forest of signs and parking lots).  They didn't gather to protest the injustice done to veterans of foreign wars (biker gang actually started after World War II, and every war thereafter has added to their ranks), or even to their portrayal on the Fox Network.

They were there to make trouble over who had the right to wear a patch among their "colors."  And that's why Waco police and McClennan County Sheriff's officers were there.  And when the shooting started (because someone unjustly ran over someone else's foot in the parking lot; O, the humanities! O, the inequities and vicissitudes of an uncaring society!), people started shooting, and apparently a lot of people ran for cover.

As gunfire broke out in the parking lot of a Texas restaurant, dozens of motorcycle riders ran inside seeking cover and tried to guide others to safety, security video reviewed exclusively by The Associated Press showed Wednesday.

The video, shared by representatives of the restaurant, shows bikers on the patio ducking under tables and trying to get inside. At least three people were holding handguns. One biker was seen running with blood on his face, hands and torso.

The footage shows only one round being fired — by a biker on the patio who then ran inside.
Video shows police with assault rifles entering the front door at about the same time. As two officers enter, bikers can be seen lying on the floor with their hands spread.
Police didn't use tear gas and tanks because they didn't need to.  Law enforcement was able to arrest 170 people rather easily and quietly, once they got the shooting stopped.  It also explains why TV cameras weren't there to record that mayhem; by the time the media had heard about the story, there was nothing to photograph but bikers waiting to be hauled off to jail.  Events in Ferguson and Baltimore went on for days; the incident in Waco was over before evening.

I still think it's a pity the Twin Peaks restaurant wasn't burned to the ground (no great loss, but great video!).  But Waco is not Ferguson is not Baltimore because these are not at all similar situations.  The prisoners are all being held on $1 million bail, but Jay-Z and Beyonce (or Donald Trump and George Soros) aren't going to be bailing them out anytime soon, and the closest thing to a mother yanking her kid off the protest line is a wife who claims her husband was innocently in the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong vehicle.  Whether or not that proves out, don't expect her to become a viral phenomenon or get invited onto any TV shows soon.

More importantly, this wasn't the protest of a community, of a neighborhood, of people tired of injustice and ill-treatment.  This was a bunch of idiots on motorcycles with too easy access to firearms and a too-stupid reason to use them (Territory?  Seriously?).

Yes, there is a severe degree of bias and even racism in news coverage and attitudes about who is responsible for acts of violence and what terms we should use to describe it (though the argument over whether or not these bikers were "thugs" is supremely silly).  But this incident is not the poster-child for that problem.

And it really doesn't do anything for that problem to complain so much about the narrative for this incident.  Especially because the real story here may end up being the mass arrests of people who can't be charged with any crime except going to a tacky restaurant on a motorcycle.  And will we then complain about the curtailment of their civil liberties?  Or complain the police didn't beat them enough?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

One more reason motorcycles are not safe

So, to try to put this nonsense in Waco in perspective, and explain why CWP's are making us safe (and open carry would make us safer!):

Falco: You have a biker event—any time there’s a biker event in an area, the motorcycle gang that believes they control that area will show up and police it and make sure other motorcycle gangs aren’t there. They’ll protect that territory. So what happens is that, now that the Cossacks are claiming that territory too...

Neyfakh: When you say “biker event” what do you mean?

Falco: It’s just a day event. Like, a restaurant will hold a biker show or a bike contest. Hooters does it in different locations. It’s just a day event where you bring your family, look at some nice bikes, drink a couple beers, and then it’s over by 5 p.m. But when I was doing the Outlaw infiltration, the Outlaws would show up at Hooters looking for Hell’s Angels that might be in the area and try to show up, and waiting to have a shoot-out with them. And that’s what happened here.

Neyfakh: So that’s why they were all in the same place. And the guys who ended up causing the violence were probably planning to do that, right? Or do you think something sparked it unexpectedly?

Falco: Yeah, I mean, anything can do it—you park in someone else’s spot, you cut him off. But it was gonna happen. Something was gonna spark it. Because they didn’t show up there in big numbers just to drink beers with each other. And they were all armed, right?

Neyfakh: Yeah, they were all really armed. Is that normal, for gangs to travel with so many weapons?

Falco: So what happens is, in the states where they allow concealed weapons permits, all the big biker gangs have ordered all their members who aren’t felons to get concealed weapons permits.

Neyfakh: I guess what I’m so surprised by is that these are rivalries that are based on nothing—that they’re not fighting over anything more specific than intangible control over a particular area.

Falco: Yeah. Goofy, right?

Neyfakh: Yeah. I mean, how old are these guys?

Falco: Old! They’re old. They’re like 40s, 50s, 60s. Your average street gang is made up of Hispanic or African-American kids who grew up in an area where they didn’t really have a choice. These are guys that do have a choice—that didn’t grow up in an area like that, but later in their life decided to become part of a gang. A lot of these guys are ex-vets—they’re war vets. Most of these biker gangs were created by war vets in Vietnam, World War II, and now Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s attractive to the anti-social war vet. Your normal war vet is a hero, and comes home a pro-social person. But your anti-social Caucasian war vet is attracted to these biker gangs, and so a lot of these guys are very highly skilled with weapons.

Neyfakh: Do they live together?

Falco: No, but they have a clubhouse, and mandatory runs, and they have to hang out with each other. There’s a lot of that.

Neyfakh: Just to close, what do you think has changed since you were on the inside of this culture?
Falco: I was 2003 to 2006 with the Vagos, and then 2008 to 2010 with the Mongols and Outlaws. Not much has changed. The only thing that’s changed is more states are allowing concealed weapons permits, so you have more of these guys who are armed to the teeth.
Thanks, NRA!

It's kinda cute they have a clubhouse.  Then again, they're armed, and have decided to avenge the deaths and arrests of their club members.

Oh, boy.

This Twin Peaks ("because 'Hooters' just wasn't racy enough") restaurant has lost its rights to the name "Twin Peaks."  And Waco police and the sheriff knew this rumble/riot/melee/brouhaha was gonna happen.  They told the restaurant not to allow it, but it was allowed anyway.  Again, because Hooters wasn't racy enough; or something.

And the day after the Texas Lege took up the noble cause of allowing open carry of firearms, which would have made things worse in Waco, as the police there are saying.  But hey:  "FREEDUMB!"  And territory.

Besides, it's a buncha old white guys.  It's not like they're gonna start a riot, or somethin'.....

That argument, that this was a "riot" and that the media is not treating it as seriously as Baltimore, and therefore "RACISM!", is still making the rounds.  And there is a problem with the coverage of Waco.  Law enforcement there says it's one of the worst scenes of violence they've ever seen; but there are no burning buildings for the TV cameras to focus on, no lines of protestors hurling rock and epithets at police in riot gear, so according to the national news, it's just a "shooting."

Well, I suppose.

But Waco is being "downplayed," if at all, because it's in Waco.  Where's Waco?  It's in Texas.  But what's Texas?  Aside from being the second most populous state in the Union, it's nowhere.  There's Austin; everybody thinks they've heard of Austin.  There's Houston, fourth largest city in the country (and when was the last time it was in the news?). Rahm Emmaunel makes news in Chicago, Bill DeBlasio in New York; California has a drought worse than the Texas drought, but not by much, and Houston has a lesbian mayor for a second term.  But who cares, 'cause it's Houston, right?

Texas only gets mentioned on news websites when the Lege is in session and tries to pass crazy laws. Otherwise, Texas is too far out of the way to bother with.

But then, so was Ferguson.  Nobody knew where Ferguson was until the "riots" broke out (a word to be used advisedly, now).  Then there was some focus on the cities of St. Louis County, but it faded.  Shit got real when Baltimore exploded, because that's 40 miles from D.C., and well within the Bos-Wash where all national media is located and focussed.  Tell the truth, would anybody have ever taken Chris Christie seriously as a "national politician" if he was governor of Montana?  If the George Washington Bridge ran anywhere but into New York City, would national news have ever noticed it was all but closed down?

Once Baltimore was in flames, the national discussion of racism and police violence had to be taken seriously.  And now it's our media touchstone:  if Waco isn't treated like Baltimore, then something is rotten in the state of America.

Annie Dillard once wrote about an "out of the way" spot in South America, along the Amazon, if I recall correctly.  But "out of the way" from where, she asked?  Out of the way from whom?  Afghanistan is "out of the way", except we insist it is important.  But important and "out of the way" are matter of perspective, aren't they?  Rather like race and racism, in fact.

Is the coverage of the event in Waco a reflection of racism?  Or of regionalism?  Ferguson didn't really change our national discussion, but Baltimore did.  Why is that?

Maybe it has something to do with Waco.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Saucing the gander.....

I was going to leave this alone (Ntodd has a good link with other links to this entire story), but no one seems to be asking, aside form the pleasure of poking another Bush with a stick and the family legacy stench of W.'s administration, exactly why we care what the GOP candidates think about the invasion of Iraq.

I mean, it's not like we're going to invade again, is it?  Is it?

The reason is rather plain, I think, and it needs to be discussed more plainly.  Why do we care about the reasons we invaded Iraq, reasons which, within a few weeks of being there, had evaporated like water in the desert?


Lost in the domestic kerfuffle of what Jeb said last on this topic, or how Rubio and Walker answer the question, or what position Rand Paul takes now (check your calendar), is the pending agreement with Iran over processing uranium into nuclear fuel.  It wasn't that long ago Marco Rubio was promising to sanction the bejeezus out of Iran, international cooperation be damned!, and bring the mullahs begging to the American negotiating table where he would sternly teach them a lesson.

And, of course, if that didn't work, we'd bomb their nuclear processing facilities, as Israel had hinted it would do (and may still do; though those facilities may be so "hardened" as to be unreachable by conventional bombs.  The alternative, even for Israel and Rubio, is unthinkable.).  Rubio didn't say that, but like any good GOP candidate he is so belligerent that has to be the next threat.  We cannot, after, I mean, Iraq, be afraid to use military power in the world.  What's the point of being a hyper power if you can't hype your power, eh?

Whether we are still a "hyper-power" is another question.....

So, Rubio and the entire GOP field finds themselves in a round room, being told to go sit in the corner.  Even FoxNews mocks them on this issue:  no GOP candidate has gone to FoxNews and found aid and comfort there, when it comes to recent history in Iraq.  No one (outside John Bolton) dares say invading Iraq was a good idea, period.  And they can't say it was a bad one. So they prevaricate and revive the recent lies and insist history will not repeat itself.

Well, they don't insist on that last part, but that's what they are talking about.  Intelligence, not troops on the ground, tells us Iran has nuclear processing facilities.  Inspectors (remember those from Iraq?) will soon, hopefully, tell us just what those facilities are producing.  If this begins to sound like Iraq with a diplomatic, rather than military, outcome, you are getting the point.  The same conditions prevail, and any question about whether we should have invaded Iraq, becomes a question of whether we should show any belligerence toward Iran.

Sauce for the goose, after all....

So how can we be belligerent toward Iran, when that blew up so spectacularly in our faces in Iraq?  Round room:  find the corner.

It would be funny, if it weren't so serious.

"Let's get ready to rumb-ullllllllllllllllllllllllllllll !

Pastor Dan swims back in to my ken, and what brings him to attention is an interesting topic:  a fight between 9 churches in Phoenix, Arizona; although in this case, it's 8 against 1.

It seems the pastor of The Fountains UMC has annoyed several other churches in Phoenix.  I'm getting the story from one of the links in Pastor Dan's post; admittedly, it's the website of The Fountains, but you can find other links there (if you're curious) and there are photos of the banners, the ads, and the article that has sparked 8 churches to preach in unison against...well, against modern biblical scholarship and 20th century theology, essentially.

Pastor Dan professes no sympathy for "progressive" Christianity, but I cannot but disagree with him.  Especially since the cause of this brouhaha doesn't seem to profess any desire for either a fight, or for "victory":

While this all may seem scary, it has already proven to be tremendous publicity for our church that “Prays Well With Others” with Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors. Our strategy is to not be defensive or argumentative, but to keep articulating the positive attributes of Progressive Christianity and always err on the side of grace as we move ahead. There are many who are hungry for the message The Fountains offers – we look forward to this situation helping us reach more and more of them!

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us or Pastor David directly. We’re looking forward to an amazing Sunday with lots of new friends and supporters in attendance as we Reach, Touch, and Teach by living and sharing the stories of Jesus!
The 8 churches make their stance rather plain in the ad.  "Progressive," used to modify "Christianity," is in quotes, and the topic is whether this kind of Christianity is "Fact or Fiction."  In my experience, people so concerned about the statements of belief or understanding of another group are trying to reassert their own boundaries.  They are, in essence, trying to reaffirm who they are, by denigrating someone who looks too much like them.

Sort of like "New Atheists" who think all religion is fundamentalist American Christianity, which they must strain every effort to prove they have nothing in common with.  They doth protest too much, in other words.

What I wish I knew was:  what's going on in Phoenix?  The pastor of The Fountains wrote a book on "Progressive Christianity" (that's part of the title), but that was 3 years ago.  The Fountains supports LGBT rights, but so do several UCC churches here in Houston* (of course, we're too small to notice, here).   There is a UCC church in Dallas which made its focus the outreach to the gay community, and I don't think it prompted an organized backlash like this.  Is The Fountains getting local attention for their stance?  Is it attracting new members who like this theology?  Clearly it represents a threat to these 8 very conservative churches (one of the 8 is a Presbyterian church, which denomination has been beset with battles over LGBT rights; the other mainline, non-Baptist church is a MO Synod Lutheran church, an extremely conservative branch of the Lutheran brand).  The question is:  why?

Pastor Dan worries this is a sign the church is both shrinking and becoming more threatening:  it will, he fears, become "more conservative and more liberal."  Eh, I guess.  Seems to me that trend got started with the publishing of The Fundamentals in the early 20th century.*  Or with shifts in thinking in Europe which frightened immigrants in this country who preserved "the Old Country" in amber and held to an unchanging ideal of Europe which, of course, had to change.  As much as American immigrants were supposed to melt away in America, they were allowed to keep their religious practices as a relic of home (hence we have only had one Catholic POTUS, and he had to reassure the Protestants that he wouldn't take orders from Rome).  And home had to stay the way immigrants remembered it; except it refused to, and that, too, was apostasy.

So this is an old and deep divide, and it's working out, or at least the struggle with it, is inevitable.  This is, as far as Diana Butler Bass can see (cited at The Fountains website, but no further), unprecedented.  But since we can't republish "The Fundamentals" again, I suspect this may become a trend around the country.

Which could have ironic results.  Several years ago a UCC church in Texas, the largest in a small Texas town (yeah, still....), decided the UCC was "too liberal" (I guess now we'd say "Progressive") and it left the UCC to start a new denomination, one more to its liking.  It expected many UCC, and other disaffected, congregations to join it.  I don't know that any ever did.  The other UCC church in the town gained members after that split (those who left that congregation to stay in the UCC), and proclaimed itself the "largest UCC church in town."  And it was, of course.  Was that a split between "progressives" and "true Christians"?  If so, history since Luther nailed up his 95 Thesis is replete with such examples.  I pastored a church that had split, decades earlier, over the decision to spend money re-carpeting the main worship space.  The "new church" was a few blocks down the street.

Same as it ever was.

Could the answer to the question "Why"? be the fight over gay rights and gay weddings?  Yeah:

At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher warned that Bush “can’t avoid forever the greatest threat to religious freedom in our present moment: the advance of gay rights.”
According to the trial court’s decision, finding that Stutzman had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law, Stutzman testified in her deposition that Ingersoll “came in and we were just chitchatting and he said that he was going to get married. Wanted something really simple, khaki I believe he said. And I just put my hands on his and told him that because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t do his wedding.”
Which is funny, because it was Jesus himself who was criticized for associating with prostitutes and tax collectors.  "More Catholic than the Pope" doesn't begin to express it.

Same as it ever was, indeed.

*if you read all of those posts, you'll find that Henry Emerson Fosdick (who I still think gave his name to "Fearless Fosdick."  Al Capp was very conservative.) in 1922 was already questioning the necessity of the virgin birth, or a literal second coming of Christ, as a part of Christian belief.  Neither of those tenets, by the way, have to be affirmed for one to be considered a Christian, according to the accepted definition of "Christian" among the mainline denominations.   The minimal requirements of  of Christianity are baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (even Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, the "inclusive" version of the Trinitarian formula, is not acceptable), acceptance of baptism and communion/eucharist as sacraments, and affirmation of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God.  The rest is optional.

But:  1922.  As I say, this stuff is still "trickling down."  No doubt Fosdick was looking at the small number of Americans who were members of a religious organization (it had risen slightly since 1920 or so, but been flat since 1906) and trying to do something about it.  When does it ever change?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Comfort ye my people

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Karl Marx

And if religion is given up, are the people then free to "demand...their real happiness"?  No, not really.

It seems pretty clear that lower income people are more likely to buy this as an investment and not just as a game.....In other words, lotto games aren't merely just another form of cheap entertainment like movies, they're also a prayer against poverty.  And so is this the kind of government...we want to fund, one that asks lower income people who have been hurt by globalization and technology in the last twenty years to bear more of government spending and then to call it a voluntary act at the end?...It seems to me what is happening here is that, because the effective tax rate of lotteries, at 40% or above, is so high, that what you're essentially doing is asking people to give you their prayers, and then taxing their prayers against poverty. 
Give Caesar what is Caesar's, and God what is God's.  And what is that, exactly?  Now, or in the 1st century?

Falling Down

I'm just reacting here, because this is the only "review" of the final episode of "Mad Men" that I've read.  I watched the series religiously (!) when I had cable/satellite.  I haven't seen the last half-season yet because it won't be on Netflix for awhile.  That said, I can live with spoilers.  But I'm intrigued with what I read here.  It captures pretty well the decay of the earnestness of the '60's into a mushy "spirituality" that really had no core, no principles, no precepts, except to feel better about yourself:  the worst detritus of Romanticism, in short.  Apparently the TV series ended, in Auden's felicitous phrase from his elegy for W.B. Yeats, with the brokers yelling like beasts on the floor of the Bourse, and each character in the cell of him/her-self.  And maybe with a very penetrating truth about this all too American story (apologies for the length of this quote, but for it to make sense I have to put the important last two paragraphs of the review in context):

I left this finale believing myself to be disappointed in Don Draper, but I’m really disappointed with myself. Disappointed for this narrative of settling for the modern world—which, along with its many perks, like lower infant mortality and longer life expectancy, comes with a horrifying feeling of emptiness from time to time, as we all seem to strive to live an existence that is not great or searing but just okay, just fine, just good enough to get by. Most of us in the first world don’t go bed hungry anymore—but as Peggy observed to the Burger Chef executives, “you’re starving, and not just for dinner.” Don and Peggy and Joan and Sally can’t really flame out beautifully in “Mad Men” because they are modeled to be people just like we are people, and yes, it is disappointing. Some kind of conflagration, of either the body or the soul, would have been so much more cathartic, so much more satisfying. It would have given voice to the roiling emptiness within. But instead we just get scenes from one more day in the lives of these people. One more day is all any of us ever get, until the day we don’t.

One line from Coca-Cola’s official history of “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” made me laugh. Billy Davis, the music director for the Coke account, had a problem with the idea for the spot when it was pitched to him. He said: “Well, if I could do something for everybody in the world, it would not be to buy them a Coke… I’d buy everyone a home first and share with them in peace and love.” Backer, the creative director, responded with one of the most confident, full-of-shit lines of spin in history: “Okay, that sounds good. Let’s write that and I’ll show you how Coke fits right into the concept.”

The thing is—and maybe this is the whole point of “Mad Men,” from selling cancer sticks to selling world peace—advertising can be lovely, in its own way. Selling a thing and believing it often go hand in hand. “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” is a fantasy, but it’s a beautiful dream: loving families, world peace, multiculturalism, homes shared in peace and love. It’s just that sometimes having that dream and not being able to realize it can corrode you from the inside out. The almost-nameless man in group therapy who starts sobbing while articulating the awful loneliness inside of him describes his life as a failed attempt to feel love: “You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it. People aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize, they’re trying. And you don’t even know what it is.” Advertising is narrative designed to make you feel you need something more to feel complete. The result is that it makes hollow, grasping fools out of all of us.

We have settled for our imperfect but comfortable world, with its complacencies and its blind spots. We have also settled for our fantasies to be nothing more than fantasies, for our fondest hopes to be merely strings within us that can be tugged by TV writers and corporate advertisers. We have settled for a world where our heroes are ad men. Don Draper isn’t real, but the rest of it is all too familiar.

And since I read this on Salon, I couldn't help thinking what sounds rather like a triumphalist thought (and I hate those, but):  What does atheism have to offer against this?  Is this all there is?  Materialism (which is what advertising sells) "that...makes hollow, grasping fools out of all of us"?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The essence of American Liberalism

This is such a clear and cogent statement, it almost alone explains why we are still fighting the fights of the 19th century.

Well, in "popular discourse," anyway.  Even the most atheist of modern scholars and philosophers have long since moved on from the feeble position of Richard Dawkins (who doesn't know enough to be embarrassed by his ignorance):

Up to now the American Reformation was hard to see for two main reasons. The first is the very myth of orthodox American Christianity produced by the evangelical side of the debate, a useful fiction in a country with a sizable Protestant majority but a guarantee of religious freedom instead of an established religion. This myth, adopted by scholars and popular commentators alike, equates religion with Christianity, Christianity with supernatural belief, and Christian belief with a particular faith in the special saving grace of Jesus through his blameless death and glorious resurrection. This evangelical kernel of Christianity had certainly been part of the Puritan tradition— and of other American Protestant sects as well as Catholicism— but the revival movement of the eighteenth century separated this kernel from other beliefs and practices that had grown up with those traditions, delineating the evangelical doctrine starkly so that it became the essence of faith. The myth of orthodox American Christianity gave rise to a distinction between head and heart, or the intellect and the soul, making any departure from so-called orthodoxy appear as a falling away from religion, a decline from faith, a crisis, a move of revolt or rejection or outright warfare on religion that inexorably brings on secularization, which measures value by the merely natural or material rather than the ultimate or divine and is widely associated with modernity. Christians who deplore secularization and humanists who applaud it have both found this myth useful, but lifting the veil of orthodoxy from the actual complexity of American religious thought reveals that the liberals who departed from this alleged orthodoxy did so in fidelity to their Christian faith rather than in spite of it.  (emphasis mine)
This is a book I think I actually want to read.  I mean, if this doesn't sound like an objection to the stupidity of Dawkins and Coyne & Co., I really don't know what does:

Against those who believed they already knew what was right and pursued policies to reflect this fixed truth, liberals advocated for truths they recognized as provisional and incomplete, and they were committed to listening to contrary opinions for any possible truths the opposition might hold and working dialogically toward consensus.

And this:

Two subtle ironies surround the history of this religion of democracy. The first is that the liberal Christians who set its wheels in motion acquired a reputation for softening their religion into mere morality, as though to focus on ethics were to focus on something other than real religion. From the liberal point of view, virtue is the fruit by which true faith is known. This charge is a by-product of the myth of orthodox Protestant Christianity, made especially potent by what happened during the middle period of the American Reformation. When Romantic ideas about universal inner divinity arose amid an exploding literary canon that was globally inclusive for the first time, Christianity’s claims to exclusive truth started to look like hubris to some liberals. How could an open- minded moral agent be so sure a Hindu did not know God? Transcendentalists and others then left the Christian fold without really rejecting Christ. To the surprise of many faithful devotees of the American Reformation, liberal Christians started battling their own intellectual and cultural progeny, post- Christian religious liberals who discovered the divine not only in the Christian Bible but far beyond it. This post- Christian turn marked the end of the American Reformation and the beginning of the religion of democracy in which no tradition could boast unique revelation but all individuals bore unique inner divinity.

Sounds like the kind of kenosis Vattimo describes.  Close enough to make for a fruitful dialogue, at least.

Gonna have to check my local bookstore on Monday morning.*

I can't leave this out of at least a footnote:

This then highlights another film across this history: the one trend in the history of American religion to resist the myth of orthodox Protestant Christianity is the history of liberal religion, which includes post- Christian, metaphysical, spiritual- but- not religious, and other nonevangelical forms of religion in the genuine and robust history of religion in the United States— and then goes on to treat liberal religion as though it did away with sin, and as though liberal religion had nothing to do with politics. 
Calvinism was not the sole form of "orthodox Protestant Christianity."  That was the Reformed stream; the other great stream was Lutheranism (and the related stream of the Episcopal Church, which is strictly neither Reformed nor Lutheran).  And even by the mid 19th century, the German Reformed and German Evangelical churches (at least) were bringing to America theologies that didn't depend on the Calvinism of the American Protestant majority (i.e, the Pilgrims and, by that time, the Baptists).   I'm not sure when the Lutherans became a major presence, but it may have been before the Evangelical and German Reformed churches got here.  There is a stream of Christianity which is not necessarily "liberal" but is certainly not grimly Calvinistic, and yet very orthodox Protestant Christianity.  The truth, as always, is messy.

"It's your fault I'm so angry!"

I have no comment on this, other than to point out, given the example of Richard Dawkins (“I DON’T give a damn if people find religious belief comfortable or meaningful. I only care whether it’s true.”) and Jerry Coyne*, the New Atheists are clearly interested in only one thing:  not being religious believers.

Which ties them to religion as tightly as one can be bound.

Funny, that.

*Well, and Stephen Pinker, who doesn't get quoted in the article.  Funny, thing, too, that Twitter has become our forum for intellectual exchange.  Who knew you could be so wise and insightful in 140 characters?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Entries for the Commonplace Book

Godel's conclusions bear on the question whether a calculating machine can be constructed that would match the human brain in mathematical intelligence.  Today's calculating machines have a fixed set of directives built into them; these directives correspond to the fixed rules of inference of formalized axiomatic procedure.  The machines thus supply answers to problems by operating in a step-by-step manner, each step being controlled by the built-in directives.  But, as Godel showed in his incompleteness theorem, there are innumerable problems in elementary number theory that fall outside the scope of a fixed axiomatic method, and that such engines are incapable of answering, however intricate and ingenious their built-in mechanisms may be and however rapid their operations.  Given a definite problem, a machine of this type might be built for solving it; but no one such machine can be built for solving every problem.  The human brain may, to be sure, have built-in limitations of its own, and there may be mathematical problems it is incapable of solving.  But, even so, the brain appears to embody a structure of rules of operation which is far more powerful than the structure of currently conceived artificial machines.  There is no immediate prospect of replacing the human mind by robots.

Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman, Godel's Proof.  New York:  New York University Press, 9th printing, 1974.  pp. 100-101.

The Biological Assumption

In the period between the invention of the telephone relay and its apotheosis in the digital computer, the brain, always understood in terms of the latest technological inventions, was understood as a part telephone switchboard or, more recently, as an electronic computer.  This model of the brain was correlated with work in neurophysiology which found that neurons fired a somewhat all-or-nothing burst of electricity.  This burst, or spike, was taken to be the unit of information in the brain corresponding to the bit of information in a computer.  This model is still uncritically accepted by practically everyone not directly involved with work in neurophysiology, and underlies the naive assumption that man is a walking example of a successful digital computer program.

The Epistemological Assumption

[A]lthough human performance might no be explainable by supposing that people are actually following heuristic rules in a sequence of unconscious operations, intelligent behaviors might be formalizable in terms of such rules and thus reproduced by machine.  This is the epistemological assumption.

Hubert L. Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can't Do:  A Critique of Artificial Reason.  (Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 1992), pp. 159, 189, 205.

There is also an "ontological assumption."  It is the "assumption that this world can be exhaustively analyzed in terms of context-free data or atomic facts."  Nagel and Newman actually address this assumption in their explanation of Godel's theorem, as a matter of context for understanding what Godel established.  Modal logic arose as an effort to remove context from data and so provide it with a system that would allow understanding free of assumptions that confuse the analysis of logic.  It's part of establishing an axiomatic system from which formalizable information can be derived, and it is a laudable and powerful tool.  However, as Godel's theorem shows, you eventually have to resort to information not available within a formal system to establish the consistency of the formal system (and what makes that new system consistent, i.e., incapable of producing contradictory conclusions)?

Post-modernism has been working on the "ontological assumption" for some time now.  It has been weighed and found wanting.

Stephen Hawking needs to stop watching so many science fiction movies.