Adventus

"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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hallowe'en

DONE RIGHT!

All Hollow's Even


Keep back!  They might be fun!

We could take this as proof the Catholic church is hardly the monolith so many like to portray it as:

Halloween is the night of satanic sacrifices and witch spells.  I know this for a fact from hearing it from a wiccan’s mouth.  Eight years ago, I was on retreat with all the priest from my diocese at San Damiano Retreat house in Danville California.  I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament in their chapel when a group of people came in.  I knew it would not be good because earlier I had seen them dancing around the peace pole.  It was an ecumenical group (with a catholic Franciscan priest whom I know personally).  That year their motto was “opening the circle”.  To my horror as I knelt praying, the witch began a guided meditation.  I remember very well when she said; “On Halloween we witches burn away the old and begin all things new.”  I reported this to our bishop and the staff at the retreat center.  I should have stopped them and kicked them out of the chapel, but I am a coward and will pay for it after I die.  I also reported it to the Bishop of Oakland.
Because according to New Advent, Halloween is the vigil of All Saint's Day.   According to American Catholic:

The true origins of Halloween lie with the ancient Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. For the Celts, November 1 marked the beginning of a new year and the coming of winter. The night before the new year, they celebrated the festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead. During this festival, Celts believed the souls of the dead, including ghosts, goblins and witches, returned to mingle with the living. In order to scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as making centerpieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona, the Roman goddess of the orchards. The Romans also bobbed for apples and drank cider, traditions which may sound familiar to you. But where does the Christian aspect of the holiday come into play? In 835, Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints) from May 13 to November 1. The night before became known as All Hallow's
Even or holy evening.  Eventually the name was shortened to the current Halloween. On November 2, the Church celebrates All Souls Day.

The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the communion of saints, which reminds us that the Church is not bound by space or time. 

Of course that's not Mexico, and maybe it has to do with being American Catholics. The French, who used to be almost all Catholics, never really took up with it (although we should have taken their Feast of Fools; that would still be cool; sadly, American Halloween is as close as we come anymore.) Wikipedia, for what that is worth, tells me that Neopagans and Wiccans have claimed the holiday as theirs since the mid-20th century, which to me is kind of like saying the "peace symbol" is an ancient symbol of the Anti-Christ that just happened to have been invented in the 1950's in Britain (has anyone checked the Queen to be sure she doesn't bear the mark of the Beast?)

Anyway, this is supposedly the time of year when the dear departed can return to walk the earth and communicate with us.  There was a time when the recently departed were kept at home until burial, and somebody sat up with them because it was unkind to leave the dead alone.  Now we keep them as far from us as possible, in places we never visit unless we have to; so I guess it's logical we'd fear the possibility of their return, rather than find it comforting.  Or we'd find child's play to be threatening because...well, because.

The dead return only once a year.  The derp, unfortunately, is always with us.

So it goes.

 Because:  why not?

Hallowe'en fun this year will be duly authorized by....

Put this in your agenda driven festivity and smoke it!

The Hallowe'ens of my memory were affairs where children were free to wander the streets until what was, for us, late at night.  The worst danger (it happened to my brother and I one year) was getting hit with a thrown egg.

I know there are perceived dangers now, such as traffic.  The fear of poisoned candy and razor blades in apples still persists; at least at the edges.  But sadly, I think this is the reason for "Trunk or Treat"* and other such "events:"

In recent years, Halloween has become an increasingly agenda-driven festivity, with an emphasis on allergy-free goodies and the grim news stories about where your cocoa and palm oil are sourced. Somewhere along the way, toothbrushes and pencils have become acceptable treat currency. And childhood obesity is a serious health problem in our country, one that is largely a result  of environmental factors. Shaming children and their parents, in the form of tactlessly worded school fitness lettersmisguided, mopey ad campaigns  or Disney initiatives equating weight with villainy has become commonplace. Kids and their parents are surrounded by messages that they are weak and bad, and that they therefore don’t deserve to share in the same pleasures as their thin counterparts. (emphasis added)
That's what bothers me:  the idea that "fun" cannot be had unless it is well organized, supervised by adults, limited to known persons, and conducted within a set time frame, at a set location, within a set schedule.  I can remember the house where the owner lay, dressed in black, on a bench in the front yard, in shadow; and rose up as kids walked past.  Scared my daughter to death; but it was hilarious, too.

You won't get that, or the houses that were decorated inside and out (a memory of my childhood), the one passing out homemade popcorn balls and caramel apples, at a "Trunk or Treat."  It doesn't fit the "agenda," which is one more way the corporation is invading our personal lives, one more way we become a little more accommodating of the machine.  Sadly, it is certainly one more way to be sure our kids are protected from the world we seem to have made but have no idea how to live in.

*sigh*  Where are the Hallowe'ens of yesteryear?

(*and freaking out, even in jest, about "Satan" at Hallwe'en?  What kind of retrograde course is our society heading down?)

How To Make a Halloween Tree-2013!



(with appropriate apologies to the late Ray Bradbury)
Yes, it says "2008," but 5 years later, nothing has changed

White Man's Burden

 He can use it for his autobiography.  White men can't use it for theirs.  Deal with it.


I grew up with a grandfather who freely used the "N-word."  He was the kindest, gentlest, most patient man I ever knew, and I loved him dearly.  I don't like to think of him as a racist for using that word; but he was a racist.

Not because he beat black people, or spit on them, or wanted them to remain ignorant and impoverished and poor; but because he was taught to think of them as, well, as "n-words".  (No, I won't use it; even in a discussion of it.)

Racism is not personal animus.  It can be; but it can also simply be cultural.  And words are cultural.

Words are not our own.  They are not our possessions, our treasures, our personal communication devices.  They are the common store which allow us to communicate with each other.  Words exist between us, not within us.  How many people in these comments would use "spic," "wop," "kike," "hebe," "beaner," "wetback," or demand the freedom to use them?  No?  How about "Chink" for Chinese, or "Slant eyes" for Japanese?  Not interested?

But we must be free to freely discuss the "N-word"?  Why?

I presume most of the people making comments at Salon are younger than me.  People my age and older, who still remember the free use of the N-word, who remember Dick Gregory's autobiography which he dedicated to his mother, saying in the dedication that whenever she heard that word being used, now she could think of it as advertising his book, don't argue for the return of the free use of that word.  Most of the people arguing for the use of the "n-word" in those comments make the Harry Potter argument:  that using it robs it of its power, just like saying the name "Voldemort."

Except, of course, in the final book, where using the word "Voldemort" marks Harry, and reveals him.

J.K. Rowling was right in the context of her fictional world.  Not naming Voldemort gave him power over others; but not using an offensive racial term, a term explicitly in and of itself racist, is not to reduce your power, to limit your self-expression, to crook your knee to the "powers" of "political correctness."

To not use it is to not engage in a system of racial abuse and racism that dominated this country's culture from the days of Christopher Columbus and the first treatment of the natives here as slaves.  This is an old, deep wound, and we don't expose it when we declare our "right" to use the "n-word" without resort to euphemism.  We hide it even deeper, refusing to take responsibility for our complicity in that system which started long before we were born, but which created the culture and the world we benefited from at birth, and still benefit from today.

I still love my grandfather, though he's been gone for several decades now.  He wasn't responsible for the culture he grew up in.  He was a good man, despite his failings. I have my own failings, and I hope only to be as good a man as he was.  But I don't want to carry on that culture, even in its vocabulary, even in one arrangement of letters, one string of phonemes.   I remember that world too vividly.  I was, for a time, glad it had been all but erased, glad it was so unlikely to go on, or worse, to return.  Now I see it will be a long time yet before shed that skin; and even when we finally do, we'll still be a snake.

These things will not change easily.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What it is ain't exactly clear....


But the day after Christmas:  back on the streets!



Maybe it is bold; but I'm wondering what the hell is going on:


I submit that the great challenge of our generation is America’s growing crisis of stagnation and sclerosis — a crisis that comes down to a shortage of opportunities.

This opportunity crisis presents itself in three principal ways:
immobility among the poor, trapped in poverty;
insecurity in the middle class, where families just can’t seem to get ahead;
and cronyist privilege at the top, where political and economic elites unfairly profit at everyone else’s expense.

The Republican party should tackle these three crises head on.

First, we need a new, comprehensive anti-poverty, upward-mobility agenda designed not simply to help people in poverty, but to help and empower them to get out.

Here, my home state of Utah can be a guide. A recent study found the Salt Lake City metropolitan area to be the most upwardly mobile region in the United States.

In addition to a well-managed, limited government where jobs and opportunity abound, Utah is home to an enormously successful private welfare system led by churches, businesses, and community groups and volunteers.

We understand that, as it is lived in America, freedom doesn’t mean you’re on your own. Freedom means we’re all in this together.

This agenda must include but also transcend welfare reform. Additionally, we need to reform education, housing, immigration, health care, and our criminal-justice and prison systems.
This new agenda must recognize that work for able-bodied adults is not a necessary evil, but an essential pathway to personal happiness and prosperity.

And it should also force Republicans and Democrats to acknowledge that there is another marriage debate in this country — one concerning fatherless children, economic inequality, and broken communities — that deserves as much public attention as the other.

It's not that I agree with Mike Lee, so much as I wonder what happened to the Tea Party approved line of "Blow you, Jack!  I got mine!"?  As well as "Poverty sucks because you're a lazy moocher, that's why!" and "Besides, we're broke, and it's all your fault!"

Has the economy improved?  Have the winds shifted around to the east?   Is the moon in the 7th house?  The caterwauling about Obamacare is still centered on the middle-class and working class (but mostly the former) who are "losing" their insurance in favor of much better coverage.  Nobody is talking about the poor who can't get a Medicaid expansion in about 26 states, and can't get health care because so many of the working poor live in Texas, where we'd gladly sell 'em a rat's asshole as a wedding ring.

This is not, in other words, a wonderful breakthrough whereupon a new Great Society can be erected; but it's such a radical shift it might as well be.  What's making these Republicans like BFF-of-Ted-Cruz Mike Lee suddenly decide the poor are worthy or our attention instead of our contempt?  Did he catch it from John Kasich?  Is there something in the air?  Or the water?  When did the poor people stop being leaches on the body societal and become members of society deserving of our help?

And is this going to last until Christmas?


I'm confused....

Adding:  via NTodd, maybe this is what's happening:

Almost overnight, the Tea Party has become toxic. Where Republicans were once afraid of crossing the movement, they are now fearful of being identified with it. This shift could be seen in the Reid-McConnell vote, when several Republicans defied the Tea Party and Washington groups to support the bill. They included Senators Jerry Moran—a member of the Tea Party caucus—and Jeff Flake, who won office last year with generous contributions from the Club for Growth. In the House, seven members of the Tea Party caucus supported the bill, as did a Club for Growth favorite, Tom Cotton from Arkansas. These votes were cracks in what had previously been a united front.
I dunno; but somethin's definitely happenin' here.

Isn't there anybody here who knows what composition and rhetoric are all about?

Wait for it; this is the best part...


This is more about "journalism" and "framing" than it is about belief, or the lack thereof.  I don't really care about that subject, except as I have an interest in anything touching on religion and broad statements about citizens of nations regarding religious belief (or the lack thereof).

So here's the Slate headline:  "A Christopher Hitchens dream: Atheism on the rise in Egypt." And here's what the article says:

Is Egypt going through a crisis of faith? During my recent visit to Egypt, I met so many non-believers that it was almost tempting to think that atheism has become the country’s fastest-growing “religion.” In addition, atheists are becoming more confident, assertive and outspoken.
Except this is also what the article says:

This conflicts with the mainstream Western view of Arab/Islamic religiosity and fanaticism in which such a confession of faithlessness should have led to a fatwa against me and even my death. But, as I pointed out in my piece, non-believers have always been an integral component of Egyptian society and, after being driven more underground in recent years, atheists have recently been making their presence felt.
Yes, it does conflict with "the mainstream Western view of Arab/Islamic religiosity and fanaticism," but maybe that's because that "mainstream Western view" is so stupid, huh?  If "non-believers have always been an integral component of Egyptian society," then is this a rise, or a return to normal?  The content of the article argues it's the latter:

“I reckon the reasons behind the rise in the number of atheists in Egypt are the Muslim Brotherhood and other faith merchants, because people uncovered their lies,” Bassem, an old friend of mine, opined in a Cairo club where we had just watched the World Cup’s curse of the Pharaohs’ afflict Egypt on the soccer pitch yet again.

As I mulled over his point, I was struck that, by pure coincidence, the friends who had gathered round the table were almost all non-believers of one stripe or another.

“I’ve heard many people talking about the rise in the number of atheists and I also heard some Egyptian thinkers say it on talk shows, so I assumed that the lies of the Salafis and the Brotherhood’s leaders were behind this,” Bassem elaborated.
According to the anecdotal evidence of this article (and birds of a feather flock together, so is it any surprise the author's friends are more likely to be atheists than not?), there has been in Egypt a reaction to the extreme attitudes of the Muslim Brotherhood, lately in power politically in Egypt but now not just discarded but outlawed.  I suspect we are seeing the same thing in America, which may be one reason John Kasich has put his finger in the wind and detected a change in the direction of the breeze.  The Tea Party has never been less popular and Ted Cruz's ridiculous broadsides are not really endearing him or his "base" to the public at large.  Polling evidence so far, in fact, is that we are sick of them, and we want to be free, like Kasich, to be compassionate again.

I may be overstating the case in America (Kasich may well be an outlier), but I think what's going on in Egypt is not Christopher Hitchens' vision of the millenium, but simply a return to what was once status quo.  Consider the observation that "the friends who had gathered round [sic] the table were almost all non-believers of one stripe or another."  I'm familiar with the complaints of atheists that it's hard to be an atheist in America; but I've never bought into it.  I grew up a non-Southern Baptist in Southern Baptist East Texas. I might as well have been an atheist, there would have been no difference in the attitudes toward me by my SB peers (well, some of them.  Not my friends, some of whom were/are SB, but then isn't that always the way with friends?).  Is it really that hard to be a non-believer in America?  I don't believe it (sorry).

Maybe it's hard to be an atheist, but that's only because atheists seem determined to berate and demean believers.  Might as well say it's hard to be an asshole in polite society.

There's a certain skip in logic, in other words, which says my experience is the experience of the world, or the explanation for the world.  No doubt Diab's Egyptian friends are non-believers; what surprise is that?  That they are freer to express themselves in Egyptian society is a good thing; but it seems only to indicate a return to the pre-Muslim Brotherhood state of society; also a good thing.

But I have to say, if I got this article as an essay in a Freshman English class, I'd rip it to shreds without ever letting the student know I was an ordained Christian minister.  I wouldn't need to.  The thesis the first paragraph states isn't supported by anything in the rest of the essay.  It's a very poor example of composition, and an even poorer example of reasoning.

Hallowe'en with The Family*


Not poisoned candy; the author's favorite Hallowe'en candy.  Go find your own poison.


What does Orson Welles have to do with poisoned Hallowe'en candy?

Quite a lot, actually.

While newspapers made Oct. 30, 1938, a memorable night in the history of the United States, in reality it was a normal fall Sunday evening throughout North America. Four days after its initial, sensational report, the Washington Post published a letter from one reader who walked down F Street during the broadcast. He noticed “nothing approximating mass hysteria.” “In many stores radios were going, yet I observed nothing whatsoever of the absurd supposed ‘terror of the populace.’ There was none,” the reader reported. The Chicago Tribune made no mention of frightened mobs taking to the Windy City’s streets.

In the following years, stories began surfacing of children victimized by poisoned candy handed out as a Halloween treat. A few days before Halloween 1970, The New York Times published an article alerting readers to the alarming fact that incidents involving poisoning of treats had been growing rapidly over the past five years and specifying some of the potential dangers: “That plump red apple . . . may have a razor blade hidden inside . . . the bubble gum may be sprinkled with lye, the popcorn balls may be coated with camphor, the candy may turn out to be packets containing sleeping pills.” Newspapers and magazines began routinely warning parents to be on the lookout for deadly dangers lurking in the Halloween booty. In an effort to stem the apparent epidemic, cities passed laws criminalizing candy tampering, schools began training students in candy inspection, and some communities even tried to ban trick-or-treating. Parents started clamping down to shield their children from abusive strangers and questionable treats. By the early 1980s, it was widely accepted as a fact of life that at Halloween, random crazy strangers would attempt to poison little children with razor-blade-studded apples and tainted candy.

None of those stories, in either case, were true.

Trick or treat! 

*Bradbury's "Family."  A much more interesting gathering than you're used to.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Suffer the poor, said Jesus

"You know what I want for dinner?" asked Jesus.  "If anybody's asking:  lamb chops!"

Or maybe it was "suffering is for the poor."

I came across this just now, which made me think of this:

“I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor,” he said, sitting at the head of a burnished table as members of his cabinet lingered after a meeting. “That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.”

“You know what?” he said. “The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the W.P.A.”
Make of it what you will.

First you make a category....

Literally just like that; except he'll decide based on doctrines....

Classification and division are powerful tools  of reasoning and order.  It is not too much to say they have become the basic tools of our time.  All things are to be divided and subdivided and categorized and classified down to the smallest unit convenient to the ordering system.  So the system of classification of living things ultimately reducts all humanity to homo sapiens; and beyond that it does not go.  The classification serves the purpose of the system, but does it serve any purposes of the individual?  I have known for years the old classification system of the two kingdoms:  plant and animal.  Now I learn there are five kingdoms in all, and I need to know this so that when I speak of the system as an example of classification and division, I speak of the system correctly.


It is a useful system.  But it's classifications and divisions are not, in themselves, of any ultimate concern to me.  My concern with them is only in what they represent:  the post-Enlightenment (and so modern) desire to categorize all things, to reduce the universe to a series of boxes in which everything fits, and so can be known.

"Known" here being a complex term, as there are so many ways of knowing.  Some people "know" mathematics far better than I, some "know" music.  My daughter reads people like I read books; not for the same purpose, but with the same ease.  Her knowledge of them qua persons is as intuitive as Mozart's knowledge of music which allowed him to copy down, note for note, the "Miserere" of Allegri after one hearing.  But her knowledge is not based on classification and division; it is based on understanding.  And, as you can guess, even "understanding" has a kaleidoscope of possible meanings, not all identical one with another.

As for "know," I know a great deal about theology and literature; but I also know that I love my wife.  These ways of knowing are not the same.

Our language is not quite subtle enough to capture all of these nuances; not without effort and help.  A single word alone is not enough.  A universe of words might not yet fully clarify the situation.  "It is impossible to say just what I mean!" is not an abdication; it is a cri de couer.  The heart, she holler.  Who can deny that?  And who can classify it and therefore better understand it?

Yet a different meaning of understanding; perhaps.  It is going to be difficult to nail these things down; if nailing them down is even the best metaphor to use.  We are not quite working in jello, and we are not approaching a wall with hammer and nails, but it may seem so before we surrender (nothing is ever finished).  Let us start with dividing understanding into two distinct realms (Division!  and then classification!):  one is the internal realm, where you understand your own thoughts, even if you can't express them as clearly as your understanding presents them.  The other is the external realm, where understanding is governed by accepted rules of reasoning (although which rules are accepted depends on the domain in which they are trafficked.  We cannot escape the central insights of Wittgenstein, even if we are ignorant of them.) 

Having linked to this, it reminded me of the record number of comments there, and that led (like one thing to another) to these comments, toward the end (the bold bit is a quote):

By "science" I mostly mean the physical sciences; the social sciences are more problematic because humans are far less identical than electrons.

As examples of skeptical observers, I'll note the hundreds of millions of Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and other peoples who have considered our physical sciences worthy of study, adoption, and extension, despite the objections of the more conservative members of their cultures.

Generally, when I use a word, I use the word's contemporary English meaning. For example, although we use an old Greek word for it, "science" does not usually mean "wisdom" in modern English.

The focus of the teachings of the gospels is not, IMHO, either soteriology nor the hereafter.

Um... The "Good News" that these books were named for has everything to do with soteriology and the hereafter. Take those things out, and you're pretty much left with a few warnings against greed and general dickishness.
Let's stop here, and focus on that last bit, because it reveals both an ignorance of the Gospel texts, and a general desire to use classification and division to one's advantage, whether it is warranted or not.

The content of the Gospels first.  The bulk of the Gospels, especially the Synoptics (John's represents in some ways a special case), is interested in an answer to Tolstoy's question:  "How should we then live?"  The "hereafter" isn't mentioned, even after the Resurrection.  There is a vague reference to it in a few of the parables, but even in the most famous parable of the judgment, Matthew's last parable of the sheep and the goats, the emphasis of the lesson is on how life was lived, not on what doctrine was appropriated or what advantage was gained by accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  (And "savior" only became a metaphysical concept many centuries after the Gospels were written.  More on that in a moment.)  All talk of a general resurrection, indeed, comes from Paul's letters, not the gospels. Even John's references to it come long after the Pauline explanations have been widely circulated (indeed, all four canonical gospels post-date Paul's efforts, and yet none of them really present a doctrine of the resurrection and its connection to salvation as Paul does.  It is quite possible to read the gospels and never to come to any of the doctrines Paul comes to, just as it is easy to read Paul's letters and never encounter any of the teachings of Jesus in the gospels.  This business of interpreting scripture is a tricky business indeed.)  And Paul's interest in soteriology is, at best, overstated and, at worst, badly misunderstood and misinterpreted.  By and large, I blame Augustine for that. 

There really isn't much evidence that Jesus, either the reconstructed historical figure of the Jesus Seminar or the literary character presented in four different approaches to his story, had much interest in metaphysics, or spent much time thinking about salvation as a prospect of the sweet bye and bye.  You could get that impression by reading (or more likely, not) the Gospels and looking for such evidence; but the corrective corollary to "seek and you shall find" is "Be careful what you look for, you might find it."  Classification and division:  if you start off anxious to divide the gospel into neat categories, you'll probably find convenient ways to do that.  What you come up with, however, may not be the "gospel," and may well be only what you went looking for.  There are reasons religious persons spend their lives reading and rereading this small set of texts, trying to exclude their own predilections and leave themselves open only to what the text reveals.  It is an approach not too distant from that of competent scientists toward nature.  And still philosophy warns us to avoid the concept of a "mirror of nature."  Religious people issue the same warning about scriptures.

Obviously I'm using "Religious people" in a specific way, too; but if you stand around explaining every word you say, you won't get much said; so I have to press on.

And here I want to introduce two real persons as symbols of what I'm driving at:  Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis I.  I mean no disrespect to either personage, nor do I mean to characterize their lives, theologies, activities, etc., but cheap and easy reduction to symbols, but this isn't a book length treatise and I need to get to the point.  They, as symbols, will help me do that.  The current Pope is largely regarded as a sharp contrast to the Pope Emeritus. It is that contrast I wish to employ.  The Pope Emeritus became a one-dimensional figure in the minds of many:  an exclusionary church leader who wished to reduce the Church to a faithful remnant if that's what it took to make the Church faithful (I have longed for the same myself; mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa).  The Pope, by contrast, seems to welcome people, not faithful adherents to a doctrine.  The Pope Emeritus emphasized doctrine and theology (again, my own predilections).  The Pope emphasizes humanity.  The Pope Emeritus reveled in the trappings of the Papacy; the Pope seems to wish to shed as many of those trappings as is feasible, and to downplay the rest.  In short, the Pope Emeritus represents everything that is unyielding and overweening about religion, without actually being a snake oils salesman or a snake handler (two more caricatures of Christianity in America).  And the Pope seems to be the Everyman even atheists long for.  So there's my simple dichotomy:  the religious figure of doctrine v. the religious figure of common humanity.

Which figure is easier to castigate, especially for the atheist, or just the critic of Christianity in general (let's not generalize out to all religions, it would be impossible to come up with a single figure adequately representative of them all):  the Pope; or the Pope Emeritus?  The latter seems almost tailor-made to tie up in rhetorical harangues and arguments on minutiae.  The former?  You just want to have a beer with him.  And which is a more defensible reflection of Christianity, as taught by the Christ of the gospels?

There is a place and a reason for the doctrines represented by the Pope Emeritus in my example.  We will not indulge in throwing out baby with bathwater here, in part because that metaphor itself is a part of the desire for classification and division which plagues our modern world already.  In that spirit this example by symbol is not an analogy:  the Pope Emeritus is a man of spirituality just as Pope Francis is a pastor of reason (he is, after all,  a Jesuit).  Their pastoral means may be different, but their pastoral goals are the same.  But as an intellectual matter, as symbols of Christian belief which is all any atheist I read ever seems capable of dealing with, the Pope Emeritus makes a useful framework for the straw man that Pope Francis refuses to stand still and model.  And the distinction they can be used to represent is not an unimportant one.

All discussions and arguments I've ever had on the internet with atheists (or the few I've had in real life, for that matter, though those were more civil and better informed.  Probably it's the forum, not the messenger; though I'm not sure that distinction is as clear a line as it could be.) revolve around straw-man constructions such as:

The "Good News" that these books were named for has everything to do with soteriology and the hereafter. Take those things out, and you're pretty much left with a few warnings against greed and general dickishness.
That is no more accurate than Sam Harris' assertion that the only true Christians as the most extreme conservative fundamentalists.   It is no more accurate than the assumption behind this assertion:


Most of the time when I'm at work, I'm not thinking about my paycheck and what I can buy with it. Yet. if the paycheck never comes, I don't have a job. I propose that the relationship between soteriology and religion is similar to the relation between pay and employment; a path to salvation (however conceived) is the difference between a religion and a set of suggestions.
The assumption there being that salvation is only a metaphysical concept, as abstract as the concept of money, but without the physical representative of that idea which societies accept as legal tender.  I've tried before to get at the concept of salvation, with limited success.  But that is not because salvation in religious terms is and always must be limited to metaphysics involving an immortal soul and a place of existence for that soul without a carnal shell.

That brings me around, rather sharply I know, but I have to draw this up sharp or it will become unwieldy (the blog post is not an "essay," I don't care what anybody says), to the theology of Karl Rahner.   I mention him not so much in defense of his theology, of which I know only a little, but because he is in many ways what would be characterized, by atheists and Christians alike, as more of an atheist than a theologian.  And yet he's completely a theologian, and a Christian.  If he exceeds the boundaries of your own theology or atheology, the problem is yours, not his.  Let me quote my friend Rick, who knows more about this subject than I do:

Rahner isn't "anti-metaphysical" because of any particular antipathy to Plato. As far as I can tell, he is more "ante-metaphysical," insofar as he follows Heidegger in finding Plato already dealing with "beings" "Seiende" rather than the preliminary, more fundamental question after "Being," "Sein." Rahner's difference from earlier theology is his starting point, the analysis of one's own Being, as Heidegger began with Dasein. The criticism of Rahner is that, by beginning with man rather than God, his whole theology amounts to an existentialist anthropology. The reply is that modern man, not so much by virtue of his scientific orientation, but by his situation outside of the Church, knows little enough of God or revelation or Church, so that his own existence is the only place one can begin.

Rahner's starting point, though controversial, may in fact have influenced the Catechism overseen by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Though Rahner is not cited in it, it does not begin with God, or Revelation, but with man, if I am remembering right, "Homo capax Deo," the human being who is capable of receiving God. It's a two-way street, God seeking man and man seeking God...but the catechism, interestingly, begins with man, as does "Grundkurs des Glaubens."

What I fear about Rahner's method is not that it's unorthodox, but that, philosophically, it may lose appeal. How many people today are excited about Hegelian dialectics? For how long did the left-Hegelians and right-Hegelians carry on a passionate debate about the development of Absolute Spirit or History? And who cares today?

I fear that the thrill that the very term "existentialism" carried in my day is fading. Who cares, among the young today, about Heidegger, or Sartre? Rahner certainly speaks to me, but I rather inherited that capacity, and most kids today seem to care more about egalitarianism, patriarchy,gender revolution, technology, media, and, understandably, employment. Religion is, basically, politics by other means. Heidegger, if they took any notice of them, would seem as old and hidebound as Hegel, I'm afraid.

This, I'm afraid, is far truer than it should be:  "Religion is, basically, politics by other means."  But that's a topic for another day.   It is really quite impossible to overstate the importance of Heidegger to modern thought, despite Rick's concerns.  Derrida was a student of Heidegger, and much of his work is in direct reference to the German existentialist.  Paul Tillich was also stamped by Heidegger's concerns (though he's usually blamed on Kierkegaard); and I think the way out from the concern (or lack therof) with Hegelian dialectics lies with the melancholy Dane.  Still, the fact that Rahner speaks to Rick is a reflection of Rick's reflection on these matters; in that sense he speaks from the Pope Emeritus side of my simplifying symbolism; and he does a damned good job of it, too.  But it is clear Rahner has not left us with only "a few warnings against greed and general dickishness."

There are still more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

There's nothing wrong with doctrine, you see; but it is not the whole of Christianity, either.  Faith seeking understanding and understanding seeking faith are two parts of the Christian religious experience; but neither is the whole of it.  As Wittgenstein understood:

Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life. For 'consciousness of sin' is a real event and so are despair and salvation through faith. Those who speak of such things (Bunyan for instance) are simply describing what has happened to them, whatever gloss anyone may want to put on it.--Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Ethics, Life and Faith," The Wittgenstein Reader, ed. Anthony Kenny (Oxford, Blackwell Press 1994).
Christianity is not a doctrine, alone.  The moment you try to reduce it to one, you are creating a straw man and, if you want to destroy it, setting that on fire.  Christianity stands beside you and watches the blaze, but it is no more involved in the burning than you are.

The Pope Emeritus represents, for many now, Christianity as doctrine.  Pope Francis represents it as Christianity as humanity.  But, as Rick points out, the Catechism overseen by the Pope Emeritus begins with "the human being who is capable of receiving God."  Doctrine need not lead us away from humanity, but arguments that begin with doctrine and want to classify humanity into categories the better to contain it are precisely the efforts that drove Kierkegaard to polemic.  He wielded the tools of the philosophers, but he used those tools to his religious ends; and surprisingly did so without being a fundamentalist or denouncing Darwin (it would have been an historical anachronism if he did, but to this day it is impossible to invoke Kierkegaard on the side of either of those arguments; this is not an accident of history).

Classification and division, you see, means that Rahner is not a "real Christian," because his terms are not those of "classical" Christianity.  Except, by and large, the terms imagined by the critics never were the terms of classical Christianity.  By "critics" I limit myself to the atheists opposed to the very idea of religion at all.  The original critics of Christianity were not atheists so much as they were non-Christians; critics now can come in all stripes (I am one myself, more often than not), but I limit myself here only to the atheists who imagine they "know better" than any Christian does (or could).  And "know," of course, is a term subject to clarification.

So classification and division starts at the root, at the idea that religion is something separate and apart from life itself, something personal which is better excluded from the public sphere and even better relegated to private practices.  Never share my hearth, never think my thoughts, is pretty much the preferred but unspoken posture; but that applies as well to many Christians, and so again ironies abound.  But classification and division have to do with extirpating religion (generally Christianity) from human existence by slowly snipping away all connections between religion and human life.  And the first course is to divide faith from reason, to wall off reason from credulity (which is called "faith") and to separate religion from any root connection to social life.

One of the best ways to do that, of course, it so reduce Christian beliefs to a set of postulates which can be challenged and cannot, by the terms of the challenge, be affirmed.  That is one reason I raise the specter of Rahner; his theology is not rooted in the generally accepted principles to be critiqued; therefore he raises a challenge which must be answered, or dismissed.  Dismissal is easier, and so Christianity is reduced to an absolute minimum of the resurrection (physical and not otherwise, despite the conflicting testimonies of the Gospels themselves) and salvation (metaphysical, and not otherwise).  And the entire focus of Christianity is shifted from this life, to the life beyond; despite the fact that is largely a late 19th century diversion of a small portion of American Christianity (which should not be confused with world Christianity) and is itself as ahistorical as fundamentalist literalism.

But Christian faith neither rests on the physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth nor on a doctrine of salvation which no Christian church joins wholly in affirming (every church has its own idea of what is essential).  If the former were needed, we'd have to have at least one holy relic to cling to, and Christians have never had anything.  If the latter were necessary, Christianity would have died before the fourth century could get around to arguing about doctrines of salvation in the first place.

And to say it is essential now, is to deny the reality of the experience of the clouds of witness, and the observation of Wittgenstein.  Which can be done, but the denial will come to rest on "It's never been my experience, so it must not be true."  As I observed once, if everybody loved my wife, I'd find it hard getting in the door at night.  Just because they don't experience what I do, doesn't mean "love" is not true.

This issue of classification and division returns us to the two Popes:  Benedict representing the faithful remnant argument, that the Church should be the truly faithful, however few that is, and Francis representing the Church as hospitality center, the "big tent" where all are welcome (well, almost all.)  Immediately we run into the problem of group dynamics. If I am fair to Francis's position, I have to be careful how I describe it.  He doesn't want to declare everyone a Christian, or every Christian a Catholic; but he does want the church to be first a place of welcome, not first a place of judgment.  Which doesn't mean he wants to include, as I say, everyone in the church.  His true ecclesiology may be closer to Benedict's than we suspect; it just may be he wants to emphasize the pastoral care of the church more than the strength of doctrine of the church.  It is possible to see Francis' public attitude as hospitable without being evangelical.  Hospitality is central to Christianity; but it is not necessarily central to the relationship between the Church and its membership.

Groups, after all, need some cohesion.  Groups are basic to human beings.  To quote myself:

We start...with this basic sociological principle: "that the human drives for meaning and belonging are necessarily realized through interaction with others, primarily in social groups. It is within the context of groups, especially religious groups, that one answers questions such as 'Who am I?', 'Why do I exist?,' 'How should I relate to others?,' and 'How do I understand tragedy...." We saw this after 9/11, when people returned to church looking for answers to what had happened to the nation, or to them personally. It's an old and well-known function of the church: to provide a meaning to life. But the principle is, we have to get this answer from a group. "No one," as Emerson and Smith note, "can opt out of commitment to some fundamental moral orientation or take a normative view 'from nowhere."
And that normative view has to be both defended and defensible.   jim, in response to this post, noted that:  "at some point, doesn't an organized disbelief turn into a sort of religion itself? maybe it has already."  Atheists who want to identify their position as normative have to do it in community with other atheists.  It's the same reason Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins would speculate on "closeted atheists."  It may have been meant as a joke, but clearly there was some desire behind the humor, some wish to make the speculation come true.

The normative view must be protected, because it is bound up with personal identity.  So:

Groups must symbolize and utilize symbolic boundaries to both create and give substance to shared values and identities. So in Catholic Europe at the time of the Reformation, Protestant churches limited communion to certain Sundays in the year, simply because the Catholic Mass celebrated the Eucharist at every worship service. "In many respects," Emerson and Smith note, "we know who we are by knowing who we are not. Thus, an ingroup always has at least one outgroup by which it creates identity. Blacks are not whites, Lutherans are not Presbyterians, evangelicals are not mainline Christians.
Or, in the current context:  atheists are not Christians.

Now, what about hospitality?

 Groups that stress tolerance, openness to diversity, and inclusiveness, typically lack the ability to have strong comparison groups by which to define their boundaries (with the exception that they may compare themselves to groups that do draw distinct boundaries). Their boundaries are fuzzy, and they thus find it more difficult to provide meaning and belonging.
Francis' emphasis on tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness is probably playing a bit better outside the group (or at least certain groups within the group that is "the Church"), just as Benedict's played better insider the group than outside.  Groups must provide meaning and belonging, and when boundaries begin to fall, that purpose of the group begins to falter.

I would pause here to note that Jesus of Nazareth was more interested in eliminating boundaries than in creating them, although his idea of unnecessary boundaries wasn't always the ideas we have in 21st century America.  I would also point out that Jesus, according to Luke, sent out his disciples as "sheep among wolves," so he understood the need for group identity that didn't include just everyone, even that outsiders would be hostile to insiders, and that was a point of cohesion for the insiders (they need to take the group with them, so to speak).  The same can be said for the Hebrew vision of the telos (goal, not final end) of time, when all nations would come to Israel to learn from and benefit from the blessings of being the people of God and children of Abraham.   If it wasn't shared, it wasn't a true blessing; but if it didn't originate with the children of Abraham, and flow through them from God and their own faithfulness, what was the point of being faithful?  What was the purpose of the covenant?

 Any church (again, let us limit ourselves to Christians, for specific reasons) ends up being pulled between two poles:  the church of meaning and belonging, v. the church of sacrifice for meaning and belonging.  Francis, in our simple symbolism, represents the former (which is especially why Dawkins would warn, in jest, against such a "nice guy" being in the Vatican); Benedict, with his call for a faithful remnant to preserve the Church in time and over time, represents the latter.  (I've cast my lot with the "Benedict" side of this more than once, but I still recognize the tensions and problems of that decision, so I've never set it in stone.  The Francis position has much to recommend it.  One more reason, the theologians would say, to recognize that our God is a living God.)

[T]he organization of American religion encourages religious groups to cater to people's existing preferences, rather than their ideal callings. In trying to create meaning and belonging, even to teach religious truths.. .religious leaders must act within a limited range shaped by the social location of their congregation. The congregation often looks to religion not as an external force that places radical demands on their lives, but rather as a way to fulfill their needs. If we accept the oftentimes reasonable proposition that most people seek the greatest benefit for the least cost, they will seek meaning and belonging within the least change possible. Thus, if they can go to either the Church of Meaning and Belonging, or the Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging, most people choose the former. It provides benefit for the least cost. [A]s seminary professor Charles Thomas, Jr. has summarized, "In practice congregation members expect the minister to do nothing (such as taking a prophetic voice) which would interfere with the harmony and growth of the membership.

This is, by the way, precisely where the argument between Benedict and Francis (again, as symbols) occurs:  "If we accept the oftentimes reasonable proposition that most people seek the greatest benefit for the least cost, they will seek meaning and belonging within the least change possible."  Francis is easily the more acceptable version, to the world outside the Church, than Benedict.  But shouldn't church membership require some change, some fundamental change?

That'll go 'round and 'round for quite a while.

And this reasoning also leads to the usual critiques of Christian churches:  they are full of hypocrites (because not everyone claiming membership is also deeply devoted to the radical demands that might be placed on their lives); they are mere 'social groups'; they must adhere to a certain set of beliefs, else what are they there for?; they don't adhere to those beliefs, so what are they there for?  And so on, and so forth.

And most of that, as I say, arises from classification; and division.  Can't really have one, without the other.


I should go read some Heidegger; and some Kierkegaard.  I have a feeling I need a little of both at the moment.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Justice ain't blind, and justice is a lady!

A point of personal privilege:  I worked for Lee Yeakel once, long, long ago.  We disagreed vehemently on politics (he was a Republican; obviously, as he got appointed to the Federal Bench by Bush the lesser).  But I always admired his reasoning and his ability to let the law do what it must do.

So I wasn't surprised by his decision that Texas' latest attempt at restricting abortions was unconstitutional.  The State obviously thought they had this one in the bag, especially since Lee got slapped down by the Fifth Circuit the last time he ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood.  But I think (from glancing through the opinion) that he's on solid ground this time.  I have reasons for my optimism:

Mississippi passed a similar law last year, which a federal judge also blocked pending a trial scheduled to begin in March. Mississippi's attorney general asked the 5th Circuit to lift the temporary injunction so the law could be enforced, but the judges have left it in place signaling they believe there is a legitimate constitutional question.
The Attorney General (who is running for Governor against Wendy Davis) filed an "emergency appeal" with the Fifth Circuit, obviously expecting to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.  This ruling, however, is not an injunction but a final ruling, so I'm not sure Rule 8 (or any other basis for immediate relief) would apply here.  Still, the Fifth Circuit has a history of clamping down on trial judges it disagrees with on Constitutional issue; so, we'll see.

At trial the State pretty much assumed they had this one won.  The Court's opinion, at a glance, pretty much shreds each and every one of the State's factual and legal arguments, resting the legal arguments both on accepted standards of review, and on Casey.

My only regret is that I wasn't in Austin to listen to the trial, or to visit with Lee afterwards.  I think it would have been an interesting conversation.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Do you know what I know?

Il miglior fabbro

I know this is an issue of "who speaks for atheists," but this atheist sure seems to think he knows what atheists are all about:

We atheists like to chastise the religious for their child-like belief in an imaginary friend, but, equally, the time has come for the atheist movement to grow up.
....
The atheist movement comprises more than 2,000 groups and organizations in the U.S. today, but the movement, in composition and purpose, has failed to establish a coherent cause outside of validating non-belief and offering platitudes towards protecting the separation of church and state.

This is where I want to stop and point out that Barry Lynn is a UCC pastor.

Atheists like to talk about building a better world, one that is absent of religiosity in the public square, but where are the atheist groups on helping tackle the single biggest tear in the fabric of our society — wealth disparity?
 ....
 Christopher Hitchens wrote that the intellectual advantage of atheism is its ability to reject unprovable assertions on face value. It’s why we don’t believe in the supernatural.
If your idea of a better world is complete removal of religion from the public square, I'd say your motivating desire is anti-religious.  Which is just kinda pitiful.

I want to be perfectly fair to my source material, so I am using complete quotes.  Clearly the thesis at the source is not a defense of atheism, it is a challenge to people who identify with this brand of thinking.  It's a challenge I by and large appreciate, especially as the argument ends with the idea of making common cause with politically liberal Christians (and liberal Christians, and conservative Christians who take the teachings about the poor more seriously than the most public face of Christianity in America does; but the article doesn't get there).  But the presumptions made at the root of this argument is that atheism is about being anti-religious; and while there are plenty of believers whose belief is based on being set apart from non-believers, or believers who don't believe just as they do; that's still a pretty sad way to go through life.

And the first atheist who can establish by empirical evidence  (as Hitchens reportedly asserted, no unprovable assertions!) that he/she loves his/her wife, husband, spouse, POSSLQ, significant other, life partner, daughter, son, brother, sister, father, or mother, they will win a divinely inspired No-Prize from me.

Empirical evidence, mind.  And if you think such a requirement is frivolous, that the nature of reality or God or human credulity is far more important, then I truly feel sorry for you.

Adding:  is it really impossible to think that people don't have to be just like you?  These things that pass for knowledge I don't understand....

Well shut my mouth!

I'm working on a meme here, okay?

If I didn't know better, I'd say Amanda Marcotte was reading my stuff:

The Houston Chronicle lamented ever endorsing Cruz, comparing him unfavorably to his predecessor Kay Baily Hutchinson. Hutchinson actually bothered to represent her voters, putting a priority on the state’s economic development. Cruz is as different from Hutchinson as a miracle-promising conman taking old ladies for their Social Security checks is from the local minister who actually bothers to do the unglamorous work of holding hands, wiping tears and performing weddings and funerals for parishioners. Being an actual working politician is boring. Cruz is a new breed of conservative politician who is forsaking even the semblance of governance for mugging for the camera and then cashing some more checks. (emphasis added)

Cruz, Marcotte says, resembles a faith healer; and it seems faith healers and like-minded fundamentalist Christians are not interested in religion, they are interested in money:
That Cruz resembles a faith healer selling lies to gullible people more than a politician working to represent the interests of his voters shouldn’t be too surprising. His family is wrapped up with some of the worst of the worst when it comes to sleazy preachers seeking to exploit vulnerable people. Cruz’s father is a member of Purifying Fire Ministries, founded by Suzanne Hinn, the wife of one of the nation’s most despicable fundamentalist conmen, Benny Hinn. Hinn is a minister only in the loosest sense of the word: He goes about the world conducting fake faith-healing “miracles” that make him a lot of money, but he doesn’t actually provide any services real people need. It’s all just magic tricks to con the rubes out of their hard-earned money.
Follow that link, you'll find out that "Purifying Fire Ministries" is interested in the youth (whom God is raising up; I guess parents are irrelevant after birth) and the poor; there's even a convenient testimonial about an unnamed woman who was given a home and furniture by PFM.  "Convenient" because unlike Habitat for Humanity, which also provides furnished homes to the poor, there's absolutely no way to verify this tale; you just have to take the website's word for it.  Would they lie to you?  Have they ever seen you before?

And besides, we know Rafael Sr. and Rafael Jr. are all about helping the poor.   It's a part of everything they say in public.

Isn't it?

But Marcotte even sees the difference between genuine fundamentalist believers (who ain't necessarily bad) and the wolves-in-shepherd's-clothing who would fleece them:

Faith healers and other religious conmen have preyed on fundamentalist Christian audiences for over a century now.
 Yes; yes they have.  This is the point where we could have a fruitful conversation.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Firesign Theater was right!

 All the news.  That's right:  all of it!

The story heard 'round the internet:*

The Marine Corps is contemplating a uniform change that would create a unisex service cap. The Marines are also exploring whether to have women use a slightly modified version of the hat used by male Marines instead of the distinctive “bucket cap” they now wear.   If the unisex design is chosen it would be the first change to that part of the Marine uniform since 1922.

Uh, nope:

 “We are looking for a new cover for our female Marines for one overriding reason: The former manufacturer went out of business. … The Marine Corps has zero intention of changing the male cover.”

*ABCNews has it on their blog; FoxNews has it on their website (and news reports).  The New York Post actually thinks their story is "exclusive."  And Obama has nothing to do with it.  Except it's probably his fault because he wouldn't defund Obamacare.

Speaking of reasonable expectations of privacy....

No, I insist you be my guest at an undisclosed location....

Oops:
Hayden was aboard an Acela train outside Philadelphia and talking by phone with a reporter when Matzzie, who was sitting nearby, recognized him. Matzzie heard Hayden insist to the reporter that he be quoted anonymously, as a "former senior administration official".

Then Matzzie began live-tweeting as the nation's former top spy badmouthed the Obama administration, apparently in connection with the revelation hours earlier that NSA had monitored the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders' telephone lines.

As I've said before, I sometimes hear my mail carrier coming down the street, as she talks to her Bluetooth earpiece.  "Old-fashioned" land lines have a feedback that lets you hear yourself, so you tend to talk softly.  Cell phones (and most cordless phones, now) don't provide that feedback, and you tend to talk loudly.  We're all familiar with the phenomena in the relatively quiet environment of, say, a book store (I used to listen to cell phone conversations as I shelved books. It was impossible not to.  Oddly, I seldom heard customers talking to each other about things I really didn't need to listen to.)

And I only mention it because:  well, it's funny.  Who needs technology when all you gotta do is follow the Good Book:

"Those with ears had better listen!"

Or just follow Twitter.

And it ends, of course, with:  "I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." 

Which is probably why Hayden wanted a picture of Matzzie.

More posts about numbers and food

You know how to sing, don't you?

We start with this otherwise ignorable comment on a post at Charlies Pierce's blog:

As we have learned since Abu Ghraib, the more religious an American, the more in favor of torture.
That comment was followed by a link which, as (almost) usual, undermined the very sentiment it was meant to confirm.

This is the link.

This is what is said at the link:

Amid intense public debate over the use of torture against suspected terrorists, an analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life of a new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press illustrates differences in the views of four major religious traditions in the U.S. about whether torture of suspected terrorists can be justified. Differences in opinion on this issue also are apparent based on frequency of attendance at religious services.

This is the caveat that immediately follows that paragraph, at the link:

However, statistical analysis that simultaneously examines correlations between views on torture, partisanship, ideology and demographic variables (including religion, education, race, etc.) finds that party and ideology are much better predictors of views on torture than are religion and most other demographic factors (See “The Torture Debate: A Closer Look“). Of course, religion itself is known to be a strong factor shaping individuals’ partisanship and political ideology. Attitudes about torture are likely to reflect both moral judgments and political considerations – both of which may be formed in part by religious convictions – about circumstances under which torture may be justified.

And the data at the link shows that 31% of white mainline Protestants oppose torture under all circumstances.  That is the highest percentage of persons in any one category in the study.  Unaffililated religious persons are the next highest category, at 26%.  White evangelical Protestants are the lowest percentage of those who oppose torture under all circumstances, at only 16%.  They also have the highest percentage who won't answer that question, at 5%.  Only 1% of white mainline Protestants declined to answer that question.

Of the total US population, to put those numbers in perspective, 25% disapprove of torture under all circumstances, and 4% refuse to answer or "don't know."

34% of all Americans say torture can "sometimes be justified; 31% of white mainline Protestants support that opinion; 44% of white evangelical Protestants support that proposition.

Now, is that because of religion, or because of culture, or even because of political affiliation?  Correlation, of course, is not causation.  Start there, and see where you end up.

To the point of the original comment:  are white evangelical Protestants "more religious" than white mainline Protestants, unaffiliated, or non-Hispanic Catholics?  Having known a far share from each group, I'd never make a blanket judgment like that.  It is more likely that WEP's are more likely to favor "law and order" than to be "more religious" than any other group of believers.

One the one hand, since this survey involves one question and only 742 respondents, it could be completely meaningless.  On the other hand, what it does not show at all, is a causal connection between religious belief and support for torture.  I'm not sure it even shows a correlation.  I will admit I'm not terribly surprised by the percentages; but to me that indicates more that we have a problem about the general understanding of torture, than of how we understand our religious beliefs and obligations.

And there's the problem; and the point:  how we understand our religious beliefs and obligations is inchoate; it is unknowable, even by us.  The more we reduce it to numbers, the further we get from understanding it.  I appreciate the use of sociological data.  I learned to use it in seminary. But it is not a substitute for reality.  It isn't even a mirror.  At best it is a prism, a way of seeing the components of what seems at first to be a singularity.  When we start saying "People who are 'religious' act this way," it's little different from saying people who are black or Jewish act this way:

What are we going to negotiate about? I would say "Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something." … You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, "OK let it go." And so there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say, "See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all, and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes."
That Adelson's Jewish isn't really relevant to that quote.  What's relevant is that he's an idiot.  And his comment highlights a distinction we make but never speak of:  Adelson is never described as "religious."  I can't think of a Jew who is.  Nor are Muslims, for that matter.  "Religious" invariably means "Christian," and almost always means "conservative" or "fundamentalist" Christian.  Sam Harris tried to insist that's all "Christian" could mean, and while his reasoning was inane, it might as well be conventional wisdom.  Even the poll above limited itself to Protestants and Catholics, and at that only "white" Protestants and Catholics.  No Hispanics, African-Americans, Korean Americans, Chinese Americans, or even Orthodox Christians, were considered.  Do we ever consider Orthodox Christians?  And yet I know of several Orthodox, as well as Catholic, as well as Protestant, churches within driving distance of me right now.

But several of those groups are never considered "Religious."  I also know of a Muslim mosque literally within walking distance of where I sit.  Those people aren't "religious" either.  Perhaps they are "fanatical."  Perhaps they are "dangerous."  But they are never covered under the umbrella term "religious."

In fact, as I said of Harris once:

By the way, on p. 85, Harris asserts that all adherents to Islam are dangerous, crazy, and violent. His support for this sweeping generalization that encompasses over 1 billion people? I will quote his explanation: "Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith."* The emphasis is in the original. Reflect on the fact that, were this statement made about Jews, or African Americans, or even Asians or Mexicans, he would be vilified as a racist. The difference here is...?

Things haven't changed much.

*No, the Muslims still aren't religious; their faith is.  Faith (a poorly defined concept that usually means "believin' what ain't so") can be "religious."  When people are, they are always "Christian."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What you heard was not what I meant...

And besides, I was never there....

Interestingly it seems to have "happened" mostly on blogs, but Rep. Randy Neugebauer publicly apologized for berating the Park Ranger at the WWII memorial.  It seems, as I suspected, that such antics don't go over well:

“You are a jerk. Attack a park ranger for carrying out what congress caused.”

“Worthless waste of life! You and all of you that shut the gov't down. How can live with yourself? You still get paid and all of us are out of work! Selfish idiot! I hope you die in a fire!”

“Congressman Neugebauer, instead of harrassing a Park Ranger for doing her job, you should admit your responsibility for contributing to tourists being shut out of our national parks. Stop trying to put a Band-aid on the problem with mediocre piecemeal legislation. Pass a budget that re-opens the government fully and address your Obamacare concerns after the fact. Do not hold the American people as hostages to your ideology. What you did today to that ranger was cowardly and rude. You owe her an apology.”

“I'm sorry to have to say this mister, but you are an embarrassment to our country. Your attempt to "shame" a park ranger doing her job as a public servant - something you apparently know little about - was disgusting.”

“The interesting thing to me, is that when actually confronted by someone willing to stand up and speak his mind, the Congressman Randy Neugebauer ran away.”
Granted, those are Facebook comments, so they could have come from anywhere in the world, and none could be Rep. Neugebauer's constituents.   There are, however, over 5000 comments on the Oct. 2 Facebook post  (I'm not on Facebook, I can't link more accurately than that) where Rep. Neugebauer brags about opening the monument to veterans; most seem to be in this vein.  It's a wise man who assume people bothering to seek him out on Facebook are constituents, not citizens of Russia.  It's not too much of a stretch to realize what the something was that made him write a letter of apology.  I don't think it was just the realization that he was a jerk.

And now Pete Sessions is accused of insulting the President to his face.  As Wonkette says, even the White House is denying the story ever happened:  "Because in order not to look like a giant pussy when getting told off in your own Executive Mansion, you would then have to slap Pete Sessions in the face and challenge him to a duel."  But more interestingly, Sessions is denying the story, too:

"He did not," Sessions spokeswoman Torrie Miller told the Huffington Post Thursday. "I think it was made clear yesterday from Jay Carney that the exchange you are referring to did not happen."
Don't take our word for it!  Even the White House says it ain't so!

Is it?  I have no way of knowing.  But even in blood-red Texas, from a man who's been in office since 1996 (and is my age; ye gods, what assholes we Baby Boomers have turned out to be!) and is still touting Benghazi! Benghazi! BENGHAZI! on his webpage, wishes to disassociate himself from the alleged remarks.  Sessions represents Dallas, so let's put this in context:

If it happened, it is reminiscent of the famous infamous incident in 1962 when Ted Dealey, the publisher of the Dallas Morning News, at a meeting of newspaper industry leaders at the White House, told John F. Kennedy to his face to “get off Carolyn’s tricycle” and lead the country. That incivility in the White House made headlines around the country, and would be brought up again and again after the assassination as proof of the dangerous currents alive in Dallas that became encapsulated in the tag “City of Hate.” 

Like this, you mean?

Welcome to Dallas, President Kennedy!

Old times there are not forgotten....

Closing remarks:

Sessions' spokesperson denied the incident.  Sessions wasn't quite that flat about it:

 Sessions denies the alleged insult when speaking with reporters on Thursday, saying anyone who may have been within earshot is lying, and anyone who taped the conversation broke protocol. He assures reporters that he “made no public statement in that way,” and that he has “no reason to believe” he made a private statement, either. One reporter presses Sessions, saying his comments don’t sound like an absolute denial.

“No, no that’s -- it’s an absolute denial,” Sessions replies.
 The personal is political, but when the political gets too personal, nobody wants to be tagged with paternity.

Il carnevale è finito

Can't we distill it one more time?

 Let me add this to what I said below:

"The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology," he said, according to Radio Vatican. "And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. "And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought... For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.' The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people," Francis added. "But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?"
I am not accusing Lucy Duncan of committing ideology; I'm thinking rather of her topic, of the abuse of Scripture; and ideology certainly plays a strong part there.  The basic ideology which is so abusive is the idea that Scripture is universal, is applicable to all and a solution for all things.  That is the "distilling" which the Pope speaks of; in my application, the reducing of Scripture to a thing, an object, even a weapon.

If it is, instead, the Word of God, it needs to be handled rather differently from other things.  And the first thing to do, is not to try to distill it.