Monday, June 04, 2012

Where are you going, where have you been?

The point of posting the last two posts was to respond to something which outraged me; but also something that a) actually affected me personally and b) I actually could do something about.

Although the point of being outraged by how truly useless the Texas government is, is kind of lost on me.  That alternative, on the other hand, is why the Texas government is truly useless.  True believers think it is and it's uselessness proves the inadequacy of government (except to make the rich and powerful more rich and powerful; ask yourself how Rick Perry got to be a rich man if all he's ever done in his adult life is work for the government of Texas.  No, don't ask; nobody else does, or care about the people who do.)  The rest of us seem to think there's nothing we can do about it, so why bother?

As for Crooked Timber, I enjoy the site on one level, but on another, that post I linked to is an example of the worst of what Thoreau called hacking at the branches of the tree of evil, and what Wittgenstein derisively dismissed about philosophy as "language games."  It's an outrage because it's a lot of people thinking they are terribly clever when, in fact, the emperor has no clothes.  It's like the parody of modern art aficionados that show up in every American movie where modern art makes an appearance (but isn't the subject), where the sympathetic characters know the art is a joke, while the snobs fall all over themselves trying to come up with new ways to be fatuous.

Not that that isn't true of the art world, or the graduate school world of literary studies, for that matter....(the stories I could tell!  Well, only one or two, actually, but they're enough!  O, the humanities!)

Anyway, I'm struck by the fact (slightly, actually) that neither post sparked any comments (boring seldom does!  Quiet, you!).  Not enough abstract outrage, I'll warrant.  Interestingly, whenever a political opponent starts on a subject guaranteed to raise interest if not outrage, the first charge is distraction, as in:  "They're trying to distract from the REAL issue!"  As if anyone would know the "real issue" if it walked up and punched them in the face.  Everybody's always trying to distract from the real issue!*  Why, that's the whole point of modern culture.  But wait a minute; let me finish that thought, first.

Outrage is always something easily generated when it is about something abstract, general, and fairly vague.  No one is outraged by mendacity in state government, especially if it isn't your state.  But everyone is outraged by what the Catholic Bishops just said.  Now, does it affect you?  (yes, yes, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!)  No, probably not.  Isn't that easier to get outraged about than the equally abstract and unimportant issue of a blog post at Crooked Timber? Or the more concrete case of mendacity (if not outright corruption) in the regulatory agencies of the State of Texas?  (the latter case, btw, points out how far our political and social culture has fallen.  In the days before deregulation "improved" things, electricity providers got rate hikes after they proved the money was going to be invested in new power plants, not before.  There were obvious reason for this, yet nobody seems to remember that, or care.  Isn't there at least an allegory here?)

I'm not complaining.  I'm just fascinated by the dynamic.  When it's a subject that has real impact on the real lives of millions of people (Texas is what, the fourth most populous state in the union?), and an indication of how truly screwed up life in these United States is today:  crickets.  When it's about an issue that doesn't really affect any of us (I don't think any of the regular commenters here works for a Catholic related institution; if I'm wrong, my apologies):  fireworks!

Why is that?

I'm as bad as anybody; and maybe comments is poor way to judge interest.

I have to stop here, and admit I started this with the purest of insightful intentions, meaning to say something profound and illuminating, or at least ruminative; and I can't do it.  I spent the weekend gardening, rather than listening to the latest political news, and it has changed me profoundly.  Well, for the next 24 hours, anyway.  To be honest, I don't care if Scott Walker wins the recall election tomorrow, because I don't live in Wisconsin.  I don't care that George Zimmerman is back in jail, because I won't be a juror in Florida (although I do think he handed the prosecution a dandy counter-attack to any claim of self-defense.  The defense's new defense that the money Zimmerman raised on the intertubes is in an "independent trust" and this is all one big misunderstanding is too cute by half.  It may work for the judge in a new bail hearing, but he's got a major credibility problem now with the jury, one he just handed to the prosecution.  Drat!  There I go again!).  I don't even care about the Texas PUC because, frankly, I can't do anything about it.  Texas' political culture is what it is, and among other things it is immutable.  Most of the people who live here now are not "native Texans," but they took to the political culture of one party (until the 80's, that party was the Democrats, because the Republicans were associated with Lincoln) and that party as archly conservative as possible, and nothing has really changed; if anything, it's gotten worse.   But what am I going to do about it?  Become an activist?  Be the next Molly Ivins or Jim Hightower?

Not likely.  I won't even be John Henry Faulk.

No, Voltaire was right, and Candide reached the proper conclusion.  I spent the weekend gardening, and though the work was hard, the results were most satisfactory.  I'd be better off using this blog for theological gardening; but I'd certainly be better off, in all cases, tending my own garden.

I'm gonna go watch the butterflies for awhile....

*yes, everybody does it.   Is there nothing you can't find on the intertubes?

Addendum:  rather than start another post, let's confuse this one.  So, speaking of not being able to do anything about it so why bother, consider this chart at the Houston Chronicle.  Collin County is in the DFW "Metroplex," home to Plano, Richardson, and other towns.  Why it has the highest percentage requesting they stay registered to vote, I don't know.  Travis County is Austin, by and large, a city in its own eyes (at least) very politically active (they were blogging in Austin before there was an internet; it was done on telephone polls and in alternative newspapers).  A low percentage of those challenged bothered to save their registration.


And why does Texas have such low voter registration?  It wasn't that long ago Texas all but pioneered the "motor voter" law.  I can remember coming back to the state from Illinois to find voter registration cards in almost every public place I went.  Why don't people register?  Because they don't want to face jury duty?  Or because they don't care?

I'm inclined toward the latter.  Texas, as I say, has been a one-party state since Reconstruction.  It's a cultural thing, and culture is weirdly impervious to changing populations.  Few Texans are "native Texans" (i.e., born here), yet the immigrants adopt the political culture more rapidly than they understand how to use "y'all" or take up the peculiar Texas accent (twang and drawl, used judiciously and only in the right places).  I still don't know why that is.

Nor do I suspect a Florida style voter purge here,  This isn't Rick Perry trying to win more votes for the GOP.  Everyone agrees the newest Senator from Texas is going to be a Republican, and nobody thinks a Democrat is going to defeat Perry if he runs for Governor again, even though the GOP is sick of Perry.  No, this is Texas government trying to operate without really functioning, which must be the way people like it down here, because it's been that way for 30 odd years now (actually, it's been that way almost all my life).

The biggest problem with voter registration is that people have to register to vote; and then they have to care enough to preserve their registration.  But I deeply suspect most voters see no reason to vote, as only one party is going to win (except in isolated local races) and they don't really see anybody to vote for.  So they don't put forth even minimal effort.

Democracy inaction.  What're ya gonna do?


  1. Anonymous11:20 AM

    Ok, I've posted a comment in response to this and twice ut has disappeared immediately after. If you're deleting i for some reaont that's fine. But if not, there may be an issue with the commenting system.


  2. Sherri11:43 AM

    I started to comment on the Texas electricity post, but deleted it. I didn't think a "been there, done that" post was all that useful, but I've been there, done that, specifically when I lived in California 10 years ago. Deregulation led to market manipulation led to blackouts and rising energy prices, and in that case, recall of a sitting governor and Governor Schwarzenegger.

  3. That market manipulation came to you courtesy of Enron, here in Houston.

    We really believe in that stuff, in other words.....

    Windhorse--dunno, wasn't me.

  4. Windhorse12:24 PM

    I'm as bad as anybody; and maybe comments is poor way to judge interest

    Comments are a poor way to judge interest. I can't speak for anyone else of course but the main reason I didn't comment is for fear of being THAT GUY who comments on every post. But, since you you seem to be askin' for it, all bets are off now!

    As for your post analyzing the other post which analyzed the other post which looked at rape from the perspective of libertarian contract theory (ugh, what is wrong with these people?!?) I personally didn't have much to add, although I did link back and read the entire article at Crooked Timber. To address the explanation you posited, it's not that I don't care about this issue, I do; I'm keenly concerned about women's issues, in fact, as even beyond the legitimate issues expressed by such concerns I believe that how they are treated is a litmus test revealing the spiritual health and maturity of a society. I just didn't have anything interesting to add.

    But: your post prompted someone to action at some level. You wrote something on the internet and someone thought about it and read more about it.

  5. Windhorse12:25 PM

    The post regarding the deregulation of electricity providers in Texas was very illuminating and also prompted me to action: although I don't live in Texas I googled the issue and read probably ten different articles covering that issue, including the Wikipedia entry which has a positively glowing review of deregulation, by the way (which is most certainly why its neutrality is not surprisingly disputed) because, as you wrote, Texas has been a laboratory for exporting destructive policy to the rest of the country and that was enough to get my interest.

    After poring through local newspaper articles and studies and blog analyses what I discovered is that Texans can't agree on whether deregulation was good or bad for the state - largely because Texas conservatives and manufacturers (manufacturers seemingly being one of the few parties receiving a  price break under the byzantine new system of deregulated plans) simply insist that it is good in the face of any facts to the contrary and they seem to have a pretty good PR structure in place of websites and spokespersons and government officials to keep the meme going.

    The deregulation there seems to have shaken out to be a strange sort of crony capitalism in which key parties who are either politically connected or in the know (manufacturers, businessmen, politicians) are benefiting from lower rates than the other consumers, who themselves are enjoying slightly lower rates than they were before but higher rates than the surrounding states or the country on average and likely higher rates than they would have paid had the industry not been deregulated - all at the very cheap price of rolling blackouts,  bankrupt electricity retailers, and a grim future as the population increases and usage along with it.

    See? I read it! And I'm glad you posted about it. And I do care about what happens in Wisconsin as well, as there are a similarly a number of negative outcomes for the country from that battlefield as the effects spread outward.

    So don't lose heart. People are reading, learning, taking heart, and taking action. Although not always commenting. For reasons you may not have thought of.

  6. But: your post prompted someone to action at some level. You wrote something on the internet and someone thought about it and read more about it.

    Well, there is that, isn't there? :-)

    So don't lose heart. People are reading, learning, taking heart, and taking action. Although not always commenting. For reasons you may not have thought of.

    And that as well.

    A weekend gardening just shifted my perspectives a bit. Texas is, sadly, a sinkhole for crony capitalism. It wasn't supposed to be this way: the last Texas Constitution (the one we are saddled with now) was a populist product, but mostly a product of anger at bankers and railroads (which then ran the world; think Big Oil today). Sadly, the framers were not Jefferson and Franklin & Co., so that the last time the state Constitution came up for serious review, a prominent businessman opined: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

    Texas once had a consumer protection law that was a model for the nation, a State Board of Insurance that set standards for how such bodies should regulate insurance, and, as I mentioned, control of the electricity market.

    Now our legacy is Enron and Rick Perry and nuclear dumps (you could look it up). That period in the '70's when government worked was an aberration; this is the norm. What intrigues me is all the people who moved here in the last decades and accepted this culture as, well....acceptable.

    Sure, the Tex-Mex is good, but.....

  7. Sherri4:12 PM

    As for the rape discussion, well, if I got outraged every time there was a libertarian discussion about rape (or any topic about women, for that matter) that failed to acknowledge that real people are involved, I'd be outraged all the time. I'm trying not to live in that state any more.

    I skimmed the Crooked Timber post enough to see that they were discussing a post from Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and I knew that it was unlikely to be something I found productive, so I skipped it.

  8. I skimmed the Crooked Timber post enough to see that they were discussing a post from Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and I knew that it was unlikely to be something I found productive, so I skipped it.

    Don't blame you. I really didn't recognize the venue, myself.

    I just found it absurd on its face. Now I know better why.

  9. Blogger's been acting up with comments on several blogs.

    No one is outraged by mendacity in state government, especially if it isn't your state. But everyone is outraged by what the Catholic Bishops just said. Now, does it affect you?

    A few years back I challenged PZ Myers to run an experiment of going all-science, all the time for a few weeks to see how many of his relative myriad of commenters stuck with his blog, he refused point blank to test the sciencyness of his Scienceblog by canning the hate.

    It's one of the frustrations of writing seriously on blogs that a number of lesser topics will swamp any other topic. The war on religion is one of those, Catholic hatin' an evergreen of that variety. Oh, well, it could be the Beatles vs The Stones or, in a variation I've had fun with Keith Moon vs. Max Roach or Elvin Jones (never get into that one without YouTube to back you up.

    I've become steadily less impressed with the culture of liberalism as it presents itself in the 2000s. I've come to the conclusion that a lot of the failure of liberalism is due to the deterioration of liberalism into a puddle of soppy liberalish, materialistic libertarianism. And I learned that from the blogs. Give me faith based liberals any day.

  10. Make that "Give me religiously based liberals any day." The religions that have justice as a major belief.

  11. Windhorse1:05 PM

    The war on religion is one of those, Catholic hatin' an evergreen of that variety

    As a left-wing radical with a religious background who frequents liberal political blogs I'm interested in hearing more about this war on religion, as my invitation seems to have been lost in the mail. Just what are our targets? Are we aiming to shut down individual churches? Get religious broadcasters stripped of their licenses? Are we preventing religious people from ministering to the poor or living out the example of Christ? Preventing them from marrying who they wish? Defying the IRS requirements of our non-profits to openly lobby against them?

    Or is it, in fact, quite the opposite?

    Just curious.

  12. Windhorse, you ever read the comment threads and posts at Eschaton blog, Hullaballo or on many of those on their blog rolls?

    Being about as far left as it's possible to get - radical egalitarian, leveler, gay, socialist - I see it all over the place on leftish blogs. Being anti-religious is very fashionable. Those, when you really look closely at them, all to often are merely leftish-libertarian.

    Maybe I'll make a list of leftish writers who have authored explicitly anti-religious articles and books and post it on my blog sometime. Some of those I've respected in the past but I've come to the conclusion, after thinking about a number of them, that it's generally a sign of unreliability. Barbara Ehrenrich might be an exception to that rule but one of mighty few I can think of.

  13. Gotta agree with Thought Criminal on this. "War on Religion" is perhaps a bit inflammatory, but it can feel that way in certain internet circles.

    "Radical atheism" is all the rage, usually based on a grotesque ignorance of religious belief and Xianity in particular, coupled with equally obtuse notions of the power of reason (which always have nothing to do with religious belief, Aquinas and Augustine, et al., notwithstanding).

    The usual statement, made boldly by someone who thinks they've just had the idea, is that all believers are nuts and cling to superstitions and mythologies, and none of them are worth the time it takes to point out how absurd they are. Some want to tax churches, the better to put them out of business (or level the playing field, since all churches are rich). Some want to close churches, because they promote superstition.

    On and on it goes. Pretty tedious stuff, most of it.

  14. The one I always love to see is when the ultra-atheists pulls out Occam's razor to cut God out of the universe. I've yet to find one who knew that William of Ockham was a Franciscan of the strict observance who, just about certainly, believed in the reality of Francis' stigmata and who explicitly said that God was the only necessary being which couldn't be cut out.

    "War on religion" is what was explicitly called for by the great heroes of pop-atheism. A call for extermination is certainly an declaration of war.

  15. I certainly hesitate to talk about any "war on religion" in America, especially since there have been such wars, on religion in general, and on particular religions, in my lifetime, and they make our complaints and moaning pretty trivial by comparison.

    We have a lot of things that do make us uncomfortable. We have always had atheism, but it is becoming increasingly mainstream. Every one of my daughter's closest friends at high school this year was an atheist. I know, of course, that Santa Fe is probably an unusual community in some respects (our realtor was a professed Gnostic who was always complaining of how her Buddhist ex took her to the cleaners in their divorce). Given an increasing absolute number of atheists, there will be more, absolutely, on the "jerk" end of the bell curve, just as we know they have always been there among the theists.

    It's also undeniable, I think, that the anonymity and practical unaccountablity of internet discussion has an adverse effect on what we used to call manners.

    Still, I don't think it's just the atheists. I see what seems to be a whole lot more plain hatred between Christians, and between Christian churches and sects. Some of this is pour-over from politics, I think. And a lot of it is plain ignorance. How many posters equate thinking something a sin with hatred of those who commit it? How many put everything in terms of "going to hell"? How many appreciate the Christian sense of the pervasiveness and universality of sin? Or that Christian morality presumes a failure to live up to its norms, and constitutes but a prelude to the notions of redemption, salvation and forgiveness? What is called "religion" in the popular press is largely church politics. Since the churches are, in fact, polities, they cannot exist without politics--but the life of religion, the life of the parish, the congregation, remains, I think, a total mystery to those outside looking in.

  16. What is called "religion" in the popular press is largely church politics. Since the churches are, in fact, polities, they cannot exist without politics--but the life of religion, the life of the parish, the congregation, remains, I think, a total mystery to those outside looking in.

    I think this is exactly right. And "war" is certainly a tired metaphor for any disagreement we might be party to.

    I'm not sure, though, how much has changed. "Free thinkers" championed what we now call atheism in the 19th century (and ironically, the tools they used to do it, such as the scriptural studies then coming out of Germany, are now the basic precepts of a seminary education). I knew people in Tyler who told me the Catholic priests slept with the nuns and buried the aborted children behind the monastery or convent walls.

    I was excoriated in my first church for using the phrase "Prayer of our Savior", a more "inclusive" term than "The Lord's Prayer," according to my seminary (and, I thought, an innocuous enough title), and the reasoning was it was probably Roman Catholic (500 years on, the fires of the Reformation have still not gone out).

    Is it worse now? There are certainly more independent "preachers" who love to find groups to excoriate: if not other Christians, then gays, or foreigners, or the poor. There is certainly a level of vitriol against religious belief on the internets that is stunning to see, if only because it is also so stunningly ignorant in its suppositions. Which makes it remarkably like the reaction to Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons, and his public appearances.

    Rev. Wright's words were taken out of context and interpreted with a good dose of pure ignorance of why he said what he said. Rather than explain himself, Rev. Wright challenged his critics to learn a few things. This was taken as arrogance or cluelessness. But I've found Paul Simon was right: "A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest."

    And that teaching people something when they know absolutely nothing, and moreover are happy in their lack of knowledge, is next to impossible.

  17. Windhorse2:05 PM

    The Thought Criminal: Windhorse, you ever read the comment threads and posts at Eschaton blog, Hullaballo or on many of those on their blog rolls?

    Yes, I've read the commentary. I have been a moderator for one of the major political blogs on the left for many years and it has been my job (or perhaps Sisyphean punishment) to read thousands of comments a week. I have both read and been involved in many discussions about religion online. I also read and participate in the comments sections of other liberal blogs, and while I do regularly read people deriding religious belief I have yet to see any evidence of a war.

    Just because someone does not share the same beliefs as us does not constitute a "war" on our religion, neither does it when they mock or dismiss our beliefs. That kind of hyperbole is a dangerous use of language and responsible for all sorts of misery throughout history which rightly should have been avoided. I don't think it's constructive, particularly when the atheists on the political left are much more likely to share your vision of a just and equitable society than the zealots on the religious right. Despite our differences, we need to build bridges there.

    I can understand your frustration around the dismissal of your cherished beliefs but I would offer this: atheists are not manufactured in some dark, materialist dystopia and then unleashed upon the world to aggravate Christians. In this country they are, almost without, exception, raised in a Christian tradition and later fall away from it. They leave for all sorts of reasons but typically it is as a result of some sort of abuse or neglect or perceived abuse and neglect: emotional, physical, or intellectual. Sometimes they are even individuals who had aspirations for developing a spiritual life who could either not satisfy them in the faith tradition in which they were born into or who had those aspirations actively thwarted by a pastor, parent, or doctrine. As a rule they have legitimate critiques of religion or at least false religion to offer, although they may admittedly be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  18. Windhorse2:08 PM


    I will offer just a bit of my own opinion and experience around this issue to make a point. While I believe reason is a crucial tool for understanding the world, it is just a tool, and is constrained by phenomenological circumstance. Therefore, it only goes so far - and this is where I believe materialistic atheism sorely runs up against its limits. Because of some pretty unusual experiences in my own life there is no one more "superstion-y" than me when it comes to religion and worldview, at least from the atheistic perspective (if not the mainstream Christian one). You and rmj could join a band of gypsies living in a spiritualist camp and live to to be a hundred and not collectively equal the broad level of metaphysic to which I'm willing to entertain. I fully believe that creation is imbued with consciousness. I fully believe in higher "supernatural" realities with laws of their own which enfold us, and my beliefs are based on time spent with groups as disparate as shamans and Sufis and simple religious. However, my beliefs are unique to my personal history and experiences and I wouldn't expect anyone else to subscribe to them, nor do I see how they could.

    Having said that, it doesn't make any difference to me or anyone else believes about my crazy beliefs, whether they are hardcore materialists or fundamentalist Christians (and in my mind there is a disturbing overlap between the two). People here probably don't share my views and that's OK, I get it. I have militant atheist friends and acquaintances who are aware of my beliefs and eccentricities and we get along just fine. I'm able to discuss political issues with them from the standpoint of reason and similar a priori beliefs about justice and fairness and we can reach the same conclusions, regardless of our ontological betting tendencies. They aren't warring on me or anyone else, despite their beefs with organized religion.

    I think it's important that we not exaggerate the importance of the casual and unthinking barbs from unbelievers. What each of us believe is less important than how we treat each other and the selflessness of our ideals. People matter more than ideas...or so I've heard.

  19. However, my beliefs are unique to my personal history and experiences and I wouldn't expect anyone else to subscribe to them, nor do I see how they could.

    That's been my p.o.v. from time to time: sometimes I think it's sound, sometimes I think it's a cop out.

    Nothing personal in that, just an observation. There has to be something more than purely personal experience to religious belief, or there wouldn't be any religious belief. But I digress....

    As I've said before, I'll accept that "war" is too strong a term, and that the people complaining on the intertubes have as much power to affect things as a butterfly does to start a hurricane (popular explanations of chaos theory notwithstanding). OTOH, I've run into some amazingly bitter people determined to enforce, or rather reinforce, their blinkered ignorance with still more blinkered ignorance.

    And I'm the first to confess I don't suffer fools gladly.

    Is it worse now? I'm not really sure. Of course, I agree with your conclusion: people do matter more than ideas. But I also have to confess: I've run into some astounding assholes, although not just on the intertubes. My favorite was the church member who told me he'd read the Bible when he was younger, and he didn't need to hear any more about it now, so could I please find something more appropriate to preach about. It wasn't as much of a polite request as I make it sound, either.

    Anonymous comments on a blog got nothin' on somebody who'll say that to their pastor's face.

    There is some real ugliness out there. Seeking healing from it may start with recognizing it; but it doesn't end with declaring it an enemy.

    Why does everything have to be so complicated?

  20. I have yet to see any evidence of a war.

    As I said, the frequently expressed desire that religious belief become extinct, the frequently expressed intent to make it the object of ridicule, the frequent attempt to make religious expression disallowed, what more do you need?

    Just because someone does not share the same beliefs as us does not constitute a "war" on our religion, neither does it when they mock or dismiss our beliefs.

    I'm certainly not talking about when "someone does not share the same beliefs", not sharing a belief doesn't constitute a war on religion in general. And I'm not talking about the mockery of any particular belief, except the general mockery of anything but the rigid post-60s materialism that started to enforce itself on the culture of the left in the mid-70s, when organized atheism really started to enforce its coercion on leftist culture.

    I've been looking into the history of that kind of materialist coercion and think I can see it as an important component in the failure of the left. It certainly leads to the denial of the metaphysical prerequisites for liberalism to be truly believed to be valid. "Meat robots" and "lumbering automatons" don't have rights that are real enough for anyone to be morally obliged to observe them, moral obligation, itself, can be, ultimately nothing but an illusion or a social convention under materialism. So, I see it as a war on liberalism as well.

  21. I thought a long time about addressing this last night and decided it needed to be said.

    atheists are not manufactured in some dark, materialist dystopia

    I think, when you look at the beliefs that they promote, that this is exactly what a faction of atheists do. Everywhere, I see the promotion of people of objects and their utility as an inverted standard of substitute morality. That is, not only anti-Christian (I don't happen to fulfill the requirements to be a Christian) but is opposed to any form of morality. As that inverted morality is based in the alleged science of evolutionary psychology, for its believers it carries a far more potent form of belief than religion for many. I look at the inversion of altruism by Hamilton, Price, Dawkins etc. and see a determined effort to destroy the belief that being unselfish is impossible, the appearance of unselfishness as much of a delusion as it is asserted God is.

    I am a gay man who believes that the sexual expression of love is good. I've seen what happens when the feeling of love is under this kind of attack, when people are seduced into seeing people merely as objects. You can see it in the gay porn available online in which a promotion of use of a weaker by a stronger man has become ever more common, not to mention the promotion of dangerous sexual practices. Those kinds of things are always present in porn but, having been exposed to gay porn for about a half a century, it seems to me to be getting much worse. I've seen a lot of people destroyed by that inversion of morality and love.

    In a sense it all hinges on seeing and treating people like objects of utility, which is hard enough to resist if you're not a materialist but when you have no belief that compels you to resist it, when the things that have had such a limited success in stemming that temptation are discarded as illusions, when becomes the primary way of thinking across an entire society, a dystopian nightmare is all the more likely to be the result.

  22. Make that

    " to destroy the belief that being unselfish is possible, the appearance of unselfishness as much of a delusion as it is asserted God is."

    "when the things that have had such a limited success in stemming that temptation are discarded as illusions, when uninhibited utility becomes the primary way of thinking across an entire society, a dystopian nightmare is all the more likely to be the result."

    I'll add that when what you think you can get away with is the only, real inhibition of the desire to use and hurt people the results are bound to be horrible. Look at how people treat animals around the world for another example of what will happen, look at what happens to children all too often when someone believes they can get away with violating their rights. It's possible for individuals, atheists or not to resist the desire to treat people as objects. But even the religious prohibition on that is hardly a complete success in stopping it, especially across groups of people. When those prohibitions are removed the results are bound to be worse.

    There is nothing in any proposed atheist code of morality that is not vulnerable to exactly the same rejection that atheists use to dispose of God and religious assertions of morality. There is nothing in atheism that compels belief, never mind the scrupulous practice of areligious morality. The practice of mockery and derision that is practiced against religion can be just as easily turned against any atheistic assertion of morality. Once you've rejected God and the collective human address of moral issues that is contained in scriptures, when you claim that the insights of prophecy are mental illness it's even easier to turn that against any atheistic moral proscription you don't want to follow. I'd give the careers of Christopher Hitchens and other atheist neo-cons as examples of how easy that can be.

  23. Windhorse6:11 PM

    The Thought Criminal -

    First of all, let me just say that I respect your point of view and how eloquently you expressed it. I understand better now where you're coming from and you raise some legitimate concerns, most notably about the potential for spiritual darkness arising as a consequence of a purely materialist worldview.

    I wrote this big long thing and thought better of it. I don't need to oppress you or anybody else with my rambling ruminations. I would make just a couple of points, though. It may be true that, as you suggest, that liberalism requires a metaphysical underpinning to be optimally "effective." And it also may be true that such a foundation is best expressed in the ideas of the New Testament.

    And there is an argument to be made that the humanism which forms the ethical basis for the vast majority of atheists finds its origins in Scripture. I think it's much more complicated than that and I think that there are different influences involved, but that's an argument I could entertain with a whole slew of caveats. 

    But it doesn't follow from that that liberalism can't be an adequate force of do good in the world without being rooted in metaphysics. Nor does it follow that materialists are bad people who can only produce bad results. These are not either/or propositions, and when discussing political activism and alliances it is clear that perfect is very much the enemy of the good. I have little doubt that if the day came in which conservatives were able to pass legislation making homosexuality illegal, the atheists and humanists would be right there alongside the liberal Christians manning the safe houses and underground railroads.

    That said, I am committed to promoting and advocating the development of an authentic spiritual life in whatever tradition one finds oneself, and in upholding the dignity and rights of the human individual.

    We all come at these issues from our experience and colored by our own fears and prejudices. Your experience has caused you to distrust materialists and those without a grounding in religion, it seems. Mine, sadly, has caused me to be very wary of the conservative religious: the devout, the defenders of the faith, those who consider themselves pious and "good." I have found more welcome and less cruelty, judgment and harassment among those whom society pushes to the side: the gays, the atheists, the indigenous, the pagans. The exception to this rule has been liberal Christians, and I'm going to stick out my neck here and make the sweeping statement that as far as I'm concerned, liberal Christianity in this country is a saving remnant. What passes itself off as orthodoxy among the sects has become so concerned with politics, with money, with power and with social control, that it is largely indistinguishable from any merely archonic undertaking as far as I can see. If I want to live in 14th century Europe or Calvin's Geneva I'll build a time machine and don my rags, thank you very much. 

    The liberal Christians, on the other hand, are the ones fighting the "powers," as Grandmère Mimi so aptly put it last week, along with feeding the hungry and taking care of the needy. And I share your respect for their efforts and sacrifice

  24. Windhorse, I also wrote a long piece on this subject a month ago, several, in fact, in response to Jerry Coyne as well as others.

    I am quite skeptical of "Humanism" as it has come to exist in the 20th century, especially after the takeover by Corliss Lamont and Paul Kurtz. I'm even more skeptical of "skepticism" as it proceeds from "Humanism" and the new atheism that is a development from the same groups and people. But that's a very long topic which involves quite a lot of controversy and requires extensive citation and quotation. The entire thing is a smoke screen for that kind of materialism I noted above.

    I'd recommend Marilynne Robinson's essays about John Calvin in the collection of essays "The Death of Adam". Her essays, including her book length essays "Mother Country" and "Absence of Mind are a revelation.

  25. Windhorse9:12 PM

    I'll try and acquire Robinson's book of essays, although I admit I approach it with some trepidation....

  26. But it doesn't follow from that that liberalism can't be an adequate force of do good in the world without being rooted in metaphysics.

    I will have to disagree with this at its most basic level. The ideas of human freedom, free will, equality, civil rights, etc. that are what liberalism is made of are all metaphysical concepts. There is no physical demonstration of them, there is no way to locate them in anything except human experience and human history. They are the product of faith. That's exactly the reason that materialism not only puts them in jeopardy, they are inevitably destroyed by materialism.

    As I said in one of those posts, atheists have been denying the existence of the bases of liberalism for ages. In the past we were supposed to overlook that out of some imagined leftist solidarity. Well, under the new atheism those declarations nullifying the bases of liberalism are widely made and widely repeated in the would-be liberals of today. That is an unsustainable situation, I think it is a good part of why liberalism has failed in the period after The Rev. Martin Luther King jr. passed from the scene.