Monday, December 31, 2007

My New Year's resolution: To favor science and fact

Because apparently I don't. So says Tom Gregory in his
New Year's Huff-Po piece.

Religion, it seems, is the answer to the timeless question of why we, as humans, are so violent. It's the cause of it all.

And you thought there was some long, complicated answer to that question for the ages. Stop making things so hard.

As Tom points out, "Humanity's habit of violence is counterintuitive to progress. Now more than ever we need a choice to leave the religion behind in favor of science and fact. Perhaps then humankind can see its way clear of the bloodshed that has plagued man since written history."

Clearly, religion is the cause for the bloodshed that has plagued man since written history, though all of the violence prior to that point was caused by eating undercooked meat and sleeping in stuffy, smoke-filled caves.

Yes, when people leave science and fact behind in favor of "the religion," they become violent. And then they become even more violent. And, eventually, they do violence. Got that? I hope so. There'll be a test.

This answers a lot of questions for me. Because, for as long as I can remember, I've been opposed to facts and science, especially scientific facts. Not to mention the very fact of science. Why must science exist, I used to yell out loud to no one in particular? Why? Why?

Now I know where I was coming from in those days. My religiousness made it impossible for me to respect, let alone embrace, science and fact.

Tom continues: "Violence such as Bhutto's death and the Iraq war, jar change on a political scale, but science can stir truthful, meaningful change."

And precisely how can science do that? By showing us images of Earth--how else? (You were probably thinking along the lines of creating a drug that calms human aggression, or concocting some way to accelerate the evolution of the human brain, a la The Outer Limits. Get with it.) Nope, with faraway images of our planet. "The space program's most arresting image proves just how far science, not superstition, can take mankind."

Gregory is referring to an image taken of the Earth by "Voyager one (sic)" in 1990 after it passed Saturn--an image in which our planet registers as nothing but a tiny spot of light. "Humanity's most poetic image," he calls this. This is supposed to get us to thinking about how tiny we are in the scheme of things, and how, therefore, there can be no God. Because, prior to that 1990 image, no one--especially religious people--ever considered our tininess in the vastness of space. Not to mention our tinniness. (Can you imagine sound waves from Earth getting even so far as Mars?) Once you realize that, God just sort of fades away.

"Change your perspective and alter our world." Okey-dokey! I'll do that. And Tom's advice is not only free, he didn't even get paid for dispensing it. So, it's free in two senses.

Like so many drop-religion-and-save-the-world types, Gregory has trouble with elementary punctuation and meaningful word choice. Which makes it a good thing he's not suggesting we trust in his wisdom, but rather in the wisdom of fact and science. That way, it's O.K. that he types things like "Now more than ever we need a choice...." Which must mean, "Now, more than ever, we must make the choice between...." I'm just guessing. My Huff-Po-to-English software recently crashed, so I'm at the mercy of my best shots in the dark.

Then there's the lost comma at the start of "Violence such as Bhutto's death and the Iraq war, jar change on a political scale." (Jar change? Is that any different from coinage kept in a sock?)

Now, what an interesting concept in punctuation--a comma following a clause but not preceding it ("Such as Bhutto's death and the Iraq war"). Amazing. And Tom definitely makes his point that science is not the same thing as the Iraq war or the assassination of Bhutto. Wow. And here we were, thinking it was. Damn, we people of faith are dumb.

That's one of the reasons I was so opposed to science. Not just because I was religious, but because I didn't realize science was different from the Iraq war or the assassination of Bhutto. How could I have known? We're all raised to think these are the same things, and so we never think to question the connection. Until something jars change. And I think I spotted a device along those lines in a Harriet Carter catalog, next to a "World's Greatest Source of Natural Gas" ballcap.

"Humanity needs its own a New Year's resolution." Exactly. I've been saying this for years.

"Faint Light for the New Year," Tom's essay is called. I think I might have changed that title if I knew that my photo and byline would be appearing above it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

'Twas the Weekend Before Christmas (and all through the land, the ARSEs were stirring)

I mean, 'tis the weekend before Christmas.

And what, to my surprise, should appear in both papers (local and big city)? Why, mention of Christmas! On the front pages, no less.

Yikes. And we just heard from some guy who was all upset because he spotted a Nativity scene at a small suburban city hall. This traumatized him to the point of having to complain officially. And to write to our big city paper. He loudly expressed the wish that religious people (Christians, in this case) keep our views private. Fittingly, he used a public forum to convey this. I guess some views are more sacred than others.

Hugh Briss, president of our local Americans Riled by Sacred Expressions (ARSE) chapter and author of Shutting People Up in the Name of Free Speech, recently wrote a friendly essay to"religious morons everywhere" in which he pointed out, "It's about not promoting religion. Once you start allowing Christmas scenes on statehouse lawns and such, people start celebrating Christmas. Before you know it, they start singing carols. And I don't like carols. Therefore, you people should either stop singing them OR sing the damn things where I can't hear them. Got it?" Asked if he plans to take the holiday off, he replied, "Of course. Are you nuts?"

Hugh's authority? The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which states, "Let it be established that Nativity scenes, in particular, piss us off."

In another local piece, a person objecting to some other Nativity display asked that he remain anonymous, lest religious fanatics come after him. Good point--the pages of recent history are littered with terrifying tales of Nativity scene gripers who disappeared or were found floating in a lake someplace. Thus, it takes a heck of a lot of courage to speak out in this fashion. In the Hall of Heroes, a special wing has been dedicated to the take-down-the-creche cause and its manly members.

Being a Christian, I am, of course, too dumb to understand evolution, the need for stem cell research, or why HBO shows are--as a rule--vital and indispensable, but even I can grasp that the Establishment Clause is mainly about not creating a state church. Which is why we don't have one.

Now, creches are familiar symbols of our culture's biggest (by far) annual holiday. They go up for the season; they come down when it's over. In any way, shape, or form, does the displaying of these symbols contribute toward making Christianity the state religion?

I'm glad there are people loony enough to think so, but we need not bend to their perceptions, any more than you or I need to take down our back porch light because the guy down the street thinks it's a beacon for space monsters.

As for Christianity becoming the official religion, good galloping luck. There are only five million different versions thereof. I'm amazed by those who think Christianity exists in a single, simple, totally-agreed-upon version--no, scared by them. People capable of stereotyping that broadly are people who need help.

Anyway, try sometime to get ten humans to agree on what to bring to the next potluck. Multiply those odds by a million, and you have some idea how likely we are to wake up anytime to church rule, no matter how many creche scenes we establish annually.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Talking the F-word (Faith): Great wisdom is needed these days. Until then, we have mine.

I'm going to cheat and back-date this to yesterday to create the illusion that I wrote and posted it on Sunday. Sneaky, no? But no one will know. Unless, of course, I reveal that I....

Wait a minute. Oops.

Anyway, this is the essay I would have written yesterday, had I done so. But I didn't.

The issue of religion in politics (as in, its proper role) is one of the most boring topics on Earth, but one kept alive by the inability of huge numbers of people to understand the issues involved. No one sums up the basic facts better than Charles Krauthammer in a column that just appeared in our paper. And I would gladly link to his column if 1) The Washington Post site had it, and 2) If using the site didn't require registering. To heck with that. I'm tired of creating new passwords. Aren't you? I think we all are.

Anyway, Krauthammer notes that there are two issues being confused as one--the fact that religion is very much okay for the public square (we live in a free country, after all) vs. the fact it's not O.K. (it's unconstitutional, in fact) for the government to favor one religion or religious view over another. And, therefore, it's a cause for concern when someone (like Mitt) gives a speech suggesting that the establishment clause was written mainly to waste ink.

Such is the essence of the exciting, energizing, talk-to-your-friends-at-the-watercooler-until-you-lose-track-of-time "dialogue" that is faith and politics.

Point being, Krauthammer puts his finger on the real topic--which is not the establishment clause/principle itself, but the inability of people to grasp it. Which is to be expected when the issue is constantly being side-stepped and/or misrepresented. People get confused. Confusion not being a bad thing (it's a good defense against the mass input of b.s., after all) unless it remains unresolved.

Unresolved confusion tends to lead to indifference. That's the main danger.

The press has no time to worry about its role in generating indifference--it has sponsors to please and jobs to keep. And so, in our case, it focuses on religious controversy, to the point of generating it. For the same reason, of course, that it goes on about Britney's cellulite--such issues are easier than heck to report on, they can be repeated over and over, they simply require the rerunning of the same tape loops, and any controversy they generate is safe controversy. The press doesn't have to answer to how (no pun intended) it covers Britney's ass OR how it covers the latest complaint from Americans Against Religion. It's the safest stuff to cover, and the easiest, and it generates lots of money.

Otherwise, the press would have to do its job. Which, in defense of the press, the public tends not to make worth its while. (Yes, you heard me correctly.) Put yourself in the press' place. When you knock yourself out to get the news to the folks, what's your reward? Complaints about the negativity of the reports, accusations of bias, and a generally indifferent reaction to items that OUGHT to (but don't) concern the news-viewing public. Worst of all, three months after you've covered something, there are angry bloggers accusing you of not having covered it. Never mind that, back when you made the mistake of bringing it up, nobody gave a tinker's dam. Then, once people DO start caring, they start asking why you didn't warn them. The press can't win.

So, in a very real way, I can't blame the press for dumbing down its coverage. As far as I'm concerned, the audience is chiefly to blame. Ultimately, news consumers determine the menu.

It's just another way of saying that, if McDonald's patrons wanted healthier food, they'd demand it. And they don't. I'm thinking of a quarter pounder with cheese, so that's why the McD's metaphor. (As if I needed the fat.)

Anyway, the milking of religion in politics is to be expected in a dumbed-down media. Not that the faith-based issues are meaningless, by a long shot. Not that we aren't being given a wonderful opportunity right now to meaningfully discuss the basic American principles in question. Not that there's anything wrong with reviewing who we are and how we got there. (Help--I'm running out of cliches.) But it's not going to happen, so long as the cheap exploitation of faith means ratings.

And, yes, the press is helping this stuff along. Mightily. Frank Rich--a columnist I like most of the time--just wrote about the hyping of Romney's speech on religious intoler.... I mean, the role of religion in governing. Rich concludes that the press pre-hyped the thing because it thought Romney was going to give a JFK-level speech.

Frank. Frank. Frank. Earth calling Frank.

Nobody in the press thought Romney was going to give a JFK-style speech. The media hyped up the speech so that everyone would get even more upset about it than they would have, sans any build-up. The press smelled a fight, and it proceeded to make it as big a fight as possible. Again, safe coverage.

I'm only the one-zillionth blogger to suggest that the press focuses on non-issues in order to avoid the real stuff. It's not a new concept. Yet, specific instances of this practice, no matter how blatant, aren't always obvious to us. And that's where I come in.

I'm the specific instance pointer-outer. Or, the SIPO. The sound of which I don't like. SIPO.

Let me come up with a different phrase.

Oh, and did I mention that this is Sunday?


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Let's Talk the F-word (Faith): "YES, I am the brain surgeon!"

Secular--what does it mean? I mean, really mean. Here are some of the on-line-dictionary definitions I found:

"Worldly rather than spiritual." "Relating to or advocating secularism." "Of or relating to the worldly or temporal." "Of or pertaining to this present world, or to things not spiritual or holy."

A synonym for secular is irreligious. Antonym-wise, "spiritual" fills the bill.

Of course, relying on a dictionary to find out what a word means is so... old hat. I'm not pretending otherwise. I'm fully aware that, to be completely with it ("Uh... man"--Roger Price), we're supposed to A) make a wild guess or B) go with the NPR definition. Such as NPR's definition of "problematic," which I wrote about several weeks ago. There's what the word really means (puzzling, enigmatic) and there is what people misuse it to mean (problem-filled).

Actually, to me, "problematic" sounds like some TV product designed to solve problems. "Get your Problematic today! Only $19.99. Call now and get an Enigmatic FREE of charge!"

Anyway, secular is the opposite of religious or spiritual. We can agree on that, I hope.

So, what are many people taking it to mean? Neutral. They think it denotes neutrality. Our Founding Fathers, for instance, were neutral on the subject of religion. Religiously neutral about religion, we could say. (Get it? Ha-yuk, yuk!)

And, somehow, that stance is seen by many today as a secular one. Worse, it's cited as proof that our government is a secular government. (Stop me when this starts to sound sane.)

And we're hearing this dictionary-uninformed notion a lot in the wake of Mitt Romney's half-baked speech about the role of religion in politics--the one in which he pointed out that, no, we aren't a religious nation, but yes, we are a religious nation.

Which brings to mind the Monty Python sketch with John Cleese saying, "No, I am not the brain surgeon! No, I am not.... YES, I am the brain surgeon!" Somebody please send Mitt to Dr. Cleese.

And, so, some folks are scolding Romney for (guess which?) A) continually contradicting himself virtually within the same damn sentences, or for B) failing to recognize that our nation is a secular one, in spite of the fact that it isn't. If you guessed B, then you're pretty far-left-literate.

The secularists in question are chiding Romney for not grasping, as any self-respecting dictionary avoider would, that our Founding Fathers, by not establishing a state religion, were in effect creating a secular nation. Because the opposite of religion in government is....

A) A neutral stance in regard to the religious AND the secular or B) The United States of richard dawkins.

Idiots choose B. I'm guessing you chose A. Congratulations.

Is a non-religion-based system of government necessarily a worldly, irreligious, or secularist one? Of course not. It's entirely possible to have a form of government that doesn't cater or answer to religion yet which does not embrace secularism. Proof: that's the government we happen to have.

It's so beautifully simple. By contrast, the false notion of a secularist America is based on a series of Homer-Simpson-style pseudo-conclusions. It starts with some dawkins-style celebrity atheist (take your pick) insisting that atheism is not a belief system but rather something based on absence of belief. And, because the point is so meaningless, we're willing to agree. Fine. Who cares.

Then, suddenly, atheism becomes secularism. And secularism, by misdefinition, becomes the absence of a stance. Secularism therefore comes to be misdefined as neutral.

In other words, "No, I am not the brain surgeon! I am not the.... YES, I am the brain surgeon!!"

In reality, whereas atheism is the absence of belief, secularism is nothing of the kind. Equating the two is therefore a mistake. And, in terms of keeping our tradition of ideological freedom intact, even a dangerous one.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Let's Talk the F-word (Faith): It's O.K. to believe in invisible beings--but only if you're Arianna

Otherwise, watch it. Arianna Huffington, who shamelessly exploits each and every item that might bring readers to her comment forums in hot-headed form (but who is otherwise the model of web-lisitc integrity), is up to her usual nonsense with Will Hill Kill Bill for Lying About Iraq? Her piece begins, "I'm hearing that Hillary is ready to kill Bill. But it has nothing to do with his roving eye -- and everything to do with his Rovian lie."

Elegantly-written trash, yes. But trash is trash. You know, I once thought that Huff-style liberals wrote this way in ironic response to O'Reilly, Goldberg, and Coulter, but anymore I'm afraid they're operating under a double standard--namely, that such cheap journalism is fine if the left does it, and not so fine from the right. Naturally, I'd love to believe that the left has higher standards than their ideological enemies, but Huff-Po has, for me, pretty much shit on that illusion.

To date, Arianna's major insult to fair play has been been her practice of throwing believers to the raving, faith-hating lunatics in her audience (gotta get those numbers--the pop-up advertisers insist on it), only to turn around and reveal that she, herself--that is, Arianna--believes in some kind of God herself. As in, the old-fashioned, invisible-being-type God. Her New-Agey reasoning for believing in God the Daddy has something to do with how we dare not believe that science is all, that's there's Nothing Out There. (I'm paraphrasing her twaddle.) We need to believe in Something More. It's like something out of the second grade, only written by someone with a mild gift for prose.

I've always wanted to type "worded her twaddle in babble."

Believing in some Invisible Something Out There is apparently O.K. for progressives to do, but NOT for evangelical Christians (and, by extension, all Christians, because in Huff-Po Land, all Christians are evangelicals). I hope you were able to keep up all the logic there.

To review, Arianna routinely plays host to snarky and classist ridiculing of believers. Then she writes about how it's O.K. to believe, so long as you do it like Arianna or the late Norman Mailer. I'm happy to report she's gotten a fair amount of comment-section bashing over this, but not nearly enough, because she's also gotten an equal share of compliments from the site's ass-kissers.

I guess I'll have to link to her vapid essay. Fear of Faith.

Note Arianna's inane thesis (a false and self-serving dichotomy): "In the twentieth century, the response to fear-filled religiosity has been atheism and fear-filled alienation from all things spiritual." This false, nothing assertion sets things up for her to promote a middle ground--a response that lies between "fear-filled religiosity" and the other extreme. Never mind that members of the latter extreme are periodically given the run of Arianna's blog. Which might suggest to them that she really doesn't have an issue with their stance, after all.

Her middle-ground response? (Let's see.) Oh, here we are. It doesn't amount to a bubble in the bathtub, but here it is: "Without faith in a higher order and the existence of something outside ourselves and our everyday lives, life can become emotionally unbearable and filled with fear."

Again, woe be the "evangelicals" (Huff-Po's word for Christians) who believe in "a higher order and the existence of something outside ourselves and our everyday lives." We are brainless, critically clueless, mob-oriented, victims of groupthink, pawns of the right, and we don't clip our toenails except for special occasions.

On the other hand, if you're someone with no thoughts of her own but a certain ability to write, AND you hang with the progressive crowd and flash a model's smile on TV, it's O.K. to believe in something supernatural. Logical, even. Smart, too.

We lefties need Arianna on our side. To remind us of what our side's positions sound like when drained of all integrity.