Saturday, February 24, 2007

A "Remarkable Achievement" Indeed!

Sometimes a person gets it right without even knowing about it. Such is certainly the case with Vice-President Cheney in recent comments in Australia, as reported here by the AP. Cheney calls the Iraq war and aftermath a "remarkable achievement". On the one hand, one is tempted to shout "WHAT?!?" and list all the reasons why such a description is indicative of a deranged mind. That would be easy and fun, but counter-productive. I would prefer to take those two words and apply them across the board to the entire Bush Presidency. If we consider our country in November, 2000, or even on January 19, 2001, and where we are now - my God, but that is a remarkable achievement!

-Signing statments exempting the Executive Branch from following laws passed by Congress, even as lamb-like a Congress as he has had until now.


-Torture memo

-Removing the United States from the Kyoto Protocols, the International Criminal Court, the ABM Treaty, the anti-CBW Treaty . . .

-John Ashcroft as AG

-Alberto Gonzalez as AG

-Donald Rumsfeld

-Surpluses that vanished and turned into record deficits

-Going to war, and continuing that war, with inadequte personal and vehicular armor, lying about it, denying you lied about it, then denying you lied that you lied

-Tony Snow

-Stem-cell research de-funding

-Not allowing park service personnel to talk about the age of the Grand Canyon because of pressure from creationists

-the PATRIOT Act

-Guantanamo Bay prison

-3100 American deaths

-54,000 and counting Iraqi deaths

-threatening war, including nuclear war, with Iran

-threatening war, including nuclear war, with pretty much everyone except those who actually have nukes

-"Mission Accomplished"

As for the last one, all I can say is, indeed.

Housekeeping Notes, and a Word to the Goat

I have added word verification to the comments section because I have decided to avoid having to go back and delete comment-spam, this is the quickest way around. I still let anyone and everyone comment - even my OLDest sister - and I only delete comments if they are spam.

I have linked to a blog by a conservative operating under the webonym "Goat". He is pretty right-wing, but what the heck, right? We're all in this together and all that . . .

I do want to make a couple observations. First, Goat has banned Parklife - and others - from his site, and reviews all comments before posting them. His rules for posting are strict, and if you ask me, counter-productive. The whole idea behind this is getting in to the fray, mixing it up with other people, sometimes even having people call you an asshole, or even worse names. It isn't always about substance, and substance isn't about avoiding dirty words (a lesson Joe Klein still has not internalized, although he did write "Jeeezus!" on his blog today; the first steps are always the hardest . . .). The most memorable conversations are the ones that include really heated arguments. As long as we respect one another in the morning, what's the harm in the occasional "Go fuck yourself"? If it's good enough for Dick Cheney, it's good enough for me.

On a related note (and this is directed at Goat), please do not disparage either the character or motives of those whom I consider my friends and web-mates, including Parklife. I am not sure what you mean by a "blogwar", but I am sure PL was just amused at your site, or perhaps even interested. That others might be less charitable, well it kind of goes with the territory. You need to lighten up a tad.

Finally, Goat, do not think me impressed by either erudition or knowledge. I have both in spades, and it counts for absolutely nothing. More than either, I prefer a willingness to be open, and a sense of humor. Even if you find you can't accept any of this, or find me presumptuous in offering advice and no longer visit, I shall continue the link. It is about communication, after all, and where would I be without all those right-wingers to keep me honest?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The One Where I Explain Why I Harp on Broder, Klein, etc.

I was a precoscious child. In kindergarten, we had an actual air raid drill (it was 1970; I never had one after kindergarten) and I was yelled at by my teacher because I asked the obvious question - the North Vietnamese couldn't bomb my little village in upstate NY, so what was all the fuss? My mother still has a paper I turned in to my teacher in second grade in which, practicing declarative sentences with multiple subjects, I wrote, "Mitchell and Stans are guilty." My teacher had scrawled several question marks after the sentence, and apparently (I have completely forgotten the incident) I filled her in that John Mitchell was the former Attorney General and Maurice Stans was the former finance chair of the Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President, and I was airing my views on whether or not they had both lied under oath and committed various and sundry other crimes.

I was entranced by Watergate as a small child. It was like this wierd, wonderful movie, with all these characters of dubious morality, with the intrepid reporters on the trail, and the Congressional Cavalry riding in at the last minute after Nixon fired Archibald Cox (apparently, even then, a Democratic Congress couldn't care less if a President repeatedly violated the law; they just didn't like their prerogatives stepped all over).

While my mind has changed about many things, that initial impression still lingers - a certain romantic view of all things Washington. I still believe that Woodstein's reporting on the whole thing was among the best investigative journalism ever, and that neither Woodward, and certainly not Bernstein, have ever again done anything remotely as important or well-crafted since. They did provide a glimpse of what real journalism could be - and the threat it posed to those in power.

The past nine years have also provided a glimpse in to the ways journalism operates, and the differences between then and now could not be more stark (I start, arbitrarily it might seem, with the Lewinsky/impeachment business, but it should be noted that one could go all the way back to Whitewater). For me, the realization that something was not only rotten in journalism, but that journalists were almost completely devoid of any serious analytical skills or sense of responsibility was Sam Donaldson's now-infamous remark, the weekend after the Lewinsky scandal broke, the Clinton "would" resign within a week. I watched the original broadcast, and sat there absolutely dumb-founded. Even thinking about it all these years later, I am still dumb-founded.

Bob Somerby began The Daily Howler website in part because of the constant shoddy, often truly inept, work of journalists during the Clinton years. While I find his constant harping on Election 2000 a bit off-putting, I also understand his point. Had journalists acted like professional adults, instead of a clique of high school kids deciding who was in and out, who was cool, who a nerd, our world would be a very different place today, because Al Gore would have been elected President. This, not the September 11th attacks, changed everything.

So, my feelings about journalism and journalists stem from a remebered, child-like reverence for (in my child's-mind) heroes; and a mature view of journalists as vanguards of information. Because they are a true medium in the original sense of acting-between those who have information and those who desire information, their role and work should be subject to almost constant scrutiny, not just among themselves as a profession, but by non-journalists as well who should demand quality work meeting certain minimal standards that are, sadly, much higher than their recent work.

One of the complaints many on both the left and right have - and I think the fact that (a) the complaint spans the ideological spectrum; and (b) there is abundant evidence to support it as more than a complaint or accusation, but just the way things are - is there is too cozy a relationship between members of the press and Washington officials. This goes beyond this administration, although I believe that, because of the numerous failures and failings of this administration, the continued chuminess needs to stop. As evidenced by the recent Roundtable at the National Press Club with Tony Snow and members of the White House Press Corps, the defensiveness, and refusal to acknowledge outside accountability, along with an almost panting shared love between Snow and these reporters, shows us there is something horribly wrong. Ana Marie Cox at Swampland may call complaints like mine the prattlings of "conspiracy theorists", but they are not. The very idea that reporters and those whom they cover should both sit in their crying corner and bewail citizen commentary upon the work they do shows us something is desparately wrong with the entire situation.

Some of what is wrong extends beyond simple sycophancy. Some of those among our elite reporters and commentators are startlingly stupid, shallow people, who mistake access with insight, and print-inches with success and acceptability. As Somerby wrote today about Maureen Dowd, :How does warm flesh get this dumb?" Klein, Broder, and Thom Friedman are other examples of those held in high esteem, for reasons that totally escape many non-journalists. It isn't just their egregious pandering, their pose as neutral arbiters, and the philosopher-king view they hold of themselves; they are often wrong, their advice is sub-par, their insight rarely matched by any real wisdom.

On a larger scale, our journalists tend to share a pack mentatlity, and they try to shape narratives that usually have only a passing acquaintance with the truth. Somerby has done a magnificent job detailing, and destroying, the patchwork quilt of lies that developed around Al Gore in Campaign 2000, and even the entire fabric of the mainstream narrative about Bill and Hillary Clinton. Yet, we are seeing, again, that these same journalists, proven so egregiously wrong for the past nine years, and publicly proven wrong, simply will not surrender to reality. They allow envy, spite, and small-mindedness to color everything they write and say about candidates; they would rather construct a narrative than follow one. A good example, and one randomly picked from recent days concerns Hillary Clinton, and can be found here. There is nothing surprising, or even remotely interesting about this story - Sen. Clinton has been endorsed by some influential African-American state legislators in South Carolina. A reporter found out that these politicians also had relationships with a firm that Sen. Clinton did. This is a story?

Of course, the sub-text (and sub-texts are clear, but always dismissed by reporters) for this is that (a) Clinton is a strong-arming bitch, whose well-oiled machine is finessing support among those who might otherwise not support her; and (b) these nefarious relationships are part of an entire web of nefarious relationships that call into question Sen. Clinton's integrity, morality, and qualifications for the Presidency. A non-story about a perfectly acceptable and common occurrence - politicans sharing relationships with various PR firms and other groups - becomes part and parcel of a larger unstsated narrative in which Clinton's corruption is assumed beforehand; this is just one piece of a much larger puzzle.

This is the kind of nonsense that has to be called out and stopped. Part of the lesson Somerby and others are trying to pound in to our heads is that we need to be wary of these kinds of narratives. We can't stop lazy, stupid reporters from spreading rumors and false stories; we can debunk them, and demand accountability for such non-journalistic nonsense. We are getting better at it, but we need to keep up the work.

this is why I harp on Broder and Klein. Some, such as the folks at Sadly!No spend their time tearing apart the right-wing blogs. Others, such as Glenn Greenwald, take on both the mainstream press and right-wing blogs. Me - I am a small, part-time outfit, a Z-level blogger with a tiny readership, so I have to limit myself. I therefore limit myself to the nonsense spouted by those with the most influence. Of course, the question of who listens is important, but at leastmy view, like so many millions of others, is out there. Our country deserves better than David Broder and Joe Klein, just like we deserve better than George Bush and Dick Cheney.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

It seems eons ago that the mainline Protestant churches rediscovered the value of certain liturgical rites. I remember when Ash Wednesday services began to happen again in United Methodist Churches I attended, and much of the rhetoric (including from me) was that it was a Christian version of the Jewish Feast of Atonement, known as Yom Kippur. It is not that at all. Yom Kippur is a day of solemn awareness of one's failings before the God of the covenant. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, in which Christians discipline themselves, preparing for the strange and wonderful event we call Easter. In order to begin the Lenten disciplines - which popularly involve "giving something up" but involve much more than that - Ash Wednesday calls us to remember something far more significant than our sinfulness: we are called to remember that we are mortal, and as mortals, we shall die.

The word "death" in this context is freighted with an ontological and theological significance that goes far beyond the end of our bodily life. Death here refers to the permanent separation from God. As creatures created from dust, to dust, represented in the ashes placed upon our forheads (ashes were chosen because of the old belief that cremated bodies could not be reconstituted for the final resurrection from the dead, again signifying that total separation from God our Creator), we shall return. It is the recognition of the fallen state in which all creation exists, an endless cycle of birth, death, rot, and decay. While creation is good, and God seeks to redeem all life (even mosquitoes, according to theologian Jurgen Moltmann), as it stand now, we live under the judgement signified by ashes - we are separated from God and there is nothing we in our own power can do to restore that relationship.

The Lenten journey begins tomorrow, as we seek to embrace our deaths not as the end of a journey, but as the beginning of new life, lived here on earth, for others, as we are called to do by God through Jesus Christ. This takes work. It takes prayer. It takes releasing any notions we have that our agendas, our wishes, our desires, our very beings, have any worth other than the worth granted through the grace of Jesus Christ. We are to live and love and serve as if we were already dead - not heeding our own desires, but seeking first, and always, the Kingdom of God.

At our service this evening, as we prayed the prayer of Invitation to Lenten Discipline, my wife had us actually bow, as if we were bowing before the very throne of God. We announced the reality of our sin, and our desire to open our hearts - to cleanse ourselves of all the dark, dank, horrid things, secret and not-so-secret, that plague us, drag us down to the depths. For me, this was a significant moment; my eyes could not lift up, because I felt I was right there, before God - how could I do that and live? What could I say, what could I offer, what could I do? The answer, of course, is the disciplined response of Lent.

As we move from this day to the passion, death, adn resurrection of Jesus, I leave you with these words, from the closing hymn:
I surrender all
I surrender all
All to thee my blessed Savior
I surrender all

Apparently I'm Not Alone in Not Liking Jim Wallis (Updated)

My previous post on Joe Klein was going to be longer, but I followed a link from this post at Hullabaloo and found this at Talk To Action, entitled "The Seduction of Unreason: Jim Wallis vs. the Enlightenment" by Bruce Wilson. Now, I am no booster of the Enlightenment; nor am I particularly fond of the counter-enlightenment (and I think Wilson is wrong, historically, both on the dates of the Enlightenment, and the backlash against it; Isaiah Berlin is much better). I consider myself an early post-Enlightenment thinker, looking for a different approach that is amenable to our changing times. The Enlightenment is pretty much exhausted as a well from which to draw both good and evil. I offer this merely as a footnote, commentary as it were, to position myself in a larger context. On point, allow me to quote the first paragraph from Wilson's post:
During the summer or [sic] 2005, at the beach, I read "God's Politics" and compiled a list of quotes, from the book, which I thought were noteable. I treated the quotes as logical assertions and strung them together as a narrative. The result was hard to distinguish from the rhetoric of James Dobson or arguments of the Family Research Council and, indeed, comprised what may be the central narrative animating the modern American religious right political movement: that American society and the American moral fabric have been unravelling for decades and unnamed "secularists" . . . are to blame.(emphasis added)

Wilson continues:
Wallis' claims on the alleged breakdown of American society mirror identical arguments, advanced by leaders of the Christian right . . .
Claims made by Jim Wallis and the American Christian right have little to do with facts, logic, reason, analysis, science, or methodical attempts to get a bearing on societal trends and hot to set public policy to push trends in desired directions.

Talk To Action is a liberal Christian blog.

Another link provided by Digby was to this piece by Frederick Clarkson entitled "Jim Wallis gets it wrong about the Religious Right". Again, I quibble a tad with some of Clarkson's points - I agree with Wallis that we are watching the Christian Right, not so much in its death throes as in its decline in power and influence. I am not suggesting they are gone yet, or that they are not still a powerful force, especially as we have a President who has, to say the least, odd views on matters Christian. I am also not saying the Christian right will disappear. It never has, nor will it ever (sorry, Democracy Lover). I am suggesting that the oft-touted, yet-to-happen decline of the political power of right-wing Christian demagogues is happening before our eyes; we need to watch and listen carefully, but it is there. The last nail in the coffin will be the final removal of Bush from the Presidency and the end of Republican hegemony in American politics.

Again, having announced these caveats, I would urge you to read both articles in full, and consider them carefully. I, too, agree with Wallis on various issues, although not on abortion. I like the fact that he has been a steadfast defender of the social dimension of the Gospel, and put that to work in his ministry. Now, though, other aspects, less . . . um . . . attractive(?) are coming out, and I think it high time to move beyond Wallis.

As a side note to all this, I think liberal and progressive Christians need to stop their whining about secular progressives. The seat at the table is ours as Americans, but all discussions around tables can become animated; let the non-Christians speak, and don't get all defensive. Our job here isn't to make converts, it's to work with others (not lead, just work with) to make the country better. We don't have a monopoly on truth or virtue, and we do have some 'splainin' to do to those who might want to ask us some questions. Just because Atrios thinks a lot of Christian rhetoric is gibberish doesn't mean he doesn't like you. He just means that a lot of Christian rhetoric is, to him, gibberish. Lighten up.

UPDATE: This post by tristero at Hullabaloo gets it all in a nutshell. Christians of all stripes are part of the American system, and are encouraged to participate. Please, however, respect the fact that others have different views, and don't be pushy, insistent, arrogant or rude (those last three words are added as a reference to some writing somwhere . . . Oh yeah! 1 Corinthians 13, where St. Paul is describing the nature of Christian love-in-action). That is part of my problem with the emergence of, and recent scribblings by, Jim Wallis. He is arrogant, rude, insisting on his own way. He seeks not to serve but to be served. He seeks not tun understand but to be understood. He seeks not the Kingdom of God, but the assertion of Wallisism in America.

Christian humility should call us to take our umps like the rest of the imperfect, sinful mortals we find around us, not relish our new-found influence with certain members of the political and media elite. Before we demand what others do as conditions for participation, listen to what they have to say to us - and understand. And agree. And remain silent until it is time to speak. Not as some strategy for dominance-through-submission, but as an honest reflection of our own recognition of the limited nature of our understanding, our heartfelt sympathy with those who find much of Christianity either nonsensical or, indeed, abhorrent, and in accordance with the command to be the servant of all.

More than anything else, this is my complaint about Wallis. So eager to be a public figure, he forgets that we have real work to do, and a real way of going about doing that work. There are others out there who understand that, and are doing it. I think we turn our eyes upon them.

Short Take

Joe Klein neither likes nor understands democracy. Hint: It's about giving voters real choices as to who represents them. It's about real people making decisions for themselves, including complaining about elitist pundits who keep trying to tell them what to do.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ignoring Jim Wallis

That would be my advice to Duncan Black if he knew I existed. Over at Eschaton, Black writes this post, in which he is irked by something Wallis has written. I have never been a fan of Wallis, as I explain here and here. I find Wallis to be little more than a self-promoting media-whore, and I find the following he has among liberal and progressive Christians troubling. Perhaps it is because, in the wilderness years, he was the only liberal Christian voice one heard, even if only softly in the distance. The problem, however, is that Wallis began to see himself as some sort of "leader", and the media began to tout him as one. Wallis' comments that Black quotes are evidence enough that he is behind the curve, and seeking to reserve a place of privilege in public discourse not only for religious liberals generally, but for himself specifically. Rather than defend himself, he does not want his sincerity or liberal bona fides questioned.

Wallis is a media creation, whose "leadership" has produced no lasting movement, or even temporary results. Wanting to paint himself as some prophetic voice, he is more like the right-wing preachers he excoriates than a true prophet. I find him unctuous, and I do not countenance what he says as anything worth heeding, because he is a mirror image of Falwell and Robertson, and personifies much of what I detest about the religious dimension of our social life.

So, I hope Black does not take too much to heart what Wallis has to say. His position is eminently more reasonable, and in keeping with American traditions, than anything Wallis has ever offered as a substitute.

Bush's New Press Secretary

As I noted here, David Broder's column last week in which he offered the prediction of a political come-back for the Bush Administration is among the silliest, sycophantic pieces of non-journalism I have read in quite a while. In an on-line chat, Broder insisted he is not a favorite of the current White House, and challenged anyone to offer proof that he might be.

The Washington Post's resident blogger, Dan Froomkin, does so here (h/t Glenn Greenwald):
The White House press office was so delighted with Broder's column that it sent it out to the entire White House press corps this morning at 6:44 a.m. under the heading: "In Case You Missed It."

You know who a person is by who that person's friends are. 'Nuff said.

Stuck in the '90's

Over at TPM Cafe is this post that surprised me if for no other reason than the fact that there are still people out there talking about the Clinton-Blair "Third Way".* One would have thought that the spectacular failures of neo-liberalism - in reforming the Russian and Eastern-European economies; in creating a global trade regime that was just, equitable, and recognized both environmental concerns and substantively protected workers' rights; to create serious, lasting fiscal and monetary policies that recognized the necessity for discipline and moderation; not so much "ending welfare as we know it" as "tossing people off the rolls and not caring what happens to them" - would have silenced those who still might want to push such an agenda. Of course, as the last six years have proven over and over again, our elites do not let little things like abject failure, political, public policy, and managerial incompetence, and moral vacuousness get in the way of a really good slogan, and apparently the Third Wayers are, like this as in much else, more like Republicans than Democrats.

The truth is, there really was no "Third Way"; it was a rhetorical device used by Blair, but adopted by Clinton to cover a whole host of policy initiatives that were not necessarily hard-core conservative but certainly not liberal in the traditional sense of the term.

The one area where I thought at one time there might be a success was on reigning in fiscal indiscipline and monetary tight-fistedness. The 1990's economic boom showed what can happen when sound tax, fiscal, and monetary policies combine to stoke the engines of the economy. If the Clinton years showed us nothing else, they showed us that anti-tax ideology is simply an illusion; even the slightly progressive readjustments made during Clinton's first term - raising the marginal rates on top earners, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor, and increasing incentives for middle-income wage-earners to save and invest - combined with a stern discipline on spending and a Federal Reserve that saw its role as staying out of the way of economic expansion - could create an economic juggernaut. Not only have these gains been lost, we are in much worse shape than we were six years ago, and the attempt to make the Bush tax policies permanent would be a horrific blow to any kind of serious economic recovery.

Having said all that, the author's point that such talk might have served us well 15 years ago but is irrelevant now is a good one. Part of the irrelevancy comes from simple historical comparisons - which Administration has served the United States better, Republican or Democratic? Which Administration pursued substantive policies in the interest of the country as a whole, reflected in the success of the country as a whole? Which Administration and its policies is supported by a larger percentage of the American people?

The Third Way leads down a dead-end road, and we are well rid of it. Right-wing Democrats who still quake in their boots over anything that might possibly be construed as "liberal" or (God forbid!) "progressive", and who insist that the left must be tamed if Democrats are to win elections again (this includes non-partisan pundit/hacks like Joe Klein) are just plain wrong, and should not be listened to at any cost. The times they are a-changing, and we need to move more of the Democratic Party with us.

*Apparently Bush's Poodle in Downing Street has discovered a Fourth Way, and its called "Do Whatever the American President Does, No Matter Who That Is". Thankfully for us, Blair's toadying is not appreciated by Britons. It is one thing to recognize that one is not a world power any more and defer to one's more powerful allies. It is another to take tht to the extreme of aping that more powerful allies' more stupid and destructive policies.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Discussing Religion in the Public Sphere - The Romney Candidacy and a Recent Poll

Over here at Sadly!No they reproduce a poll that shows that less than a majority of people would vote for an atheist for President, even if that person were otherwise qualified to hold the office. For the past week, Duncan Black at Eschaton has been discussing religion (I commented on it last week) and, as Mitt Romney's candidacy begins to escalate the anti-Mormonism latent within Protestantism, continues to offer thoughts, here and here that continue his rather open, serious, and broad-minded approach to the subject. I suppose I have been avoiding the whole thing, but when I saw the poll at Sadly!No, and as Romney's candidacy continues, I think it important for me to make some things clear, even as my positions change and I may seem to contradict myself.

First, the poll is troubling but unsurprising. Whether we like it or not, we live in a religion-besotted nation, although I would qualify that statement a great deal. I believe that much of our public discourse is religion-besotted, without ever being very clear as to what, exactly, that might mean, the historical roots of the religious dimension often dragged (sometimes kicking and screaming) into public debates, and is too often mishandled and even exploited. Historically, we have actually elected folks who, by today's standards, would be unelectable due to their religious views and practice. Two come to mind: (1) Abe Lincoln, while very often using God in his speeches, was unconventionally religious, taken with the occult, and refused to identify with any organized religion; (2) William Howard Taft (OK, not our greatest President, but certainly our largest, once getting himself stuck in the First Tub because of his enormous girth) was an active member of the large Unitarian Universalist congregation now located on Sixteenth St., NW, about a mile or so north of the White House, although a hundred years ago it was, I believe, up on Georgia Ave. somewhere. We have elected rapists (Thomas Jefferson), serial adulterers (the list begins with Jefferson and ends with Clinton, and includes FDR, Einsenhower, JFK, Warren Harding, and Ronald Reagan), possibly a gay man (James Buchanan was our only bachelor President and had a long-term friendship with another man that followed him after he left the Executive Mansion), and even one or two genocidal Presidents (Andrew Jackson and the Cherokee's "Trail of Tears"; the hounding of the Plains and Southwestern Indians, including the Sioux, the Nez Perce, the Arapaho, the Apache, and even the peaceful Hopi, the only native groups never to be in a formal or informal state of war with the United States government).

We have also had Presidents whose religious chatter was just that; Ronald Reagan is the most recent example, but I might also include George H. W. Bush who refused to receive the Washington-area Bishop of the Epicopal Church in the days before the Gulf War, because the Episcopal Bishop and Church were opposed to the war, and the Bishop wanted to hand-deliver the official statement of the church to the President. Holed up in the White House giving spiritual aid and comfort in those same days was . . . Billy Graham (who actually opposed the war). Having a Mormon as President would be no big deal, and even his candidacy is a good thing as it exposes some of the real vile hatreds many evangelical Protestants feel towards those who hold to a Third Testament.

As a side note, it isn't just Mormons who irk right-leaning Christians; Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and even Catholics are considered by many right-wingers to be "cults". It is one thing to believe, as I do, that some or even most of the things folks who profess these faiths are either silly, ignorant, or just plain false. It is another thing altogether to call people cult-members, or to question the faithfulness of those who profess these beliefs. Although I agree with Black that there is a thin line between questioning these beliefs and out-and-out bigotry, I also agree that questioning these beliefs, especially when they are trotted out as part and parcel of our public discourse and a necessary part of understanding the candidate as a candidate, is not bigotry at all, but quite necessary and reasonable.

I also agree with something else Black wrote in the second post linked above:
[W]hat you believe is unimportant as long as you have faith in something, and [such a position has] reduced any public discussion of the genuine differences that exist [between and among religions].

He is reminding us here of Eisnehower's silly saying that it doesn't matter what one believes, as long as one believes in something. Black is arguing that beliefs do matter, and that once they become part of our public debate, we need to have a real debate about them. That is why JFK talked about his Catholicism; that is why John Kerry talked about his. That is why Jimmy Carter talked about his evangelical Baptist beliefs. That is why George W. Bush talks about his spiritual renewal after an early adulthood spent in (realtively mild, we assume) debauchery. There is nothing wrong with these discussions, as long as we remember that, once they enter our public realm, they become fodder for questioning, for debate, and even for ridicule. Romney's statement that "we need a person of faith" as President is an opinion (although, if the poll cited above is any indication, it is also a fact), and should become the starting point for a real debate over the role of religion in American public life. We have been needing this debate for a long time, and maybe, just maybe, we are seeing the stirrings of one now. Let us keep the discussion going.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

On Immovable Earth and Christian Fundamentalism

My post yesterday on this topic was more of a venting process than anything else. A day has passed, and I have been able to put some distance between my initial emotional response and the story itself, and consider it against a broader background. I have had help from blog roll member Erudite Redneck, who writes in the comments section in response to my own mournful wail over the stupidity:
Most of the fundies who claim to be biblical inerrantists aren't even close, so they should quit pretending, and stop trying to close the doors of fellowship to those of us who definitely are not. The Fixed Earth people are real biblical inerrantists.

Not only is he correct, it brings up a point I had not really considered fully, but needs to be addressed. This kind of thinking, if the word can be used in this context, has always been around, and not just in Christian fundie circles. I once visited the Flat Earth Society's website, and these are earnest folks, and not at all concerned with Biblical inerrancy and Jewish plots. For now, though, our concern is with the fundy wing of this particular idiocy.

It has been a quarter-century since the Christian Right entered the political world in a big way; I remember Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report doing long pieces back in the mid-80's on the distinction, gradations, and varied positions on a variety of social issues amongst those usually lumped together as parts of the Christian right. The whole "creation science" thing was just then beginning to take hold, and Tim LaHaye's Institute for Creation Research figured prominently in at least one of the articles I vaguely recall.

Creationism is about more than rejecting Darwinism, although that is utmost. It is, as ER points out, rejecting five hundred years worth of looking at the world through eyes turned away from Christian scripture, or at least not allowing Scripture to overturn experience. So, now, as the right begins its retreat - and I believe it is doing just that, although that prediction has been made before - we are beginning to see where the logic of such nonsense as biblical inerrancy leads us. It is easy to make fun of people who believe this crap; it is also easy to reduce it psychological categories - arrested development, fear of modernity, even unfocussed Oedipal rage - but the simple fact is these people are, in the last analysis, nuts.

It would be nice if I could try to account for this nonsense in some other away. I do not doubt the sincerity of their beliefs, any more than I doubt the sincerity of Berkowitz' claim that his neighbor's dog was possessed by a demon who told him to kill women. I believe he believes the story; I just think he is deranged to believe it. In the same way, I believe people who hold that the earth is the center of the Universe, that Copernicus was wrong, etc., etc., truly believe these things. I just believe they are deranged to believe it. There is no reason to argue with them, to discuss the issue with them, to try to decipher meaning, purpose, or anything else that might lie behind these beliefs. They are just plain nuts.

These are the folks who bravely go where few fundamentalists dare; they are consistent on issues of Biblical inerrancy. By being so, they show how intellectually vacuous, and psychologically damaging, such a view is. This is the voice of true fundamentalism. They cannot hide behind rhetoric or dissimulation any longer.

When Journalism Happens at FOXNews, Chris Wallace Should Expect to Be Fired

Perusing news before I wrote about other things, I came across this post at It needs to be seen to be believed. Chris Wallace, in essence, called Douglas Feith a liar on national television, and produced evidence to prove his point.

A FOXNews anchor calls out a former member of the Bush Administration, and architect of the Iraq war. Has spring come early? What is happening? I'm quite sure there are people all over the country whose heads just exploded in unison as a little reality intruded upon their Fox-induced fantasy.

What next, I wonder?

Virtual Tin Cup

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