Saturday, March 17, 2007

On Truth

Note: I have tried to keep the philosophical nonsense to a minimum on this blog, because it is dull as dishwater. I have been inspired, however, and inspiration is a horrible thing. If you have no interest in philosophy, you are welcome to keep scrolling, although I think you might find what I have to say provocative, even if you aren't of a philosophical bent. Also, I was going to quote from Parmenides' poem directly, but I can't find my copy of the Penguin Press book on the pre-Socratics. Dammit.

Over at Pomomusings Adam Walker-Cleavland asks about truth. I answered, but I want to give a more full answer here. Sitting in the background of this post are philosophers as varied as the pre-Socratic Parmenides, the American post-modernist Richard Rorty, the German philosopher of science Kurt Hubner, the Austrian-born, British-based philosopher of science Karl Popper, and many others.

Parmenides wrote two poems long ago - one called "The Way of Truth", the other, "The Way of Opinion". In the former, he argued that truth, being unitary, was essentially a dimensionless point; indeed, that reality, being truth, was a dimensionless point. In the latter poem, he argued that our perception of reality, limited as it is, is incapable of perceiving the truth that can only be grasped by the human mind; arguing from appearances, what we know from experience, leads only to false opinions.

Plato and Aristotle, essentially, wrote extensive commentaries on Paremnides, Plato taking issue with the simplicity of his vision, Aristotle actually agreeing, but arguing the matter was a bit more complex. Since that time, few philosophers have been as radical in their view of the nature of truth. Few have grasped the fact that, if one begins with the proposition that "truth" is singular, complete in and of itself, and eternal, it leads inexorably to the idea that all that is, in reality, is a dimensionless point, formless and uniform.

While we have moved far beyond Parmenides in the millenia that have followed him, his essential point is one I take to be inarguable. If one takes the position that "truth" is unitary, universal, and eternal, then the very idea of multiple true statements about the way the world is, is unthinkable. If truth is unitary, it is unitary. Otherwise, there is no such thing as truth. We in the west are inheritors of a tradition that views truth as unitary, but only in the sense that single statements about states of affairs exist as true; one cannot hold equally valid, yet opposing, views on a state of affairs and insist both are true. This is what is known as the correspondence theory of truth; our statements about matters of fact must have a certain verifiable relationship to the matters of fact of which they speak. On this basis rests much of our science, both physical and social, and our law.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the correspondence theory of truth is bunk. What appears to be a theory of truth is merely a way of describing how we talk about discrete matters of fact. Facts are not truth, merely unique events that can be plotted on a graph, telling us the spatio-temporal relations among a variety of physical instances. X was standing at such-and-such longitude and latitude at a certain moment in time - this is a fact, but it is not true, because it refers to nothing eternal, only to an instance of time.

What this means for science, of course, is that when we say it is "true", what we really mean is that is factual; it relates our understanding of the relationships among a certain number of facts, positing various ways in which these relationships cohere. These are not "true"; scientific theories, rather than being true, are only assumed to be not proven decisively untrue yet. As long as they work, they are the best way we have of understanding relationships among matters of fact.

Personally, I agree with Richard Rorty that questions of truth are not so much wrong-headed as uninteresting. Because "reality" is opaque to language - because many of our arguments over the truth-value of science are, in essence, arguments over words about reality, not reality itself - and because there is no meta-lingusitic judge to which all can appeal for the correctness of one's view, we end up arguing over definitions. More interesting are the ways we figure out, through language, story, and our readings of various texts, how to live in the world. There is nothing special about "truth", nothing talismanic, nothing final, nothing ultimate to the view that, if we grasp the truth, we have a hold of something that definitively addresses all sorts of matters.

As a Christian, of course, there is the matter of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel proclaiming, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." Pilate's question to Jesus, "What is truth?", during the "trial scene" of the Fourth Gospel, needs to be understood in this light, as well as Jesus' refusal to answer verbally - what you see is what you get, in other words.

As a Christian, I do not believe "truth" is something human beings are capable of grasping; rather, I believe human beings are grasped by the truth, and live within it as a life-changing reality, indefinable yet nonetheless transforming. This living, indeed never-dying reality - how does one define what is by its very definition beyond description? - is what we call faith. It, like truth, is a mystery, but one within which we live, and through which we hope, and by which we love. There is no definition of truth; there is only the living in and through it, allowing Jesus' silence to echo in our own in the face of the ineffable.

Scandal Fatigue? Not Even Close . . .

Saturdays are, besides being a day off for yours truly, usually time off for the Washington nonsense machine. The better websites, run as businesses, are closed (Media Matters, Faith in Public Life; Think Progress runs only a smattering of stories). People are recovering from hangovers from Friday night parties, in Washington in New York, trying to digest all the nonsense and outrage from the previous week, wondering which shoe will drop next (how many feet can a Presidential Administration have?).

For myself, I am enjoying some well-earned Tom Waits time (buy Orphans: Brawlers, Ballers, and Bastards if you haven't yet; he's in top form as always), the sun is shining, my St. Bernard is sleeping at the top of the stairs as my kids play. I had all sorts of plans for a boring post no one would read or comment on (it's still coming), and then . . .

. . . I ran across this story at, commenting on the MSM cricket-chirping in response to a Seymour Hersch article about what is essentially a money-laundering and financing racket run out of the VP's office, some of said money going to groups with ties to Al Qaeda. The opening of the Alternet piece needs to be read to be believed:
Let me see if I've got this straight.

Perhaps two years ago, an "informal" meeting of "veterans" of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal -- holding positions in the Bush administration -- was convened by Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Discussed were the "lessons learned" from that labyrinthine, secret, and illegal arms-for-money-for-arms deal involving the Israelis, the Iranians, the Saudis, and the Contras of Nicaragua, among others -- and meant to evade the Boland Amendment, a congressionally passed attempt to outlaw Reagan administration assistance to the anti-communist Contras.

In terms of getting around Congress, the Iran-Contra vets concluded, the complex operation had been a success -- and would have worked far better if the CIA and the military had been kept out of the loop and the whole thing had been run out of the Vice President's office.

Subsequently, some of those conspirators, once again with the financial support and help of the Saudis (and probably the Israelis and the Brits), began running a similar operation, aimed at avoiding congressional scrutiny or public accountability of any sort, out of Vice President Cheney's office. They dipped into "black pools of money," possibly stolen from the billions of Iraqi oil dollars that have never been accounted for since the American occupation began.

Some of these funds, as well as Saudi ones, were evidently funneled through the embattled, Sunni-dominated Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to the sort of Sunni jihadi groups ("some sympathetic to al-Qaeda") whose members might normally fear ending up in Guantanamo and to a group, or groups, associated with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

Just a few comments. First, this is Sy Hersch, whose first Pulitzer was for breaking the My Lai story. In the early 1980's he wrote "the Kissinger anti-memoir", The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House. His reporting in The New Yorker in recent years has been spot on, from debunking the whole Niger story to his initial report on the Office of Special Plans and its end-run around the CIA to the plans for war on Iran. There is little he has gotten wrong; he is a hard-working journalist of the old-school.

Second, the fact that Eliot Abrams had his career revived by Bush should have had everyone up in arms, because this is a man who has nothing but contempt for the rule of law, for the separation of powers, for Congress, and a Junior G-man love of comic book-style intrigue. Only an amateur would have loved the Iran-Contra business, as convoluted and silly (not to mention illegal) as it was. His felonious fingers should be no where near a lever of power, not even the transmission lever of a car, because he is not to be trusted under any circumstances. He should have run out of chances with the American people in 1987.

Third, every time in the past three weeks a story comes out on some nefarious, illegal, and dunder-headed action by the Bush Administration, the entire story-cycle goes something like this:
-Tony Snow laughs it off, and the WH press corps laugh with him
-More detailed information becomes available, and the question become more heated; Snow does his "No Comment" dance, and the MSM make fun of conspiracy-mongers on the Internet
-Even more detailed information comes to light, and everyone starts to say, "Hey, there might be something there."
-Congress holds a hearing to reveal the fact that everyone's worst fears are in fact the case; Bush acts indignant, and rumors swirl about this or that fall-guy taking the heat

In other words, I believe this story because every single time an accusation of wrong-doing is made against the Bush Administration, it has proven to be not only correct, but in fact much worse than was initially suspected. Of course, as a kind of background to all this, one wonders why anyone, journalist or not, listens to anything these people say, because, as Digby originally said, and I have repeated, these people lie as easily as they breathe; one just knows that if they say "black", reality is white. Worse, I honestly believe they are incapable of telling the truth; this is like the first truly sociopathic institution in American history (much worse than Nixon, because the press hated Nixon; I think the press genuinely like Bush, something that is beyond my capability to imagine).

I think this is one of those stories that will simmer on the back burner until some vital piece of information is corroborated by a member of the mainstream press, and then - BOOM! - Eliot Abrams takes another fall, this time for Dick Cheney, rather than Ronald Reagan. Of course, with so much on their plate, one wonders if Congress will consider this worth looking into; but, and this needs to be said, the criminality of this Administration knows no bounds.

Friday, March 16, 2007

More Frothing From the Right over Pete Stark

As an update to my post yesterday in re the Concerned Women of America expressing their displeasure over Rep. Pete Stark's avowal of atheism, Right Wing Watch brings us news of another corner of the whackoverse heard from. This time, it is something called the Traditional Values Coalition, which upped the ante by not only reporting the story, but lying about it. So much for traditional values . . .

You know, these so-called right-wing Christians, who seem to have no problem with illegal wars and occupations without end, torture, "extraordinary rendition", illegal detention, multiple abuses of power, neglect of wounded soldiers and veterans, the fraying of the social and civil fabric of American life are upset because a long-term member of Congress says, "Hey, I'm an atheist, and the world is still spinning." I wonder what, exactly, are the values in the American tradition these people are trying to uphold. Or is it perhaps the case that, like Communists who call their countries The Democratic Republic of . . . when in fact it is neither democratic nor a republic in the traditional sense, these people are flapping their gums in some Orwellian fashion? What is the answer to all this?

Does E. J. Dionne Read My Blog?

Faith in Public reprints an op-ed from E. J. Dionne that says what I have been saying all along in re the changing nature of the public positions of evangelicals. The first paragraph of Dionne's piece is the most important, as it sums up a point I wish to drive home to readers:
Evangelical Protestantism in the United States is going through a New Reformation that is disentangling a great religious movement from a partisan political machine. This historic change will require liberals and conservatives alike to abandon their sometimes narrow views of who evangelicals are.(emphasis added)

There has been an "awakening" of sorts among liberals to what has come to be called "Dominionist" rhetoric among the Christian Right - I had never heard the term, and I am still unclear as to what it means (although I am sure someone will tell me) - as if it were something new. I happen to have a book (is that surprising?) called The Farther Shores of American Politics, detailing both the left and right fringes. The book, published in 1972, has an entire chapter dedicated to the Christian Right, and names that appear there, including Billy James Hargis (he of Campus Crusade for Christ fame), are among those who also were among the early movers and shakers in the late 1970's as the Christian Right awoke from its long slumber (most scholars date its retreat from public life to the Scopes' Monkey Trial). Much of the rhetoric, many of the goals, indeed even the tactics of the movement as it became more "mainstream" remained unchanged from its days as a marginalized, fringe movement through the 1950's and 1960's. In fact, reading the chapter today shows how little has changed, at least among the old guard - those who tried to unseat Cizik from his position as policy director from the NAE.

As the NAE changes, recognizing the reality that evangelicals have a devotion to issues that transcend the "traditional" ones of abortion and gay rights, the screeching one hears is as much the cry of those who know their time in power is just about up as it is a serious debate over the direction evangelicals should take in pursuing their public charge. Noting that neither Cizik nor the NAE have abandoned their pro-life position, but in fact are seeing their pro-life position as encompassing much more than "protecting the unborn" (something many have been saying for two decades, but that is another matter). They are placing their public position within a much broader context, which Cizik calls "creation care". The name is neither here nor there; it is the fact that a new generation of evangelicals sees itself as committed less to transforming American society and culture than to working within traditional political structures for specific policy goals that have both broad public support as well as are consistent with their rhetoric in favor of life.

Evangelicals are a complicated lot, and some who are lumped in with them are not nor have ever been true "evangelicals" as historians of Christianity understand the term. The recognition that there is something uniquely evangelical about the pursuit of an agenda that expands beyond very narrow partisan ones opens up the movement to a broader public, and offers opportunities for coalitions that transcend heretofore traditional ideas of what is conservative and what is liberal.

These changes are welcome and long overdue. I find the sudden furrowing of brows over "Dominionist" rhetoric quite funny, because it has been there all along, and at the very moment the evangelical movement is changing, and the more strident elements of it are becoming marginalized, there is this sudden fear of "theocracy". I can only say to this, "Hogwash". The reality is much more interesting, and for progressives opens up all sorts of opportunities for coalitions to move the country in interesting directions, provided we recognize that such coalitions are over issues, and we not try to create a Democratic version of what has been the Republican indenture of the Christian Right for a generation.

"I am sullied - no more."

This is one of those things one knows about in some abstract kind of way, but the plethora of reports on various deaths from snipers, IEDs, etc., kind of keep such information on the downlow, as the young people say. Thanks to Erudite Redneck (with a tip of the cowboy hat), I came across this as Editor and Publisher about the suicide of an Army Colonel in Iraq in 2005. The suicide note, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, reads in part:
"Thanks for telling me it was a good day until I briefed you. [Redacted name]—You are only interested in your career and provide no support to your staff—no msn [mission] support and you don’t care. I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human right abuses and liars. I am sullied—no more. I didn’t volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. I trust no Iraqi. I cannot live this way. All my love to my family, my wife and my precious children. I love you and trust you only. Death before being dishonored any more.

"Trust is essential—I don’t know who trust anymore. Why serve when you cannot accomplish the mission, when you no longer believe in the cause, when your every effort and breath to succeed meets with lies, lack of support, and selfishness? No more. Reevaluate yourselves, cdrs [commanders]. You are not what you think you are and I know it."

The story goes on to say that the Colonel was a full professor at West Point whose dissertation in philosophy was on the concept of honor.

The name redacted at the top is most likely that of our current Iraqi commander, Gen. Petraeus.

I hope this tormented man's shade haunts Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and every single war-blogger, 101st Chariborner, member of the mainstream media who whored for this war, and, of course, our Commander-in-Chief, until the day they all die and are forgotten by history.

UPDATE: has more.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Someone Tell Sam Harris his 15 Minutes Are Long Over

Faith in Public reprints an op-ed from the LA Times written by self-promoting God-denier Sam Harris. I have written before about Harris, specifically here and here. In the first link above, concerning an interview at Alternet, in which Harris admitted his belief in reincarnation, ESP, and vocally supported the torture of Muslims (indeed, he voiced his support for torture with the claim that it "is proven to work", something it most emphatically has not been), I wrote the following:
It should be obvious that [Harris] simply has no idea what he is talking about, on any level, and has no moral compass whatsoever, rational or otherwise. His concern is not with the damage religion has done to humanity, because it is quite clear he doesn't care about real people - why advocate torture if he cares about human life and well-being? No, he cares about Sam Harris. He is, it would seem, an unthinking, unreflective, ignorant self-promoter, basking in the limelight provided by outrageous and unsubstantiated claims and argument with neither merit nor support in evidence. He is now revealed as a believer in some of the silliest ideas imaginable, ideas with no more (or less) support in "evidence" than the resurrection of Jesus, the divine authority of the Mosaic law, or the divine authorship of the Q'uran. I am not saying that ESP and reincarnation do not exist (actually, I am; I believe in neither, and the fact that both are matters of "belief" should already lead us well on the way to questioning the basis of Harris' attacks on religion), but rather that they are no more supported by evidence than any other wild claim. They are matter of belief, not verifiable evidence. I suppose consistency is too much to ask of some people, but I am unsurprised by the fact that, rather than the deep, serious thinker he claims to be, Harris is now outed as a shallow, unserious person in love with his new celebrity status. The fact that he tries to distance himself from his own beliefs in interviews show that he is a celebrity, not an intellectual.

Like the proverbial bad penny, or a herpes infection, Harris is back, writing in regards to "religious moderates". Far from considering him a threat to the faith, I consider him a joke of monumental proportions, as the above quote shows; as the title of the latter-linked post has it, I also think him silly, fanatical, and cowardly, the last because he attempted, in a follow-up to the Alternet interview, to disavow the very things he has both written and spoken about that he does believe.

Like Richard Dawkins, whose The God Delusion is a recycling of better arguments and better understanding by Bertrand Russell (Why I Am Not a Christian is the best atheist manifesto I have ever read; Dawkins adds nothing to Russell, and subtracts quite a bit), Harris offers nothing in his works but the idea that "religion" is very bad. Unlike Dawkins, who seems to somehow equate all religion with theistic faiths, Harris is at least clear-headed enough to mention Islam and Judaism (although he has always failed to mention his own pet-faith, Buddhism) in the list of religions in need of social euthanasia. The problem, of course, is that neither Harris nor Dawkins have a clue of the thing about which they write. I can listen to atheist arguments, and I will give heed to serious arguments; neither Dawkins nor Harris offer them, and by his own actions and in his own words, Harris has shown himself to be a cowardly hypocrite, wishing for nothing less than to be taken seriously precisely as he has no business being.

I feel bad the LA Times gave him column inches to resuscitate his flagging public profile, and in a column so devoid of moral, intellectual, or historical understanding it would be given an "F" by most college professors in an undergraduate course. On the other hand, it does remind us all why he should be devoutly ignored.

I'm Concerned About Concerned Women of America (CWA)

Over at Right Wing comes this little snippet in re Rep. Pete Stark's announcement that he is a non-theistic Unitarian:

"It is unfortunate in a society that is going down the path of godlessness and making right wrong and wrong right, that we continue down this path by celebrating one member of Congress who denies that God exists altogether," Concerned Women for America Director of Legislative Relations Mike Mears told Cybercast News Service.

"The founding fathers ... founded this country on godly principles," Mears said. "Fifty-one of the 56 signers [of the Declaration of Independence] had a Christian worldview and [Stark] wants to change that and celebrate - basically - godlessness."

"I think a Christian worldview is proper for a politician to have," he said. "I want them to be looking outside of themselves for answers to big issues."

Of course, the business about the Founders is historically inaccurate, but that has never stopped those on the right from repeating it. As for godly principles, could they perhaps explain the "no religious test for office" clause?

I thought not.

What exactly is a "Christian worldview" anyway?

So many question. So few answers. So much nonsense. So little thought . . . or understanding . . . or respect for the Constitution.

Just a note; the Director of Legislative Relations for Concerned Women of America is a man.

Finally, it is apparent that "concern" is enough to make these ladies feel they should be taken seriously. Sadly, I do not.

This Fall Guy Should Be a Domino

Over at, is this piece on the efforts to set up Alberto Gonzalez as the designated fall-guy for the US Attorney purge. One of the points made is that, as each scandal uncovered in recent weeks moves closer to the White House, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find someone expendable to throw to the wolves; Gonzalez is a long-time Bush aide, and served as White House counsel before becoming AG (Attorney General, not Alberto Gonzalez, which has always been his name . . . as far as we know; with this crew, they might even lie about that). The problem, of course, is that there is now a paper-and-electronic trail that leads to Karl "Turdblossom" Rove, and with the Senate Judiciary Committee making noises about subpoenas for Rove, having Gonzalez' head served on a platter will in all likelihood not suffice. There are too many of Rove's fat, dirty fingerprints all over this entire falderol to satisfy anyone but hardcore Bush-backers with a shuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic. Acquiescing to a change in the PATRIOT Act reauthorization to rescind the ability of the AG to appoint USA's without Senate approval will not be enough. Indeed, little short of Rove doing a perp walk will, I believe, shut down our criminal-in-chief.

Like most bullies, the Bush Administration thought it could toss a bone or two if trouble arose, getting rid of obvious deadwood when the fire got really hot. That worked with a supine Congress and a press dedicated to preserving all things Bush. The evidence, however, is mounting that these folks are not just criminally incompetent, but purposely, positively corrupt, with Rove being the chief instigator behind so much of what is wrong. Ultimate responsibility, of course, rests with the doofus in the Oval Office, but never underestimate Rove's uniquely foul stamp on pretty much everything that has been awful about the past five-plus years.

When Gonzalez goes, I have serious doubts he will go quietly; I expect things may just get interesting in the next few days and weeks, as first the Senate demands Rove testify, and second as Gonzalez leaves office, Sampson-like pulling the entire temple down around him as he is cut loose by the President he has served so faithfully - even authoring a memo supporting torture, calling the Geneva accords "quaint" - for all these years. While I hate to make predictions, that is mine: Gonzalez will bring down Rove, who in turn will turn fed's evidence against BushCo. Then, things might get REALLY interesting.

Digby is Right, As Usual

For years, I have been lamenting the abysmal lack of knowledge about everything from fundamental Bible skills to basic facts of church history to more detailed understandings of church teachings among the faithful. I have complained, even to the ear of a United Methodist Bishop or two, that the church's fundamental failing over the past generation was pedagogical; we simply weren't teaching Christians what they ought to know. I had a professor in seminary who insisted that the laity not only couldn't "get" what it is we learn, they wouldn't, and we needed to spoon-feed the faithful watered-down bits. I fought that attitude then, and I find it egregiously elitist and condescending now, precisely because that very ignorance feeds the kind of mindlessness we see on the Christian right.

Digby highlights a story on CNN that addresses this very issue. After quoting from the transcript, Digby writes the following:
I agree that it's a little bit odd that the vast majority of people in a country that prides itself as the most religious in the world can't name the writers of the gospel, but really, whose fault is that? The last I heard, there were tens of thousands of churches in this country. Is it too much to ask that they be in charge of religious instruction? Isn't that their specialty?

I know that many of the conservative mega-churches spend most of their time instructing their parishoners on Republican politics and holding Christian rock extravaganzas so they don't have time for actual religious teaching. Understood. But maybe they could send their kids to the mainline and liberal churches once a month so they can get some actual Bible teachings. With all the pressure on public schools to find a way to teach biology that doesn't offend the Christian Right, they just don't have the resources to spend on special classes about Biblical references in pop songs and presidents 'n stuff.

I'm sure there are many churches that would be happy to accomodate those who want their kids (or themselves) to learn about religion.

As always, Digby is right on the money, and all I can say is, keep preaching.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Deadhead On Target

Among Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) many outstanding qualities is his devotion to The Grateful Dead. How can anyone not like a guy who wears tie-dye, spends hours at a time with seriously chemicalled-up fellow-revelers digging extremely loud party music, and can still stare down a criminal administration? I mean, seriously, the fact that he is a Deadhead is like icing on the cake; you just know he's the coolest.

So here's Leahy today in an interview:
“Frankly, I don’t care whether [White House Counsel Fred Fielding] says he’s going to allow people or not. We’ll subpoena the people we want,” Leahy said. “If they want to defy the subpoena, then you get into a stonewall situation I suspect they don’t want to have.” Asked whether he’ll subpoena Rove, Leahy answered, “Yes. He can appear voluntarily if he wants. If he doesn’t, I will subpoena him.”

"Frankly, I don't care . . ." That's all it takes to show the Administration what happens when the VP tells you to "Go fuck yourself" on the floor of the United States Senate.

May the Four Winds Roll you Safely Home*, Senator.

From "Franklin's Tower", lyrics by Robert Hunter

This Is What Reading the Bible Can Do

Note: I have to give a very large tip of the hat to Faith in Public for doing the leg (o perhaps finger) work of compiling links to articles of interest to religious progressives - Christian, Jewish, and Muslim - creating a one-stop shopping center for those of us interested but with limited time. I have been using this source since the summer, although I have sadly neglected it for the past couple months as I pursued other interests. I feel like I have come home, as each day I have found something of interest there. Whether one is religious or not, I think it wise to spend just a few minutes perusing the resources and information available there. Thus ends my commercial for FIPL.

Faith in Public reprints an article from Zack Exley at In These Times (please read the entire article) on a growing movement - one of which I was only dimly aware - of radical, indeed "revolutionary" evangelicalism. For our purposes, I wish to highlight the following paragraph from Exley's article:
Could the shift in focus from personal salvation to the building of the "kingdom of Heaven" be the inevitable result of the long rise of "back to the Bible" fundamentalism? Tens of millions of American Christians are not only reading the Bible, but getting together in groups and studying it -- studying the historical context in which the authors wrote, the nuances of the original Greek and Hebrew, and the issues raised by translation and conflicting source texts.

Isn't it fascinating that actually reading the Bible leads people to understand "values" in completely novel ways? Isn't it interesting that "leaders" are upset with these groups who actually read the Bible and come to different conclusions? Thus the dangers of letting people read the Bible, rather than just listening to sermons by people who claim authority to tell them what's in the Bible, a lesson these "leaders" might have remembered had they known the history of the Reformation . . .

I do not know enough about this movement, its teachings, or its variants, to judge it competently, but, like the rising Green awareness among evangelicals, it shows that the Evangelical movement in the US is not about theocracy, or anti-intellectualism, but at its best, is inclusive, radical in its demands (in the best sense of the word), and offers adherents a way to live their faith life in a way that is for others rather than against medical procedures or loving commitments. I do believe this needs more looking into. . .

Alone With God

Glenn Greenwald discusses a recent gathering of neo-cons with Pres. Bush and highlights the fact that the President feels satisfied with himself because he trusts that God and history shall redeem him. I know little about the historian who was the "seminar leader" (for lack of a better word to describe the luncheon), although the guest list, including Gertrude Himmelfarb, Kate O'Bierne, and Mona Charen, is indicative of the kind of people Bush likes to surround himself with - namely, sycophantic, mindless "journalists" who have been giving bad advice and offering nonsensical opinions for far too long for anyone's good. Be that as it may, I find it interesting that Bush is relying upon one God and one pagan muse to redeem his sorry administration, because I do think that neither one will offer much help.

I shall leave God for a moment and concentrate upon history for a moment. can history redeem those thought irrevocably lost? Almost certainly. Consider Harry Truman, long thought to be a dismal failure. With David McCullough's biography, and a spate of scholarly studies, we find the haberdasher's time to be less bad than we once thought, although Truman's failings - his tendency toward extreme partisanship, his ward-heeler's approach to Presidential appointments that led to scandal (much the same as with Bush) - are still plain for all to see. Yet Truman benefits from something Bush lacks - Dean Acheson, George Marshall, Arthur Vandenberg, and Clark Clifford. In other words, Truman surrounded himself with advisers and informal assistants, both Republican and Democratic, who were among the best in our nation's history. Name a Bush appointee who is on a level with Truman's Secretary of the Interior, let alone his Secretaries of State (Jimmy Byrnes, who had to leave office due to incipient schizophrenia; retired Gen. George C. Marshall; Dean Acheson).

Despite his many political failings, Truman was, by all accounts, a cranky but otherwise likable fellow. Bush, on the other hand, from all that I've read, is irascible, temperamental, and not a "people person". The idea of George W. Bush being able to plow a straight furrow with a mule-drawn plow after retiring from the Presidency (would he wear his Andover or Yale tie?) is beyond my comprehension.

History redeems those who have redemptive qualities. Otherwise, it takes a look at the record, public and private, and renders its verdict. Indeed, the frequent recollection of the restoration of Truman and his Administrative legacy is cited because of comparative uniqueness (although Ronald Reagan's Presidency is apparently undergoing a similar re-evaluation). This particular kind of lightning rarely strikes the same office twice in the same century.

As for resting comfortably in the arms of the Almighty, all I can say is this - just because one feels one is free from sin before God does not mean that everything we do is either divinely ordained or approved by heaven. Indeed, one would hope for just a tad bit of humility before the Throne; Bush, apparently, doesn't quite understand the fact that God tends to love the sinner but hate the sin. George W. Bush may wind up in heaven - of that I am completely incompetent to judge (except in the case of Henry Kissinger) - but one wonders about the crowd waiting to greet him who might have a question or two for him, you know all those American service personnel, Iraqis, and sundry others who are dead as a direct result of decisions he has made. This may sound facetious, but I am quite serious; Bush needs to remember, should he be capable of doing so, that we are known by our fruits, and thousands of dead bodies in an ill-conceived, justified-by-lies, most likely illegal war are hardly a chalk mark in his favor, and there might be some who would question the soundness of his judgment and Christian commitment as he stands, metaphorically, before all those graves (it would have to be metaphorically, as he tends to not go to service funerals).

Perhaps, alone with God, Bush feels at peace. I do hope that, even once in the past four years, he has thought about the thousands who even now rest in peace with that same God, and that such thoughts brings a drop of sweat to his brow.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Press is Befuddled on Religion

Note: There is a point I wish to make in what follows, and it is quite simple, viz., the press treatment of various religious leaders and issues is usually quite wide of the mark, displays a glaring ignorance of both the issues and personalities involved, and sometimes is colored by biases. If what follows is unclear, perhaps it is because I am trying too hard, or my comparisons don't work in such a small space. Or, maybe I'm just wrong. Here we go.

Over at Faith in Public, is a reprint of an article from the Lower Hudson Journal News, written by Gary Stern, reporting on a speech by Michael Cromartie of The Ethics and Public Policy Center to a group of evangelicals. A couple things in the article jumped out at me. The first quote is one I have used in private conversations regarding the political activity of right-wing Christians, now echoed by one of those very persons:
"Evangelicals must be careful that in their pursuit of political victories they not lose their very soul," [Cromartie] said.

Indeed, such caution is long overdue; coming from as prominent a leader of the movement as Cromartie is heartening because it is the exact caution all Christians must have as they enter the political arena.

Another point that jumped out at me was Cromartie's dismissal of Jerry Falwell as "leader" of the evangelical movement. He claimed that only Tim Russert listened to and took Falwell seriously. While this statement is certainly hyperbole, it does make an important point, one the recent NAE meeting in Minneapolis highlighted, i.e., that older "leaders" of the movement, themselves rarely clergy (Richard Viguerie, the founder and namer of "The Moral Majority", James Dobson, and Timothy LaHaye - among the movers and shakers behind the scenes of the Christian Right - are none of them clergy; Pat Robertson surrendered his credentials when he sought the Presidential nomination in 1988), are being replaced by a younger generation motivated by a broader concern than just abortion and the so-called culture wars. Including torture, climate change, social and racial justice among a list of evangelical political priorities shows the movement is not so much going away as it is changing with the times.

The press, however, is a bit behind the curve, as it were. Kevin Phillips book from this past summer, American Theocracy and Chris Hedges' American Fascists both work under the same premise - that the Christian right has an agenda that is a danger to American democratic and republican virtues and values.

Well, duh, as the kids would say.

That alarm has been sounded for over a quarter century, and only now are people starting to take notice? I would cry if not for laughing so hard because, at the very moment the movement is changing, becoming more complex, less amenable to simple, and simplistic, rhetoric and party political pressure, suddenly, "The Christians are coming!" is all the rage. Had people taken these folks seriously a generation ago, we might have saved ourselves a whole lot of trouble in the mean time, but they were ignored or lampooned (it is easy to do, after all), and they built whole networks of political power, some of which, like The Christian Coalition, were quite effective for a time (the Christian Coalition, like its many predecessors, is dying a silent but long delayed death after its brief year or two in the sun after the 1994 elections).

I insist that Hedges and Phillips have come to the party just a bit too late to be taken seriously; I also think that the fact Dobson, et al.'s spurning by the NAE is a sign (if any more were needed) that the Christian Right, as we have known it since roughly 1979 or so, is dead, and a new, much more complex politically active evangelical community, no longer single-issue, no longer reliably partisan, is in the works. One wonders when the press will get on that bandwagon?

Watching As It All Falls Apart

There is only one political story out there today, and it is the US Attorney purge. The clock is ticking down for Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and, from all reports, he did himself no favors at his press conference this afternoon. I think Sen. Leahy's comments, that he is "shocked" that members of the Bush Administration lied to his committee sound a bit like Claude Rains in Casablanca, as these folk are institutionally incapable of telling the truth, but that is neither here nor there. More to the point is the simple fact that, the entire edifice of this group of unindicted co-conspirators against the American people is crumbling, only a few rats remain on board the ship, and the only fans they seem to have are members of the press, who still insist, despite mountains of evidence, on giving them the benefit of the doubt.

When I first read a small blurb over at Talking Points Memo about the firing of United States Attorneys, I thought, "Interesting, but hardly anything anyone is interested in." Sadly, I was sounding a bit like members of the press - the American people are much too dim to understand something as complex as the sacking of federal prosecutors, no matter how egregious it may turn out to be. I must eat the plate of crow I have served myself, because it now turns out that this is about as big a deal as Richard Nixon firing Archibald Cox, or Ronald Reagan selling arms to Iran, then taking the profits and giving them to American-supported, drug-running terrorists in Nicaragua (after Oliver North took his cut for a home security fence; a finders fee, one assumes). The press recognize this exactly for what it is - meddling in non-political legal affairs for crass, even base, political motives is about as low as one can go. Manipulation of the legal system is something Mafiosi do, which is why it arouses such disgust among most Americans. It is thuggery, pure and simple.

While one wonders whether or not the "I" word might start to become spoken a bit more loudly, not just whispered among a few, there is no doubt that the carefully constructed facade, a kind of Potemkin Village of competence, even arrogance, is now down, and what is revealed is a sordid, indeed fetid, pile of rat-infested buildings, paint peeling, roof leaking - kind of like Building 18 at Walter Reed Army Hopsital. . . .

My friend and frequent visitor Democracy Lover is annoyed that articles of impeachment haven't already been served, and while I understand his frustration, I also recognize the necessity on the part of Democrats in Congress to exercise caution. I remarked to him that, considering the multiple disadvantages Democrats operate under, some of them of their own doing, it is remarkable the amount of information that is coming to light in just two short months since they took over Congress. While the USA purge is a recent development, one doubts that much of what has already come to light would have surfaced had Republicans maintained control of the legislature. It is remarkable, really, how, with just a little push here, a nudge there, we have lifted the bed skirt and all sorts of horrid dust kitties have become visible. Were the Democratic majorities larger, and the Democrats themselves a bit less timid, we might actually be well on the way to ridding ourselves of this odious group once and for all. Just remember, kiddies, should Bush and Cheney fall, third in line for the Presidency is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, so not only might we be seeing a change of Administration sooner rather than later, we might see a change of party, and a change of gender as well.

We now see, as the dust from this travesty rises then settles around us, how important elections are.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dispensationalism and AIPAC - Strange Bedfellows Indeed

Thanks to, I managed to read this article at the American Prospect's online edition. The piece is a great criticism of AIPAC's flirtation with some of the more ludicrous parts of the American polity. The invitation to John Hagee is both unsurprising and, to those who may not understand some of the distinctions in American religious history, a bit shocking. Hagee, along with other more prominent religious conservatives such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are certainly supporters of the state of Israel. The problem is, they do not support it because it is "the only democracy in the Middle East", or "our only friend in a sea of enemies", or any of the other nonsense they may spout. They support Israel as an historical means to an eschatological end - the second coming. They thoroughly believe, and show their ignorance of the history of Zionism by doing so, that the creation of the modern nation-state of Israel, combined with the hoped-for rebuilding of the Temple, are all divinely ordained signs of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.

Hagee, unlike the Baptist Falwell or Assembly of God Robertson, is a very special kind of Christian. He is a dispensationalist. Dispensationalism in not new, but its development in the United States has been more thorough, and mainstreamed more readily, than in earlier periods of church history. Most can date the idea of dispensationalism to the late-medieval mystic Joachim of Fiore, who wrote of the different ages, or dispensations, of the Triune God. First was the Old Testament, which was the dispensation of the Father; then came the age of the Son, from the resurrection until the present moment. Joachim believed that soon, with the coming of anti-Christ and the tribulation of the faithful, would dawn the age of the Spirit, in which, after the struggle, human beings would live in direct communion with God, who would rule the world in peace.

Living in an ahistorical age (at least as we would understand the term) Fiore did not have access to certain understandings that dispensationalists have. Also, his reading of Scripture, while odd, was never considered heretical. Joachim inspired many Christians and non through the ages (read Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium for a good introduction, plus essays by Ernst Bloch and Jurgen Moltmann), not least of whom included Karl Marx. Only with American Christianity, with its deep fervor, its pretension to serious enquiry, and its fervent spirituality (combined with our native prejudice, still with us in a variety of forms even now that we are in fact the New Israel) did it really take hold.

One of the first tenets of this idea is that the entire Bible is prophetic, not just certain books or types of writings. "Prophecy" here is not understood as the Israelites or early church understood it, as a communication from the LORD concerning justice and grace, but rather in the popular way as "prediction". Dispensationalists, then, do not read the Bible literally; they could hardly be fundamentalists, because they are constantly scouring the Bible for ways of interpreting scripture in light of their belief that the entire collection of writings is an encoded message concerning the Second Coming of Christ.

John Hagee is typical of dispensationalists, with his charts and graphs, his dire predictions of megadeaths and glorious returns - what any of this has to do with Christianity I am not sure, and even less with "supporting Israel". That AIPAC would allow someone like him in the room shows they have neither scruples nor moral sense; they don't even recognize an enemy in the gates when they see it. Let me be clear. Hagee does not support Israel qua Israel, but rather as the historic means to the theological end of the world, and most of the human race, including Jews. One of the hallmarks of dispensationalists is their firm belief that the author of the apocalypse was right on target when he said that the number of the saved from the final tribulation would be 144,000; that's a whole lot of dead bodies, cast into the fiery pit and locked away for all eternity. There is little of grace and much desire and blood lust here.


I have been blogging now for about ten months (my previous blog, which died an ignominious death, is best forgotten; I think I am even going to remove it from my blogroll, as much of it is an embarrassment now), and I think it is high time that I took a step back and gave a little overview of some of the intellectual sources upon which I draw for my political and theological views. This may or may not be interesting, but I do feel it is important, as it gives those who come here an idea of why it is I say the things I say, and why I do not say some things people either might expect me to say or say thing people might not expect.

First, it is important to note that, intellectually speaking, there are three period in my life that shaped me more than any other. First, the period of my first year-and-a-half at Wesley Theological Seminary, where I studied systematic theology, opened me up to whole new arenas of thought, theological and philosophical, that I had not even known existed. Here, I was exposed to Jurgen Moltmann, James Cone, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and, of course, Karl Barth. I was also exposed, for the first time, to the writings of Richard Rorty and Ernst Bloch, two very different kinds of philosophers.

The second period, which corresponded to the end of my seminary career and the beginning of my married life, the spring of 1993, was the revelation I was granted by reading Isaiah Berlin's The Crooked Timber of Humanity. Moreso than any other single thing I have ever read - and I would include the Bible in this - Berlin's book opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking about thinking. It also introduced me to Herder and Vico (Hamann is difficult to find in translation these days, and as I don't read German, this third source of Berlin's is still elusive).

Finally, the third period, from the fall of 1994 through the spring of 1997, was the period when I first read Thomas Kuhn. First was The Copernican Revolution, followed quickly by The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. From there, I turned to Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend, Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton, the writings of Rudolf Carnap (especially A Logical Syntax of Language), Herbert Marcuse' One Dimentsional Man, Plato and Aristotle, St. Thomas, Martin Heidegger's Being and Time (I have since read several of the University of Indiana reprints of various lectures of Heidegger's but I have yet to see the new translation of B&T), Immanuel Kant (again; you can't do seminary properly without reading Kant), Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Alisdaire MacIntyre.

This list is hardly exhaustive, and it doesn't at all cover the volumes I have read since, nor does it tell the uninitiated about the content of what I have read. These volumes, however, are the spring, the source from which I start much of my thinking. I try not to belong to any "school" of thought, and I would hardly call my appropriation of any of these works uncritical. Some of them are highly critical; some, to be honest, gave voice in a systematic and clear way to unformed and nascent ideas of my own. All of them have fed me in a variety of ways, and still do, as I occasionally turn to one or another of them for solace, comfort, and even new insight (if you don't reread a really big book, then you're not trying to learn, but just showing off; the exception, of course, is Barth, whose 13 volume, yet still incomplete, Church Dogmatics I hope to finish before I shuffle off this mortal coil, but only on a first pass).

Three Month Old Puppies and Bloggers - They Both Whine

I do believe that Duncan is feeling a bit upset by some of the comments made about him. Over here at his site, Eschaton, he not only repeats both his goals and his surprise at his success - after many years and much hard work - he also links to the whiny bloggers who just want to have him, or Kos, or somebody to link to them. I have spent a bit of time reflecting the past few weeks on just what it is I do (and I think one last post on this topic is all that is warranted), and just to be clear, my feelings mirror Duncan's right down the line.

I originally started this whole thing as an intellectual outlet, and it has morphed into a hobby - a daily "thing I do", and I have fun, exchange jokes, notes, views, even the occasional insult, but mostly I just enjoy myself as I very publicly (even though my public is small:) ) try to work through what it is I feel about various issues and topics. I have no illusions about either my insight or the perspicacity of my intellect; I do the best with what I've got, and trust that others will call me out when I make an ass of myself. I will admit that I was inordinately proud of getting notice in, as I posted yesterday (who wouldn't, unless one was called a total failure and wanker of the first order?), but, such notice is really beside the point. I still just do what I do, and if anyone listens, great. If not, well, this is more about me than you, isn't it?

Like Duncan, I have no idea what "success" would look like, because, to be honest, just blogging everyday feels successful. I have an outlet for my intellectual and political views, I have one or two people who feel moved enough comment, keeping me honest, and I have a tiny voice in our national conversation - the last being all I ever wanted anyway. All those who just want to be linked to FDL, or whatever the site might be - they are looking for attention, not based on merit or hard work, but by basking in the glow of true success stories. Like the nobody who attaches him- or herself to a famous person in the vain hope of reflected glory, there is something more than a little parasitic about the whole thing.

In other words, shut up and blog!

Just Another Cost of Doing Business

Over at my good friend Erudite Redneck's blog, I posted a comment on a thread concerning the decision by Halliburton to relocate its corporate headquarters from Houston, TX to the Port of Dubai. ER, as he is known to all who visit, is a bit, shall we say, upset over the idea of Halliburton, which derives the vast bulk of its revenue from government contracts with the US, moving offshore. Me, I have no problem with any business moving anywhere they want to - just another hole in the facade of sovereignty that should force the global community, at some point, to gather enough will to actually do something about predatory business practices that has teeth.

Anyway, in a spur of the moment thought, I offered the idea that, should any corporation seek to relocate outside the borders of the US, an expatriate exit tax should accrue. For publicly traded businesses, the amount would be, say 25% of the amortized value of of its common and preferred stock. For privately held companies, it would be 30% of the average gross revenues for the previous five years. Please note I say "gross receipts" not "revenue"; so, if a corporation only makes a 1% return, well, it's not personal, it's just business.

Another part of such expat legislation would be the rescinding of all contracts with the US government, pending review and re-approval by Congress. All expat corporations would now be treated like any other foreign own business, and be limited in the type of contracts it would apply for. Any security clearances granted to employees and managers would be rescinded, and approval would be limited to those personal who live and work in the US, with all the restrictions upon information transfer that already exist within legislation governing security issues.

You want to move overseas? Fine. The Unites States created you, through the action of a state legislature approving your articles of incorporation. We protected you from liability, offered you a place to grow your business, increase your profits and revenue in a well-ordered, low-regulation atmosphere. Should you decide to leave, you must consider the consequences of such an action as just another business expense.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

My First National Press Clip!

Yesterday, I used "the google" to see who might be mentioning me, and how. I do this about once a month, just to kind of track my progress through the intertubes. I know I could use Technorati, but I find using a search engine much more enlightening. Low and behold, I saw my name, and my blog title, and I had to blink because the URL was I clicked the link . . . and found this column. Please notice that I am mentioned before Andrew Sullivan (as I blow on my fingernails, polishing them on my shirt). I will leave to others to gage how I was used, and if I was represented fairly. Right now, I just feel like basking in the attention (bask, bask, bask).

Virtual Tin Cup

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