Saturday, August 01, 2009

Dedicated To Uncertainty

For all those who think that there is such a thing as "Truth" that is "out there"; to all those who think that there are important "things" known as "facts" that, when assembled, will not only correspond to "reality" but present that reality in an "unbiased" way; to those who think that disputing previously asserted "facts" about "events" is nonsensical - just read this.

Saturday Rock Show

I love the band Grizzly Bear. Funny enough, I'm sitting and listening to Vekatimest right now, and here's a video from the song "Two Weeks".

From The Depths

This is among the three or four truly stupid things I have read recently. Small minded. Vicious. And ignorant. Kind of like the guy who wrote it.

Attacking From Both Ends

It's no surprise that opponents of health care reform have attempted to use abortion as a wedge issue to kill it (so much irony there). At the same time, they are also using a part of the bill that encourages people to consider end-of-life planning to kill the bill, including raising the specter of euthanasia. It isn't just "right-leaning radio programs", however; as the report by Ceci Connelly makes clear, Republican Congressional leaders are hopping on a wagon whose drivers include domestic terrorist Randall Terry.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) said they object to the idea because it "may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia."

This is part of a pattern of irresponsible behavior that stretches back, at least in contemporary political history, to the silent acquiescence of Republican Congressional leaders to Sen. Joe McCarthy's ridiculous theatrics on communism. Infamously, Ohio's Robert Taft, who knew better and despised McCarthy, nevertheless gave consent through silence, encouraging increasingly reckless behavior on the part of Wisconsin's junior alcoholic Senator. When Rush Limbaugh was made an honorary member of the 104th Congress for his role in mobilizing conservative voters, this same pattern emerged.

It doesn't help that it isn't just right-wing radio and right-wing politicians.
Why is Chris Matthews carrying water for the "deathers" -- as Rachel Maddow aptly called them on her show -- and conflating end of life counseling with abortion, and something to fear, while his network has allowed Maddow to do a thorough debunking of both those talking points and where they came from?

Matthews went so far as to conflate end-of-life counseling with the government paying for abortions, and called them both "social policy". So Chris, are you now trying to find a nice way to call the President a "socialist" without coming right out and saying so? And why is it something to be afraid of if someone under the age of 65 is allowed to get some help with making a living will?

Whether it's "the government is going to kill your fetus", or "the government wants you to die when you get too old", we have this odd, fact-free attack on both ends of life. It has been effective not only because the airwaves are flooded with this nonsense (and, as the Matthews clip shows, it isn't just the usual right-wing nutjobs who are pushing this; had Matthews done just a little bit of research this entire segment would not have been produced), but, as Connelly points out, some Democrats have been reluctant to push back against it.
Democratic strategists privately acknowledged that they were hesitant to give extra attention to the issue by refuting the inaccuracies, but they worry that it will further agitate already-skeptical seniors.

Since the entire thing is false, it would be nice if someone simply pointed out that the entire campaign is a lie. That word is just not present in our discourse as much as it should be. When John Boehner says we are on a slippery slope to government-endorsed euthanasia, he is lying (whether he is aware of it or not). When Randall Terry says the government wants to kill old people, he is lying. When Chris Matthews says end-of-life counseling reimbursement is nothing more than a major policy initiative hidden as a cost-saving measure, he is lying.

If just a few members of Congress who know what's going on would speak out, and call this what it is, while it might increase some attention on the lying, it will expose it as lying. Connelly's piece is a good description of the nature of the lying campaign without actually spelling out in the words of the proposed legislation, what is at issue (although she does quote a bioethicist on the benefits of early planning for end-of-life care).

In many ways, health care reform could die, if it does, not from overwhelming opposition to the principle, but through all sorts of little wounds inflicted through misinformation, lack of clarity, and conflicting interests embedded in the bill itself. I'm not happy with Congressional acquiescence to Big Pharma's insistence that government power to negotiate lower drug prices (since, under such a plan, it would be the chief purchaser of pharmaceuticals, it would have the power and leverage to do so) as it does, say, in the health coverage for members of Congress and Congressional staffers. Yet, unlike many on the left, I believe even an imperfect bill is better than no bill at all (after all, it can be improved over time).

If only we could get someone to stand up and call not just Randall Terry and Glenn Beck, but John Boehner and Chris Matthews liars.

Friday, July 31, 2009

If I Didn't Have To Admit To Stealing It, This Would Be The Title Of My Blog

From the San Francisco Chronicle, comes this title:

God is not your bitch
This just in: It is hugely unlikely God cares much about your sex life

The article is worth reading, too . . .
[I]f much of organized religion and nearly every conservative/fundamentalist adherent thereof are to be believed -- and they most definitely are not -- God is essentially the most obsessed, niggling micromanager of all time. He is all about being hugely, nay downright obscenely interested in the trivial minutiae of modern life, from the food eaten on a particular day to the touchdown made during the Big Game to the brand of TV you watch it on, right on over to what book you're reading and where you live and if you have the right guns and foreign policy and facial hair, and of course whether or not you judge gay people and demean women and nonbelievers in just the right way.

Because only then, when all preposterous criteria are met, might God absolve you, or lead you toward happiness, or grant success to your new laundromat, or forgive you your trespasses and your recreational drug use and your pornographic thoughts about your massage therapist, or even how many soft, cooing sounds you made over the body of a sexy Argenitine female. Isn't that right, Gov. Sanford?

Let us ponder. Because once again and for the billionth time, a deeply sad and hypocritical conservative is now claiming that he will be turning to God not merely for forgiveness for his lusty irresponsibilities, but he is also claiming that, in order to set things right, God will now be actively stepping into his life to help put him back on track, fix his mangled moral compass, tell him the what-what and the don't-stick-that-there.

And funny . . .
I find I am in a constant swoon of giddy amazement at this universal phenomenon, the fabulous, hubris-loaded idea that God is not actually an unfathomable river of cosmic energy to be supped from like liquid light, while you still take complete responsibility for your own life and choices. Nor is God simply the idea of universal love and compassion, coursing through all things at all times everywhere. How silly to think.

No, God is, apparently, actually far more like some sort of heavyset, hectoring grandmother who reads your email and pokes through your underwear drawer and hates your girlfriend and is, for the most part, very, very disappointed in you. Great!

Irreverence in the name of the Holy. It doesn't get any better than this, friends.

Differences Of Perspective

The on-going discussion here, led to this extended quote from theologian O. C. Quick:
It is then an imperative duty to keep alive the theological tradition, not hastily to hide or throw away old doctrines at the first demand of those who have never had occasion to study their real import, but to let them renew their youth in the fresh interpretations which fuller knowledge brings. And to fulfil this task we must first go back to the old theology of our creeds, that we may disentangle its essential meaning. We must try to clear away the rust which our neglect has suffered to collect upon it, that it may once more shine in use. We need not, we must not, reaffirm every word that the fathers of the Church thought to be true, still less must we adopt all their methods of enforcing it. But we must remember that though their language is not ours, at least it was for them, and it may be for us, the vehicle of an eternal revelation of the ultimate constitution and ordering of the universe. For them theology was not primarily the result of any reflection upon their own experience. It was the revelation of God which created both their experience and their theology, and the theology was designed quite as much to guide experience as to interpret it. For them intellect was not a tin‑kettle tied to the tail of feelings, urging them to wilder extravagance as it clattered helplessly in their wake. Rather they thought of intellect as a divinely inspired faculty of vision, whereby they were able to see the goal, and point out the direction, of that long and arduous journey which human experience has still to tread. They held it a sacred trust to guide in the light of that vision the steps of the people whose souls, as they believed, had been committed to their charge. The better part for us is not to set their authority at nought, but to sit at their feet till we have learned the lesson, that some things in their teaching which must be removed are shaken, only that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. The first necessity is not to restate the creeds, but to explain them. Perhaps after the explanation, the need for restatement will not seem so pressing.(italics added)

From my interactions with Feodor, I can only surmise that this particular paragraph encapsulates much of his own perspective - a reverence for theology as a means of grace, a privileging of intellect of reflection on experience, an interest in the relevance of ancient theologizing. I wouldn't presume to assume that Quick speaks for him; I would presume, at the very least, to notice that this paragraph tracks pretty close to themes that recur in his comments.

My own perspective on theology, and the relationship among experience, reason, and the theological task, is quite different. I would never deny that theology, if rooted in a person's experience of Divine Grace in the person of Jesus Christ, most definitely shapes our experience, and directs it toward its divinely ordained end. Yet, to say that it is not about interpretation misses the point. If we are not reflecting on the experience of our faith; if we are not interpreting through the lens of faith; if Divine Grace has not unsealed our eyes and loosed our lips, I wonder what, exactly is the point? Indeed, the whole tenor of this particular quote seems to be a desire to stop listening to the whispering of the Spirit in our own time, as it comes to us in a different voice, in a different place and time.

It might be useful to ask, as Feodor once did, what do the Cappadocians have to say to a resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Might be. For the most part, however, I am unmoved by the impulse to even ask such a question. A late fourth century Greek neo-Platonist would have very little in common with an early 21st century resident of an historically neglected neighborhood in our largest city. The language is different. The needs are different. The whole social, cultural, historical, religious context is so different as to make even the most dedicated Christian wonder if the faith of two adherents - one, an ancient Greek, the other a contemporary urban resident - is the same one.

The ancient voices of the church are important, and should indeed be heeded. But only, to use a journalistic term, on deep background. We need to find our own voices, use our own language, our own metaphors, be conscious of issues of class, of race, be cognizant of the multiplicities of histories that interconnect in a place like Bed-Stuy, histories undreamed in the darkest fantasies of the Cappadocians. If our theology does not emerge at the meeting point of our faith and the world's experience, the real lived experience of the world, then it isn't theology, but masturbation. I hate to be blunt, but as far as I'm concerned, far too much theology today, even and perhaps that which tries so hard for relevance and depth, ends up being nothing more than intellectual self-abuse.

And, I would also insist that theologians learn a bit of humility. Theologizing is the last task of the church, not the first. Doing theology, whether consciously (and sometimes self-consciously) with reference to the broad and deep rivers of the past, or only taking what is at hand and making the best of it, is no more than stock-taking, making sure we know what we are talking about. At the end of the day, it is not theology that shapes our faith, nor assent to this or that sentence that grants us liberty and life. Jesus was clear on one point, if nothing else. Truth is not a proposition, or set of propositions. Rather, truth is no more and no less than the Incarnate Son of the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, Truth is Him, something very specific, concrete, real, and crucified and risen.

None of our words, no matter how deep, no matter how close to the nub we may get, can capture that reality.

Ours, Feodor's and mine, are just different perspectives on the question of theology. There is much to commend. It just isn't my way.

On The Other End Of The Spectrum

I guess I've just been overwhelmed by the simmer racism that is boiling over on the right. It is nice, therefore, to link to this wonderful column by a gifted scholar (who did a stint at my alma mater . . .) who says what needs to be said, or at least says some of what needs to be said.
It doesn't matter if you marched with Dr. King, or even think you would have marched with Dr. King if you'd been alive during the Civil Rights movement. Racism is a pattern of power and how it is distributed in society. It's not solved by friendship. Mary Potter Engel once observed, "The most liberating question you can ask is 'Who set things up this way?'" Don't personalize racial transformation. Here's the good news: the power relations some have constructed, other people can reconstruct.

While there is much, much more to the good Rev. Dr. Brooks Thistlethwaite's column, which I urge you to read, this point cannot be stressed enough. And it is my starting point. Race is as much about skin color as rape is about sex. Both are about power and domination. You may have made friends across many racial and ethnic lines, yet still react in a way that can only be described as racist to certain circumstances. I know I do. Jesse Jackson once confessed his shame at his gut reaction of fear when he saw a small group of African-American youth walking down the sidewalk. We are programmed, regardless of skin color or life experience, to react this way, by the society in which we live. One can overcompensate one way or another, but in the end, these are all just variations on the theme of the initial, socially-constructed reaction to a given set of circumstances.

This is why I am neither impressed by the indignant denials of racism from those on the right (usually couched in very personal terms, which are irrelevant), nor by the self-flattery of whites who flaunt their cross-racial ties. While the hatred of bigots like Limbaugh and the rest of them is certainly a problem, it is not the problem. They will not change, and we should not waste time or energy worrying about them (although Lord knows we need to keep our eyes and ears open). America is still, even with a black President, a society fundamentally structured around white privilege and the maintenance of their power. We need to see that, to see the world through the eyes of a young man who gets followed around the Mall by security simply because he's black; the young woman who is denied a seat with the in-crowd because her hair is dark and curly, not blonde. We need to be able to hear with the ears of the mother who catches the mutters behind hands as she takes her child to the emergency room. Or hear with the ears of the young scholarship student at a University who is called an affirmative action case, denying not only his superior abilities, but degrading our society's modest attempt to redress some parts of white privilege and access to power.

I think the title of Rev. Dr. Thistlethwaite's column, "How To Be White", should be followed up with, "How White's Should Learn To Be Black".

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bigots A-Go-Go

It has only been a little over six months since Pres. Obama took the oath of office. Six months. While Limbaugh was already out in front with his "Magic Negro" crap, followed close by Hannity's flogging of Jeremiah Wright and his ridiculous attack on Black Theology, we are now inundated with folks whose defenses have been worn down by the on-going presence of a black man in the oval office. And, of course, the real racists aren't these unhooded Klansmen on the air - including but limited to Limbaugh, Hannity, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and even former Congressman Tom Tancredo - but, as these and many, many others screech each and every day, it's the terrible, awful brown people who are the real racists.

The whole lot of them have done us the favor of giving a voice to the ugly cancer of racism. We no longer have to wonder when the boil will burst, because it already has. Each and every day they get their hate on, on television and radio, in newspaper columns and interviews. They are the vent to the deep ocean of barely contained race hatred that is, alas, part of our national inheritance. While it is ugly, this daily barrage of race hatred might also serve as a way of lancing the boil, as it were. It is far more honest, I think, to have these people coming as close as one can to shouting, "NIGGER!" (and I look forward to the moment that occurs; it will just as fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly), than it is pretending their objections to Pres. Obama is based on anything noble or principled.

They don't like him because he's black. Not only that, he's smart, he's funny, he's popular, he has political skills, and he's a dedicated father and husband. In other words, he's "uppity". They can't deal with his ongoing presence in our national life. They can't accept him. The real teachable moment on race in America isn't the arrest of a Harvard professor. The real teachable moment on race is the ongoing Klan rally that is much of the right-wing. In the 1920's, the Klan marched down Pennsylvania Ave in Washington, DC. Today, it airs midday on most AM stations across the country, as well as having a few TV slots on FOXNews and CNN.

While I feel for the African-American community, and all America, that has to suffer these pinheads and their blathering, I still think it far better they reveal themselves for who they are. When the moment comes for them to reveal themselves completely (and I would love to get a pool started on which one - Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, pick your poison - slips the word first), perhaps we can have a teachable moment not only on race, but on our public discourse, the role of major media outlets and their sponsors, and a bunch of other stuff as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

There Aren't Two Sides, And There's No Debate (UPDATE)

Apparently the Boston Globe thinks it proper to honor the sesquicentennial of Darwin's birth by publishing a piece by a creationist. A Harvard professor had the temerity to object (the first comment is a gem: "I love how the Globe consistently prints articles from Harvard Professors! I've got an idea Globe, why don't you, on occasions, print articles from the average person and not always from wealthy elitist liberal snobs from Cambridge!")

Why someone at the Globe thought this even close to appropriate in any way I can only pin on some really ignorant idea that there is some kind of "debate" between competing scientific theories, one of which goes by the name Intelligent Design, an the public is well-served by getting all views out there.

Intelligent Design isn't science and it isn't a theory. It's the phony "creationist" nonsense dressed up, but no more scientific than, say, a bottle of Diet Pepsi. There isn't a real "debate" between competing scientific theories, at least on this level, because neither creationism nor Intelligent Design are scientific. They aren't theories, either.

When the Globe prints an article, or editorial, or op-ed, on the sad state of scientific education in America, I think their policy of printing garbage like this, whatever the reasons, might be raised. It's part of the problem.

UPDATE: Thanks to Alan in comments, here's a funny take on some evolutionary quirks that might give advocates of Intelligent Design pause. This one makes me shiver all over, though:
8 Slug genitalia. Some hermaphroditic species breed by wrapping their sex organs around each other. If one of said members gets stuck, the slug simply chews it off. What. The. Hell?

Feet Of Clay, Brain Of Mush

Juan Williams wrote a best-selling history of the Civil Rights movement, Eyes on the Prize, and a biography of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, so one would think his commentary on American attitudes toward race and their complexity would be more intelligent than they were this morning on NPR. He was talking with host Steve Inskeep about Pres. Obama's comments on the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates (I looked for a transcript of the conversation and couldn't find it; teh Googles has failed me). He kept saying that this incident couldn't be a "teaching moment" on race (one of the stupider things I have heard, but it's out there) because the facts of the case don't support a simple racial interpretation of it. That's true to the extent that it is now clear the Cambridge police officer didn't arrest Gates because he was a black man in a nice house.

Yet, Williams had to acknowledge that race was a factor, but it was complicated by issues of class (he used "town-gown"; can't there be a way to keep journalists from using cliches?). So, if race was a factor, only complicated by class, how is this not a "teachable moment"? I mean, it might be kind of important to talk about issues of race, law enforcement, and class, don't you think?

He also said that Pres. Obama made a boo-boo when he said, when asked initially about the incident, that the arresting officer "acted stupidly". See, some people (never identified, but really just the usual racist nincompoops) interpreted this as Obama taking sides in a racial argument. Considering the history of law enforcement and African-Americans, I'm not sure how this was wrong. Even with all the facts in, and despite Williams' insistence that this wasn't an instance of racial profiling, race was indeed a factor. Just not the only factor. The President was not "taking sides" in a racial matter. And why shouldn't he make a point to say that the officer in this case might have taken a moment before he arrested Gates, regardless of the latter's actions? Did the officer in question act stupidly? Is the mix of race and class complicated by the fact that, as Williams noted, the mayor of Cambridge, the governor of Massachusetts, and the President of the United States are all African-American? Does the reality that we have more and more African-American in positions of power and authority mitigate the reality of racial profiling, and the knee-jerk reaction of many blacks toward potential abuses of power by the police? Does it mitigate the reality of racial profiling? Any individual with a consciousness of our national racial history is going to take in the fact that a black man, prominent or not, was arrested in his own home after an initial call about B&E and think it happened solely because of race. Before I knew all the facts, that's what I thought.

I still think race was a factor, Williams' insistence notwithstanding. Yes, it was complicated by class, as well as Prof. Gates' behavior. Yet, wouldn't you be indignant if you were confronted by the police for attempting to enter your own home? Would you sit still for being arrested? Seems to me the whole "uppity" thing is raising its ugly, pointed, hooded head.

So, yeah, there is a teachable moment here, as the current phrase du jour has it. It is just more complicated, and it isn't made any easier by people like Juan Williams trying to ignore these complications.

A Cesspool I Want To Visit

When I was a kid we had a whole bunch of those Peanuts comic collections around the house. Great for that quiet time in the only private room in the house. In one of them, Lucy is reading a bunch of statistics on the really poor prospects a classical musician has for the future. Schroeder asks her where she is getting them and she says, "I just made them up."

I think of that every time I hear of Bill O'Reilly spouting off about how horrid Europe is, or Canada is. Do these people even care anymore? Are they so dumb that they don't know that it's possible to check these claims out, or are they hoping that no one will? The former is actually more worrisome, because that just makes the point that they are nihilists. That is, they don't really care one way or another about anything at all. Anyway, I found this little vid at Sadly, No! which shows what a horrid place Amsterdam is, in light of a Factor piece on the horrors of Amsterdam.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Unhooded, Pointy Head Of Racism

I am uncomfortably reminded of that scene in Blazing Saddles when Cleavon Little is approaching town to start as the new sheriff.

While this is intended to make fun of racism, this is not. These men might just as well screech it and get it over with.

Symbols And Realities (UPDATE)

So, I was reading this article at The New York Review of Books website, and I got to wondering what in the world Snyder is talking about. I mean, sure, there are many who seem dedicated to understanding "Auschwitz" as shorthand for the entirety of the Holocaust, an attempt to capture the complex phenomenon of mass death in as easily and accessible a way as possible. I honestly believe that it was this shorthand, this well-documented clearly perceived (at least insofar as any such gross horror can be said to be "understood") reality is the reason why a book such as Hitler's Willing Executioners was so poorly received. The mundane reality that much of Nazi Germany was geared toward the nihilistic destruction of human life outside the confines of World War II is difficult to accept. Yet, it is also quite true. Industrial and physical and even transportation infrastructure was completely geared toward ensuring that as many undesirables got to the killing centers as quickly and efficiently as possible. Rail lines had to be laid. Truck supply routes established. All those track miles paid for, their human cargo accounted for.

The history of the death of the Jews, the Roma, homosexuals, the mentally challenged, Slavs, and other untermenschen by the Nazi regime is available. Leni Yahil's massive The Holocaust details the gradual development of the policy, ending with the killing centers in Eastern Europe, but not flinching over the important role of the Einsatzgruppen in the first days of the war, as special SS units moved in to Nazi-occupied Poland, rounded up entire communities, and killed them via firing-squad. The mobile killing units later included specially designed trucks which would pump poison gas into trailers. These were the seed-bed of the gas chambers, yet they are also responsible for the deaths of thousands.

Auschwitz as a short-hand for the Holocaust is indeed inadequate, because the event, like all historical events, is a complex, developing creature. Auschwitz is the full-flowered, final development of a national policy geared toward eliminating surplus populations, while attempting to gain as much economic advantage from at least some of them as possible.

I believe Snyder is correct that our understanding was limited, at least in the beginning, due to the evidence. We had survivor memoirs, especially Elie Wiesel's. We did not have, for years, a complete grasp of the enormity of the policy, a grasp of the development from legal disenfranchisement, the various attempts at a "solution" to "the Jewish question", and the various related policies for eliminating surplus populations that eventually became incorporated into the systematic murder of whole populations.

Snyder is also correct that the role of the Soviet Union, its mass murder of Jews, Ukranians (especially Ukranian collaborators with the Nazis), and others during this period is little understood. Unlike the Germans, however, the Soviets were both victors and allies, their records off-limits to independent historians for study. The whole story, for example, of the Soviet Army executing most of the senior Polish army in the Katyn Forest, has only been told in full in the past couple decades, yet, as Snyder notes, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, the post-war mass murders of Soviet soldiers held as POWs by the Nazis has yet, to my knowledge, to be adequately addressed (that it happened, is pretty well known; the why's and how's and wherefore's, however, are still hanging out there).

We need to escape from the easy shorthand of symbols. Indeed, as far as I'm concerned, symbols should be eliminated entirely from our ways of grasping the world around us. Flags are just pieces of cloth. "Coke" is a consumer product, not shorthand for any carbonated beverage. "McDonalds" is a franchise restaurant, not a symbol for American hegemony. Auschwitz was a horrific place where millions died, yet it was only one of several killing centers in Europe, and hardly the only place the Nazis killed people; it was not, in fact, representative of the multi-yeared, multi-layered structure of the development of the Nazi genocide. At one time, it might have served well as a symbol. Our greater understanding of the entire phenomenon, however, renders it inadequate as a symbol. Rather than seek out new symbols, it might be important for historians to communicate the whole, terrible, complex reality, as fearsome a task as that may be.

We owe it to the victims, and to ourselves.

UPDATE: Understanding is not helped by bs like this:
“The truth,” wrote Dershowitz, “is that the Palestinian leadership, supported by the Palestinian masses, played a significant role in Hitler’s Holocaust.”

"Significant"? How many Palestinians were guards at killing centers? Were there Palestinian units in the SS? This isn't just bizarre, it's crazy-stupid. Alan Dershowitz has lost any credibility whatsoever.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


In order to further the discussion concerning the place of religion in American public and social life, I thought it might be important to state some things that those who are opposed to its presence could agree with. While mundane to the point of irrelevance to a certain extent, they at least allow a clearing space in order to move forward.

First, who would seriously disagree with the statement that there are elements and parts of broad belief system called Christianity that are detrimental to our public life? One need only consider the Christian Identity movement, its racism and penchant for violence, and the connections with this movement (considered in a braod sense) and the history of right-wing terrorism over the past two decades to see that pretty clearly. Since there is no way to definitively write these people out of Christian communion (as much as many might want to do), the only proper response is to admit that, yes, this is not just a problem, but a real and ever-present danger.

The militant anti-abortion movement also has the twin problems of seeing itself as based in the historic Christian faith and a penchant for terrorism and violence. 'Nuff said.

On a less violent note, we have the many-pronged assaults on education coming from those who call themselves Christian. Whether it is creationism attacking not just biology, but geology and even cosmology, or the effort to re-write American history (the latest salvo comes thanks to British blogger Archbishop Cranmer), the opponents of science and serious historical study rarely flag or allow little things like multiple defeats in courts to stop them from not allowing our children to learn.

There are the multiple assaults on our Constitutional freedoms, from prayer in public schools through publicly funded religious displays to the ridiculous issue of the Ten Commandments in a court of law. Again, like the constant attacks on education, this hydra-like phenomenon seems to grow two heads every time one is cut off by yet another court deicision.

These disparate phenomena are often conflated as part of a general phenomenon of Christian (sometimes also "religious") revanchism. I once even had to deal with someone who insisted that religious teaching that ran counter to science was a form of "child abuse". On that same theme, one could add other, more difficult issues. For example, when a Christian Science family refuses medical treatment for an ailing child. There have been cases where state agencies have attempted to intervene, forcing medical care on a child against the religious beliefs of the parents.

Since we are entering this murkier area where religious practice can potentially be seen as conflicting with certain social goods, we should consider three disparate religious groups whose social and public practice has created certain legal protections. Quakers, Amish, and Jehovah's Witnesses differ widely in their professed beliefs, yet all exist within special spheres in relation to the state due to their religious practices. Yet, the Amish and Witnesses also are opposed to the theory of evolution. Are to practice selective intervention, then, providing the Amish with their special communities outside the rest of their neighbors, while insisting their children learn Darwinian theory? Are Jehovah's Witnesses still to be free from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance even as they are forced to accept blood tranfusions to save their lives? Are Quakers to be forced in to the armed forces during national emergencies, their conscientious objection status set aside due to a serious national emergency?

At what point does the state set aside already-accepted constitutional protections to certain groups, including religious groups practicing their Constitutional freedom of religious belief and practice? Does the state have an overwhelming interest in intervening in the teachings of a religious community, if those teachings run counter to our current scientific understanding of the world? Certainly there are some who think so.

I think it is important to separate out these disparate phenomena into those that clearly violate the law or Constitutional norms, and those that are protected religious practices that, while not in concert with what are generally accepted social norms, nevertheless are protected by law. Lumping them all together as part of "religious" or "Christian" obscurantism as a general phenomenon creates the impression that terrorist violence in the name of God is on the same scale of anti-social behavior as refusing to acknowledge Darwinian theory or saluting the flag. The courts certainly recognize these distinctions. Thoughtful people should, as well. Part of the price we pay for living in a free society is there are those who don't accept modern science, or socially-accepted practices such as the Pledge of Allegiance.

If we can stipulate these facts, and their differences moving forward, we might actually get somewhere.

Virtual Tin Cup

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