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March 4, 2004

Our vigilant representatives. Pardon the expression, but what the hell is wrong with Russell Feingold, Edward Kennedy, Charles Schumer, and Richard J. Durbin? As Allen Brill of The Right Christians reports, these are the Democratic members of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, which heard testimony from five witnesses on the proposed “marriage” amendment to the Constitution. Both of the witnesses who described themselves as “Christians” were clergy testifying in favor of it. The three witnesses opposed were all secular folks.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is retarded, and Feingold, Kennedy, Schumer, and Durbin should be administered a firm political swirlie for letting the Republicans get away with it. As Brill’s weblog has been documenting, self-identified Christians have been popping up all over the place, many of them clergy, often in the letter-and-opinion pages of local newspapers, declaring their opposition to this mendacious attempt at vandalism against the Constitution. Would it have been so difficult to get one witness willing to contradict the lie that this amendment represents the “Christian” position?

Forgive me for banging on the table, but if you want an illustration of why rank-and-file American liberals, even moderate liberals, were so receptive to the Dean campaign’s suggestions that the Democratic leadership are pushovers, well, I got your illustration right here. Yes, legislation is intensely process-oriented; yes, to get anything done you need collegiality in jumbo economy-sized aerosol cans. But you also need the horse sense to know when you’re getting rolled. [01:45 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Our vigilant representatives.:

David W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2004, 02:42 PM:

IIRC, witnesses are selected by a simple majority vote of the subcommittee. It would be interesting to see a list of proposed witnesses if one exists and is online. I saw some of the testimony yesterday on PBS's News Hour, and thought Feingold came across very well.

FYI, here's the URL for the webpage on the hearings that were held yesterday:

"Judicial Activism vs. Democracy: What are the National Implications of the Massachusetts Goodridge Decision and the Judicial Invalidation of Traditional Marriage Laws? "

http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearing.cfm?id=1072

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2004, 05:12 PM:

See also Anna Quindlen's column from this week (08MAR04) Newsweek:

Recently a man who was enraged by my column sent an e-mail with an exultant sign-off line. He said that in closing he was not only going to mention God, he was going to captialize the G because he knew it made liberals like me crazy.

Five of the seven sacraments (they won't give me holy orders and I'm not ready for last rites), 10 years with the nuns, a chuch wedding, three baptized babies, endless fights as they grew over why they had to go to mass on Sunday and a fair amount of prayer, and it's all wiped out in a single assumption about the nexus between left-leaning politics and atheism. A widespread assumption, too, and one that has come to color, even poision, American political discourse. It was inevitable that the opposite of the religious right would becdome the irreligious left. It just doesn't happen to be accurate.

...


Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2004, 09:35 PM:

It is, in fact, a item of faith among the rabid Christian right that all liberals are atheists and hate Christianity. You can tell them otherwise, show them otherwise, till you're blue in the face, and they still won't believe it.

This is one of the vilest lies that the cynical right wing has promulgated. The games with the testimony on the FMA is just part of their attack. I doubt that the Democrats on the committee even noticed.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2004, 09:47 PM:

Not even all Witches hate Christianity. It's not for me, but I see it doing good for the people it's good for. (If you like that sort of thing, it's the sort of thing you like.) You know what I mean.

I sing in the choir of an Episcopal church. A really, really LEFTIE Episcopal church; it was the first place where an openly gay man was ordained a priest, and the original parish home of The Oasis, which is the Episcopal Church's outreach to the LGBT community.

Damned good people. Well, not damned...you know what I mean. :-)

clio ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2004, 10:55 PM:

What about The Reverend Mr. Gene Robinson, the recently consecrated Episocopalian bishop of New Hampshire? I am not being snarky when I say that Mr. Robinson could bring a unique perspective since he thought of himself as straight, or at least tried to act straight, for many years and has certainly had to think about himself and his God to pass muster and be recommended to the bishopric.

I, myself, am UCC. I am going to call our national office tomorrow and ask where they are in this fight. I don't mean where they stand. We are an open and affirming denomination, but where the witnesses are.

tomb ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 03:40 AM:

If those senators keep misbehaving, I'm going to have to tell my mom.

James Veitch ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 03:57 AM:

I was surprised to find out that Judge Roy Moore opposes a federal marriage amendment.
Funny ol' world, isn't it?

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 08:10 AM:

Most of you probably know that I was raised in a pretty whacko-Fundamentalist church. It's not an experience I'd recommend, but it does leave me with personal memories of how it feels to be on the other side of the line. And there is a line, most definitely. Informally, that line is one of the things Fundamentalism is all about.

Fundamentalists...well, let me narrow that. The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and a number of other churches theologically close to them, such as the Orthodox Presbyterian, are passionate about their persecution by the secular world. It's a topic that comes up frequently, in sermons and prayer meetings and in casual conversation. I assume that this is true for most Fundamentalist and Evangelical sects, but I have never interacted with them, so I can't speak to what it's like outside my own tiny corner. Southern Baptists were clearly heretics going to hell, mainstream Presbyterians were betrayers of the faith with lax morals and going to hell, and Catholics all worshipped the saints and the Pope and, as idolators, were going to hell.

The claim that members of the RPCNA are under constant persecution comes as a surprise to most of us who live in the real world. It's easy to dismiss them as loony-tunes, or power-grasping, or playing the propaganda machine. While any individual might be one or the other or all three, the actual institution is not. It is a strongly held belief, and one that informs their actions.

The key, as usual, is definitions. What do they really mean by "persecuted"? I don't see lions, do you? No mass crucifixions, no "heretics" burning at the stake, what coud they possibly mean?

They mean that living in the secular world is a persecution. Every time a co-workeer swears, they are being persecuted by having to listen to such language. Every time the corporate picnic starts without grace being said over the food is a persecution. If the company Christmas party serves alcohol, then they cannot attend, and so are persecuted twice.

Television persecutes them. It's not the watching of it that constitutes the persecution, but the fact that television broadcasts things of which they disapprove. They are persecuted in the schools because there is no prayer and because science is taught while the Bible (their particular interpretation) is not taught. They are constantly oppressed everywhere by our cultural belief that it is possible to be a good person without ascribing to their particular dogma regarding sin and salvation. Comparative religion courses are the devil's own tool.

Asked the right questions, and a member of the RPCNA will tell you that what is necessary is a theocracy. My mother, for instance, will not vote for anyone who is not a Christian as she defines it. Generally, that doesn't include Catholics or Episcopals. In addition to claiming a religion that she likes, the candidate has to have "demonstrated his faith" by going to church and doing other such things. I'm guessing that this is a bit farther out than many of the Fundamentalist sects go, but the RPCNA is a direct intellectual decendant of the Scottish Covenenters, and so it's excesses would tend to be in the political areas -- and papacy, but then, papacy was a political issue back in the 1600s.

Ok, you're probably rolling your eyes and wondering what the hell is going on with these people. I'm like so there with you. But there is one more piece of this that I think strongly affects why their world view is so askew from mine. They will argue (with an absolutely straight faith, and with perfect belief) that the type of persecution that Christians face now is worse than what the early Christians hiding in the catacombs faced, because it is more subtle and more pervasive.

How many here are old enough to remember the television show "The Waltons." For those of you who escaped such a fate, "The Waltons" was a fairly long-running show about a family called, originally enough, "The Waltons." The general idea was, I gather, that they were a good, homey farm family who dealt with troubles and joys by being a good, homey farm family. This was in the same era that tv news was experimenting with putting "good" news on the air, instead of just "bad" news. "The Waltons" was an attempt to put a good, wholesome television show on the air instead of another unwholesome messages.

My parents excercised absolute veto power over our television watching. It Was Decreeed that we were not allowed to watch "The Waltons" because it was tooo subversive. It showed images of people being good, god-fearing, church-going people who didn't believe in Christ's sacrifice, the redemption of sin, and the election of the saints, and the existence of eternal torment. (I don't think they objected to the lack of predestination.) On the other hand, I was given permission to watch "M*A*S*H" because there was no chance that I could mistake those characters as Christians.

It's easy to trash this type of belief system, I do it myself as a hobby. However, I think that is also important to understand it. This is what you're up against. You're not arguing about the same thing they are arguing about. Maybe there is no way to discuss this rationally with a Fundie -- gods know I haven't found one, yet. I've been at it for 23 years, on and off, ever since I left the faith -- rather more dramatically than I intended to -- at the age if 18. This is what you're up against, though. You're simple existence constitutes persecution.

ed ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 10:06 AM:

Thank you for a very informative post. I have a question. How come these folks don't follow their faith in the same way as say the Amish? Do they really want all the benefits of "modernity" and none of the responsiblities?

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 11:11 AM:

"Your simple existence constitutes persecution".

This truth needs to be repeated. Over, and over, and over.

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 11:19 AM:

The Quindlen column James quoted really spoke for me in a lot of ways. I think a lot of the problem comes from the fact that the Christians who aren't like the fundies Lydy's talking about are not comfortable Jesusizing our public lives. I told an acquaintance recently, "We're the quiet, lovey, almost-hippie-Jesus kind of Christians." After a startled pause, she said, "I didn't know there were that kind." It's the quiet part that really does us in. We're stuck either praying on street corners as we're explicitly told not to do and shoving religion in other people's faces (also not encouraged by that Jesus guy), or ceding the label to those who do.

I know of a normal suburban church here in the Midwest with two pastors, one whose son is part of a multi-adult family group and the other whose lesbian daughter used to be her hetero son. Both PKs and their families are loved and welcomed at that church. But part of the reason we're so comfortable there is that the pastors don't do a big dance about how accepting they are. They just give hugs and move on with the singing. I think it would weaken things if they had a whole routine about how accepting they are. I've seen a lot of churches do that with race/ethnicity and scare visitors away. I don't see how it'd work any better with sexuality issues.

Maybe we need bumper stickers analogous to the "I'm pro-life and I vote" ones: "I'm Christian, and I shut my mouth." I'd like to have seen a pastor or two going before that committee to talk about how much they wanted to be able to legally marry the homosexual couples in their congregation who were already married in the eyes of God. But beyond that, I'd much rather see secular justifications for secular policies, from religious and areligious folks alike.

tomb ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 12:10 PM:

"Your simple existence constitutes persecution".

If we who are outside their faith are virtuous, it would remove another argument for their faith. Of course they are going to interpret that as persecution. Their backs are up against the line they have drawn in the sand.

I'd much rather see secular justifications for secular policies, from religious and areligious folks alike.

Amen. If they think they're persecuted in a secular democracy, wait until they get a theocracy, and realize it's not theirs.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 12:38 PM:

Thank you for a very informative post. I have a question. How come these folks don't follow their faith in the same way as say the Amish? Do they really want all the benefits of "modernity" and none of the responsiblities?

Fundamentalism is one part of the picture, but the other is Evangelicalism. (Is that a word?) Evangelical faiths, such as the one I grew up in, believe that it is their duty to bring the gospel to the masses, and to witness to the sinful, and convert the wicked. Withdrawal from the modern world after the fashion of the Amish is very much against their belief. As long as the world is not as they want it to be, it is their sacred duty to fight to change it. Of course, once you and I are converted, we'll understand the wisdom and kindness of their views.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 12:44 PM:

If we who are outside their faith are virtuous, it would remove another argument for their faith. Of course they are going to interpret that as persecution. Their backs are up against the line they have drawn in the sand.

Well, I grew up with Calvinists, so it is by definition impossible to be virtuous without having been redeemed by our Savior. Original sin and all that lot. Images of virtue that do not include sin, damnation, and redemption are especially sinful, since they paper over the evil that is in everyone, leading people away from the faith and allowing them to believe the lie that they can be saved by good works.

By definition, there is no virtue without first that person takes Christ into their life --

And dammit, I've come down with a bad case of the cant. That's the problem with being a PK. I've heard too many sermons, and fall into that style if I'm not careful.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 01:25 PM:

Fundamentalism is one part of the picture, but the other is Evangelicalism. (Is that a word?) Evangelical faiths...believe that it is their duty to bring the gospel to the masses, and to witness to the sinful, and convert the wicked...As long as the world is not as they want it to be, it is their sacred duty to fight to change it. Of course, once you and I are converted, we'll understand the wisdom and kindness of their views.

In other words, resistance is futile, and we will be assimilated. Evangelism is intrinsically intolerant, because trying to convert people (unless they come to you) is an intolerant act, and required by the evangelical worldview.

And the idea that only Christians (with a pretty narrow definition of that term) can be virtuous goes by the name "religious bigotry" in the best circles (yes, word trickled down). It's no better than the idea that only white people have virtue - contained in such phrases as 'white of you' to mean 'you behaved properly'.

So they think Moses, and Elijah, and Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and John the Baptist were entirely without virtue? Oh, never mind...it's too easy to demolish such beliefs with logic or common sense, but it only works if their ears are unstopp'd, and theirs clearly aren't.

Lydia, my sympathies for having grown up among such lunatics. I feel as if they are my perfect enemies, i.e. that they oppose everything I'm in favor of and vice versa. This is probably not actually true (I bet we agree that people shouldn't randomly murder each other, for example), but interesting.

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 02:21 PM:

Jesus was the biggest liberal ever. If He were here today, or should He decide to return, the religious right would be shocked to find themselves aligned with the hypocritical pharisees. I found a great site - liberalslikechrist.org - that debunks the theocon's arguments, and it's very comprehensive. The religious left is quiet by nature, but we really, really need to challenge these people this year. Now. They are perilously close to locking in power and dismantling our country. The right just cherry picks the bible while ignoring the messages of love, tolerance, humility, charity, etc. etc. It's time to throw the book at them, so to speak.

David W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 02:35 PM:

I'm all for the religious left throwing the book at the folks in this story who deserve it:

Doug Grow: 'Saving' the sexually naive - (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

One woman who opposes abortion has "saved" a handful of St. Paul boys and their fathers from participating in a program designed to promote healthy discussion of sexuality.

In fact, the voice of Darla Meyers, an abortion foe from Hudson, Wis., has echoed so loudly that the YMCA of Greater St. Paul and Planned Parenthood of Minnesota/South Dakota have agreed to cancel four similar parent-child events that had been scheduled in future months at the YMCA camp just south of Hudson.

"We have to be concerned with the safety of children at the camp," said Bette Fenton, a spokeswoman for the St. Paul Area YMCA in explaining why the lease to hold the four events at the Y camp was canceled.

She said the YMCA, which takes no position on abortion and has no relationship with Planned Parenthood, was committed to offering its facilities for the Saturday program. But she also said the organization had been receiving e-mails so strident in tone that it was impossible to ignore safety concerns at future events.

Saturday's program was to have been a collaboration of the St. Paul Urban League and Planned Parenthood of Minnesota/South Dakota. Seven fathers and their adolescent sons were to have participated in the program, designed to improve communications between parents and children when the subject is sex.

Efforts to reach Urban League officials to find out why they decided to withdraw from a program they initially helped sponsor were unsuccessful. But apparently those officials were concerned that the fathers and sons would be disturbed by the sight of protesters outside the YMCA camp.

What was there to protest?

Tough question for most of us to answer.

But Meyers doesn't tussle with it.

"Planned Parenthood speaks devil-speak," she said.

And that's why she led a crusade to close Saturday's program. ...

(http://www.startribune.com/stories/465/4645818.html)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 02:35 PM:

Lydia wrote:

"Fundamentalism is one part of the picture, but the other is Evangelicalism. (Is that a word?) Evangelical faiths...believe that it is their duty to bring the gospel to the masses, and to witness to the sinful, and convert the wicked...As long as the world is not as they want it to be, it is their sacred duty to fight to change it. Of course, once you and I are converted, we'll understand the wisdom and kindness of their views."

And Christopher responded:

"In other words, resistance is futile, and we will be assimilated. Evangelism is intrinsically intolerant, because trying to convert people (unless they come to you) is an intolerant act, and required by the evangelical worldview."

Oh, horseshit. Read this guy's weblog and tell me the author is "intrinsically intolerant."

Not all "evangelicals" are fundamentalists, and not all manifestations of the evangelical impulse are intolerant or coercive. Sometimes evangelicism amounts to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, defending the vulnerable, and setting a good example. There's more than one way to bear witness in a sinful world.

Incidentally, Lydy's statement that "as long as the world is not as they want it to be, it is their sacred duty to fight to change it" is a perfectly accurate description of the religious and political views of, for instance, Martin Luther King.

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 02:35 PM:

There isn't anything I'd call persecution of Christians in the modern US, but there is a good bit of teasing. I didn't realize how much it faded into the background until I noticed how hostile a lot of the bumperstickers I sell are.

We're talking about "[Christian fish (no letters)] Remember when this wasn't a warning symbol?" "He's YOUR God. They're YOUR rules. YOU burn in Hell!"

The tone snuck up on me because I get most of my stickers from a supplier.

Since then, I've added some softer stuff like "God is who. Evolution is how."

In any case, I can sympathise with people who don't like getting repeatedly told that their religion is a pain, even if that religion or at least their version of it is problematic or worse for a great many people. Or do the Christians who complain of persecution always talk about the stress of having to live with those who don't agree with them rather than actual teasing?

I can see that it's a problem for the non-noisy sort of Christian to get the word out without being self-contradictory. Would "Non-proselytising
Christian" bumperstickers be over-doing it?

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 03:35 PM:

Maybe we could get the Christians who think they're being persecuted and the atheists who think they're being persecuted to just hang out together and stop annoying the rest of us?

David W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 03:46 PM:

Oh, about that story I noted earlier about the sex-ed camp being shut down? The same exact thing just occured in Waco when the Girl Scout troop there dropped it's involvment with a similar program for mothers and daughters when threatened by a boycott on the sales of GS cookies by local anti-abortion types.

I'd like to see the religious left come to the Girl Scouts' defense here. However, it may be that most of them are afraid to be associated with groups like Planned Parenthood. Oh well.

Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 04:06 PM:

I empathize with Slacktivist's struggle to reclaim "evangelical" as a non-dirty word. I really had no idea there was a distiction between "evangelical" and "fundamentalist"; they were always the same thing in the small town I grew up in, so my instinctive reaction to the word is a case of the wiggins. One more term that's been perverted by its worst examples - kudos to Fred Clark for everything he's doing to publicly clean up evangelicalism's image.

Some off-the-cuff ideas for liberal Christian bumper-sticker phrases:

Jesus Loves All Marriages
Real Christians Support Diversity
Liberal Like Jesus
Christ Is In My Heart, Not My Fundament

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 04:23 PM:

Patrick has it right about Evangelism. I should have made more distinctions. If you combine Evangelism with Fundamentalism, you can get something rather different.

Xopher, you need to check up on the Calvinist view of salvation, it's way more convoluted than that. People born before the death of Christ, most especially Moses and Abraham and that lot, get into heaven under the old rules, the old covenant, it's usually called. After Christ dies, a new covenant is made between god and man, and then you have to play by the new rules. However, that's not good enough. In fact, it doesn't help at all. All men are born damned because of original sin, and none is good enough to get into heaven on their own tick. God decided before the world was made who was going to be let in and who was going to burn forever, and there's absolutely nothing that anyone can do about it, amen. That's called Election.

One of the major disputes between the Catholics and the Protestants in the time of Luther was whether good works could get you into heaven, or if it was faith alone. Calvin does Luther one better, insisting that even faith isn't enough. If you didn't win the celestial lottery, it doesn't matter how well you behave, how hard you pray, or how completely you believe.

Marlena: nobody really knows what Jesus was like. We have books written by people 50 to 80 years after his death, some of them by people who had never met him, for the purposes of advancing a particular cause. They were written in several languages, interpreted, misinterpreted, reinterpreted, and that's the ones we commonly think of as the gospels. There are other documents from the same time period which, for various reasons, are not canonical, which tell slightly different or even wildly variant versions. The argument about what Jesus was really like is no-win argument. There are no solid facts with which to base your claims. Even if both sides agree to stick to the same edition of the four gospels, the number of contradictions and variant readings is demonstrably infinite. Asserting that Jesus was like this or that is pointless. People with faith will insist that you believe the wrong thing, and people who view him as an historical figure will point out that you have no data.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 04:37 PM:

Not all "evangelicals" are fundamentalists, and not all manifestations of the evangelical impulse are intolerant or coercive. Sometimes evangelicism amounts to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, defending the vulnerable, and setting a good example. There's more than one way to bear witness in a sinful world.

Patrick, you didn't read my comment carefully enough. Evangelicism is one thing; evangelism another. Evangelism is the process of trying to get other people to convert. I maintain that this is intolerant, no matter how politely it is done, because it requires the assumption that the evangelist's religion is better than the one held by the prospective convert.

Not all the methods are equally bad, to be sure. But even "leading by example" can be intolerant if it has that assumption at its core. The "resistance is futile" was specifically about Lydia's nutbar early surroundings. I probably should have made that distinction clearer.

And the fact that evangelicals do good things, which I do not deny and never have, does not change the fact that trying to get other people to change their religion is intolerant. Hello, nobody's all good or all bad, and intolerance frequently mixes with benevolent impulses; after all, if they didn't care about other people they wouldn't want to save them from Hell, now would they?

I'm coming from a place of believing that every person has different spiritual needs, and that finding a religion to fill those needs is a decision only the individual can make. Yes, if they walk into a church they're looking for it. But converting someone who's naturally suited for another religion can do that person great spiritual harm. I frequently tell people that I don't think Wicca is for them, and I've sent disaffected Christians back to church...once they admitted that it was their particular church that wasn't working for them, and not Christianity in general.

So don't give me "oh, horseshit" and send me off to look at someone who's a good guy. I'm sure some "Ex-gays" are fine people in everyday life, or even in every way, and it's with the best intentions in the world that they tell me I can stop being homosexual if I want. But they're being intolerant, just as people are when they do evangelism.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 04:43 PM:

[posting from the library in my new city of Portland, Oregon]

"Maybe we need bumper stickers analogous to the 'I'm pro-life and I vote' ones: 'I'm Christian, and I shut my mouth.'

They should say Matthew 6:5 :-)

The problem with Dems rolling over is, I believe, partly attributable to exactly what our radicals say it is: a desire not to offend wealthy campaign contributors.

I hate feeling like a Naderite.

Bark! Bark!

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 05:10 PM:

Xopher's idea that "even 'leading by example' can be intolerant if it has that assumption at its core" is grotesque. (Leaving aside the fact that, Xopher's quotation marks notwithstanding, I never said anything about "leading by example.")

I'm sorry, I've had it up to here with this particular brand of nonsense.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 05:18 PM:

Xopher,

If you'd discovered a particularly good book, or flavor of soda pop, or new way to do pasta, you'd want to share it with your friends, ne? Some of them don't like soda, so you probably wouldn't push the soda on them, but you might not know that one of them was bit by a plate of pasta when they were a child, and attempt to recommend the pasta recipe.

Evangelism is kind of like that. Here you have this beautiful thing that you'd like to share, that you hope that your friends and loved ones will value as much as you do. It doesn't become evil just because it's religion. Did you never stay up until 4:00 in the morning and argue about the meaning of life with friends? What's the difference between that and arguing that polytheism has its merits?

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 05:19 PM:

It's been pointed out to me that some might think I was implying that Slacktivist had something to do with the Ex-Gays. I by no means think so, and apologize to anyone who thought I was saying so. The Ex-Gays were intended as an example of people who are obviously intolerant in one way, but who might be good people in every other.

The point was that the best people do bad things on occasion. I think trying to get people to change their religion is one of those bad things.

I'm prepared to admit that my comment about "leading by example" (or, as Patrick said, "setting a good example" - not the same thing, but this applies to both) might have been over the top. I think my religion is the best one for me, and that people who want me to change my religion are wanting something that will do me harm, pure though their hearts may be of a harmful impulse toward me. A good example is still a good example, though.

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 05:23 PM:

The problem with a bumper sticker reading "Matthew 6:5" is that most people who see it will roll their eyes and see another Christian preaching at them, rather than looking it up and reading it and going, "Oh, they're on my team, in a way!" Christians are pretty bad at bumper stickers. I saw one that said, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven." I know that was meant to combat a sense that Christians were arrogant in their own goodness, and yet the friends I was riding with (an atheist, two agnostics, and a Jew) agreed that it sounded smug to them, as if Christians claimed to be more forgiven than anyone else. I still have a juvenile attachment to, "Jesus Loves You, But the Rest of Us Think You're a Jerk." But that isn't really what we're going for here.

I agree with you, Lydy: we don't know what Jesus was really like in detail, and it's a bad idea to try to claim that we do. There are people who try to live his message (as best they know it) in various political directions, leaving aside those who don't really care how best to lead a life of loving their neighbors. I don't really feel comfortable telling someone that Jesus for-sure said something was or was not the province of Caesar -- if He dodged that particular question so neatly, I probably shouldn't attribute my own views to Him.

Nobody made me the grand arbiter of what is and is not "really" Christian. (Some days I have to repeat this many, many times as I read about various intolerant yahoos. But it's still true then.) If I go around pointing my finger at the "fake" Christians, I'm no better than the ones who think they know God's plan for everybody in intimate detail and are more than willing to share it.

Unfortunately, "We don't really know" is a position that seems to be hard to get across to people as a valid philosophical stance -- it's not a good soundbite. It's very vulnerable to people who claim they do know but who actually are on shaky ground at best. Another case of a virtue being a political weakness. Sigh.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 05:30 PM:

Lydia, I don't see anything wrong with arguing that polytheism has its merits. When I do that, and I have, I'm not trying to get you to become a polytheist, just to help you understand why I'm one. It may seem like a fine distinction to you, but for me it's vital: in my religion, we're forbidden to proselytize. This is in the context of a religion that doesn't believe it has the one, true, and only way, mind you; see my comments (which came up after you posted) about the harm in converting people away from their best-fit religion.

And I know the impulse of which you speak. I've had to reign myself in firmly about the Atkins diet, for example. I do tell people how great I feel, but I keep putting in the words 'for me' and suchlike. "It's working great for me" is one thing; "You should try it" is quite another; "I bet you could do it if you wanted to" is kind of borderline.

By that same token, I've had terrific conversations with people who said lots of "from a Christian perspective," and "we believe," or best yet "I believe that..." I don't feel proselytized or evangelized by those conversations, and I respond in kind.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 06:15 PM:

Many moons ago I was in line for a film, of a Friday night, and, this being a summer blockbuster kind of evening, there were a few fundie-type people trying to save us.

I heard them, was a trifle annoyed by them, mostly because they were being obnoxious in their preaching (that I thought them wrong ran a close second).

After the better part of half-an-hour of this I broke down and pointed out that they might benefit from reading Matt 6:5.

A bit of back and forth, him informing me I needed to read John 3:10, me pointing out I had, and he might benefit from Matt 6:5.

His sidekick went to a streetlamp, and (having a bible ready to hand) read the passage, came back, tugged on the loudmouth's sleeve and took him to the light.

Whereupon I was treated to the sight of a man, flushed with choler, come up to me, in appoplectic rage and declaim, as loudly as he could manage, that, "I'm not a hypocrite, I'm trying to save your God-damned soul."

After which they left.

Terry K

(who happens to find the sentiment in "not perfect, just forgiven" to be arrogant, and perhaps bordering on pride... but as one reared Catholic, I happen to think works and grace are needed, when I ponder redemption. I recall being told I was probably going to hell because I was unwilling to think I was already saved)

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 06:43 PM:

I think "not perfect, just forgiven" depends a lot on context. The problem with bumper stickers is that you can't control the context.

Terry, maybe you should have suggested Matthew 6:6 instead. Matthew 7:1 is also good, and if he complains that you're not getting his point, you can always shrug and say "Matthew 7:6".

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 06:48 PM:

We're all working from the same bible, more or less. In the light of our political challenge and the enormous influence that dominionists have on the bushco strategy for reelection - my point is this: the democratic/liberal/progressive agenda has just as much claim to christian legitimacy as the religious right. In my opinion we have a much stronger claim. If the religious right insists on playing politics on this particular field, we can respond. The values of humility, charity, forgiveness and tolerance belong to liberals. That's what makes us "bleeding hearts" and worthy of scorn to them. Buy these values were taught by Jesus over and over again. We can parse the fine points till next Tuesday, but I'm just saying let's not cede God to the right.

Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 06:56 PM:

Xopher, you and I are just destined to disagree in Patrick's blog as often as we agree in Teresa's. You write:

Evangelism is the process of trying to get other people to convert. I maintain that this is intolerant, no matter how politely it is done, because it requires the assumption that the evangelist's religion is better than the one held by the prospective convert.

Evangelism has nothing to do with trying to get other people to convert. It has to do with educating people about what you believe in. It is true that it's generally done in the hopes that people will convert, or at least reconsider their religious path, but it's not inherently about conversion.

The word you are searching for (and, in fact, use later) is proselytization, a process you and several other people here should be extremely familiar with, in re: another thread.

They are not the same thing.

On top of which, the attitude you describe is not inherently intolerant. If someone truly, deeply believes in their heart that someone who doesn't follow their religion is going to suffer for all eternity -- and most (but not all) evangelist Christians are going to believe this -- then it's not intolerance that gets them wanting people to convert, but love and fear for one's fellow man. Yes, to you, the idea that only one religion can be right may seem repugnant, but some people do truly, deeply believe that Christianity is the only possible path to salvation. It totally bypasses concepts like 'intolerance' and goes straight to the gut.

David W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 07:05 PM:

Patrick, you didn't read my comment carefully enough. Evangelicism is one thing; evangelism another. Evangelism is the process of trying to get other people to convert. I maintain that this is intolerant, no matter how politely it is done, because it requires the assumption that the evangelist's religion is better than the one held by the prospective convert.

That's the perspective of Muslims in Iraq who aren't exactly thrilled with the thought of Christian missionaries evangelizing in their country. That's perfectly understandable, given that everyone knows Islam is the One True Religion.

It's at times like this that I'm glad to be an atheist, because I believe the way to bet is that all accounts of Ghod are a fiction. At least until Ghod comes down and says otherwise.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 07:40 PM:

Tina, what would you say about people who want me to lead a heterosexual life? They could be doing this out of love and/or fear for me, if they think I would be happier, or if they think it's the only way to keep me out of hell.

I think they're intolerant, and I avoid them whenever possible. If they're sincere in their love/fear motivation, this makes it hard to wholeheartedly hate them, but avoiding them is generally sufficient.

It is my contention that ones spiritual modes are as intrinsic as ones orientation, and that such efforts are harmful, futile, and (yes) intolerant. Not to mention rude.

David: That's the perspective of Muslims in Iraq who aren't exactly thrilled with the thought of Christian missionaries evangelizing in their country.

I think they're perfectly right about this, though of course I don't think Islam is the OneTrueOnly any more than Christianity is - or Wicca, for that matter.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 07:53 PM:
Evangelism is the process of trying to get other people to convert. I maintain that this is intolerant, no matter how politely it is done, because it requires the assumption that the evangelist's religion is better than the one held by the prospective convert.

I'm reminded of the guy who a few years ago called me a Fascist for calling some politician a Fascist. Humpty-Dumpty notwithstanding, words do have agreed-upon meanings, and this isn't what "intolerance" means.

intolerance . . . 2. The quality of being intolerant; refusal to allow to others the enjoyment of their opinions, chosen modes of worship, and the like; want of patience and forbearance; illiberality; bigotry; as, intolerance shown toward a religious sect.

Intolerance isn't when you “assume” your belief is better than Belief X. Intolerance isn't even when you tell believers in Belief X how you feel. Intolerance is when you don't let believers in Belief X tell their side of the story. Intolerance is when you noisily protest Belief X's services. Intolerance is when you vandalize Belief X's places of worship and run believers in Belief X out of town on a rail.

It's a useful word; don't weaken it.

Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 08:01 PM:

Xopher, I could argue that you are being intolerant, because you're as much saying their religion is wrong as you claim they are saying yours is. (I don't think that's exactly what they're saying, either, but it's a fine line, so I'll leave it alone.)

But to answer your specific question: I have no problem with people who have a genuine belief homosexuality is wrong and want to explain that to people. Where the line is crossed for me is between expressing an opinion and hoping that someone might come to agree, vs. trying to force someone to agree. Someone who says, "I believe x and I want everyone to know that I believe it and why" is not really doing any harm. It's not until they get to "And I want them all to believe it and if they don't I want to try to make it so they have no choice but to believe it or at least pretend they do" that we have problems.

On the other hand, certainly, you're free to decide to avoid evangelists. Where I stepped in is where I disagreed with the way you characterized them, that's all.

Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 08:55 PM:

I think a good rule of thumb is if the evangelizer in question turns to the rule of law rather than persuasion and genteel conversion. --I don't mind someone trying to hand me a Jack Chick comic on the street corner; I can always say "No thank you." I do mind people who want to write their favorite scripture into civil code. It's foolish; it's not playing the game according to Hoyle, darn it--bringing truncheons to a debate society; and it bespeaks a certain sneaking lack of faith--not only in their own social skills and rhetoric, but in the very Good News we're all supposed to be bettered by.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 09:13 PM:

Xopher said: By that same token, I've had terrific conversations with people who said lots of "from a Christian perspective," and "we believe," or best yet "I believe that..." I don't feel proselytized or evangelized by those conversations, and I respond in kind.

But Xopher, you were being witnessed to. That was evangelism. Chapter and verse. You may not feel as if you were being proselytized, whatever that means, but you were most certainly experiencing the receiving end of evangelism. If it was a natural, normal, and healthy expression of someone's life experience, well, that's really what it's supposed to be. The Bible (as people have been pointing out) specifically enjoin Christians from praying on street corners and other forms of public religious show.

You don't like the pushy bastards that are sure they know what's good for you better than you do, yourself. I'm there, brother. However, Xianity is awfully broad and deep, and there is almost no piece of it that is entirely meritless, just as there is no piece of it that is utterly uncorrupted. It is, after all, built by people.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 11:00 PM:

Marlena: We're all working from the same bible, more or less.

Well, no, you're not. Even the ones all working from the KJV aren't really working from the same bible, when you get right down to it. Never mind the Living Word, the RSV, the NIV, the Jerusalem Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the endless other translations. _Each_ of them with critical details different from each other. You are making a completely damning assumption. For entirely too many people, religion isn't an approximation, is not a "more or less." It is a precise, defined thing with clear limits and borders. Your attempt to find common ground with people who think like that actually gives you less common ground, not more.

my point is this: the democratic/liberal/progressive agenda has just as much claim to christian legitimacy as the religious right.

Yes, and? Who defines legitimacy? This is roughly the same question as, "Who defines Jesus?" There isn't a satisfactory answer. There are only factional answers and faith. Why should you get to choose your view of Christ over Mel Gibson's or Pat Robertson's, or my mother's? What is it about your view that makes it more right? What standard can you use that would convince my mother, the most reasonable of the lot listed?

If the religious right insists on playing politics on this particular field, we can respond. The values of humility, charity, forgiveness and tolerance belong to liberals. That's what makes us "bleeding hearts" and worthy of scorn to them. Buy these values were taught by Jesus over and over again. We can parse the fine points till next Tuesday, but I'm just saying let's not cede God to the right.

Marlena, I'm sorry, but you don't understand the game. This is not a fight about who is and isn't compassionate, charitable, tolerant, and humble. It's an argument about black and white vs. color; right and wrong vs. situational ethics; monocultural vs. multicultural. Was Jesus a multiculturallist? One could argue yes, based on, for instance, the story of the Good Samaritan. One could also argue no, based on, for instance, the statement "No man comes to the Father but through me."

Absolutes vs. relatives. The absolutes almost always win, and one of the reasons is that the people who believe in relativity are embarrassed by it. They are trying to play on the absolutist's chess board, but the game they're playing is in 3D. Multi-culturalism doesn't offer simple answers, and situational ethics means constantly tailoring the answers to what's actually happening, rather than trying to force everything to fit into your world view. Relativism is the world outside of the soundbite, which is why you see the absolutists in the news so much more often.

Religion is experiential, not objective. It is not transitive. What you experienced is as real as what my mother experiences. The fact that you both call it God is hardly anybody's fault, but it is useful to remember that you are probably talking about two entirely different things.

The only reason to try to agree on a definition of Jesus is to build common ground. Arguing about who's right will not do that, it will create a greater good. As a friend of mine once told me, "It is hard to know the mind of God, but it is easy to know his work." Find the people you already have a common cause with.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 12:48 AM:

Marlena,

Um, somebody pointed out to me that I'm being a shit. I'm sorry. Too many years of arguing with my relatives has left me arguing with them, instead of actually listening.

You're right. The left shouldn't let the right claim Christ's mantle. It's a sham and a shame of the worst sort. You certainly have absolutely as good a claim as the assholes on the right. On top of that, you aren't trying to argue with my mother, or Oral Roberts. You're trying to put a little spine into the moderate Christians who've been intimidated and brow-beaten by the ever-certain right into believing that there is only one, narrow, and cruel interpretation of the story of Christ on earth. I'm not your target audience.

I do think it helps if you know that you can't actually win the argument with the ones sufficiently off the map that they can't see the Christian values encapsulated in compassion and tolerance. What I forget is that they are aren't actually anything like a majority. They're my experience, but thank all the gods, my experience isn't anything like common.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 03:06 AM:

Well, to be completely accurate, I told them they ought to read Matt 6:5-7.

We didn't even get to things like Peter's vision on the rooftops vs. Jesus saying the law shan't pass, not one jot, nor tittle.

Not that I was all that surprised.

Terry

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 04:12 AM:

There's a difference between active and aggressive evangelism.

In my experience, the Jehovah's Witnesses are on the boundary. The do the door-to-door stuff, they are pushing their version of faith, they can start to seem intrusive, but you say no, and they go away. You can communicate with them.

The problems are the drill-sergeants of evangelism, screaming in your face at the slightest mistake they perceive on your part.

Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 05:24 AM:

Dave Bell: Regarding the door-to-door religion salesmen, we have a printed sign on our front
door that clearly and politely states they should not bother us because we are not interested. This hasn't stopped the occasional such person ringing our bell. My first response is always: "Can't you read?". They inevitably seem affronted that the sign could possibly apply to them. It's a matter of deep comfort and pride to me that I live in a country which, despite having a state religion, is one of the most secular on the planet, with one of the world's lowest levels of religious observance, but I suppose one inevitable consequence of this is going to be an increase of 'missionaries' trying to convert us. Now, if only they'd learn to read.

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 10:29 AM:

Lydia,
I don't think you're being a shit. You're right that the right wing is certain, certain I tell you, that they are correct. How many of them do we have in this country, 35 million? Something like that? Out of what, 245 million people? There are other viewpoints to consider. Check out liberalslikechrist.org. Ray Dubuque lays out a comprehensive argument.

I am completely sick and tired of self righteous right wingers. I don't require or want their approval. I think they are wrong about everything. I want to hear people challenge their views and push back on them in the public discourse. Let them be on the defensive for a change. Let them reconcile their exclusive view to Christ's teachings. They've been framing Jesus Christ for a long time now in this country, and I think there are many, many people of good will in the USA who would be thrilled to see people take them on in an effective way. AARGH, they are maddening people.

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 11:19 AM:

Lydia,
One other thing before I go for the day...
I think most people who are christians (any variety) understand that the Lord's main message was uncomplicated - love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. It's not always easy to do, especially that neighbor part. That's the rub. But in any case the main message is still very, very simple and clear. And I believe that's the way He intended it, so that ANYONE could understand it.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 05:38 PM:

David Moles: Intolerance isn't when you “assume” your belief is better than Belief X. Intolerance isn't even when you tell believers in Belief X how you feel. Intolerance is when you don't let believers in Belief X tell their side of the story. Intolerance is when you noisily protest Belief X's services. Intolerance is when you vandalize Belief X's places of worship and run believers in Belief X out of town on a rail.

It's a useful word; don't weaken it.

Lydia: But Xopher, you were being witnessed to. That was evangelism. Chapter and verse. You may not feel as if you were being proselytized, whatever that means, but you were most certainly experiencing the receiving end of evangelism. If it was a natural, normal, and healthy expression of someone's life experience, well, that's really what it's supposed to be. The Bible (as people have been pointing out) specifically enjoin Christians from praying on street corners and other forms of public religious show.

All right. I give. I was wrong to use the word 'intolerant', and wrong to use the word 'evangelism' as I did. (I'm not going to say that I'm sorry, because it provoked some interesting discussion that I learned from, as witness this paragraph; but I do apologize to anyone I offended.)

One thing, Lydia: There are the people who are just discussing, and they listen to what I have to say too; then there are others who tell me what they believe, then cut me off when I start to tell them what I believe. The first of these is fine (in fact enjoyable) the second is deeply offensive (as it always is when people act as if your opinion doesn't matter).

Lydia again: You don't like the pushy bastards that are sure they know what's good for you better than you do, yourself. I'm there, brother. However, Xianity is awfully broad and deep, and there is almost no piece of it that is entirely meritless, just as there is no piece of it that is utterly uncorrupted. It is, after all, built by people.

I know this, though I've met Christians who would deny your final sentence there. I don't think I've said at any point that any part of Christianity is without merit. Even if people are being intolerant, by a better definition than I was using before, that doesn't mean their religion is without merit. That doesn't even mean they are without merit.

The worst people (and the Christian Right aren't the worst people, not by a long shot) have virtues. And the best people have flaws. One of mine is saying intemperate things and having to retract and/or apologize. <sigh>

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 08:44 PM:

This is one of the vilest lies that the cynical right wing has promulgated.

Actually, I recently came across an even viler (and weirder) one: Orson Scott Card claiming that no one who's for same-sex marriage will want to defend their country. (You need to scroll down about halfway: it's the section that begins "It is the most morally conservative portion of society that is most successful in raising children who believe in loyalty and oath-keeping and self-control and self-sacrifice.")

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 08:59 PM:

Well, there goes any chance of my attending Boskone next year. Not when it has a bigot as GoH.

Sigh.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 10:05 PM:

The motif of certainty sounding above resonated with a couple of memories. Here are two related treatments of it, edited from old posts.
Sorry for the length, but I'm hoping to have this extract of Bronowski in so many places around the net that many people may see it, and some think about it.

The Sydney Morning Herald runs some opinion columns by columnists that deliberately set out to bait their mostly "liberal" readership. One of them is called Miranda Devine (great name, like Athena Starwoman, Slim Pickens, Rip Torn &c.). In a recent column ( War-wary will not weary them, SMH 2/12/2003) she praised statesmen of great "moral purity". The type that really frighten me. Here is one strong and clear explanation of some reasons I feel that way:

Extract of "Knowledge or Certainty", episode 11 from the 1973 BBC series "The Ascent of Man" by Jacob Bronowski (shown on PBS in the USA), as transcribed by Evan Hunt:

www.ronrecord.com/Quotes/bronowski.html

"The Principle of Uncertainty is a bad name. In science -- or outside of it -- we are not uncertain; our knowledge is merely confined, within a certain tolerance. We should call it the Principle of Tolerance. And I propose that name in two senses: First, in the engineering sense -- science has progressed, step by step, the most successful enterprise in the ascent of man, because it has understood that the exchange of information between man and nature, and man and man, can only take place with a certain tolerance.

But second, I also use the word, passionately, about the real world. All knowledge -- all information between human beings -- can only be exchanged within a play of tolerance. And that is true whether the exchange is in science, or in literature, or in religion, or in politics, or in any form of thought that aspires to dogma. It's a major tragedy of my lifetime and yours that scientists were refining, to the most exquisite precision, the Principle of Tolerance -- and turning their backs on the fact that all around them, tolerance was crashing to the ground beyond repair.

The Principle of Uncertainty or, in my phrase, the Principle of Tolerance, fixed once for all the realization that all knowledge is limited. It is an irony of history that at the very time when this was being worked out there should rise, under Hitler in Germany and other tyrants elsewhere, a counter-conception: a principle of monstrous certainty. When the future looks back on the 1930s it will think of them as a crucial confrontation of culture as I have been expounding it, the ascent of man, against the throwback to the despots' belief that they have absolute certainty.

It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That is false: tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality -- this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge or error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken."

Other sites with parts of this extract: skepdic.com/science.html; www.eighty.btinternet.co.uk/page30.htm; www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/bronowski.html
The BBC will only sell the series in the UK to educational bodies, but it can be bought on VHS or DVD in the USA. The book is also available second-hand.

The Danger of Knowing for Sure
www.ratbags.com/skepticism">
A special joint edition of The Millenium Project and Quintessence of the Loon
September 12, 2001 by Peter Bowditch

... Bronowski was making a distinction between science and non-science - between knowing something with confidence and knowing something with certainty. The Nazis knew with certainty that they were right. Science, and its handmaiden skepticism, is based on the principle that knowledge is testable and that ideas and beliefs can be rejected and replaced if they can be demonstrated to be wrong or outdated. It is a process of continuous learning. Yes, science can have bad outcomes, but those bad things can be challenged and changed if necessary. When ideas cannot be challenged then learning, improvement and the correction of mistakes are impossible. There is no way back ...

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Another aspect of the 'Knowlege & Certainty' point. In late January 2003, a piece by billionaire financier George Soros, was published, first in the New Statesman. [You may be able to find other sources.] He wrote that the Nazis and Russian communists had one thing in common: "a belief that they were in the possession of the ultimate truth" - and that America too now shared this fatal flaw.

But of course this is also true of the Taliban, the Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis and its other incarnations, as well as current fundamentalist Christian groups, other fundamentalist religious groups (e.g. Hindus and Sikhs as well as Muslims have been massacring each other in the Indian subcontinent for some decades, with politicians whipping up religious groups as cynically for their own benefit as in any 'christian' society), the aforementioned political movements, and even the economic hardliners who are willing to "break a few eggs to make an omelette".

To me probably the most important religious principle - of which 'love thy neighbour as thyself' is a version - is "Do as you would be done by". This has to apply to the non-human world as well.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 10:11 PM:

Theres' a quote something like "We are both atheists about most of humanity's gods. I am just atheist about one more god than you." But more elegant :)

As a fairly openminded person who was taught by fairly "liberal" Christians, I hover in agnosticism, remembering many good aspects of it in history, unlike friends brought up in a "strong" faith, who have violently rejected either that faith, or all religion, or all faiths.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 01:36 AM:

[I'm fairly sick, so this may come out jumbled. Oh, well.]

Terry, regarding the cranky fundie, oh dear.

Generally, a Matthew 6:5 bumper sticker would be aimed at the fundies. As such, it is likely to offend. Perhaps it would open a few minds--provided one does not get one's windows smashed.

"Who defines legitimacy?"

The Church, of course. The Church says what is true, and truth is what the Church says, and death to the unbeliever--the word "heretic" means "one who chooses." So it has been since Constantine. A fine closed loop of logic with no beginning and no end, and therefore no truth in it--an ideal tool of power.

One has to remember that the groups we can hope to persuade though rational argument are the decent people who are uncertain; people for whom fundamentalist christianity is a matter of deep conviction will only be swayed by much more powerful things: unexpected intimacy which conflicts with their convictions, "religious experience", and so on. So what Marlena says is reasonable, and will persuade some, but will not reach the deeply convinced.

It is scared people who grasp for simple moral absolutes; sets of rules like those of the Old Testament and Paul, rather than precepts like those of Jesus. Hence outbursts of religiousity in times of great travail like ours.

"The absolutes almost always win, and one of the reasons is that the people who believe in relativity are embarrassed by it."

"The best lack all conviction/While the worst are full of passionate intensity."

"Jesus was the biggest liberal ever."

Ah, but the character of Jesus, and--literally--the nature of his body is more important in fundamentalist teaching than what Jesus actually said. And there lies the problem that Lydia points out: if one focuses on the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which contain the canonical teachings of Jesus, one gets one religion; if one focuses on John and Paul's letters, which are about Jesus and practice, one gets another. This tension is ancient and not to be easily resolved.

Meantime, returning to the political issues at hand, I myself do not understand why moderate and leftist christians are not more politically prominent; bringing them to the fore would be an enormous boost to the Democrats.

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 02:32 AM:

The BBC will only sell the series in the UK to educational bodies, but it can be bought on VHS or DVD in the USA.

Ummmm... where? I've been looking for The Ascent of Man to be released on DVD for as long as there have been DVDs, and have yet to run across any evidence that it exists.


....Aha! My search-fu is unstoppable! Ambrose Video has it for only $395, and Documentary Video has it for $150. Ooooh, and they also have Connections! Same price.

I have this sinking suspicion, however, that these are straight transcodings from master tapes, with low quality mastering. They're certainly not being marketed for the home market, like Cosmos was.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 02:56 AM:

BTW: The eagle-eyed emerging editorial types amongst you may query the spelling of "The Millenium Project" in the post above. Part of the explanation from the site (go thou & check the rest):

"We all know that 'millennium' comes from the Latin words 'mille' and 'annus' and means a thousand years. The word 'millenium' ... means something else."

... speaking of which, I must find some links which tell the story of how (quite publicly) a short few years back the Catholic church & high levels of Islam got together at a major conference on women's health to scupper plans for more international projects promoting women's health because they might just possibly mention contraception and abortion.

Ray: Yes. They are high-priced (~$US80 per DVD*) and pretty low quality - it looks like direct video transfer from old masters, distressingly without subtitles (many BBC DVDs are quite sloppy). But like you, I've been searching for a tape or DVD literally for years.
Despite being in very parlous financial straits at the time (better now) when they were on sale for $US149 last year I organized many odd things to acquire them. The internet has been good for us out here under "the tyranny of distance", eg Lessons of Darkness, Carlos Saura's films, other material for friends.
(*For Oz, that's not an overly high price for a special disc. Small market, far away.)

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 07:22 AM:

Well, there goes any chance of my attending Boskone next year. Not when it has a bigot as GoH.

Jon, for heaven's sake! Go, go, and tell OSC to his face that he's a bigot! Get Boskone to organise a panel on same-sex marriage with people who can quote OSC's earlier writings back to him verbatim! Get Boskone to organise a debate between OSC defending and some articulate person attacking his thesis on same-sex marriage and society!

It's what I'd do, at least, if I could afford to go to a con which OSC was attending.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 08:35 AM:

Randolph Fritz: ; people for whom fundamentalist christianity is a matter of deep conviction will only be swayed by much more powerful things: unexpected intimacy which conflicts with their convictions, "religious experience", and so on.

The core argument of Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country is that there are people who can think rationally when confronted with symbols (in this case, martial display) and those who can't, and that the former can be bred for.

I don' think this is an absolute; other threads in these two blogs have discussed the need for ]awe[ in every life. I'm an agnostic -- a militant agnostic when I'm grumpy -- who still gets shivers-up-and-down-my-spine from singing Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony. (Other Bostonians on this list may have heard the latest performance, on WGBH last Sunday.) I can rationalize it as a message of hope, ignoring the words that say explicitly "not in \this/ life", but that's cheating; the music itself (and my involvement in it as music) is what gets to me.
But I like to \think/ I don't let symbols rule my life, or even my approach to other people. (A good thing, too -- my wife isn't nearly as fond of later classical music as I am....)

It would be nice to think there's a way to teach people to attach sensawonda to something that doesn't require them to block out other viewpoints. Perhaps it would require first teaching them to cope with the fact that life is uncertain and that's OK. (And how do you get them to hold still for such teaching, when one of the teachings of certainty is that you mustn't listen to anyone who doesn't share your certainty?)

This may be particularly difficult now. The nearest thrill rides are two hours away; if I want to really scare myself I think about the current economic uncertainty (jobless recovery my ass -- it isn't a recovery if money is going up but jobs aren't) and the analysis that says that tyrants have risen \because/ of the desperation of people looking for a firm answer.

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 08:48 AM:

Randolph: Generally, a Matthew 6:5 bumper sticker would be aimed at the fundies.

But this is part of the problem: with something like a bumper sticker, you can't have it say, "Matthew 6:5 but never mind if you're not a Christian because I'm really not trying to convert you." Public discourse (inasmuch as a bumper sticker can be discourse) is public. If you tell a thumper personally to go read Matt6, that's a different matter than putting the suggestion on your house or car.

Near us there is a house whose owner puts up huge signs reading, "U can't B both Christian and pro-choice" and similar things. (Apparently he will steal your letters if you try it.) It's one of the very few signs I've seen that successfully made it clear who its audience was, because if you're not claiming to be Christian in the first place, it's totally irrelevant. It's also pretty offensive to me, because it crosses over from, "I believe" to "you must believe" pretty firmly.

I almost have an easier time talking religion with a non-Christian or even a Baptist or a Catholic than I do with other Haugeans like myself. It's much easier to click the mental switch over to, "he/she is describing his beliefs and possibly why he holds them" instead of "he/she is telling me what I should believe."

Randolph again: I myself do not understand why moderate and leftist christians are not more politically prominent; bringing them to the fore would be an enormous boost to the Democrats.

How much more politically prominent do we get than Jimmy Carter, for heaven's sake? How many people have managed to miss the title "Reverend" in front of Al Sharpton's and Jesse Jackson's names? I think the problem is not that we don't have prominent moderate/leftist Christians, but that 1) they don't always represent the whole spectrum of moderate/leftist Christian beliefs (as pertains to gay marriage, for example) and 2) they don't rant as much about Jesus per unit political rant as right-wingers do. Also sometimes 3) they aren't taken seriously. For as much good as former-Pres. Carter does, I think he's classified as kind of a nice old guy rather than a major social-political force in most people's minds. Unjustly, I think.

When we keep saying things like "we need more prominent Christian moderate/leftists," we encourage politicians to continue to run as Christians even if they're not particularly committed to it personally. I think that's bad. Lieberman was the only prominent Democratic presidential candidate who did not state for the record that he was a Christian. Everybody else was already claiming it. They already do that song and dance. I don't see what we'd gain from more of it.

Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 12:07 PM:

Randolph Fritz: It is scared people who grasp for simple moral absolutes; sets of rules like those of the Old Testament and Paul, rather than precepts like those of Jesus.

Hey, Randolph?

Fuck you.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 01:18 PM:

Mris quotes Randolph Fritz:

"I myself do not understand why moderate and leftist christians are not more politically prominent; bringing them to the fore would be an enormous boost to the Democrats."

and answers:

"How much more politically prominent do we get than Jimmy Carter, for heaven's sake?"

Or, as I remarked earlier, Martin Luther King.

Indeed, large parts of this discussion seem to me to be taking place in an alternate world in which all liberals, progressives, lefty radicals and reformers are irreligious secularists. What color is the sky on that planet, I wonder.

In a different post, Alter Reiss also quotes Randolph:

"It is scared people who grasp for simple moral absolutes; sets of rules like those of the Old Testament and Paul, rather than precepts like those of Jesus."

and responds:

"Hey, Randolph?

"Fuck you."

I'd say Randolph had that coming, all things considered.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 01:33 PM:

I'm not going to disemvowel it. Also, I'm sorry, Randolph, but the teachings of Jesus are not more complex than those of Saint Paul or the Old Testament. In fact, they're simpler. What's difficult is assimilating and acting on them.

tomb ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 01:58 PM:

I am inclined to give Randolph a break. "Do as we tell you" is simpler than "do what is right," even if the list of rules is long. I don't agree with him that fear is the only reason for seeking moral absolutes, but the question is still there: Why do people keep trying to impose their false righteousness upon us?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 02:14 PM:

You're missing the point, which is that the habit of characterizing the religion of the Old Testament as Randolph did is a large piece of the edifice which is antisemitism.

Yes, rabbinical Judaism, with its millions of words of complex and nuanced commentary over often minute moral issues, is just a bunch of "scared people" who are "grasping for simple moral absolutes."

I don't think Randolph meant it that way, but in a world in which Mel Gibson is being lionized for promulgating this and other vicious notions about what Jews think and do, I don't remotely blame Alter for running out of patience.

tomb ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 04:58 PM:

Okay, point taken. It is wrong to lump Paul in with the Old Testament. I also agree that we need to be extra careful to avoid association with things like Gibson's Passion, which I consider to be vile imperialist Roman propaganda. Lionized. Yeah, right. And I've already said I don't think people seek absolutism only because they are scared. I am beginning to see that there isn't a simple answer to the question of why so many people want simple answers.

I can understand how Alter could feel frustrated with Randolph, but it doesn't make me feel okay about how he expressed it. In my birth clan, bad language, along with stone throwing and general monkey behavior, is reserved only for chasing off marauding bears. I would hope that Alter will provide us with something more enlightening.

To go back to the original question, it's obvious that the American right's use of religion is wrong and misrepresents the spirit of Christianity. But what is that spirit? I tend to go along with my mom, who turned me on to John Dominic Crossan, but I can hardly expect everyone to agree that Crossan's historical Jesus is the true faith, nor should it be necessary. So what is the minimum that we must agree on if we are to effectively counter the right's power grab? How can we represent that?

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 05:32 PM:

So what is the minimum that we must agree on if we are to effectively counter the right's power grab? How can we represent that?

Do we need to agree? I don't like Christianity, much. I was bit by a bible when small. It took me many years to learn to be tolerant, and more years after that to be friendly on the topic. I don't agree that Christ was like anything. From my perspective, he's an image that is invested with the worshippers' beliefs. But I'm happy to make common cause with the liberal Christian organizations that fight for equal rights, who preach love and tolerance, who comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted. The fact that they are doing it because of their faith and I am doing it because of my lack of faith doesn't strike me as any sort of barrier.

A friend once said a very wise thing to me. He said, "It is not easy to know the mind of God, but it is not difficult to know the works of God."

It's unlikely that I will ever become religious, again, but it's also unlikely that I'm suddenly going to decide that because I am a militant agnostic that I think it's ok for the poor to go hungry, or the powerful to oppress the weak. Mostly, church groups don't mind if I fight that fight, even if i do fail to lower my head and close my eyes during prayer, and mostly I don't mind if they want to stop and pray before meals. After all, we're the ones on the side of tolerance and multiculturalism, aren't we?

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 05:44 PM:

Ok. Let's be practical. We know most americans believe in God. We're not trying to change the minds or religions of anyone, because we'd like this country to be big enough for all of us. People of faith can obviously disagree about the meaning of scripture. To me, the most important thing to keep in mind is that no one knows the mind of God. What we have here in this country is a profound lack of humility. For anyone to think that he or she really knows God's mind or plan is pure hubris.

So we're back to scripture, where we obviously disagree. I think one thing we can do on the left is expose the true beliefs of the right. For example, many people just do not realize that the religious right thinks that everyone who does not subscribe to their belief system will be damned to hell. And they want to institute a theocracy in this country. So really, as a catholic I find this insulting. Why should I vote for someone who thinks I'm going to burn in hell no matter what I do just because I'm catholic? What - just pay my taxes, die and go to hell? Ok then, I'm glad I know my place.

The real problem is this: the religious right is perilously close to cramming it's agenda down the throat of every person in this country, and yet they have not been honest about their agenda. Most people don't know one tenth of what the religious right really believes. Most americans just think it's harmless and doesn't affect them. Not true at all. Everyone assumes america will always provide basic protections like the separation of church and state. Guess again. We're about 8 months away from a theocracy. These people have been working toward this for decades, and it's all on the line this year. If they win, they take over.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 05:44 PM:

Mris,

On the topic of bumperstickers, I've been surprised at the range of possible interpretations for "Jesus is my co-pilot." I mean, that one seems utterly straight-forward and not even particularly annoying. But non-Christians of my acquaintance have found various offensive messages therein, including the assumption that Christ is a coercive force requiring the person to surrrender their free will. *shrug* People get very weird about bumperized religion.

The bumper sticker about "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven," definitely reeks to me with implied brimstone. It makes sense that a Christian would find great comfort in it. After all, forgiveness is the way you make peace with yourself and your shortcomings -- which we all have. That comfort isn't available, for me. I have to find a different way to move forward from day to day, with my mistakes dogging me and the bad things I've done still reverberating in the air. In the end, we all find a way to go forward, because time won't stand still. Forgiveness is one way, but not the only way, for a good person to continue to be less than perfect in a less than perfect world.

Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 06:13 PM:

Okay, some expansion of my post above:

What Randolph said:

It is scared people who grasp for simple moral absolutes; sets of rules like those of the Old Testament and Paul, rather than precepts like those of Jesus. Hence outbursts of religiousity in times of great travail like ours.

"The absolutes almost always win, and one of the reasons is that the people who believe in relativity are embarrassed by it."

"The best lack all conviction/While the worst are full of passionate intensity."

What I read:

Par 1:
People who look to the Old Testament are morally inferior to those who look to the precepts of Jesus -- they are scared, rather than thoughtful, in the pursuit of their faith. (Of course, those who look to Paul rather than Jesus are similiarly inferior, but that's something for someone else to argue, if there's someone irritated by that). Teaching such as the precepts of Jesus are more nuanced and complex than those similar to the lists of rules the Old Testament provides.

Par 2.
Those who 'grasp for simple moral absolutes', again, those who turn to the Old Testament or similar texts, are likely to win, because absolute arguments present more strongly than relative arguments.

Par 3.
The good people are uncertain, while the bad people are certain.


It's quite difficult, in the context in which it has been quoted, not to see that last bit, the quote from "The Second Coming", as meaning "Jews and Pauline Christians are bad and likely to triumph, while true Christians are good, but lacking in conviction."

In truth, though, it probably wasn't meant exactly in that manner. It was probably more along the lines of "I dislike some religious Christian, but like other ones. Perhaps I can come up with a unifying theory to explain my likes and dislikes."

And yet, I cannot read the first paragraph I quoted without it saying that people who turn to the rules of the Old Testament are acting on baser motives than those who turn to the teachings of Jesus. And I cannot read the quotes that follow as meaning anything other than those who turn to the Old Testament's certainties are wrong, and bad people, but certain, as opposed to those who follow the precepts of Jesus, who are right, and good people, but uncertain.

Make no mistake about it -- while Orthodox Judaism has a certain amount of theological discussion, the primary focus of the religion is halacha -- that is, the law, those lists of "thou shalts," and "thou shalt nots", both biblical and rabbinic. There is a vast rabbinic literature devoted to defining the exact boundries of the shalts and shalt nots. If there is one religion that can be described as grasping sets of rules like those in the Old Testament, it's Orthodox Judaism.

And what Randolph is saying is that while there may be some Christians -- those who turn to the Old Testament, or to the teachings of Paul -- who are as bad as the Orthodox Jews, there are no Orthodox Jews who are as good as those who turn to the teachings of Christ.

I'm pretty sure Randolph didn't mean to talk about Jews at all, but I cannot see how what he said doesn't mean that about Jews.

And, yeah, that made me turn to bad language. Or, to be more accurate, it made me turn to coarse language. I'd prefer to call speech good or ill depending on its content, rather than by the presence or absence of swear-words.

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 08:06 PM:

One possible interpretation for Jesus is my co-pilot is you're hogging the left hand seat (unless it's a helicopter) - of course in the book it was a single seater so perhaps the flight engineer was dancing on the head of a pin.

I take it then some argue no universalist is a member of the religious right? given that many people just do not realize that the religious right thinks that everyone who does not subscribe to their belief system will be damned to hell Some interesting alliances out there and odd behavior among groups that tend to universalism but otherwise disagree with some common/popular positions on these pages.

Indeed it is not at all clear to me that being public members of the Democratic Party at the national level imposes any obligation of party discipline and party line positioning on this particular issue - if it does I'd like the list of who's left after reading out the ideologically impure. Then again I personally consider all the above named to be flat intellectually dishonest in their positions on other issues so....... (maybe there's something in Silverlock about drinking of the Potomac?)

Josh ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 01:20 AM:

Patrick said, quoting Mris:
"How much more politically prominent do we get than Jimmy Carter, for heaven's sake?"

Who left office over 20 years ago.

Or, as I remarked earlier, Martin Luther King.

Who was murdered before I was born.

You wanna know why people today don't think of liberals as religious? That's why. The examples you come up with don't mean much in an emotional, I-saw-that-person kind of a way to anyone younger than the Baby Boomers. Martin Luther King was a great man, but he's not directly relevant to a current conception of non-conservatives in the way that, say, Bill Clinton or Al Gore or John Kerry is.

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 01:40 AM:

Ah, politically prominent is perhaps reserved for politicians?

Hence William Sloan Coffin has long passed from the scene, remembered only in Doonesberry? Folks who merely write and demonstrate and witness aren't prominent but must like Jesse Jackson make the front page of the National Inquirer?

Who can forget Mrs. Al Gore and her drive for decency? Perhaps in the modern manner the politicians are making religion the realm of the wives and children? But Kerry marches in the St. Patrick's Day Parade and follows his Church's teaching on marriage by going for an annulment himself - shouldn't that count?

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 08:01 AM:

The examples you come up with don't mean much in an emotional, I-saw-that-person kind of a way to anyone younger than the Baby Boomers.

That's funny, Josh, because I'm 25, and they mean a heck of a lot to me. And do you really think it's mostly our age group that's determining how the parties are seen? I really, really doubt it.

The fact remains that it's the Democrats, not the Republicans, who have had ordained ministers running in primaries for most of my life -- Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are people one sees. If you're counting Carter's political career as the time he was in elected office and no more, you're ignoring many of the man's biggest achievements for peace and social justice. And the media isn't; Carter isn't invisible these days. Nor has he suddenly become apolitical. Campus Republicans at one of our local colleges were still urging people to protest against Nobel Peace Prize winners appearing, and part of their protest asked people to "kick Jimmy Carter in the teeth." That's younger folks than me, and Carter is still a symbol of liberalism for them.

This isn't about Boomers resting on their laurels.

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 09:29 AM:

Katherine Yurica (yuricareport.com) wrote an extensive article, The Despoiling of America, in which she details the plans of the religious right. By the religious right I'm referring to Pat Robertson, GW Bush, Tom DeLay, Antonin Scalia and other leaders in the republican party. Their real agenda is under the radar because it's abhorrent to most people and they know it. The neocons have been partially exposed with the failure in Iraq, but the theocons are still playing their cards rather carefully.

Just to give one example - they think medicare and medicaid are immoral because it's theft. Wealth is a sign of God's favor, and poverty is a sign of His disfavor. If you're poor, suck it up and go get charity from your family. It's not the government's problem to take care of poor people.

I would suggest that, while people may agree that these programs need changes from time to time, most americans like having a social safety net.

I don't think we on the left have to agree on much, actually. It's more a matter of shining a bright light on what another four years of bush really means. These people have twisted christianity into something else entirely. They are not concerned about lying because, to them, the ends justify the means. Therefore, they consider themselves free from the moral standards imposed on others.

Anyone who isn't already a member of this exclusive club has common cause against them. It doesn't matter if you're atheist, agnostic, jewish, catholic, protestant, hindu, muslim, buddhist, wiccan - whatever. The dominionists are very, very close to achieving a lock on political power, and they will use it to dismantle this country as we know it. We'll only find out what they really want to do after it's too late.

Somehow the left needs to rip the veil off. I don't know if it's best done by Kerry or someone else. I think someone else, but who? Who has the authority to make people listen? Who would be compelling? You all seem to be very smart. Do you have any suggestions?

Brennen Bearnes ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 12:58 PM:

Marlena writes above:

Everyone assumes america will always provide basic protections like the separation of church and state.

As much as I wish that were true, I'm just not sure that it is. Maybe my perspective is warped by living smack in the middle of the Midwest, where most stereotypes about religious conservatives find their nearest approximation in fact, but the everyone I'm familiar with often has little use for that separation.

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 02:32 PM:

Brennan,
I'm sorry. I'm speaking from New England. I see people going about their daily lives and not paying too much attention. The general feeling is Bush will lose in November, and I need to calm down. I do hope they're right, but I don't share their confidence.

Brennen Bearnes ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 04:09 PM:

Here, I think the general feeling is that a Bush victory no longer seems quite as inevitable as it once did, but it's still far from unlikely - which is the root cause of a certain amount of cynical despair in one of the most relatively liberal parts of Nebraska, but is just the way things ought to be for a great many people.

I could be misreading things altogether; I'm more than a little out of touch with most of this state. But it still seems like "If only everyone knew what these guys were really up to, they'd be against it" is kind of dangerous.

I guess I'm just uncomfortable with words like "everyone"; it seems like we wind up equating the right idea (even before we've agreed on what the right idea is) with the majority idea, which leads to circular assumptions about how most people must want something because it's good and it must be good because most people want it. (I think this is some kind of genetic fallacy.)

Brennen Bearnes ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 04:16 PM:

...and, if I had looked a little further on Wikipedia, I would have stumbled across the bandwagon fallacy, which is pretty much what I meant.

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 04:55 PM:

You're correct that using absolute terms like all and everyone and noone weakens the argument. It's a bad habit - point taken and thank you.

You never know what people think until they have all the facts presented. I don't think we're anywhere close to having all the facts presented. Maybe there are lots of people who, after full disclosure, would still vote for bush. That would make me very sad, but it's preferable to having people say, "if only I had known x, I would never have done y". Well then it's too late. So, please forgive my poor choice of words.

Brennen Bearnes ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 05:43 PM:

Re: word choice, I say the same sort of thing often enough; I've been trying to stop for a while, but looking at things I've written lately, I'm not being very successful.

I share your hope that, being better informed, many people (including a fair percentage of those who currently support him) wouldn't vote for Bush. Or maybe I should say that I want to share your hope - I'm not especially optimistic about this. I know too many people, decent human beings in most every sense of the word, who are unlikely on any evidence to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate.

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 06:23 PM:

Well, at the top of this page it says, "Hope has two daughters, anger and courage. They are both lovely." Attributed to St. Augustine. Peace.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 11:01 PM:

"And yet, I cannot read the first paragraph I quoted without it saying that people who turn to the rules of the Old Testament are acting on baser motives than those who turn to the teachings of Jesus."

I'm sorry--I meant it other way round; people who respect the authority of the OT--especially christians--acting out of fear and looking for certainty grab onto OT rules, usually simple and harsh interpretations of selected rules. I never intended to imply the converse. This was never intended as a swipe at people who study the OT for other reasons and in other ways, like most Jews.

I have no more time. I hope this suffices as explanation.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 02:30 PM:

I could be misreading things altogether; I'm more than a little out of touch with most of this state. But it still seems like "If only everyone knew what these guys were really up to, they'd be against it" is kind of dangerous.

Right. Very dangerous. For the most part you can't convince them what those guys are really up to. My mother, by no means a stupid woman, but one who has had the misfortune to live all her life in small town or rural Oklahoma, will not believe that George Bush has lied. He just got bad advice and intelligence you see. She isn't happy about the Iraqi war, the state of the economy, or, being 70 and not stupid, the current Medicare nonsense. But she has already informed me she absolutely will not vote for Kerry. I think she voted for Clark in the OK primary. I have no idea what she'll do now and it'll probably be a while before I ask. Discussing this sort of thing with my family is like walking through a minefield.

MKK

Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 03:22 PM:

People have already been dissing Randolph Fritz'a comment above, but I just wanted to point out that this:

It is scared people who grasp for simple moral absolutes; sets of rules like those of the Old Testament and Paul, rather than precepts like those of Jesus.
strikes me as nothing short of bizarre. Say that Paul was a misogynist, a homophobe, a regretable product of his times, or whatever, fine. However, reading Paul as a lawgiver laying down a set of formulaic rules just makes no sense at all. The letter to the Galatians is basically an extended rant against formulaic codes of law (specifically, against those who viewed circumcision as specified in Jewish law as a necessary part of following Christ, but the rant is not restricted to that context). Here's Galatians, chapter 5 - take particular note of verse 14.

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 04:13 PM:

Mary Kay,
If intelligent people like your mom want to give bush every imaginable benefit of the doubt and basically refuse to believe he would lie, then it's no use arguing with them. My sister is like this. She gets her news from Fox and really does believe they are fair and balanced. She told me recently we should be proud of the president. I believe she actually can't imagine that he could be as bad as I think. She literally can't imagine it, so it must not be true. To me, her failure of imagination is what's really, really dangerous. I've given up talking to her about it for now because it's exceedingly frustrating. It really seems there are two realities in this country, and occasionally you see someone like Howard Stern and/or Bill O'Reilly get pinched by their own side.

Chuck Divine ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:01 PM:

All,

I've just posted the URL for this discussion to the St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill e-mail list.

Brief description of St. Mark's: progressive, questioning. Oh -- if you stand on the right street corner you can see both St. Mark's and the U.S. Capitol.

To find out more about St. Mark's, try the church web site.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:09 PM:

Daniel, I have started, then discarded several posts along the same line -- it just took so long for me to break loose long enought to think about a response that this particular thread seemed to fade out. Then I couldn't find a quote I remembered. (By the way, I'll see your Galatians 5, and raise you 1 Corinthians 12 and 13.)

Randolph Fritz posted (some time back):

It is scared people who grasp for simple moral absolutes; sets of rules like those of the Old Testament and Paul, rather than precepts like those of Jesus. Hence outbursts of religiousity in times of great travail like ours.

As well as:

Ah, but the character of Jesus, and--literally--the nature of his body is more important in fundamentalist teaching than what Jesus actually said. And there lies the problem that Lydia points out: if one focuses on the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which contain the canonical teachings of Jesus, one gets one religion; if one focuses on John and Paul's letters, which are about Jesus and practice, one gets another. This tension is ancient and not to be easily resolved.

My concern with Randolph's post is not necessarily that it might be mean-spirited. I object to the statments I just quoted because they are simply wrong, are contrary to fact. More than 50 years ago, C.S. Lewis dealt with this question:

A most astonishing misconception has long dominated the modern mind on the subject of St Paul. It is to this effect: that Jesus preached a kindly and simple religion (found in the Gospels) and that St Paul afterwards corrupted it into a cruel and complicated religion (found in the Epistles). This is really quite untenable. All the most terrifying texts come from the mouth of Our Lord: all the texts on which we can base such warrant as we have for hoping that all men will be saved come from St Paul. If it could be proved that St Paul altered the teaching of his Master in any way, he altered it in exactly the opposite way to that which is popularly supposed. But there is no real evidence for a pre-Pauline doctrine different from St Paul's. The Epistles are, for the most part, the earliest Christian documents that we possess. The Gospels come later. They are not 'the gospel', the statement of the Christian belief. They were written for those who were already converted, who had already accepted 'the gospel'. They leave out many of the 'complications' (that is, the theology) because they are intended for readers who have already been instructed in it. In that sense the Epistles are more primitive and more central than the Gospels -- though not, of course, than the great events that the Gospels recount. God's act (the Incarnation, the Crucifixtion, and the Resurrection) comes first: the earliest theological analysis of it comes in the Epistles: then, when the generation who had known the Lord was dying out, the Gospels were composed to provide for believers a record of the great Act and of some of the Lord's sayings. The ordinary popular conception has put everything upside down.
from Modern Translations of the Bible in God in the Dock

This still holds largely true, even though, on papyrological evidence, we might now date the Gospels much earlier (as early as 70 CE -- some date Mark as early as 50 CE based on one fragment but that is not the majority opinion) than was generally accepted when this was written. And you can't (successfully) set the Christian and Hebrew scriptures against each other -- the New Testament is simply drenched in Old Testament images, ideas and doctrine. If you want to understand Jesus, you better read the Tanakh -- carefully.

What I agree with Randolph about, and I think this was a main point of his, was that people who, for whatever reason, try to treat the Old and New Testaments (in what I believe are the words of our host here) like the rules of a role playing game are not to be trusted. This is true whoever they are, or for whatever purpose they carry out this kind of distortion. It is a large and varied library with many authors and editors spanning centuries and is not intended for closed minds of whatever persuasion to play juvenile proof text games with.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:21 PM:

Claude, you rock. And your final paragraph should be embossed on the sky.

Rachel Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 12:49 PM:

She literally can't imagine it, so it must not be true. To me, her failure of imagination is what's really, really dangerous.

Marlena, you've hit on what I think is the fundamental reason that so many (primarily, but not, alas, exclusively Republicans) want to dismantle this country's social safety net programs--they literally can not imagine any circumstance under which they would benefit from them, since only lazy, bad, nasty people ever get poor or old or sick or some combination thereof. Until it actually happens to them, as during the Great Depression, which is what made it politically possible to pass the first wave of major safety net legislation. (The second big wave came in when it looked like we had lots and lots of spare change, so we could drop it in the social net cap.)

I realize I'm oversimplifying here; nevertheless, I do believe that the inability to walk in another's shoes is a real problem.

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 03:59 PM:

Got empathy? Vote Kerry.

Some christians may like bush's talk about values and working class people, but it's just talk. Bush gives the impression that he would keep the (liberal) infrastructure of this country but tack on fundamentalist values. New and improved america - we're just adding some missing morals, see? But the plan to dismantle social security, medicare, medicaid and public education are the unadvertised part of the deal. What I wonder is how many people who plan to vote for bush are aware of this trade off.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 09:03 PM:

Claude, I do agree with your last paragraph. But if that is so, how is it, then, that you would make a single story out of the synoptic gospels, John, and Paul?

Daniel Martin, "However, reading Paul as a lawgiver laying down a set of formulaic rules just makes no sense at all." He was not. But he laid down the law (and never mind quite which law) with harsh authority. So take that, combine it with the selective reading of the OT which Paul used, and you have a fine basis for a harshly authoritarian faith, based on arbitrary laws. And when the times make such a faith attractive, that is one place christians turn.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 09:11 PM:

Alter quotes me as saying,

"The absolutes almost always win, and one of the reasons is that the people who believe in relativity are embarrassed by it."

But that was what Lydia said, not me. Wasn't clear about the attribution. Me bad. Me have been put to the flames for it.

When I quoted the bit of Yeats, I actually had the final lines of the poem in mind, hinting that I believed there is hope, but it will come in an unexpected form and at an unexpected time.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 09:20 PM:

Marlena writes, "Most people don't know one tenth of what the religious right really believes. Most americans just think it's harmless and doesn't affect them."

From Dave Neiwert's essay, The Personal & The Political":

One of the important things I learned as a cops-and-courts reporter lo these many years ago was something about crime victims: That they often make themselves vulnerable to violent crimes because they are not prepared to deal with people who are sociopathic, or who exhibit antisocial or narcissistic personality disorders, or in some cases outright psychoses. That they project their own normalcy onto these other people -- they really cannot believe that someone else would act in a way substantially different from their own decent, sane base of operations.

The pervasive belief in the reliability of the day-to-day is a very difficult thing to answer, the moreso since once that belief is threatened panic is often...oh, wait. I suppose part of the problem is that that belief is being threatened.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 09:26 PM:

Mris, "The fact remains that it's the Democrats, not the Republicans, who have had ordained ministers running in primaries for most of my life -- Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are people one sees."

How is it, then, that so many believing christians ignore their presence, turning to the right-wing instead? Christian left views don't count with a lot of people, and I wonder why that is. Or perhaps that's the wrong question...maybe it would be possible to make the christian left more prominent?

Mark ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 02:59 AM:

Randolph,

I'm not Mris, but I'm close. :)

I don't think it's a case of "believing Christians ignor[ing]" liberal Christian candidates. As Lydia has hinted, there is a very real feeling that those who disagree with the fundamentalist Christian viewpoint are not "real" Christians. Conservative Christians are thus unlikely to be swayed by the existence of liberal Christians. Liberal Christians do tend to vote for liberal candidates.

The real puzzle here is why (white) mainline Protestants and (white) Roman Catholics tend to vote conservatively. (See this survey for some numbers from the 2000 election.)

I suspect part of the reason is that "morality" (unfortunately in the staying-away-from-icky-stuff-I-would-of-course-never-do sense, rather than the love-thy-neighbor sense) matters a lot in Christian voter's minds. The Republican party has successfully sold itself as the party of moral values. But maybe I'm being unduly influenced by my own conservative Christian background.

I think another piece of the puzzle is simply that conservative Christians make a bigger stink because they believe they have more to lose. If one side believes it is in a life-or-death struggle for truth and the other believes that plurality is not all bad, which is going to be more active? There may also be some media effect--- those with conservative views because of their Christianity are "conservative Christians" while those arriving at opposite conclusions are just "liberals".

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 08:10 AM:

The Republican party has successfully sold itself as the party of moral values.

Okay, hon, but how? Why do conservative Christians like my grandparents and your aunt and uncle believe in the Republican party as moral with all the horrible stuff various Republicans have done? Dick Cheney, moral rock? I mean, it's a cliche to list the Congresscritters who holler about family values as long as it's not their own family, but it's a cliche for a reason. To say nothing of moral business practices. So why are these folks credible to conservative Christians and not to the rest of us? I think it's true that they are. I just don't know how.

(Ah, the internet, where one can have a conversation with one's spouse two rooms and several hours away.)

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 08:59 AM:

How did they do it...

Well that's another pail of worms, but the short answer is a few people had a plan about 20 years ago, and no one paid too much attention. And they executed their plan to elect people with a particular worldview, and now here we are. They saw a vacuum and used voter apathy to fill it.

theocracywatch.org has a great review of how we came to this place politically. The name for them is dominionists. It's not really about religion, but power. In the same way that rape is not about sex.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 01:42 PM:

Mris: Why do conservative Christians like my grandparents and your aunt and uncle believe in the Republican party as moral with all the horrible stuff various Republicans have done?

But what kind of horrible stuff? IIRC, nobody has caught a major-league Republican with his dick in someone else's mouth -- and to many conservatives, that is more important than lack of charity, covert/nonviolent theft (especially from "the government"), gimmicking elections, or any other more subtle or complex misbehavior. Sex is easy to rule on (cf remarks above about treating the Bible as a the rules for a role-playing game) and easy to deplore, possibly because almost everybody understands its emotional impact; anything else becomes a question of "What's it to me?" (cf remark above about people who can't conceive that they will ever be sick, poor, old, ...).

Conservatives having trouble with sex is hardly new; 30 years ago, Medical World News summarized the reasons a couple of retarded children were sterilized (in violation of federal guidelines that were enunciated and printed but not distributed) as "If it was anything between the waist and the knees, the [Nixon] administration wanted nothing to do with it." (Let's not talk about the previous decade's debate about laws against contraception.) And this isn't the only factor Fox viewers use to draw the line between "us" and "them". But it's an all-too-convenient handle for dragging emotion over rationality.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 05:12 PM:

Chip: "major-league Republican with his dick in someone else's mouth" ... "If it was anything between the waist and the knees, the [Nixon] administration wanted nothing to do with it."

But several have been caught in the wrong beds--Newt Gingrich and, oh, the House majority leader whose name escapes me. Somehow it doesn't matter. Could it be the classic "these are people like us and therefore to be forgiven their faults" argument? That's one of the reasons W. Bush gets so much support, after all. Avoiding shame, perhaps? As in, "these are my fellow sinners, we will avoid the eye of the all-seeing together." Hell of a thing to unhook people from, if that's what's going on.

Marlena: "The name for them is dominionists. It's not really about religion, but power". Ah, the ancient disease. Thanks for the name and the link.

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 06:42 PM:

You're welcome. Pretty scary, huh? You can't make this shit up.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 12:43 AM:

Randolph: But several have been caught in the wrong beds--Newt Gingrich and, oh, the House majority leader whose name escapes me.

Gingrich pulled at least one crappy bed stunt, but it was bringing divorce papers to his wife in the hospital; I don't remember him screwing around. I think it was Barr (Gingrich's immediate successor, in any case) who was caught, and he was history as soon as he was found out. Would he have gotten a pass if he hadn't been pushing Clinton's impeachment? Ask Verkan Vall -- damfino.

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 09:36 AM:

Hyde, wasn't it, who committed a "youthful indiscretion" at the age of 50 and broke up someone's marriage?

I remember more Republican sex scandals than Democratic ones from the Clinton era, though the Lewinsky thing was louder and more detailed.

Hyde, Gingrich and Barr all got caught with their dicks where they shouldn't have been, yet the Republicans go on as the party of "family values" and the Democrats remain "sleazy". Looks like image and reality are out of whack. It isn't necessary to think media conspiracy or media bias, media laziness and media desire to tell the story the audience already know would do it.

Chuck Divine ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 01:56 PM:

What really disturbs me about this thread is what's been done to the Republican party -- and, by extension, to our nation.

I was brought up (1945-1963) in a solid Republican household. My father was an accountant. My mom stayed at home until I was 14. We went to the local Episcopal church on Sunday. About the only unusual things I can remember was quite a bit more travel than my contemporaries and a lot more reading.

I rebelled some in my late teens and twenties. At one point I was a pacifist anarchist. Since then I've been all over the map (well, nothing totalitarian). Today I've half facetiously described my politics to friends as "democratic libertarianism with a human face."

I can see some fundamental problems with government efforts so cherished by liberals. For instance, I think current data suggest the way we are educating young people (highly centralized bureaucracies) has major problems.

But what can I do about this? The educational establishment is very strong in the Democratic party. Keeping that part of the coalition in the coalition is important for winning elections.

Could I turn to the Republican party? Not this one, I suspect. This party doesn't even seem remotely like my parents' party of Eisenhower and Cliff Case (New Jersey liberal Republican Senator of the past). It doesn't even seem like Barry Goldwater's party either. I gather even Goldwater has expressed negative comments about these "religious right" loons.

So what do I -- and I expect millions of people like me -- do?

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 02:44 PM:

Seems to me there is strong issue with short memories and long views on the misbehavior issues by party. So far as I know George Washington and John Adams were good husbands and fathers (not biological in George's case which was probably a good thing on the Cincinattus issue). So far as I believe then Presidential sexual impropriety started with Jefferson and in what I consider modern times included both FDR - documented - and Eisenhower - documented (although I think his driver - Kay Summersby something - wrote Past Forgetting googling left as an exercise - commisioned as a more or less courtesy rank and the cord as Ike's aide maybe mattered more than the IIRC oak leaves so there was a violation of military discipline perhaps analogous to preying on willing subordinates) Then again I'd hate to think Jesse Jackson represents the Christian position on fathering children on subordinates despite OBSF The Handmaid's Tale.

Therefore I tend to put that issue aside in a plague on all your houses and ask again why expect better of that particular gang of 4 who are all in my view hypocrites on my favorite issue and seem to bid for support from the education establishment mentioned by asserting the right to leave children behind and use affirmative action to pretend they didn't. Folks who believe in Family Home Evening have their particular flaws but Utah qualifies kids for the Y and the U (no doubt due to the efforts of good and exploited teachers - nod to you know who you are) at 1/3 the cost of producing illiterates in D.C..

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 02:52 PM:

Chuck,
Your party has been hijacked. It's definitely not the party your parents belonged to. As I see it, traditional republicans need to #1) get rid of bush and #2) start rebuilding the republican party. It's your party too, but you'll need to wrestle it back from the nutbags. Unfortunately, I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. But if you have a nobler vision of what it means to be republican, I say - go get 'em, Tiger.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 09:36 PM:

Chuck, I know what you mean about your party. I still consider myself a centrist. I grew up around solid old-fashioned conservatives, the kind who looked askance at gummint rhetoric but wouldn't dream of letting public services go begging. I don't like a lot of the people who call themselves Republicans these days, and I don't like a lot of the ones who call themselves conservatives, either. They don't look like it to me.

I can tell you why the teachers' organizations have so consistently wound up in the Democrats' camp, because I've been watching it happen to people I've known all my life. It's not that schoolteachers are a bunch of radicals; mostly they're not. But teachers get to see the effects of this program and that, in detail, on a daily basis.

For instance, politicians talk about the extreme test-reliance of No Child Left Behind in terms of "accountability", which sounds respectable in a vague sort of way; but teachers know the system's problems aren't smply a matter of just needing to motivate the teachers and principals a little more. They also know that the draconian provisions of the NCLB program more or less guarantee that districts are going to start "teaching to the test" -- abandoning the kind of coherent, comprehensible education that will stick with the kids, the kind of thing you can build on in subsequent years and classes, and instead concentrating on drills and factoids which will help them score higher on the all-important test.

Clark, they don't want the right to leave kids behind. They want to not have their already badly stretched budgets pulled still thinner by a set of ill-conceived, ill-implemented directives that don't help educate children.

If you think schoolteachers want to leave kids behind, you either don't know any, or you aren't thinking before you're typing. Furthermore, your idea of how affirmative action comes into it is -- I'm not even going to call it murky. Go read something real.

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 10:58 PM:

Antecedent to leave kids behind was gang of 4 referring to the named legislators not particularly to teachers.

As to knowing some my own K-12 teacher training (post Doc. potential career switch) was at Georgia State in Atlanta home to the currently worst performing students in the worst performing state of the 50 states on ACT and SAT and in general [home to teaching Shakespeare in translation as a foreign language playwright] though I have only been paid to teach in college myself - where I was tasked first to flunk out students who only thought they were ready for applied math and model building relegating them to journalism majors - students will get tested front or back - and only secondly to teach the remainder anything - I asked because it was no fun, my tasking was as described - I do have some connections. Usual sources will show lots of exposure the conclusions are my own. See e.g. Thomas Sowell's description of his own first year teaching for lowering the standards rather than raising expectations. On NCLB I'll endorse George Will's
current column based on my own observations.

Seems to me the SAT is validated to the extent it will stick with kids that is predicts college performance building on in subsequent years and classes otherwise it not a valid test of scholastic aptitude. Unless you want to argue that testing is inherently impossible and all assigned grades ought to be as inflated as they currently seem to be then an anecdotal bad test does not invalidate the possibility of proper accountability. Then too the tests just are not so hard that teaching only to the test is either necessary or advisable in a professional setting - a 12th grade diploma for a 10th grade education that isn't as good as my grandfather and father delivered in one room schools to 8th graders is hardly a shining accomplishment. As noted I know there are systems where students get a coherent comprehensible education that will stick with the kids and I think there are systems where they don't. Do you disagree?

What do you suggest, bearing in mind D.C. already spends 3 times as much per head as Utah?

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2004, 07:51 AM:

I'm having trouble understanding the previous posting. Copyeditor?

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2004, 10:19 AM:

Jon, this copyeditor would phone the person who gave her the manuscript and ask how he or she wanted it handled. I'm tempted to say "Personally, I blame the American education system," but you know it wouldn't do any good at all.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2004, 12:05 PM:

Mr Myers: if you're an example of what Utah educates so inexpensively you'd better rethink. While you're doing that you might ask someone to educate you about run-on sentences. This is a group quite used to dealing with alll sorts of prose and a good many of us are having trouble reading you with any understanding.

And of course, that's not to mention that conditions on the ground in Utah and DC are really quite a bit different which is going to have quite an effect on the success, or lack thereof, that schools have in educating students.

MKK

tomb ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2004, 12:05 PM:

Utah qualifies kids for the Y and the U (no doubt due to the efforts of good and exploited teachers - nod to you know who you are) at 1/3 the cost of producing illiterates in D.C..

Well, when my family moved to Utah, we were not that impressed by the educational system. I had my senior year of high school at Logan High. There were some very good teachers there, and I did learn some things, but there were other teachers who didn't have a clue. I don't think it was Mormonism -- the best teachers were LDS. The worst was LDS, but from a very small town and he just had no idea that the rest of the world wasn't just like Zion. Another teacher was a decent guy, but he was in over his head. When I showed up for my first calculus class, two weeks late because of the move, he asked me to teach it in his place. (I declined.) The real problem with the schools was that the overall standards were geared for sending their brightest students to the Y or the U, and nowhere else. I'd been at a public high school in California that sent its brightest students to Berkeley, Stanford, and Harvard. I went to the U and regretted it. My sister is four years younger than me. After four years in the Logan schools she went back to live with our grandparents, so she could have her senior year in a good high school and have a chance of getting into a good college that wasn't in Utah. This worked, but it was very hard for her, and even then she didn't get into a top school, but one that accepted bright students who'd been poorly educated. The one good thing about her experience in the Utah schools was a wonderfully gifted orchestra teacher at Logan Junior High. If I recall correctly, the LJHS orchestra won at least one western states championship under his direction. After my sister moved on, he tragically died at a very young age, otherwise I think he would have national prominence by now.

The bottom line is that producing illiterates at 1/3 the cost isn't good enough.

Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2004, 12:34 PM:

Something I should know but don't (and am too lazy to go look up just now) - do per-pupil expenditure numbers generally include salaries for teachers and administrators? If they do, I note that the DC area is considerably more expensive to live in than Utah (or at least than the Salt Lake City area, but I can't imagine that the rest of the state is pricier).

Varia ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2004, 03:45 PM:

education is always an emotionally fraught subject, but simple comparisons (as several people have pointed out) between, say, Utah and DC, are almost worthless.

I don't think more money in our education system can possibly *hurt* it. I mean, yes, there's the silly district that bought PDA's for every student, but for crying out loud, it's one in many thousands of schools, so it's rather distinctly an outlier.

I'm not sure that more money or more accountability or any of the political hobbyhorses are any of them really going to solve the problem. No Child Left Behind has however quite demonstrably made it worse.

As Teresa said, why not just ask some teachers what they think would help? Who else would know better? I can't remember (and am, ahem, too lazy to look it up :) ) a political platform that included commentary by real teachers. I've heard of, but never encountered, actively mean or ill-intentioned teachers; the worst of mine have been mediocre, and the vast majority, regardless of their talents, cared a lot. So go talk to them.

My mother, who's been teaching in public schools for the past thirty years, has her own quite strong opinions about it, and feels that until parents start encouraging their children to learn, there's relatively little for her to do. I lack firsthand experience with her job, but it seems to me like it makes sense.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2004, 01:46 AM:

What I like best about most of these magic-pill approaches to education reform is the assumption that what worked for me (or for my grandpa, or for Nicholas Nickelby, or for Plato) would work for anybody, if only those namby-pamby new-age long-hairs that call themselves teachers would damn well put it into practice. Bring back McGuffey's Reader, by God! And paddling!

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2004, 02:58 AM:

Gingrich pulled at least one crappy bed stunt, but it was bringing divorce papers to his wife in the hospital; I don't remember him screwing around. I think it was Barr (Gingrich's immediate successor, in any case) who was caught, and he was history as soon as he was found out. Would he have gotten a pass if he hadn't been pushing Clinton's impeachment?

I believe that Gingrich was already involved with Next Wife when he served Cancer Wife the divorce papers.

As for Barr, there was, as far as I know, no sex scandal involving him at all; and if there was, it had nothing to do with him leaving office. He was redistricted out of office, in effect, as his home district was combined with the home district of another hardcore conservative Republican, John Linder. Rather than move over one district and run there, he opted to run against Linder, and was defeated in the primary.

And how many people remember that Elizabeth Dole used to be Bob Dole's assistant, back when he was married to wife number one?

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2004, 04:31 AM:

My magic pill cure for school systems is more flextime for parents. The first five years of life are supposedly supercritical. If one or both parents are constantly away from the home during this time, it has a pretty significant effect on the socialization skills of the child. The teachers in elementary and junior high school then get double-tasked to be substitute parents and knowledge workers at the same time. (I'm not sure how much of a cure the "flextime" pill would actually be -- but I'd like to see some case studies done that correlate domestic availability of parents during formative years and subsequent academic achievement of children.)

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2004, 07:24 AM:

After Gingrich dumped Cancer Wife for Next Wife, he then went on to dump Next Wife for Junior Staffer - at the same time as the Clinton impeachment and 1996 election. When the Republicans lost House seats in what was expected to be a sure thing election, the power brokers dumped Gingrich for Bob Livingston, whose own sex scandal behavior was then outed by Larry Flynt. Bob Barr, who was leading the impeachment fight, lost his seat due to redistricting and is now working for the ACLU.

It was a different world then.

Rachel Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2004, 05:40 PM:

So far as I can tell, the only thing in the education area that everyone agrees on is that smaller classes are linked (in some way) to better student performance. Now, this is clearly not going to be sufficient to fix the education system's problems--a small class with an incompetent teacher isn't going to learn much more than a large class with an incompetent teacher--but I would suggest that it is a neccesary component of any attempt to improve education in this country. This is definitely going to cost more in areas with higher living costs, and it's going to cost a great deal altogether as having smaller classses means having more teachers, and you're not going to have more qualified teachers unless the profession is more respected and better paid, as it should be in any case.

Oh, don't get me started. Let's just set high standards, not give anyone the means to reach those standards, and then yank all funds from those schools that fail to reach those standards. Three cheers for standards! Hip, hip!

tomb ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2004, 11:44 AM:

And another swirlie (whatever that is) to Senator Ted for supporting No Child Left Behind. It's nice that well meaning liberals supported it. They must have at least partially believed the promise that it would provide more funds for education. I'm afraid that it's only setting up the testing system so the right can "prove" that public education has failed.

tomb ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2004, 12:21 PM:

Patrick asked:

Would it have been so difficult to get one witness willing to contradict the lie that this amendment represents the “Christian” position?

I'm afraid that the answer, in this congress, may be yes. Here's an example, from another Senate committee, of the kinds of tricks that are being pulled:

With no Democrats and about a half-dozen Republicans present, committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, announced on Thursday evening the panel would not be able to reach agreement and he would leave it up to the Senate sergeant-at-arms William Pickle to decide what to do.

This happened while the Democrats were off voting and were going to be back in ten minutes. They didn't think the issue was deadlocked. Since it would be extraordinary for the sergeant-at-arms to take up the matter against the obvious wishes of the chair, and he isn't likely to get much help from the Justice Department, I think the probe has been effectively stopped.

The complete article is here: U.S. Senate Panel Accord on Memo Probe Collapses. That's the Reuters story. The AP coverage of the same incident leaves out the controversy, for some reason.

Knowing that you're being rolled doesn't mean you can stop it.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 01:07 AM:

Apologies for only being able to post every few days -- things are busy both days and nights right now . . .

Several different posters late last week asked variations of the same question -- why do Christians seem to support Republicans? Or to put it another way, why don't more Christians support Democrats, whose program is well aligned with so many Christian values?

Well, why in the world should they?

The Democratic Party (and the entire liberal/progressive movement, for all of that) is largely tone deaf when it comes to issues that involve religion, and has been for years. And not just about Christianity. Last summer Amy Sullivan's article in the Washington Monthly Do the Democrats Have a Prayer?

Today, conventional wisdom holds that the best way to predict a person's party affiliation is to ask how often they go to church. As political commentator Michael Barone has noted, "Americans increasingly vote as they pray, or don't pray." But unfortunately, Democrats seem to have absorbed the wrong two lessons from this trend--that they will never win support from religious Americans, and that in order to retain their core base of secularists and religious minorities, the party should avoid the topic of religion altogether.
They are wrong on both counts--and the mistake could cost them not only the 2004 election, but also any chance of building a sustainable electoral coalition. Learning to speak to and appeal to religious constituencies is not simply a matter of political calculation, but a quality Americans demand from their leaders. Even people who aren't terribly religious know moral vision when they see it--agnostic liberals tear up when they see video clips of Martin Luther King Jr. holding forth on the National Mall--and they respond to faith when it's sincere and tied to a politics in which they believe. A president who can talk about his personal faith and explain how it connects to his policy initiatives enjoys both the tactical advantage of attracting the "swing faithful" and the moral stature to excite and inspire all those, religious or not, who are already predisposed to support him on the issues. To become America's majority party again, the Democrats will have to get religion.

Consider that the only Democrats to win the While house in the last quarter century were comfortable talking about their own faith, and coud talk credibly to communities of faith. (The problem with Lieberman is summed up by the saying "When given the choice between two politicians acting like Republicans, voters will pick the real one every time".)

As pointed out here, swing voters are more often socially conservative and religiously active, while being moderate to downright populist on economic and other issues -- contrary to the apparent beliefs of many Democratic strategists (and journalists, for what it's worth). And they mistrust the religious hard right about as much as any other group, if for no other reason that they know them better. Bush was able to peel off a significant part of that swing group with the "compassionate conservative" image, something that may not work this year. I am not suggesting that Kerry start driving up and down the Damascus Road in a convertible with the top down, hoping for lightning to strike (light to moderate ground fire would be more likely), but he, and the party, better start spending time listening and learning.

tomb ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 12:38 PM:

I would rather have "tone deaf" liberals than the one-note extremists who have taken over the government and are trying to force their brand of religion on all of us.

Freedom of religion requires the separation of church and state. That requires a certain lack of pushiness on religion. If it comes across as tone deaf, so be it.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 03:58 PM:

False choice, tomb.

The moderate and liberal Christians, many of them swing voters, that I referred to above, usually dislike and distrust the Pat Robertsons of this world as much as you do -- if not more. We understand clearly how they are distoring the faith we hold dear and don't want them holding the reins either.

But we're tired of being ignored -- the incident that Patrick cited is just one example of it. Go read the numbers, tomb -- if you think that all persons of faith are "one note extremists" (and I suspect you do not) that the Democratic Party can afford to write off then you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Because the whole point this year is to win, to clear out this bunch of whackos, in the White House and if possible the Congress, before they do even more damage. And you don't do it on style points you do it with votes.

Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 05:45 PM:

I've been offline for a week or so; sorry for the delay, and for continuing a subthread that's mostly died down.

That said, there were a pair of replies to my posts that I'd like to adress.

In one, Randolph said:

Alter quotes me as saying,

"The absolutes almost always win, and one of the reasons is that the people who believe in relativity are embarrassed by it."

But that was what Lydia said, not me. Wasn't clear about the attribution. Me bad. Me have been put to the flames for it.

Yeah. Yeah, I did, in fact, quote you as saying that. The reason I quoted you as saying that is because you said that.

I've got no problem with Lydia having said it first. However, quotation marks are not sigils that indicate, "I take no responsibility for the ideas contained herein."

I had no problem with Lydia's post. I had, and have, a problem with your post -- the context in which you put Lydia's remark admits to no reading other than a rather poisonous one.

Randolph continues:

When I quoted the bit of Yeats, I actually had the final lines of the poem in mind, hinting that I believed there is hope, but it will come in an unexpected form and at an unexpected time.

It is extremely difficult for me to conduct a conversation when I suspect that the other party is not making a good faith effort towards communication.

Quoting one passage from a work, which has a clear contextual relevance to what's being said, and later explaining that what was meant was a different section of the work, whose connection to what's being discussed is considerably more tenuous is. . . a problematic approach, at best.

In a different post, Randolph said:

I'm sorry--I meant it other way round; people who respect the authority of the OT--especially christians--acting out of fear and looking for certainty grab onto OT rules, usually simple and harsh interpretations of selected rules.

Stripping this of qualifiers, I get "people who respect the authority of the OT due to fear and a desire for certainty grab onto OT rules."

The problem with this is that what this comes down to is that "people who respect the authority of the OT grab onto OT rules." Respecting the authority of the OT seems to me to imply the following of OT rules. I'm not sure what metric of grabbiness is being used here, but I'm willing to take on faith that it's something that can be clearly observed.

Thus, as you would have us read your post, all that you meant to say was that people who turn to the OT due to fear are really intense in their rule following. Grabby, even.

The problem with this reading is that it's a fairly vacuous observation, and that it makes no sense in the context of the previous discussion, the remainder of the post, or in your words themselves. The only way that it makes sense, in context, is if the moral absolutes, if the list of rules found in the Old Testament and, as you would have it, in Paul, are intrinsically bad, wrong, or evil.

I never intended to imply the converse. This was never intended as a swipe at people who study the OT for other reasons and in other ways, like most Jews.

I've not been talking about "most Jews." I'm fully aware that most Jews don't describe themselves as traditional or Orthodox, and that most Jews don't follow the OT's lists of rules. I've been discussing rabbinic or Orthodox Judaism, who honest to God, do.

I don't mean that they take a naive reading of the text, of course -- there were biblical literalist movements in the past, and there probably will be again. But those movements are specifically opposed to rabbinic Judaism, and aren't part of the mainline tradition.

Orthodox Jews take the lists of the OT extremely seriously. With deep convinction, even. They prefer the rules of the OT to the precepts of Jesus. While they're not literalists, the manner in which they read the OT is to better understand those lists of rules -- there's really remarkably little theology in rabbinic Judaism, when compared with lists of rules, and analysis of those rules.

And you've not said anything that changes the fact that your original post implies that this will render Orthodox Jews relatively immune to messages of "love, tolerance, humility, charity, etc," barring "unexpected intimacy which conflicts with their convictions, "religious experience", and so on."

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 07:08 PM:

Consider that the only Democrats to win the While house in the last quarter century were comfortable talking about their own faith, and coud talk credibly to communities of faith.

I've been thinking about what you said, Claude, and it reminded me of a problem I read in one of Andrew Greeley's Catholic sociology books. He noted that they'd done a study and found that 90% of regular churchgoers said that the sermon was the most important part of the service for them, and 10% of regular churchgoers said they were satisfied with the quality of sermons they were hearing. I can't help but wonder if the problem with talking about faith goes beyond the Democratic party a good ways.

tomb ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 11:10 PM:

Claude,

First, let me say that liberals aren't tone-deaf on religious issues more (or less) than any other group. When I responded with "tone deaf" in quotes, I meant that I am siding with the liberals, not with tone-deafness. As for "false choice," if you think there is a middle ground between the liberals and the radical right, I have to tell you, the liberals are the middle ground. The choice is between religious freedom and creeping theocracy. Personally, I think religious freedom is a beautiful thing. If some people are more for the freedom part of it rather than the religious part, don't knock them; they're still on your side, and their beliefs and principles are just as important to them as yours are to you.

The incident that Patrick reported wasn't about the Democratic Party ignoring, or worse yet, writing off people of faith. The Republican Party is cynically using faith-based intolerance as a wedge issue, they have very few compunctions about political manipulation and trickery, and they outmaneuvered the Democrats on the committee. Liberals need to do a better job of fighting back and ensuring that reasonable voices will be heard, but that does not make them (us) the cause of the problem.

Let's stop telling the Democrats how they need to change in order to win, and just help them win. We are all in this together.

For what it's worth, Kerry is a devoted Catholic.

Regards,

Tom

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2004, 04:46 AM:

With no Democrats and about a half-dozen Republicans present, committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, announced on Thursday evening the panel would not be able to reach agreement and he would leave it up to the Senate sergeant-at-arms William Pickle to decide what to do.

The unexpected coda to this, however, was that six of the committee members then sent their own letter to the DoJ, requesting a full criminal investigation by an independent prosecutor. They could have easily had more than six signatories to the letter, but they wanted the list to be balanced: three Republicans and three Democrats. The most heartening thing about it is that two of the Republicans signing the letter were Georgia slimeball Saxby "Cleland = Osama" Chambliss, and former House impeachment manager Lindsay Graham of South Carolina (who, to his great credit, has been saying that heads need to roll about this for some time now). The most disheartening thing about it was the actions of Orrin Hatch, who had been the first Republican to express outrage, and who has repeatedly tried to tell the hard right side of the congress and punditry to stop downplaying the theft and investigations, because what happened really was as bad as the Democrats were saying it was.

Oh, and the investigation did reveal one more good thing: The name of the heroic Republican staffer who, when presented with the first printout of stolen memos by her eager junior staffer, carefully fed them all into the shredder and ordered him not to ever do anything like that again, because that is not the way the Senate is supposed to operate. Which is why he and his co-conspirator simply never showed the fruits of their criminal activities to her again, of course; but it's at least comforting to see that some folks on the Hill remember the difference between right and wrong.

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2004, 05:38 PM:

Another follow-up on this from The Hill: Having had the whole matter dumped in his lap by Orrin Hatch, Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle has sent the report to the DoJ for evaluation. Since he could have outright requested a Special Prosecutor, this is sort of a buck-passing move. It's still more than Hatch wanted, even if it's less than the rest of the Judiciary committee wanted.

Yes, that's right, the rest of the committee: After being the first to express outrage, and initiate the first investigation, Hatch is now bringing up the rear. Once Graham went public with his comments that a prosecutor was needed, the rest of the Republicans pretty much came on board (the Democrats, needless to say, were there all along).

The relevant passage from The Hill's article:

On Thursday, every Republican member of the committee gave Hatch a letter stating: "We are now certain that only a determination by a professional prosecutor as to whether any laws were violated will bring this matter to a just and timely matter."

But in the end only three Republican members sided with the preferred Democratic approach when the full panel failed to agree on how to phrase the prosecutorial request.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2004, 11:58 PM:

Alter, writing something very much like an anathema. "And you've not said anything that changes the fact that your original post implies that this will render Orthodox Jews relatively immune to messages of 'love, tolerance, humility, charity, etc,' barring 'unexpected intimacy which conflicts with their convictions', 'religious experience", and so on."

Ahem. The original quote began "people for whom fundamentalist christianity is a matter of deep conviction". It explicitly was a remark on fundamentalist christianity, with no reference to Judaism at all.

Alter: "I've not been talking about 'most Jews.' I'm fully aware that most Jews don't describe themselves as traditional or Orthodox, and that most Jews don't follow the OT's lists of rules. I've been discussing rabbinic or Orthodox Judaism, who honest to God, do."

Hunh? So far as I know most observant Jews are rabinnic Jews, and I would never omit the Orthodox from "most Jews."

Alter: 'Thus, as you would have us read your post, all that you meant to say was that people who turn to the OT due to fear are really intense in their rule following. Grabby, even.'

Also that they tend to select the harshest rules and interpretations, sometimes even yanking them out of context to make them harsher.

Alter: 'The problem with this reading is that it's a fairly vacuous observation,'

It is. It is also tragic. This is part of what rules the USA at this time; this is part of what has led us to make war in Iraq. More widely, that simply understood and explained behavior has provided the energy for innumerable holy wars.

Alter: "and that it makes no sense in the context of the previous discussion, the remainder of the post, or in your words themselves."

The connection--remember, I was tired and sick at the time, and not explaining in detail--was in discussing the motivations of radical religious reactionaries.

"The only way that it makes sense, in context, is if the moral absolutes, if the list of rules found in the Old Testament and, as you would have it, in Paul, are intrinsically bad, wrong, or evil."

Hunh? Hunh? I explicitly rejected that position in the following post. In fact, in the original post I took great pains not to say any such thing.

Alter, what's your point? You argue I dropped an attribution to make Lydia's words my own, argue that an poetic reference that you found obscure was dishonest, and finally end by imputing to me, through a fairly complex and weak chain of logic, a criticism of the Old Testament and Paul that I do not hold. It seems to me you have decided that I am your enemy, and are reaching desperately for logic to make it true.

Sorry--I refuse to be your enemy, unless you do something more than this.

Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2004, 02:01 PM:

Randolph, what I was trying to say can be summed up as follows: you said some stuff that I found offensive. I did not find your explanation for what you said to be at all convincing; though I squint as hard as I can, the ideas you indicate that you wanted to get across aren't showing up in the initial post, and less pleasant ones still are.

I've made mistakes as a reader, of course, and in conversation, doing so can create awkwardnesses that are my fault. Only I'm not seeing that here. I'm seeing a smack, followed by an "oh, don't worry. That wasn't really a smack." This is not something that I much care for, in conversation or otherwise.

And, honestly, I find those last two paragraphs above a bit baffling. At no point did I say anything at all about you dropping an attribution. What I said was that by quoting Lydia, you are implying a) at least a partial agreement with what she had to say, and b) that you felt that what she had to say had some relevance to the points you were trying to make. The idea that since it was Lydia who said it initially meant that I should adress my comments to her is a strange one.

To take an extreme example, if someone were to show up at a pagan event holding a sign saying "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," even though that's a quote, rather than something that person came up with, most people would find it reasonable to adress the guy with the sign, rather than with the original author.

Further, it wasn't a simple matter of finding your poetic reference obscure. To continue with the case above, say that same guy would explain that he had heard that these pagans happened to be vegan, and as that's in keeping with many of the biblical dietary laws, he wanted to show his support for the idea with his sign. It's not an entirely believable claim, given the section of the bible he decided to quote.

Similarly, you spent a while defining some people as certain, and others as uncertain, and then quoted the bit of the poem where Yeats says that "The best lack all conviction/While the worst are full of passionate intensity". It may be that there are people who believe you when you say that by that you wanted to say, "hope may yet come from an unexpected source," rather than "the certain people are bad, and the good people are uncertain". I'm not one of them.

I could go back, and continue to debate other specifics. But I'm not certain there's much of a point. If you want me to expand on anything that you've found unclear, or see as wrong, I'll do so, but unless there's someone out there who is actively interested in this, it's really not worth my time.

Oh, and. This is a conversation on a weblog. I can construct hypothetical situations wherein I'd engage to the point of emnity, but I've not encountered them yet. The worst animosity I've managed to come up with thus far is a longing for some sort of comment thread killfile when faced with an individual's posts, and you've not even made that threshold.

Again, as I'm seeing this, I found your initial comment objectionable, and your subsequent clarfications unconvincing. In other words, you are, currently, a guy who made a post that ticked me off. I reserve my emnity for people who've committed more serious offenses, like whoever it was that suggested Carrot Top as a pitchman for AT&T.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2004, 07:03 PM:

Alter Reiss: "Randolph, what I was trying to say can be summed up as follows: you said some stuff that I found offensive."

Fair enough. My apologies.

"I did not find your explanation for what you said to be at all convincing; though I squint as hard as I can, the ideas you indicate that you wanted to get across aren't showing up in the initial post, and less pleasant ones still are."

Again, I'm sorry. I was tired and sick and not writing clearly. At the risk of repetition (partly in case someone else wants to argue the point with me or--let it not be so--use my argument against Orthodox Jews, observant Muslims, or Christians in general) I will reiterate that I had in mind mostly the poisonous combination of selective reading of the Old Testament and Paul when he was on a rampage that is so typical of radical right christians, though I was also thinking of extremists of all religious groups. I did not have Orthodox Jews in mind at all.

Alter: "Again, as I'm seeing this, I found your initial comment objectionable, and your subsequent clarfications unconvincing. In other words, you are, currently, a guy who made a post that ticked me off. I reserve my emnity for people who've committed more serious offenses, like whoever it was that suggested Carrot Top as a pitchman for AT&T."

That seems to me quite fair-minded. Peace.