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November 9, 2006

Sojourn off that way
Posted by Patrick at 09:44 PM *

So nice to know that none of my secular, non-religious friends are part of the “moral center.”

If I want weasel-worded, abusive, self-dealing hypocrisy, I’ll put Joe Lieberman on my speed-dial. If I want smart commentary on religion in modern American life, I’ll read Garry Wills or Charles P. Pierce.

If there’s anything I’d like out of our brave new political dispensation, after (oh, well, okay) an end to torture, a cessation of war, and global engagement with climate change, it would be never having to listen to another word from Jim Wallis and his ilk, heroes in their mind of some imagined “religious left” which appears to function primarily as an excuse for them to scold other progressives for not respecting their glorious religiosity with enough sincerely truthy respectfulness. These hucksters are every bit as reprehensible as their right-wing counterparts, twice as tedious, and three times as embarrassing. They can go now.

Comments on Sojourn off that way:
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 10:21 PM:

Dear, I know you thought I was going to disapprove of that post, but for the life of me I can't see why.

#2 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 10:44 PM:

Poverty, the war in Iraq, strengthening families, and protecting the environment are all moral values.

At least he got that right. Why he thinks the secular left doesn't care about those things is a mystery.

Check out this ABC News story, in which we learn that almost a third of white evangelicals voted for Democrats this week, as opposed to 2000, when a mere 30% of them voted for Al Gore.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 10:57 PM:

Wallis' first two paragraphs are possibly the most irritating opening I've seen all year:

In this election, both the Religious Right and the secular Left were defeated, and the voice of the moral center was heard. A significant number of candidates elected are social conservatives on issues of life and family, economic populists, and committed to a new direction in Iraq. This is the way forward: a grand new alliance between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, one that can end partisan gridlock and involves working together for real solutions to pressing problems.

It is clear from the election results that moderate, and some conservative, Christians - especially evangelicals and Catholics - want a moral agenda that is broader than only abortion and same-sex marriage. Various exit polls showed a shift of 6% to 16% fewer evangelicals and Catholics supporting Republican candidates than in 2004. Poverty, the war in Iraq, strengthening families, and protecting the environment are all moral values. And many Americans this year voted all of their values.

It's a lying, manipulative piece of agenda-pushing that doesn't have a speck of spiritual reflection or honest human voice in it. I doubt the wording of Wallis' essay would have been significantly altered if the election had had a wholly different outcome.

The things Wallis says about the election, the results, and the significance of the stats (assuming the stats are real, which I don't, necessarily) are simply not true. The secular Left was not defeated -- which is only reasonable, given that nobody I know on the religious Left was fighting against them. The secular Left are our siblings in arms. They've been doing mighty and virtuous deeds. I do not see the problem.

Why is Wallis trying to drive a wedge between the secular and religious Left? Doing so does no good for us, the nation, or our fellow man. It won't help us feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick and afflicted, or pin Bush & Co.'s ears to the clothesline. I suspect its primary appeal is that Wallis thinks such a state of affairs would make him more important.

The moral center, like the Holy Spirit, moves where it will. I sincerely doubt it's located directly under Jim Wallis' feet.

#4 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:03 PM:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. If there's anything that's always irritated me about the religious, it's the way that, if they eventually more or less catch up with the rest of us after a decade or two, they somehow think that means they're therefore and thenceforth entitled to lead us. Or at least to talk down to us -- well, they do that all the way, whatever position they're in.

#5 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:28 PM:

Sheesh. Here I thought Wallis was one of the good guys. Okay, I guess he still is, compared to, say... Dobson... but that's not exactly high praise.

Did he just have a brain fart, or is he always this irritating and I just failed to notice?

#6 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:31 PM:

"one that can end partisan gridlock and involves working together for real solutions to pressing problems."

I do hope Mr. Wallis can exercise Christian Charity and Patience. After all, it's been at least ten years since Democrats in the Congress have had any experience with "co-operation" or "non-partisanship" meaning anything but "We're the Majority Party, so we're going to do it _our_ way".

#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:40 PM:

What a remarkably silly, superficial, unsupported, piece of analysis.

#9 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:42 PM:

Yeesh. Amy Sullivan is no doubt resorting to her vinaigrette with excitement.

My father's house has many mansions, someone said once, but it must have been a hippie because our moderate friends appear not to understand it.

#10 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:49 PM:

You'd think Wallis would be aware of the dangers posed by the sin of pride... Even this secular Leftist remembers that one.

Sylvia: He's always been this annoying.

#11 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:56 PM:

Where does Wallis get the idea that we've seen any "partisan gridlock?" A moment's reflection would reveal to him that we've had several years of unfettered one-party rule, and that Tuesday's results were a smashing victory for partisan gridlock.

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:56 PM:

Ron, that wasn't an invitation to be rude to religious Leftists, either.

#13 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:37 AM:

My apologies. I should have qualified that with "some," and noted that my impatience is with the assumed leadership role; I really don't care why anyone does the right thing and have no use for that "greatest treason" trope.

I've had some years of experience with religious leftists and find myself still rubbed raw in the oddest places. That experience is exemplified by but not limited to being a young, naive, and astonished spear-carrier in one staging of an epic argument between Phil Berrigan and a woman in the Baltimore collective house that had given him support and shelter -- and continued to do so till the day he died. That argument was one we old women were too familiar with even then, and there was Father Phil telling her and the rest of us that women needed to wait till after the Real Revolution to start agitating for our rights.

I was probably star-struck, plus I genuinely liked the guy. (And in my own small way I rallied to him and the rest of the Harrisburg 8-then-6 a couple years later.) It took a week or so for the realization to sink in that he was a member of an officialdom that not only excluded us, but claimed to do so on some basis other than political expediency. On the very ground of our beings.

Exemplary, as I said, but far from the first or the last such insult from the religious left. Some of us stick to our principles in spite of our allies. Huh. Some of us even stick to our allies in spite of our allies.

#14 ::: Cynthia Wood ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:47 AM:

Some on the religious left really need to lower their noses and realize that they're not standing at the pinnacle of existence. Nor are they leading the parade.

Get down and march with the rest of us, bud. It's got to be uncomfortable up there.

#15 ::: Nell ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:50 AM:

What Wallis wrote right after the 2004 election turned me off him forever. It was a piece that blamed the loss on the Democratic Party for not having done things that in my view were the responsibility of liberal Christians. Adopting his scolding recommendations would have made the party a hostile place for Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists. It was a show of insensitivity remarkable for any political pundit, much less one supposedly animated by faith.

It's hard to see in Jim Wallis now the originator of the Pledge of Resistance. (For younger readers, the PoR was a pledge of non-violent civil disobedience to resist the U.S. war on Nicaragua, both the contra war we waged by proxy and a possible direct U.S. invasion. It came out of a conference in the early 1980s, and grew into a network that was one of the pillars of the Central America movement.)

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:02 AM:

Ron: Wow. I'm just a tad star-struck myself: you got grossly condescended to by Phil Berrigan! And still growly about it: no surprise, considering. That would have been around the time that I (then located in a fastness of the Far Right) was being taught that women never would have a voice in politics, and that this was a function of our most basic nature.

(I was raised Mormon. I'd hate to have to calculate which one of us has racked up more gender-based condescension in the course of the journey.)

I do remember hearing from afar about that "wait until after the real revolution" business -- as though the real revolution could get made without us. I wasn't impressed with the argument, then or now.

Everybody's dumb about some things. I take it for a sign that we'll all have to make the real revolution together, because none of us are omnidirectionally smart enough to figure it out by ourselves.

#17 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:33 AM:

"In this election, both the Religious Right and the secular Left were defeated..."

I wasn't aware that there were any "secular Left" candidates on the ballot. I looked and didn't find any. I wish I had known who they were— I would written more checks.

I try not to get too bent out of shape by guys like Wallis. Stuff like this is a variation on the old story about how there are supposed to be no atheists in foxholes. It seems to stem from the mistaken and prejudiced assumption that one cannot adopt a moral philosophy without first embracing a faith in God. Even my best, leftiest religious friends are prone to that particular error, and I've learned to just let it go. Trying to change their minds is almost like trying to convert them to Satanism. I'd rather stay friends with them.

#18 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:38 AM:

The nice thing about those sorts of columns is that when you hear a "liberal commentator" whining about how awful partisan gridlock is when the other side controls the entire government, you can immediately toss that commentator into your ignore-list. "FILTER 035 TRIGGERED: Does not understand that 'eating your brains, but not your eyes' does not constitute a 'reasonable compromise.'" It's a real time-saver!

#19 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:50 AM:

It's hard to see in Jim Wallis now the originator of the Pledge of Resistance. (For younger readers, the PoR was a pledge of non-violent civil disobedience to resist the U.S. war on Nicaragua, both the contra war we waged by proxy and a possible direct U.S. invasion. It came out of a conference in the early 1980s, and grew into a network that was one of the pillars of the Central America movement.)

Okay, so I have to take back the 'always' part of my earlier statement; I've got more than a couple of friends who were active in Sanctuary and related movements... (Just a few years before my time - but only by a few.) Thanks for the perspective, Nell.

Willis has been extremely annoying for the last few years, though.

#20 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:52 AM:

Anyone who wants to read a good Christian blogger (as blogrolled here) should give Fred Slacktivist a try, if only for Left Behind Friday.

#21 ::: steve ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:20 AM:

I rexpect this is a peculiar take on the topic and that I am probably preaching to the choir, but here is a proposition: Any relationship with God exists only in the first person. My God can never tell you or someone else what to do. My God has claim only on my own actions.

If we can each individually accept such a proposition - and I know it is idealistic to imagine it might be so universally during the next century or millenium - then we can sit down as adults and decide on how we ought to treat each other in civil society. We can inform our own thinking with moral thought imported from religion, but we cannot use religious arguments per se to frame public policy. 'Holier than thou' speech disappears. My God might prohibit me from doing things you find yourself free to do and vice versa.

It also seems to me that societies develop ethical structures of thought by consesus. Gauthier in Morals By Agreement develops some reasons why and some ways of doing it. He develops three cooperative principles whose overall shape is not so profoundly different from Kant's categorical imperative or the Golden Rule. Axelrod's Evolution of cooperation is related. All are about cooperation informed by empathetic insight. And all might be blessed by Hume.

I see a lot of social problems being caused by a lack of empathy, ethical reasoning, and self restraint in society. People underestimate the importance of cooperation on so many levels. I vehemently disagree with the idea of bringing God into public schools; buy I think some form of ethical training might be very helpful. Naturally we would teach the 'My God Rule.' Much of ethical thought involves being able to see things from different viewpoints; and this is a quality that is almost totally lost from any public discourse in America ( this site excepted, of course.)

Wallis turned my stomach too. I didn't get past the second paragraph. But I wonder whether one way to make guys like this shut up and go away might be to address the problems they are talking about.

#22 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:14 AM:

Sigh. I have come to the conclusion that the only thing us seculars can do to get the attention of the religious on how we DO have morals is talking at length about them. Tedious, but necessary. Which is why now and then I write a heavily lyrical blog post about some, uh, some, I don't know, what would be religious things if I was religious. You know, you go on about the beauty of the universe, compassion, empathy, moral duty to your fellow men and things of this ilk. Reading up on Buddhism is good for this, since Buddhism ALMOST is secular anyway.

Unfortunately people have forgotten (or don't want to admit) how intensely moral socialism is. But then, if you are, say, a Communist, and willing to die for your ideals and stuff like that, you get accused of being a fanatic, driven by ideology, and so on and so forth. And you get credited with all of Pol Pot's victims, too.

#23 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:31 AM:

Anna: I'm a religious socialist with a brother who's an atheist ethical philosophy student (Working on his PhD and his MA both right now.)

It's hard to say whether either of us has stronger morals -- what I've never had a doubt about was that we both had strong moral stances, that they were compatible, and that he's just plain cool.

Some of us religious lefties get it.

#24 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:48 AM:

Sheesh! He's getting worse than Amy Sullivan, isn't he?

I worked my ass off for the God-botherin' Harold Ford, Jr., but I don't think Junior would ever be so dismissive, and not just because he lost.

I got driven back to my childhood faith in large part because of the post-2004 God wars at Daily Kos, because the screaming atheists were so all-fired ignernt.

But Wallis is as all-fired ignernt about politics. Or something. I mean, some religious left types have put together some coalitions, but they weren't the ones who dispatched me to every frickin' inch of East Nashville to pound on doors, so Mr. Wallis can keep his triumphalism to himself.

What won this election is basic human decency.

Well, in the rest of the country, anyway.

#25 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 04:19 AM:

It is good to know that as a secular Stoic, it is impossible for me to be a moral person. I can just stop checking and modifying my thoughts and acts, and join Wallis's Christians instead. Happy day. Life will be so much easier once I stop regarding Reason with respect and accept Jesus as my saviour.

Or perhaps I shall join the Epicureans. Do they still exist?

#26 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 05:47 AM:

A number of underlying assumptions in some of these comments are bothering me, including the one that says it's possible to say anything meaningful about "the religious," and of course the old chestnut that says religious people don't think, or don't question, or don't have to make moral decisions, or don't respect reason. The staggering untruth of that one, and its continued currency, never fails to amaze me.

#27 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 06:54 AM:

If we can't be part of the moral center, perhaps we can be shining examples of the scrupulously ethical?

Then again, perhaps that would be too fringe, even for me.

#28 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 07:07 AM:

Zander, we stoics aren't supposed to just respect Reason. We are supposed to revere it as a god. To the Ancients, the concept of the Logos in the universe was the One God that all the others were representations of. From that perspective, I think you can understand that accepting an unprovable god seems like Unreason. That is rather a step down.

Incidentally, it is quite likely that Christianity got its rational streak from the ancient Roman Stoics. There are elements of Paul's writings that seem to respond to Stoic tenets, for instance.

The point of my post, though, was to point out that other, well-respected systems of ethics exist and are practised (Marcus Aurelius, anyone?), that are not based on revelation.

#29 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 08:12 AM:

"Marching, marching to shibboleth
With the Eagle and the Sword!" - Firesign Theater

So, I guess all of the Ted Nuegent look-a-like's words about how the Kingdom of God is not of this Earth, and how politics and religion shouldn't mix just get lost on these people. Well, it's been a long time since I've been to Church. Maybe they've rewritten more things since I was there. Last I saw the Lord's Prayer went from "deliver us from temptation/evil" to "save us from the Evil One." So maybe they changed "render unto Caesar" to "Render Caesar unto God" or just to delete the "unto" part.

#30 ::: Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 08:39 AM:

Christianity, Judaism, Wicca, New Age Spiritualism and what they're all called today are all about as useful as the caveman's belief that lightning is some Really Big Powerful Guy Up There being pissed off with him, or the belief that stars are just little holes in the firmament. Surely they had their uses in less enlightened times; surely they put some minds at ease about things that couldn't then be understood. But right now all they are is dead weight slowing down any progress toward a happier life.

May I use this chance to praise the James Randi Educational Foundation? Generally he debunks those forms of superstition that are a little bit removed from what we call religion today, but often enough he addresses horrible things like "faith healing" as well. Of course the mainstream idea of religion doesn't include these extremes, but in a way that only makes it worse: it makes it look *reasonable* when it is anything but.

Will stop ranting now.

PS: religion and moral have nothing to do with each other. Really done now.

#31 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 08:51 AM:

I could ask all those dogs my wife and I have rescued if they think we have a moral center even though we're atheists. If not a center, at least a strip-mall.

To those who go to the Huffington Post fairly regularly, is this the kind of feeling shared by Arianna, based on her own writing? To tell the truth, I've never trusted her. I do remember how she used to be a Republican when her hubby was campaigning to be a senator from California, and how she became a Democrat after that fell thru.

#32 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 09:13 AM:

Hmm, Daniel -- are you saying that faith healing never works? That, to me, is like saying that nobody wins the lottery.

It works, betimes. It's not the place the Smart Money goes. But for a measurable percentage of people, when the Smart Money says "Give up and die, you aren't gonna get a better result", some form of what might be called "faith healing" or "alternative medicine" works out better than giving up. (Stephen Jay Gould, a scientist par excellance, wrote an excellent essay on not always following the smart money on health issues, around his own cancer diagnosis -- I don't have it to hand, or I'd point to the reference. I don't take it as license to accept faith as the best way to deal with all problems -- I take it as saying "look at what actually works with what is going on with me", in a cost-benefit kind of way. And that includes subjective costs and benefits.)

I'm a general advocate for "try the least invasive option first, consonant with what is likely to happen". A ruptured appendix -- surgery. An inflamed appendix -- not necessarily. A "rotator cuff" problem -- no surgery until I've talked with several people who understand, and want to work with, the fact that the rotator cuff is 4 different muscles with specific different treatments that might be useful.

I completely admire Randi for his debunking of egregious fakers. As with some religious folks, I think a lot of his supporters don't get it (and as with some religious folks, I think that he sometimes doesn't get it). The "placebo effect" is often really, really close (within 5%) of the effect of many or surgeries in helping people get better. And a properly applied placebo has far fewer side-effects than many other interventions. This is not (to me) a simple argument.

#33 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 09:59 AM:

Most of the religious left is not walking around with their noses in the air, spouting prescriptive nonsense. Most of them are head-down in the dirt, working to make this world a better place.

the Sanctuary Movement

Habitat for Humanity

Just for two.

#34 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 10:01 AM:

Tom -

"Stephen Jay Gould, a scientist par excellance, wrote an excellent essay on not always following the smart money on health issues, around his own cancer diagnosis -- "

I don't have it around either, all my Gould being packed away in boxes in the Bronx probably being leaked on, but my dim recollection is that he was saying something rather different - along the lines of actually understanding diagnoses and statistics and such. Perhaps someone with better memory or book in hand could enlighten us . . .

Daniel: "But right now all they are is dead weight slowing down any progress toward a happier life."

That's a remarkably confident assertion.

#35 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 10:03 AM:

Stephen #25: Or perhaps I shall join the Epicureans. Do they still exist?

I'm an Epicurean. There's not much to join, that I'm aware of. At least for me, dealing with organizations kind of negates the whole "avoid pain" part of the equation.

I think these folks might sponsor some kind of loose affiliation, if you'd enjoy that sort of thing. And here's an Epicurean group in San Francisco.

#36 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 10:16 AM:

If you're talking about this essay, Gould wasn't advocating "not following the smart money" at all, he was rejecting an erroneous model of what the smart money was--the mischaracterization of median life expectancy as a death sentence. And he was right, not just as a guide to happy thinking but statistically as well: he lived for decades after his diagnosis.

He does say something in there about the value of positive thinking in fighting cancer. While my impression is that subsequent studies have cast doubt on the effectiveness of positive thinking alone, of course it can't hurt in keeping people on a difficult treatment regimen.

The most insistent advocates of faith healing claim things that are bizarre and incredible, such as that praying for a petri dish of bacteria on the other side of the world will make them grow faster. That stuff is ripe for debunkery. It's hard to imagine even a sensible theology of an interventionist God that would accommodate these claims; they're more like magical thinking.

#37 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 10:26 AM:

I think there should be a distinction drawn between healing with faith (a slow process that involves faith in the process, faith in a super-being, and faith that you'll get better), "faith healing" aka "the original God Smack" or the laying on of hands, wacking of the forehead from "healers," and spiritual/pyschic surgery which is fakery of a low order. While the first, I think, can help the individual the later two, IMO, are money grabbing schemes.

#38 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 10:28 AM:

Related question: Does "religious Left" only mean "Christian Left"?

Because that's annoying too. Well, to me at least. I can see where, in a country like America, more widespread use of the term "Christian Left" might be politically beneficial.

#39 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 10:31 AM:

Sheesh. Here I thought Wallis was one of the good guys. Okay, I guess he still is, compared to, say... Dobson... but that's not exactly high praise. Did he just have a brain fart, or is he always this irritating and I just failed to notice?

I thought God's Politics was a pretty good book (although not saying anything I didn't already believe in), but his and the Sojourner's blog have some surprisingly harsh stuff. It seemed to me that God's Politics said that we needed a religious voice in politics at least in part because that's what most Americans are. And allowing noisy uber-conservative Christians do all of the talking doesn't do anyone justice. However, unlike this post, I didn't take the book as saying "Politics should just be liberal Christians because everyone else is just stupid." And that's how a bunch of the posts on the Sojourner's blog are - just way too many broad generalizations that don't foster any sort of productive discussion. Instead of complaining how other people are ignoring the issues, I wish they would just work on them more.

I think a lot of this broad generalizing is a result of liberal Christians feeling defensive for so many years. As a liberal Christian, I've felt pressure from both sides. I've dealt with both criticism from my politically liberal friends as to why I'm Christian and disapproving looks from religious people when I say I'm a hippie liberal. Now that the religious left is "cool" (or at least in the media), I think they're seeing a chance to take the spotlight and criticize everyone else. Which is unfair, pointless, and a bad excuse, but I think it might explain a bit.

As for religious social commentary, I think The Wittenburg Door is my favorite - they use humor, so they can never be too terribly self-righteous.

#40 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 10:45 AM:

man, thanks for that link to the Peirce article in the Globe about "The Crusaders".

Scary bunch of people. Glad they met a scary-sharp author in Peirce. I have been enjoying his posts no end at TAPPED. He's the real deal--kind of like what journalists used to be.

#41 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 11:05 AM:

To those who go to the Huffington Post fairly regularly, is this the kind of feeling shared by Arianna, based on her own writing? To tell the truth, I've never trusted her. I do remember how she used to be a Republican when her hubby was campaigning to be a senator from California, and how she became a Democrat after that fell thru.

Well, I've done no comprehensive survey of her blog posts, so all I can say on the first point is that the need to coddle the Christianists is not a major theme. But the second point strikes me as a bit unfair. After the Senate bid fell through she was still a prominent and vocal advocate of the Republican agenda for years. Her leftward shift happened as the country was plainly moving right, and was hardly the obvious move for a political careerist in a time when conventional wisdom was that the Republicans had structural permanent majorities in Congress.

BTW, her own account of the shift in her political thinking says that it was, in part, due to what happened when she tried actually to raise money for some of those private charities that were supposed to be so much better at succoring the poor than government --- only to find that her rich friends who kept on saying that wouldn't write the checks.

Which is not to say I'd trust her implicitly; a healthy skepticism is useful in approaching just about anyone in any sort of political establishment. But I don't see any reason right now to regard her with particular suspicion beyond that...

#42 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 11:06 AM:

kid bitzer@40: Interesting that both Pierce and Keith Olbermann came out of the sports pages...

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 11:19 AM:

"Charels Dodgson"... Re Arianna, I shall promptly eat crow (only if it's been freshly terminated because last time I saw a dead bird around our house, the dove's carcass was riddled with maggots). I am glad that she has seen the light. At the same time, I am a bit amused at the naivete of people smarter than me for once hoping that the wealthy ones would donate enough for those in need. If they had provided sufficiently, would there have been any need for the Government to step in and deal with the situation?

#44 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 11:20 AM:

Oops, my apologies for misspelling your name in my earlier post, "Charles Dodgson".

Olbermann was a sports writer?

#45 ::: Rasselas ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 11:21 AM:

I, for one, am glad that the religious and the secular can find common ground in the need to tell me how moral they are.

#46 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 11:21 AM:

Soemtimes I think that the Vulcans (see D. Duane) are right: religious views should be private, not talked about publicly. Mostly because you get the people who are sure they know the Only Right Way, generally the particular sect they belong to, and I am including atheism as one of those sects. (Aggressive non-belief is no improvement on aggressive belief.)

#47 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 11:23 AM:

Serge:
Keith was a sports broadcaster. I can't recall if he was a writer.

#48 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 11:37 AM:

Christianity, Judaism, Wicca, New Age Spiritualism and what they're all called today are all about as useful as the caveman's belief that lightning is some Really Big Powerful Guy Up There being pissed off with him, or the belief that stars are just little holes in the firmament. Surely they had their uses in less enlightened times; surely they put some minds at ease about things that couldn't then be understood. But right now all they are is dead weight slowing down any progress toward a happier life.

Well, Wicca's the only one I can speak to directly.

You don't know JACK SHIT about Wicca if you can make such a remark. You may have read Silver Ravenwolf, I suppose, but that would only deepen your ignorance, which apparently was deep enough already. STFU about what you know nothing about, or admit that you're no better than the most ignorant religious bigot in the Bible Belt (or anywhere).

#35: Howard, I knew there was a reason I liked you.

#38: Laurence, that drives me crazy too. I'm a religious leftist, and a Wiccan. Despite being quite religious myself, I'm a Secularist—that is, I believe that the public sphere should be as free as possible of the trappings of any particular religion or group of religions.

Also, people assume that if you're a religious leftist you must be anti-choice, which isn't true even of all CHRISTIAN leftists.

#46: Not even all atheists are One True and Only Wayists. They believe that others' beliefs in Gods are false, but not necessarily that everyone should be an atheist, just as while all Christians believe that Jesus Christ was/is God (pace if there are Christian sects that don't, OK?), not all of them want to convert everyone to Christianity. Believing that you have The Truth does not, I find, necessarily entail the desire to impose The Truth on others.

Besides, most types of Buddhism are technically atheist (i.e. they believe in no god). Buddhists are not particularly known for proselytizing, IIUC.

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 11:38 AM:

I am including atheism as one of those sects. (Aggressive non-belief is no improvement on aggressive belief.)

PJ, yes, there are aggressive atheists (Richard Dawkins?), and I care little for them. My atheism is my own thing. As for sects... If I may quote Graham Chapman in Monty Python's Life of Bryan...

"Beware false sects."

At which point people in the streets of Jerusalen finally start paying attention to him because they thought he was telling them to beware false sex.

#50 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 11:58 AM:

Serge @ 49:

Snickering. (My Medieval History professor ran 'Brian' for background.)

#51 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:02 PM:

yeah, the conflation of 'atheism' with 'aggressive non-belief' is kind of like the conflation of 'Jesus' with 'Torquemada'.

They're different.

#52 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:03 PM:

Heheheh, PJ... And thanks for the bit about Olbermann. Do you know if her writes his own stuff on his MSNBC show?

#53 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:12 PM:

kid bitzer brought up Torquemada. I can't believe I didn't expect that.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Meanwhile everybody expected the Italian Inquisition, if I am to believe that scene from the movie adaptation of The Name of The Rose where, when F.Murray Abraham finally shows up, all the peasants are out there on the side of the road waiting for the fun to begin.

#54 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:14 PM:

#53 - YOMANK.

#55 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:24 PM:

YOMANK? Dare I ask, Xopher? I can probably come up with some phrase that'd fit that, but it probably wouldn't be what you have in mind...

#56 ::: Adrienne Travis ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:26 PM:

#30, you apparently missed Teresa in #12 where she says, and i quote, "that wasn't an invitation to be rude to religious Leftists, either." Atheism isn't the be-all and end-all of ethical thought, whatever many atheists think. (And i'd like to point out that i AM, to at least some degree, atheist. Albeit a religious atheist.)

#48, great points on all accounts. Just as an aside, to the best of my knowledge the minimal point of correlation for Christians is that they all DO believe that JC is/was God. What they then put on top of that makes a big difference, but that's sorta the root issue.

#57 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:27 PM:

I'm going to have to call the EMTs because there's a couple of strawmen who are getting the stuffing knocked out of them in this thread.

The only thing I'm certain that was repudiated on tuesday was the War.

Meanwhile 'values' has been turned into a meaningless attack word.

#58 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:30 PM:

Serge #52: Yes, he does, though possibly (probably) not solo. From comment #265 here at Firedoglake: MSNBC has asked me to do whatever I could during these "politics days" � but a) I have my daily radio commitment, and b) I don�t want to diminish Countdown by not being around to write it.

There's an earlier comment (#127) where he describes the process of writing a Special Comment, so I'd think those are exclusively his writing.

#59 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:32 PM:

Nuts. Missed fixing some characters. That should read MSNBC has asked me to do whatever I could during these "politics days" -- but a) I have my daily radio commitment, and b) I don't want to diminish Countdown by not being around to write it.

#60 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:33 PM:

An intelligent and fair discussion of religion on the internet? Now, I've seen everything. This website continues to amaze me.

#61 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:36 PM:

Agreed, P J. I have no more patience for "atheism is the only road to enlightenment" than for "my religion is the only road to morality". Daniel's post upthread is an explicit example of why I am not 100% ga-ga over The Amazing Randi, too. I mean, Randi does good work in exposing money-grabbing scammers, but he and his fans seem to believe that only atheists are capable of the skepticism necessary to protect oneself from being scammed. It's not much better than believing that only Christians are capable of morality, in my opinion.

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:36 PM:

Thanks, Bruce. I don't always catch Olbermann's show, but, when I do, I enjoy it. He's so damned articulate, especially when he calls the current White House a bunch of incompetents. Is this what it felt like in the Fifties to watch Murrow taking on McCarthy? (Speaking of Tailgunner Joe, I read somewhere that he had once had Aaron Copland in his sights, but changed his mind when Copland came in for a private interview and basically told him to bring it on.)

#63 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:38 PM:

#55: You Owe Me A New Keyboard.

#56: Yes, and that's what I thought...I was attempting to forestall nitpickery in case someone knows of a cult called the Montana Atheist Christians or something.

#64 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:41 PM:

Daniel @ 30

Next time you want to abuse those of us who chose to believe as dead-weights who are less enlightened, at least do it with some logic.

For many, many people religion and morality go hand-in-hand. Religion is the source of that morality, and as that is their choice of how to live a moral life, you can shove your enlightened atheistic certainty that you have the one true way.

On 'faith healing'- some of the eastern types have this funny habit of working. And not just when people are asking for money. Acupuncture is seen as faith healing by a lot of people...and the research is showing that it works. Funny, that. Now, i'm not saying it always works, but something- placebo effect or something else- helps.

I agree that religion should be a private matter. Most of the Christian left aren't known as such because they've got hands in the dirt working and believe very firmly in knowing they are christian by their love, not by their words.

#65 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:44 PM:

Your Own Mileage Accords No Knowledge

You Only Miss A New Kangaroo

Yellow Opals Make Arguably Nasty Kerchiefs

Yang-tse Offers Many Attractive Nixonian Klezmers

okay, I give. Tell Serge, and tell me too, Xopher.

#66 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:45 PM:

sorry--didn't see it on preview.

Well, why didn't you *say* that?

#67 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:55 PM:

Hey, Fragano said it to me and I really enjoyed figuring it out, so I figured you might too.

Shet mah mouf.

#68 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:05 PM:

Torture is a moral issue.

I hope nobody here thinks they can figure out, from that simple and important statement, what religion I follow, if any.

#69 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:14 PM:

The secular Left are our siblings in arms.

Solidarity forever, T.

#70 ::: N Nm ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:28 PM:

Hy, 'm wth y n th trtr nd th wr. Lks lk Pls nd hr lk r ll bt th mnmm wg, thgh. Vctry sqndrd, lrdy.

#71 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:33 PM:

No Nym: Okay, you try living on the federal minimum wage for a year.

#72 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:42 PM:

Hi, No Nym. Want to try that again with a real address, maybe even a real name?

Welcome to Making Light.

#73 ::: Paul Lalonde ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:47 PM:

#64, Sisuile: I know that for some, morality and religion are inextricably linked, that that quickly leads to the argument that those without religion lack morality. I don't buy it.

I'm much more a believer that religion is a rationalization for moral behaviour. Some of the most moral people I've known have been non-religious (not that anecdotes mean much), and simply found other rationalizations for their moral behaviour.

I believe that moral behaviour is largely the outcome of a social-evolutionary process: working societies require a certain level of cooperation or fail. Organisms do a pretty good job of of reproducing in enviornements of cooperation, and the forms of cooperation we subscribe to we tend to call "morality".

How we rationalize that morality helps us extend the basics to fringe cases (reproductive technologies, intellectual property, etc) in ways we feel are consistent. Thus, I see religion as a framework in which we can choose to extend our core morality to less-evolutionarily derived behaviour. Secular humanism probably works just as well, so long as it is not divorced from personal responsibility.

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:52 PM:

You Owe Me A New Keyboard

MAC or Windows, Xopher?

#75 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:01 PM:

Shout-out, Beth Meacham.

Look, I don't know from Wallis, but there is a Religious Left, and I think most of us in it are proud to share a lot of the same morals and values as our secular-Left comrades. Just because we tend to be busy doing community work and not putting out press releases doesn't mean we're not here, and not right next to you in the trenches. And most of us, in my experience, are, like y'all, secularists--that is, we believe in the dream of a secular government and society where we're as free to our religious beliefs as other people are free from them.

Honestly, I am sick of the abuse. Nobody I work with, as a religious Leftist, spends any time getting all down on the atheists or saying that nonreligious folks aren't moral or any of that nonsense. We're, in my experience, generally keen on working with you guys, because we have more in common with you, in a lot of places, than we do with a lot of other religious folks. So why all this bull calling us cavemen from people like Daniel and Ron? I'm not going to play the I'm-taking-my-toys-and-going-home game, like I guess this Wallis chap is, because the common struggle is more important than this--but seriously. Can we have maybe a little solidarity?

I don't give a good goddamn about any of you agreeing with or approving of my theology--I just want to have a hand in building a more decent world along with you. Why is it so important that me and mine convert to your worldview in order to join up?

#76 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:14 PM:

Everybody calm down. It's a well-known fact that the mental energy used in defensiveness is subtracted directly from the supply allocated to general intelligence.

I have no use for religious types who assume that secularists have neither spiritual values nor morals. I have just as little use for secularists who assume that religious types never think or doubt or question. I have less than zero use for people like Jim Wallis, who'd rather excommunicate his allies than achieve his ostensible goals.

David Moles (69), What You Said.

Kid Bitzer, we still haven't come up with a local equivalent of the rasff award, but when we do, comment #65 gets one.

#77 ::: Glen Fisher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:15 PM:

Daniel wrote (in #30)

Christianity, Judaism, Wicca, New Age Spiritualism and what they're all called today are all about as useful as the caveman's belief that lightning is some Really Big Powerful Guy Up There being pissed off with him, or the belief that stars are just little holes in the firmament. Surely they had their uses in less enlightened times; surely they put some minds at ease about things that couldn't then be understood. But right now all they are is dead weight slowing down any progress toward a happier life.

This one paragraph has so many problems it's hard to know where to start. Most of them seem to stem from using subjective terms as if they had fixed, objective, absolute meaning. So, picking points at random:

* "Useful": Usefulness is determined by the particular task you're trying to accomplish. A sledge hammer is quite useful for driving stakes into the ground; it's entirely useless for inserting pins into fabric. So is a sledge hammer useful or useless? It depends on what you're trying to do. Similarly, to determine whether religion is "useful", you have to say what you're trying to use it for. As you haven't said that, you seem to be claiming it's of no use at all, for any task imaginable, which would seem to be a very hard claim to support. Even the most cynical atheist would have to concede that the Republicans have found religion very useful, in encouraging large fractions of the population to endorse their agenda. It may be a sleazy, hypocriical use for religion, but it is a use.

* "Enlightened": whether we are living in more or less enlightened times than we used to depends on what you deem to constitute "enlightenment". There are a considerable number of people who claim that the 21st Century is less enlightened than times past, and point to the prevalence of greed and intolerance as support.

* And the capper: "Happier". If there's anything people cannot agree on, it's what makes them happy. "Happiness" is about as subjective a term as you could find. There are people who are made happy by having lots of stuff. There are people who are made happy by having no stuff at all. There are people who are made happy by being able to stay in the same place for their whole lives. There are people who are made happy by spending each day in a different place. For any given activity, you can find people to whom it brings bliss, and you can find people who flee it as the vilest drudgerly. There are people who are made happy by having unlimited choices available. There are people who are made happy by not having to make choices. Without a "pole of happiness" to make progress toward, how can you meaningfully speak of "progress toward a happier life"?

Other problems:

* Disbelief in Really Big Powerful Guys Up There (RBPGUTs) is as much a religious position as any form of belief is. Any statement about whether RBPGUTs exist or not is, at its core, a statement of religion. Science has nothing to say on the subject. Science bases its claims on evidence, and while there is no evidence that RBPGUTs exist, neither is there evidence that they don't. (Remember that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.)

* You seem to have a remarkably simple-minded idea of what constitutes "religion". Your example of "caveman religion" is straight out of children's cartoons. The evidence available suggests that the early Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens had rather more complex religion beliefs than merely "some Really Big Powerful Guy Up There being pissed off with him". Moreover, RBPGUTs are not posited merely to bring comfort, but to bring control. They exist (for some values of "exist") as an attempt to control the otherwise-uncontrollable forces of nature. To keep the typhoons from destroying the crops, you need an entity more powerful than the typhoon. Mere mortals can't do that, so you enlist the help of any non-mortals you can get.

Perhaps if you rephrased your argument in a way that didn't reek so much of "I know better than you do what's best for you", we might be able to get somewhere.

#78 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:32 PM:

Glen: Any statement about whether [Really Big Powerful Guys Up There] exist or not is, at its core, a statement of religion.

Y'know, I used to sort-of agree with this, but I've come to see that it's not true. And I don't just mean that atheism isn't a religion. I mean that the mere belief in a god isn't a religion either.

Religion is a set of beliefs and practices. Taking one single statement about whether there is or isn't a Guy In The Sky When You Die With A Big Pizza Pie (That's Agape!) is like pointing to a single ballot and saying it's a working democracy.

#79 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:34 PM:

What, are we back to that hoary old chestnut about how religion was an exceptionally stupid attempt to explain natural phenomena before the invention of science? I expect that'll be why core religious texts have always consisted of one spurious explanation after another for stuff like earthquakes, coal, why copper plus tin makes bronze, where birds go in the winter, and how come milk cartons won't open right.

The only thing in that schema that can be demonstrated to be a spurious explanation for something the explainer didn't understand is the theory itself.

#80 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:48 PM:

Faith != Religion.

Here is a good anthropological analysis of what constitutes a religion. To sum up ('splaining takes too long :-), she asserts that a religion contains both descriptive (how the universe was created and who's in charge) and prescriptive (what constitutes a good life and how you should live it) segments, which are considered to follow from the descriptions. Also, religions have social and physical dimensions.

I understand very well how an individual can function without any one of these and still possess a fair measure of the remainder. I don't understand how asserting that failure to possess all four, or a particular value for any one of them, makes a person inferior.

#81 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:00 PM:
I expect that'll be why core religious texts have always consisted of one spurious explanation after another for stuff like ... how come milk cartons won't open right.

Thank you, Teresa. The lactose-intolerant bother me too.

#82 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:05 PM:

Milk cartons don't open right on account of we aren't s'posed to be drinking that stuff that comes from cows. Or something. (Personally, I think the machines are in need of adjustment. Milk in bottles is easier to open.)

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:08 PM:

Chris Clarke, even if we're very quiet, polite lactose-intolerant people? When I take my medication I can tolerate lactose just fine...as long as we recognize that lactose intolerance, like homophobia or racism, is a disease, and that we're responsible for our own behavior, I think the lactose-intolerant can function almost like normal members of society.

Even before I went on meds, I never beat up lactose in the street.

#84 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:09 PM:

P J, if the Gods wanted us to drink milk, they'd have given us--wait--oh.

#85 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:10 PM:

We demand autonomy for the curds!

#86 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:13 PM:

Chris, you're whey off base.

#87 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:14 PM:

Oh, ow, Chris.

They'll never be granted autonomy. They refuse to acknowledge the One True Whey.

#88 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:15 PM:

little light, that was pretty cheesey.

#89 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:19 PM:

And Chris, it seems you know jack. Still, son, it was gouda you to jump right in there.

#90 ::: Glen Fisher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:30 PM:

Me: Any statement about whether [Really Big Powerful Guys Up There] exist or not is, at its core, a statement of religion.

Avram: Y'know, I used to sort-of agree with this, but I've come to see that it's not true. And I don't just mean that atheism isn't a religion. I mean that the mere belief in a god isn't a religion either.

That's why it's a statement of religion, not an essay, I didn't say that it was statement that one was religious, but only that it was a statement that fell into the area of religion, in the same way that "f=ma" is a statement of science.

Avram: Religion is a set of beliefs and practices. Taking one single statement about whether there is or isn't a Guy In The Sky When You Die With A Big Pizza Pie (That's Agape!) is like pointing to a single ballot and saying it's a working democracy.

You seem to be arguing with something I didn't say.


Teresa: What, are we back to that hoary old chestnut about how religion was an exceptionally stupid attempt to explain natural phenomena before the invention of science?

Assuming that was in response to my post, I didn't make that claim. All I said was that, contrary to Daniel's apparent belief, comfort was not the only function of religion, and presented the easy-to-understand controlling-the-uncontrollable as an example. Given his post, subtlety and nuance didn't seem likely to make the point. (Sometimes, sledgehammers are the tool of choice.)

I don't regard religion as an exceptionally stupid attempt at anything. If I had to describe it as an "exceptionally ____ attempt", I'd fill in the blank with "inventive". I wouldn't think the leap from material being to immaterial ones was either trivial or obvious. To call those beliefs "stupid" would be to hold those people to utterly inappropriate standards, We know things--lots of things--they not only didn't know, but couldn't know. Given what they did know, those beliefs were a perfectly reasonable attempt to explain natural phenomena.


#91 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:30 PM:

Serge @ #52, re: Olbermann's material

Here's what he had to say in Firedoglake's comments when he was there last Sunday.

http://www.firedoglake.com/2006/11/05/fdl-book-salon-welcomes-keith-olbermann-2/#comment-364195

"Erika, unlike the rest of the show, a Special Comment is usually a two-day process:

A) Get pissed off.
B) Hear the "Special Comment" bell go off in my head.
C) Write it
D) Rewrite it
E) Re-rewrite it in the morning
F) Do it aloud three or four times
G) Get the rest of the show done
H) Do it with the knowledge it has to be done by exactly 9:00:00 ET. "

#92 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:33 PM:

Cheez... You go away from a religion-themed thread for a couple of hours to pull some weeds in the backyard and what happens? Puns. Milk it for all it's worth.

#93 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:38 PM:

Xopher,

Don't you know, responses like #89 just brie-d more bad puns? We'll be milking this topic for ages, as each of us dairies worse and worse puns. Yogurt your loins for a battle, I hope?

(I almost Camembert to watch, myself.)

#94 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:48 PM:

It's clear that some people do know Jack.

#95 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:53 PM:

Doesn't he live in California, in Monterrey?

#96 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:56 PM:

Glen, if you want people to argue only with what you say, then you'd better be more precise when you say it. I would say that "f = ma" is a scientific statement; I think the phrase "a statement of science" is vague and clunky-sounding. "A statement of religion" generally means "a statement that sums up, or at least identifies, one's religious beliefs". A vast number of perfectly ordinary statements -- like "the Pope is the Bishop of Rome" and "Jews celebrate their Sabbath on Saturdays" -- fall into the area of religion without being what most people would consider religious statements.

#97 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 04:11 PM:

you know, I don't do as much marching in protest or getting my hands dirty feeding the hungry and clothing the naked as I really should, but I've observed that when I do, when I'm organizing a fund-raiser or feeding a crowd of volunteers or tutoring refugees, nobody asks me about why I'm doing it: they assume that I'm doing it because I think that raising funds for The Cause (whichever Cause that is), or feeding people, or helping people learn what they need to know in order to fend for themselves here is A Good Thing to do. And the people who are working with me also think that it's A Good Thing to Do.

We can agree on that much, and we can agree to disagree on other things that I think are Good Things and they may think are Less Good Things. I've never, for example, had anyone at the Catholic-sponsored refugee house I volunteered at deem me less suitable an English tutor because I don't toe the papal line on condoms.

#98 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 04:27 PM:

Glen: When I'm addressing someone directly, I generally start by typing their name.

#99 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 04:48 PM:

Never start a pun thread here before you go out to lunch. By the time you come back, Xopher will have rennet into the ground.

#100 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 08:58 PM:

Are you just buttering people up?

On a more serious note, no one has brought up direct experience of the Divine as part of religion. It's part of mine, anyway. I don't care what other people think, as long as they don't get in my face about it. I have had personal experience of the Goddess. I seldom talk about it, and generally only to other Witches. But it has shaped a lot of who I am and what I do. As long as people have mystical experiences, there will be some kind of religion.

A friend of mine said the motto of militant agnostics is "I don't know, and you don't either". Well, I *know*, for me, anyway. I wish more of the religions in the world were more about experiencing the Divine and less about telling other people what to do. My Goddess is personal to me; a variation of the usual ending - You Mileage WILL Vary.

#101 ::: Pierce R. Butler ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 09:21 PM:

Jeff Sharlet & friends are another good source of "smart commentary on religion in modern American life": http://www.therevealer.org/ .

For a good hard look at religion in modern American politics, try Talk to Action: http://www.talk2action.org/ .

#102 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 10:15 PM:

Jeff Carr, a (employee? ally? friend?) of Jim Wallis, responded to criticisms on Wallis's blog (Wallis's father just died suddenly, so he couldn't do so). Here's part of what he wrote:


...one comment got it right. "Capitalized letters matter, folks. Jim means Secular Fundamentalists, not all secular people. Jim has continuously expressed his gratitude for the connections he's formed with the secular Left." That is indeed what Jim meant. In God�s Politics, Jim contrasts the Religious Right, who "would impose the doctrines of a political theocracy on their fellow citizens," and secular fundamentalists, who "would deprive the public square of needed moral and spiritual values often shaped by faith." Secular fundamentalists, he wrote, "tell us that religion should be restricted to one's church or family. No talk of faith, they say, ought to be allowed to seep into the public square for fear of violating the First Amendment or alienating the non-religious." Yet, "We can demonstrate our commitment to pluralistic democracy and support the rightful separation of church and state without segregating moral and spiritual values from our political life."

The rest is here.

Personally, I think Wallis is setting up straw men here to obscure real issues about church-state separation... but I thought people might be interested.

#104 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 10:31 PM:

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden -- "I do remember hearing from afar about that "wait until after the real revolution" business -- as though the real revolution could get made without us."

Yup, as I see it. The Real Revolution involves practically everyone dancing. If half the people aren't allowed to dance, it's no Real Revolution.

#105 ::: rationalist ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 10:44 PM:

Spare us, Wallis, the gentle bigotry of "moderate" theists. You need to reread your MLK.

#106 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 01:23 AM:

These puns are munsterous. I can't help but skim past them . . .

#107 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 01:38 AM:

Shameless punning is a sign of poor brie'ding.

It's got me feeling bleu.

#108 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 02:16 AM:

I'm tired of this senseless cheddar.

#109 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 08:16 AM:

"I have no mousse and I must have cream."

#110 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 09:02 AM:

If I may interrupt the puns, I just want to say that Beth Meacham's point in #33 is one I wish I'd thought to include in my original post.

#111 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 09:23 AM:

Thanks for passing on that response, Steven. I'd like to ask Wallis and his minions how secular people (funadmentalists or not) are depriving the public square of needed moral and spiritual values often shaped by faith. I don't think that even Randi is preventing anybody from doing the good deeds suggested by one's faith.

As for interrupting the flow of puns, I felt cowed.

#112 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 11:06 AM:

Yes, Patrick, Beth's comment at #33 made me say "Right on!" (dating myself is better than sitting home, I always say).

Why not put it in as an update? "Beth Meacham points out that..."

I've seen Teresa do that with the cream of the comments from some of her posts.

#113 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 01:33 PM:

Teresa writes: "I have less than zero use for people like Jim Wallis, who'd rather excommunicate his allies than achieve his ostensible goals."

If you don't mind, I'll step aside and let sensible Christians have that discussion with him and his crew. As an atheist, I've found my mere presence among any collection of even only nominally Christian voices calling for moderation and inclusiveness tends to be counterproductive.

"Oh, look at those angry secular Leftists," comes the cry, and all the counters are immediately reset to zero.

#114 ::: Kinsley Castle ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 01:40 PM:

Glen Fisher: Because you've written a thoughtful post on this issue, I will try to respond in the same spirit.

Similarly, to determine whether religion is "useful", you have to say what you're trying to use it for. As you haven't said that, you seem to be claiming it's of no use at all, for any task imaginable, which would seem to be a very hard claim to support.

The utility the atheist discovers in atheism is its explanatory power. To an atheist the world makes more sense without God. That there is no higher power watching over us is a satisfactory solution to the problem of evil. That there is no heaven and hell, no redemption, and no reason to be redeemed assuages religious guilt and the fear of death. That Jesus is not God explains why there are so many schisms and doctrinal disagreements amongst Christians, and why so many people hold religious beliefs besides Christianity. The atheist finds no utility in theism because theism offers few convincing explanations for them, and increases anxiety over existential and doctrinal issues rather than creating happiness.

True, this does not mean there is no utility in religion for anyone. Pat Robertson, George Bush, and the average medieval Pope have certainly gained a great deal of mileage out of people's religious beliefs. But such usages are not considered particularly worthy by the atheist.

"Enlightened": whether we are living in more or less enlightened times than we used to depends on what you deem to constitute "enlightenment". There are a considerable number of people who claim that the 21st Century is less enlightened than times past, and point to the prevalence of greed and intolerance as support.

When an atheist uses the term "enlightenment" he is almost always talking about the philosophical movement of the 17th and 18th centuries, out of which came science. This has nothing to do with greed and intolerance. (Your use of enlightenment here seems to have more in common with the Socratic notion of virtue.) The chief tenet of enlightenment philosophy is "self-improvement through rational enquiry". Now, as an Empiricist, I personally have problems with this version of rationalism, but its importance to the enlightenment cannot be ignored. It denied the authority of the Catholic Church over the natural world, and asserted that "truth" could be discovered by the individual through the medium of reasoned argument.

If there's anything people cannot agree on, it's what makes them happy. "Happiness" is about as subjective a term as you could find. There are people who are made happy by having lots of stuff. There are people who are made happy by having no stuff at all. There are people who are made happy by being able to stay in the same place for their whole lives.

I agree that happiness is not a very good word. It's a shame that the English language has no more appropriate term for the philosophical/psychological concepts that get bundled under "happiness". And the components of this more intellectually rigorous happiness are fairly well understood. Happiness is freedom from deprivation and physical harm. It is freedom from fear. It is to be loved and to belong. It is to achieve and to be recognized for one's achievements. It is understanding and the pursuit of knowledge. And finally, it is to know and to be at peace with oneself.

Sometimes these notions of personal needs are combined with utilitarian ethics -- "the greatest good for the greatest number" -- or secular humanism. But overall, the pursuit of happiness is a motivating force for many atheists. The pursuit is a substitute for Christian notions of "the meaning of life", which usually has something to do with serving God -- notions that are, of course, nonsensical to an atheist. Life has no ultimate meaning, but you can give it purpose, and you can die fulfilled.

Disbelief in Really Big Powerful Guys Up There (RBPGUTs) is as much a religious position as any form of belief is. Any statement about whether RBPGUTs exist or not is, at its core, a statement of religion. Science has nothing to say on the subject. Science bases its claims on evidence, and while there is no evidence that RBPGUTs exist, neither is there evidence that they don't. (Remember that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.)

I imagine that very few atheists would ever agree with the argument you make here. And the trouble with it is the word "exist". You are attempting to coopt what is a simple existential problem and make it the exclusive preserve of religion. But if you're using a word like "exist" with no qualification whatsoever, you are not making a religious claim, but a factual one. It is true that science, or indeed any kind of Empiricism, cannot say with 100% certainty that God does not exist. But then science cannot make 100% certain claims about anything. Instead, an atheist will ask the question, "Is it reasonable that God exists?" Or, in other words, "Is the probability of God's existence far enough above zero to take it seriously, or is it statistically insignificant?"

Is it reasonable to suppose that an intelligent agent kicked off the big bang, as opposed to an unintelligent agent? Is it reasonable to claim that something as complex as the universe requires an intelligent designer, but something as complex as God doesn't? Is it reasonable to suppose that the God who would make an entire universe would take special interest in one particular planet that's less significant than a single grain of sand on a beach? Is it reasonable to suppose that the creator God would take special interest in a species that has existed for less than a fraction of a percent of the universe? Is it reasonable to suppose that your religion just happens to be the true one, out of the thousands of other religious beliefs that have existed through human history? Is it reasonable to suppose that the creator of a universe unimaginably larger than yourself cares personally about you? Is it reasonable to ignore every bit of scientific data that's consistent with a naturalistic universe and say God exists anyway?

And if you're prepared to swallow all of that on behalf of God, then who's to say that the invisible pink unicorn (PBUH!) doesn't exist? Or the flying spaghetti monster? Or fairies that steal cheese out of your refrigerator? Of course, you could just dodge all of these sorts of questions -- but only by making the word "exist" mean something different from what the dictionary says it means.

Moreover, RBPGUTs are not posited merely to bring comfort, but to bring control. They exist (for some values of "exist") as an attempt to control the otherwise-uncontrollable forces of nature. To keep the typhoons from destroying the crops, you need an entity more powerful than the typhoon. Mere mortals can't do that, so you enlist the help of any non-mortals you can get.

Typhoons destroy crops all the time (don't even talk to me about bananas). People die in horrific accidents. Kids shoot other kids with guns, sometimes accidentally and sometimes not. Wars come and go. Epidemics come and go. Economies collapse and are rebuilt. All the mass of humanity goes about its business on this planet day in and day out. Good things and bad things happen. No amount of prayer or appeal to celestial authority makes the slightest bit of difference. You can sit in the dark and call out the name of your God and he won't answer... but another human being might.

Yes, there are dogmatic and defensive atheists. There are some, like Richard Dawkins, who are that way because they are ferociously intelligent, passionate, and unwilling to compromise. But I'd say the majority are Americans, suffering the emotional toll that social ostracism reaps. They're considered monsters by the right and spiritual cripples by the left. The article linked from the OP is a typical example of the kind of crap they face every day of their lives.

#115 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 03:05 PM:

"As for interrupting the flow of puns, I felt cowed."

That's ok - we forgive ewe . . .

#116 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 03:27 PM:

And of course, I should mention that famed snake-haired French master of literary realism, Gorgon Zola. He had a great influence on later works, such as Steinbeck's majestic novel of cheesemaking in the Salinas Valley, East of Edam . . .

#117 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 05:29 PM:

Udderly ridiculous, Dan S...

#118 ::: belledame222 ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 05:46 PM:

I'm a bit torn. I, also, had seen Sojourners as among the "good guys." I can see why they're offputting, though. it is too bad. on the whole i think they're right that there's a gap between the areligious left and the religious left; but acting sanctimonious doesn't exactly help to bridge that gap. nor does the implicit assumption that all those who consider themselves part of the religious/spiritual left are Christian, or at minimum adhere to the "Judeo-Christian" (boy o boy do i hate that little phrase, p.s.) worldview.

i'm all for morals, actually, in some ways. but...well, yeah. i think "we need to talk" about this whole religion gap deal, we on the loosely defined "left" in the U.S.

#119 ::: belledame222 ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 05:50 PM:

and I'm sorry, but the equation of "religious left" with "centrists" is a load of self-serving crap. some of the most "radical" (left, yes) people I know are religious; and while I haven't had a chance to really look at the bios of each and every one of the incoming newcomers, I would seriously tend to doubt that they're any more devout than those on their way out, on the whole.

#120 ::: belledame222 ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 05:55 PM:

>I do remember hearing from afar about that "wait until after the real revolution" business -- as though the real revolution could get made without us. I wasn't impressed with the argument, then or now.>

No, me neither.

and it is true that sanctimonious arrogance is not limited to the religious among us, sadly. True Believers and plain old ordinary egomaniacs are everywhere, and probably always will be.

#121 ::: Gary Townsend ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 09:58 PM:

This post reminded me of a book I recently purchased during my girlfriend's most recent visit from Portugal, but have yet to read:

TALKING RIGHT: HOW CONSERVATIVES TURNED LIBERALISM INTO A TAX-RAISING, LATTE-DRINKING, SUSHI-EATING, VOLVO-DRIVING, NEW YORK TIMES-READING, BODY-PIERCING, HOLLYWOOD-LOVING, LEFT-WINIG FREAK SHOW, by Geoffrey Nunberg

As for me, I drive a VW Jetta, thank you very much, and I just love the title of Nunberg's book!

#122 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 10:29 PM:

The 'wait for the real revolution' line is simple-minded Marxism (not that Marx himself wasn't above it). It mistakes the worker (defined as a working-class male) as the centrally oppressed figure of capitalism and assumes that ending his oppression will automatically end all other forms of oppression. It was the message given by Eugene Debs to DuBois, I seem to recall. It was not, be it noted, the message of the Popular Front of the 1930s (Stalinism was, apparently, good for something).

I point out to my students that the feminist movement of the 1960s got some of its impetus from the way that the black power and anti-war movements treated women ('revolutionary women to the kitchen', 'the position of women in the struggle is prone'). Some people haven't got the message yet.

#123 ::: Pierce R. Butler ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 10:35 PM:

> the "Judeo-Christian" (boy o boy do i hate that little phrase

which according to my little Websters was first observed in 1899 - so much for it being a foundational American principle...

#124 ::: Pierce R. Butler ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 11:53 PM:

> 'the position of women in the struggle is prone'

A friend of mine, a certified fire-breathing feminist (of the notorious Gainesville, Florida cadre) got to know Stokely Carmichael and essentially absolved him of sexist intent for that comment. I've never asked her for the details of her understanding, but am stone certain she has not cut him any slack.

Which changes nothing about the way other men "in the struggle" parroted the line, of course...

#125 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 09:57 AM:

Pierce R. Butler #124: That last sentence is absolutely on point.

#126 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 11:19 AM:

Fragano Ledigester said:
I point out to my students that the feminist movement of the 1960s got some of its impetus from the way that the black power and anti-war movements treated women ('revolutionary women to the kitchen', 'the position of women in the struggle is prone'). Some people haven't got the message yet.

Shortly before I gave up on the London Review of Books, I read an essay in 2004 by the Slovenian philosopher/psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek, in which he basically demonstrated your point: he ended up arguing that "our" natural allies are the conservative Christian fundamentalists of the US, since they are (he assumes) all working class. And along the way, he rather clearly views struggles against racism, against sexism, against homophobia, etc., as essentially distractions from the "true" struggle.

The original essay is available only to LRB subscribers, but there's a version of it here:

Feminist struggle can be articulated into a chain with the struggle for social emancipation of the lower classes, or it can (and it certainly does) function as an ideological tool of the upper-middle classes to assert their superiority over the "patriarchal and intolerant" lower classes ...

#127 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 11:28 AM:

Oops -- my apologies to Fragano for misspelling his last name (happens to me occasionally, so I really should be more careful about that!)

#128 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 11:51 AM:

Peter Erwin #126: I think I'm done digesting.

I've read little of Slavoj Zizek, and this does not incline me to read more. We live in a world in which most of us confront a network of injustices, and our perception of which is the master injustice is often due to our social position. The reality, though, is that injustice and inequity are injustice and inequity, and we experience them as such whether we are workers, women, members of oppressed racial groups, homosexuals, or some combination of the above. Getting rid of one does not, we've learned, get rid of all of them. And if we're going to wait for the revolutionary bus, we will have a long wait coming.

The idea that Christian fundies are all working class is, it seems to me, a good example of middle-class condescension (Zizek should visit some mega-churches, he'd be amazed).

#129 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 01:18 PM:

Fragano said (#128):
I think I'm done digesting.

Oh, good. That was rather a lot in the way of dairy products to swallow earlier in the thread.

The other Zizek essay that really made me go "Wha....?!" was one in which he started off by trying to argue that Stalinism really wasn't so bad as some people claimed, because when Stalin was finished giving a speech, everyone applauded, including Stalin himself. Somehow this is supposed to express the idea that "under Stalin, the ruling ideology presupposed a space in which the leader and his subjects could meet as servants of Historical Reason. Under Stalin, all people were, theoretically, equal."

#130 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 02:35 PM:

Peter Erwin #129: Zizek, clearly, has not the least idea of what it meant to live under Stalin -- if you were an intellectual, an activist, a committed Party member, a bureaucrat, or anyone else whose head stood even a fraction of a centimetre above the crowd.

#131 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 06:32 PM:

we'll all have to make the real revolution together, because none of us are omnidirectionally smart enough to figure it out by ourselves (16)

I came here late, but I didn't see anybody who pulled that out to admire it and I wanted to make sure everybody got to see how shiny and clear it was.

And Anna (22):Unfortunately people have forgotten (or don't want to admit) how intensely moral socialism is. But then, if you are, say, a Communist, and willing to die for your ideals and stuff like that, you get accused of being a fanatic, driven by ideology, and so on and so forth. And you get credited with all of Pol Pot's victims, too.

I can attest to this, personally. In my newsgroup days it got to where I could say "it's a good idea to have a water policy" and certain people would respond with an accusation of mass murder. Because of course, if a communist says we ought to have a water policy, it must be murderous, somehow.

What I got out of the election results was that Democrats have to act like Democrats to get anywhere.

Also, that even the most blockbuster fearmongering can only go so far for so long to cover up blatant sociopathic arrogance.

#132 ::: liberal ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 08:17 PM:

j h woodyatt wrote, Stuff like this is a variation on the old story about how there are supposed to be no atheists in foxholes.

That's one thing I really like about the movie "Touching the Void"---there's a counterexample presented.

#133 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 09:54 PM:

I recommend this essay by Garry Wills at The New York Review of Books; http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19590

#134 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 10:00 PM:

Ooops. I meant to also say -- while I find Wallis long-winded and exasperating, and I intensely dislike his self-righteous smarmy attitude toward the secular left, I don't agree that he's an unprincipled huckster or as bad as the right-wing fundies. I recommend the article because Garry Wills is pretty clear about who those guys are and why the secular and non-secular left alike should find them dangerous.

#135 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2006, 10:04 PM:

Sorry Patrick -- sorry all. Yes, the article Patrick linked to in his original post and the one I just recommended are One And The Same.

Lizzy go away now, eat dinner, sleep.

#136 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2006, 02:18 PM:

Christianity, Judaism, Wicca, New Age Spiritualism and what they're all called today are all about as useful as the caveman's belief that lightning is some Really Big Powerful Guy Up There being pissed off with him, or the belief that stars are just little holes in the firmament. Surely they had their uses in less enlightened times; surely they put some minds at ease about things that couldn't then be understood. But right now all they are is dead weight slowing down any progress toward a happier life.

Though it's been said already, and better, by both Xopher and Glen, let me just add my two cents: bite me.

If you're not a believer in god(s), that's peachy by me, but allow me to assure you that my life would not be any happier if I were an atheist. In fact, it'd probably be less happy since, based on the examples I've seen lately, I would then have to go about denigrating people who'd never done me any harm. And that makes for bad feelings.

#137 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2006, 07:40 PM:

"In fact, it'd probably be less happy since, based on the examples I've seen lately, I would then have to go about denigrating people who'd never done me any harm. "

I'm guessing it's in large part a matter of basic personality traits, and you'd end up a happy live-and-let-live atheist . .
_____

And Lucy, I agree - the "none of us are omnidirectionally smart enough" bit is marvelous!

#138 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2006, 09:02 PM:

Mine is Mannie's construction of the Universe: I don't know who's cranking (to which I would add, I don't know if anyone is) but I'm pleased he doesn't stop.

#139 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2006, 01:32 AM:

Related question: Does "religious Left" only mean "Christian Left"?

Well, my understanding is that the phrase "Religious Left" came about in direct response to the phrase "Religious Right". And the latter, at least in American political discourse, very clearly does mean only "Christian Right".* So I would say that the answer to this question appears to be yes.

* Insert obligatory rant about the long-standing American-cultural conflation of the terms "religious" and "Christian" here.

#140 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2006, 12:59 PM:

"And the latter, at least in American political discourse, very clearly does mean only "Christian Right"."

I'm happy to be called a Calvinist Libertarian Socialist if it makes things clearer ;-)

Insert obligatory rant about the long-standing American-cultural conflation of the terms "religious" and "Christian" here.

Which must be irritating to some Jews who find themselves merged into a new religion "Judeo-Christianity" as if they were just one more Protestant denomination. And which mysteriously does not include Muslims whose doctrine is at least as Judaic as Christianity is, but does include the Mormons who are really quite different theologically.

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