Yes, He’s A Kook…But What Do You Think That Means?
Just in case you’ve forgotten over the holidays how batshit crazy this man is, this clip from The Rachel Maddow Show is well worth watching. The clips of his news interviews over the birth certificate are instructive.
One hundred and four years of history is in the balance. If Trump is the Republican nominee in 2016, there might not be a conservative party in 2020 either.
But the suit and tie conservatives like Will, bellyaching that Trump might destroy the conservative movement, need to point their fingers in the mirror instead. Trump is what he is, because the kook pews are what they are, and the kook pews are what they are because the country club crowd found them useful enough to enable them. Will to this day idolizes Ronald Reagan, who began his successful campaign for the presidency in 1980 in a Mississippi city near where James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered for registering black voters, with a speech about state’s rights. He knew perfectly well what Reagan was doing that day. They all did.
Yes, Trump is nuts. What do you think that means? The moral judgement attaches to those who knew better, or could have known better had they wanted to, but took the belly flop into the gutter anyway. Morality is choice, and Trump just is what he is and his followers just are what they are. The judgement on bargains made with the devil attach to the bargainer. Donald Trump is the face in the conservative mirror.
by Bruce |
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November 14th, 2015
No…This Isn’t Asymmetrical Warfare…
This came across my Facebook stream just now…
The death cult chose its city well—Paris, secular capital of the world, as hospitable, diverse and charming a metropolis as was ever devised. And the death cult chose its targets in the city with ghoulish, self-damning accuracy—everything they loathed stood plainly before them on a happy Friday evening: men and women in easy association, wine, free-thinking, laughter, tolerance, music—wild and satirical rock and blues. The cultists came armed with savage nihilism and a hatred that lies beyond our understanding…
I appreciate the argument I’m hearing more vocally now, that there is more than just a little chickens coming home to roost element to this latest attack. Jim Wright writes that “We created this”, and he lays the blueprint of it out in meticulous and sickening detail. Yes. We created this. That is to say, we gave ammunition and delivered recruits to the culture of death McEwan speaks of.
But make no mistake, that culture of death seeks revenge against us not for the wrongs we have done to the people of the middle east, but for living, for embracing life, for embracing joy. It makes use of the desperate, the wounded, the broken, but it is not engaged in “asymmetrical warfare” as I’ve heard said. You want to see what asymmetrical warfare looks like, study how the Viet Cong waged war against the French and Americans. They killed American soldiers. Lots of them. And like the Viet Cong ISIS has also taken its war to the enemy, and chosen its targets accordingly. The gay men they’re throwing off rooftops. The women they’re stoning to death. The school children and their teachers they’re massacring. The historical artifacts they’re blowing up. The works of art they’re hacking to pieces. Compare and contrast and then consider who and what the enemy really is.
Revenge you say? Yes. Absolutely. Revenge against the living. Revenge against beauty, against intellect, against the human heart and soul for existing. Soft targets are they? Cowardly attacks on unarmed people who can’t shoot back. No. Just…no. They went after the same hated enemy in Paris that they’ve been murdering at home. Those were not soft targets but simply The targets.
Yes, we Did bring this on ourselves. As Wright says, “Terrorism grows like bacteria in warm agar, among the destruction and ruin of war. Terrorism grows in the gaps between civilization.”
“We could have rebuilt that civilization after the Soviet Union pulled out.” says Wright. “We could have made the Mujahedeen our friends. We could have. But it would have cost us money. Our money. Lots of money, vast, vast sums of it. It would have taken decades of sustained commitment. It would have taken effort. And so, instead we left. Fuck it. Not our problem.”
Well it was our problem. And it still is. We fed the beast. We need to stop doing that. We need to practice what we preach to the world about liberty and justice for all. The power of an idea is not in what it can destroy but in what it can build. If all we bring to bear on the Middle East, or anywhere else, is bombs and bullets, subversion and assassination then you have to forgive the world for thinking our ideals are no better than any tinpot dictator’s. Perhaps we stopped believing in the power of our ideals because those ideals require work, and bullets and bombs and covert operations are so much easier. Just press a button. Just pull a trigger. Just send someone else’s children off to war. Perhaps the chickens that came home to roost were the bills due on the ideals we preach but can’t be bothered to practice.
But don’t mistake the desperate wounded people the beast gives kalashnikovs and suicide jackets to for the hate that wages war on civilization vicariously through them. Doing everything Wright says we should have done would not have mollified it. It would have made it hate us all the more. But at least it wouldn’t have so many willing tools.
by Bruce |
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September 30th, 2015
Here Comes Another One…Just Like The Other One…
This came across my facebook stream just now…
Indiana House Majority Leader Jud McMillan, a co-sponsor of the state’s controversial “religious freedom” law resigned his seat abruptly Tuesday, after a sexually explicit video starring the representative was sent via text message from McMillin’s cell phone. TheIndianapolis Star reported it is unclear who sent the text or how broadly it was distributed.
This is the second time McMillan has resigned from a job over sexual misconduct allegations…
McMillan has styled himself as a champion of the religious right’s crusade against marriage equality. His campaign website listed marriage discrimination as his top issue. “I will protect the integrity of the institution of marriage,” the site read. “In southeastern Indiana the family has always been the foundation of our strength of community. Our relationships with our wives, husbands, parents, children, siblings and other loved ones provides the glue that binds our common purpose. In these times of turmoil the rest of the country could learn something from our example.”
Yes. Yes it can. “This is the second time McMillan has resigned from a job over sexual misconduct allegations.” Glass houses man. Glass houses.
Allow me to thump my pulpit on this One More Time, because it can’t be spoken about enough: Gay people are their scapegoats. They point their fingers at us, fashion us into scarecrows for the decline of morals and the end of civilization, so they won’t have to look at the mess they’ve made of their own lives.
Over and over again we see the righteously indignant, thumping their pulpits one day about the homosexual menace, caught up in their own tawdry sex scandals the next. Cause And Effect is going on here. They’re screaming at us, to drown out the screams of their own conscience.
by Bruce |
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July 21st, 2015
Yes, Life Is Short. What Do You Think That Means?
Several months ago I started getting spam from this outfit…
My first reaction was to be creeped out. Then to wonder…were they also deliberately targeting gay men too. Because getting involved with a cheater is bad enough, getting involved with a closeted one is doubly bad.
I appreciate that a lot of gay guys, particularly of my own generation, got pushed into straight marriages that went completely against their nature. It’s a tragedy made worse by the fact that these marriages almost always dragged an unsuspecting heterosexual women into it, though sometimes the heterosexual woman is made to believe she’s helping somebody she loves very much. They were both lied to. You can hate the prophets of homophobia for what they’ve done to both gay and straight people.
But encouraging closeted gay people to have affairs on the side is just going to reinforce that sense of brokenness within, driving the knife in their heart even deeper. Most of us of my generation have one time or another crossed paths with deeply closeted, married gay men. You see what it’s done to them and it makes you angry. But you learn to stay out of it. Everyone has to find their own way out of that thicket of lies, and see themselves not as broken, but beautiful in their own way. If you want to help a closeted gay man find their way out, set an example.
Life is short. Live the life you’d be proud of. Someone might see it and something inside of them will awaken.
by Bruce |
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July 12th, 2015
So Beautiful, The Promise Land I Now See…
One reason I think the struggle for gay equality has been such a scorched earth battle, apart from the immovable nature of bigotry, is fear of having to come face to face with the damage they’ve done to so many lives. Hearts who could have found their other halves. Lives that could have been lived together. Love that could have been…and was not. The empty wasteland so many were condemned to wander alone, because of ignorance, because of arrogance, because of hate. At all costs, they do not want to have to know the magnitude of their crime.
And so the fight goes on. And so it turns from a bitter, angry struggle against the Homosexual Menace, into an even more bitter and more angry struggle against responsibility, against the guilty conscience that waits for them on the road ahead…patiently…patiently…
Some wounds will not be healed, but only eventually buried. That’s okay. Just so long as there are no more. There must be no more.
by Bruce |
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June 27th, 2015
Look At The Rainbows…
Yesterday, Friday June the 26th 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of extending marriage rights to gay people. Those saying that the court redefined what marriage is need to read the actual text of the decision. Kennedy wrote a paean to marriage, not a redefinition of it. And of course, the usual suspects declared that they would go on with the fight, blah, blah, blah and so on and so forth. That was unsurprising.
But then…afterward, something amazing, something that lifted my heart to a place where I will never again doubt the power of love, and the essential goodness of (most of) my fellow Americans happened. The rainbows came out…
Look…just look…at all the expressions of joy and affirmation. Go ahead and sniff that it’s just kowtowing to the militant homosexual agenda…and surely some of this, particularly among the corporate entities, is Hey There’s A Market There Let’s Make It Like Us And Spend Money! But look, just look for a moment, and the breath and depth of the expressions of joy at the decision. The sincerity of it, the massive scope of it, is something you need to grasp, if you can. Even if your prejudices can’t allow you to see the people for the homosexuals, at least try to understand that there are lots of people who aren’t homosexuals, who are absolutely thrilled that now their fellow Americans who are gay have equal rights in marriage. Look at this carefully, all of you declaring now that you will keep on fighting this, because it’s why you lost, why you will keep loosing this fight.
Everything you think you know about gay people is wrong, and especially, emphatically this: that homosexuals don’t love, they just have sex. It’s why you keep miscalculating again and again and again our willingness to go on fighting no matter how much damage you could do to us. But more critically, it’s why you miscalculated, profoundly, what would happen when your lies lost their power over us, and we began to live our lives openly. You thought “normal” people would be disgusted when they saw the reality of our lives. You really thought that. You probably still think that.
They are disgusted. At you.
It’s one thing to keep on inciting prejudice and hate at the people who live on the other side of the tracks, in the ethnic and racial enclaves, at Those People that America, to its shame, still largely keeps segregated. It’s another when it’s your own children, your brother and sister, your neighbors, your co-workers, the people in your everyday lives.
Prejudice lies. It lies about other people. But first, it lies to you. You think you see reality, but you don’t. Others, not succumbing to prejudice, loving life, and willing to live in the world as it really is for better or worse, do. Anything that keeps you from seeing the world as it really is, makes you weak. The denouement came with the Proposition 8 trial. You’d built a multimillion dollar industry propagating one pseudo scientific lie after another about gay people you hoped would win the masses over, or at least enough voters. But be honest with yourselves for at least one thing: it was mostly to convince yourselves you weren’t really just a bunch of bigots after all. And when it came time to defend all of it at trial your prize experts ran away, all but two who nearly conceded our case for us on the witness stand. In the end the rest of the country saw your case against gay equality for the half-assed pile of pretentious crap that it is. The witness stand is a very lonely place to lie said Boies. Lonelier still is the bathroom mirror. Your prejudices lied to you. But you let them do it.
Surely you noticed how quickly everything came apart after that. Whatever doubts existed before Prop 8, they are gone now. Our humanity is understood. We are neighbors. We are family. We are fellow Americans. We have been embraced.
And you? Well…you are what you’ve always been. Still able to look at this torrent of love and support from the rest of America, convinced that most everyone agrees with you, and ultimate victory will be yours. So you dig yourselves deeper into the gutter. It doesn’t have to be. Listen to a gay man who gave a little beauty to this world and was wronged horribly and fatally by prejudice: “We are all in the gutter,” he said, “but some of us are looking at the stars.”
We are not all in the gutter, despite your best efforts to keep us there with you. And if you can’t bear to rise your gaze high enough to look at the stars, at least look at the rainbows. They are rainbows of joy and love…from Americans to Americans. Look at them. There’s the way out.
But the “crazy” ones always seem to have a respectable counterpart who makes a respectable living pumping out the rhetoric that ends up in the “crazy” one’s manifesto–drawing crosshairs on liberals and calling abortion doctors mass murderers–who, once an atrocity happens, then immediately throws the “crazy” person under the bus for taking their words too seriously, too literally.
I appreciate that freedom of speech is vital to democracy. I appreciate that. But these sorts of crimes don’t happen in a vacuum. And this kid isn’t the only one with blood on his hands. That said, don’t go looking at the obvious hatemongers either. The screamers. The Rush Limbaughs, the Michael Savages, the Ann Coulters, the Fox News Talk Radio gallery of race baiting demagogues. They may be completely sincere in their hatreds, but they have the platforms they do, because someone paid for them.
Someone paid for them.
There’s the problem. Where is the money coming from to give hatemongers a platform to turn this nation into a tinderbox of mutual hatreds? Who is buying that air time, so enough people can be blindly aroused by hate, so republicans can elected, so the advertisers, the corporations, the deep pockets, that fund the hatemongers, get their taxes cut even more, get regulations that protect workers, consumers, and the environment repealed and financial oversight gutted? Follow the money funding the hatemongers, who inflame the passions, arouse the hatred, that finds its way sooner or later, eventually, to a killer, to a bloodbath, to its source. There’s the problem.
Race hatred killed those people. Without a doubt. But it had an assist from greed. Greed that doesn’t particularly care about race. I put it to you, that without that assist, we would not be reading many of the headlines today that we are. I put it to you, that without that calculation in the rarefied atmosphere of the corporate and financial boardrooms, that exacerbating divisions between Americans, and thereby to break apart the New Deal coalition, was preferable to accepting a world where their right to rake in tons of cash by any means they cared to rake it in might have some limits placed upon it, we might have made real tangible progress toward healing the race wounds of our nation. But it was not to be. Race hatred killed those people. But it was fed, it was kept alive, by greed.
Arrogance is thinking you’re entitled to someone’s trust anyway. This came across my Facebook stream just now…
“And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you. It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it even.”
Never mind that the science regarding global warming is about as solid as it gets, here’s the thing about that. Jacob Bronowski in his magnificent book and BBC series on the history of science, The Ascent of Man, devoted an entire episode to the difference between truth and dogma, titled Knowledge or Certainty. He begins with the face of his friend, Stephan Borgrajewicz who, like himself, was born in Poland. And he asks us, how well, how precisely, can we describe this man’s face? He asks a painter to render it, and says…
“We are aware the these pictures do not fix the face so much as explore it; that the artist is tracing the detail almost as if by touch; and that each line that is added strengthens picture but never makes it final. We accept that as the method of the artist. But what physics has now done is to show that that is the only method to knowledge. There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy. All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility. That is the human condition; and that is what quantum physics says. I mean that literally.”
Science, says Bronowski, “…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 of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. ”
The arrogance that Bush is accusing those of us to believe the science of isn’t about the measured, careful judgements of the evidence of global warming. The arrogance we’re being accused of is to even think that science can tell us things about our world, about our universe, that the dogmas of the mob he represents cannot. There are two sides to this argument and it is not over the science, It is an argument about the nature of knowledge. One side believes that knowledge is something that is received. The other, that knowledge is something that is discovered, and which can always be challenged and discarded as new facts emerge. Whether it is religious dogma or political dogma, the practice of science rejects wholly the belief that any knowledge is certain, absolute, and can never be questioned.
That is the arrogance Bush means: that we think we can question for ourselves what the pulpit, the party leadership, the corporate interests tell us is true, and reject it if the evidence does not support it. That is not arrogance though it may seem like it to the authoritarians. It is humility. It is understanding and accepting the human status, that the god’s eye view is not ours, not anyone’s, not humanity’s to have, that every prophet who says thou shalt not question is a false prophet, that our lot in life is we must always ask ourselves what do we know, and how do we know it.
Prove to us that our understanding of global warming is incorrect. And if you can’t then tell us what authority you would have us follow, who says the fate of the human race and planet earth is of less importance than our blind obedience.
by Bruce |
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May 13th, 2015
For Some Reason You’re Acting Like It Hurt…
“One of my favorites was Rob Ingersoll. Ingersoll came in often and we’d talk. Like me, he had an artistic eye. I’d try to create really special arrangements for him. I knew he was gay, but it didn’t matter — I enjoyed his company and his creativity…”
Yes, yes…It didn’t matter, until it did. Which is to say it always mattered, just not until that moment in a way that she was willing to be honest with him about.
And now she’s surprised that one of her favorite customers reacted with a lawsuit. That’s more telling then that she refused her services. Favorite Ingersoll may have been, but clearly not as human as herself, Otherwise She Wouldn’t Have Been Surprised. It’s how Anyone would react to having their joy of getting married, of finding in this poor lonely angry world that special someone, that wholeness of heart and body and soul, having it suddenly treated like it was a dishonorable thing. Being told your feelings toward the one you love more than anything, the one that completes you, the one you would walk through fire for, are immoral, disgusting, offensive to God. But in a nice way. Ever so politely. I took his hands and said, “I’m sorry…” It cuts you deep. Especially since, if she’s to be believed, he had understood himself to be a favorite customer of hers.
But homosexuals don’t have feelings like the rest of us and so she’s surprised. She “felt terrible” when she should have felt deeply ashamed of herself. A flower shop isn’t a church and arranging flowers isn’t a religion. If Ingersoll was just a stranger who walked in off the street wanting flowers for his wedding her behavior would have been bad enough. But see how she does not seem to grasp that boasting about how friendly she’d become with him, Despite The Fact That He Was Gay, makes the heartlessness of it worse, not better. She had been given an opportunity to see a Person not A Homosexual and she couldn’t.
This is the part so many people miss about the anger of that reaction to getting slapped in the face by prejudice. Bad enough when it comes at you from strangers. He, if she is to be believed, opened up to her in a way gay people are Still highly uncomfortable with. He trusted her. Never mind she discriminated against a customer and a fellow American. This man trusted her enough to be open about himself. He trusted her enough to share his joy with her. She betrayed a friend.
by Bruce |
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April 29th, 2015
How About Not Throwing So Many Of Those Fathers In Jail Then?
This came across my Facebook stream just now. It’s the kind of thing that just sets me off and I start seeing red. No…first I see a face. My Mom’s face. Then I see red…
I was raised by a single divorced mother you drooling brick-brained ideologue and her son’s police record is a hell of a lot cleaner than your’s is.
I had good public schools to go to…which you want to take away from America’s kids.
Even in a time when women made less than 60 cents on the dollar than a male co-worker for doing Exactly the same job my mom could still afford to raise a child back in the 50s and 60s. And that was because we had an economy that benefitted middle class and service workers like my mom. …something else you want to kill so your rich benefactors can buy more yachts. All those high paying union jobs gave paychecks to people who actually bought goods and services with them instead of gambling at the Wall Street casino. But your kind hates unions.
Mom was able to afford health care for me when it was desperately needed, after I came down with Scarlet Fever when I was 6 and then was laid up in bed for months with complications. Once upon a time working people and even a poor working single mother could afford health care for their kids. And you are trying to kill off the Affordable Healthcare Act.
Mom could afford to feed me, even on her meager salary back then. It wasn’t a fabulous diet I had back then but I never went to bed hungry. And it was reasonably healthy You want to take food stamps away from poor kids and let the food industry feed everyone else junk.
And even on that meager salary she could buy me books to read.
Face it Paul…you don’t give a good goddamn about those inner city kids. Broken homes is it you’re worried about? What ruins more marriages than money problems? You are making home life for everyone but the rich worse and worse so they can have more and more and more and you’re bellyaching that kids don’t have fathers? I’m laughing in your face. It isn’t lack of fathers that drove those kids into the streets, its lack of any concern whatsoever for the rest of America you can’t see from inside your nicely furnished cocoon. They’re just little people. If you and your kind were really concerned about them not having fathers, maybe so many of them wouldn’t be in jail right now for piddly sh*t that very few white men ever face arrest for, let alone jail time. Maybe the life those kids are looking wouldn’t be a school-to-jailhouse pipeline.
by Bruce |
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March 12th, 2015
The End Of The Natural Law Excuse
This New York Times article came across my Facebook stream this morning. It’s well worth reading…
Last month, Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco, made controversial changes to a handbook for Catholic high school teachers in his jurisdiction. The changes included morals clauses, one of which forbids those teachers from publicly endorsing homosexual behavior. There are plausible legal and educational objections to this move. But there is a deeper issue, one that raises fundamental questions about Catholic teachings on homosexuality and other sexual matters.
Those fundamental teachings being the notion that the Catholic hierarchy can justify its dogmas about morality not merely with an appeal to supernatural authority but so-called Natural Law reasoning. The deep thinkers of this Natural Law tradition assert that morality flows…naturally…from that which makes us human and that homosexual acts can be rightly condemned simply on the basis of careful reasoning about what behavior nurtures our humanity and what behavior degrades it.
But can you can see the problem here? An understanding of what it is that makes us human is at best a work in progress. But it can also be a dandy rhetorical sleight of hand for presenting one’s bar stool opinions about human nature as settled fact when they are anything but. And that is how it usually works with the deep thinkers of Natural Law, such as NOM co-founder Robert George, who use it as an excuse to cull gay people out of the human family. Homosexual acts are contrary to Natural Law, so the deep thinking goes, because they run counter to what makes us human, and that makes them morally objectionable and also not coincidentally a grave sin. See? Religious dogma and science properly understood agree!
The problem as the article points out, is that a good faith search for understanding of what makes us human would seem to support not object to homosexual behavior. But good faith is hard to come by in the Natural Law crowd, and their objections to homosexual relationships have two fatal flaws. Gay folk if not always straight people usually see the first problem with it right away in the relentless focus on homosexual Acts. As the article points out…
The courageous uncloseting of many homosexuals has revealed them as people like most everyone else, searching for and sometimes achieving a fulfilling human life through rich and complex relationships.
It’s our visibility that’s moved our struggle for equality forward. I’ve said this repeatedly: proving that we do not choose our sexual orientation, while it addresses many issues, does not get to the heart of it. Which is…the heart. Homophobia’s central immovable dogma is Homosexuals Don’t Love, They Just Have Sex. You see it running throughout the so-called Natural Law rhetoric this article discusses. It’s always the Acts. The heart is never considered. It was easy once upon a time, before Stonewall, when the persecution of gay people was so relentless most gay folk stayed tightly inside the closet, to reduce our lives to the sex we have. But those days are over. The closet door has opened. And as we live our lives out in the open we are seen as every bit as human in our desires and needs as our heterosexual neighbors. That alone does the Natural Law Excuse irreparable damage.
“The natural-law argument might make some sense to those who see homosexuals as dominated by an obsessive desire for pleasure, to which they subordinate any notion of fidelity or integrity.” That is its only recourse, against which the argument that same sex sex is fundamentally sterile because it cannot lead to reproduction, but which excuses opposite sex couples who cannot naturally bear their own children is seen as hypocrisy. There is the second fatal problem. As the article notes, “Just trying to formulate the argument shows how strained it is.” Well…yes. It’s strained just like every hypocritically dishonest excuse for hurting your neighbor is strained.
The fact that heterosexual couples can still love and desire each other wholeheartedly and live lives together deeply devoted to one another, absent an ability to bear children, proves the power of love over biology, which pulls the rug out from under the Natural Law dogma. And it Is dogma, because the central premise about what it is that makes us human are ultimately and irreducibly matters of religious dogma. And the transparently bogus attempt to rationalize discrimination against same-sex couples but not sterile opposite sex ones anyway proves the intent here is not some sort of search for truth, but an excuse to hate: a little bowl of water to wash, wash, wash their hands before the multitudes of the harm they’ve done to innocent people in love. We were only doing what we thought was moral and right. No. No you weren’t.
This is Exactly why bigots like Salvatore Cordileone and his kinfolk in the anti-gay industrial complex want so badly to shove gay people back into the closet, and silence our heterosexual friends and family. The lie that sex between same sex couples is innately selfish and sterile, that Homosexuals Don’t Love, They Just Have Sex, dies the instant people can see our lives and our humanity for themselves. It becomes obvious we share the same human heart the rest of humanity does.
And then the question becomes, what kind of person wants to persecute someone for being in love…
by Bruce |
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March 7th, 2015
Your Evidence Does Not Reach The Conclusion You Think It Does
You know that feeling when you start reading something and your almost instantaneous reaction just a sentence or two in is, Er…no…? Yeah. That. Just now.
Before I get into it let me say once again and for the record that my own atheism isn’t a reaction to the idea of religion or to any one particular religion or my experiences being raised as a Baptist or the crappy way fundamentalist Christianity treats gay people like me. I was raised in a Baptist household by a mother who loved me very much, and there is still much about the faith of my childhood I consider valuable and worthwhile and that I still hold dear…particularly that stuff about Soul Competency or Soul Liberty, which as I still understand it means we’re all capable of answering the Big Questions for ourselves, that is our right, it is our responsibility and also our obligation to Let The Other Person Do That For Themselves Too. But I am an atheist now. I became that when I finally admitted to myself that belief had stopped making sense to me. That’s really all there is to it.
I’m open to having my mind changed about it. I’m open to the possibility that I might one day find myself walking down Newton’s beach and finding one of those prettier than ordinary sea shells he spoke of, picking it up and finding God inside (oh there you were…). But honestly I doubt that’s going to happen. I need a reason to think there might be a greater intelligence behind the entire universe as we see it, and what is more, a reason to think that intelligence is the origin of the universe and all of creation, and that it always existed. Otherwise it’s Gods all the way down, and while I can appreciate a sublime mystery as much as the next person, basing my entire worldview on one makes the left side of my brain cranky.
I appreciate the sincerity of this man’s attempt to convince me. However, it isn’t working.
Here are four simple responses to those who say that science has either disproved God or has made belief in God unnecessary…
Er…no. Just…right out of the gate, no. Science can demonstrate that a lot of what is written down in the Bible isn’t factual, but those are testable things like The Great Flood or the evolution of humankind. Researchers can compare biblical accounts to other historical artifacts and written accounts from those same periods. Those are testable things, which are the sort of things science preoccupies itself with. But it is not the job of science to prove Odin, Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster don’t exist either. Make a testable claim concerning any of them and we’ll see.
As far as necessary goes, it simply isn’t necessary to believe the biblical account of creation. Belief in God isn’t necessary to cure cancer, though a lot of folks suffering it take great comfort in that belief all the same and I would not challenge that for the world, unless it was to deny someone, particularly a child (there’s a reason why Baptists don’t baptise the very young) factual science based medical care in favor of faith healing. Philosophers and theologians still argue fiercely as to whether belief in God is morally necessary. In his book Science and Human Values Jacob Bronowski makes an excellent case for the moral values the practice of science teaches…
Theory and experiment alike become meaningless unless the scientist brings to them, and his fellows can assume in him, the respect of a lucid honesty with himself. The mathematician and philosopher W. K. Clifford said this forcibly at the end of his short life, nearly a hundred years ago.
If I steal money from any person, there may be no harm done by the mere transfer of possession; he may not feel the loss, or it may even prevent him from using the money badly. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself dishonest. What hurts society is not that it should loose it’s property, but that it should become a den of thieves; for then it must cease to be a society. This is why we ought not to do evil that good may come; for at any rate this great evil has come, that we have done evil and are made wicked thereby.
This is the scientist’s moral: that there is no distinction between ends and means. Clifford goes on to put this in terms of the scientist’s practice:
In like manner, if I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards man, that I make myself credulous. The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous.
And the passion in Clifford’s tone shows that to him the word credulous had the same emotional force as ‘a den of thieves’
The fulcrum of Clifford’s ethic here, and mine, is the phrase ‘it may be true after all.’ Others may allow this to justify their conduct; the practice of science wholly rejects it. It does not admit the word ‘true’ can have this meaning. The test of truth is the known factual evidence, and no glib expediency nor reason of state can justify the smallest self-deception in that. Our work is of a piece, in the large and in the detail; so that if we silence one scruple about our means, we infect ourselves and our ends together.
-Jacob Bronowski “Science and Human Values” 1956
But this is different from the knowledge science reveals. Science may render dying from certain diseases unnecessary (get your shots), but to render belief in God unnecessary you need to explain what made it necessary in the first place. If you’re telling me that belief in God is necessary to prevent rabies I would question that. If you’re saying belief in God is necessary for moral behavior I would question that but we might never reach a mutual understanding let alone agreement because first we have to agree on what moral behavior is. Some arguments are like that. If you’re telling me belief in God is necessary for a job at Baylor University well then I would have to agree with you.
So… (if you’re still bearing with me…): Four simple responses…
1) We cannot know from science if science itself is the best source of knowledge.
The only way to definitively prove that science explains everything would be to have exhaustive knowledge of all reality, and then be able to explain (using only scientific data) what all reality is and what it means. Such a feat is impossible.
I think there’s another way of putting this: If medicine can’t cure every disease then faith healing is better. The mistake here, and you see it a lot, is that science doesn’t actually claim to know anything. What science claims to have is a way to discover what can be known. Richard Feynman said of science simply that it is a way of not fooling ourselves. But the mistake here goes further.
In the twentieth century science developed what is now called the Principle of Uncertainty. Speaking on that, in the chapter titled Knowledge or Certainty in his series The Ascent of Man, Bronowski pummels the concept of science as being a dry storehouse of knowledge gathered in the pursuit of absolute truths. That desire for absolute truth Bronowski insists, is outright poison to the human spirit, giving rise to endless examples of human atrocities. Science is not another secular kind of dogma, science and dogma are exact opposites. And where you see that clearly is in this one brief passage:
The symbol of the University [in Göttingen] is the iron statue outside the Rathskeller of a barefoot goosegirl that every student kisses at graduation. The University is a Mecca to which students come with something less than perfect faith. It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known but to question it.
I am unaware of any religious institution where questioning the revealed knowledge therein is tolerated, or tolerated for very long. In the end, authority must prevail. But in science it is nature, by way of experiment and test, that is the authority. Always it is nature which speaks for itself. Science is not a book of revelations about nature. It is a way of asking the questions and not fooling ourselves about the answers. That is why its answers are conditional: There may be facts we haven’t uncovered. There may be understanding we missed because we are human and we make mistakes. Think of how the proposition of continental drift was discarded because no one could see how it was possible that continents could move. It seemed absurd on its face. And then the deep ocean was more precisely mapped and the mid ocean ridges were discovered, and the realization came about that no, the continents did not move, but the plates they were sitting on did. When we make new discoveries our understanding changes. That is not a flaw in science, it is its profound and beautiful strength.
2) Scientific consensus can and frequently does change. This limits its epistemological authority.
This is the My Country Right Or Wrong model of authority, and the best retort to it was G. K. Chesterton’s that it was like saying My Mother Drunk Or Sober. Authority needs to be…well…authoritative. So when I was a kid the encyclopedia was the authority I consulted for my school projects. The yearly updates never made me question that authority…if anything they helped reinforce it by showing me it was a living growing thing not a dead Easter Island statue, correcting its mistakes, added fresh new things for me to learn as they became evident. But there’s something else going on here besides the idea of authority. Epistemological is it? Ah…you mean…Meaning. If knowledge changes how can we hope to glean and hold on to meaning from it?
And yet meaning and knowledge aren’t so separate from one another that the falsehood of one conveys nothing to the other. Ask the children of Marx and Lenin what happens to a society that broadly accepts a model of the human identity that is false. Ask the Germans who survived the war. Ask the tombstones in Gettysburg. The intellectual authority of science is right here:
“The state of mind, the state of society, is of a piece. When we discard the test of fact in what a star is, we discard in it what a man is.” -Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values
Which refers again to that quote from Clifford about society become credulous. It is precisely the case that the consensus of scientists change when new facts or new understandings become apparent that give the practice of science its authority over dogma that never changes and cannot be questioned. Or as the economist John Maynard Keynes once said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Lots of people just close their eyes. There is meaning in that, but not one suitable for human societies to do anything except spiral into darkness. To survive and prosper, humanity must always ask itself What do we know, and how do we know it? There is meaning in the honest asking of those questions. There is meaning in the bravery with which we face the answers nature reveals to us. There is meaning in our willingness to acknowledge our mistakes, and move forward. There is meaning in our willingness to not fool ourselves. Meaning is not a stone you can carve into a face that never changes, never sees what its stone eyes behold.
3) Only supernatural theism provides a rational justification of scientific work.
I quote this one thing from his explanation of that because I think it’s the nugget…
There is little survival value in knowing, for example, the complicated workings of time–space theory, or the genus of certain insects, or the distance of Jupiter from Mars. All of these facts are pursued by scientists as being intrinsically valuable, yet they offer very little information that can help guarantee a species’ continued existence on the planet.
He offers this as a way of explaining that scientists pursue their lines of inquiry out of a supernaturally built-in innate desire to pursue truth, which he says cannot be justified on scientific principles alone. But simple human curiosity needs no supernatural explanations…we are evolved from predatory meat eating east African plains apes and the survival value of predator curiosity is not hard to understand. And if scientists know anything it’s that simple questions can have profound and unexpected ramifications when the answers come back. Science-Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote this parable once concerning support for space exploration, but it could easily apply to any human endeavor that aspires to science…
The analogy I often use is this: if you had intelligent fish arguing about why they should go out on dry land, some bright young fish might have thought of many things but they would never have thought of fire…
To say that there is little survival value in knowing the workings of time and space or the genus of certain insects is basically to say there is little survival value in human curiosity. And it is true there are many authorities, both secular and religious, that like nothing more than stifling that most basic human of urges. Particularly when it comes to questioning Their authority, and all the dogmas it is built upon. The search for truth begins with a question, whereas a set of received answers serves only to suffocate it.
4) Only supernatural theism gives us assurance that real scientific knowledge is possible.
Here he reaches for a “philosopher” for some help (yes the scare quotes are deliberate)…
If human beings are a more evolved species of primate, then our cognitive faculties (ie, the parts of our body and mind that allow us to be rational creatures) have evolved out of lesser cognitive faculties. But, Plantinga says, if God does not exist, then the only factors that affected human evolution are time and chance. Based on time and chance alone, why should we be confident that our rational minds–which are merely the sum of lesser evolved minds plus time and chance–are actually rational at all?
Well speaking as a Cold War baby you could certainly argue that Mutually Assured Destruction makes a pretty strong case against humanity being more highly evolved and rational than the lesser evolved brains of howling tree monkeys. How rational is it to destroy nearly all life on earth as an act of self defense? On the other hand, howling tree monkeys don’t produce nuclear weapons either.
Yes there is as the “philosopher” he quotes says, “a tension” inherent in our evolutionary nature. And you not only see that tension in the headlines of your daily newspaper every day of the year, but also in the thousands of years of recorded human history that came before. Which would also include the Bible. Witch stonings anyone? But this is exactly what evolution would predict. Evolution doesn’t erase the old and replace it with the new, it builds the new right on top of the old. The lesser evolved is within us also. We bear within us every day of our lives, the living history of millions of years of life on Earth. It can lift the cities high. It can also burn them to the ground. Murderous religious extremists calling themselves ISIS are currently on a rampage destroying priceless ancient artifacts because the very existence of those ancient works of art and human culture challenges and offends them. There’s the lizard brain at work. But it was the more evolved human brain that made those artifacts in the first place. Along with the AK-47s the men of ISIS have slung over their shoulders.
Tension? Oh yes. But if the darkness was all there was to us, there wouldn’t Be civilization. We are not fallen angels, we are risen apes. There is hope for us. But only to the extent we keep asking that question so central to the practice of science, What do we know, and how do we know it, and by the courage with which we face the answers we discover.
He finishes by referring to Nagel, that “It makes no sense to assume that humans can really make sense of their world on a conceptual level if human consciousness arose out of the very world it responds to.” But that is what makes perfect sense. A being that evolved in an entirely different different universe with a different physical nature might find this one close to impossible to grasp. Think of that classic thought experiment of the two dimensional being trying to make sense of a three dimensional world. The fact that we’re capable of understanding this universe well enough to create the civilization we have is itself evidence that our evolutionary lineage is firmly rooted here not elsewhere.
You can wave your hands and say, but a supernatural force could have done that too, and I’d have to agree. But the simpler explanation is we were born here, we grew up here, and that’s why we fit in here.
by Bruce |
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February 13th, 2015
Christianity’s Identity Crisis: Older Than You Think
On any given day you can find endless social media chatter among Evangelical Christians debating “culture”, and the “culture wars”, and lots and lots of talk of us, “fighting the culture”. There’s recently been a great deal of similar discussion surrounding the promotional push for a new book by popular pastor David Platt, whose forthcomingCounter Culture, seeks to once again position Christianity (as represented by The Church) as the sole solution to our numerous societal ills. I’ve really enjoyed Platt’s past books, and have found inspiration and wisdom in them.
The premise of Platt’s latest is a fine one, and it echoes the ministry and message of so many of those sharing his overall theological perspective; that Jesus was always counter-cultural, and so the Christian Church is called to be that as well.
So many American evangelicals have existed for so long in a materialistic, affluent, largely white, male-dominated religious bubble, that they mistakenly believe they are by default, living out the radical, upside-down mission of Jesus…
It’s a good read, and for me especially when he writes this:
When Rome commandeered Christianity, it affixed to the faith something it was never meant to be marked by: Power.
I think this may actually be the first time I’ve ever seen anyone mark the beginning of the decline of Christianity as being when the Roman Emperor Constantine made it the official imperial religion (in exchange naturally, for helping him win a war). I’ve been thinking this for years now. But it was inevitable. What Ta-Nehisi Coates said a week or so ago about how “The interest in power is almost always accompanied by the need to sanctify that power” is obvious yet it keeps needing repeating. Christianity could never keep speaking truth to power without power eventually co opting it. Power is always attracted to power, for the sake of power. The more powerful Christianity’s message became among the common folk, the more attractive it would inevitably become to The Establishment of any age. So Constantine overthrew the old gods, and not so coincidentally rivals to the throne who followed them, and Christianity became the very thing its founder hated most of all, a religion of the establishment. The Pharisees put down their Torahs and picked up their Bibles, spoke in Latin to the masses, and served the new boss, same as the old boss…
The political sway, the financial storehouses, the abuses of power, the gender disparities, the gentrification, and the bullying dominance of the marginalized, which so often characterize the Church today; these all embody a huge part of the culture that Jesus was running counter to.
You can argue that the religion of Jesus of Nazareth never died, but is reborn in every person who takes his teachings to heart and walks his walk. Yes. Just so. But that is not the religion of the Establishment and the high priests of that Christianity take no prisoners. Ask them in South and Central America what happened when Christianity threatened to actually become the champion of the poor, the oppressed and the outcast. It had to happen. The surprising thing is to finally see with clarity how long ago it was that it happened. The risk in speaking truth to power isn’t you are led to the gallows, but to the throne. The king is anointed by God, and it’s good to be God.
by Bruce |
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January 20th, 2015
I Don’t Like Displays Of Heterosexuality Either. Especially When Homosexuals Are Doing It Too.
“I did it in front of a live audience,” recalls Billy of Soap, “and there were times where I would say to [the actor who played his boyfriend], ‘Bob, “I love you,’ and the audience would laugh nervously, because, you know, it’s a long time ago, that I’d feel this anger. I wanted to stop the tape and go, ‘What is your problem?’ Because it made you sort of very self-conscious about what we were trying to do then. And now it’s just, I see it and I just hope people don’t abuse it and shove it in our face — well, that sounds terrible — to the point of it just feels like an everyday kind of thing.”
But of course making it feel like an everyday kind of thing is exactly what gay people in the audience back then, who had to listen to that laughter in their own lives if they were lucky, and outright hostility and violence when they weren’t, would have loved to see happen. And now that it is, some people who we may have thought were with us on that, are showing us once again that it’s one thing to talk the talk and another to actually mean it.
After facing quite a bit of backlash on social media, Crystal doubled down, claiming he doesn’t understand “why there would be anything offensive that I said. When it gets too far either visually…now, that world exists because it does for the hetero world, it exists, and I don’t want to see that either. But when I feel it’s a cause, when I feel it’s ‘You’re going to like my lifestyle,’ no matter what it is, I’m going to have a problem.”
No matter what it is…No matter what it is…No matter what it is… What it is would be gay Billy. That’s what it is. And we don’t have a lifestyle, we have lives.
How often have I heard this standard excuse whenever someone bellyaching about the visibility of gay sexuality gets called out for being prejudiced. Oh no…I am against heterosexual public displays too. Yeah, right, so why didn’t anyone hear you complaining about that before now? Why was it only when the TV starting singing a few gay stanzas of the same fucking song it’s been singing about heterosexuality for decades did you decide to start yapping about it?
Let me hazard a guess…because sexuality on the TV screen didn’t bother you until the gays started acting like they had something to be proud of in that department too.
No matter what it is.
Never mind. There is a bigger issue here and thankfully that Think Progress article touches on it. The essential homophobia of the big Hollywood studios needs open acknowledgement and discussion, and not just in retrospect, because that is why gay visibility is next to nil in a Hollywood product and even when it happens, even when they toss us a scrap off the table, is cheap, stereotyped, and nearly always sexually emasculated. This really needs emphasising: the studio heads would rather not offend the heartland bigots, not because they are afraid for their ratings and profits, but because they share the cheapshit prejudices of those heartland bigots.
Let’s talk about shoving sexuality in faces Crystal…Hollywood has been shoving a vision of a world without gays in the faces of gay people for generations without any shred of concern for the effect it has had on us, on our families or or the communities we live and work in. Oh yes, there have been the usual homosexual psychopaths and pathetic limp wristed faggots, but as Vito Russo famously said, “There have never been lesbians or gay men in Hollywood. Only homosexuals.” And even today Hollywood Still tip-toes around our very existence, giving us castrated gay-vague characters at best, cheapshit toss away stereotypes at worst, and they think they’re brave for doing even that much. This is long after other entertainment media have acknowledged and embraced us as a part of the audience.
You want to see three-dimensional, fully realized human gay characters, pick up a book, a comic book, go see a live performance of a play, or listen to some pop music. In Hollywood John Wayne is still rolling in his grave and retrograde attitudes like Crystal’s are just the part that gets said in public, and in private what Truman Capote once said is still true today: a faggot is the homosexual gentleman who just left the room.
Let me add a personal note, because February and Valentine’s Day are coming soon and this is absolutely the worst time of the year for me, Bruce Garrett, one lonely sixty-one year old gay man whose love life looks in retrospect as though it was doomed the moment I hit puberty. I’ll get around to my annual Valentine’s Day venting about that later, or if you feel like taking a stroll through an empty wasteland you can go read some of the posts I’ve written about trying to find a boyfriend in a world that wants people like me to not exist.
Some days you find yourself getting really angry at something and you know that most other people probably think you’re taking it too much to heart. Hey, come On, it’s just some guy who was on Hollywood Squares once… But entire generations of gay people had their love lives throttled because of homophobia and the enforced invisibility that came with it. The closet was a place you both put yourself into, and were put into. And in there your heart slowly withered and died, tastefully out of sight, so that others didn’t have to see the sewer they made of their own souls for doing that to their neighbors. What should have been one of life’s most perfect joys was taken from some of us and turned it into ashes. And even today, even now, for so many of us but especially those of us who were just coming of age when Stonewall happened, that’s all there is now. Ashes. And the knowledge that it didn’t have to be, that there was never anything wrong with us, only adds to the grief…and the anger.
Don’t like it when gay sexuality is shoved in your face Crystal? Hahahahahaha… Live for a few hours with the empty place inside of me where there should have been love and joy and peace and contentment Crystal, and then with the tens of thousands of others like me who had to grow up with your ignorant bar stool prejudices suffocating our hopes and dreams. So you played gay on TV did you? Ever wonder why your fellow actors who are gay are Still scared to death to touch those rolls? Ever wonder why gay kids are Still killing themselves? Ever wonder why the parents of gay kids are Still forcing them into ex-gay therapy? Try a mirror. Then look at your name, along with all the others in the industry you spent your life working in, written on the bottomless misery that taught audiences to cheer and applaud when a man kills another man and be shocked and offended when a man loves another man.
[Edited a tad for clarity…]
by Bruce |
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December 10th, 2014
Staring Into The Pit…
I link to Andrew Sullivan reluctantly, Very reluctantly, but I have to give credit where it’s due too. This livestreaming he did on the torture report is very good, the outrage in it genuine and worth sharing. You should feel that outrage too.
“The barbarism was the very opposite from a few bad apples at the bottom of the pile, as they tried to persuade us at Abu Ghraib. The bad apples were at the very top of the chain of command, rotting this country’s reputation and honor from the top down. And those begin with Bush and Cheney and Tenet. They are now wanted men. And they will go abroad again – at their legal peril. And so America becomes a legal sanctuary for war criminals. As long as they are our war criminals.”
Like a lot of Americans, I believe in that liberty and justice for all stuff, and government of the people, by the people and for the people, and I want so much to be proud of the way my country embodies those principles. Civilization stands or falls on them. But it is not always so. Just ask the native Americans, just ask the sons and daughters of the slaves, just ask the peaceful protestors of any decade who felt the club and the boot. Mary Renault, at the end of her novel about the poet Simonides, wrote “In all men evil is sleeping; the good man is he who will not awaken it, in himself or in other men.” That sense we often feel among us, of American exceptionalism, ought rightly to impart a sense of obligation, as something every generation is called to live up to, because we are human after all, and with the potential for great good comes the potential for great evil. But too often powerful evil people manage to turn that sense of ourselves and our purpose into cheap bar stool nationalism, an excuse to congratulate ourselves as we look the other way at the evil done in our name, in the name of our country. They need to be held accountable. Or history will hold us accountable, and laugh at all the times we waved our flag as if it stood for anything more than a place on a map.
by Bruce |
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