The Utopia of Relativism

The talk of the past week or so in political circles has been Barack Obama’s tour of Europe — in particular his non-political political speech in Berlin. Two of the better commentaries you will find on the event are the devastating critique by John Bolton, and the more humorous, but equally effective demolition by
James Lileks. I recommend you take a few minutes to digest these gems.

Now, I cannot hope to match the insight and wit of such as these — but nevertheless I hope to toss a few ideas and impressions into the arena of discussion on this subject. I rarely touch on politics on this blog, as others far more passionate and adept at such commentary abound. But there were some undercurrents in the speech which I found very emblematic of our current age, and very troubling, and perhaps I may offer a few insights of value.

First, the purely political: isn’t this man running for President of the United States? So, why on earth is he giving political speeches to the Europeans? I suppose it is a feeble attempt to burnish his anemic foreign-policy credentials — although I strain to understand why shaking a few foreign hands and giving a too-slick speech to our Germanic übermeisters somehow augments one’s foreign policy portfolio. Having your picture taken with a cow does not a dairy farmer make.

Then there was the heady libation of contemporary liberalism: the obligatory apologies to the rest of the world for America’s great failures. Shortcomings we have an abundance — but, apologizing to the Germans? To the Germans? The same Germans, who spent the first half of the 20th century — and no small part of the previous century — conquering Europe, slaughtering millions and wreaking untold havoc on an entire continent? The same Germans, who killed millions of our soldiers, 6 million Jews, and countless other political and social outcasts in their concentration camps and euthanasia centers? The same Germans for whom we, having crushed them at enormous cost of life and treasure, then rebuilt their country and defended them from another 40 years of horror under totalitarian communism?

Could someone please explain to me why, in any just and rational world, an American politician should apologize for our behavior, to the Germans?

I just had to get that off my chest. There, I feel better now.

But on to larger things: large swaths of the speech spoke in vaunted and eloquent terms of the hope and desire for world united, a world without walls. We heard repeatedly about how such walls — both actual and metaphorical — must be torn down, removing all divisions which confront and challenge us:

That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.

The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.

Now color me a contrarian, but I am not entirely convinced of the wisdom of this wall-breaching braggadocio. As Robert Frost once wisely said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Should we really be about tearing down every barrier which divides us? Aren’t some of these fences, some divisions, critically important to our safety and integrity? After all, prison walls divide us from the criminals — should we not, if we want to live in peace, harmony, and new age oneness, tear these walls down as well? Is every division, whether existing between nations, or races, or tribes, or religions, by its very nature a candidate for dismantling?

Some divisions, it seems, exist for our protection: the division between freedom and tyranny; the division between nations which oppress and those who liberate; the division between good and evil itself. But to uphold and defend these necessary walls, there needs to be a conviction of the absolutes which form their ramparts. You cannot defend good from evil if “good” and “evil” are but fungible and flexible preferences, made near-meaningless with endless shades of gray obscuring their sharp contrasts and muting their colored brilliance. If right and wrong are detached from their transcendent mooring in absolute truth, and made mere preference or personal piety, then there is nothing left to defend. The walls which have kept the barbarians at bay now become broad promenades welcoming in regal splendor the very forces which will enslave us.

Our modern secular utopians, like their brethren throughout the ages, ignore the differences which matter while elevating the differences which do not. Hence the Christian who stands against the slaughter of the unborn innocents and the Muslim who slaughters the innocent through self-immolation become indistinguishable — both “extremists”, both “divisive” — and we must tear down these walls to live at peace. Such distinctions between religions and philosophies run to the core of their very nature: to dismantle the division is to destroy their unique character, to render meaningless any judgment about which worldview is better for the well-being of man and society. Be hot or be cold, as someone once said — but the lukewarm will be expectorated, with extreme prejudice.

And what of destroying the “division” between rich and poor, the West and East? Is not one more wealthy, more free, more successful, more propitious to its citizens exactly because of the differences which divide us — specifically, respect for human life and property, for rule of law, for individuality, for a spirit of generosity and sacrifice arising out of Judeo-Christian principles instilled at its founding? Shall we instead denigrate a nation which, for all its flaws, has sacrificed countless lives and expended endless lucre throughout its history to free the enslaved and crush the tyrant; shall we become the object of self-loathing and shame which must grovel for its sins before the sinister, the enslaver, and the slothful? Is this the price of such world unity? We have seemingly arrived at a place where we are unable to proclaim the good without the ridicule of the glib; we cannot call an act evil but to the catcalls of the cynics.

In our utopian zealotry, we attack the divisions of substance while elevating the divisions of appearance. The unity which is our strength — a common culture, and language, and shared set of moral values — must now give way to the triumph of the superficial: we categorize by color rather than by character; we talk of freedom while enforcing speech codes and pursuing thought crimes. Religion is our enemy while conformity becomes our religion. Science becomes truth and truth becomes myth; We are overcome by evil because we refuse to call it by name.

The gnostic hubris which is our modern foolishness boasts in what it knows, while knowing not what it does not know. Our ignorance of human nature cripples us; we believe that if we reason with evil, evil will change, charmed by the magic of our words and soothed by the sincerity of our childish desires. Like some love-maddened missionary, we sleep with the strumpet to save her soul, then find ourselves amazed when we become as lost as she.

There is, in truth, but two ways to unity: the way of inner submission, and the way of outer coercion. Within the limits of the frailty of our fallen nature, we achieve a measure of unity by common compliance to inner morals, arising from the recognition of a transcending set of absolutes which dictates such standards for both the individual and the common good. We acknowledge a standard of behavior and restraint which arises from the divine — though we often fall short of this standard, and may differ in some measure on its particulars. We become one — imperfectly to be sure — because we submit to and follow One, whose perfect moral standards and ethical precepts are held as the highest ideal and a noble pursuit.

When such an overarching absolute standard is rejected — as it has been by aggressive secularism, atheistic, reductionist, and materialistic to the core — we can only enforce a form of unity through coercion and power. Inner moral dictates must be subjugated to coerced conformity. It is “acceptable” to hold “values” which are at odds with the secular societal standard — as long as these “values” are never acted upon in speech or behavior. We may believe abortion to be morally abhorrent — but must never act to restrain it; we may hold homosexuality to be morally wrong and believe gay marriage to be a threat to a core foundational institution of society — but to verbalize thus is “hate speech”, and “intolerance”, and “ignorance.” Our unity is the unity of the gag, a multicultural muzzle which celebrates the superficial, elevates the insignificant, tolerates the intolerable — and punishes the moral. Our unity is the unity of relativism, a superficial solidarity where everything is acceptable but absolutes, where anything is tolerated but truth. Such unity strives for the lowest common denominator, maintaining its forced cohesion by the will to power, destroying in its enslaving solidarity the very soul of freedom and the heart of true human harmony.

It is no small irony that Obama proclaimed his utopian tome to the Hun — they of the fertile ground which brought forth Nietzsche and Hegel, and a National Socialism which crushed the dividing walls of Old Europe with an iron fist and a broken cross. Our modern nihilism is far more appealing, wrapped in soothing bromides of hope and change — but no less corrupt and empty at its core.

Beware the man who brings unity at the cost of individuality. Beneath the sheep’s clothing lies something far more ominous than smooth words and glib promises betray.

Half-Pint Heroes

I am away at a medical conference, and so have reposted an older essay, which you will hopefully enjoy. Back soon.

 
subwayThis week’s news brought the remarkable story of Wesley Autrey, a 50 year-old Vietnam veteran who jumped in front of a subway train to save a man who had fallen onto the tracks while having a seizure.

18-year-old Cameron Hollowpeter suffered a seizure while Autrey, accompanied by his two daughters, was waiting on the platform for the subway. Hollowpeter fell to the tracks after losing his balance, as an incoming train approached the platform. Autrey jumped down to save him — as his daughters looked on — initially attempting to pull him out, but realizing with split-second judgment that there was insufficient time to extract the still-seizing man from the tracks. He threw himself over Hollowpeter, wrapping him in his body to protect his flailing arms, in the shallow ditch between the electrified rails. The train screeched to a halt after passing overhead with but inches to spare, miraculously leaving both men without serious injury.

True acts of heroism are of course newsworthy, and at once both extraordinary and sobering (would you or I have done what Wes Autrey did?) — and draw a sharp and unflattering contrast with what often passes for heroism in our modern culture.

We hear of heroes daily in the papers and on TV: the fireman who rescues a child from a burning building; the policeman shot in the line of duty; the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save the lives of his buddies. Such acts are heroism indeed, comprised of its core virtue: the willingness to sacrifice one’s life or well-being for another. We say this although we expect such things of these men and women, for this is their chosen calling and career, one which by its nature places them in harm’s way for the benefit of others.

Cheap heroism seeps deeply into our culture like some toxic effluent, poisoning even simple principled acts with a pretension of greatness.

Yet there is increasingly a class of acts now painted as “heroism” which deserves no such depiction. Such cheap heroes — the civic equivalent of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace Christians — seem to grow in number daily. They make no sacrifices, take no risks, suffer no losses when their “heroic” deeds are done. In a society increasing bereft of moral standards and the simplest traits of noble character and integrity, we paint a heroic stamp of approval on increasingly pathetic gestures, gilding our self-serving deeds with a thin gloss of glory.
Continue reading “Half-Pint Heroes”

Moving the Ancient Boundaries – IV


This is a series on the erosion of moral, cultural, and ethical boundaries in modern society:
 
 ♦ Part 1 — Moving the Ancient Boundaries

 
 ♦ Part 2 — The Rebel & the Victim
 
 ♦ Part 3 — Undermining Civil Authority

 
stone walls

Do not move the ancient boundary stone
   set up by your forefathers.

        — Proverbs 22:28 —

 

 ♦ The Assault on Religious Authority

Undermining the legitimacy of civil authority and mutating the role of government into an instrument for protecting personal licentiousness — while endlessly chasing solutions to the incorrigible problems thus generated — is a key element in the secular postmodern pursuit of a utopian dream of unbridled freedom without consequences. But it is not sufficient; other centers of authority must likewise be transformed to serve the individual over the common good, or neutralized to overcome their resistance to such trends.

Religion, which promotes transcendent values, and strives to restrain destructive individualism and promote the common good through the development of character strengths such as service, charity, self-restraint, and accountability, is a prime alternative source of authority to government — and serves to restrain its excesses and aberrant tendencies as well. As such it is a prime target for the individualist committed to promoting an unrestrained and unaccountable utopia, enforced by the levers of government power.
Continue reading “Moving the Ancient Boundaries – IV”

Fishocrites

fishThis little nugget popped up several weeks ago, and got relatively little notice in the blogs — although OpinionJournal gave it a nod. In brief, our friends at the Washington State Democrats web site had this little gem for sale, a variation on the car magnet ribbons which say “Support the Troops”, “Hate Isn’t a Family Value”, or some similar inanity. At least, they did sell it–for about an hour, until some folks on the Dark Side noticed, after which they promptly pulled it (but you can see the original page here).

Fish symbols on cars have a long and illustrious history. Starting as a simple Christian symbol, they were soon followed by fish with crosses, fish with “Jesus” spelled out (in English, Greek, or Aramaic–your choice), fish on feet proclaiming the lordship of Darwin, Jesus fish eating Darwinian fish, Jihadi fish with suicide vests blowing up Jesus fish eating Darwinian fish (haven’t seen this one myself–but sales have evidently exploded). Anyway, you get the idea.

I’ve always wondered at the mentality of bumper-sticker evangelists: whom do they hope to convert? The guy behind you who thinks you’re driving like a senile ninny? The tractor-trailer whose crack-addled driver is trying to run you off the road? Or the guy you just cut off and gifted with that casual five-minus-four-finger wave? Personally, I’d rather not advertise my faith, my politics, how much I love rainbows, visions of whirled peas, or any other preference, rant, or mantra on my car: I just want the darn thing to start, and get me where I’m going, as anonymously as possible.

sound carBut if you’re gonna promote your religion with your car, you really should go for the gold: early Jehovah’s Witnesses used sound cars blaring anti-Catholic and anti-clergy vitriole back in the glory days of ol’ Judge Rutherford. No lame fish magnets for them, no sirree: say it loud and say it proud. Leave them Watchtowers in the car, Mildred, forget about ringin’ them doorbells, and crank it up, baby!

But back to the matter of hypocrisy: is there anyone who does not manifest this trait nowadays? It is the coin of the political realm: if you are a conservative, liberals are hypocrites; if a Democrat, of course all Republicans are hypocrites. The culture wars are no different: everyone who disagrees with you about abortion, or gay marriage, or separation of church and state, or guns, or whatever, is an extremist, and a hypocrite–and probably abuses little children as well. Thus is the high-water mark of public discourse in our thoroughly-modern millennium.

The word hypocrisy has its roots in ancient Greece, where the word hupocrites was used to depict actors or the parts they played–and some would say it is still used this way. It bespeaks a dichotomy between conviction and action–specifically that which occurs when one pretends to be something or someone which they are not. Hypocrisy is, of course, a matter of degree, and of one’s perspective: if you believe that lying is wrong, for example, but have ever told a lie, then you are by rights a hypocrite–although most of us would find such clarity of definition a bit too threatening, for the obvious reason that we would be its primary target.

You see, the charge of “Hypocrite!” works best when applied to others–carefully applying my surgical log to the splinter in your cornea, to make your vision Lasik-sharp, just as mine is. And it is, in a way, a left-handed compliment–insofar as it implies that you actually have some principles, although you may be acting contumaciously to their dictates.

One, of course, is tempted to respond to such a charge with counter-charges of still more hypocrisy, on your accuser’s part. And thus the cycle of violence continues, a verbal Munich which spirals downward until we all become cynical bastards incapable of even the faintest glimmer of human decency or moral compass.

But I for one take a different view: to be called a hypocrite is a badge of honor. It tells me that someone cares enough about me to point out my moral shortcomings — for which I am grateful, as I am wont to overlook them otherwise. And it has another benefit rarely noticed: it elucidates how my behavior fails to measure up to your standards–which guides me along that meandering, aimless brick road toward true multicultural tolerance, the Oz of our postmodern world.

The fishocrite magnet was acquired by our Washocrat friends from the delightfully-named Reefer Magnets company, which specializes in promoting the decriminalization of marijuana–and whose efforts thereby may help keep the marketing consultants to the Washington State Democratic Party out of jail. Allison Bigelow, whose magnetic personality envisioned and founded this enterprise, is a woman clearly interested in raising the moral standards of the world around her to new highs:

She sees the media attention as a chance to talk about the real aim of Reefer Magnets and her efforts to educate and advocate for the decriminalizing [of] marijuana.

“In my opinion, we wouldn \'t be such a warring people if we used more cannabis and used less alcohol,” Bigelow said.

Bigelow has marched in anti-globalization and anti-war rallies in Seattle. She has written letters to editors and voted for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in 2004 if only to vote against President Bush.

“I \'ve done everything I can, but I still feel I have blood on my hands,” Bigelow said of the ongoing war in Iraq.

Through her online store, Bigelow sells magnets the size of business cards with a pro-pot messages.

“We don \'t need to be in a war for oil because we have industrial hemp,” Bigelow said. “If you look into all the little things that hemp can do, you \'ll understand. We wouldn \'t be killing people for oil.”

Now lest you be confused, Ms. Bigelow did not create the clever fishocrite with her own bloodied hands, but acquired it from another, unnamed source:

This latest ichthys parody was created by a Seattle activist who wanted not to be named. He said he feared for the safety of his cats if the controversy grew out of control.

Now the confluence of Christian hypocrites, reefer madness, and smitten kittens did–I must confess–stump me for a bit. But after due deliberation, in a puff of perlucidity, it all became as clear as bong-water: If I turn from my religious ways, smoke some weed, fill my tank with hemp, and stop killing all those darn cats (spawn of Satan, don’t ya know!), world peace will be upon us–or whirled peas, if you are of the vegan persuasion. If you are still confused, take a deep breath, hold it as long as you can, then slowly exhale–aahh!–and it will all become clear to you as well. Just be sure your room is well-ventilated so the neighbors won’t celebrate the demise of your hypocritical ways by calling the cops.

The charge of hypocrisy against religious folk, especially Christians, is hardly a new one. It’s been the battle cry of those opposed to Christianity, for any reason–political, philosophical, moral, personal–virtually since the apostles started pounding pavement to convert the world. And it should come as no surprise that there really are Christians who are hypocrites–just as there are Buddhists who are hypocrites, Muslims who are hypocrites, yes, even atheists who are hypocrites–not to mention accountants, lawyers, doctors, brick layers, plumbers, prostitutes, and street people. It is an equal-opportunity avocation, whose membership requirements involve simply having a pulse, and not (yet) pushing up daisies.

Hypocrisy is the pretty face we put on the sordid underbelly of the human condition, the dark side of our nature, the charade we maintain to cover our shame. It is a function of our relational nature, as we seek the acceptance of others by making ourselves more attractive on the outside than our inner decay warrants. For our lives are not simply a process of gilding the lily–though we often we imagine them so–but are rather spent candy-coating a cow pie, embellishing the outside while the inside corrodes. For if our inner light was the shining jewel we presume it to be, we would proudly show it forth in all its glory–and there would be no pretense, no deceit, no hypocrisy, no hiding. But such is not the condition of man, so we take pains to pretend to be that which we are not.

The accusation of hypocrisy is directed at Christians, and others of faith, for any number of reasons. At times, the charge is spot-on: when Jimmy Swaggart was ranting about the evils of sexual immorality and fornication, all the while addicted to pornography and frequenting hookers, there is no more apt description than hypocrite. But such egregious cases, while commonly cited as the norm by opponents of Christianity, are in fact condemned by Christians of all stripes virtually without exception–and are grotesquely and disproportionately magnified in significance by media obsessiveness with such scandals. At other times, the charge of hypocrisy resembles an archeological dig, as the dust is brushed off the fossilized remains of the Inquisition and the Crusades to “prove” how debased and power-hungry Christians are by nature and inclination. The Inquisition and the Crusades were many things: the first a toxic confluence of religion and political power, the latter far more a series of defensive wars than the militant evangelism they are purported to be. But in both cases, historical facts are conveniently ignored while these remote events serve as convenient straw men for those committed to castigating Christianity in every age and every place.

But there is another, more common, motive behind such charges of hypocrisy. Religion in general, and Christianity in particular, are not simply benign, quirky notions without consequence, such as believing in alien spaceships or in your fairy godmother. Religious conviction has consequences–consequences which require personal decisions which often go counter to our natural inclinations. Although generally dismissed as mere superstition by secular skeptics, religious faith demands that we change, and conform our lives to the dictates of morality and–particularly in the case of Christianity and Judaism–be accountable to a personal God. The religious person asserts, through both his faith and his actions, that behavior has consequences beyond that easily foreseen. Such a testimony can prove threatening to those who would prefer that their actions and lifestyles be unassailable, no matter what their impact on them personally, the people around them, and society in general. Christianity is, furthermore, by its founding and nature an evangelical faith, seeking to actively call men away from self-centeredness toward the goodness and mercy of God through personal change and repentance. But this proactive endeavor is–unsurprisingly–threatening and uncomfortable for many, even when done for the best of motives.

Faced with the implication that their lives may not meet the highest of standards, and with the uneasy feeling that, if there is a God, He (or She) may not necessarily be all that pleased with their life and choices, it therefore behooves those who reject religious belief to in effect shoot the messenger. If the Christian can be demonstrated to be no different than non-Christian–motivated therefore only by self-interest and the lust for power and control–then their message can be more easily dismissed as simply another form of psychological manipulation or power-play. Those of the secular persuasion naturally assume–cynically but consistently–that Christians cannot be motivated by the desire for the best for others and for the society in which they live. Hence, when Christians assert that some personal or societal behavior or policy is in fact destructive for either the individual, or society, or both, they must be dismissed as hypocrites who are merely following their own cynical wishes to gain power for personal or political gain.

But the Christian, in the purest sense of the word, is in reality driven truly by different motives, brought about by an inner transformation achieved by faith. The car may look the same on the outside, but the motor has been completely re-engineered. Christianity is an inside-out job, wherein God changes the heart, setting us on a course to transform our motivations and desires to those closer to His own. The inner change can be striking, and often is: new perspectives, new priorities, new insight, new rejection of things once accepted unquestionably. But while the heart may change radically, the outside changes with painful slowness, as old habits and behaviors persist.

Christianity is not really about self-betterment or mere behavioral change, but is rather an exchange: a heart transplant, if you will, where something of the God-life begins to live within the spirit of a man. There is, as a result, a conflict: the mind and emotions still following another, older set of rules, while the spirit slowly, almost imperceptibly changes those rules. To the outsider, this may appear to be hypocrisy, with the Christian acting out of sync with his or her stated beliefs–as all do to greater or lesser degree. But this discord is in reality the antidote to hypocrisy: not changing the outside to hide the inside, to deceive and mislead, but rather having the inside changed, leading to inexorable and lasting transformation of the whole man. For true hypocrisy is to change only the outside, to improve oneself through self-sufficiency, strength of will, or even religious observance. For such change is incapable of changing the heart, leaving it instead still self-absorbed, self-centered–and ultimately self-destructive.

But don’t expect those who reject the moral claims of religion and faith to abandon their claims of hypocrisy any time soon. For if, in some perfect world, Christians lived up to their high standards and morals without fail, those who now cry “Hypocrite!” would find us even more hateful than they do now. To hope or believe otherwise is truly a pipe dream.

The Gathering Storm

StormI’m late to this party, as countless keystrokes have been hammered out on both sides of this issue over the past few months. But if you’ve just awakened from a long coma (having somehow survived the mercy of your husband and the justice of the courts), there’s a full-blown war underway. Reviewing past episodes you may have missed, evil minions of the Christian right have established a theocracy, having subverted the democratic process through deceit, red-state rebellion, and mind-control, and the brave-but-outgunned heroes of secular democracy are courageously warring against this nefarious empire.

The embers of rebellion, smouldering after the destruction of the rebel base on Planet Kerry, have been fanned to fury by subsequent skirmishes: the Terry Schiavo case, the election of a “rottweiler” Pope (although occurring in a far-away sector, the political ramifications of this reactionary putsch had worrisome implications for the diaspora here at home), and finally, the showdown on judicial nominations in the senate, which threatens the last secure hold of the rebel secularists–the chambers of the Robed Masters.

As you dust the cobwebs from your brain after your long absence, you may want to review some of the inspired writings of our rebel heroes. First, Princess “MoDo” Leia:

Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy.

Are the Republicans so obsessed with maintaining control over all branches of government, and are the Democrats so emasculated about not having any power, that they are willing to turn the nation into a wholly owned subsidiary of the church?

The more dogma-driven activists, self-perpetuating pols and ratings-crazed broadcast media prattle about “faith,” the less we honor the credo that a person’s relationship with God should remain a private matter.

As the Bush White House desperately maneuvers in Iraq to prevent the new government from being run according to the dictates of religious fundamentalists, it desperately maneuvers here to pander to religious fundamentalists who want to dictate how the government should be run.

Maureen Dowd NY Times March 24 2005

Or this, from Han “So Low” Krugman:

Democratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people’s beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself. We can see this failing clearly in other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, a culture of tolerance led the nation to ignore the growing influence of Islamic extremists until they turned murderous. But it’s also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group, and wield great political influence … One thing that’s going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose … And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law … America isn’t yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren’t sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.

“What’s Going On?” — Paul Krugman NY Times March 29 2005 — (link requires registration)

And this, from Al “Chewbacca” Gore:

It is no accident that this assault on the integrity of our constitutional design has been fueled by a small group claiming special knowledge of God’s will in American politics. They even claim that those of us who disagree with their point of view are waging war against “people of faith.”

How dare they?

Long before our founders met in Philadelphia, their forbears first came to these shores to escape oppression at the hands of despots in the old world who mixed religion with politics and claimed dominion over both their pocketbooks and their souls. This aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry is actually a throw-back to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place.

–Al Gore, at Moveon.org —

And don’t forget the burblings and beeps of our loveable droid, R2Dean2:

The issue is: Are we going to live in a theocracy where the highest powers tell us what to do? Or are we going to be allowed to consult our own high powers when we make very difficult decisions?’

–Howard Dean Rallies California Dems – Sacramento Union–

We could continue at length with many other heroes of the revolution–Robert “Third” Reich, Christopher “party of theocracy” Shays, and a host of other theocratic watchdog web sites and blogs. But while these writings are passionate, yea inspiring, some of us–who remain a tad bit skeptical of the motives of our secular saviors–are wondering if the Dark Side is quite as diabolical as portrayed. After all, we learned from these very same sages that Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism were vastly overstated as threats to our country; could it possibly be that the evil theocrats who have usurped our government are likewise just misunderstood souls, responding in justifiable anger to years of U.S. oppression and exploitation? Why do they hate us? Could the Death Star be nothing more than a big black hot air balloon?

Far be it from me to speak for every Christian in America, but I’ve been around the block for more than a few decades in the Christian community, in red states and blue. I have been a member of, and a worshipper in, a host of Christian denominations, from Roman Catholic to Southern Baptist, from Episcopalian to Methodist, independent evangelical fellowships, and even some charismatic and Pentecostal churches. Now, I have preferred some of these over others for various reasons–doctrinal, legalism, worship style, fellowship–but I have a pretty solid understanding of what their core beliefs and doctrinal differences are, and am familiar with what their pastors teach and their members believe. I have studied, written and published on subjects of Christian history and religious cults. And I have also had the opportunity–or shall I say misfortune–to watch quite a bit of Christian media, the so-called televangelists. My conclusion from this rather broad exposure to American Christianity, and my review of the thoughts of those so distraught about impending theocracy, is this: the current depiction of Christianity by the secular left assails a religious belief system which, by and large, simply does not exist. It is a fabrication, the stuff of fever dreams and flashbacks. The theocracy they dread is ruled by straw men.

I will not say that there does not exists a subset of Christians who hold to some of the doctrines assailed by the secular left as a threat to democracy. The current bogeyman is dominion theology, also known as Reconstructionism–a theology which, briefly put, says that Christ will not return until Christians are running the whole show, with everyone conforming to biblical law. To say that broad swaths of Christianity reject this belief as aberrant is an understatement; no mainstream denomination or church, from Roman Catholic to evangelical to fundamentalists to Pentecostal or charismatic, endorses such a theology. The one area where there is some support for dominionism is among televangelists, who unfortunately are often the most visible and widely known due to their media presence, and are often thought therefore by secular observers to be representative of mainstream Christianity. They are not–in fact, the majority of Christians find most of the televangelists to be an embarrasment, caricatures, objects of derision, or worse: their doctrines are considered by many to be widely deviant from historical Christian belief, and are even considered heretical or cultish by many. This theology has shallow, narrow roots in American Christianity. If this is what the Dowds, the Krugmans, the Gores, and the Moveon.org crowd dread, perhaps they should purchase a nightlight so that things aren’t so scary where they sleep, in the dark.

The notion that the U.S. even remotely resembles a Christian theocracy–or ever will–is ludicrous on its face. Where are the requirements for Christian allegiance to enter civil service? Where are the prosecutions for religious offenses, the jailing of abortionists, the requisite prayer in schools and government? Where is the mandatory Bible in every home and office? Is a country where artists display crucifixes in urine and religious symbols covered in dung, where profanity and sexual promiscuity are widely depicted and promoted in film and media, where pornography is a mouse click away, really under the control–or even the remotest influence–of Christian theocrats? Anyone who makes such a claim is either hysterical, disingenuous, or ignorant–willfully so, in my opinion–of the horrors of true theocratic states such as Iran and Afghanistan under the Taliban, or even “liberal” countries like Saudi Arabia. Wildly hyperbolic accusations such as these about an American administration and those who purportedly control it–dark predictions of assassinations, Salem witch trials, or an Inquisition–do not possess even a remote basis in reality.

No, what infuriates the secular left–and yes, even some on the secular right–is that their sacred cows are now threatened by the leadership elected by the American people: moral relativism, abortion without limits; sexuality without responsibility, consequences, or commitment; the devaluation of the traditional family structure; a society so constructed that no appeal to divine principles or moral absolutes is allowed to interfere with utopian social engineering.

The left has no problem with the marriage of politics and religion: no outcries are heard when the Reverend Jesse Jackson or the Reverend Al Sharpton engage in hardball politics or make presidential runs. No separation of church and state exists when a John Kerry or Al Gore campaigns in black churches, or Hillary quotes Scripture to demonize opponents, or Joe Lieberman talks about his faith in God as Democratic VP candidate. Consider this from the 2000 presidential campaign:

Vice President Gore and I want to bring truth to power–the truth of faith and the power of values that flow from it,” Lieberman said. “We share a commitment to using our office and our influence to support and encourage this new burst of moral and cultural renewal.”

The fusion of God and government becomes troubling only when employed by the wrong people. You revile the “theocracy” of those in power, not because of what it represents, but because you are not in power.

It is not easy to discern whether those who hyperventilate about theocracy actually believe it is a threat, or whether it is a political strategy to demonize the party in power. As political strategy–if that’s all this tantrum represents–directing anti-religious venom at conservative politicians is a blunt tool indeed. In addition to its intended target, this blunderbus will blast millions of Americans for whom faith is important. Finding themselves characterized by proxy as intolerant, close-minded extremists, the broad segment of Americans who value the role of religion in their lives will be hard-pressed to trust such politicians and leaders on more secular matters such as the economy and national security.

It is instructive to consider what would be permissable religious expression for governing officials or leaders to those who now bemoan our dawning theocracy. Christian politicians? Acceptable, I suppose, as long as they never mention their faith, and endorse–or at least not oppose–any issue they might find morally troubling, such as abortion, euthanasia, or gay marriage. Devout Catholic judges? OK at the county or district level only, but better keep the looniness in check (no Ten Commandments on the wall, or rosaries in your car)–far too extremist for Court of Appeals or the Supremes. Fundamentalist Cabinet officer? Fuhgedaboutit. Keep a Bible in your cubicle at the Department of Education? Lose it–gotta keep that wall of separation between church and state, ya know–no crucifixes, either, buddy. Much like the “tolerance and diversity” demonstrated on college campuses when conservatives speak, religious expression or speech of any kind is evil and intolerable when those in power are not liberal. But then, even allowing such people in power at all is an intolerable evil.

Ever notice how the left at heart are really archeologists? They love digging up ancient fossils, like Castro and Che Guevara, to fawn and faddle over. And exhume their enemies, too, they do–still using Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to rally the base and demonize the right? These guys might have had some heft, oh, say, twenty years ago, but today they have about as much influence in American Christianity as Patty Murray has in the Senate. Even Dobson–who gained a lot of respect in the past for thoughtful approaches to child rearing and family relationships, has squandered much of his credibility with Christians by his intrusive and strong-armed approach to politics. No matter–to the delusional these dinosaurs still control the strings of power in government and religion like master puppeteers.

The problem lies in part in a huge cultural chasm: those who huff and puff about theocracy and religious extremists quite simple know nothing about the faith, priorities, or convictions of those for whom Christianity plays a pivotal role. Their utter cluelessness is flagrant and obvious. I’d be willing to bet that folks like Krugman, Dowd, Al Gore, Dr. Dean, and the rest don’t know a single evangelical Christian well enough to sit and have coffee with them and discuss their faith. They’ve never attended their churches, never made an effort to understand why moral issues matter to such people. Their religion is politics, and so they view all religious conviction through the lens of power. They cannot imagine that moral issues matter to people because of the effects these matters have on their personal lives, their neighborhoods, the society they live in. It must be about a grab for power, for in their minds political power is the only way to effect change.

Christopher Hitchens–a talented writer and normally thoughtful liberal–in his Kool-aid-drinking diatribe against the theocrats, says “I am neither a Republican nor a Christian”–then proceeds to prove just how true the statement is by quoting Scripture he has not read in context and does not understand, and proclaiming the influence of Ayn Rand on true Republicans. Ayn Rand?? Dinosaur alert: that creature hasn’t stalked the earth since Wilbur Mills did the Tidal Pool deep six with Fanne Foxe. If you don’t know where the engine is, best leave the car repairs to someone else.

Because this political assault has so little basis in truth, one might conclude that it should fade to black as its ridiculousness becomes manifest. Don’t count on it: this rant is here to stay. And it’s dangerous.

I’m an optimist by nature–but optimism is the opiate of fools, they say, and this time I think they’re right. The danger lies in the use of anti-religious fervor for political advantage. Like the blacksmith’s bellows, the left is superheating the political dialog by feeding oxygen to baser instincts. As high heat changes the structure of metal, this rhetorical inferno against the religious right will harden those so disposed to create an indelible association between faith, intolerance and hatred. Fanning religious hatred for political gain is a dangerous game; just ask the Jews.

I do not fear for the faith: Christ’s church is an anvil which has broken many hammers, and which grows stronger under many blows. But from the seeds of vitriole spring tyranny, and gathering storm clouds portend not sunlight, but darkness and driving rain.

Moby Dickering

MobyOK, I was bored. Really bored.

I rarely read print media any longer. Gone is the day when I used to devour every issue of Time or Newsweek, or the local paper. Even my Wall Street Journal tends to pile up, undisturbed, ready for recycling to save the Planet. Life is short, the news cycle on the net runs at hyperspeed, and there are too many drop-dead talented writers and reporters on the web — from all over the political spectrum — to spend much time on a quaint anachronism like a weekly news mag. And besides, life is decidedly Blue out here in Washington state, so the local rags are, well, predictable Pravda affiliates.

But trapped in the OR lounge between surgeries — where time between cases passes like a slug on quaaludes — I grabbed a section of one of my local papers, the Morning News Tribune. And there it was — below the fold in the Soundlife section — postmodern journalism and politics in all its glory.

Soundlife is the local interest section of the Tribune — every paper has one — teaming with lightweight articles on events of interest, the arts, gardening, and music. This is where expectations of good writing are low, and local journalists get to pad their resumes a bit while waiting for their employment call from the NY Times. Or not.

First to catch my eye — framed between two color pictures — was a pull quote, with a close-cropped head shot of a bald bespeckled pundit:

LOOSE TALK

Why did half the country respond with outrage when Janet Jackson showed her nipple on the Super Bowl? Why didn’t they respond with outrage when American foreign policy results in the death of 200,000 Iraqis? … I have to ask myself: Would God be more offended by a bare breast on the Super Bowl, or 200,000 dead Iraqis? It’s a simple question. And I think the answer would be pretty clear.

MOBY, a proud Blue State voter, on American politics.

Ahh, deep thoughts, music superstar, pop theology, all wrapped up in one — gotta love it. Where to start? Such a rich target in so little space.

Yawn — another pop star or Hollywood celeb treating us to to their deep analysis of the world, perched high in their pulpit of short-lived fame and easy money. I’m an avid music fan, but the name Moby barely registers – a quick Googling unveils an aging techno-rocker with ten-plus years of striving to release The Big Album, sadly to no avail. His fawning critics shower him with praise:

Not unlike the hotel metaphor he uses, Moby checks in and checks out of public recognition with frightening momentum, inhabiting one musical habitat after another and leaving only his hair-shavings by way of a mark. Nobody quite cares who he is and nobody quite remembers him. It \'s a condition compounded perhaps by his awkward intellectualism. “Why hotel?” his sleeve notes begin. But nobody asked him in the first place. Moby courts expectations of Moby more meticulously than we court those of him and it \'s this freakish self-propulsion that keeps him from achieving orbit. Moby is too busy orbiting himself and his own mobiness.

Ouch. And this guy likes Moby! With friends like that…

The Moby pull-quote in the News Tribune is classic postmodern political discourse, in so many ways. Postmodernism is a nebulous non-philosophy which few admit to, but seemingly everyone espouses. Rejecting all absolute truth, it replaces fact and history with “narratives” created by culture and language, specifically by those in power. The postmodernist’s mission in life is to “deconstruct”, to show the hidden agenda — typically racism, imperialism, oppression, intolerance (you know the litany) — behind each and every construct of Western civilization, and to “speak Truth to power” (a curious disconnect there, no? What truth??). It has spread like a viral epidemic through the crowded confines and stagnant, overheated air of academia, raging through the intellectual elitism of the left, where compromised immunity against frivolous idealogy is endemic.

An odd analogy, this: the connection between Janet Jackson’s breast and the war in Iraq admittedly eludes this mere mortal — both are getting really old ? Their flaws are clearly revealed? Tune in, turn on, drop out? Oh, now I get it: hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the postmodernist’s religion — not that they are hypocrites, mind you, (you cannot be a hypocrite when there are no absolutes) — but rather that everyone with whom you disagree is a hypocrite. And no one is more hypocritical than right-wing, Red State, fundamentalist, Bible-thumping, intolerant, war-mongering, neoconservative Fox News-watching, tongue-speakin’ theocrats .

The formula is perfect. When you’re making a political statement in the postmodern world, you must start with a really, really big number: say, 200,000. No matter that the number is a complete fabrication. Even the controversial Lancet article (original requires registration and is no longer linked) — which extrapolates from a small sample in the Sunni triangle to all of Iraq, fails to distinguish between innocent civilians and insurgent combatants or those killed by them, whose lead researcher was against the war and insisted that the study be rushed to print before the U.S. election — quotes only 100,000 civilian deaths, likely a vastly overstated figure at that. So where does this 200,000 figure come from? Who knows? Who cares? The point is that it’s a Really Big Number — shocking! even — and will get repeated, incessantly, until it becomes as close to fact as a postmodernist can get.

This kind of statistical hyperplasia is pandemic in postmodern political strategy. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a founder of the pro-choice N.A.R.A.L. organization, in his revelatory book Aborting America (p. 193), tells of the origin of the oft-cited figure of 5,000-10,000 abortion-related deaths prior to legalization:

How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In N.A.R.A.L., we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always “5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.” I confess that I knew the figures were totally false … But in the “morality” of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? … In the last year before the Blackmun era [Roe v. Wade] began, in 1972, the total [abortion-related fatalities] was only 39 deaths.

The point is not to argue abortion, but to demonstrate a central tenet of postmodern political discourse: Statistics needn’t be true, just powerful, repeatable, and serve “the revolution.” Cite early, cite often, and your narrative becomes Truth.

But enough digression — back to Moby: he talks about God. God?? Why bring God into it? Postmodernism despises religion, with its foundation in absolute truth and moral certainty. But God can be useful, even to the postmodernist, as long as he is judging the hypocrites. God’s OK with Janet’s breast, but not OK with dead Iraqis, because Moby’s OK with Janet’s breast, and not OK with Iraq. Change the rules — suggest that God might be OK with liberating folks from tyranny and torture — and watch God get thrown overboard like yesterday’s lunch meat.

The last issue — the issue that really got me going on this rail — has nothing to do with Moby, and everything to do with the old-line media: context. There isn’t any. None. Nada. I checked the entire Soundlife section, and there’s not one word written about Moby anywhere else. Nor anywhere else in the paper. No concert in the area, no discourse about his musical evolution from rave to techno to crunch metal to ambient, no byline revealing who thought this quote worthy of citing — no nothing. The quote just sits there, a gratuitous sop to latte liberals, reinforcing their smug assuredness that All The Right People think just as they do. This is what passes for journalism when their are no facts, no truth, no certainty other than my own opinion and the will to power.

I remember hearing an NPR interview on some abortion controversy — perhaps a court ruling — a few years back. In a 60-second spot, Maura Liasson — or was it Cokie Roberts? — sympathetically interviewed a pro-choice spokeswoman, who gave her pitch about how reasonable it was, how woman’s rights and fairness were preserved, and so forth. All very smooth and polished, taking up nearly 40 seconds of the spot. Then, to “balance” the report, the interviewer read a quote from a pro-life spokesman — a man, by contrast — which sounded shrill and judgmental. No conclusions were drawn, of course: none were necessary.

Context. It’s everything. Stripped of context, vacuous words and self-important foolishness take on a gravity and value not inherently theirs: the frivolous becomes profound. Marshall McLuhan was right: the medium is the message, and the medium is lost, hopelessly so. When truth is discarded, the vehicle drives the driver, and what’s to keep you out of the ditch? As Moby would say, “It’s a simple question. And I think the answer would be pretty clear.”

Faith & Reason

RoseRon Suskind’s article in the NY Times Magazine, Without a Doubt, addressing the issue of the faith of George W. Bush, begins as follows:

Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3. The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.

Just in the past few months, Bartlett said, I think a light has gone off for people who’ve spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he’s always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do. Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush’s governance, went on to say: This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can’t be persuaded, that they’re extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he’s just like them . . .

This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts, Bartlett went on to say. He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence. Bartlett paused, then said, But you can’t run the world on faith.

There is much to address and analyze in this lengthy article, and no doubt others better versed on the credibility of its sources, the speciousness of its evidence, and its use of unconfirmed hearsay and biased sources will rise to the debate. But I was particularly struck by one line which I believe embodies the heart of the article’s core thesis:

He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.

There is a name for someone who believes things for which there is no evidence: a fool.

Listening to the secular fundamentalists at the NY Times expound on the mind and heart of a man of the Christian faith is akin to a man blind from birth describing a rose: you are far more likely to hear about the thorns than the subtle colors and beauty of its petals.
 
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