Friday, December 23, 2016

Fake News

I posted this last week. I've since updated it with a comparative news item from a fake news YouTuber, with a liberal bent. Also, you might like this article that explains just what fake news is. My comments are at the bottom.  Fake news is different from President Johnson fabricating a military incident like The Gulf of Tomkin as he did in 1964. Reporters were not there to verify the facts. Today's fake news is reporters making up facts. 


This is what fake news looks like. I saw this on facebook yesterday and decided to google it. Note the time stamps. Within minutes all of the fake news sites had picked this up. Many of them just cut and pasted the original story. Note the language "harass", "accosting", "trumprage". Read any one of them and you will have trouble finding supporting evidence for those words. 

The list of websites that picked this up early went on for 6 pages. They all have names like "RedState", "WND", "inquistor" and "hollywoodlife". That's your first clue. And watch out for names like The Washington Times. Many are in that "credible yet biased" gray area. Just the fact that they reported it so quickly, without time for gathering any information, should tell you something. That's a major part of their strategy, to blast the internet with their version of the truth and don't worry about facts. It makes it difficult for you to find any professional journalism on the topic. 

2 days earlier, there was a similar incident, where someone videoed themselves getting kicked off a plane because they were speaking Arabic. Sounds like something that a liberal would want to hear as proof that there is a conservative conspiracy against Muslims, being enforced by a corporation. I saw it, but didn't click on it or look it up like I did the Ivanka story, but here's what I came up later.

Note several differences. The name of the person creating the news is mentioned in many of the headlines, unlike the tweeters in the Ivanka story. And it tells you he is "known for pranks". It says he "claims". This is more like Jon Stewart from the Daily Show, starting his show by saying "welcome to the fake news". He told his audience often to listen to other news sources. A fake news site would never say those things.  

You will also notice a mix of mainstream media and fake news sites. What's interesting though is, the story looks about the same in both. For a conservative news site that wants to sensationalize everything, the true story of an Arabic speaking man making up a story to get attention, is the narrative they want to sell. Their audience is conservatives. That's who gives them the clicks. 

So this story about Saleh is actual news. The mainstream media tells you who did it, and tells you what he normally does, so it's pretty easy to figure out his motives. Fake news sites tell you the same thing, and maybe add a little something about how stupid the prank was, or how this proves something about all liberals and how "they" create fake news. But it's not fake news, it's news about a guy faking something. 

The difference between these two is one started with a tweet that was not intended to be picked up, but was then broadcast by TMZ. The other 6 pages of conservative fake news providers watch for things like that and repeat it. It gives the appearance of it being important because it is being reported, and it drowns out actual fact checking news organizations. 


But the worst part of fake news is it legitimizing the kind of lying that has always come from politicians. Fact checking helped for a few years, but now the fact checkers are being called fake. It's true that fact checking often favors Democrats, but only in the sense that they are said to be lying less often. That doesn't account for the fact of whether or not they are actually lying less often. When a fact like; Snopes debunks more conservative news stories than liberal stories becomes evidence that they are bias, we have moved very deep into the post truth world. The data that says fake news is more often geared toward conservatives is now considered illegitimate. The space for a reasonable conversation is now lost. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Birth Lottery

I heard a "Millennial" the other day say she had lost in the "birth lottery", that she was born into high college costs and dwindling job prospects and a service economy. That's all true, but who ever won this lottery? It seems to me it's not the time you are born, but to whom, and that is usually about a 1% chance that you will win.

I was born in the previous generation and there were lakes on fire from garbage, Presidents being shot, murder rates on the rise and corruption so bad they impeached an administration. The generation before me had free love, but they also got drafted into Vietnam. You have to go back another generation to get to 80% of young people doing better than their parents, but how did they do it? America did well because the economies of Europe were destroyed by World War II.

Before that, you were the "Greatest Generation", which means you saved the world from Fascism, which means a lot of you died. It gets worse. The Great Depression, the First World War, the Civil War and there were Depressions back then too. And if you were born somewhere else in the world, it was probably under a King who choose your religion for you and your job choice was most likely to do the same thing your parents had done. For women, that would be raising children.

If you were doing well, you were most likely white and your affluence was directly related to the exploitation of people from non-European countries, or the fact that your country was stripping resources from one of the other continents. If that's the lottery you want to win, maybe you need to rethink your values.

I'm not picking on this Millennial young woman. This happens to most people in their 20's, they start to look beyond the limits of what their education handed them and find out things don't work the way they thought they did, the way they were told. It's not just the education systems fault, it's also that each of us has to do some of that figuring out on our own.

That's a long conversation, but I think it's instructive to look at that period of growth and prosperity right after the 2nd world war. At that time, we all were working on spreading the wealth by working on making the world wealthier. We invested in Europe and Japan because the people who lived there, the people being born there, weren't the same people that tried to kill us. They didn't cause the problem, just like a child born in Mexico or Afghanistan is not causing us any problems now.

The birth lottery ticket most of us get is to work on some little part of the world and try to make it better than you found it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Speaking to Racism

Have you ever wanted to ask tough questions to a racist? This journalist, Al Letson, does it. The result might be what you expect, but that it didn’t devolve into yelling and end with either one walking off, is out of the ordinary. What this tells us is, racism never ended, it just dressed itself up nicer. This has been happening for decades. The language of racism is no longer acceptable, but the institutions of racism are basically the same. It was working for a while; blacks were losing votes, losing jobs, more were going to prisons. All of these indicators were there, but with the indicators of more blacks in business and government, you might have missed it.

But it’s coming back out into the open now. No matter how powerful or pervasive, culture like this can’t remain hidden for very long. It worked because it was kept quiet. Now that people are “finding their voice”, we’re hearing it again. Meet Richard Spencer, a self-proclaimed leader of the alt-right. He believes America should be all white and of European descent. He believes the races all hate each other according to natural human nature and we should have policies that reflect that. On his website it proudly says,  “Spencer’s publications and activities have been reported on by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio, The Rachel Maddow Show, Buzzfeed,,, among many others.  Spencer has been a frequent guest commentator on the cable network RT International.” This of course does not mention what any of those publications actually say about him, or that RT is funded by the Russia government.

He lives in a small town in Montana now, but he thinks it is time to move to Washington DC and seek more attention and more funding. It’s entirely possible that he is right, and it’s also quite probable he is completely deluded. He thinks he can become an institution of the type that was started by people like Lewis Powell, in the Nixon Administration. They created the misinformation that was reported by the news organizations that were created to report them. Legitimate media had to respond but this often only served to legitimize the poorly done studies and biased data.

These include; the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Cato Institute. They are not designed to answer questions or find solutions so much as instill doubt and add confusion to already difficult issues. Instead of using the university system that we built over centuries, politicians and pundits can now pick their sources. For an average person who just wants to be assured that they are right, this is a gold mine. With the rise of self-publishing and web based news, the powerful people who started this now have little control over it.

Actually, most of those people are dead. We really can’t be sure what was in their hearts. They probably didn't anticipate the world wide web. We can look at what is coming out of this cesspool of misinformation and who is using it and we can do something about it. It has a very social nature to it, so I’m afraid that means talking directly to the people who believe it. Attempting to fight non-facts with facts tends to have the effect of simply entrenching both sides. Al Letson instead talks about the people he loves and how he wants them to live together and care for each other. Spencer had little choice but to say he believed in hate.

It’s in the last 5 minutes of the show. Link is in the first sentence of this post. There’s a transcript too.

"I think we actually kind of hate each other, and that is a very tragic thing, and that's a very sad thing, and we don't trust each other. We can talk about how one day we're going to all be holding hands, or we can actually be realistic about this, and we can actually look at the power of human nature and the power of race." -- Richard Spencer

“If that is your world view then I'm sorry because like I said I have white family members that I love, and I think that they love me, so no I don't think that we hate each other. I think that there's not a nation in this world that doesn't have problems, but I would say when you just said like if we could go back X amount of years would we be better? No, because I wouldn't be talking to you right now.” – Al Letson

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I love the Internet, it does not love me back

Paul Young, author of "The Shack" recently gave an analogy of religious zealotry in an interview. He said there are people who go looking for something. Let's say you have a guitar player living in rural Indiana who can't find people who get what the blues are all about like he does. So he straps his guitar on his back and starts hitchiking toward Memphis. He passes through small towns and is given sideways glances and maybe even spit on for how he is dressed or the vision he talks of to anyone who cares to ask.

Then he gets closer and sees a sign, "Memphis, 100 miles". He sits down, so happy he almost cries, plays a tune. People ask him why he's sitting there and he says, "Because I've found it, look, Memphis, it's a sign. I was so moved by this sign. It's real, it's attainable. I'm going to plant myself here and sing songs about this sign and invite others to share in the feelings I've had about it."

The analogy of going to church on Sunday is obvious, but there is also the analogy to social networks. Many people find themselves alone in their communities, with a belief system that is not shared by the people they are in contact with everyday. They go to the internet looking for something else, and they fall in love with the internet. Their friends are named PragPop27 and scrmdidle. It can be very satisfying and also a complete waste of time.

The tools of the information age have been demonstrated to be very powerful. They helped overthrow Qaddafi and bring awareness to many struggling people around the world. They have also been used to recruit terrorists who then can't be traced back to any specific government or entity. Tools are tools, they aren't the answer.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A case for humanism

I wanted to finish up something I said I would do. I said I would discuss the positive sides of the Phillip Kitcher interview by Ryan Bell. I ripped into them a few months ago for their vague references to atheist writers. The interview starts to pick up into a more positive side around a half hour. They start talking about how to build on what we've learned in the past. Some of that might have been encoded within religions.

As I mentioned back in June, Kitcher says opportunity should extend to everyone, with a few reasonable limits. Kitcher says things like extreme egalitarianism, the idea we are born dependent, and we need help becoming useful to that society that we depended are part of what religion has taught and passed on.

He goes on to ask, how do we make sense of the limits of a human life? And says that is answerable, but the bigger question is, how do we build a world where all people have the opportunity to be meaningful within those limits? Religion accomplishes the tasks of community and support, he says. They manage the claims we have on one another, he says. He mentions Bernie Sanders as someone who supports those values, and only for him does he say that Bernie didn't come up with the ideas. He doesn't discuss details of HOW religion does this job. But that is only criticism of exclusion, maybe he says that in one of his books, and he has some ideas about 5 minutes later, so hang in there, keep listening.

Kitcher says the message of the Sermon on the Mount includes the lessons of distributing wealth and giving others opportunities. That could be argued, but I won't because the reason he brings it up is to say this message is mostly ignored. Ryan compares this to the middle class humanist who is comfortable and doesn't notice or doesn't address the half of the world living in poverty. So there are many in this boat. We could discuss causes but Kitcher proposes some solutions, so let's stick to that. He says, what we need to provide for everyone is:

Opportunities, especially early in life, to be well educated
To have health taken care, or at least the means available
To be cared for by people who love them
Have the opportunity to participate in a nurturing society
To chose their own career paths
To discover where their talents lie
To choose their life path based on the above

Kitcher points out no government is providing services at this level. Ryan sees this as the responsibility of those who have these things, not just governments. Obviously we need an agreed upon way to manage services like this. Kitcher sticks to the ideals and talks about how our sense of purpose comes from our projects and our skills that we can employ that we see as part of something bigger, not the toys or even the political influence we might wield. That "competitive materialism" is unsatisfying. Kitcher attributes this thought to the Pope. Personally, I found it in Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, so I think we can say these ideas are integrated into modern society.

They end on a well articulated point about how religion acts as a filter to our human connections instead of a highlight of the importance of those connections. It seemed to almost contradict some of the things he said earlier, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he just didn't feel the need to mention it. Just slightly paraphrasing here, Kitcher says,

"It's not just that we have no evidence for transcendent reality, but it's a distraction. It invites us to think of our horizontal relations to one another as if they are sanctioned or rendered important by our vertical common relation to some transcendent something, i.e. 'We are all children of God'. It is an unnecessary and often problematic detour."

He goes on to paraphrase John Robinson from his book "Honest to God". The important thing is our relationship to other human beings, they shouldn't be filtered through the "fact" that we are all some servants or children or worshipers of God. The relationships to each other should just simply be there freestanding, independent and at the center and focus of all of our lives and all of our concerns.  So, humanism can make use of what religion has discovered, but in the end, it has to cut free.

Couldn't agree more.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veteran's Day

This is a tough Veteran's day for me. I have been mostly untouched by the horrors of war, but I understand its necessity. I honor my Uncles who served, and I'm glad they did not see terrible combat. I respect my fellow workers who are vets, they are often the best people in the room. I know war ended the tyrannical systems of the 19th century and stopped the fascist systems of the 20th. I've seen us get better at fighting with less collateral damage and at talking it out so we don't fire a shot.

I've let go of some of my ideals of a perfectly peaceful world, but I will never let go of the possibility of that. I doubt I will live long enough to see a world that is as peaceful as I would like it to be, as peaceful as I think it can possibly be. What I don't get is, why would anyone not want to see us improve on the current state of affairs?

I get it that war makes you tough, it builds character, it's reality, you have to fight for freedom every day, no justice no peace, all that. But comparing kids today to the 18 year old kids who stormed the beaches at Normandy, is not a contest I care to judge. Watch the opening to “Saving Private Ryan”. Those kids were crying and wetting their pants. Most of them died. This is not something we need to put every generation through just to make them somehow better people.

And the next generation watched wars on television, and watched their friends leave and not come back. Since then, we have fought low level wars, police actions, and supported UN peace keeping missions. We deal now more with PTSD and people with artificial limbs, but people are still dying. War is not going away. Can we think about it a little before we ramp it up?

When I see the kids at colleges today who are crying over the election, I see kids who have not seen the world my parents and grandparents saw, and that's good. That means they did their job of making a better world. You could say they did a better job than any generation for thousands of years. Those kids grew up believing things were getting better. They saw love increasing. They saw cities getting cleaned up. They saw marginalized voices getting expressed.  They saw nations helping nations. You're darn right I want to wrap them in a blanket and tell them it's going to be okay, because it's my job now to make it okay. It's want I was trying to create when I marched against “nukes” in the Reagan years, and I understand it's what the good men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria want too.

We should all want a world where we have to describe war to children. It should be something they read about in the history books and see only in digital films that were transferred from some earlier technology that is now in a museum somewhere. It's going to be hard for some generation someday to impress on those kids that there is evil out there somewhere and that ethical systems allow for self defense in the right circumstances. But wouldn't we all rather be facing that challenge than teaching them how to act around a wounded vet, or giving them the choice of one presidential candidate that wants war slightly less than the other?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

To Millenials: Use good reasoning!

I don't care who you vote for, but if this is your reasoning, read a book: Millenial or not, there are a lot of problems with this article. I don't know who Diandre is, but I've heard these complaints, and she lays them out neatly, so it's a great chance to respond to them.
  • She voted for the Iraq war.
    • True, however that was a vote for funding. Many Democrats did not expect the funds to be spent how they were or for Bush and Cheney to act as they did. But that's how the government works when it comes to war. Congress gets to vote for a bill and the President gets to administer it. So don't blame Hillary for everything Bush did.

  • She is hawkish.
    • You are voting for the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. It's part of the job. If I had the chance to vote for the president of the NRA, and the most likely winners were far right and slightly less far right, I'd vote for the second one. This is national US politics, not some local club.

  • She voted for the Patriot Act.
    • Yeah, that was bad. This one is harder to excuse due to politics.
  • Exemption to South Sudan.
    • This is a case of finding the worst aspect of what she did and ignoring the rest of the situation. If you don't know the details of this war, then you don't get to use stuff like this to make your decision about what kind of person Hillary is.
  • “Super Predators”
    • A few words taken out of context is always dangerous. It's the mark of someone who has an agenda and is not concerned with the big picture. I accept the Hillary will represent a wide spectrum of Americans, based on her track record.
  • Saudi Arabia
    • Saudi Arabia could arm itself without the help of Hillary Clinton. They've been doing it for 100 years. Hillary does not run guns to them. You do not fight for women's rights or anybody's rights by isolating yourself from every nation and every person who thinks differently than you do. Just like South Sudan, understand the situation, then tell me what you think should be done.
    • Accounting for jobs is extremely difficult. Politicians claim to “create jobs” all the time despite the fact that they don't. Detroit's problems began with riots in 1968 and has suffered from a series of bad leadership decisions that did not help it rebuild after that. She never served on local office there. Lee Iacocca sent jobs to Mexico long before NAFTA. This one essentially disqualifies Diandre as someone who should be doing this analysis.
  • Wall Street
    • Really? How? What “support” is she talking about?
  • TPP
    • Clutching for straws. This has not been implemented and she's against it, which is what you want. I want leaders who change their minds as circumstances change and as they acquire new information.
  • Tim Caine
    • Red Herring
  • Bankruptcy Bill
    • I haven't researched this one. And don't see the need to given the above.
  • Universal healthcare.
    • What exactly do you want here? She was creamed in a fight for a healthcare bill as First Lady. She learned from that. We have the Affordable Care Act in part because of that work. Obama made compromises to get it past that I don't like, but I would not have ever got anything like that done. If you want someone who can transform us in to Sweden, please name them and support them.
  • Primaries were rigged
    • Conspiracy theory. Not going to address this without better evidence.
  • Keystone and fracking.
    • This is not great. I'd like to hear your alternative plan. Hillary is actually supportive of alternatives. Maybe you should look up her plan.
  • Clinton money
    • Show your work. Again, a red flag that this person is not progressive and has a hidden agenda. What “special interest groups”? The good ones?
She goes on to blame “the media”, something that doesn't exist. There is no “the media” that speaks with one voice. And, despite not having a computer in kindergarten, I've been using the Internet since 1989. You don't have video evidence of Hillary lying, you believe constructed YouTube narratives. And who told you to sit down and shut up? You got Obama in the White House, and we all thank you for that. Keep up the good work.

Diandre, it sounds like you have discovered Democracy, and that's very exciting. You now know how I felt when I voted for Anderson instead of Reagan. We had more choices then. The debates were run by the League of Women Voters. Those were good things. Work on bringing back good things like that. You can do that with Hillary, or you can try it without her. Making up things that are wrong with Hillary is not a good thing.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


I have reached the 6 month milestone for my sermon helper, and, with the help of some good coffee, I've come once around the lectionary cycle. I hope to set a little faster pace over the next 6 months so I can relax and enjoy the summer next year as I complete the project.

Update: I've decided the Sept 2017 deadline was too aggressive, but I will keep months ahead of the Lectionary as I am now.

Here are a couple "best ofs" if you aren't following the calendar.

Central Christian themes, and an alternative view 
Responds to the slam on philosophers, and offers a beautiful interpretation of the the symbolism of “bread” from William Herzog
Shows how the Old Testament just can’t be reconciled to the New.
Where I try to fix the fundamentalist interpretation
Loaves and Fishes as Community building
The Whistleblower, aka Parable of the Talents
More Matthew 25

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Naturalization of teleological language. Say what?

I’ve been tracking Bart Campolo lately and finding him well worth a listen. In a section of this podcast, about 10 minutes long, so many things are tossed around, it could take hours to develop. It’s a rapid exchange. Bart was passionate about his desire to incorporate the many voices he hears on campus while Tripp was trying to explain the value of the language of the traditions he holds so dear. Both were pointing in the same direction, but many differences need to be worked out before they can really work together toward that same goal. Or maybe there’s a third way.

Listen to the whole thing, or jump to around 20 minutes in and try to catch up. I took their words for the next 15 minutes and made these “study” questions. Some of them get expanded on later, but mostly they are left unanswered. I hope the two of them get together for more.

Questions that depend on belief

Did the human technologies of eating together, singing together and performing rituals develop naturally, through evolution, and then get incorporated into religion, or were they developed by inspired religious leaders?

Did all of that get associated with a supernatural explanation at a time when the only explanations we had were supernatural, or do they actually have a supernatural origin? Is there another explanation?

Questions that could be separated from the belief question

Did science emerge from monotheistic assumptions then move through secularization, removing the supernatural aspects?

Since we are now developing more natural explanations, is theological language being “naturalized” to apply to our teleological relationship to creation?

How are these two sets of questions related?

How does our language hold our beliefs in place?

How do we develop the language to serve the need of bringing people together to lead happier and more productive lives?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Volf and the roots of pluralism

Part II (scroll back for part I) (Part III is on hold for the moment, maybe forever, I thought some other bloggers were going to be writing about this chapter, but that didn't materialize)

Next, I'll quote many of the same quotes Volf used when discussing Roger Williams. Williams was a Puritan from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A few of you will remember that was long before the revolution, and even longer before Jefferson ever said anything about separation of church and state, even before slavery, but it is far removed from Columbus too. I think this would have been an amazing century to be alive, to experience the new thoughts forming around how we should govern ourselves.

Williams was the pluralist, an idea that had roots with the Anabaptists, but had little other expression throughout history. He was pluralist only when it came to politics though. He was just as exclusivist as his rivals, John Cotton and John Winthrop, when it came to religion. In the end, Williams and his followers were branded the dissenters and were “purged”. A fairly peaceful purging as purges go. They founded Rhode Island. The basis of the exclusivists argument was that people needed to be compelled to follow the precepts of the government or God would be displeased and the government couldn't function. Williams agreed with “Thou shalt not kill”, but said the first few commandments were about human duties to God and that government had no business with them. He did not see this as a contradiction with the idea of being religiously exclusive.

John Winthrop wrote about the “city on a hill” they had created. That city would watch over and govern the purity of religious observance. Flogging and mutilation or even death were punishments for disobedience. This was the state's job. Williams, on the other hand, wrote “The Bloudy Tennant for Persecution of Conscious”, and defended his position.

"Sixthly, it is the will and command of God that (since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only (in soul matters) able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God's Spirit, the Word of God."

For its time, this is a radical argument for freedom of conscious. It says there is a marketplace of ideas, and it is with ideas he will fight for his god, not any other type of a sword. If that is not clear, perhaps this excerpt from a letter will help,

"First that forc’t Worshpp stincks in Gods nostrils. 2 That it denies Christ Jesus yet to be come, and makes the Church yet National, figurative and Ceremoniall. 3 That in these flames about Religion, as his Matie his Father and Grandfather have yielded, there is no prudent Christian way of preserving peace in the World but by permission of differing Consciences."


"It is directly contrary to the nature of Christ Jesus, his saints and truths, that throats of men should be torne out for his sake. Who most delighted to converse with greatness sinners."

English from 4 centuries ago can be tough, but I'm sure he means Jesus conversed with sinners, so why shouldn't we. When he founded Rhode Island, he put these ideas into his State's Constitution. Historians today agree that he wrote from his heart. His convictions were what he truly felt, not mere means to social ends. He was just as excluvists, religiously, as Winthrop or Cotton. The content of faith as they saw it is what made the difference, not the firmness of their faith.

Or, as John Plamenatz of 20th century Oxford said, "Liberty of conscience was born, not of indifference, not of skepticism, not of mere open-mindedness, but of faith. The reasoning was not, because faith is important we must impose it, but because faith is supremely important all human beings must be allowed to live by the faith that they hold true."

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Discussion of Volf's pluralism

In chapter 4 of Miroslav Volf's “Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World”, he attempts to make the case that exclusivist religion can be compatible with pluralist politics. I'm not sure how many blogs it will take to cover this somewhat lengthy chapter. I'll begin with an overview.

The words “exlcusivist” and “pluralist” seem to make their own case against “compatible”, but his argument is thorough and compelling, complete with historical precedent. Even if he is wrong, I think the discussion of the possibility is worth the effort. Any attempt to address the current problems of fundamentalism, Christian or otherwise, deserves consideration. A program of elimination of religion or quarantining it is similar in exclusionary tactics to a program of converting everyone to believe in a particular god. A truly pluralist society consists of people with open minds, willing to engage any reasonable argument.

I have already laid several land mines for myself in that opening paragraph and I can see the jaws clenching and the eyes rolling. To allay some of those fears of hearing the same old arguments, Volf begins by noting the Puritans left the religious persecution of England, only to set up their own exclusive system in America. A seeming contradiction. He later explains how pluralism had roots in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and how the exculsivist and pluralist factions had to part company. He admits that there are limits to the use of reason by fundamentalist. That it is often used only to defend their own preconceived notions and breaks down when challenged. He quotes Popper and Rousseau. He admits not all who embrace exclusivist religion will go along with his ideas. He asks very little of the pluralist society and demands much from his fellow Christians.

When considering the possibility that religion can continue to some extent in the forms we see it now, it's important to take a broad perspective. We are decades into a movement sometimes called the Christian Right, but it is a recent phenomena and it's dominance is starting to wane. Before that, sociologist were pretty well agreed that science would continue to advance and religion would fade. Further back, people like Thomas Jefferson expected the world to move toward some form of the Unitarianism, akin to religion but without all the miracles. He was wrong about that, but he did pretty well with shaping democracy, so I'll cut him some slack. 500 years before that Aquinas attempted to reconcile Greek rationalist thought with his faith. There were other failed attempts, but the important point is that the dominant view of religion changes throughout time and we can influence that view.

In a rare moment for Christian theologians, Volf presents Peter Berger's steps toward the gradual disappearance of religious exclusivism. He contends social pluralism naturally leads to the affirmation of religious pluralism. When religious people mix with other ideologies, they experience a degree of “Cognitive contamination”. Certainly any cult leader who keeps his minions isolated knows this.
Whether this contamination is other religions or not, it eventually becomes secularism. This phenomenon could also be observed in the recent acceptance of homosexuality in America. As more and more people came to know a gay person personally, they found out they weren't so bad. The steps are:

1 Live with others
2 Learn to appreciate them
3 Realize their ways of living aren't utterly false
4 Their truth is as good as yours

Volf points out at least one flaw in Berger; not everyone makes that last step.

This is where Volf's theology steps in, providing a way to live between steps 3 and 4. He notes that the three major monotheisms and even Buddhism contain ideas not only that their god (or in Buddhism's case their ideology) is the only one, and the right one, but also that you should not be arrogant about this. If you are right, and of course you are, you should not need to boast. God will give you the strength and wisdom you need to endure the unbelievers and to convert them. Indeed, you should not fear hearing the ideas of others, you should apply the golden rule and treat those ideas with respect, just as you would expect your ideas to be treated, knowing that in the end you will prevail.

I would like to interject at this point, that Volf, throughout the entire book is notorious for ignoring large swaths of history. He never mentions the dozens of other versions of “do unto others”. I can't tell if this is purposeful or if he is actually unaware that Jesus did not invent that.

He shows a strong grasp of world history, so it is to hard understand how he could miss certain details or why he thinks them unimportant. He covers the unique aspects of Judaism and Christianity, and how they ended up being religions that grew beyond their tribal beginnings. He calls them “world” religions. Christianity for instance took a stand of consciousness against imperialist Rome. Those ideas lived on and have been adapted and used by many revolutionary cultures and oppressed groups. I would have liked it Volf did not slide past the harsh versions of that, when Christianity later partnered with empire and brutally oppressed and enforced its exclusiveness. He may think it would hinder his argument to do so, but I think it hinders his argument to not do it.

I am not suggesting that he, or anyone, meld their precious ideologies into some grand philosophy that is a mix of all human knowledge. I would like to see that, but I don't expect it to happen in my lifetime. What Volf suggests, and I would accept as a minimum, is that religions find an interpretation of their ideology that allows for co-existence with other ideologies. If they can do that, I'm fine with them hanging on to hope of a second coming, or for implementation of as many as their purity laws as they can find agreement for. As long as they maintain values of peace and order while attempting to achieve those ends, the rest of us can continue to work toward those shared values in our own ways. Hopefully we can all find ways to form partnerships and move toward those shared values.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Comparitive Theology

I've been to church a couple times recently. One was an old friend I went to visit. He decided to move the Luke 11 passage a week ahead of the lectionary. The other is a new pastor at my wife’s church who wanted to meet me. He says only Lutherans and Catholics use the lectionary anymore. I also heard a podcast that pulled one line out of the lection.
The old friend, Roger, started out with an old theme of his, the franchise. By taking the words of Jesus and making them into a formula, and claiming that these particular words must be read and understood to get to heaven, we “make Jesus small”. We wrap him in tradition and ritual and hide the light that we say he brings. If Jesus is the heart of creation, Roger posited, then we should find him there. He pointed out that Einstein found mystery and zoologists find cooperation in the animal kingdom. We should look for the commonality of mystery and cooperation in religion, not claim we have the keys while others don’t.
Near the end of his sermon, he said that Paul (from the Colossians passage), says Jesus is in us. I had to read to the whole thing over again, passed all the parts about how glorious Jesus is and his blood sacrifice and the part about evil deeds. It’s there. It’s between a couple commas at the end. I’m glad there are preachers who can find these things and make a theme out of them, but sometimes I wonder how that affects the parishioner’s view of the Bible.
The tidbit was from Cass Midgley, in the “Everyone’s Agnostic” podcast was “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Cass quotes it slightly differently and seemed to imply this says parents can do just as well as God does for their children. It came after his guest, Tony Woodall had just discussed how he would never send his children off to be tortured if they had broken the rules a few times. Tony is a preacher, but he sees the problems with fundamentalist ideas, like hell. I agree with that, I'm not so sure the verse fits that discussion.
This whole section 11:9-13 is about asking and you will receive. And pointing out how children have no problem asking, and parents don’t give them snakes or scorpions instead of eggs or fish. The Matthew version of this, at 7:11, is in a section about giving and receiving and the golden rule. It is contained in Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. It fits there a little better. Matthew was written before Luke, so maybe that’s where he got it. In either case, it's a claim of something that is undelivered. The examples are people giving to each other and nurturing their children, then it just adds on that God can do it even better, because he's God.
It's a great podcast by the way. The bit I mention here comes after the 2 hour mark.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Return to the Shack

Somehow, this podcast came up in my Facebook feed. I read “The Shack” a while ago and thought the interview might be interesting. The length of it was a bit intimidating, but, I know where the “off” button is. It takes about 7 minutes before the interview starts, but it was fascinating from the get go. Paul Young, the author of “The Shack” moved to New Guinea when he was 1 year old. His father had gone from lumberjack to missionary in a few short years. Paul learned the native language as his first language and became an invaluable asset for translators.

The details of his life are full of interesting facts like that. His life journey is also quite a trip. His fundamentalist upbringing was as rocky as any, including abuse and bullying, and then add the strange cultural identities of an aboriginal lifestyle crossed with Christian missionary. By time he was in his twenties, he was leading a double life. He came clean to his wife and spent the next 11 years working it out while he wrote “The Shack”. The child in the book who is kidnapped and killed represents his lost innocence and the shack is a symbol of the things he kept hidden for so long.

Then they start talking theology. It is an unusually respectful conversation, with each side making standard arguments, with a few modern twists, and each allowing the other to speak and acknowledging their points. Cass, the interviewer, takes the time to point out the creativity of Paul’s writing, despite their ideological differences. If you want to skip to those parts, go to the 50 minute mark or so.

The two of them have a similar but distinct take on the idea of arriving at theism via atheism. Paul quotes Brian McClaren, “Every movement towards an authentic relationship with God has to go through atheism.” Cass sees the cry from Jesus, “God, why have you forsaken me”, as a moment of atheism. He says, if there is a god out there, he is begging the world to ignore him. Whenever we try to define the ineffable, we fail. We come to seeing how the help comes from each other. God does not favor nations, and we should stop appeasing the celestial dictator. We should turn our energies to one another. If we did that, he thinks God would applaud those efforts and say “Well done good and faithful servants.”


The interview ends around 1 hour and 15 minutes, and with no introduction, Cass brings in his friend Tony Woodall to discuss it. Tony is a Christian turned atheist, turned theist again. He is currently a working preacher, very willing to question his beliefs, but also committed to them. Cass attended seminary after he quit believing in God, so the two are able to quote scripture easily as well as bring in their own narratives.

Cass asks for Tony’s opinion on something Paul Young said. Paul said that the evolutionary explanation of humanity and morality is “too easy”. He said, “There is a god that created us, knowing we’d make a mess, then climbed in it with us in order to begin to reveal the truth of our humanity and the centrality of relationship.” He says that is something we need to get to know, and the idea that there is no source of meaning is too easy. Cass tried to counter that in the interview, then follows up with Tony, saying that creating a narrative from the imagination, that is, a story of God, is easy. Facing a meaningless universe and trying to find purpose in our lives, that’s hard.

Tony’s response is to not try to sort that out at all. He says, “It was a good first conversation. The two of you have not yet spent enough time together to get to know each others' opinions.” Cass is tickled by this response. And what a great observation it was. How much better would such encounters with two people from differing worldviews go if they thought of it as getting to know each other instead of as a chance to sell their ideas and change the others mind?


The discussion continues to be lively, with Cass building on the symbolism of dying. In movies or books, and especially in spiritual writing, death or near death symbolizes change. Cass talks about how too often, people don’t seek change. They stay only around and with people that are like them and agree with them. He includes himself in this, and says if we do it, we are not going to grow. It’s saying, “I’m here, waiting for others to catch up”. When we get that way, when we think we’re right and are waiting for others to come in line with who we are, we want to build a wall. I think it was Tony who added, when we decide that the others' agreement is required for us to walk with them in community, the wall is already there.

Cass provides a possible way to break down those walls. When we die to the thinking that things are going to start working, that we have ideas that can fix the world, these ideas of religion and politics that we've argued about for thousands of years and have had only rather modest success, when we just let go of that and accept that others will remain others and things are going to break and it’s just going to be like this for as long as we live, when we say say “yes” to the moment, what happens is, someone drops by, something funny or interesting passes by on whatever media is playing, we encounter something we didn't plan for. When we stop looking for and expecting happiness, we are surprised that it comes anyway. It will likely come from things that we don't expect and wane from the things that made us happy before. If we cling to those new things, try to recreate those new experiences, we will put ourselves right back into the old pattern. So the answer is not firing our politicians or closing our churches. We don't even need to agree on everything. We just need to do the thing that humans have done for 200,000 years, care for each other.

That's what I got from this podcast anyway.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Secular Humanism and The New Atheists

I've listened to all Ryan Bell's podcasts so far, and this one I've listened to 3 or 4 times. Philip Kitcher is a philosopher with an interesting theological story of his own, and as he says, "is probably further left than Bernie Sanders". By that he means that he thinks every human being is worthy of being given a chance to find out what their talents are and to pursue them. I will address that in a separate entry. Before they get to discussing that, Ryan and Philip discuss the "New Atheists".

That discussion starts around 20 minutes. Ryan applauds Philip for going to great lengths in his book to NOT create a straw man of religious thinkers. His book speaks to "refined" believers. I think that's great and I hope to find some time to read his book. I have no problem with the idea of a "refined" believer.

What I didn't care for, was that Philip had to expand that to putting down people who speak to "unrefined" believers. As he says, "Some of the religious believers I know are completely different from the way the religious believers are portrayed in the books of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, even my good friend Dan Dennet who I think of as the best of the so-called New Atheists." He goes on to describe a couple of these believers that he thinks well of, but he does not describe what Dawkins or Hitchens are addressing. Of believers, he says he "will not caricature them." He seems to have no trouble caricaturing New Atheists.

He does not mention, and maybe he doesn't know, that those authors and others have, on regular occasions addressed this criticism and pointed out that they are referring to specific behaviors of people. Behaviors that are real and commonly observed. Pointing out behaviors that are common is different than making caricatures. They are addressing those particular behaviors of those particular people, because they are dangerous behaviors. I can't imagine Richard Dawkins having a problem with someone running a soup kitchen or being a good Godmother (one of Philip's examples).

Christopher Hitchens famously had a problem with Mother Teresa, but he never complains about her helping people. On the contrary, he complains that she generated a significant amount of income for the church and used very little of it to help people.

Ryan goes on to talk about a universal human attitude of wonder that is seen in mathematicians or authors as well as religious people. To me, Dawkins is actually an excellent example of someone who does the very thing Ryan says he should do. You can pick on him for not knowing about Paul Tillich or the details of Augustine's writings, but those are not his central themes. He came to his anti-religious evangelism by way of biology. His discussions about evolution brought fundamentalists to him, he did not seek them out. Once they discovered him, his response was to do what he had been doing all his life, to educate people about what he knows about how the world works.

Perhaps Ryan and Philip have a problem with that part of the education that includes telling people that what they are currently think is wrong. Unfortunately, they did not mention anything specifically that anyone said or wrote, so I can't evaluate exactly what they have a problem with.

So that's what Phillip and Ryan DON'T do. They do spend 10 minutes trying to explain what can be salvaged from religion. They do quite a bit of qualifying of their remarks; Ryan says believing in supernatural agents is not intellectually responsible, but he sees value in the impulse behind the search for meaning. Phillip states the transcendent doesn't exist, but some people believe it does and can express those feelings with poetry and allegory that can inspire all of us. He doesn't agree with using religion to get there, but he respects it.

They seem to be describing these things with the implication that atheists in general and the authors they mention specifically, don't see this stuff. Phillip begins this segment with a particularly off-the-mark statement, saying there are some believers that see their traditions as important although they aren't attached to any particular detail, but they see that it, "points in the direction of a part of reality that atheists just dismiss completely."

I don't know how he can make that generalization about what anyone dismisses. He certainly has no data to back it up. Atheists I know and atheist material I read and view is very interested in what lies beyond our limited human understanding. Science is the pursuit of the unknown, by definition. Neither Ryan or Philip explain what is wrong with wanting evidence before adding something to the known. Nor do they describe how someone could dismiss the unknown, but be interested in learning. Neither one explains what this "part of reality" is that is being pointed to.

After I left religion, I found I was much more open to thinking about how the mind works, or how our ancient ancestors came to cooperate instead of fight, or what forces must there be that cause a tiny root to make a nearly microscopic decision to grow in this or that direction and that supports a huge tree. I find myself freer to explore those parts of reality because I'm not thinking about an alien intelligence from 14 billion years ago or one currently hiding in the clouds and wondering how or if they are affecting my life. I'm not trying to find an alternative method to discover truth, when the existing ones are working quite well.

I don't think religion is going away soon, but if it does, the world isn't going to miss the poetry and the allegory of religion because it is going to be replaced by a much more beautiful compendium that does not require knowing what it means to "wash your hands of" something, or what a "cross to bear" is. Instead the beauty that is actually seen everyday will inspire us to be stewards of that very beauty. We won't have an abstract notion of "neighbor" that we then re-translate into meaning our cousins across the oceans, we will instead understand that "we are all related" is a truth about biology and we are much more closely related than any religious tradition ever imagined. We won't wonder why we are here, we will accept that we are and we will make a purpose for our existence.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Milepost 100 comments

If you arrived here via the page on sermon help, and want to leave a comment, please feel free. Depending on demand, I'll open additional threads. Use the "Lectionary" keyword on the right side to find related posts.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

God's Not Dead 2

This movie finally came around to my little town. Not much left to be said about that hasn't been said, but I'll try.

Two key scenes destroy the premise of the movie. One, the victim, the school teacher (who said something about Jesus in answer to a question while they were studying King and Ghandi, IN HISTORY CLASS) and her lawyer, classic public defender guy, realizes that the defense they need is that Jesus is a historical figure. Two, is the big dramatic close the lawyer does where he pretends to turn on his client, the school teacher, and says, “let's convict her”, but points out that would take anyone's right to talk about religion in any way. He's right of course, which is why the scenario in the movie would never happen. Those precedents are already set.

But this movie wants there to be victims. If this were a documentary, it would get to the point where the school disciplined the teacher. A group like the ACLU or FFRF would find out about it. They would write a letter to that school board telling them she was perfectly within her rights. If the school board was smart, as has actually happened in the real world, they would realize their mistake, and the teacher would be back to work. 

But this movie wants to see hate. It shows a group of angry protestors, yelling at a bunch of young Christians with signs saying “God's Not Dead”. The signs of the yellers are obscured, and their words are not heard at all, just their angry faces, shouting something. The kids hold hands against this mob. How about a movie where all of those people calm the fuck down and just talk and hold hands with each other.

One other scene I'll mention, a less central one. The cool pastor from the first movie meets up with the kid from Japan who is looking into Christianity, but has a lot of questions. He asks about the Sermon on the Mount. He explains how it seems impossible to reconcile it and to apply those principles in his life and live them every day. The pastor takes a deep breath, says, “okay”, and sits down with him. The scene ends. After catching up with other characters, we return to the cool pastor who is now at the end of his day, tired, and his cool pastor friend comes by to ask him how he is. He explains how he spent the day explaining the Bible to this kid.

This is how Christianity works. We hear a story about someone having questions, then someone talked to them, then they become Christian. But we never get to hear the part where Christianity is explained. You have to do that work on your own. And it didn't work for me. It doesn't work for a lot of people. It doesn't work for about 80% of the world. Any time I've asked questions that are too hard, I have been referred to some other answerer. You eventually get to the top, Augustine, Aquinas, Van Til, Bolf, Bultmann. I can find short essays on any one of those that shows where they fail. But Christianity has that part about not questioning it, so most people don't go looking at all. Or, I can go to their own words, and I can hear the same impossible logic that the kid found in the Bible. That's where it always ends. It's time to move on from movies like this.

The movie shows the Japanese kid's father disowning him because of his new belief in Christianity. It uses language about how he would “forsake everything” for this new god he has found. Some Christian love that. And that's what I don't get. If you can't explain it, if you have make up characters that aren't real and say things about American law that aren't real to make your point, is it something worth leaving your family for? When they say “forsake everything”, that includes their own ability to reason, to question, to engage others in dialog. Why trap yourself in that? How about a trap where you commit to always leaving open the possibility that you are wrong? How about trapping yourself into a world where, no matter what, no matter how crazy someone sounds, you'll listen to them? In a world like that, you forsake nothing and keep everything.  

Friday, April 29, 2016

Republican Constitution

So, I've done this thing with a couple people where I agree to read whatever stupid book they are pushing on me, but only if they agree to a book I suggest. And they have to actually show me they read it and tried to understand it, refute it if they want, but refer to the content of the book. I only did it with a few people, and none of them took me up on it. Which is what I really wanted anyway. Then, someone whodidn't know I was doing this, made the offer to me. If I read “Our Republican Constitution: Securing the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People” then I get to pick a book. I haven't picked one yet. It's pretty dismal so far, I'm considering Dostoevsky.

So, here's a layman's analysis of a constitutional lawyer:

Although I agree that the country is currently divided over this idea of what the Constitution is, with some putting rights first and others putting government powers first, the arguments as laid out so far are poorly arranged. I'm not that far in, so maybe it gets better. Making it more difficult is that I'm seeing shades of arguments from the days when “Obamacare” was being argued in the Supreme Court. I can now see where my family members got their ideas. That's one of the worst things about a book like this. It's cherry picking history to begin with, then it lends itself to further cherry picking by people who read it, or read reviews of it or hear a headline on talk radio about it.

A sign of a good argument is that even someone who is not well versed in the details can grasp it and repeat it and have enough understanding to drill down into those details. It the argument flows logically, it is easy to remember. If the premises and facts relate to real things in the real world, you can track them down and easily find the points and counterpoints, the subtleties.

The author, Barnett, sets up a straw man argument early. After telling us a story about how he argued with people through his blog, which okay, he's a fancy lawyer, so it's a widely read blog, he starts in on defining this dichotomy of a Democratic Constitution vs a Republican Constitution. He repeats a few times that labels are limiting and he understands that not everyone can neatly fit into one or the other category, but then he goes back to those two categories as if they are truly separate. He says, "Under a Democratic Constitution, the only individual rights that are legally enforceable are a product of majoritarian will..." and "So, ... first comes government and come rights." I don't know anyone who thinks that way, and I didn't catch any specific examples, but he says it is “pervasive”.

He fails to point out during this part of the analysis that the Constitution includes the Supreme Court and a Bill of Rights. A right can't be changed by a simple majority. Barnett doesn't mention that. A law can be considered unconstitutional by 9 un-elected officials. Barnett keeps harping on the SCOTUS decision to support Obamacare. Anyone who has this view he describes as the Democratic Constitution is clearly wrong. He seems to be settingup for an attempt to create some view of the Constitution where the SCOTUS does what libertarians want, but not what liberals want.

He smuggles in his anti-Democratic bias in paragraphs like this:

The chickens of the conservative commitment to judicial restraint had thus come home to roost. Ironically, conservatives had inherited their commitment to judicial restraint from the progressive supporters of the New Deal, who had opposed the Supreme Court holding Congress to its enumerated power. Just as judicial restraint was invoked by progressive justices to expand the scope of the federal government by Roosevelt appointees, now a conservative chief justice invoked judicial restraint to uphold a federal takeover of the health care system.”

If you didn't notice the weaknesses in the case he had just made in the preceding pages for this “takeover”, you'd think he just made the case that the Supreme Court was not doing its job of “holding Congress to its enumerated power.” He hasn't made the case for what those powers are either, so this is premature anyway. But, that explanation is coming soon, so let's give him some benefit of the doubt.

I've skipped the parts where he provides his definition of “Democratic Constitution”. I'll just point out that there is a case to be made that important founding fathers, Madison in particular, made good arguments for restricting the will of the majority. A simply democracy, where a 51% majority can make any law has many pitfalls. Barnett lays this out well. He also uses Edmund Randolph the first attorney general, if you'd like to look up more on that.

Then he turns to his side, and says this will be what the book makes a case for, a “Republican Constitution.”

An important factor for the Republican Constitution is “popular sovereignty”. Barnett introduces this as something ultimately resting with God, according to our founders, and stemming from the divine right of monarchs. But we rejected monarchs, the people were to become the sovereigns. Sounds nice, but poses a few problems. When he starts to talk about the Republican Constitution he starts saying things like the small subset of people in government are servants of the people. Flowery language that every politician on either side of the aisle uses, but we didn't hear that when he was describing the Democratic Constitution.

I should mention, a little later, he says we have a different view of “God” now, but he doesn't do a very good job of describing how that should affect our view of these principles.

He goes to say the Republican Constitution is there to limit the powers of the government. A feature of any Constitution, but he claims it only for his side. He returns to “sovereignty” and claims a list of powers that come with it that we don't actually have, like jurisdiction over your private property, and our right to use force just like a monarch. This is starting to get a little scary. He ends with a statement about the judicial branches job to restrict Congress from restricting this “just powers”.

So, after a bit of priming you with these ideas that we aren't a democracy and some one-sided quote mining of the founding fathers, not mention some plain old name calling, he goes back to the Revolutionary war to start his case. The Declaration of Independence is what we celebrate as the birth of the nation, and it pretty clearly lays out a “first come rights then comes government” framework. It was written during war and was an act of treason against England. It also justified that revolution on the basis of criminal behavior by that government. This justification gets back to the “popular sovereignty” and how that rests upon the “Laws of Nature”.

To help clarify this, he turns to a sermon by Reverend Elizur Goodrich at the Congregational Church of Durham, Connecticut. Having ministers give such speeches was more common then, but that doesn't mitigate the fact that the speech is not of much use to us today. We know a lot more about what constitutes “moral” and do not need a minister telling us it is the Protestant version of God. Barnett spends several pages talking about the idea of “fixed” laws, but provides nothing to support the idea that our founders had correctly discerned that their sense of morals was fixed or what it was fixed by. Language was used to allow slavery to continue for example. Eventually that same language was used against the South, but that was a long time later.

That's part 1. I'll read on and maybe have to amend what I'm saying hear. We'll see. 


Part 2. The majority caused slavery. 

Barnett spends quite a bit of time in the middle showing how the “Republican” Constitution helped to end slavery. He makes no mention of abolition beginning in England or any or the European contributions to the philosophy of freedom or the science of showing Africans are just as human as the rest of us. He speaks solely to the maneuvering by American politicians. He can't avoid, but does not point out the significance of the 13th and 14th amendments being ratified by a United States that had no Southern members of Congress, because they had seceded. His theme is that the Republican viewpoint led to freedom of the slaves.

Barnett completely loses all of my respect when he finishes that bit of rewriting of history, then paints the progress movement that followed with a broad brush. He titles this section “The Progressive Attack on the Republican Constitution.” He says the “Democrats in the South got busy reestablishing their old order of racial subordination”, as if it was their values of majority rule that prompted that. Then lists a litany of changes made, such as “direct election of senators”, “struck at the excessive power of corporate wealth by regulating railroads”, “restricting lobbying, limiting monopoly”, “child labor laws, minimum wage” and several more. No mention that this was the time of “robber barrons”, when people with power in the railroads were literally committing murder and getting away with it. And no mention of what is wrong with not letting people make children work 12 hour days in factories.

He continues, “While progressivism is today remembered for its advocacy of economic legislation, it also favored the use of legal coercion to achieve other types of social improvements. Most modern “moral” laws aimed at sex, intoxicants, and gambling trace, not to the founding, but to the Progressive Era. These “vice” laws—going so far as to ban masturbation—were often advocated as “public health” measures and justified by what today would be considered pseudoscience. Likewise, policies of eugenics were also supposedly based on settled science. Of course, central to the northern progressive cause was the promotion of labor unions, which in those days were almost exclusively composed of whites and males. Blacks were left to form their own. And as we shall see, progressives supported laws that benefited white male workers by “protecting” women in the labor force on the basis of their inherent weakness.”

I include this last bit of hogwash because it shows that law making by Democrats or Republicans or conservatives or progressives, or whatever label you want to use, has nothing to do with the label. Moral laws promoted by pseudoscience are the stuff of conservatives today. Conservatives who would say they are upholding “natural laws”. That Barnett has found founding fathers and Supreme Court Justices who have claimed their agenda du jour is supported by some principle that is rooted in some universal sense of “right” is shown here to mean nothing. It was nothing more than rhetoric then and it is nothing more than rhetoric from him now. The way he sneaks in the racist and misogynist accusations is beneath a scholar.

His off hand use of the term “settled science” uncovers a bias that puts him in the category of internet crank. There is no such thing as “settled science”. A principle of science is that after you gather data, make a conclusion, and refine a theory, you immediately question everything you just did and start on the next experiment. Science is never settled. Lay people might think it is, or the politicians they elect might think or say it is, but if a scientist says it is, they aren't a very good scientist. In science, the best you can achieve is “well established theory”.

I'm just a little beyond the half way point, but I don't see a recovery from this as remote possibility. I can't imagine he will elaborate on that charge of “legal coercion”, since he didn't label it that when he talked about the politicking done by Lincoln to free the slaves. I suspect he will continue to use hot button issues like those darn unions and blame them on those darn Democrats.  

Part 3 *****************************************

I've pretty much given up on this. He is repeating "progressive agenda" like a mantra. He still has not defined right and wrong. He applies his analysis one way when talking about conservatives and another way when talking about liberals. He defended a couple in California because they were growing marijuana for personal medicinal use, according to State law, but it was illegal by Federal law. I'm sure he's sincere about that. But only ever barely mentions the actual "natural laws" that progressives defend, using political maneuvering and legal trickery just like conservatives do. He barely mentions sweatshops or worker safety and the specific wrongs that they are, but spends a great deal of time on the legal details of how in general the New Deal laws came to be. 

Here he goes after Obama for taking executive action.

"Very recently he issued sweeping executive orders to do even more to implement immigration policies he formerly had conceded required congressional action. President Obama negotiated an important and highly controversial agreement with a foreign power that he refused to submit to the Senate for its advice and consent, but is implementing unilaterally. 

These actions by the president constitute an end run around our Republican Constitution’s separation of legislative and executive power. Although it may be fictitious to claim that Congress represents the “will of the people,” the fact that Congress is elected does provide a potentially important check on the abuse of government power by the president. The electorate cannot remove a president from office until his or her term expires."

No argument, he did an end run. Barnett doesn't mention the years of debate that preceded that end run. And he completely avoids the discussion he began the book with about natural laws. What natural law prohibits people from walking from an area on a map we call "Mexico" to one we call "Texas" to go to work? I can go to Mexico and work or play if I want, with relative impunity. What class of person am I, according to nature, that I can do that and others can't? Barnett just drills you with these examples, pointing out the Constitutional rule a progressive broke, while ignoring they were defending human rights. Worse, he ignores his own earlier analysis of how defenders of the Republican Constitution did the same.

He even ignores how we vote in the above quote. He says "the electorate cannot remove a president". In the next sentence, not shown, he says we can remove members congress during a President's term. I don't see much point in even engaging someone this irrational.

Monday, April 25, 2016

New Jim Crow

This week on On Being, the guest is Professor MichelleAlexander. One of the authors of the book, “The New Jim Crow”. I may have mentioned it. It was recommended to me by a lawyer in the justice department in the County where I worked. Then, this year, I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen in years and she handed it to me. It is an amazing story, that I’ve been witnessing for 30 years, but never really understood.

I’ve been hearing about a “drug problem in the inner city”, “The War on Drugs”, “Racial Profiling”, “Deadbeat Dads”, over policing and over arming the police, and a massive rise in imprisonment.  This breakthrough work puts all of that together into a coherent narrative that touches all of us. The interview starts out pointing out that there is no connection between incarceration rates and crime rates. Putting more people in jail doesn’t reduce crime and we don’t need more prisons because of an increase in crime. Crime has been under control for decades. Who we arrest and who we imprison and who gets their rights reduced is more political than logical.

The On Being website is award winning, I don’t need to add a lot to this conversation. You can hear the produced show, or read it, and you can get the unedited version. They usually add extras too. I’d rather let Michelle’s words stand on their own.

PROF. ALEXANDER: Vincent Harding was such an important figure in my life. He passed too soon. But I think what’s he pointing at there is kind of what I was trying to get at before, which is that this whole idea of every person mattering, this is a radical, revolutionary project that we’re embarking upon.

PROF. ALEXANDER: I think the first step is saying I’m willing to be awake, that I’m not going to tell myself the same old stories. I am willing to wake up to our current racial reality, our current political and economic realities. I’m willing to wake up, and I’m also willing to acknowledge my own complicity in the systems. 

She includes her own story. She didn’t grow up believing people in her community were being treated unfairly and then became a lawyer as some sort of vendetta against that corrupt system. She grew up seeing progress. She was a young lawyer when Obama won the Presidency for the first time. As she walked home from that celebration, she saw a different young black man face down in the gutter with his hands cuffed behind his back. She later talks of how, if Obama had grown up in the same neighborhood as that kid, our now President could be someone who didn’t have the right to vote due to a felony conviction.

She also had a great story about speaking at churches:

PROF. ALEXANDER: I really believe that this notion of us-versus-them, drawing lines and labeling one another all turns on this notion that we can define who the bad guys are, and rest assured that they’re not us. I believe if we’re going to achieve the shift in consciousness that is necessary, we are going to have to be able to say, and mean, we’re all criminals. We have to acknowledge that all of us have done wrong in our lives. That criminals are not them, over there. They’re us. They’re all of us. All of us have done wrong.
All of us have broken the law at some point in our lives. I often say, even if you haven’t experimented with drugs, even if you didn’t drink underage, if the worst thing you’ve done in your life is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, well, you’ve put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of their living room. But who do we shame and who do we blame? I’ve spoken in churches and I’ll say to a large congregation, “We’re all sinners.” And everyone will nod their head, oh, yes, we’re all sinners. And then I’ll say, “And we’re all criminals.” And everyone just stares at me kind of bug eyed, like, what? You’re calling me a criminal?
And it was interesting. A young man came up to me after I spoke in one church and he said, “Isn’t it interesting how eager we are all to admit that we violated God’s law, but how reluctant we are to admit that we’ve violated man’s law?” And I think that there is a way in which we kind of give lip service to this idea that we’re all sinners, or we all make mistakes. But we have a difficult time acknowledging, oh, we’re all criminals. Those people that have been shamed and blamed and stigmatized, actually, we are on so many levels not really better than them. We may be luckier than them.
Her ideas are not new. The ways we marginalize are not new. They have just been applied in new ways.

PROF. ALEXANDER: Yeah, it’s funny, because I just recently read a quote by James Baldwin, and I wish I had it memorized perfectly. I don’t. But it had something to do with — along the lines of, “You think that I need to be forgiven, but it’s you who must be forgiven.”
Krista Tippett doesn’t need to work too hard in this interview. Michelle does not need to be drawn out or have her thoughts disentangled. But Krista is a master of what she does, as in these question:

MS. TIPPETT:How do you think this shapes — I want to say this calling of yours, this knowledge, but also this calling — how do you think it shapes your presence in minute ways, in the course of your days? What do you see that you didn’t see before? How do you move through the world differently? I realize that’s a huge question, so maybe just talk about yesterday or today.

PROF. ALEXANDER: Yeah. I don’t know. I talk a little a bit at the beginning of the book that once my own eyes were opened, there was no way I could unsee. There was no way that I could be blind anymore to what I had been in denial about for so long. And I think on many levels there are days when I think, oh, life might have been easier if I’d never woken up. And I think that’s one of the reasons why many of us stay asleep, because we sense that if we really woke up to the full reality and opened ourselves to seeing and witnessing and being present for the unnecessary suffering that exists, and that we’re complicit with, that our life won’t be as easy. More might be required of us, and we’re having a hard enough time making it through the day as it is.

But I have to say that waking up and seeing things as they are has also led me to just the most rewarding relationships and work that I could imagine. And I’m grateful to be awake and consciously committed to trying to birth a new America, and no longer lost in this fantasy, this American dream world that if you just get the two-car garage and keep plodding along this path, that somehow we’re going to make it to where we all want to go. So I have to say that I’m grateful. The relationships that I now have, and the work that I’m now involved in is much more rich and meaningful than the path that I had been on before.

MS. TIPPETT: And how do you think all of this has shaped, evolved your sense of what it means to be human?

PROF. ALEXANDER: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this notion of “revolutionary love” and what that means. And it’s something that I spoke with Vincent Harding quite a bit about. And I think for me what it means to be fully human is to open ourselves to fully loving one another in an unsentimental way. I’m not talking about the romantic love, or the idealized version of love, but that the simple act of caring for one another, and being aware of our connectedness as human beings, and also the reality of our suffering, and the reality that we make a lot of mistakes, and we struggle and we fail.