Friday, July 18, 2008

Medved reviews an Atheist President

I confess I never liked Michael Medved as a movie reviewer. Being vaguely aware he had morphed into a conservative commentator, it wasn't a total surprise to come across one of his articles on Townhall. In his opinion, there are three reasons why Americans Are Right To Resist An Atheist As President. None of those reasons has the least bit of merit but that doesn't stop Medved from suffering through.

The first danger an atheist President would pose to the country is that of "hollowness and hypocrisy at state occasions." It's no secret the President "presides over solemn and ceremonial occasions." But did you know he is titular head of something called the Church of America? I hadn't heard of this church. Apparently it's an "informal, tolerant but profoundly important civic religion that dominates all our national holidays and historic milestones." Without being a member of this very important organization, it would be impossible for the President to give the customary Thanksgiving Proclamation. After all, to whom would an atheist suggest the population give thanks? How could we suffer through this indecision? I know every year I sit in front of the television waiting on word from the White House: Just who am I to thank this year? Medved has an idea. Let's thank the Indians of Massachusetts. I have a better idea. Let's thank whoever we please, be it God, a family member, employer, or even the good old USA. After all, why should a President tell us who to thank? On electing him, did we delegate that solemn authority?

Apparently Medved's Americans don't want the freedom to thank whoever they wish. They must resist this wild idea, the freedom of thankfulness. In Medved's America, we follow orders.

Medved further informs us that the Church of America has a profession of faith called the Pledge of Allegiance. Allegedly an atheistic President cannot honestly recite this pledge because it contains the words, "under God." Nobody wants a hypocrite for President.

But obviously the President and other citizens were expected, as good Americans, to recite this pledge long before we had an atheist in the oval office. They were expected to do so even though they did not believe there was a god to be under. Medved and other theists are well aware of this -- painfully aware of it. He is also aware there are other citizens who reject his god. They have their own god. He might even be aware that the Christian god comes in many forms. One sect's God may not be anything like the others. So the issue is not that the President would be a hypocrite for reciting the pledge. The pledge is a lie no matter who recites it, and virtually every voter knows this. Medved wasn’t too concerned about Citizen Atheist being asked to be a hypocrite yesterday. And he is not too concerned that a Christian President is every bit as much a hypocrite today. Whoever pretends we are one nation under one God, knowing we are no such thing by law, is a liar and hypocrite. This includes Medved.

The obvious solution is to restore the pledge to its original form which removes the lying words. This, I think, would be the solution an atheistic President would adopt. When reciting the pledge, either leave out the words or replace them with true ones, like "under the Constitution." Fill in the blanks since that's exactly what we do in our hearts anyway.

The Church of America requires one more duty of our President. He is to be national choir leader. We need a strong voice to lead us in singing "God Bless America", "America the Beautiful", and "My Country `tis of Thee". Apparently religious references make our atheistic President tone deaf. We will not be able to harmonize around our national hymns. Even "The Star Spangled Banner" presents a problem if anyone among us insists on reaching the last verse. Medved's America is filled with frivolous people who expect frivolous presidential duties.

However Medved assures us a Jew like Joe Lieberman "could easily preside over" this Church of America because "his obvious attachment to faith in God and Old Testament principles shows sympathy, not hostility, to the generalized value of faith." This might be true if all atheists were Madeline Murray O'Hare. But they are not. Being an atheist does not necessarily mean one is hostile to the value of faith. Medved need only look into the Republican Party to see that this is true. Some of the neoconservatives are atheists. They were inspired by Leo Strauss -- another atheist -- to be very sympathetic to religious faith. They see it as the ultimate tool for managing the masses. Medved also ignores the absolute hostility that religious sects have for each other. Could a strict Calvinist run the Church of America when he is viciously hostile to Word of Faith theology? Medved is silent on this issue yet it's the same issue.

Surely an atheist would be hostile to some Old Testament principles. But he's with the majority of Americans on that. Not many Americans believe adulterers, witches, and homosexuals should be stoned to death. Most believe in freedom of religion which clearly the Old Testament does not. On the other hand, most atheists are against adultery, murder, and lying.

Medved next insists an atheistic President is doomed to be disconnected from the People. He asserts that the "most successful presidents sustain an almost mystical connection with the people they serve," naming Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush as examples.

We are "a nation with the soul of a church," in GK Chesterton's words (which Medved attributes to Tocqueville). So how could an atheistic President connect with this "profoundly, uniquely religious society?" This characterization of our society is not obvious to many. Forrest Church reminds us: "In many quarters of the world today America is resented -- even hated -- for its perceived embrace of godless and value-free materialism and the felt imposition of this moral ‘decadence’ on world society." In America itself, there is no shortage of conservative Republicans who are happy to point out we are a godless country and our abandonment of Christian principles deserves the wrath of God.

But let's assume Medved is right and we are a profoundly religious people. Does this mean an atheistic President cannot connect? Medved offers no reason for this being so other than the atheist's supposed "contempt for the Protestant or Catholic faith of the majority." He warns us: "A leader who touts his non-belief will, even with the best of intentions, give the impression that he looks down on the people who elected him."

Do all atheists tout their beliefs?

As I stated earlier, this supposed universal atheistic contempt is an invention in Medved's mind. It’s a stereotype with no foundation of truth. Certainly he can show examples of atheists who do have contempt for religion. It does not follow that all atheists have this contempt. Plenty do not. Besides, having contempt for religion does not mean one has contempt for the religious person. This should be an easy one for Christians to understand. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" could easily translate to "Love the believer, hate the belief." Medved vastly overstates. Most atheists who bother to "look down" on a believer do so no more than a wife “looks down” on a husband who refuses to restore the toilet seat to the sitting position.

Medved makes a lame assertion that any theist can better relate to a theist than an atheist can relate to that theist. There is no point in him offering evidence for this. We have thousands of years of religions relating to each other. Wars of persecution of sect upon sect counter his ignorance.

But let's examine Medved's assertion further. Suppose an atheist has a spouse who is a practicing Catholic. Can such a marriage survive? Can the atheist connect with the spouse by other means than religion? What if two atheist parents had a child who became a Methodist? Are their parental ties doomed? Of course not. There are many ways for human beings to connect. Religion is one of many options. In fact it is very low on the priority scale most people use when connecting with friends and family.

If Americans did connect with Kennedy or Clinton or Bush on a mystical level, it's extremely improbable religion had anything to do with it one way or the other. And to those rare individuals who do connect to any President on a mystical level, I say it's not in the nature of Americans to do such a thing. Get such romantic ideas out of your head. Presidents are ordinary citizens. They are not icons. They should not be the object of mystical adoration.

The final reason an atheist should be rejected for President rests on Medved's policy of appeasement. Apparently an atheist leading the war on terror is like sticking our finger in an anthill. All those moderate Islamic believers will go wild with resentment. Osama bin Laden's preaching will have been proven correct: the Western "embrace of modernity, tolerance and democracy" really does lead to "godless materialism." According to Medved, if we want moderates on our side we better be extra careful we don't offend their feelings or confuse their simple minds:

"President Atheist says he believes in nothing, so it's easy to assume that he leads a war against belief itself. A conventional adherent of Judeo-Christian faith can, on the other hand, make the case that our fight constitutes of an effort to defend our own way of life, not a war to suppress some alternative -- and that way of life includes a specific sort of free-wheeling, open-minded religiosity that has blessed this nation and could also bless the nations of the Middle East."

I wonder if Medved argued for this walking-on-egg-shell policy during the Cold War? Obviously a die-hard capitalist like Reagan was the last person we should have elected as President. He was bound to aggravate the world's moderate socialists. Godless communists probably would have preferred negotiating with a godless capitalist. But Reagan stumbled his way through in spite of thumbing his nose at them and calling them an evil empire.

Let’s clean ourselves of Medved’s ridiculous slander. President Atheist in all likelihood does not believe in nothing. His (or her) belief is in what it should be -- a belief in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights. Therefore it most certainly does include support for free-wheeling, open-minded religiosity. It's deceptive for Medved to imply otherwise. It's even more deceptive to imply a Christian would be more tolerant or understanding of Islamic beliefs. The Crusades were not lead by atheists. John Hagee and his cohorts are not exactly friends of Islam.

Medved’s list is so simple-minded and contrary to reality I certainly hope he doesn't believe it. On the other hand, is he really that cynical? Do conservatives really believe they can fire-up the masses with such shoddy reasoning? I hope Americans are smarter than he thinks.

Don Jindra

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Collectivist Ghosts

Slate's Ron Rosenbaum has elected to praise "liberal guilt". He defends voters who favor Barack Obama because of his race. In Rosenbaum's universe, this could be a "historic civil rights landmark." It offers an opportunity for liberals to demonstrate their "awareness of the need to contend with, and overcome, a racist past."

He gets mushy: "Guilt means you have a conscience. You have self-awareness, you have -- in the case of America's history of racism -- historical awareness."

He provokes bystanders: "Guilt is good, people! The only people who don't suffer guilt are sociopaths and serial killers."

The implication is, if you "historically aware" comrades deny guilt on this particular issue you are no better than a serial killer.

He wonders why conservatives "who make a fetish of 'values'" would disparage guilt: "Was not the century of institutionalized racism and segregation that followed the end of slavery a perpetuation of 'flawed values' that the nation should feel an enduring guilt over?"

And rubbing it in: "Do we abolish the very consciousness of the past and pretend we have a clear conscience?"

Rosenbaum asks a lot of rhetorical questions but ignores the important ones.

For example, am I responsible for every action made by my government, even those done without my consent and against every vote I was permitted to make? I say I am not. I say it makes no difference whether a King or a majority of citizens does the deed. I am not morally bound by their acts unless I willingly participate. Otherwise you might as well blame slaves along with their masters since all are part of the same corrupt system. After all, slaves did have 3/5 representation which someone kindly exercised on their behalf.

The next question is, Even if I accept that I am responsible for this generation's acts, am I responsible for acts several generations back. I say this is a preposterous notion. It's not only wrong, it's morally repugnant. It's the same sort of lame "contract" Edmund Burke and his followers use to tie generations together in arguments for conservative tradition. If the sins of the fathers visit upon the sons for ten generations there is not one person among us who escapes from some sort of historic atrocity, whether governmental, tribal, family or individual. For government to come in and try to sort things out is an exercise in fantasy justice.

The next question is, Who among us really thinks a success story like Obama has not already kicked history in the knee? How much more is due to a Harvard educated Senator? I think the "system" has already corrected itself in his case. He's already in the 1% tax bracket. He already commands more respect than any one person should expect. Merit was allowed to prevail. Guilt is not the emotion that comes to my mind.

The last question is, How does remote forgiveness work? How can I ever hope to earn forgiveness from that slave who had his freedom stolen? IMO, he is the only one who can forgive. His son cannot forgive for him. His race cannot forgive for him. No matter what I do to help this generation, I can never wash that slave's wrongs away. It's a sham to think otherwise. It's a sham to give that kind of power to his ancestors. It's playing God, pure and simple.

The truth is, the past haunts Ron Rosenbaum. A "four-centuries-long historical crime" rises up like a monster. Quickly he opens his bag of magic tricks and pulls out "liberal guilt." But there are many more monsters to fight in this hell-hole. They charge at us from the Trail of Tears. They spill out of Japanese-American internment camps. They re-vaporize from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Circle the wagons. Everywhere there is an historical offense which threatens to rip away our shield of liberal guilt. Sometimes the danger hides down cellar stairs only true seekers will navigate. Be brave in your redemptive quest. Do not forget the French Revolution, the gulags, or the Killing Fields. Perhaps someone will accept guilt for the sins of the Roman Empire. Why not you? You are human after all and therefore culpable. Even deeper, maybe we can feel guilt for the million abortions every year. We, ourselves, decided Roe v. Wade and we decided to get every one of those abortions. If any one of us feels guilt, we all have guilt. That guy holding up the convenience store, we should feel guilty for him too. We created him. We put the gun in his hand. We put his money in the cash drawer. We made him who he is.

For if we can collectivize guilt, if we can associate it with groups, nationalities, ideologies, races, geographies, or ancestors, we can strip it away from individuals. We can create a great historical river of guilt in which we can all bathe. We can wash ourselves of sticky concepts like individual choice and merit. Judging individual worth is simply too exhausting -- there are just too many people. Better to collect data from a large, historical sample and correct or punish on a grand scale.

BTW, I didn't write this. You did.


Don Jindra

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Letter to a Secular Nation

There's a sad state of affairs going on in conservative Christian circles. For all their rhetoric on absolute truth being found in the pages of the Bible, all of their faith supposedly put in the Word of God, you would think they actually understood the fundamentals of text. But the evidence continues to mount. Many vocal Christian conservatives cannot follow a written argument and they cannot lift from the words the most simple of ideas. A case in point is Mike S. Adams at Townhall. His recent Letter to a Secular Nation is the first in a series of responses to Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris.

Apparently Harris received hate mail after he wrote The End of Faith. Harris observed:

The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ's love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.

This is pretty clear, isn't it? Not to Adams. He completely misses the meaning when he answers:

This can be attributed to the rather simple fact that Christianity is the world's largest religion. And, of course, in the places where Sam Harris' books are distributed and read that gap increases greatly.

When Harris refers to "most hostile of these communications" it is a qualitative judgement: In sample X, the extremely hostile letters happened to be from Christians. Adams twists this meaning into a count and chooses to respond to that as if it helps his cause. It doesn't.


In the first place, Harris does not say he received more hate mail from Christians. He certainly doesn't complain about that. No doubt he expected many more complaints from Christians than Hindus since most people are Christians in this country. For Adams to pretend that this needed explaining is a bit delusional. But what's really bizarre is that he apparently doesn't realize he helps make Harris' point.

Of course Harris should expect Christians to complain in large numbers, but should he expect the worst offenders to also be Christians? From my experience I would expect so. Christians cannot control their anger any better than anyone else. In effect, Adams concedes the point. He implicitly expects angry Christians to be unleashed when their religion is questioned. There is no expectation that a Christian would simply dash off a note: "Dear Mr Harris, Jesus loves you and I do too. You should join us." No, a real Christian would be mean and spiteful. That's because Christianity has no effect on behavior. It reforms nobody, it moderates nothing. Harris is making this point whether Adams knows it or not. Why does Adams ignore it?

I submit he avoids it because he wouldn't think of disagreeing with it. This attack mentality is, in fact, the whole point of conservative Christianity. It isn't supposed to moderate. It's supposed to rally the troops. It's supposed to unleash a fury of intolerance. The Culture War is upon us. Preparations must be made.

Love in this flavor of Christianity is for family and political allies. Everyone else will be slain at Armageddon.


Don Jindra

Monday, March 31, 2008