Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, July 21st, 2007.


It’s Easy Being Right

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Bush Administration

Whenever I see Dean Barnett’s byline, I know whatever verbiage is dribbled under it will be raging, five-alarm, neon-lit stupid. And I have to look; it’s so ghastly it’s compelling. Sorta like three-day-old road kill.

Here; you can look for yourself, if you dare. You might want to keep some Pepto-Bismol handy.

The basic premise of this monstrosity is that the “9/11 generation” is more patriotic than their dirty bleeping hippie parents.

In the 1960s, history called the Baby Boomers. They didn’t answer the phone.

Confronted with a generation-defining conflict, the cold war, the Boomers–those, at any rate, who came to be emblematic of their generation–took the opposite path from their parents during World War II. Sadly, the excesses of Woodstock became the face of the Boomers’ response to their moment of challenge. War protests where agitated youths derided American soldiers as baby-killers added no luster to their image.

Few of the leading lights of that generation joined the military. Most calculated how they could avoid military service, and their attitude rippled through the rest of the century. In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, military service didn’t occur to most young people as an option, let alone a duty.

But now, once again, history is calling. Fortunately, the present generation appears more reminiscent of their grandparents than their parents.

Then he goes on for a bit about how he’s been talking to young folks who have enlisted, and then he says,

One of the excesses of the 1960s that present-day liberals have disowned and disavowed since 9/11 is the demonization of the American military. While every now and then an unrepentant liberal like Charlie Rangel will appear on cable news and casually accuse U.S. troops of engaging in baby-killing in Iraq,

There’s no documentation of Charlie Rangel or anyone else on cable news saying any such thing, but let’s go on …

the liberal establishment generally knows better. They “support” the American military–at least in the abstract, until it does anything resembling fighting a war.

In search of a new narrative, 21st-century liberals have settled on the “soldiers are victims” meme. Democratic senators (and the occasional Republican senator who’s facing a tough reelection campaign) routinely pronounce their concern for our “children” in Iraq. One of the reasons John Kerry’s “botched joke” resonated so strongly was that it fit the liberals’ narrative. The Democratic party would have you believe that our soldiers are children or, at best, adults with few options: In short, a callous and mendacious administration has victimized the young, the gullible, and the hopeless, and stuck them in Iraq.

Barnett really hates it when somebody reminds us that the soldiers are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents, or have any other identity outside of “soldier.” Awhile back he threw a snit when Nancy Pelosi referred to a 22-year-old Marine as a “young man.”

Then he speaks to some young enlistees who have served in Iraq. I don’t doubt these are fine young people. Oops, excuse me, I’m not supposed to call them “young.” Or “people.” At my age everyone under 40 is “young,” but to acknowledge a soldier is actually human does vex Dean Barnett so. I guess that makes supporting a stupid war that is wasting their lives so much easier. Then he concludes:

It is surely a measure of how far we’ve come as a society from the dark days of the 1960s that things like military service and duty and sacrifice are now celebrated. Just because Washington and Hollywood haven’t noticed this generational shift doesn’t mean it hasn’t occurred. It has, and it’s seismic.

At no point in this mess does Barnett acknowledge that a lot more young Boomer men actually served in Vietnam than are likely to ever serve in Iraq. At no point does he mention there was a draft then and there isn’t now. At no point does he offer actual data to show that fewer Boomer men enlisted for Vietnam than are enlisting today. Lots of young men enlisted back then, actually, and recruitment quotas are not being met now. Why is Barnett so sure Boomer men didn’t enlist at least as often as young folks do today? Did he check? And has anyone ever explained to him that 58,209 Boomers were killed in Vietnam, 305,000 were wounded, and approximately 2,000 remain missing?

Did I mention this is published by the Weekly Standard? Barnett probably got paid for it.

That’s why it’s so easy being Right. Righties doesn’t have to provide documentation. They don’t have to provide data. They don’t have to check facts. They can drool out whatever hate and prejudice and stupidity is clanking about in their squishy little brains, and be rewarded for it.

Update: See also D at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Tbogg.

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The Wisdom of Doubt, Part VIII

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Religion, Wisdom of Doubt

It’s time to look at evangelicalism and fundamentalism, and to do that we need to put these religious movements into the context of the rest of Christianity. Those of you who are religious and/or history nerds may know most of this. However, after reading and listening to criticism of religion from the non-religious, I’ve realized many non-religious people assume that all religion is some kind of fundamentalism, and the only difference between religious extremists and religious moderates is that the moderates are more wishy-washy about it.

The truth is that in the 18th and 19th centuries a strong current of liberalism and modern thinking flowed through religion in America. Beginning with Deism — a religious philosophy embraced by a number of the Founding Fathers — and continuing through Transcendentalism and Liberal Christianity, prominent philosophers and theologians developed a way to follow a spiritual path that rejected rigid dogmas and harmonized with science and rational thought. This diverse religious movement enjoyed considerable popularity and influence until after World War I, when it was swamped by a newer movement, an anti-liberal backlash that came to be called “fundamentalism.”

To explain what happened, here’s a quickie, super-streamlined romp through Western Civ 102:

For long centuries a European Christian related to God through the Catholic Church. Then in 1517, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a church, and the Reformation began. Soon Catholicism had competition.

During this same period the Church was challenged from another side by scientific geniuses like Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo (1564-1642). These guys ushered in the scientific revolution , which changed the way people understood the world they lived in. Most important to our discussion is that knowledge came to be based on empiricism. Scientists stopped attributing causes and effects to angels and demons and instead spoke of natural, physical laws that could be observed and measured.

The Age of Enlightenment paralleled the scientific revolution. The “intellectual upheaval overturned the accepted belief that mysticism and revelation are the primary sources of knowledge and wisdom” says Wikipedia. Through the 18th century great thinkers applied reason to all aspects of human life and civilization, challenging centuries-old assumptions. The ideal of “human rights” as natural entitlements of all human beings took hold. Governments were also challenged, leading to some little political tweaks like the American and French revolutions.

The First Great Awakening swept through the American colonies in the middle of the Enlightenment. Historians tie the Awakening and the origins of evangelicalism in America to George Whitefield, an Anglican itinerant preacher who toured the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. Whitefield was a charismatic Anglican priest whose ministry was taken away after his sermons grew increasingly un-Anglican. So he traveled, and spoke in churchyards and fields, and was wildly popular with the masses.

Whitefield did not propose any radical new doctrine. Instead, he talked about his own conversion experience and stressed reform of the heart and personal salvation. One might say this was the logical conclusion of the Reformation; a Christian could now relate to God directly instead of through the Church. Sacraments and rituals — once thought to be essential to receiving grace — lost much of their importance in the new religious movement. Instead of priests to intercede with God on their behalf, many American Christians turned to preachers to give them spiritual resolve and guidance. But they had to walk that lonesome valley by themselves.

There’s more about the First Great Awakening at Answers.com.

The First Great Awakening was a religious revitalization movement that swept the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a permanent impact on American religion. It resulted from powerful preaching that aimed to convince listeners of their personal guilt and of their need of salvation through decisive action that included public repentance. The Great Awakening led people to “experience God in their own way” and that they were responsible for their own actions. Pulling away from ritual and ceremony, the Great Awakening made religion intensely personal to the average person by creating a deep sense of spiritual guilt and redemption, along with introspection and a commitment to a new standard of personal morality. … It brought Christianity to the slaves and was an apocalyptic event in New England that challenged established authority. It incited rancor and division between the old traditionalists who insisted on ritual and doctrine, and the new revivalists.

The evangelical movement in America grew out of the First Great Awakening. On the whole, evangelicals supported the American Revolution and also the disestablishment of churches. You might remember the story of the Danbury Baptists who wrote to President Thomas Jefferson in 1801, complaining about the establishment of Congregationalism as the official state religion of Connecticut. Jefferson famously wrote back in 1802:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Through the early 19th century evangelicalism became common among more rural and less educated people, while the educated and urban tended to remain loyal to older denominations more based on doctrine than enthusiasm. Certainly there were intelligent and educated evangelicals and stupid, ignorant Congregationalists, but a loose rural-urban, populist-elite dichotomy did emerge.

The 19th century also witnessed the growth of a liberal Christian theology. Enlightenment movements such as Deism and German rationalism took a humanistic and anti-supernatural approach to religion. Then came Unitarians and William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), followed by the Transcendentalists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). Transcendentalists embraced the evangelical zeal for individualism. As Emerson wrote,

We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds…. A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.

Also like the evangelicals, Transcendentalists were not tied to ritual and rigid doctrine. Unlike the evangelicals, the Transcendentalists felt free to push beyond Christianity to find spiritual truth. They encouraged higher biblical criticism, which questioned the origins and authorship of the Bible. They understood that large parts of the Bible were allegorical, not historical. Some even studied translations of Hindu and Buddhist sutras. The name “transcendental” came from their desire to transcend the limitations of concepts and dogmas to reach an intuitive, perceptual understanding of religion that would not conflict with science and reason.

Now I want to go back to the last Wisdom of Doubt post and repeat a quote from Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Vintage Books, 1962).

As evangelicals made increasingly impressive gains from 1795 to 1835, and as Deism lapsed into relative quiescence, the battle between pietism and rationalism fell into the background. There was much more concern among evangelicals with rescuing the vast American interior from the twin evils of Romanism and religious apathy than there was with dispelling the rather faint afterglow of the Enlightenment.

After the Civil War, all this changed and rationalism once more took an important place among the foes of the evangelical mind. The coming of Darwinism, with its widespread and pervasive influence upon every area of thinking, put orthodox Christianity on the defensive, and the impact of Darwinism was heightened by modern scholarly Biblical criticism among the learned ministry and among educated laymen. Finally, toward the end of the century, the problems of industrialism and the urban churches gave rise to a widespread movement for a social gospel, another modernist tendency. Ministers and laymen alike now had to choose between fundamentalism and modernism; between conservative Christianity and the social gospel. [pp. 120-121]

The last post discussed the Social Gospel. Basically, toward the end of the 19th century modernist Christians took up progressive causes, working to help the poor and fight injustice. This paralleled the Progressive Era in U.S. politics and was an outgrowth of the Transcendental movement.

Now we’re in the latter part of the 19th century, and it’s time to return to the evangelicals. In the 150 or so years since George Whitefield came to America to light the candle of evangelical zeal, evangelicals had gone from being the cutting edge of spiritual revolution to the keepers and defenders of Dat Ol’ Time Religion. The Darwinists and the Bible-critizing scholars and the snotty elitist incomprehensible Transcendentalists and the Social Gospel do-gooders set off alarm bells among the generally more rural and less well-educated evangelicals. And from the more conservative ranks of the evangelicals, fundamentalism was born.

In 1910 the Presbyterians drew up a list of five points of faith that they said distinguished true believers from the wannabees. The original five points were: (1) the inerrancy of Scripture, (2) the virgin birth of Jesus, (3) the substantionary atonement, (4) the bodily ressurrection of Jesus, and (5) the authenticity of miracles. In time, point #5 would be replaced by (5) Christ’s Second Coming. From 1910 to 1915 evangelicals published a series of books based on these five points called The Fundamentals. The term fundamentalist was coined about 1920.

As someone with more of an old-church background it’s interesting to me that these “fundamentals” seem disconnected from the Nicene Creed, which used to be the “fundamentals.” I admit I’m not entirely certain what “substantionary atonement” means. It may refer to a doctrine that Christ is substantially present in the Eucharist, but I’m not going to swear to that. I have an essay by Gary Wills in hand that says it just means “Jesus died for our sins.” If anyone can enlighten me on this point, I’d be grateful.

In any event, I doubt very many of today’s “fundamentalists” know what “substantionary atonement” means, either, or can even recite the five points. Today’s Christian fundamentalists have created a fanciful alternative history for themselves, which says that they are the heirs of Christ’s true followers, who were driven underground by the Catholic Church in the 4th century. Twelves centuries later, during the Reformation, they resurfaced. After being knocked around a bit they finally established an enclave of True Faith in America. Their mission now is to convert everyone else on the planet to whatever it is they believe — currently a weird stew of apocalyptic eschatology and American exceptionalism, sometimes with free market dogmatism tossed in.

One of the ironies of fundamentalism is that while it is a backlash against modernity, it is also a creature of modernity. The insistence that the Bible must be read as literal truth comes from the post-Enlightenment, rational understanding that truth is factual. Fundies figure if the Bible is myth and allegory it is not true, and if it is not true it loses its authority as the arbiter of truth. This is, academic theologians say, a peculiarly “modern” way to understand the Bible.

If you cruise around the web you can find no end of definitions of fundamentalism. and as Grahame Thompson points out in this essay, there are a lot of “fundamentalisms,” secular and religious, in the world today. I’d define fundamentalism as “zealous adherence to any rigid, inflexible doctrine.” There’s general agreement among scholars that fundamentalism in all its forms is a backlash to modernity. Religious fundamentalism is not so much religion as it is a social pathology that expresses itself as religion.

Here’s a dialogue with Karen Armstrong, Susannah Heschel, Jim Wallis, and Feisal Abdul Rauf called “Fundamentalism and the Modern World.” Karen Armstrong says,

Typically, fundamentalists have proceeded on a fairly common program. Very often they begin by retreating from mainstream society and creating, as it were, enclaves of pure faith where they try to keep the godless world at bay and where they try to live a pure religious life. Examples would include the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in New York City or [Christians at] Bob Jones University or Osama bin Laden’s camps.

In these enclaves, fundamentalist communities often plan, as it were, a counteroffensive, where they seek to convert the mainstream society back to a more godly way of life. Some of them may resort to violence. Why? Because every fundamentalist movement that I’ve studied—in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—is rooted in a profound fear. They are convinced, even here in the United States, that modern liberal secular society wants to wipe out religion in some way or is destructive to faith.

In the next post I want to take a closer look at fundamentalism in America, from the post-World War I period to the present. I also want to explain why scriptural literalism is a bugaboo of fundies and not a requirement for Christians or members of any other religion.

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Saturday Cartoons

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Bush Administration, Congress, Iraq War, News Media

For the regular cartoons, see Bob Geiger.

For an irregular cartoon, take a look at Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of the Washington Post. WaPo is running an editorial today that’s so absurd I had to read it three times to be sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks.

As Tbogg says, the shorter version of this rhetorical specimen is “The glaring lack of an exit strategy from Iraq is entirely Harry Reid’s fault.” The less short version is that, in HiattWorld, there is already a bipartisan consensus on what to do about Iraq that is also supported by the White House. The reason this consensus is not being carried out is that Harry Reid is standing in the way.

I’m serious. Get this first paragraph:

THE SENATE Democratic leadership spent the past week trying to prove that Congress is deeply divided over Iraq, with Democrats pressing and Republicans resisting a change of course. In fact that’s far from the truth. A large majority of senators from both parties favor a shift in the U.S. mission that would involve substantially reducing the number of American forces over the next year or so and rededicating those remaining to training the Iraqi army, protecting Iraq’s borders and fighting al-Qaeda. President Bush and his senior aides and generals also support this broad strategy, which was formulated by the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission. Mr. Bush recently said that “it’s a position I’d like to see us in.”

I’m no military expert, but I take it Fred Hiatt isn’t, either, so I say my opinion is at least as informed as his. I question whether a “residual” force could be kept in Iraq for very long. In March 1973, when the last combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, the U.S. planned to keep a “residual” force there, also. Two years and one month later, as North Vietnam took control of Saigon, the last Americans were airlifted out. My fear for the “residual” troops is that they would be targeted by insurgents — some of whom are part of the Iraqi military they’d be training — and there’d be not enough protection for them.

The other glaring problem that Hiatt doesn’t see is that, no matter what Bush may say he wants to do, he’s not going to remove combat troops from Iraq until Congress forces him to do so. He’s been making noises about “drawing down” troops numbers since 2004, at least. It ain’t happenin’. He’s been making noises about training Iraqi soldiers to take over “the mission” since 2004. The Iraqi military is never ready to take over.

And the big, fat reality Hiatt isn’t seeing is that while more Republicans talk about changing Iraq policy, so far only four Senators have actually had the guts to vote on changing policy. The rest of the GOP senators “wavering” on Iraq policy are WINOs — “wavering in name only.”

The editorial continues,

The decision of Democrats led by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) to deny rather than nourish a bipartisan agreement is, of course, irresponsible.

Let’s see — Republicans were using procedural weaseling to avoid debate and block an up-or-down vote on a proposal to begin troop withdrawal. Hiatt says this is Reid’s fault. Weird.

But so was Mr. Reid’s answer when he was asked by the Los Angeles Times how the United States should manage the explosion of violence that the U.S. intelligence community agrees would follow a rapid pullout. “That’s a hypothetical. I’m not going to get into it,” the paper quoted the Democratic leader as saying.

Nobody’s talking about a “rapid” pullout. The bill the Republicans blocked voting on provided that a withdrawal would begin within 120 days and end by April 2008. And it provided for Hiatt’s deeply beloved “residual” force.

Fred, dear, that’s why Reid called talk of a “rapid” withdrawal “hypothetical.” It’s not because he’s avoiding the issue; it’s because no one is talking about a rapid withdrawal. Do pay attention.

For now Mr. Reid’s cynical politicking and willful blindness to the stakes in Iraq don’t matter so much. The result of his maneuvering was to postpone congressional debate until September, when Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, will report on results of the surge — in other words, just the outcome the White House was hoping for.

In paragraph one, the editorial implied that the White House was on board with the Baker-Hamilton commission recommendations. In this paragraph, the White House is just kidding. But let’s go on …

Harry Reid voted against Reed-Levin to give himself the option of re-introducing it at any time. After the recent vote on Reed-Levin, Reid explained,

Because Republicans continue to block votes on important amendments to the Defense Authorization bill, we can make no further progress on Iraq and this bill at this time.

For these reasons, I have temporarily laid aside the Defense Authorization bill and have entered a motion to reconsider.

But let me be clear to my Republican colleagues — I emphasize the word “temporarily”. We will do everything in our power to change course in Iraq. We will do everything in our power to complete consideration of a Defense Authorization bill. We must do both.

And just to remind my Republican colleagues — even if this bill had passed yesterday, its provisions would not take effect until October.

So we will come back to this bill as soon as it is clear we can make real progress. To that end, I have asked the Democratic Whip and Democratic Manager of the bill to sit down with their counterparts to work on a process to address all outstanding issues related to this bill so the Senate can return to it as soon as possible.

The editorial accuses Reid of avoiding issues and the Dems of “trying to use Iraq as a polarizing campaign issue and as a club against moderate Republicans who are up for reelection.”

The game the Republicans seem to be playing — with Fred’s help — is “let’s obstruct everything the Dems try to do so we can campaign against do-nothing Dems.” But that’s a game that can be played both ways. The point of Reid’s little pajama party was to demonstrate what weasels the Senate Republicans really are. Outside the Senate chamber they talk about changing course; inside the Senate chamber they refuse to allow a change of course. The biggest leverage the Dems have to force the Republicans to get serious about changing course is the 2008 elections. If Republicans don’t want to be “clubbed” with Iraq in the 2008 campaigns, all they have to do is put their votes where their mouths are.

Update: More WaPo propaganda — Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray wrote yesterday that

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid offered no apologies yesterday for his decision to reject compromise efforts to alter President Bush’s Iraq strategy that had the support of a growing number of Republicans.

What Kane and Murray don’t explain is that the so-called “compromise efforts” were a sham. Greg Sargent explains,

Meanwhile, Collins has her own measure calling for withdrawal from Iraq that would force a transition away from the current combat mission but wouldn’t force withdrawal of the troops. The measure — whose exact language hasn’t yet been released, according to the office of its co-sponsor, Senator Ben Nelson — is murky at best. And as best as we can tell, it appears to be riddled with loopholes.

Maybe Collins’ idea is to become a member emeritus of the WINO caucus now, or something.

Kane and Murray wrote that Dem Senator Chuck Schumer said the Nelson-Collins bill would have allowed the war to continue while giving Republicans a safe haven from tough choices. “It would delay them coming on board, because they would say [to their voters], ‘See, I’m trying to do something,’ ” Schumer said.

I guess with WaPo, actually bringing home the troops is less important that saying the troops will be brought home. Someday. Depending on conditions on the ground. As soon as the White House says it’s OK. Whenever.

Update2: Susie writes,

How much does Fred Hiatt get paid under the table to put crap like this on the WashPo editorial page?

I had the same thought. Truly, if Hiatt isn’t already getting paid, he should send the RNC an invoice.

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