Browsing the blog archives for July, 2007.

Dreams and Nightmares

big picture stuff

This op ed by James Carroll in today’s Boston Globe makes a nice follow up to moonbat’s post below.

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Be Here Now

big picture stuff

Leonard Jacobson, Journey Into Now:

Most humans are living in a state of unconsciousness. Even though our eyes are open and we appear to be awake as we walk and talk and live our lives, in truth we are not awake.

We are lost in the mind, which is a world of the remembered past and the imagined future. It is a world of thought, memory and imagination. It is a world of opinion, idea, concept, and belief. It gives us a sense of a life outside of the present moment. It gives us a sense of ourselves outside of the present moment. And that is the great illusion.

In truth, there is no life outside the present moment. In truth you do not and cannot exist outside the present moment. The world of the human thinking mind is an illusory world and yet everyone believes that it is real. It is as if we have fallen asleep and the life we are living is a kind of dream, from which we must awaken.

To awaken spiritually or to become enlightened is to awaken out of the past and future world of the mind into the truth and reality of the present moment.

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now:

Until my thirtieth year, I lived in a state of almost continuous anxiety interspersed with periods of suicidal depression…

One night, not long after my twenty-ninth birthday, I woke in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread. I had woken up with such a feeling many times before, but this time it was more intense than it had ever been. The silence of the night, the vague outlines of the furniture in the dark room, the distant noise of a passing train – everything felt so alien, so hostile, and so utterly meaningless that it created in me a deep loathing of the world. The most loathsome thing of all, however, was my own existence. What was the point of continuing to live wit this burden of misery? Why carry on with this continuous struggle? I could feel that a deep longing for annihilation, for nonexistence, was now becoming much stronger than the instinctive desire to continue to live.

“I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two?” If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe” I thought, “only one of them is real.”

I was so stunned by this strange realization that my mind stopped. I was fully conscious, but there were no more thoughts. Then I felt drawn into what seemed like a vortex of energy. It was a slow movement at first and then accelerated. I was gripped by intense fear, and my body started to shake. I heard the words “resist nothing” as if spoken inside my chest. I could feel myself being sucked into a void. It felt as if the void was inside myself rather than outside. Suddenly there was no more fear, and I let myself fall into that void. I have no recollection what happened after that.

I was awakened by the chirping of a bird outside the window. I had never heard such a sound before…The first light of dawn was filtering through the curtains. Without any thought, I felt, I knew, that there is infinitely more to light than we realize. That soft luminosity filtering through the curtains was love itself. Tears came into my eyes. I got up and walked around the room. I recognized the room, and yet I knew that I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. I picked up things, a pencil, and empty bottle, marveling at the beauty and aliveness of it all.

That day I walked around the city in utter amazement at the miracle of life on the earth, as if I had just been born into this world.

For the next five months, I lived in a state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss. After that, it diminished somewhat in intensity, or perhaps it just seemed to because it became my natural state. I could still function in the world, although I realized that nothing I ever did could possibly add anything to what I already had.

I knew…that something profoundly significant had happened to me, but I didn’t understand it at all. It wasn’t until several years later, after I had read spiritual texts and spent time with spiritual teachers, that I realized that what everybody was looking for had already happened to me. I understood that the intense pressure of suffering that night must have forced my consciousness to withdraw from its identification with the unhappy and deeply fearful self [or ego], which is ultimately a fiction of the mind….

What on earth do these two passages have to do with the typical subjects found on this blog? Everything, as I’ll try to show.

As Jacobson wrote, most people spend most of their time living in their minds, or more specifically in their ego-mind. The thoughts running through our minds are always taking us somewhere away from the present moment – either to the past, or the future, or to some imaginary geography. When the mind is thinking its thoughts, the mental worlds they construct seem very real, and we easily get lost in them and feel separation from everything physically around us.

By contrast, when the mind is quiet, we can be fully here in the present, right here, right now. Not only that, but we feel a connection, a unity with everything around us. Our ego diminishes and we feel a part of the universe, one that is alive and all around us. There is no separation between us and the universe.

When we are present to the now, when the mind is quiet, the mind’s contents and structures are experienced as not having all that much substance or reality. We have our viewpoints and our beliefs and our agendas, but they no longer dominate us, and we are capable of setting them aside because they’re only mental creations. We can detach from them fairly easily. This lets us be skeptical or even dismissive of our mental creations, the healthy need for which, Maha has been writing about in the Wisdom of Doubt series.

With practice, this quiet deepens and we relax into it, and it becomes our normal way of being. The mind then becomes a servant, a tool to be used as needed, and put aside when it’s not, instead of something we get lost in, dominating us with its concepts, ideas, its rush of thoughts, and its bouncing between the remembered past and imaginary futures.

When our ego mind disengages, when we are still and fully aware in the present moment, we feel a unity with everything around us. We experience other people still attached to their egos and their viewpoints and their beliefs, with compassion, as people who have yet to awaken to this larger reality, that is nonetheless innate to all of us.

This is what Jesus meant when he said to turn the other cheek when your enemy strikes you. Don’t answer your enemy from the same level of consciousness as they inhabit. Go to a higher, more inclusive level of consciousness and respond to your enemy from there. This doesn’t mean be a masochist, it means don’t answer their provocation on the same level as it is given.

This most definitely relates to the political battles we face with the right. It’s very easy to be provoked and hooked emotionally by the attacks of the right, and this is part of their intention. It’s important to learn to stay centered in the present moment, while evaluating how to respond. Many times, no response is required at all, but on other occasions it is important to interact with what they’re saying, to set these people straight, to deflect or cancel their attack. To correct them.

While I personally am aggrieved at how the right is destroying this country and this planet, and while I have had scores of negative personal encounters with members of the right, culminating in a very painful firing from a job, I also understand the importance of not getting dragged into their drama. They are, after all, only playing out the programs in their minds, often as unconsciously as a player piano. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It’s important instead to be centered and to get busy creating the world to come. The one that is superseding their tiny, disintegrating world, which is an extension of the little self, the ego-mind. As Jacobson writes:

Because of our technological advances, we have become too destructive to continue living unconsciously upon this earth.

It’s my belief that out of the ashes of the destruction of the current order, a new human race is being born, one whose level of consciousness will be quite different from what created the current order based on fear, which is the basis for the ego. In another hundred or two hundred years, there are going to be a lot of enlightened people on this planet.

I personally believe George W Bush is unconscious and seriously deluded. He thinks he is doing the will of his Father in Heaven (truly a frightening thought given W’s narcissistic, sociopathic personality). However, consider that perhaps God / the universe / life itself really is using W, by forcing us, in a manner similar to Eckhart Tolle’s pressured awakening, to wake up. Childhood is ending, whether we want it to or not.

Both Tolle’s and Jacobson’s books cover similar terrain, but Tolle writes with a stark clarity befitting the kind of dramatic awakening he went through. I heard Ekhart Tolle speak, a few years ago. He walked into a hall filled to capacity with about 2000 people, and spoke, extemporaneously for close to three hours. Every single person in that hall was spellbound, hanging onto each word during the whole time. Tolle is an intense human being.

Jacobson, a relaxed Australian, by contrast offers a lot of practical guidance anyone can do to become more fully present, and to make this a permanent state. His book is much more recent than Tolle’s, and his work to some extent builds on Tolle’s foundation and yet makes it very practical. Jacobson offers workshops and retreats. Tolle, being an international star, is a bit harder to catch in person.

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More Good Stuff to Read

Bush Administration, News Media

Nader’s Dead End” by Todd Gitlin in the Los Angeles Times

Three good editorials at the New York Times: “Vetoing Children’s Health,” “Power Without Limits,” and “FEMA Runs for Cover.”

At Think Progress — Bill Kristol quakes in fear of the Great Orange Satan.

If you don’t feel like reading — Crooks & Liars has an exclusive Michael Moore video.

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Still the Champ

Bush Administration

Jimmy Breslin retired from column writing in 2004, but he can still whip out one hell of a column when he gets in the mood. Read this one, via Avedon.

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What Jesus Said

Middle East, Religion

Consider this an update to the previous post, The Wisdom of Doubt IX. Karen Armstrong wrote an op ed for yesterday’s Guardian in which she argued that “An inability to tolerate Islam contradicts western values.” Here’s just a snip:

On both sides, however, there are double standards and the kind of contradiction evident in Khomeini’s violation of the essential principles of his mentor, Mulla Sadra. For Muslims to protest against the Danish cartoonists’ depiction of the prophet as a terrorist, while carrying placards that threatened another 7/7 atrocity on London, represented a nihilistic failure of integrity.

But equally the cartoonists and their publishers, who seemed impervious to Muslim sensibilities, failed to live up to their own liberal values, since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others. Islamophobia should be as unacceptable as any other form of prejudice. When 255,000 members of the so-called “Christian community” signed a petition to prevent the building of a large mosque in Abbey Mills, east London, they sent a grim message to the Muslim world: western freedom of worship did not, apparently, apply to Islam. There were similar protests by some in the Jewish community, who, as Seth Freedman pointed out in his Commentisfree piece, should be the first to protest against discrimination.

Naturally, the usual knee-jerk reactions commenced. Short version: Because there is Muslim terrorism, and because there are Muslims who commit unspeakable atrocities, we are justified in hating all Muslims and denying them the same degree of tolerance and respect we want them to give us.

From Marc at U.S.S. Neverdock:

Tell that to the Christians persecuted and murdered in Muslim countries. Tell that to the gays who are hung in Muslim lands. Tell that to Muslim women who are raped and killed in so called “honour” attacks. In their attempts to portray Muslims as victims, the left completely ignore Islam’s intolerance to Western values.

It’s always heartening when right-wingers embrace liberal values and express outrage at injustices perpetrated against religious minorities, gays, and women. However, I would like to point out that Jesus set a higher standard:

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:43-48, New International Version]

I looked around in Matthew for a qualifier — that it’s OK to hate and discriminate against all members of a group if some among them are really bad — but couldn’t find it. Maybe it’s in some other Gospel. Or else they’re confusing the Bible with the script of The Godfather, and they think the Golden Rule is what Sonny Corleone said: “They hit us so — we hit ’em back.”

I don’t think Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) necessarily means that a righteous person may not defend himself or others from physical assault. I think the “cheek” business is about not allowing hate to escalate. Just because someone hates you doesn’t mean you have to hate them back. You don’t even have to hate them if you must use force to defend yourself from them. Just defend yourself. Hate is superfluous and may even be a hindrance to self-defense. Any martial arts master will tell you the same thing.

What Jesus — and Karen Armstrong — are saying is that tit-for-tat hatred takes the haters down a very dark road. The righteous person, Jesus said, is the one who refuses to feed the hate cycle.

The Buddha said:

“He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,” in those who harbour such thoughts hatred is not appeased.

“He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,” in those who do not harbour such thoughts hatred is appeased.

Hate is not overcome by hate; by Love (Metta) alone is hate appeased. This is an eternal law. [Dhammapada 1:3-5)

I’m just sayin’ that when a couple of heavy hitters like Jesus and the Buddha agree on something, we would do well to pay attention.

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The Wisdom of Doubt, Part IX

Religion, Wisdom of Doubt

In the last episode I provided a skip through history from the Reformation to the birth of fundamentalism in the early 20th century. Let’s pick up the story in the 1920s.

I dug the passage below out of one of my antique college textbooks. It’s long, but (I think) relevant to our current political situation. The author (eminent historian John Garraty) is discussing post-World War I America.

The war-born tensions and hostilities of the twenties also found expression in other ways, most of them related to an older rift in American society — the conflict between the city and the farm. By 1920 the United States had become predominantly urban. To the scattered millions who still tilled the soil, the new city-oriented culture seemed sinful, overly materialistic, and unhealthy, but there was no denying its power and compelling fascination. Made even more aware of the appeal of the city by such modern improvements as radio and the automobile, farmers coveted the comfort and excitement of city life at the same time that they condemned them. They fulminated against the metropolis, yet watched enviously as their sons and neighbors drifted off to taste its pleasures.

Out of this ambivalence developed some strange social phenomena, all exacerbated by the backlash of wartime emotions. The unifying element in all was intolerance; rural society, at once attracted and repelled by the city, responded by rigidly proclaiming the superiority of its own ways, as much to protect itself against temptation as to denounce urban life. Change, omnipresent in the postwar world, must be desperately resisted, even at the cost of the individualism and freedom that farmers had cherished since the time of Jefferson.

One expression of this intolerance of modern urban values was the resurgence of religious fundamentalism in certain Protestant sects, especially the Baptists and Presbyterians. Fundamentalists insisted on taking every word of the Bible literally. They rejected the theory of evolution, indeed the whole mass of scientific knowledge about the origins of man and the universe that had been discovered during the 19th century. As we have seen, educated persons had been able to resolve the apparent contradictions between Darwin’s theory and religious teachings easily enough, but in rural backwaters, especially in the southern and border states, this was never the case. Partly, fundamentalism resulted from simple ignorance; where educational standards were low and culture relatively static, old ideas remained unchallenged. Urban sophisticates tended to dismiss the fundamentalists as crude boors and hayseed fanatics, but, in such surroundings, the persistence of old-fashioned ideas was understandable enough. The power of reason, so obvious to men living in a technologically advanced society, seemed much less obvious to a backward agricultural population. Even prosperous farmers, in close contact with the capricious, elemental power of nature, tended to have more respect for the force of divine providence than cityfolk.

What made crusaders of the fundamentalists, however, was their resentment of modern urban culture which had passed them by, and the emotional currents of the age. Although in some cases they did harass liberal ministers, their religious attitudes had little public significance; their efforts to impose their views on public education were another matter. The teaching of evolution must be prohibited, they insisted. Throughout the early twenties they campaigned vigorously for laws banning all mention of Darwin’s theory in textbooks and classrooms.

Their greatest asset in this unfortunate crusade was William Jennings Bryan. Age had not improved the “Peerless Leader.” Never a profound thinker, after leaving Wilson’s cabinet in 1915 he devoted much time to religious and moral issues without applying himself conscientiously to the study of these difficult questions. He went about charging that “they” — meaning the mass of educated Americans — had “taken the Lord away from the schools” and denouncing the expenditure of public money to undermine Christian principles. Bryan toured the country offering $100 to anyone who would admit that he was descended from an ape; his immense popularity in rural areas assured him a wide audience, and no one came forward to take his money. [John A. Garraty, The American Nation: A History of the United States (Harper & Row, 1966), pp. 702-703]

You’ve probably guessed that What Happened Next was the Scopes trial of 1925. There are detailed accounts of the trial all over the web, so I’m not going to provide one here. The significance of the Scopes trial is that fundies were nationally humiliated, and modernists thought they had won. The modernists, it turns out, were wrong. Historian Gary Wills documents that the teaching of evolution “quietly crept out” of biology textbooks throughout the remainder of the 1920s, and the creeping continued through the 1930s and after, and there was no real attempt to put it back until the 1960s.

It was not Scopes that put evolution in the schools, but Sputnik. The Soviet space satellite caused a widespread fear that Russians taught science more efficiently than Americans. American experts, who thought they had “settled” Bryan, finally took a look at what Americans were actually being taught; and what they were being taught about the origin of mankind more often assumed the Genesis account than Darwin’s. [Gary Wills, Under God: Religion and American Politics (Simon and Schuster, 1990), p. 113]

However, when I took high school biology ca. 1966, my teacher was too intimidated to say the word evolution in class. Instead, she quietly slipped some of us (if she knew our parents and knew they wouldn’t flip out about it) copies of a book about evolution by Isaac Asimov. So much for Sputnik.

There was something else about the passage from the old textbook that struck me. John Garraty wrote about “an older rift in American society — the conflict between the city and the farm.” This rang alarm bells. I was reminded of “Soldiers of Christ: Inside America’s Most Powerful Megachurch” by Jeff Sharlit in the May 2005 issue of Harper’s.

It is not so much the large populations, with their uneasy mix of sinner and saved, that make Christian conservatives leery of urban areas. Even downtown Colorado Springs, presumably as godly as any big town in America, struck the New Lifers I met as unclean. Whenever I asked where to eat, they would warn me away from downtown’s neat little grid of cafes and ethnic joints. Stick to Academy, they’d tell me, referring to the vein of superstores and prepackaged eateries—P.F. Chang’s, California PizzaKitchen, et al.–that bypasses the city. Downtown, they said, is “confusing.” Part of their antipathy is literally biblical: the Hebrew Bible is the scripture of a provincial desert people, suspicious of the cosmopolitan powers that threatened to destroy them, and fundamentalists read the New Testament as a catalogue of urban ills—sophistication, cynicism, lust—so deadly that one would be better off putting out one’s own eye than partaking in their alleged pleasures. …

…As contemporary fundamentalism has become an exurban movement, it has reframed the question of theodicy–if God is good, then why does He allow suffering?–as a matter of geography. Some places are simply more blessed than others. Cities equal more fallen souls equal more demons equal more temptation, which, of course, leads to more fallen souls. The threats that suffuse urban centers have forced Christian conservatives to flee–to Cobb County, Georgia, to Colorado Springs. Hounded by the sins they see as rampant in the cities (homosexuality, atheistic schoolteaching, ungodly imagery), they imagine themselves to be outcasts in their own land. They are the “persecuted church”–just as Jesus promised, and just as their cell-group leaders teach them. This exurban exile is not an escape to easy living, to barbecue and lawn care. “We [Christians] have lost every major city in North America,” Pastor Ted writes in his 1995 book Primary Purpose, but he believes they can be reclaimed through prayer–“violent, confrontive prayer.” He encourages believers to obtain maps of cities and to identify “power points” that “strengthen the demonic activities.” He suggests especially popular bars, as well as “cult-type” churches. “Sometimes,” he writes, “particular government buildings … are power points.” The exurban position is one of strategic retreat, where believers are to “plant” their churches as strategic outposts encircling the enemy.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Remember the Karen Armstrong quote from the last Wisdom of Doubt post —

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.

Fundamentalism isn’t religion. It’s social pathology expressing itself as religion. In Part V I touched on the fact that right-wing Christianity has become remarkably disconnected from anything resembling standard Christian doctrine. The movement is being manipulated by money and by political power, and its followers seem to be getting most of their “theology” from popular culture — the Left Behind books come to mind. Certainly the Presbyterians who published The Fundamentals back in 1910 had serious theological intentions, but the fundamentalist movement has morphed into something much sicker and much uglier since. As John Garraty wrote, the unifying element is intolerance. As Karen Armstrong says, it is rooted in a profound fear.

After Scopes, fundamentalists seethed with humiliation and resentment. Back in Part VII I quoted Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Vintage Books, 1962)

Their heightened sense of isolation and impotence helped to bring many of the dwindling but still numerically significant fundamentalists into the ranks of a fanatical right-wing opposition to the New Deal. The fundamentalism of the cross was now supplemented by a fundamentalism of the flag. Since the 1930’s, fundamentalism has been a significant component in the extreme right in American politics, whose cast of thought often shows strong fundamentalist filiations. …

… The fundamentalist mind … is essentially Manichean; it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate no ambiguities. It cannot find serious importance in what it believes trifling degrees of difference: liberals support measures that are for all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothing more than a variant of Communism, which, as everyone knows, is atheism. … [T]he secularized fundamentalist mind begins with a definition of that which is absolutely right, and looks upon politics as an arena in which that right must be realized. … It is not concerned with the realities of power — with the fact, say, that the Soviets have the bomb — but with the spiritual battle with the Communist, preferably the domestic Communist, whose reality does not consist in what he does, or even in the fact that he exists, but who represents, rather, an archetypal opponent in a spiritual wrestling match.

We who are Not Them — religious and non-religious alike — are the enemy. We are the “archetypal opponent in a spiritual wrestling match.” They will never tolerate us. This conflict is not about discrete issues like abortion, but so much more.

The point I hope to get across is that the fundies — not religion — are a threat to liberalism, to democracy, to science, to education, to modernity, and even to religion. It’s not clear to me what’s to be done about them, other than keep an eye on them and counter their nonsense with education. And we need to educate the talking heads on mass media that these whackjobs shouldn’t be allowed to speak for Christianity.

Also: Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, 1942-2007.

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It’s Easy Being Right

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

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

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

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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Maybe They’ll Find His Head

Bush Administration

President Bush will undergo a routine colonoscopy Saturday and temporarily hand presidential powers over to Vice President Dick Cheney, the White House said. [WaPo]

Juvenile quips welcome. Indulge yourselves.

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