Dangerous Minds

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American History, big picture stuff, Bush Administration, Religion

Via Hilzoy, Peter Beinart writes about his early support for the Iraq invasion.

“I was willing to gamble, too–partly, I suppose, because, in the era of the all-volunteer military, I wasn’t gambling with my own life. And partly because I didn’t think I was gambling many of my countrymen’s. I had come of age in that surreal period between Panama and Afghanistan, when the United States won wars easily and those wars benefited the people on whose soil they were fought. It’s a truism that American intellectuals have long been seduced by revolution. In the 1930s, some grew intoxicated with the revolutionary potential of the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, some felt the same way about Cuba. In the 1990s, I grew intoxicated with the revolutionary potential of the United States.

Some non-Americans did, too. “All the Iraqi democratic voices that still exist, all the leaders and potential leaders who still survive,” wrote Salman Rushdie in November 2002, “are asking, even pleading for the proposed regime change. Will the American and European left make the mistake of being so eager to oppose Bush that they end up seeming to back Saddam Hussein?”

I couldn’t answer that then. It seemed irrefutable. But there was an answer, and it was the one I heard from that South African many years ago. It begins with a painful realization about the United States: We can’t be the country those Iraqis wanted us to be. We lack the wisdom and the virtue to remake the world through preventive war. That’s why a liberal international order, like a liberal domestic one, restrains the use of force–because it assumes that no nation is governed by angels, including our own. And it’s why liberals must be anti-utopian, because the United States cannot be a benign power and a messianic one at the same time. That’s not to say the United States can never intervene to stop aggression or genocide. It’s not even to say that we can’t, in favorable circumstances and with enormous effort, help build democracy once we’re there. But it does mean that, when our fellow democracies largely oppose a war–as they did in Vietnam and Iraq–because they think we’re deluding ourselves about either our capacities or our motives, they’re probably right. Being a liberal, as opposed to a neoconservative, means recognizing that the United States has no monopoly on insight or righteousness. Some Iraqis might have been desperate enough to trust the United States with unconstrained power. But we shouldn’t have trusted ourselves.”

Hilzoy adds, wisely, “It’s not just that we aren’t the country Beinart wanted to think we were; it’s that war is not the instrument he thought it was.” I suggest reading Hilzoy’s post all the way through; it’s very good.

But I want to go on to another thought here. Yesterday I wrote about nonviolent resistance and quoted from an article in the Spring 2007 issue of the American Buddhist magazine Tricycle — available to subscribers only — called “The Disappearance of the Spiritual Thinker” by Pankaj Mishra. It begins:

“I NEVER KNEW A MAN,” Graham Greene famously wrote in The Quiet American, “who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.” After the disaster in Iraq, Greene’s 1955 description of an idealistic American intellectual blundering through Vietnam seems increasingly prescient. People shaped entirely by book learning and enthralled by intellectual abstractions such as “democracy” and “nation-building” are already threatening to make the new century as bloody as the previous one.

It is too easy to blame millenarian Christianity for the ideological fanaticism that led powerful men in the Bush administration to try to remake the reality of the Middle East. But many liberal intellectuals and human rights activists also supported the invasion of Iraq, justifying violence as a means to liberation for the Iraqi people. How did the best and the brightest–people from Ivy League universities, big corporations, Wall Street, and the media–end up inflicting, despite their best intentions, violence and suffering on millions? Three decades after David Halberstam posed this question in his best-selling book on the origins of the Vietnam War, The Best and the Brightest, it continues to be urgently relevant: Why does the modern intellectual–a person devoted as much professionally as temperamentally to the life of the mind–so often become, as Albert Camus wrote, “the servant of hatred and oppression”? What is it about the intellectual life of the modern world that causes it to produce a kind of knowledge so conspicuously devoid of wisdom?

What is it about the intellectual life of the modern world that causes it to produce a kind of knowledge so conspicuously devoid of wisdom? Wow, that’s a question, isn’t it? Where do overeducated twits like Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz and Condi Rice come from, and how the hell did they get put in charge of foreign policy? They may be articulate, and they have Ph.D.s and impressive resumes, but they don’t have the sense God gave onions.

THE POWER OF secular ideas–and of the men espousing them–was first highlighted by the revolutions in Europe and America and the colonization of vast tracts of Asia and Africa, and then with Communist social engineering in Russia and China. These great and often bloody efforts to remake entire societies and cultures were led by intellectuals with passionately held conceptions of the good life; they possessed clear-cut theories of what state and society should mean; and in place of traditional religion, which they had already debunked, they were inspired by a new self-motivating religion: a belief in the power of “history.”

It took two world wars, totalitarianism, and the Holocaust for many European thinkers to see how the truly extraordinary violence of the twentieth century–what Camus called the “slave camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy”–derived from a purely historical mode of reasoning, which made the unpredictable realm of human affairs appear as amenable to manipulation as a block of wood is to a carpenter.

Shocked like many European intellectuals by the mindless slaughter of the First World War, the French poet Paul Valéry dismissed as absurd the many books that had been written entitled “the lesson of this, the teaching of that” and that presumed to show the way to the future. The Thousand-Year Reich, which collapsed after twelve years, ought to have buried the fantasy of human control over history. But advances in technological warfare strengthened the conceit, especially among the biggest victors of the Second World War, that they were “history’s actors” and, as a senior adviser to President Bush told the journalist Ron Suskind in 2004, that “when we act we create our own reality.”

These are the same people who have pathological confidence in themselves, of course. As Peter Birkenhead wrote, “Pumped up by steroidic pseudo-confidence and anesthetized by doubt-free sentimentality, they are incapable of feeling anything authentic and experiencing the world.” Perhaps its a class thing; perhaps these are people who have lived lives so buffered from failure and the consequences of misjudgments that they never learned a healthy respect for failure and the consequences of misjudgments.

History as an aid to the evolution of the human race seems to be most fully worked out by the respected Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. Writing in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks after the invasion of Iraq, Ferguson declared himself a “fully paid-up member of the neo-imperialist gang,” and asserted that the United States should own up to its imperial responsibilities and provide in places like Afghanistan and Iraq “the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.” In his recent book Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (2004), Ferguson argues that “many parts of the world would benefit from a period of American rule.”

Ferguson has a regular column at the Los Angeles Times. And he’s a classic overeducated twit.

But back to Pankaj Mishra:

IT IS HARD TO IMAGINE now how this all began, how, in the nineteenth century, the concept of history acquired its significance and prestige. This was not history as the first great historians Herodotus and Thucydides had seen it: as a record of events worth remembering or commemorating. After a period of extraordinary dynamism in the nineteenth century, many people in Western Europe–not just Hegel and Marx–concluded that history was a way of charting humanity’s progress to a higher state of evolution.

In its developed form the ideology of history described a rational process whose specific laws could be known and mastered just as accurately as processes in the natural sciences. Backward natives in colonized societies could be persuaded or forced to duplicate this process; and the noble end of progress justified the sometimes dubious means–such as colonial wars and massacres.

Pankaj Mishra is arguing that this view of history is a kind of secular thinking, and it is, but not purely so. I’ve been reading Mark Lilla’s book The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West. I blogged about this book here and here. Very briefly, Lilla writes about the nexus of politics and religion in western civilization, particularly since the end of the Reformation and the publication of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan. I’m not all the way through it yet. But he seems to be building an argument that messianic religion as a habit of mind continually re-asserts itself and seeps into secular thought. So we have public intellectuals who may or may not be followers of religion or believers in God, but who still think in messianic terms. However, instead of looking forward to the Second Coming, secular messianic thought sees history building toward some politically and economically ideal future as if compelled by natural law.

Some might argue that any kind of messianic thought is religious, but defining religion that way would make Christopher Hitchens the bleeping pope.

Lilla’s book suffers a bit from a narrow understanding of religion, IMO. But perhaps that’s me. As I wrote a couple of days ago, east Asian religions as a rule think of time and events, cause and effect, as circular rather than linear. The revered Zen master Dogen Zenji (1200-1250) presents linear time as a kind of delusion; see Uji. If you don’t perceive time and history as linear it’s hard to be messianic. However, as I’ve said elsewhere, certainly Asia has seen its share of mass movements bent on shaping history — China under Mao comes to mind.

Pankaj Mishra continues,

This instrumental view of humanity, which Communist regimes took to a new extreme with their bloody purges and gulags, couldn’t be further from the Buddhist notion that only wholesome methods can lead to truly wholesome ends. It is in direct conflict with the notion of nirvana, the end of suffering, a goal many secular and modern intellectuals purport to share, but which can only be achieved through the extinction of attachment, hatred, and delusion.

Indeed, no major traditions of Asia or Africa accommodate the notion that history is a meaningful narrative shaped by human beings. Time, in fact, is rarely conceptualized as linear progression in many Asian and African cultures; rather, it is custom and religion that circumscribe human interventions in the world. Buddhism, for instance, in its emphasis on compassion and interdependence, is innately inhospitable to the Promethean spirit of self-aggrandizement and conquest that has shaped the new “historical” view of human prowess. This was partly true also for many European cultures until the modern era, when scientific and technological innovations began to foster the belief that man’s natural and social environment was to be subject to rational manipulation and that history itself, no longer seen as a neutral, objective narrative, could be shaped by the will and action of man.

It was this faith in rational manipulation that powered the political, scientific, and technological revolutions of the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; it was also used to explain and justify Western domination of the world–a fact that gave conviction to such words as progress and history (as much ideological buzzwords of the nineteenth century as democracy and globalization are of the present moment).

Now we circle back to Peter Beinart and other prominent “public intellectuals”:

The great material and technological success of the West, and the growth of mass literacy and higher education, produced its own model of the secular thinker: someone trained, usually in academia, in logical thinking and possessed of a great number of historical facts. No moral or spiritual distinction was considered necessary for this thinker; not more than technical expertise was asked of the scientists who helped create the nuclear weapons that could destroy the world many times over.

I should note, to be fair, that Robert Oppenheimer had studied eastern religion, particularly Hindu.

IT IS STRANGE TO THINK how quickly the figure of the spiritually-minded thinker disappeared from the mainstream of the modern West, to live on precariously in underdeveloped societies like India. It was left to marginal religious figures such as Simone Weil, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Thomas Merton to exercise a moral and spiritual intelligence untrammeled by the conviction that science or socialism or free trade or democracy were helping mankind march to a historically predetermined and glorious future. But then, as Hannah Arendt wrote, “The nineteenth century’s obsession with history and commitment to ideology still looms so large in the political thinking of our times that we are inclined to regard entirely free thinking, which employs neither history nor coercive logic as crutches, as having no authority over us.” [emphasis added]

We don’t often think of history as a crutch. Maybe we’ve become a little too obsessed with remembering history so we don’t repeat it. Since the invasion of Iraq we’ve argued whether Iraq is World War II or Vietnam or some other historical relic rattling around in our national attic. What we don’t do so much is try to understand Iraq as Iraq. Of course, we don’t remember our history as-it-was, either, but as we want to believe it was.

In America, religious and political ideology have always been interconnected, but in recent years we’ve taken this interconnection to absurd degrees. For example, the above-mentioned Niall Ferguson argues that America is more productive than Europe because our workers go to church more often than their workers. This begs the question — why is productivity a more “religious” virtue than, say, spending more time away from work to be with family? I think what we’re really seeing here is less about religion and more about voluntary submission to the authority of churches and employers.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for a public intellectual like Ferguson to make that connection. That requires thinking outside the box, and our public intellectuals are like a priestly caste charged with maintaining and protecting the box.

Peter Beinart may be trying, however. “[L]iberals must be anti-utopian, because the United States cannot be a benign power and a messianic one at the same time,” he said. Exactly. But we’ve got a job ahead of us explaining that to the rest of America.

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16 Comments

  1. Buck Turgisson  •  Sep 29, 2007 @11:10 pm

    “Where do overeducated twits like Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz and Condi Rice come from, and how the hell did they get put in charge of foreign policy? They may be articulate, and they have Ph.D.s and impressive resumes, but they don’t have the sense God gave onions.”

    YOU call them “overeducated.” I don’t and have never. Someone who has never seriously read poetry, drama, and literature, and kept at it, throughout a lifetime, in not “overeducated” but ignorant as spit. How anyone could ever fall for these “twits” (as you call them) and their line is in serious trouble. Seeing that millions did, I think we ARE indeed “in serious trouble.” That Hillary Clinton can see she “believed” what Bush said (about WMD’s) so she voted for war is such a crude and obvious lie . . . The neocons and their agenda were obviously false and vacuous from the very beginning. Only 50 years of hardcore neocon neoliberal Friedmaniac propaganda about “capitalism and democracy” going “hand in hand” can explain the blindness of Americans and their foolish fatuity.

  2. priscianus jr  •  Sep 30, 2007 @1:14 am

    But they do “appear” to be highly educated, with their Ph.D’s, theories, etc., etc. So the conclusion to be drawn is that their education is extremely narrow, and it’s important to understand the nature of this narrowness, because its symptomatic of what passes for being highly educated in America today. Nor are the humanities immune to this disease …

  3. priscianus jr  •  Sep 30, 2007 @1:30 am

    BTW, I take your point about messianism. However, the USA is basically a Judaeo-Christian country. (Not to discount the considerable differences between the two traditions, but for this discussion I’m not sure they are relevant.) Both Judaism and Christianity are messianic religions. Even the American secular is largely a secular version of that culture.Are there non-linear ways of understanding messianic concepts, and if so, what resources exist within these particular traditions for doing so?

  4. maha  •  Sep 30, 2007 @7:16 am

    Are there non-linear ways of understanding messianic concepts, and if so, what resources exist within these particular traditions for doing so?

    In my experience, if you can get your head out of the linear box the messianic stuff sort of evaporates.

  5. erinyes  •  Sep 30, 2007 @8:04 am

    Interesting post Maha.
    It seems that humans react to situations as they perceive them, not as they really are.We perceive things based on personal experience and the beliefs we have been schooled in.

    The cargo cult is a good example. The natives in the New Guinea highlands would see airplanes loaded with goods land on airstrips built by missionaries. It made perfect sense to the natives that if they built airstrips, planes loaded with goodies would land for them also.Faith or religion? Perhaps just perception based on their reality.

    As for the question about how Feith, Wolfowitz, and Rice got where thay are in spite of their lack of real world “smarts”, I think the answer is obvious. Things in government ( and at the top of corporate America) don’t work like they do in the private sector. The perception of time and money are divorced from reality in government, as is the concept of the individual. That would explain how many in our country were thrilled that the armed forces invaded Iraq “to take out Saddam and his evil sons”. There was no thought given to the innocents caught in the crossfire, nor to the dustruction of the county’s infrastructure. Most Americans don’t realize the current war in Iraq is just a continuation of the Gulf War. The bombing of Iraq continued under Clinton, and escalated towards the end of his second term.A thousand 9/11’s for the people of Iraq. The neocons created a horrible reality in Iraq.

    The bottom line for me is I see the world clearly now that the stained glass is gone. No devils, no angels, no big kahuna in the sky, just reality, one big freefall.
    I know several men that thought the war with Iraq was the begining of Armegeddon. Now they hope the yet to come war with Iran will fulfill the prophesy.Faith, religion, or delusion?
    The lines between reality and biblical based fantasy have been blurred, distorted by self serving televangelists and eagerly gobbled up by a xenophobic public.

  6. maha  •  Sep 30, 2007 @8:07 am

    Someone who has never seriously read poetry, drama, and literature, and kept at it, throughout a lifetime, in not “overeducated” but ignorant as spit.

    Yes, but I think the more fundamental problem is an inability to directly experience one’s own life. Poetry, drama, and literature are grand, but unless you have some capacity for self-awareness and perception they won’t “sink in.” As the Buddha said, the spoon can’t taste the soup.

  7. Doug Hughes  •  Sep 30, 2007 @11:12 am

    I once read that if you pray hard enough, water will flow uphill. If it won’t flow uphill, that’s proof you are not praying hard enough.

    This is how righties think. If you point out that we tried to impose democracy in ‘Nam, to counter the spread of communism, they insist we quit too soon. When all the ‘free’ elections were a sham.

    One other thought; you can not ‘imose’ democracy any more than you can ‘impose’ virtue. Though Righties keep trying. The most you can do to promote democracy or virtue is create an favorable climate with a free press, education and debate.

    The revolution in Burma is a classic example of something spontanious; it was not the result of a ‘think tank’ and secret funds diverted into armed cabals.When the people were ready THEY did it. (I know the outcome is still in flux, but the observation is still valid.)

  8. DoubleCinco  •  Sep 30, 2007 @2:49 pm

    Over at Smirking Chimp on the 28th he wrote a piece about the influences/origins of the Necon perspective, to-wit:

    “Selfish impulses, when they get out of control, can tear society apart, he [Irving Kristol] warned. To preserve social order we need a fixed moral order. We therefore need a clear sense of the absolute difference between good and bad, strict rules that tell us what is good, and powerful institutions that can get people to obey those rules.”

    This seems to me to be the crux of the Bush Administration’s orientation to everything from Katrina, to the Middle East to the stacking of Federal appellate courts and the Supreme Court with those that know what is good and right and have the power to enforce it.

    People in New Orleans who hadn’t saved money and empowered themselves to escape were/are bad; Arabs and Persians are bad for many reasons, and control of the courts is necessary not only to get those strict rules into place, but also of course, to protect the rule bending that is “necessary” to reward the financial interests of “the good guys” who, after all, are entitled to benefit for all that righteous work they are doing.

    But underneath all of that it seems to me is the psychological framework that cannot tolerate relational ambiguity because of the excruciating anxiety it causes. The anxiety is both conscious and unconscious and plays out in the primary and secondary gains frame.

    The primary gain for attacking Iraq, and Iran if they can engineer it without obliterating the party for 2008, is delineating the good from the evil and reducing anxiety by invoking the best defense is a good offense strategy.

    The secondary gain is the assuagement and soothing of the unconsciously held fear of being controlled or dominated that would produce the experience of helplessness. To the non-maturative personality the dominant/subordinate relational modality is the only one there is, which is to be oblivious to the more highly developed mode of mutual and cooperative.

    The irony here is that when they are subordinated/ousted from power it is mostly because they have precipitated that very result via their own behavior, a small factoid that they tend to be blind to–lucky for us or they might be even more deceptive and manipulative than they already are.

  9. grannyeagle  •  Sep 30, 2007 @4:03 pm

    Comment #3: The USA is not a judaeo-christian country. It is a country where Christianity is the dominant religion and Christianity has ties to Judaism. Perhaps the majority of people believe in a personal savior but not all, including me. So the messianists do not speak for me.

  10. priscianus jr  •  Sep 30, 2007 @6:28 pm

    Fine, grannyeagle, they don’t speak for me either. And messianism is not a monolith, any more than “evangelism.” It is probably true, for example, that a form of messianic thinking was responsible for getting slavery abolished in this country.
    But the general culture has a messianic tone to it — always has and probably always will.
    Thus, Maha, I don’t understand your answer, or rather, I understand it, and I even agree with it — but I don’t see where it answers the question I asked. There are perversions of religion, and in this country they usually take extreme-messianic forms. But “normal” religion in this country still has some flavor of the messianic. Clearly you do not condemn religion as such, nor do I. So if you support religion in this country, are you saying the value is entirely IN SPITE OF the messianic flavor of American religion? Or could it be that messianism could have value if interpreted in certain ways? For example, there are teachings within these religions that one should not “count the days.” There are teachings that one should not “force the end.” There are even teachings that the messiah is NOT a particular individual, and that messianic “time” is NOT historical time, etc.
    Personally, I have lots of problems with messianic ways of thinking, but this is the culture we’ve been plunked into. To think it’s all going to totally change at some point sounds to me in itself like messianic thinking.

  11. maha  •  Sep 30, 2007 @8:08 pm

    It is probably true, for example, that a form of messianic thinking was responsible for getting slavery abolished in this country.

    Not necessarily. If there’s an injustice right in front of you, and you try to stop it, I don’t see the messianism. The nature of messianic-type action is to trash the present to enable an ideal future. If you are taking care of the present, that’s an entirely different act.

    Thus, Maha, I don’t understand your answer, or rather, I understand it, and I even agree with it — but I don’t see where it answers the question I asked.

    I guess I didn’t understand the question. You asked “Are there non-linear ways of understanding messianic concepts, and if so, what resources exist within these particular traditions for doing so?”

    My point is that messianic thinking is a chief cause of suffering in the world, and we’d all be better off if everyone would stop doing it. I can’t imagine what “resources” exist within the eastern religions for perpetrating messianic concepts, but if there are any they need adjustment.

    So if you support religion in this country, are you saying the value is entirely IN SPITE OF the messianic flavor of American religion?

    This takes a longer answer than I can provide at the moment, but essentially there’s a big difference between accepting a doctrine of “end times” as a metaphor or a mystery (common among more liberal Christians) and believing in a literal End Time that requires true believers to bring the planet to Jesus before it can happen. In other words, the more concrete one’s belief, and the more the belief dictates one’s actions, the more harmful it is.

    To think it’s all going to totally change at some point sounds to me in itself like messianic thinking.

    I see it as taking care of the present. Fundamentalism is hardming the planet in myriad ways and has to be dealt with.

  12. julia  •  Oct 1, 2007 @7:51 am

    because, in the era of the all-volunteer military, I wasn’t gambling with my own life

    Well, no. The only people drafted for Beinart’s war were kids his own age with far fewer prospects who signed up to defend the country and sadly didn’t hold out for the contract rider that would have allowed them to sit out the chance of being killed or maimed for some hubristic neoconservative Harvard boy’s thought experiment.

    But after all, he didn’t think he was sending “many” of the little people to their deaths, and a few years after it became clear that he was, he committed to rethinking the situation. What more can you ask?

    Odd that the genocide-level death numbers of the oppressed peoples of Iraq he claims to have been doing this in service of don’t figure as something he regrets gambling with.

  13. priscianus jr  •  Oct 1, 2007 @7:56 am

    “Not necessarily. If there’s an injustice right in front of you, and you try to stop it, I don’t see the messianism. The nature of messianic-type action is to trash the present to enable an ideal future. If you are taking care of the present, that’s an entirely different act.”

    “Not necessarily” — right. But in the actual history of this America, it is a fact. I can’t give the whole story now, but let me just remind you of a song I’m sure you know. It starts, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…” The PERCEPTION was of injustice, of course, but the LANGUAGE in which it was perceived was largely messianic. The distinction you are making between the present and the future seems, in this context, forced. The whole point of messianic thinking is that “now IS the future.” We all know this can be a lens that horribly distorts everything, but in the example I gave, it said to the believers (including the slaves), “the time you’ve always dreamed would arrive, is now.”

    I am not ADVOCATING messianic thinking. I am acknowledging its widespread existence and trying to understand it.

    Basically, I think messianic thinking originates in conditions of extreme social crisis, allowing people to survive psychologically; but at other times it can perpetuate crisis because that’s the model it presents. Life is full of crises, but maybe it’s a question of identifying crises accurately, not assuaging one’s fears with lemming-like deceptions.

    “… messianic thinking is a chief cause of suffering in the world, and we’d all be better off if everyone would stop doing it. I can’t imagine what “resources” exist within the eastern religions for perpetrating messianic concepts, but if there are any they need adjustment.”

    First of all, I meant, what resources exist in WESTERN religions for alternate interpretations of messianic concepts — because, even if it’s true that we’d all be better off if everyone would stop doing it, that’s tantamount to saying we’d be better off if there were no Judaism and Christianity. Which of course mny people believe, but I didn’t think you were one of them.

    “essentially there’s a big difference between accepting a doctrine of “end times” as a metaphor or a mystery (common among more liberal Christians) and believing in a literal End Time that requires true believers to bring the planet to Jesus before it can happen. In other words, the more concrete one’s belief, and the more the belief dictates one’s actions, the more harmful it is.”

    I certainly agree with this, and in fact here you are BEGINNING to answer my question. You are saying that messianic concepts must be understood metaphorically not literally. Some time I hope you can talk about what one would understand if one were to do that, and how to make that case to religious Christians and Jews. To say that it is “common” among more liberal Christians seems to me a kind of tautology; to me the point is that it is NOT COMMON ENOUGH among Christians, period.

  14. maha  •  Oct 1, 2007 @8:32 am

    You are saying that messianic concepts must be understood metaphorically not literally. Some time I hope you can talk about what one would understand if one were to do that, and how to make that case to religious Christians and Jews. To say that it is “common” among more liberal Christians seems to me a kind of tautology; to me the point is that it is NOT COMMON ENOUGH among Christians, period.

    Did you read the Wisdom of Doubt series?

  15. grannyeagle  •  Oct 1, 2007 @12:08 pm

    Priscianus jr: IMO, you are being too analytical. The bottom line is that people choose to believe in a Messiah because it is easier than living a responsible life. We all know we are human and make mistakes but when the mistakes are huge and mess up our lives or others, it is comforting to some to just ask for forgiveness and hope that all will be equaled out in “heaven”. All you have to do is accept that Jesus died for all the sins of all the people that ever existed. This is fine, I guess, but it does not change the individual or the behavior. As Dr. Phil says, you cannot change what you don’t acknowledge. As long as people can blame the evil existing in the world and insist that God will eventually eliminate that evil, they will not choose to make any changes in themselves which of course is the only answer. We cannot have peace as long as we are focusing on war.

  16. Stoic  •  Oct 1, 2007 @12:53 pm

    It might be interesting to trace the progress of “isolationism” in American thought from the Revolution to WWII.

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