Saturday, March 31, 2007

A new fundamentalism

There’s an interesting article in the International Herald Tribune, A new fundamentalism? Some decry strident tone of fellow atheists . Reasonable atheists are starting to challenge the vicious, insulting language of the branch of atheism more correctly described as “anti-theism”, currently led by men such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. “BOSTON: Atheists are under attack these days for being too militant, for not just disbelieving in religious faith but for trying to eradicate it. And who is leveling these accusations? Other atheists, it turns out.” And none too soon, say I.

While Greg Epstein, who holds the partially endowed post of humanist chaplain at Harvard University, and Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist E.O. Wilson decry the language of the "atheist fundamentalists", there are attempts to put a decent spin on the nasty habits of Harris and Dawkins, such as the statement in the article that “His (Dawkins) attempt to win converts is clear in "The God Delusion," when he writes of his hope that "religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down." I don’t see how anyone can believe that for a split second; it’s quite clearly an attempt to deflect justified anger- when, in all of human history, has anyone ever gained a convert by saying “Your God is ‘a psychotic delinquent’, your insanity is destroying the world, and teaching your faith to your children is worse than sexually molesting them.” Dawkins cannot pretend that that is the sort of rhetoric one uses to persuade people.

Sam Harris, of course, sees things differently. “Harris, author of "Letter to a Christian Nation," sees the disagreement as overblown... Harris also rejected the term "atheist fundamentalist," calling it "a silly play upon words." Sorry, Sam, but the term is fully justified. You admit to “intellectual intolerance”, saying "We do not jail people for being stupid, but we do stop listening to them after a while." Any statement about God that is stated as known fact is a religious statement, even if that statement is “He doesn’t exist”; you, Sam, are a religious fundamentalist, and a bigot to boot. There is no virtue in expressing contempt for your fellow man.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Genuinely depressing

A Tip of the Hat to UU Enforcer for bringing this You Tube advertisement by and for Starr King School of Ministry. *sigh* It “encapsulates” (to quote the ad) nearly all that’s wrong with our denomination.

The raise the least issue first, it’s just plain bad on its own level as an advertisement; I doubt it’d get a “C” from a high school AV teacher. In fact, if you didn’t speak English, you wouldn’t recognize it as an ad at all- the format and feel is that of a memorial for someone or thing deceased. It opens with still red credit panels, followed by one person very stiffly speaking a short paragraph, followed by a still photo slide show of people you don’t know, followed by still panel credits, with the soundtrack being a single piano playing some slow, doleful tune. As a college-level effort, it’s pretty sad.

The sole speaker is a student, Neal Anderson. Here is what he says: “I chose Starr King School for the Ministry because it best encapsulated the values that I have and the values that I wanted to expand upon. The explicit dedication to educating to counter oppression was very important to my call to ministry. I wanted to grow in my understanding of how Unitarian Universalism can live the countering of oppression in the world, and also how we as Unitarian Universalists can build sustainable and justice centered communities.”

Good God. I’m sure Neal is a perfectly nice fellow, but is there something about UUism makes one incapable of speaking English? I haven’t heard language like that since those humorless, dedicated students in the 70’s who actually carried the “little red book” and spoke of “dialectics”. And look what he calls a “call to ministry”; no mention whatsoever of actually ministering to anyone. A minister is counselor of first choice for many people, someone to help you make sense of the tragedies and absurdities of life, someone who may not help you find the answers, but at least helps you find the right questions. His statement of purpose makes him sound like one of those who will continuously harangue from the pulpit... the kind who answers “How could God allow my child to get cancer” with “Now you know the kind of heartbreak Palestinians living in Israel live with daily; won’t you write your Congressman?” (Yes, this is an exaggeration of an actual exchange)

What does it say about Starr King that they would consider that statement as the best one to put forward to entice people into the seminary? Personally, were I running a seminary, that statement wouldn’t have even earned him admission. Where is “The explicit dedication to educating to” help his neighbors find their spiritual path, to use our principles and purposes in our daily lives? I constantly get the feeling that many UUs, not to mention ministers, cannot bear such mundane duties, that it is beneath them, that the purpose of Unitarian Universalism is to deal with the BIG IMPORTANT ISSUES... we’re far too smart to deal with hunger by doling out meals, we know that we must lobby Washington to deal with the root causes!

*Sigh* It still hasn’t reached tipping point for me yet... but it’s not too far away, either.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Tale of Two Papers

The above the fold headline of The Sunday Times: Iraqis: life is getting better . The above the fold headline of the Indianapolis Star, Monday: Poll: Iraqis losing hope . Says the Star: “Six in 10 Iraqis say their lives are going badly. Only one-third expect things to improve in the next year.”; says the Sunday Times: “By a majority of two to one, Iraqis believe military operations now under way will disarm all militias. More than half say security will improve after a withdrawal of multinational forces.”

Well, that certainly cleared that up.

Not in my day

Usually when an old curmudgeon like myself notes how the younger generation is going to Hell in a handbag, we are told that old fogies have been saying that for thousands of years, and a quote by Aristotle is brought up to demonstrate it. I still say what’s going on today is different from what went on in my day.

OK, perhaps I was a bit backwards not having had my first kiss yet by the 6th grade- but even the most forward of my classmates weren’t having sex during computer lab, as recently occurred in a local school. I can’t even decide which is the most important of reasons why this could not have happened when I was 12 years old.

Did you have a party for your 15th birthday? In my day such a party would have broken up and all gone home by 10:00- but this past weekend one 15 year old girl’s party here in town had a fight break out around 1:00 a.m., that ended up as a three car running firefight that left two dead . Again, I can’t even begin to state on how many levels that is wrong.

Now, I will admit that occasionally after a high school ball game a fight would occur... but I sure don’t remember it becoming a major riot that could tie up Times Square, with a subway firefight as happened Sunday . We’ve gotten used to the idea that winning an NBA championship requires a riot afterward; (I got some “what rubes” type ribbing from friends over the fact that Indianapolis had a polite Dome Rally after winning the Super Bowl), but for a high school game? What’s next- will shots be exchanged following a foul during the “hokey pokey” in kindergarten?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Missing a bet on Fox

The Nevada Democratic Party had scheduled a debate for the announced Presidential candidates in August, to be hosted by Fox News- until MoveOn.Org got wind of it, and raised such a ruckus that the debate has now been cancelled. Two different versions of the story are here and here .

It seems to me that the party is missing a bet here- the problem isn’t that Fox is involved, but that it’s the wrong division of Fox. What we have here, counting both major parties plus the Greens and the Libertarians is over a dozen candidates that have to be winnowed down to four for the final election. Fox has in place the best mechanism yet devised for doing just that- what they should have done is scheduled a special “Presidential Edition” of American Idol!

Look- more people vote for Idol candidates than for President- and they pay extra to do so. Make those 866 charges into campaign contributions; 30 or 40 million calls an evening add up to a lot of money- it could even the playing field for the less well financed candidates. People would actually hear more from each candidate on the “Idol” format than they do in standard debates, especially as the numbers of candidates get smaller each week; we’d have better informed voters. It would save the parties and the taxpayers a fortune; primaries are not paid for by commercials. And a lot of the candidates could well use advice from Simon Cowell!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Conservative in a Liberal Faith

A conversation that began on CRAPonSundays and was continued on the ChaliceBlog here and here raises two old questions: 1. Is it proper and/or effective for a church to be involved in politics, and 2. How can a UU be a political conservative? As the political positions are derived from the PPs, a UU shouldn’t be a conservative. I will address the second question first, as the answer to that leads directly to the answer to the first.

Those who don’t understand how a good UU can be a political conservative have fallen afoul of a logical fallacy, mistaking the method or means for the desired end goal, leading to a false choice. Instead of asking “Is method A or method B the best way to achieve our goal?”, they ask “Do you agree with method A, or do you disagree with the goal?” For example, they might say “Do you support the Living Wage, or do you not care about the poor?” A conservative might say, as I did here , that the issue is not whether I care about the poor, but whether or not this program will in fact help the poor- and I know it will not. My concern for the poor is why I’m against it. Unfortunately, this basic question- will the proposed program actually work- never seems to be addressed in depth when “debating” the topic, only whether or not it follows the PPs. To a conservative’s ears, this sounds like “politicians’ logic”: Something must be done. This is something; therefore we must do it.

None of the general principles of a classic (not a religious right) conservative, things like fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility and personal action, that rights reside within the citizen and are only loaned to the government, not vice-versa, least government possible, and even that as local as possible, etc., are in conflict with the PPs- with one possible exception: Conservatives recognize that government is rarely the right vehicle to address the basic issues, that either the marketplace or other citizen organizations (like churches) are far more effective in issues where hearts and minds must be changed. This is in direct opposition to the current mindset of the majority of the UUA, who seem to believe that social justice comes only from the pages of a sternly-worded fax to a congressman.

That last leads me to why we, as a denomination rather than as individuals, should steer clear of politics- if you want to actually do something, rather than just make a statement, you don’t want to go to the government in the first place. If you look at the social advances we’ve made in the last half century or so, almost all of it came from social organizations and social pressure, rather than government action. Martin Luther King made his points from the pulpit talking about God, not from the Washington Advocacy Office talking about votes. MADD has done more to stop drunk driving with social pressure than any lawnorder politician ever accomplished- comedians like Foster Brooks used to base entire careers on how funny public drunkenness is; could you imagine such an act succeeding today? Why do you think there’s no more blackface humor or “I’m Cheryl-fly me!” style sexist advertising on TV? Changing public sensitivities, driven by social activists, not government projects. Disney and other private companies did more for gay rights by using their buying clout to force insurance companies to stop discriminating than anything the government has ever done, and it was groups like GLAD that created the social atmosphere that made it possible. Any government action that aided any of these things followed the social pressure from private groups; they didn’t lead it.

That being the case, I believe that every penny spent on the Washington Advocacy Office is wasted, as is every moment of time spent debating resolutions aimed at Congress. We should be talking directly to the people, not to politicians who quite frankly have no reason whatsoever to listen to us anyway. We could instead be asking the entertainment media to change the way certain issues are presented or referenced, like MADD and GLAD and anti-smoking groups and so many others did. We could be producing Public Service Announcements to be distributed to radio and TV stations. We could be training experts in given issues who would be able to speak to churches and clubs around the country, or giving lectures at Barnes and Nobles. You know- those things that are proven to work.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Missing in Action

Does anyone know whatever happened to The Happy Feminist ? I really miss her.