December 20, 2008

Christopher Hitchens has a few more problems with Rick Warren as the inauguration prayer-leader.

He asked:
Will Warren be invited to the solemn ceremony of inauguration without being asked to repudiate what he has directly said to deny salvation to Jews?

Will he be giving a national invocation without disowning what his mentor said about civil rights and what his leading supporter says about Mormons?

Will the American people be prayed into the next administration, which will be confronted by a possible nuclear Iran and an already nuclear Pakistan, by a half-educated pulpit-pounder raised in the belief that the Armageddon solution is one to be anticipated with positive glee?

As Barack Obama is gradually learning, his job is to be the president of all Americans at all times. If he likes, he can oppose the idea of marriage for Americans who are homosexual. That's a policy question on which people may and will disagree. However, the man he has chosen to deliver his inaugural invocation is a relentless clerical businessman who raises money on the proposition that certain Americans—non-Christians, the wrong kind of Christians, homosexuals, nonbelievers—are of less worth and littler virtue than his own lovely flock of redeemed and salvaged and paid-up donors.
So who should do the invocation -- assuming we must have an invocation? "[L]et it be some dignified old hypocrite with no factional allegiance."

What Hitchens would prefer, it seems, is what Justice William Brennan called "ceremonial deism":
[G]overnment cannot be completely prohibited from recognizing in its public actions the religious beliefs and practices of the American people as an aspect of our national history and culture. While I remain uncertain about these questions, I would suggest that such practices as the designation of "In God We Trust" as our national motto, or the references to God contained in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag can best be understood, in Dean Rostow's apt phrase, as a form a "ceremonial deism," protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content. Moreover, these references are uniquely suited to serve such wholly secular purposes as solemnizing public occasions, or inspiring commitment to meet some national challenge in a manner that simply could not be fully served in our culture if government were limited to purely nonreligious phrases. The practices by which the government has long acknowledged religion are therefore probably necessary to serve certain secular functions, and that necessity, coupled with their long history, gives those practices an essentially secular meaning.
More recently, Justice O'Connor wrote:
Given the values that the Establishment Clause was meant to serve, ... I believe that government can, in a discrete category of cases, acknowledge or refer to the divine without offending the Constitution. This category of “ceremonial deism” most clearly encompasses such things as the national motto (“In God We Trust”), religious references in traditional patriotic songs such as the Star-Spangled Banner, and the words with which the Marshal of this Court opens each of its sessions (“God save the United States and this honorable Court”). These references are not minor trespasses upon the Establishment Clause to which I turn a blind eye. Instead, their history, character, and context prevent them from being constitutional violations at all.
In my Religion & the Constitution class, I like to say that no one believes in ceremonial deism. It's no one's religion, just a mode of using religion in the public setting. And yet, if anyone is a ceremonial deist, I'd say that person is Barack Obama. I air my suspicion -- and praise that religion of no religion -- here:

76 comments:

Simon said...

How strange that Hitch is all for tradition when lauding "a long tradition of peaceful transition," yet recoils from elements that are traditionally included in that transition. Willfulness cloaked in the language of deference; an embarrassed rationalism hiding behind tradition.

rhhardin said...

I'd suggest Bernard Madoff.

save_the_rustbelt said...

Let a Muslim stood up and say "there is only one true God" and he will be applauded for religious piety.

Let a Christian do the same and it is bigotry.

And why do we care what Hitchens thinks?

Michael_H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pogo said...

In the left-liberal world, only ceremonial deities can be used, gods donned and doffed as often as a high school girl changes clothes.

They like to visit churches, and marvel at their art and architecture, but shrink from the very beliefs that created these wonders. Western civilization rose due to its Judeo-Christian tradition, not in spite of it.

A reference to 'ceremonial deism' is an insult, treating believers like children indulged by their intellectual betters.

It's not unlike the desire to play poor in 'cardboard cities' that 'raise awareness' about the homeless.

Maguro said...

How shocking, a religious figure (pulpit-pounder!) selected to give an invocation. Maybe Hitch was expecting Richard Dawkins?

jayne_cobb said...

Of course Obama loves ceremonial deism.

He's in love with anything which grants him an air of authority, and what is the invocation of God in governmental proceedings supposed to provide if not that.

Just look at his seal during the election, his speech in Germany, the mock-up govt. building in his convention speech, or his ability to somehow discover an office which up til now has never existed (and he even made a sign for it). He has attempted to convey an image of authority and grandeur more than any candidate I can remember.

I get the feeling that the next 4 years are going to be big on pomp and circumstance.

AllenS said...

Two possible replacements that that crowd would be happy with: Dr. Phil or Oprah.

ricpic said...

Jews are born saved. Read the old testament and weep, goyishe kops.

David said...

As a Jew, I'm always puzzled by the argument that I should be offended that Christians believe that I won't find salvation through Jesus Christ.

After all, that's what I believe.

And if I wanted to find salvation through Jesus, I'm sure Rick Warren would welcome me with open arms.

jimbino said...

By definition, and historically, religion has many elements, only one of which is faith. A huge (and most annoying) part of religion is ceremony, whether genuflection, ritual shopping, birthday celebration or routine American circumcision.

I don't mind the faith part as much as the constant intrusion on my life represented by all the ritual kneeling, standing, sitting, pledging, antheming, praying, moments of silence, weddings, baptisms, funerals and the like.

When any of these invade my space, I imagine the pleasure of sneaking of with Christopher Hitchens to enjoy a furtive whisky.

Alan said...

"So who should do the invocation -- assuming we must have an invocation? "[L]et it be some dignified old hypocrite with no factional allegiance."

How 'bout St. Peter the Rabbit?

Bissage said...

Constitution?

Ceremonial Deism?

Then that settles it.

The Invocator-select must be . . .

none other than . . .

Captain James T. Kirk, Captain of the Starship Enterprise.

Talk about inclusive! He’ll pray for all those Communists, too!

These words, and the words that follow, were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Coms as well . . . They must apply to everyone or they mean nothing!

Yeah, boyeeee!

(And guys (all 75% of you) don’t let yourselves get so mesmerized by Billy the Shat’s Universe-class bloviating that you all forget to check out that great-looking cave chick.)

Ha!

miller said...

Why, exactly, is it important to repudiate the central belief of Christianity (the uniqueness of Jesus)? I don't think Christopher believes in heaven, so what exactly would saying different words mean if in the end we all become buckets of slime & bones? Because it offends his sense of propriety or his belief that all religions are equally stupid & fantastic?

Really, it doesn't really matter. I can't imagine someone of Christopher Hitchen's gravitas to be so concerned about feelings.

Chip Ahoy said...

What do say we go to Britain, get ourselves a citizenship, then spend the rest of our days criticizing the education and the actions of every single public person and policy? Sound like a life plan?

somefeller said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The problem with Rick Warren isn't whether he's an intolerant bigot, it's that the public face of religion that's being provided at the Inauguration is Prosperity Gospel Piffle. I'll take an old-school, ultraconservative, intellectually serious Roman Catholic, high-church Anglican or Lutheran clergyman over that nonsense any day, even if I disagree with them. At least they come from versions of Christianity that have meat on their bones.

That being said, Warren may actually be closer to the model of ceremonial deism than he's been given credit for. There is an argument that moralistic therapeutic deism is what many American Christians really believe in (regardless of what they say they believe in), even among those who call themselves Evangelicals. If that's the case, and if the line between both of these deisms is pretty vague, then perhaps Warren is the right guy to do the invocation at the Inauguration.

Cardboard FLOTUS said...

Hitchens identifies the obvious conundrums that arise when someone owns Christianity in public, as his personal faith, but also publicly embraces a potpourri-like polytheism, in the name of tolerance.

The problem is not Obama’s religion, or Warren’s religion for that matter. The problem is that religion is inescapable, even for the atheist whose creed happens to affirm, “There is no God.” And “ceremonial deism” does not remedy the problem because its creed contradicts the creeds of all other religions, including atheism.

I suggest that Obama cut the Gordian Knot by blowing off the invocation and pronouncing himself God, for by doing so he could synthesize the Judeo-Christian-Islamic ideal of Obama as Messiah, which he has never repudiated, while maintaining the atheist’s anthropocentric system of religion.

kynefski said...

Constitutional issues aside, I expect that many Christians struggle for ways to dissociate their religious values from belief in supernatural agency. From that perspective, there is nothing insincere about ceremonial deism.

Host with the Most said...

I have met Christopher Hitchens, and had the opportunity for a small amount of conversation with him. I have also met Ted Turner, and had a few moments of shared conversation with him . They both seem to be like so many who have made the decision to believe that there is no God - or at least not the "Christian God" - after disappointments with this Christian God earlier in life.

They both were polite, yet oddly a little sad in their demeanor when I met them. Others I know who know them better have made similar comments about the sadness.

Why do you think that might be?

rcocean said...

Obama must love this. Its almost a Sister Soljah moment. Keep up the good work Lefties - your disdain for Evangelicals and Warren is helping Barry O.

William said...

You do not need God to be self righteous and intolerant.

kynefski said...

They both seem to be like so many who have made the decision to believe that there is no God...

No comment, really. I just thought that an interesting way to convey acceptance.

garage mahal said...

Religion is ALWAYS good. What you say about it is irrelevant. Come to the table. Let's talk about it!

Trooper York said...

Justice William Brennan seem like a real good Catholic.

Ike did a great thing appointing him to the court.

bearing said...

Warren single-handedly denied salvation to Jews?!?

Bissage said...

There is such a thing as salivation for Jews but it usually involves a brisket.

cardeblu said...

James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)


WIC and the EPA, anyone? (heh)

I don't really care about the Obama/Warren issue. I see it as merely political maneuvering and posturing as always by all sides. I do find the howling about it hilarious, though. While I worry about BO's upcoming policies, the entertainment factor seems really promising...

Father Martin Fox said...

Some folks just choke on the obvious fact that the United States is a Christian nation. No, I don't mean in the establishment sense, I mean Christianity is soaked through our culture, institutions and society.

And those who think Christianity should disavow the teaching Jesus is the only means to salvation, and by this or that part of Christian morality, often aver to an image of Jesus himself as some sort of Palestinian flower-child--I think they took "Godspell" way too seriously.

They might be really shocked by the Gospels: Jesus rather freely threatened damnation on a lot of folks and showed zero interest in challenging Judaism's strict moral code.

Also, they miss the rather plain fact -- if you read the Gospels closely, in light of the Old Testament -- that Jesus really did claim to be the Lord God, who called Abraham, revealed the Law to Moses, and sent the Prophets to Israel. One noteworthy time he "corrected" the Mosaic Law was to toughen it up: no divorce!

But otherwise, he wasn't embarrassed by it, which sure makes a problem for those theologians, such as Jack Black, who claim Jesus would be delighted to multiply loaves, wine and doobies at a gay wedding of Cana.

Christianity has a tough morality that is totally cross-wise with the present, secularist, we-define-ourselves zeitgeist. But the jury is still very much out about which proves to work. Fifty years of promoting contraception worldwide has brought about a widening demographic implosion; let's wait just a bit more, to see how things work out, hmm?

Alex said...

So Hitchens is a gay? I never knew.

Alex said...

BTW, I'm an atheist, but I'm glad about anything that makes Hitchens mad. I hate militant atheists like his ilk.

jimbino said...

Yo, Host with the Most,

Hitchens and Turner are just like Jesus, "a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief."

"Jesus wept" but he never laughed. He also never wrote anything! He wouldn't be blogging today, either.

Read your damn Bible!

somefeller said...

Pogo says: In the left-liberal world, only ceremonial deities can be used, gods donned and doffed as often as a high school girl changes clothes. They like to visit churches, and marvel at their art and architecture, but shrink from the very beliefs that created these wonders.

Pogo, when you go to a museum and see the wondrous art of ancient Egypt or Rome, or when you visit ancient sites, do you feel a need to embrace the faith in the pagan gods that inspired the artwork, or do you just "and marvel at their art and architecture, but shrink from the very beliefs that created these wonders"? If the latter is the case, why should that be any different for agnostics or atheists (note -- I'm not using the phrase "left-liberal", because plenty of left-liberals do embrace Christianity) who visit cathedrals or museums filled with Renaissance art?

kynefski said...

Christianity has a tough morality that is totally cross-wise with the present, secularist, we-define-ourselves zeitgeist.

Agreed, and it is a morality that should be asserted. The question is whether it can only be asserted within the context of theism.

Here's the problem: There are many people, including most in the scientific community, who cannot believe. Why? I don't know. Perhaps they lack the cognitive rigor required to understand that there must be exceptions to critical thinking. I do know that nothing will persuade them that one collection of divinity accounts is true while others are myth.

What is the appropriate response to these people? Disparagement? Pity? Or the realization that what is most important to believers - that tough morality - is independent of belief?

If it is not, God help us.

Simon said...

Father Martin Fox said...
"Some folks just choke on the obvious fact that the United States is a Christian nation."

Robert Bork has a theory - maybe he didn't come up with it, I don't know - that after the secularization of American institutions by the left over the last fifty years, we're essentially running on the moral inertia built up by past generations, but it fades a little more each generation, and sooner or later we're going to run out and degenerate into an entirely amoral, atomized mess.

Ron said...

It's certainly true that our Founding Fathers were not irreligious. But in modern terms, would a Rick Warren accept the deism of Franklin? Or evenly remotely tolerate the Jefferson Bible? (and these two are the tip of the deist iceberg!)

Doubtful.

Alex said...

Why should the GOP ditch the evangelical Christian movement? They are 30% of the electorate.

Kirk Parker said...

"the tip of the deist iceberg"

Might that make a good band name?

Lawgiver said...

As Barack Obama is gradually learning, his job is to be the president of all Americans at all times.

If Obama didn't know that before he was elected then he isn't fit to be the president.

jeff said...

"asked to repudiate what he has directly said to deny salvation to Jews?"
Been years since I was in church, but pretty sure salvation isn't going to be left up to anyone other than God. I think that's a big part of religion.

JAL said...

So many things to comment on, but here's a question -- Why even ask the question "would a [?] Rick Warren would accept the deism of Franklin? Or evenly remotely tolerate the Jefferson Bible?"

What's the assumption here? What do you mean "accept?" That Warren wouldn't talk to them? That he wouldn't welcome them to his services? [Hey -- he interviewed both John McCain and Barack Obama -- did he bite off their heads and spit them out?] Or that he wouldn't "accept them" as saved Christians in his 21st century understanding of same?

My guess is Warren is theologically astute enough, in an orthodox Christian way, to understand that deists don't accept the diety of Jesus Christ and the necessity of salvation -- ergo ....

For instance, Warren would not read from the Jefferson edited Bible in a worship service in his church. Why on earth should he?

My informed guess is that there were "Christians" in the sense of those believing in the deity of Jesus Christ, and that they were in need of salvation through Jesus Christ when the USA was founded, and some who were part of that founding. There were also deists.

So what.

As for Warren, some of you act like he is from some parallel universe --- you need to get out more. He probably knows and loves one or two people, maybe even three, who do not believe as he does.

Tertium Quid said...

Hitchens showed his condescension towards religion when he wrote a book blasting Mother Teresa.

I don't know anything about Rick Warren except that he pastors a megachurch and sells boatloads of books. Let him pray at the inauguration.

As Yakov Smirnoff says: "What a country!"

JAL said...

somefeller: ...it's that the public face of religion that's being provided at the Inauguration is Prosperity Gospel Piffle.
10:01 am



See, it's stuff like this that is just plain dumb.

Rick Warren does not preach "Prosperity Gospel." (AKA Name it and Claim It, or Blab It and Grab It)

Some of you guys needs to do some basic American religions social - anthropological homework.

Rick Warren is almost the antithesis of the Prosperity Gospel. Just google it for crying out loud before you keep making up stuff out of whole cloth.

Note: I am *not* a Rick Warren fan.

Moneyrunner said...

kynefski,

Here's the problem: There are many people, including most in the scientific community, who cannot believe. Why? I don't know.

There may be a problem with your assertion. From an essay I wrote: according to this article from Live Science, about two thirds of scientists believe in God.

The assumption is made that "real scientist" don't believe in all that "magic god fairy" stuff. Instead, they are sending probes to other planets to see if life came for outer space. I'm not kidding. They are willing to believe in space aliens, but the concept of God is ... just too nutty.

So much for atheistic scientists. The other groups that boggle my mind are those that claim with a straight face that having a prayer said in a public venue by an in-the-flesh believer establishes a religion and it unconstitutional. I mean, I know there are such people and they practice and teach law but are they this deluded in other parts of their lives?

Sarcasm aside, I read Ann's essay as an approval of religious style as long as it has no religious content. Religious cotton candy for the rubes.

Ron said...

So what.


So what? It's a big 'so what'!

If he wants to stand up and say Jefferson and Franklin (for starters among the Founders) are NOT Christians, by his standards, hey, that's all I'm askin'! Duly noted.
But if he wants Cuddle Plush Toy Religion where anyone he vaguely considers 'Christian' all share his beliefs, without any guff, that's when we cry 'foul'.

Would he then say we are a 'Christian Nation,' even if the founders were deists? If so, no complaints from this corner! But I'm betting he wants his Religious Patriotism and his Revealed Religion too, which I think Jefferson would join Hitchens in hooting at.

bobby said...

If you truly are a religious person, then anyone who doesn't share your religion is an unbeliever, a pagan, and with that one characterization has already done the worst violence and offence and disrespect they can achieve - because they've dissed your god, which, if you truly are religious, must be worse than anything they could do to you.

And yet, over the centuries, many people of many different faiths have managed to speak civilly to one another, to deal with each other daily, and to avoid the categorization of all people solely according to this one specific criteria.

If you fail to acknowledge my god, who is (obviously) the only true god, you do violence and insult to my god, and there is no worse thing you could ever do. How can we ever accept that from another? You must die.

And yet, we always have managed to accept that others have different beliefs and values, and we've all somehow managed to get along, for the most part.

Until now, though. Now, if you're on the wrong side of any of the many lines that we cultivate, there is no redemption for you, there is no point in conversing with you, and there is no longer any need to treat you as if you were worthy of the respect that we give as a matter of decency to any human being.

You may be a wonderful, friendly, open, charitable person, but if you fail to acknowledge the obvious Powers Of The Chalice Of Harvey, you are scum, and we cannot let you stand near those of us who See All and are Good.

I'm thinking it's the people who are so furiously calling for the ostracizing of everyone who fails to embrace all of their own views who need a bit of shunning.

I'm no fan of Obama's, or of Warren's, but Obama's apparent stance here - that, disagreement or no, we move forward only when we can still converse - is key to any hope of attenuating our present polarization.

SMGalbraith said...

I think it was in Witness that Whittaker Chambers, in explaining first his embrace of communism and then of God, argued that human beings need bread but also something larger than themselves to believe in.

The problem I have with atheists is how will that need - if we accept it (I do) - show up in a totally secularized nation.

I suspect it won't be much better than what we have now. In fact, I think it'll be worse.

For what it's worth, I'm an unbeliever.

Jim O'Sullivan said...

Wait a minute. Hitch agrees with evangelicals that God (sorry, god) does not hear the prayers of Jews. Then why insist that this guy repudiate his belief that Jews cannot be saved? Does Hitch contend that Jews can be saved? By whom?
Larger point: there is no received religion that Hitch can countenance at a civil ceremony like an inauguration. Why not just say that?

kynefski said...

Moneyrunner,

according to this article from Live Science, about two thirds of scientists believe in God.

I'll accept that, although it's kind of hard to confirm from the study it appears to cite.

http://religion.ssrc.org/rebiblio/Ecklund_2005/

(Apology for not knowing the HTML to make that a live link.)

They are willing to believe in space aliens...

No, they are willing to examine the possibility of extraterrestrial life. We have to be careful not to distort what is meant by "to believe in."

And the concept of God is not nutty at all. It was fundamental to establishing civilization, and we should all be grateful for it.

billo said...

God save us from bitter aging atheists. Hutchins condemns the religious beliefs of others on the basis of his own bigotry. The difference between Rick Warren and religious Jews and Hutchins and religious Jews is that Warren acknowledges that they have at least part of what he believes is the truth. Hutchens can only claim that anybody who believes other than he must be wrong -- and also proclaims that no God hears the prayers of Jews.

Alister McGrath noted it well in his book "The Twilight of Atheism," in which he notes that atheism has proved itself to be more intolerant than religious society. It is possible for a theist to believe that other faiths, while wrong, have some part of the truth, but an atheist cannot believe that a theist is correct at all.

Evangelical atheists, such as Hutchens, can only express that intolerance by complaining every time a theist expresses his or her faith in public. In Hitchen's world, faith would be a thought crime if expressed in public.

billo said...

God save us from bitter aging atheists. Hutchins condemns the religious beliefs of others on the basis of his own bigotry. The difference between Rick Warren and religious Jews and Hutchins and religious Jews is that Warren acknowledges that they have at least part of what he believes is the truth. Hutchens can only claim that anybody who believes other than he must be wrong -- and also proclaims that no God hears the prayers of Jews.

Alister McGrath noted it well in his book "The Twilight of Atheism," in which he notes that atheism has proved itself to be more intolerant than religious society. It is possible for a theist to believe that other faiths, while wrong, have some part of the truth, but an atheist cannot believe that a theist is correct at all.

Evangelical atheists, such as Hutchens, can only express that intolerance by complaining every time a theist expresses his or her faith in public. In Hitchen's world, faith would be a thought crime if expressed in public.lli

billo said...

God save us from bitter aging atheists. Hutchins condemns the religious beliefs of others on the basis of his own bigotry. The difference between Rick Warren and religious Jews and Hutchins and religious Jews is that Warren acknowledges that they have at least part of what he believes is the truth. Hutchens can only claim that anybody who believes other than he must be wrong -- and also proclaims that no God hears the prayers of Jews.

Alister McGrath noted it well in his book "The Twilight of Atheism," in which he notes that atheism has proved itself to be more intolerant than religious society. It is possible for a theist to believe that other faiths, while wrong, have some part of the truth, but an atheist cannot believe that a theist is correct at all.

Evangelical atheists, such as Hutchens, can only express that intolerance by complaining every time a theist expresses his or her faith in public. In Hitchen's world, faith would be a thought crime if expressed in public.

kynefski said...

It is possible for a theist to believe that other faiths, while wrong, have some part of the truth, but an atheist cannot believe that a theist is correct at all.

This calls to mind G.K. Chesterton: The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe, but the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle.

And Tina Beattie: At its most profound, faith is not an answer to life’s questions but a willingness to inhabit the darkness of knowing that there are some things we cannot know.

Any nonbeliever who wishes to understand the parameters of the conversation in which we are engaged needs to understand the meaning here: It is the believer, in the certainty of her belief, who stands humbly before the mysteries of the universe, and it is you, in your refusal to express such certainty, who are an arrogant son of a bitch.

traditionalguy said...

A belief in the nicene creed spoken out loud in public is a watershed event that requires a Free Speech Amendment. When I was a young man things were easier for Believers. Today silence is golden. The offense of Rick Warren is not his believing, but it is his public speaking. That is why he is a leader.

Jeff said...

A big part of the problem is Christians can still respect people who disagree with them, whereas atheists have no basis for respecting anyone. And it shows.

Of course we have different religious beliefs, but in this country we can disagree without denying others the right to believe as fits their own conscience. The USA is not like Iran or Saudi Arabia or North Korea or the old Soviet Union. And it's not atheism that has made the USA this way.

vnjagvet said...

When the question presented is not whether there may be an invocation (virtually all agree that there may) but who should give it the answer is clear:

Anyone the President selects.

Why should he not have the right to the free exercise of his religious beliefs or to exercise no religious beliefs at all?

Palladian said...

Hitchens does make a bit of room for religion in a few special cases: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Saint Pauli Girl, Bénédictine, Vin Santo...

geoffrobinson said...

Look here is the real problem.

Anything that reminds people that they are sinners and do bad things and need to be forgiven is the real problem in today's day and age. People don't want to be reminded of their guilt and they will start lashing out at anything or anyone that pokes their conscience.

Even if you aren't religious, anyone with a semblance of a clue would recognize that something is wrong with homosexual behavior. Except it has to do with sex. And don't get between anyone and their sexual proclivities.

Don't believe me on the last point? Take any normal activity. For example, eating. Now, let's assume I wanted to eat by shoving food in my ear. Because it doesn't involve sex, any normal person would realize I have some type of psychological problem. But put it into the sexual realm and everything's cool.

downtownlad said...

All Christians are bigoted scum. Who gives a fuck which Christian bigot Obama picks - they will, by definition, suck.

downtownlad said...

But if I did have to choose one preacher - the Rev. Wright would have been a good choice. He seems fairly tolerant for a Christian.

downtownlad said...

georffrobinson has never gotten a blowjob.

How fucking lame.

Moneyrunner said...

kynefski,

I understand your incredulity about the religious beliefs of “scientists.” We have all been told endlessly by the media (a notably non-religious bunch) that smart, educated people don’t believe in God and that scientists especially know that there is no God. So I was as surprised as you were by the poll results.

My comment about space aliens was hyperbole, although a few seconds on Google found THIS from the BBC and THIS from redOrbit

Many scientists refuse to believe that humans are alone, given the 200 billion stars in our galaxy.
Scientists like Seth Shostack not only believe that other intelligent life forms exist on other planets, but that their civilizations have advanced enough through evolution that they would be able to transmit radio messages.
“To think 'hey, look man, this is the only place where there's anything interesting happening'; I mean you've gotta be really audacious to take that point of view," Shostack said.


My reference to belief in God as a nutty idea was not mine. I was reflecting the comments of the atheists among us who are willing to believe just about anything but the existence of God. As we can see from this post, militant atheists are among the most intolerant people in the world.

Andrea said...

Kynefski: Any nonbeliever who wishes to understand the parameters of the conversation in which we are engaged needs to understand the meaning here: It is the believer, in the certainty of her belief, who stands humbly before the mysteries of the universe, and it is you, in your refusal to express such certainty, who are an arrogant son of a bitch.

Mm. Not quite. Most religions posit that somebody...i.e., God... does know all the answers, but that the believer is less than God and therefore cannot know everything. It's humility of a sort, but it's a humility toward God, not toward the natural world. I'm inclined to see it as viewing the natural as flawed simply because of its knowability, and thirsting after the unknowable.

As an agnostic and a scientist, my position is that everything in the Universe is theoretically knowable, but probably isn't knowable in practice. We're limited beings, and we're working only with the evidence available to us. However, that's no excuse for not giving it the old college try. Take Moneyrunner's extraterrestrial-life example. Alien life might or might not exist, but no matter what, it's knowable through scientific approaches. So, why not take a look?

However, the proofs that most people report for deities are just not the kind of thing that the scientific method can get a grip on. I prefer to keep myself open to further evidence, which is why I'm an agnostic rather than an atheist. However, without either a spiritual tap on the shoulder (which I've never gotten) nor any objective indications of the divine, I don't have much to work with.

Wahrlicht said...

"My reference to belief in God as a nutty idea was not mine. I was reflecting the comments of the atheists among us who are willing to believe just about anything but the existence of God."

Hmm.. no, speaking as an athiest (what in the heck is a "militant atheist" given the onslaught of religiosity in this country-- check the change in your pocket if you don't believe me, most athiesm is at best a polite cough in the back of the room suggesting that just perhaps belief in the supernatural just doesn't make much sense) I don't believe in unicorns, pixie dust, angels, unlucky black cats, dudes walking on water, flying horses, aferlifes, purgatory, curses, Santa Claus, virgin birth, the tooth fairy... it really comes down to I don't believe in magic in any form. And I'm not willing to order my life around it and get irked when others want me to accept "on faith" things that they would never agree to "on faith" in other contexts. (fairies, Santa Claus, unicorns, 16 year old daughter got pregnant by virgin birth) Just because the fairy tales have been around for 2000 years doesn't make them true. So yes, I get irked when a two bit charlatan like Rick Warren does a magical incantation over the investing of the most powerful man on earth. But mention that you're irked and you're "intolerant." Question the most fantastic religious proclomation and you're "not respecting religion." (had a woman in a store yesterday tell me that she dropped her hat off the boat and the boat behind her found it and brought it to her. A happy coincidence? No... God helped her get her hat back! Must...slap...forehead...hard) After the enlightenment hundreds of years ago, it's sad that well-educated people in the midst of the biggest information explosion the world has ever seen willingly hold fast to magic. I will not apologize for defending as much of the secular tradition of this country as possible and it boggles the mind that I and others who do so are called "militant" when those who cling to contradictory, magical, selectively interpreted dogmas are considered "mainstream." Sigh...

Wahrlicht said...

"A big part of the problem is Christians can still respect people who disagree with them, whereas atheists have no basis for respecting anyone. And it shows.

Of course we have different religious beliefs, but in this country we can disagree without denying others the right to believe as fits their own conscience. The USA is not like Iran or Saudi Arabia or North Korea or the old Soviet Union. And it's not atheism that has made the USA this way."

So the US is tolerant because of messianic Christianity... umm OK... lets take your examples.. Saudi Arabia-- intolerant because of state sponsored religion. Soviet Union-- religion of the state replaces religion. North Korea, religion of the state replaces religion to the point that it has a trinity-- Kim Il Sung (father) Kim Jong Il (son) Juche (spirit)
Frankly the US is tolerant precisely because people stopped really believing the bible (if you doubt me, read the book by the guy who lives the bible for a year) Tolerance came once we tacitly allowed that maybe the book wasn't really the word of God and lived accordingly. Before that we were puritans. Personally, I'd like to be free to not belive in magic or the state and to furthermore be free from persistent attempts to prostoletize. (I shudder for the children I saw in a restaunt yesterday who had bible toy figurines)
It can be hard to generate sincere respect for people who don't really live by the book they claim to really live by but nonetheless put it forward as a basis for ordering society. Just sayin.

kynefski said...

A big part of the problem is Christians can still respect people who disagree with them, whereas atheists have no basis for respecting anyone. And it shows.

(This is God speaking.)
Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Now, either you believe that or you don't.

If you don't, then you must think that the great commission is all carrot and no stick, and chances are that your ancestors would not recognize you as Christian. (Mine wouldn't.)

If you do, then please don't preach to me of respect.

billo said...

"So the US is tolerant because of messianic Christianity... umm OK..."

Heh. You do realize, of course, that two of your three examples are of atheist states and the third is non-Christian. Yep. That's quite an indictment of Christianity.

If you want to look at the more horrible examples of mass inhumanity to man in the modern world, don't look to Christianity. Look to atheist states. The rational view towards life advocated by evangelical atheists is what brought us such great examples as the Reign of Terror, The Killing Fields, The Holocaust, The Great Revolution, and the Gulags.

Christianity's belief, particularly Protestant Christiantity's belief, in the relationship between God and man is the basis for the view we have of individual rights. We Christians believe that rights are given to us by our Creator. Atheists cannot believe that, and the lack of that transcendent view of individual rights, once it devolves (as it always does) into some sort of utilitarian hogwash, results in the abuses so characteristic of atheistic states.

billo said...

"Frankly the US is tolerant precisely because people stopped really believing the bible..."

Wahrlicht, here's a homework question for you. Who first penned the phrase "government of the people, by the people, and for the people", where, and why? What was the whole sentence?

Wahrlicht said...

Hi Billo...

"Heh. You do realize, of course, that two of your three examples are of atheist states and the third is non-Christian. Yep. That's quite an indictment of Christianity."

I absolutely understand that. My point is that in these states, the state became a religion. That's not atheism.

"If you want to look at the more horrible examples of mass inhumanity to man in the modern world, don't look to Christianity. Look to atheist states. The rational view towards life advocated by evangelical atheists is what brought us such great examples as the Reign of Terror, The Killing Fields, The Holocaust, The Great Revolution, and the Gulags."
Ok.. explain to me what part of the Nazis' dogma was atheistic? Replacing mainstream Christianity (which by the way, pretty much lined up behind the Nazis in Germany and the record in Rome wasn't all that laudatory either)with Teutonic gods does not atheism make. As to the communist examples, see my thesis regarding the state attempting to replace religion... every wonder why those Mayday parades were so elaborate? Masses like their opium in whatever form it takes... Frankly, spare me all the pomp be it for the state or the church...

"Christianity's belief, particularly Protestant Christiantity's belief, in the relationship between God and man is the basis for the view we have of individual rights. We Christians believe that rights are given to us by our Creator."

So this all-mighty, omniscient cloud being said-- yep, the good old US of A should have all these great rights, but the people in other "god-fearing" countrys can go F themselves... where is the logic in that? I'll grant that Christianity helped to lead us to our current core values but just because some political form or idea worked in the past (ex. shaman, clan chiefs, kings) doesn't mean it makes sense now.

"Atheists cannot believe that, and the lack of that transcendent view of individual rights, once it devolves (as it always does) into some sort of utilitarian hogwash, results in the abuses so characteristic of atheistic states."
Meh... show me a truly "athesistic state" and then we can talk. Meanwhile, tell me all about Saudi Arabia's transcendent view of individual rights. Or pick another "religious state" And remember, ours isn't one (yet)

Wahrlicht said...

"Frankly the US is tolerant precisely because people stopped really believing the bible..."

Wahrlicht, here's a homework question for you. Who first penned the phrase "government of the people, by the people, and for the people", where, and why? What was the whole sentence?

Lincoln, and? I'll grant you that by allowing slavery to persist during his presidency, Lincoln was
in keeping with the general tolerance of the bible for slavery, but I fail to see the point...

I'll repeat my original argument that pretty much noone in this country really lives by the bible or would even want to. (Leviticus! Please!) Reading it very selectively, one can find some guidance for life (though I always laugh at weddings because there are really only 2 or 3 romantic passages in the whole thing-- a lot of smiting though by a jealous and petty god) I guess.. but there is little in it that was really new (try reading some Joseph Campbell-- floods, virgin births, walking on water, resurrections... old news by the time of the bible)

If Rome had never picked up Christianity, and used its power and influence to spread it we'd be arguing about Judaism.

cheers!

geoffrobinson said...

Unfortunately, man is inherently religious and will always replace belief in God with another god, be it Barack Obama, the state, or oneself. So by that standard, there are no atheists and no example of atheism or an atheist state could be given.

Wahrlicht said...

"Unfortunately, man is inherently religious and will always replace belief in God with another god, be it Barack Obama, the state, or oneself. So by that standard, there are no atheists and no example of atheism or an atheist state could be given."

OK... so why don't we just go with a "religion" of enlightened rationality, science and just being OK with not having all answers to all questions yet and give up on all the mysticism? Atheist-- not beliving in supernatural forms of magic and not thinking of any societal form-- be it Barak Obama, the state, or the self in a magical way-- it can be done...

billo said...

"Lincoln, and? I'll grant you that by allowing slavery to persist during his presidency, Lincoln was
in keeping with the general tolerance of the bible for slavery, but I fail to see the point..."


No, the first person who wrote that was John Wycliffe on his translation of the Bible into English (for which he was burned), 500 years before Lincoln. The statement was "This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

As one of the fathers of the Reformation, he helped establish the belief that the fundamental principle of government was self-government of the godly man, because God's relationship with man was individual and provided that man with certain rights that transcended any government.

And because Western atheists choose to be willfully ignorant of where they get their ideas about what is "rational" about morality, they have no idea why they believe what they do. That's one of the most laughable things about evangelical atheist attacks on Christianity. Their primary complaint about Christians is that we don't hold closely enough the idealized Protestant ethic that they have received and internalized without significant question.

"OK... so why don't we just go with a "religion" of enlightened rationality, science and just being OK with not having all answers to all questions yet and give up on all the mysticism?"

Because there's no there there. Once people really try it, they find it out fast. Their morality degenerates into faux utilitarianism, and their "rationality" into irrationality. Atheist societies all follow the same pattern, and end up as hells. You might as well ask "Why can't everybody be a pacifist?" The answer is because some folk will choose not to, and will enslave the ones who do. And all the wishful thinking in the world won't change it -- nor will it make an atheistic utopia possible.

billo said...

"Meh... show me a truly "athesistic state" and then we can talk. Meanwhile, tell me all about Saudi Arabia's transcendent view of individual rights. Or pick another "religious state" And remember, ours isn't one (yet)"

That's the old Communist argument. Communism inevitable turns a nation into a hellhole, and communists always claim it's not communism that's bad, it's just not done right. The "perfect" communist state will be "perfect." Your argument for the atheist state falls into the same trap. If your perfect atheist state relies on perfect implementation, then hell is all you have in front of you.

I'll stick with the Christian ethic; with all its faults, it's done us pretty good.

Meanwhile, I'm a Christian apologist, not a Moslem one. I have no interest in defending extrememe Islam. And if you are so ignorant of your history of philosophy that you don't know the difference between the evolution of Christian and Islamic traditions in the past half a millenium, then you need to get to work.

And while it is not a religious state, those who want to deny the religious *foundation* of the state and the religious *basis* for our ideas about liberty and equality, do so at their peril.

Wahrlicht said...

"Because there's no there there. Once people really try it, they find it out fast. Their morality degenerates into faux utilitarianism, and their "rationality" into irrationality. Atheist societies all follow the same pattern, and end up as hells."

So is the vast majority of Western Europe (which is predominantly athiest, agnotsic or at least unchurched) a hell-hole? (besides their growing problems with religious extremism) People have been saying if you don't bow to (insert god here) at least (insert number of times here) per day, you're going to be morality free since the first person figured out that "hey, this religion thing really gives me a lot of power over my fellow people"

I don't question that we have a religious history for better and for worse. I do question (though not in an evangelical way... what does that mean? I could care less if people continue to believe in whatever they believe in-- crystals, Thor, pentacostalism you name it, I may think they're completely wasting their time but hey, as long as they aren't hurting anyone and don't have their fingers on the nuclear trigger) the desirability of continuing to order society around belief in magic.

Think about it this way. England has a royal family. England has had a royal family for a long time. A lot of England's history is tied up in various royal families. Does that mean that the royal family should be and continue to be an organizing force in UK society? Heritage is not destiny.

Christian not Muslim apologist... sorry, its a little too convenient to say "well, my fantastical magic figure is real and good (overlooking all in the bible that he does that is pretty reprehensible) and every other fantastical magic figure is unreal. They're on your team since there's really no way to prove your beliefs or disprove theirs. (Hey, don't feel bad, we get Stalin and Mao.)

The problem with militant Islam is that they really belive the book. With all of its (pretty typical) end of the world fantasies, I'm glad that most people don't really believe the bible.

"And while it is not a religious state, those who want to deny the religious *foundation* of the state and the religious *basis* for our ideas about liberty and equality, do so at their peril."

Don't deny it in the least, we did the best we could with the information we had at the time. Thanks to hundreds of years post-enlightenment we can do better... why don't we?

Johnny1A said...

Wahrlicht wrote:


"So is the vast majority of Western Europe (which is predominantly athiest, agnotsic or at least unchurched) a hell-hole?"

No, it's simply dying.

Western Europe (and much of the rest of the developed world) operates under fertility rates that are substantially below replacement. America is the partial exception.

Those low fertility rates are long-term (meaning on a scale of decades, not centuries) poison. The last time I looked, for ex, Spain had a fertility rate of about 1.25, and the necessary fertility rate to maintain population, neglecting immigration and emigration, is 2.10 or so.

Spain is not the exception, it's just a slightly more intense version of the rule.

There's something not working right in modern post-Enlightenment Western culture, something that's undercutting its self-confidence and desire to endure, and Western Europe is the examplar of what's gone wrong. WE is a very pleasant place to live, for now, but if they don't change course they're going toward a massive failure state down the road.

Western Europe are the horrible example to be avoided.

Dr William Harwood said...

The most acceptable person to give a brief pastoral statement at President Obama's inauguration would be Paul Kurtz, since he would make a point of not offending either America's 100 million nontheists by invoking an imaginary Sky Fuhrer, or its 200 million theists by telling them (at an inappropriate time) that they ar wrong.