Honor and Duty

They go where they are sent and do what is necessary, so the rest of us don’t have to.  That’s the idea, anyway.  Sometimes they get sent places they shouldn’t be and told to do things that shouldn’t be done, but that’s not their call.  They have promised to be a shield, to stand between us and the dark places.  It’s our job to know where the dark places are and how much a threat they pose.

It’s our duty to use them wisely so that their honor is our honor.  When it goes well, they return, those that do, and they are admired and we take a collective pride in the job, the sacrifice, the honor which their actions transfer to us.

Sometimes we get it wrong and they come back having broken things and having been broken.

We should never blame them or repudiate them or make them feel they are somehow responsible for our lack of judgment.  When they come back from a bad job, one that was poorly chosen and badly planned, the only thing we need to remember is that any shame is entirely on us.  They get to keep their honor.

I am not a sentimentalist about war.  The world is filled with ugliness and it must be dealt with.  Doing so is not noble work, but those who willing go to do it are themselves noble for the sacrifice.  It’s work no one should have to do.  It is damaging.  It changes people.

I am not a romantic about military service.  It is something that ought not to be needful.

I am a realist.  No one should be made to suffer from someone else’s inability to sustain sentiment or the illusions of romantic mythologizing.

Ugliness and brutality are like cancers and they have to be treated.  Sometimes those who go in to do the surgery get infected with it.  That can’t be helped.  They deserve our support and our help.  They deserve not to be cast aside or forgotten because we are ashamed or embarrassed.  We sent them and if it was to the wrong place for the wrong reason, we should not treat them as if they had the responsibility to say no to us.  They volunteered to do this job, to go where we tell them to go, and do what we tell them to do.

It is therefore our duty to understand before we act, to know the world, to comprehend, to inform ourselves, to take the responsibility seriously and in hand so we do nothing that will compromise their honor in our eyes.

Their honor stands when we get it wrong.  We must remember this and behave accordingly.

It’s Memorial Day.  Remember them.  Remember their sacrifice.  And never, ever blame them for our mistakes.


For Those Who Think I Have No Problems With Mr. Obama

This is an article by journalist Christopher Hedges about a historic court case just recently which overturned an egregious and unconstitutional provision of the Defense Authorization Act with which I and anyone with a clue about the nature of abuse of power in this country have had a deep concern since it was initially enacted under President Bush.  I bristled when it was originally enacted, but quite frankly I was unsurprised at the time.

What offended me was Obama’s reauthorization.  Mr. Obama is a constitutional historian.  He should know better.  Section 1012 of the NDAA effectively suspends habeus corpus.  It is as unAmerican as it is possible to get and still claim rule of law.

The kicker apparently was during the hearings when the judge, Katherine Forrest, repeatedly asked the government lawyers if they could guarantee that the plaintiffs in this case would not be arrested and detained after the trial.  She asked five times and five times they refused to offer guarantees.  They could not under the act, since apparently writing or speaking in a certain way can be construed as prosecutable under this law.

The fundamental right of an American to think, read, say, or write whatever he or she wants is foundational to our freedoms.  It is stunning that a president as well-versed in constitutional law as Obama could possibly regard this right as optional.

Mr. Bush was an expert in nothing other than getting elected.  His vice president, however, should have known better, but was apparently seized by a fit of Us vs. Them McCarthyism.

I voted for Obama to see the bone-headed practices of the Bush regime overturned, not to see practices continued because, supposedly, they only concerned assumed enemies.

I will likely vote for Mr. Obama in November, but only because I have less patience with the current GOP program.  But that does not mean I think he walks on water.  Indeed, there are many aspects of Mr. Obama’s administration with which I have serious reservations.

But let me be clear—I have policy issues with him.  I don’t give a damn where he spends his Christmas vacation or where he went to school as a youngster.  I could care less that he attended a firebreathing church (christian, btw) where the black preacher unleashed anti-white venom.  Who he associated with in Chicago as an up-and-coming activist doesn’t bother me a bit—I hung out with all manner of varied intellectual bohemian as a youth and I’m fairly certain I can think for myself.  Charges that Mr. Obama is a Muslim or isn’t an American citizen I find infantile nonsense.  (Even if he were a Muslim, so what?  This is America—one’s religion is irrelevant to one’s suitability to public office.)

None of that matters.  What matters is policy.  Reauthorizing this act, especially that part of it, is not policy I can support.  I don’t understand why he did it and I am delighted it has been overturned.

I really do wish people would understand, especially people who all but worshiped Bush and Reagan: the president may be the most powerful person on the planet, leader of the free world and all that, but he is still just an employee.  The president works for me.  I judge him on the merits of the job he does, not on the mythic proportions of what I think he represents.  I am proud to be an American, I don’t need to draw my pride from an elected official.  It would have been nice if all those flag-addled lapel-pin patriots who backed W. had treated him for what he was—an employee.  I tried to fire him once, in 2004, and some folks thought I was unpatriotic for doing so.  But he wasn’t doing the job well.  He wasn’t looking out for my interests.  Or, for that matter, the country’s.

I feel the same about Mr. Obama and this particular bit of nastiness.  I hope he chooses not to appeal this decision.  He would be doing the job I elected him to do then.  Not as well as I would like—it would have pleased me better to see this nonsense excised to begin with—but at least better.

Should the World End…

…give me a call.  I’m halfway through the current draft of a novel I would like to finish by month’s end (not likely) so I probably won’t be posting much if anything here.  Meantime a couple of new images so you have something cool to see when you drop by.


Brief Comment About Debt and Taxes

This won’t take long.  I do not intend to put up links or post graphs and charts or cite stats (at least, not much).  This is just a short post to make what ought to be an obvious observation but seems to get no traction in the political discourse.

Washington is once more gearing up for a Debt Ceiling Showdown.  According to the president, we’re going to have to borrow some more money before year’s end, which will require raising the limit on what we may borrow—again.  Speaker of the House Boehner has once more drawn a line in the check register and declared “No further!”  What will follow we have seen before.


Just a couple of points:  both sides in this are correct.  The president and his financial advisers are right, we cannot afford to stop spending or the economy will stall out and things will get worse.  This is a true statement.

As far as it goes.

Boehner and the deficit hawks are also right: whether we like it or not, there does come a point at which it is absolutely true to say “We can’t afford it anymore!”  In recent years, that point has been taken as some large percentage of GDP.

The United States is in some ways like a homeowner who has mortgaged close to 100% of the equity in his house and has suddenly been told he has to take a pay cut.  Depending on the good will of friends, neighbors, and lenders, he may well keep his house and at some point start paying down on the debts, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s gotten himself into a very fragile situation.

Now, the comparison is not precise, but we’re simplifying here.  After all, the homeowner usually doesn’t have a factory in his basement (or a contractor doing the same thing) making things the homeowner can sell—like military hardware and the like—but for our purposes, the similarity will do.

National debate over this issue has been centered on two aspects.  Spending and taxes.

One side says we’re spending too much and need to cut back.  The other says we really need to do something about all those rich people who aren’t paying their fair share of taxes.

Again, both of these points are true—and both are more or less irrelevant.

(Time out for a side comment on this tax thing.  National dialogue is a clumsy beast and the reality of situations often gets buried in the bluster.  Taxes are worse than other subjects, but not by much.  Here is a little fact: when people talk about taxes, no matter which side they’re coming from, they don’t talk about all of them.  On the one hand, the accusation that the wealthy do not pay their fair share is by and large aimed at federal taxes.  And in this the accusation is accurate—no, really, wealthy people and corporations pay very expensive tax lawyers to find loopholes and they do, or they would lose their cushy jobs.  But also, at a certain level, there is no longer such a thing as an American Corporation anymore.  They are multinationals, which means they disperse their holdings across borders, and by shifting things around they avoid taxes.  A lot of taxes, not just American taxes.  But for a lot of people who are well off but not in the 8 and 9 figure club, when they hear that they aren’t paying their “fair share” they quite correctly go ballistic because such accusations almost never take into account state and local taxes, which can in some instances add up to well over 50% of income.  But nationally we’re focused on federal taxes, not ALL taxes. )

(Oh, and the point about corporations being multinationals?  That’s not a tax problem as such.  That’s a problem of jurisdiction.  But never mind that for now.)

I say irrelevant, because, as noted before, to stop spending would be to throw a sequoia in the road to recovery.  Like it or not, federal spending is keeping a lot of business going and a lot of people employed.  When you cut spending, you fire people.  Unless there are private sector jobs that are not tied to government contracts available to rehire them, they turn into the Unemployed (which is becoming like Zombie status these days—once bitten, you’re dead but you still need to eat).  We keep forgetting that roughly half (or more) of government “spending” is payroll and related benefits.

As for taxing the rich, the simple fact is that we could tax them dry and not make up the shortfall.  Focusing on the rich, while in some ways pertinent to our sense of national betrayal and certainly a symptom of the problem, is simply a way of ducking the real problem.

The real problem?

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to cite stats, at least not much, so I beg your pardon for a moment of numbers.  We are also focused like lasers on the Unemployment Rate.

How many of you believe this reflects anything valid?

I said valid, not real.  It certainly does reflect something real, but not what most people seem to think it does, and certainly not what the government pretends it does.

All it reflects is the number of people drawing unemployment compensation as a percentage of the number of people still employed.  It says nothing at all about the people who have exhausted their benefits, fallen off the rolls, and still aren’t employed.

Which number do you think is more relevant?

Here’s where it gets sticky.  If they are no longer drawing public benefits, technically they aren’t a burden, so who cares?  We assume they have found a way to get by.  (Never mind those homeless folks over there.)  Households have increased their residents, adult children have moved back in with parents, parents have moved in with adult children, friends take in friends, etc etc.  So they cost us nothing.  Right?

No, wrong.  They cost us taxes.  If you want to know where the revenue shortfall has come from over the last three decades, it is there, in that growing number of more or less permanently un- and under-employed Americans who lost their jobs, many of them at one time good paying, and have not paid taxes since, because, well, they have no income.

The last time I checked the number was hovering just under sixty million.*

I don’t see anyone talking about that, not directly.  Everyone wants to get the unemployment rate down, as if that means anything to the problem at hand.

Reagan slashed taxes and increased spending.  Except for a brief few years under Clinton, the imbalance created by that has accumulated into the problem we now have.  It’s a thirty-year accrual of debt and hence when I say we can’t tax rich people enough to make up for it, that’s what I mean.

Cutting spending, however, will only increase the unemployment numbers and eventually add to the growing population of permanently unemployed, whose inability to pay normal tax rates has resulted in this current shortfall.  Which shortfall will remain a problem until we can do something about all those unemployed.

Now, the canard that these are lazy people who don’t want to work just won’t wash.  These are people who did work, many of them in well-paying jobs.  Why would they want to lose everything?  It’s absurd.  This is a myth.  To put it bluntly, it’s bullshit.  Have you ever considered how much work it is for someone to take a grocery cart around and fish aluminum out of trash, all day, every day, for pocket money?  But these are the people we don’t see and work we don’t credit.  As the saying goes, a ditch digger works his ass off, burns more calories, goes home worn out, and gets paid a damn sight less than someone pushing paper around a desk for other people.

So why aren’t they working?

Well, that is one of the reasons the rich are getting richer.  It’s systemic.  Jobs have gone overseas, industries have collapsed, communities have been sucked dry to make bottomlines for shareholders without regard to the people doing the actual work.  No one intends anything bad, no one purposefully plans to impoverish their fellows, but this is the way money works in this country, and any attempt to change it is met with ferocious opposition even as we see the inevitable consequences.  It is the worst sort of moral inertia.

But no one in Washington is talking about it that way.  Both sides have valid points—we cannot afford to cut spending and we cannot afford to keep going as we are—and both sides are ignoring the real issue.

You may return now to your regular illusions.


* Lets do some quick and sloppy arithmetic over this, shall we?  Sixty million people earning on average, say, $30,000 a year.  That’s 1.8 trillion dollars.  Now, at, say, 25% taxes, that’s 162 billion a year, over 3 decades?  That’s 48.6 trillion dollars, which is six times the national debt.  Now, I grant you, these calculations are way too loose, but not so loose as to not be in the ball park and show where the “real problem” is.

Devaluing Fame In Missouri

”Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society. ”

”They oughta change Black History Month to Black Progress Month and start measuring it.”

”We’re not sexists, we’re chauvinists — we’re male chauvinist pigs, and we’re happy to be because we think that’s what men were destined to be. We think that’s what women want. ”

”The only way to reduce the number of nuclear weapons is to use them. ”

Anyone care to guess who said all of the above?

Yes, I’m cherry-picking, I admit it.  Still, it’s not that difficult a question.  Who said all that?

You in the middle there, yes ma’am?  Absolutely.

Rush Limbaugh.

Our most recent addition to the Missouri Hall of Fame.  In a move that ought to garner rage from any fair-minded person, Steven Tilley, the speaker of the house of the Missouri Legislature, has shoehorned the talk show host into the pantheon of famous Missourians.  Here is a fairly benign article on the ceremony.

At an event I attended last night (Sticks’n’Stones: Sluts Talk Back) Representative Stacy Newman explained to a packed audience at Left Bank Book’s downtown store how this was done in the absence of debate and in the face of an avalanche of petitions in opposition.  A cadre of state police was called in to make sure the public—as well as Democratic members of the legislature—were kept out of the ceremony.

Now, I don’t care what you think of Rush.  The way this was handled violated any definition of fair play.  I know, I know, fair play is for sissies.  “Lib’rals” bitch about fair play.  Pansy-assed social progressives worry over fairness.

Maybe.  But, minor though this may be in the greater scheme of things, this is an example of abuse of power.  Speaker Tilley is a political bully.

Just to be completely up front about this, personally, I think Rush Limbaugh is a bloviating gasbag of unparalleled bad taste and hypocrisy.  Mr. “we should imprison all drug addicts, except me, of course, because I am a staunch advocate of stricter law enforcement even if I am addicted to pain killers” Limbaugh has been given a megaphone with which to hold forth on anything he finds despicable.  The above quotes are a sample.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I worked for a man who practically worshiped the ground upon which Rush trod and I was required to listen to this man day after day—my boss, yes, but his deity as well, Rush—and after a few years I could not understand what there was to respect.  Rush’s entire schtick is based on derision and hate.  Logic for him is a category on Jeopardy, not something to practice, and truth is coincidental to ideology.  He wanted it both ways—he was a “tireless champion of truth” until he was caught flatfooted in misrepresentations, at which time he was “just an entertainer, folks.”  I mention this to establish that I’ve done my time listening to the mouth that roared (yeah, I know, that was supposed to be Morton Downey, Jr. but he’s gone and Rush has usurped his place) and was on hand when even G. Gordon Liddy called him on his obsession over the White House suicide of Vince Foster.

I have zero respect for Rush Limbaugh.  He made one good joke in his career, and that was on his short-lived television show where he had installed an “environmentally responsible fireplace”—a tv monitor with a video of a blazing hearth.  That was cute.  All that followed has been hateful jeremiads against people of compassion, of thoughtfulness, of moral principle, of character, and of competence.  He’s a shill for those who want nothing more than to tear things down so they can sell the scrap and buy a new chateau somewhere.

He now has a bust in our state capitol.  I am infuriated.  Yeah, I suppose technically he’s famous.  But so is Sterling Price and I don’t see him in that line-up.

I would like to see Mr. Tilley lose his seat over this—among other things.  Limbaugh is no kind of role model for anyone and to see his divisive attacks validated in this way is insulting, at least to me.  However, I won’t hold my breath.  I am very well aware that there are many who think I’m some kind of unAmerican ingrate for opinions like this.  So be it.  This is America and they are absolutely entitled to their view.  It may even be that in their view Limbaugh legitimately belongs in the Hall of Famous Missourians, along with Samuel Clemens, Josephine Baker, Harry Truman, Omar Bradley, and many others.

But if so, then his admission ought to have been done the way all the rest were, openly and with debate and the consent of the full House, not by gim-crack autocratic procedural maneuvers and then in a close-door ceremony as if Limbaugh were someone to be ashamed of.

Enough Is E #$%*& Nuff

Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona has apparently signed a bill into law that allows employers to interrogate their female employees about their sex lives.

Details, as far as I’m concerned, are not as important as one overriding principle:

When I work for someone, they pay me for the work I do and THAT IS ALL. This should not be controversial in the least. If health insurance is part of my compensation for the work I do while I am engaged in work for said employer, it is none of that employer’s business what I do with it. The employer does not own any other part of my life or my time.

As an employer (and I have been in a manager position in the past, responsible for hiring and firing) I don’t care if someone goes to a Black Mass on weekends and participates in Crisco-soaked orgies, as long as when they show up on Monday to do the job I hired them to do they look presentable and do their job competently. It would be none of my business.

Just as it would be none of my business if they attended some little whacked out fringe church that preached the End Times and that Obama is the antichrist and on their own time handed out petitions to shut down Planned Parenthood. That is none of my business.

So if on Friday an employee went home, dressed in leather, and went to an S & M club, whipped people black-and-blue while masturbating with an oversized dildo, as long as she (or he) came in Monday ready to do the job for which they have been hired, IT IS NONE OF MY FUCKING BUSINESS WHAT THEY DID ON THE WEEKEND!

An employer does not own any part of his or her employees’ life and they are only leasing the 40 or so hours a week during which they are working.


Sorry for the shouting.

But the next time some pinhead rightwing do-gooder disingenuously questions you as to “what war on women? I don’t know what you’re talking about” point to this. Among others. This is directed at women, since men, as far as I know, represent no significant part of health insurance expenditure for contraception.

And ask that man how he might feel if his boss asks him, “So, Dick, I see you only have two kids. You’ve been married 12 years, though. Aren’t you fucking your wife? I only ask because we’re a family values organization…”

Bill Donahue and Lawful Bigotry

I don’t care much for Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. I find him a throwback, a kneejerk bigot who opens his mouth and everything I find insupportable about politicized religion comes out. That said, I also find him refreshing, in that he usually always says exactly what he means and does not equivocate in order make political points with tepid constituencies. For instance:

That last bit is what I find useful. He wants the law to discriminate against lifestyles with which he disagrees. He has a list. He tells it out with no frills, no conditional language, no soft-pedaling. Bravo, Mr. Donahue, and thank you. It is always best to know where you stand with your opponents.

He wants the law to discriminate not only against gay marriage, but against cohabitation, probably line marriage, multi-partner marriage, any variation on the good ol’ fashion way grandma and grandpa did that he thinks is disgusting.

To which I can only say, with deep sincerity: fuck you, Mr. Donahue. It’s not your call. These are not your lives to dictate to. This is not your choice to impose. We went through a cultural revolution—it was messy, a lot of it was stupid and ill-conceived, some of it was hurtful—to get out from under exactly that kind of puritanical myopia and take away the ability of the state or anyone else to exercise legal prejudice against people for being together in ways you look at and go “Ewww!” Fuck you. This is my life, my choice, not yours, not the state’s, no one’s. Mine. Ours.

He talks about the “gold standard” and starts citing the sociological data to back up the claim that children thrive with a traditional marriage. Here he is being a bit disingenuous. Children thrive in families predicated on such standards when several other conditions are also met, and which now social science is beginning to understand that it is those conditions that are more important than the particular arrangement of component parts. Children do not thrive in “broken” marriages, but neither do they thrive in dysfunctional marriages. It’s a simple question—which is better for a child, a “traditional” marriage in which daddy beats the shit out of mommy on a regular basis or that same child in a single parent home where it is loved, protected, and nurtured? And of course, it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic—indifference is destructive, though less measurable. Even if the preferred format is met and adhered to, if the love and nurture are withheld, is that not detrimental? It’s not one man one woman and voila the child grows up happy and well-adjusted!

He forgets that one of the most powerful mitigating factors in such equations is the community in which a marriage exists. If the community approves and grants its support, all may be well. If the community, for whatever reason, turns on that couple, they will suffer, their marriage will suffer, and the children will suffer. Intolerance is one of the strongest countervailing elements in the potential destruction of a family unit, and it doesn’t even have to be an “alternative” family to suffer it, just different.

No one should have to be reminded that it was not so long ago that it was illegal in this country for members of different races, specifically blacks and whites, to get married, even if they were of the requisite genders. Many such marriages that took place after it became legal failed because of external pressures—disapproval. There is no magic formula for a marriage.

One major ingredient, though—love. And it never ceases to amaze me how many self-professed christians seem to have no use for love that does not conform to their prejudices.

(Nor does it cease to amuse me how often I will hear apologists claim that “those aren’t real christians.” I know what they mean, but let us be honest here—real or not, the bigotry is taught in the name of the same faith. Where do they get it from? They will proudly tell you—the Bible. The tactics of exclusion fail to inoculate those who think themselves “true” christians from the taint of those who aren’t when both draw their lessons from the same well. Perhaps some interpret the lessons incorrectly, but the lesson is nevertheless there to be misinterpreted.)

But I am glad of Bill Donahue, because he does speak his mind. He is clear and unequivocal and I can point to his words and say “That is what I do not want in this country.” I don’t want to live that way. I do not live that way. We forget that America is supposed to be where you can live as you choose without fear at our peril.

But, yeah, Bill, the president did have to wriggle about this. Because there are a lot of people who think like you and lot more who sit the fence. Because people are concerned with how they might appear to their friends if they speak their hearts and a lot of people who will bully them into submission for “outrageous” opinions. Because public opinion is a fickle bitch and any politician who blithely ignores it does so at risk of career. The pragmatics of politics make liars of all of them, left or right, depending on the issue. But he’s done a bold and gutsy thing now and he may go down in flames for it. That and other things.

Marriage is two distinct things these days, in the West. It is a codification of a relationship based on traditions and community feelings. For many, it is a sacred act, between themselves and their god.

But it is also an economic arrangement, a complex comingling of estates and responsibilities made simple through the expedient conjoining of ritual and contract law. Whether people wish to admit it or not, these are separate things, and this second aspect is by far the more impactful because it determines how you will shape your future together within this community. There are combined over 1500 laws, both state and federal, defining rights, responsibilities, and benefits that accrue to marriage. It is very much a contract.

And while two people don’t have to indulge a “traditional” religious marriage in order to be legally married, churches do have to adhere to the law in order for their ceremonies to be legally binding. So let’s not kid ourselves about what’s going on here. Getting married is a gamble. Love is not always forever (nor, actually, do I think it ever was or should be in all instances) and yet we have to make our homes within a community of laws. Barring people from the protections of the law because they don’t meet a religious qualification is supposed to be wrong in this country.

Anyway, kudos to Mr. Obama. And again, thank you, Mr. Donahue—I like to know who I’m disagreeing with and exactly why.

Preferred Position

I really like Neil deGrasse Tyson.  He’s my kinda scientist and he speaks well.  Please watch the entire video before continuing with my little bit.

Okay, there’s a lot in that with which I agree.  In fact, he gets to my preferred stance on the whole issue, that I would rather not have to deal with the categories and all the rhetorically inevitable garbage that comes with them.  The problem is that most people actually won’t let you do that.

If I am asked honestly about my thoughts on whether or not there is a god, my answer is usually predetermined, not by me but by the person asking the question.  You can pick this up from context, from body language, from tone of voice, from a hundred small cues that accumulate into the preferred position of the asker.  And while there are many permutations, and shades of gray, it usually—not always, but usually—comes down to two formats.

There are those, few though they may be, who are honestly interested in a philosophical discussion.  This is the “how do you see this god question” conversation, which can lead to very interesting and fruitful dialogues and can be immensely enjoyable and even enriching.  These are people who, while they may have a preferred position, aren’t interested in pushing it on anyone, they really want to explore the topic.  One key feature of such people is that they are not threatened by the unorthodox, the heterodox, the outre, the radical.  They want to have a conversation about this admittedly complex topic.

Then there are those who are looking for a reason to pigeonhole and proselytize.  They don’t want to know your ideas, they want to know if you’re With Them or Against Them.

Atheists and Believers fit into this description and I unhesitatingly claim that there is no functional difference between them if this is all they are interested in.  They don’t want a dialogue, they want a chance to tell you how wrong you are, or hold forth on all the idiots who don’t think like them.

I’ll admit right here that I’ve fallen into that paradigm on many an occasion.  There’s no real defense for it, but there are reasons.  I do get tired of certain positions on certain topics and the shortcut to ending the harangue often seems more desirable than any possible benefit that may come out of trying to address the questioner as if he or she belonged to the first group.

Do I believe there is a god?

Depends on what kind of a god you’re asking me to believe in.  But right there you see the potential for a long explanation.  The concept is not reducible to a simple statement of fact, because all gods have been believed in and it is an insult to suggest that such belief automatically meant one set of acolytes was dumber than another.  When belief faded, the god became an artifact of history.  Do I then belief there never was such a god?  Depends on your requirements for a god.

There are many aspects of the proposition with which I can categorically disagree.  But the thing that makes it impossible to dismiss out of hand is Belief.  To me, asking if I believe there is a god has many of the same characteristics of asking if I believe there’s such a thing as an idea.  You can’t see either one, there’s no physical evidence for them other than how they motivate people, it is easy (and done all the time) to say that ideas aren’t real.

It’s in the realm of human action where the problems with both the discussion and the notion of a god pop up, but to my mind that’s a separate issue.  If someone creates a great good—hospitals, art, music, a new way to see—in the name of a god they believe in, it is easy enough to accept that they drew their inspiration from that god and except for some diehard ideologues no one has an issue with the conflation.  No one goes around beating them up for that belief.  If, on the other hand, some one goes around killing, maiming, stirring social ill-will against groups of people because they claim their god wants them to, everyone gets uncomfortable.  The people who may believe in the same god have a problem, atheists use it as an excuse to deny agency, and the zealot feels justified in his or her isolation and martyrdom.  Nothing is solved.  We seem hard put to separate out the issues because inevitably questions are raised as to the nature of belief and the nature of god.

To me, all gods are real and at the same time they are all irrelevant.  They’re real because people believe in them.  They’re irrelevant because I don’t and do not wish to.  And yet the world functions, regardless which position is true.

You want to know where I think god is?  In the dialogue.  Whatever it may be.  God, however you choose to define it, appears in the midst of honest communication.  When someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson talks to us about the stars, the universe, the cosmos, and we listen—there’s god.

When that doesn’t happen, when people don’t communicate—there is no god.

I invite you all to chew on that idea for a while.

Unless you think ideas aren’t real.

All Or Nothing

I don’t do many posts about evolution here. It is a topic of interest to me and many years ago I went through a spate of reading everything I could find by Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, and a few others to try to wrap my head around it. What I came away with—and this is very important for a point I intend to make later on—is that I am persuaded that evolution is real, that this is a pretty accurate description of how life operates, and that our future understanding of biology will be based solidly on these principles.

I do not have to be an expert on it to accept it.

But this is usually what is required by those who oppose evolution, especially on religious grounds—if you can’t answer their questions with definitive, rigorous fact and keep it all straight, then you are totally wrong and their definition of how life operates is automatically true.

As a technique for debate, this is maddeningly stupid and often effective in the short term. But before I go on, I’d like to present this video, which shows a rather remarkable process going on within the creationist community even as we ponder this difficulty:

For those of you who may not know, Kent Hovind is an apologist for creationism and has been conducting seminars and giving talks for years as to why evolution is categorically wrong. Yet when you look at what’s happening in his own models, it’s obvious he’s accepting certain elements of evolution, just renaming them so as not to evoke the offensive label which is seen now as a counterargument to Genesis. Hypocrisy? Maybe not. After all, every major shift in knowledge occurred, individually and collectively, in opposition to an accepted position. It was a usually a gradual change. It evolved.

Now, the one thing that is not addressed, except very briefly toward the end and rather cheekily, is the main bugbear of all creationists. Human evolution. Maybe creationists don’t get quite so strident about it anymore, realizing that a categorical argument for special treatment doesn’t play as well as it once did, but this can be traced back to Darwin’s day and possibly the best encapsulation of it came from William Jennings Bryan, he of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial.

The man in the 20th Century who came to exemplify the fundamentalist response to evolution said in his famous Menace of Darwinism speech: “…our chief concern is in protecting man from the demoralization involved in accepting a brute ancestry…evolution in plant and animal life up to the highest form of animal might, if there were proof of it, be admitted without raising a presumption that would compel us to give a brute origin to man.”

There you have it. The hangup is Man. It says in Genesis that Adam was hand-crafted by the Almighty and anything suggesting otherwise is simply unacceptable.

Well, the problem is everything we’ve learned since the Enlightenment and Cuvier and then Darwin. That homo sapiens sapiens is a mammal, an animal, and in every respect but our self-delusion we obey the same genetic and environmental laws as every other critter. Furthermore, if we try to pretend otherwise when it comes to medical care, the results are spectacularly ineffective.

But the thing I really wanted to talk about here is this debate tactic that requires us—someone like me—to know everything about the position I defend in order to have even a chance at making an impact while my opponents don’t have to know anything, either about my position or theirs. Argument by default, basically. If I am in error in any detail, if I misremember a fact, or don’t know the proper answer to a particular question, then I am instantly wrong and the Default Position is automatically—and inarguably—right.

Recently, in Waco, TX, Bill Nye—yes, the Science Guy—caused a controversy by saying that the moon reflects the sun. It was a minor point, but it was a contradiction of a poetic line from Genesis in which Yahweh is said to have made “two lights” in the sky. Nye was explaining that the moon does not radiate its own light but reflects the light of the sun and a group of people stormed out on him, loudly claiming that “We believe in God!” Well, you may say that this is simply an example of local stupidity, and you’d be right. Not only didn’t these folks understand astronomy and how the solar system works, they didn’t realize that a good deal of the Bible is metaphor and poetry—you know, not literal. If asked “Okay, if it didn’t happen as science has shown us it did, then how did it happen?” they would probably come back with a pat “God did it!” Well, sure, but how? What’s the process? And how come what is described contradicts what we actually see? They wouldn’t have any answers, not only because they don’t know anything about science but they know just as little about their own holy book or theology. All they “know” is that they don’t like questions that seem to undermine that special feeling they’ve always had when it comes to the “fact” that they were “hand-made” by god.

Which they weren’t.

But it’s that debate technique that interests me here. Because it crosses all disciplinary lines. Politics, economics, history—if I offer a perspective that runs counter to common prejudice, I am required to know every bit of the fact involved in my position and not one iota of it can be in error, otherwise I am completely wrong. Contrariwise, though, my detractors aren’t required to know a damn thing factually.

Carl Sagan once stated that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But lately it seems it is the extraordinary claim that seems to require no evidence and the claims of reason are under siege by a requirement that its supporters know ALL. Of course, many if not all “extraordinary” claims along the lines of creationism have no evidence behind them, so requiring it is a bit disingenuous, but really, shouldn’t people even know a little something about what it is they’re defending?

The problem with fact, though, is it doesn’t go away at the behest of ideology. Hence the contortions of the Kent Hovinds, who are trying to find ways to address what is undeniable that don’t contradict their beliefs. Eventually, they may even find out that what they’ve been defending all along has been, well, a misinterpretation. Their positions will evolve.

Meantime, for the record, let me state that I am not an expert on evolution. Nor am I an expert in history, political science, physics, or any philosophical school. I don’t have to be. Because I can look it up.

It’s called using your brains.