Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Saturday, November 19, 2005


I suppose we have to wait and see whether Vatican astronomer Rev. George Coyne gets a visit from Bennie's boys, however....Today it looks like the wedges splitting the log of conservative christian unity just got driven in another couple of whacks.

It's no surprise (at least if you have a Catholic background) that the latest Catholic salvo against intelligent design comes from a Jesuit. The Society of Jesus has been a hair across the arse of Catholic orthodoxy almost from the beginning, due to its obstinate insistence that its members think. That leads to variable results. All too often, the thought process only results in ingenious sophistry, defending social teachings that have long outlived their usefulness.

However, the Jesuit mind draws a sharp distinction between the subjectivities of social teaching and the measurable realities of empiricism. Ever since that business with Galileo, the teaching end of Catholicism has paid considerable attention to empiricism and its fruits. Anyone who thinks there is a single weak point in the position elegantly stated by Coyne has obviously never debated a Jesuit.

When I Googled the topic "Intelligent Design Vatican' I also found an interesting comment on slashdot. org, inspired by the first salvo. I liked this:

The Orthodox rabbis I've spoken find it amazingly amusing that people take the creation story as literal truth, rather then a story about YHWH's power.

I'd be very interested in hearing more about this argument from first comers in the field of Biblical interpretation. Orthodox Judaism appears to make higher intellectual demands on its believers than does American evangelism or pentecostalism. So, in truth, does Catholicism. That is why they have rabbis and priests, to explain the subtleties of revealed religion. It is why both have actual power within their religious communities. The evangelical minister seems more often to be part emcee, part political shill, and part choreographer. The weakness of Gnosticism is that the incoherent wanderings of an eight-year-old intellect residing in an adult have equal weight with those of a scholar with forty years' experience studying scripture. Intelligent design, like most of the corpus of evangelism, is meant to appeal to the former, not the latter. As such, it is more circus than theology, and has no more place in public policy than a clown car.

Wedge issues are the best defence against religious fanaticism, and this one is a rippah. A couple more of these, and Pat Robertson's going to sound more like Fred Phelps than Fred does. When that happens, even Rome will have to acknowledge that Landover Baptist's thoughts on Catholics are more reality than parody.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Veterans' Day Musing

Today was (if memory serves) the first Veterans' Day I have had off in 30 years. I spent it as I suspect many veterans did: puttering and doing errands.

What one does not and cannot understand, if one is not a veteran with some share of interesting times, is that being able to putter and do errands is a particular treat on this particular day.

I note with sardonic interest that Veterans' Day is cool again, since we decided shooting up other countries was good foreign policy. If you're not a veteran, Veterans' Day and Memorial Day, both monuments to far-off wars, are two days a year when you can be sloppily sentimental about "our heroes." This enables you to justify giving them the finger the other 363 days of the year.

What say we skip the holidays and simply pay veterans back with pensions and disability benefits where appropriate, and with the affordable health care that has long been supposed to be part of the deal when you sign on the dotted line?

Oh never mind: I forgot that breaking promises is part of what makes the American Dream the American Delusion.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Born to Lose

My wife is a political news show junkie, and on Sundays in our house we have two or three hours of nonstop pundit programming on whilst I putter around. Once in a while something sinks in, like the following.

The observation was that the worst thing that could actually happen to the extreme right advocacy groups would be to win all their issues. This flies in the face of left-leaning conventional wisdom, but is worth thinking about. The issues keep the money rolling in, not victory, and at bottom the lobbies are in a business, not on a crusade.

The context of the remark was the emerging realisation that whatever the Supreme Court does to Roe v. Wade will fall far short of criminalising abortion. We can go on from there to infer that the lobbies and what Mark Shields calls the "Republican punditocracy" are setting Roberts and Alito (or whoever) up to fail. They may curb. They may restrict. They will certainly hedge and waffle, but they won't make abortion illegal. Whatever their spiritual religion, the political religion of strict construction makes the idea of demolishing precedent to that extent anathema. It would be hardly less horrifying to claim such power for the national government. A Roe response with brake pads will genuinely enrage the true believers, and will bring a warm smile to the faces of the lobbyists who stand by with their ever larger collection baskets.

This is one more reason why engagement with the more extreme people of faith is not the only option for progressives, and may not even be the right option. That Sunday pundit view, probably correct, screams "wedge." I would jump all over it. I would pin the label of hypocritical opportunism on all the right-wing lobbies and pundits, make the conclusion inescapable for the fanatical masses and donors: you are being used by people who, from your pastor on up, do not want you to win any issue, ever. They only want you to keep bankrolling an endless struggle and its 90 percent overhead rate.

Engagement has never defused religious fanaticism. What defuses it are the forces of emotional exhaustion and disillusionment. Those are the cards for progressives to play.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


A nice thing about living where I do is that I'm just over three miles from downtown Salem, MA. We took advantage of propinquity and Sunday's warm weather to walk over and watch the people, including the 8000-member Harley Halloween ride. (When I grow up I want a Harley ... right).

One of the better moments was watching three evangelicals preaching damnation to what comedians call a "tough crowd." I don't think they were from the Westboro loony bin, because the signs lacked that technicolour quality. The largest sign enumerated those who are going to Hell. This would seem to be nearly everybody, including them, because the list included liars.

Oddly enough, it didn't mention witches.

Gentlemen: you're in Salem, it's Halloween: what were you thinking?

So Much for Pope as Rock Star

Well, this was bound to happen, with or without Pope Bennie.

Disunity is the second natural state of religion. The first is the unshakeable conviction that only your religion is perfect and the road to salvation. The third condition follows from the first two, that the way to achieve perfection is to help all the infidels and hereitics to hell as quickly as possible. Doesn't seem to matter which religion, either. (The only reason Wiccans haven't tried to murder large numbers of their opponents has been lack of opportunity.)

I'm just sitting here in the cheap seats waiting for the evaneglical reaction. I'm betting the first public response is "measured."