Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weekends with Muzzy, Part 2

Actually, I come here for three reasons:

A) It’s genuinely enlightening to interact with people who hold views so diametrically opposed to my own.
B) It’s the only place I know where I’m guaranteed to get a good argument.
C) I’m secretly in love with B.C.

Well, you would be correct on the second. As to the first, I generally find that "interacting with people who hold views so diametrically opposed to my own", generally leads to the wear of shoe leather as I traverse the pretzel logic path inhabited by those with such views and generally being shouted down in lieu of anything them engaging in anything representing a debate or even 'heated discourse', but not being in Europe, I can concede that leftists there may have a very different playbook than leftists here. As for the third, I could have gone the rest of my life without knowing that. However, I'm sure he'll be...uuumm, flattered.

Also, wouldn’t the equivalent of intellectual vomit be, y’know, actual vomit? That’s a little harsh. I mean, hey, we disagree on a lot of stuff but so far you’ve never made me regurgitate anything more than talking points

What? You regurgitate talking points? No, I have to give you more credit than that, because you frequently expand on them, something the typical leftist is unwilling or incapable of doing. It still doesn't bring you to the point of being right, but let no one say that I do not give credit where credit is due.

They recognized that the STATE could not establish a religion if the grand experiment were to succeed, but there never was an intent exile God or religion from daily social or political discourse.

I agree with this as well. The controversy over “expressions of religion” in public spaces concerns the fact that they can be also interpreted as expressions of governmental preference for one religion, and it’s adherents, over another. People object to the display of religious paraphernalia in public spaces because it suggests state sponsorship of that religion. A Muslim walking into a courthouse only to be confronted with a giant stone carving of the Ten Commandments can reasonably worry that his own religious affiliation may work against him in court. Moreover, he could reasonably object to his tax money being used to promulgate a religion that is not his own. If all faiths were allowed to express their religions in a similar manner, this would be less of a problem. However, that would lead to further problems because, as I said above, one man’s devotional is another man’s blasphemous idol.

There are a few flaws with this argument, the first of which being is that judeo-christian beliefs are the starting point of law in this society, and it is not a secret. Even with that being the case, the law, even with such influences, does not mandate a negative result against any person in court. The ideal is that all men are equal before the law. Sometimes the execution does not achieve this desired result, but it is still superior to the alternative, and having read many, many cases, I am not familiar with any modern ruling by any court in this country where a person subject to its jurisdiction was discriminated against in the result on the basis of their religion alone. Secondly, the argument about having tax dollars supporting the promulgation of religion is an example largely without merit. Many such fixed displays would have been placed in public buildings, especially courthouses, decades ago, at a time when such recognitions of the nation's common heritage and beliefs were not a source of controversy. Being fixed displays, no funds would be expended on keeping them where placed, so the current objector's tax dollars 'promulgated' nothing; in fact, the use of tax dollars to remove such displays, because someone's personal offense trumped the recognition of the role of such things in our history and culture is more of a 'promulgation' of a religion...that of secularism. (Yes, I know you still disagree, and I'll address that further down.)

This holds true within Christianity itself. How would you feel if you found out your tax money was being spent on the construction of dozens of ten foot tall statues of the Virgin Mary, to be placed in front of every high school in your district? How would the Catholics feel if you objected? Allowing free expressions of all religions in public spaces, especially when funded by tax-payers of all faiths, just opens a massive can of worms. Better to just keep those spaces free from expressions of all religion.

Whoa! Commonality FAIL! I know you are well-read, so I'll toss this out there for you. If such a thing were to happen, then you have an example that finally makes sense. However, I do not know of such an event ever coming to pass. Again, when we talk about public displays of Christianity, they usually focus on commonalities, not specifics. The Ten Commandments, a Nativity Scene, or a cross would be common to nearly every sect of Christianity that I am aware of; statues of the Virgin Mary are not.

After all, in a way, this works out better. Have you ever wondered why Christianity has flourished in America but has become stagnant and anaemic in England? It isn’t because of the influx of other faiths. It’s because in England, Christianity actually is the state sponsored religion. In America, competition forced preachers to devise more and more effective ways of disseminating their message in order to build congregations. Essentially, the spread of Christianity became subject to market forces and grew all the more tenacious for it. If Christianity was relieved of the pressure of market forces, it may very well lose its teeth.

Now this is an interesting assertion, and your example conjures a question that has vexed me for some time now. England's state religion is a Christian denomination. The crown, which is still ostensibly the head of state, is charged with being the Defender of the Faith, and yet, you have member of this clergy and of your own government that openly consider allowing people who came to your country, to have their own court system, rooted in religious beliefs not just different but contrary to those of your own state sponsored religion. And then you pass laws regarding "hate speech" which allow these same immigrants to bully and intimidate those who object to the absurdity of such things. I am truly interested in hearing your perspective on this. As for the idea that Christianity's success in the US is due to market forces is interesting, but incomplete.

Historically speaking, churches filled pews on Sunday because the residents of the towns and villages were Christian. And for a long long time, there may have only been one church in smaller communities. Today, yes, there are "mega-churches", where congregations number in the thousands, and such churches may have any number of smaller ministries offering the congregations many different ways to participate and/or get something fulfilling from the experience. However, the faith as a whole in this nation has many small congregations as well, absent of any 'innovative ' methods of disseminating their message; preaching from the pulpit being the same method of doing God's work, as much as it would have been in England prior to the puritans, and the migration of Christians who left for America. So while Christianity has made use of technology, it hasn't changed the message, and as it has always been, people in this country are free to choose from the particular stripe of Christianity that they choose to subscribe to, be it formal and ritualistic, or more informal and free of many rituals, as many mega-churches are. You argue that the success is in the marketing; I submit that it is in the degree of choice to begin with, and the fact that no particular choice among the general category underpinning the legal and moral traditions of the country enjoys an advantage to the the imprimatur of the state.

And the idea that religion has been excluded from daily social and political discourse is frankly ridiculous. America is 93% Christian, 45% Creationist. More people believe in Satan than evolution. You’re a few months away from electing your 44th Christian President, and it is common knowledge that a non-Christian Presidential candidate wouldn’t stand a chance of attaining that particular office. Tens of millions of people make weekly donations to a slew of televangelists. People wear God T-shirts, own God bumper stickers, have God screensavers and read books about God on their lunch break. In some parts of America, you can hardly throw a stone in any direction without hitting a Church. President Bush mentions God every chance he gets. You have God radio stations, God TV channels, Christian retreats, even Christian telephone companies who promise to donate a percentage of their profits to spreading The Word and put a little crucifix on your quarterly bills. All this, to say nothing of the frankly disconcerting role that Christianity plays in determining public policy. It is, for me at least, a small issue, but there is no denying that the laws prohibiting Gay marriage and civil unions are entirely faith based.

Many of the activities you quote here are as much personal acts as they are components of political and social discourse, and in many ways are the expressions left to Christians, who in many ways have been hounded away from so many expressions once so commonplace in this nation by a vocal minority empowered by a silly and excessive interpretation of the establishment clause that propounds a separation of church and state so very extreme that it is doubtful that many daily events would not be recognizable to the Founding Fathers who held "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". At the same time, while a prayer by a valedictorian at commencement, or a prayer at a football game is strictly verboten, schools in California, under the guise of teaching how others live, can require all students to dress like Muslims and pray toward Mecca, without allowing Christians to opt out, imposing a similar object lesson in Christian beliefs. Public invocation of God or Christ by a public official is treated as an opportunity for ridicule and belittlement, as so many on the left have pursued such taunts of W throughout his tenure in office. Belief in the delineation between right and wrong, and the rejection of nuanced, modern viewpoints that exist in contravention to the teachings of traditional Christianity subject the believers to the derision of a Presidential candidate who wants them marginalized as bitterly clinging to their guns and Bibles. This same candidate is the darling of those who have constantly and consistently used the second tenant of the faith of secularism, THE RIGHT TO NOT BE OFFENDED, as grounds to push the exercise or acknowledgment of Christian Faith for forums where it has always dwelled. Having television shows, and radio shows, and bumper stickers is an expression, but it is what Christians are being left with.

Yes, I do have religious objections to gay marriage, but I have non-religious ones as well, that have yet to be suitably answered by the proponents. Primarily, that we are seeing fit to confer a protected status on what amounts to a lifestyle choice, rather than an immutable characteristic, such as race or gender. Yes, I’m familiar with the arguement that gays don’t choose to be that way, but in the absence of any discernable proof, I’m going to decline the opportunity to buy into that particular bill of goods. I can see where that primrose path will lead us, and I’ll leave it for the more nuanced and enlightned peoples of the world to skip along it merrily. When we accept Neal and Bob as husband and husband today on the basis that they can’t help being that way, and that they want to have the same thing everyone else has (although it isn’t the same, because they are different), then it will be harder to deny Neal 20 years from now when he comes to us and says he really likes his German Shepard and wants to marry it, or when Neal’s sister who is 30, wants to marry Steve, who is 12, because hey, they really like each other, and they want what everyone else has. It can’t happen, you say? No one could possibly think that this would be OK, you say? Yeah, that is really only possible when there is a common frame moral reference that is recognized by those who make the laws. As God is continually pushed from the venues where he once dwelled, this common reference continues to fade, and weak arguments based on personal preferences suddenly become justification for conferring rights where none should exist. In the meantime, those who were, at least at one time most deserving of such potections should be the most insulted, but being self-absorbed in protecting the doctrine of diversity, which ensures status to those who might not otherwise attain it if they had to rely on merit alone, they embrace the new ones to the fold, conferring an undeserved legitimacy to their claims.

The Ten Commandments is as much a part of the law of Western Civilization as the Magna Carta or Bill of Rights, because it is a codification of conduct deliniating what society will and will not deem acceptable from its citizens.

I’ve heard this a lot and it always makes me wonder: If you are so supportive of overt displays of the Ten Commandments in schools and courthouses, how enthusiastic would you be to see the Biblically mandated punishments for breaking them displayed in a similar fashion. Do you know, for instance, what God intended to be the punishment for adultery? It just happens to be death. The punishment for working on the Sabbath? Death again. The punishment for smartmouthing one’s parents? Hey, you’re catching on. If the Ten Commandments are as much a part of the law of Western civilisation as the Bill of Rights, surely the punishments ought to be to, right?

I know that this has already been answered to some degree, so I'll keep it brief. The New Testament brought a change to the extremity of punishment as Jesus took the burden of all man's sin as his own. That wouldn't waive the offense, but the punishment has been taken by another. Spiritually saying, this isn't a license to go forth and sin some more, but being imperfect beings, it is the grace of another that grants at least spiritual salvation to all who accept the gift as offered. The catch is that acceptance of the gift charges one with the knowledge of sin and the understanding that doing so again subjects one to the consequences. Some consequences are for the state to impose, some will naturally accrue sooner or later. Its been years since I have read any portion of the Code of Hammurabi, but I'm willing to bet that a careful read would also yield an offense and punishment which some would consider unacceptable, that none would impose in this day and age.

Moreover, I don’t think much of the Ten Commandments as a legal code. They’re deeply flawed and could be improved extremely easily, even by a schmuck like me. This is rather a grand statement, considering that they’re the only thing in the Bible that God felt it necessary to dictate personally, but it’s absolutely true. Consider the second commandment. No graven images? Does that really strike you as the second most important rule available for the successful governing of human social interactions? I submit that we could replace the second commandment with a blanket prohibition against slavery, the third with a categorical injunction against rape, and the fourth with a stinging condemnation of child molestation, and the Ten Commandments would be a far more moral and relevant document than it is now. We’ll deal with the avalanche of social problems caused by the proliferation of graven images as and when they arise.

You are free to think of them however you like; their inclusion in the body of law of western civilization is not a partisan act on my part. Being an officer of the court, I have had occasion to study the works of jurists much smarter than myself, and such a designation is generally considered to be a fact of history.

The Progressive or secular movement in the early twentieth century strove to upend the core beliefs of this society for a variety of reasons, and found many willing acolytes because the idea of a world without God, or his rules freed them from any sense of accountability or shame for going their own way and doing whatever they pleased, even if it was damaging to the society that had been so successful under the rules and mores of God.

I would dispute this, too. Secularism is more about allowing individuals to worship privately than about stamping out God altogether. There have been, believe it or not, numerous occasions when the much vilified ACLU has defended Christians who feel that they have been unfairly persecuted for their religious beliefs. See here for more details. You seem to be conflating secularism with atheism, which is a category error. A true secularist would be just as uncomfortable living in an atheistic society where private religious observance was prohibited, as he would in a theocracy.

We can agree to disagree. Secularism as practiced here is a practice not neutral to other religions, but hostile to them. You can't talk about God, or acknowledge his existence, at least not on the local levels. Even in places where Christianity is common to all residents, groups such as the ACLU see fit to sue to prevent towns from allowing a nativity in the city park, or prayers before sporting events, not even because a non-christian or atheist was present or complained, but to continue to force God out of the public discourse. Some such cases succeed, others do not, but they keep coming, the very potential is wielded like a sword of Damocles, to be dangled about the heads of small town councils as a threat that can bankrupt them, win or lose.

You have stated that secularism is not a religion. I submit to you that secularism is indeed a religion, and the most dangerous one that any society seeking to avoid anarchy can be presented with. Even muslims, who violently react to any perceived slight or disrespect of their beliefs, and are therefore considered backwards savages by most thinking people who long ago learned that violence is one of the last resorts rather than the first, surpass the secularists in terms of preserving a society, because the common core of beliefs remain relatively unchanged, and believers acknowledge an accountablity to something outside of themselves.

Secularism is not, and indeed cannot, be accurately termed a ‘religion’ without robbing the word of all meaning. Secularism has no scriptures, no prophets, and no metaphysical baggage of any sort. How could secularism possibly be a religion in the commonly understood sense of the term?

Piffle. Secularism, like atheism, recognizes no authority other than the primacy of man. Any meaningful recognition of a higher authority must be railed against, because to allow such recognition to stand unmolested might allow the concept of shame (not ostracism imposed on those who run afoul of the doctrine of PC) to be a force in society today, and the "If it feels good, do it" mentality that continues to shape the direction of this country would be seriously called into question, as it should be.

And are you really saying that you would prefer to live in Muslim Iran than secular Finland?

Whether you realize it or not, this is really the nub of the argument. I prefer neither. Unlike Muslims, I have no expectation of moving to a country founded on principals so opposed to those of my own that nearly every aspect of the culture and society is foreign to me, and expect them to conform to my way of doing things. I guess I'm just funny that way. As for secular Finland, if I wanted to live in a mediocracy, I could move to Canada or Europe. The single greatest lie that Western Civilization has bought into is that all cultures are equal. Its why the west in general continues to defer to the offense of the newcomers rather than deftly, but firmly reminding them that the reason they came here is that it is not there, and they can adapt, or they can leave. If we are sufficiently advanced that migrating here is more attractive then living there, then I can only conclude that it is because we do something right. We need to quit apologizing for it and instead expect it to be perpetuated.

Political Correctness is so poisonous to society because it first would take away the ability to engage in honest discourse about matters of import to society. It chills speech. Many find themselves afraid to speak up about pursuits and directions that have no redeeming social values for the very fear that some person or group that voluntarily chooses to identify themselves by a condition, race, ethnicity, or lifestyle choice might be offended and use that offense to squeal, cry, stomp its feet and shout until others come to their aid and sanction the offender for the crime of not recognizing the primacy of that identification and the person’s right to be free from offense, the central right of the church of secular humanism, from which all other doctrines and tenants flow.

I both agree and disagree (how’s that for contrarian ). On the one hand, I do agree that there are people out there whose lives are so empty that they have nothing better to do than amble around looking for things to be offended over. It is also true that, occasionally, this bullshit gets out of hand. Take the immigration issue, for example. This is an issue which should be discussed solely in economic and pragmatic terms. Hurling accusations of racism at those who are opposed to immigration for economic reasons does nothing but widen the divide between those on both sides. Also, I confess I bear a deep emnity toward the term “African American”. It’s a pet peeve of mine. Charlize Theron is as white as a ghost, but being born in Johannesburg, she is technically an “African American”. People shouldn’t be embarrassed to use words like “White” or “Black” when referring to their own ethnicity or that of others.

On the other hand, political correctness has raised awareness of terms and attitudes which are genuinely offensive. It has made people more reluctant to stereotype, and more willing, when considering others, to discount their ethnic baggage and focus on their merits.

I disagree. We have been forced to make the offense the focus rather than the exchange of ideas. We cannot have a discussion on the merits because problems require solutions. When one is entitled to THE RIGHT TO NOT BE OFFENDED, the problem is always the fact that someone else might want to discuss your behavior and how it might be changed to solve the problem. This is then cause for BEING OFFENDED, and therefore, rather than discussing the problem, your offense becomes the issue. Demonstrated neatly by recent news stories regarding the flap in the city council meeting in Texas where in a discussion about parking tickets disappearing in a city office, a white city councilman mentioned that the office was a "black hole". Invoking the right not to be offended, a black councilman demonstrated that sensitivity trumps intellect and immeadiately responded, yelling "Excuse me??? Excuse me??? You mean a White Hole!!!" No explaination that he was using a scientific term to make a point was acceptable; he had committed the cardinal sin of using a word without permission of the POTENTIALLY OFFENDED CLASS. One example of many that can be used to demonstrate the point. Real conversations grow increadingly difficult in any venue here, and merit is not generally a component of the discussion.

What the nice gentleman in the film was trying to tell those of us who care is that there is still time to reverse this trend before the bloodshed that this trend places us on an inevitable collision course with.

And I’m not saying he didn’t have a point, just that commingling religion and the state is counterproductive.

Missing the point that removing it from where it used to be has had a corrosive effect. If the reason for the law can no longer be discussed, then there is no understanding of why it is the way it is, and there will be no apparent reason for not changing it to suit the whims of who ever wants it changed. Law divorced from reason will become mob rule, and the darkness that rests in the heart of a mob, answerable only to itself, would eclipse all logic or socially desirable result.