Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Very Positive Book Review (Thanks, Ethan)



I keep on forgetting to mention this, but Ethan Meyers from Hartford, Connecticut wrote a very positive review of The Mustard Seed on Amazon.com.

Ethan wrote...

I have to say, this was a really, really good book. I didn't know what to expect since I had never heard of the author, and there was only one review on Amazon, but I took a chance and decided to order it. I wasn't disappointed. Once I started reading the book, I had a hard time putting it down. I finished it in 2 days. It's truly amazing how Mr. White was able to explore the thought process and motivations of 3 very separate individuals, and show how their "life philosophy" steered them into different directions. And I will say that I will never look at faith the same way again. Mr. White has some very unique and powerful insights on that. Overall, I highly recommend this book.


Thank you, Ethan. I appreciate that you not only bought the book (which helps in the money department), read the book, and liked the book, but that you also took the time to write an online review. That was really quite nice.


Spiritual Rationalism: A Critique of a Critique



Yesterday, Novaseekeer wrote a thoughtful critique of “Spiritual Rationalism,” the philosophy found in The Mustard Seed. It's definitely worth reading. But just in case Nova decides to pull a Vox on me, here’s what I wrote in response…

Nova: Let me begin by sincerely thanking you for taking the time to consider my ideas and analyze them. In our periodic discussions, I’ve also found you to be someone who prizes facts, reason, and good-faith dialogue. And this essay is no exception.

OK, now that we’ve gotten the foreplay out of the way… ;)

Regarding your critique of my starting principles, “Reality is real and reason is the tool to master Reality,” I would say the following…Personally, I am interested in human life, and what is necessary for a happy, successful life…I am certainly open to the possibility that there IS, in fact, more to “Reality” than what we – as human beings – can perceive through our senses and analyze through our brain at this given moment of time. Indeed, as a big fan of science, I would say such things almost certainly exist even if we don’t apprehend them. As the centuries unfold, we will learn a lot more about “Reality” – including things that could potentially alter what we understand “Reality” to be (quantum physics comes to mind).

But at the end of the day, the scenario I’ve laid out is still consistent with the starting principles I articulated: Leading a happy, successful life is contingent on our ability to understand Reality to the best of our ability. Progress in that understanding of Reality will still be done by 1) perception through the 5 senses, and 2) rational analysis of that perception. What would be the alternative? That’s a very important question: What would be the alternative? I can think of only 2: An emotional commitment to some creed, independent of reason (Kierkegaard’s commitment to Christianity is an example) or a commitment to NO moral creed (moral relativism, at best; nihilism, at worst).

Are these compelling alternatives? Well, that’s for each individual to decide on his own. Personally, as someone who’s been a Christian, an agnostic, and an atheist at different points in my life, I find all of them to be insufficient in very important realms.

On to the next topic…the idea of moral “consensus” and “authority.”…A few points…Today, on Planet Earth, there is no “consensus-based moral authority.” And indeed, there never has been. We have Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, etc…Even Christians are composed of competing sects which – throughout history - have been quite eager to kill each other over relatively minor issues…But ultimately, this whole topic is irrelevant…Personally, I am not interested in developing a rigid moral law for society as a whole (although other people are welcome to try, if they so choose). What interests me is a moral code for the individual. A set of principles for good, happy living. And yes, 2 people who share those principles might not achieve a “consensus” on every issue (one might decide to get married and have children; one might decide to remain a bachelor for life, etc). But that’s fine. We’re a diverse species. I accept that. Also, I should mention that from an historical perspective, reason has been consistently shafted by philosophers. Indeed, I can think of only 2 philosophers who prized reason: Aristotle and Ayn Rand. Everyone else denigrated reason: Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heiddeger, Rorty, the whole gang.

Last but not least…I do not share your pessimism that science will “crowd out room for a personal God.” Indeed, in the last few decades, there has been a quiet revolution in the scientific community – especially in the areas of physics and biology – whereby a growing body of evidence leads to an inevitable and surprising conclusion: it is “rational” to believe in God, and even better, a personal God who has a loving interest in our lives. Despite the hopes of millions of atheists who hoped that science would eventually destroy God, today there is more “reason” to believe in God than at any time in history. And thus, a union between reason and faith – seen as polar opposites by the vast majority of people even today – is indeed possible. That is a very welcome development, in my opinion.



***UPDATE, OCT. 1, 2009***


Nova has responded to my rebuttal, and per the Vox Rule, I'm cross-posting my reply here...

You’re challenging me. Good. I like that.

First, let me provide a little context that I think might be useful: I’m not arrogant enough to presume that if I could go back in time and have a deep, heartfelt conversation with a young Joseph Stalin, I could convince him to give up his Communist ambitions and have him continue to study becoming a priest (Yep, he was studying to be a priest. True story). And why not? Because, to paraphrase Hamlet, “To think, or not to think, that is the question.” And I don’t think young Stalin (like 95% of human beings) wanted to think too hard about the feasibility and inherent “goodness” of his ambitions. And this leads me to a related point: I don’t think anyone could’ve deterred a young Stalin (obviously, the priests in his school couldn’t). Think about it: If we can’t convince a person to be “good” based on their rational self-interest, what chance do we have to convince him by stating, “God said to do it! It’s all in the Bible. And you must trust the Bible.” Again, we come to a question I asked earlier: “What is the alternative?” Is there a better alternative to the one I’m suggesting? If there is, I haven’t heard it yet.

If a person said to me, “You know, Todd, I think you’re onto something here, and I’m going to start adopting your principles into my daily life,” I honestly don’t think that person would use those principles for negative purposes. No, his recognition that happiness lies within himself would be sufficient to make that a very unlikely possibility. Now, can I guarantee he wouldn’t use those principles for evil? No, of course not. There are no guarantees in life. And on a related note, if another person said, “I accept Christ into my life,” that too is ultimately no guarantee of good behavior (as we’ve seen throughout history).

Having said all that, let me address your major point: “Happiness is inherently subjective.” To that, I would say: That depends on your meaning of the word “subjective.” If we mean, some people find happiness in baseball, others find it in football; some find it at Abercrombie and Fitch, others find it at the Gap, then yes, there is a great deal of subjectivity. But ultimately, these are peripheral issues; they are not primaries. Can we reduce happiness to a primary? To that: I would say, “Yes.” And I think you would too. Consider: Can we agree that being told “I love you” by a woman is a source of happiness? Can we agree that having your arm broken is a source of UNhappiness? Yes, I think we can. There are some universal human traits upon which we can build a philosophy of happiness that extends to every person who thinks happiness is actually valuable (regardless of whether they’re a baseball fan or a football fan). And that’s precisely what I’ve (humbly) tried to do.

***UPDATE, OCT. 2, 2009**




The latest round of my discussion with Novaseeker is below...


Nova: I suppose you would say that people who act in evil ways are simply being irrational.

TW: For the most part, yes. Although I would certainly add that genes, environmental factors, etc. make some people more prone to be “irrational” than others.

Nova: To me, people act in evil ways not because they are irrational, but because they are immoral -- or rather that they have chosen to defy the objective moral law precisely because they perceive (perhaps rightly) that it is in their own self-interest to do so.

TW: See for me, the abandonment of one’s capacity to reason (and to behave in a way that cripples one's rational capacity) is NEVER in someone’s self-interest. Even if a criminal declared “It was in my self-interest to kill my business partner,” I wouldn’t accept that justification; the fact they’re rotting in a jail cell proves my point.

Nova: I think that theistic religion, with its emphasis on some kind of personal evil in the universe, is more descriptive of how evil actually works (regardless of whether one believes in the personal evil) in terms of being rebellion against the moral order, placing one's self-interest at the core and so on, than the idea that evil is irrational.

TW: For me, most evil comes from the refusal of the individual to think critically about himself and his relationship to the world around him. An evil person is one who engages in “magical thinking” that has no basis in Reality (“If I bomb the World Trade Center, I’ll get 72 virgins in Heaven!,” etc.) Or they might not think at all! In his writing, Theodore Dalrymple, the conservative doctor, discusses that very issue. When interviewing criminals, and asking “Why did you do it?” they’ll say stuff like “the knife went in” instead of “I stabbed her because…” They’re clueless. They’re just genuinely stupid people.

Nova: Some individuals do have different highest aspirations than personal love. For an artist, or another creative person, or an athlete, or even a business executive, other prerogatives may make them more "satisfied" than pursuing personal love of the opposite sex.

TW: That’s fine. The thing that links all of those activities together is that it gives the individual the ability to have control over their life and express themselves creatively. Those desires are very deeply ingrained in human nature. I think very highly of Dr. Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” (and I’ve heard praise of Dr. Maslow in other parts of the “Manosphere”). He put “the need for self-actualization” at the top of his hierarchy. That strikes me as very wise. And fulfilling that need is what I’m advocating.

Nova: Similarly, it is not "irrational" for someone to decide that, for them, their highest personal value in terms of happiness and fulfillment will be their career, or their art, or their athletic passion or what have you. Now you may say "these people are kidding themselves", but since this is based on reason, and no higher values, all that is needed is for them to articulate their rational self interest in a defensible way which is different from your own.

TW: I wouldn’t say “they’re kidding themselves.” That’s totally fine.

Nova: “If that is done (and I think it's quite doable), then it's demonstrated that there is no universal, rationally-determined self-interest, but rather personally-determined, subjective yet defensible, personal articulations of rational self-interest.”

TW: In my work, I’ve advocated a basic principle which (in my humble opinion) can be applied universally: “Use your rational power at all times to secure the Good: The Good being your own Life. And every goal and value that affirms your life.” Whether a person uses that principle to become a bank executive, a full-time mom, or a blogger is up to their discretion, and does not (in my mind) invalidate the principle.

Nova: “If there were such universals determinable by reason, our metaphysics experts would have reached that consensus a long, long time ago.”

TW: You really think that?

Nova: It's not as if massive brainpower has not been used to grapple with these issues for a long time using the tools of human reason.

TW: Nah. There was a blossoming of reason in ancient Greece and in the early period of the Enlightenment (which – carried out by the Founding Fathers – made our tandard of living today possible). But for 97% of human history reason has been casually dismissed. There has only been faith and force.

Nova: So while it's true that the appeal to a super-natural, super-rational basis for morality and "the good" is, in itself, not a guarantee of good behavior by all, due to the existence of evil as a reality, using rational self-interest as the baseline for determining the "good" will lead to a good deal less consensus on that issue than the idea of a super-natural basis.

TW: Even if I was willing to concede that a philosophy of rational self-interest would result in a great diversity of what is “good,” and thus, increase the possibility of conflict (because there was no single standard of “good” (and I *don’t* concede that point, but let’s just along with it for now), couldn’t we also state that organized religion (especially of the Abrahamic variety) – by imposing a one-size-fits-all dogma kills diversity of thought, and by giving the believers the authority to kill those who disagree with them makes it more likely that “evil” will prevail? In the same way that political freedom has worked well for West, I think it’s a good thing to give people some religious freedom to define what is “good” for them (within certain parameters, of course). While it’s true that what's in YOUR self-interest may not be what's in MY self-interest, if we both followed our unique paths, it’s quite unlikely we would find ourselves in conflict (especially in contrast to a religious tyranny in which everyone MUST obey the same rules or die).



***UPDATE, OCT. 5, 2009***




On Friday, Nova critiqued my "Five Humble Suggestions to Improve the Church." Not surprisingly, he wasn't too impressed. But I don't give up easily! Here's my latest response...


Nova,

Regarding Recommendation #1, I think it’s interesting that you wrote, “Many Christians today would say that the Church has already erred way too much on the side of ‘what can my church do for me’ in an effort to compete for attendees.”

Aren’t you confirming my point: That the Church SHOULD de-emphasize the message of sacrifice because many people in today’s society DON’T want to hear that message?

You also wrote, “For Christians, that personal growth comes through service to others in a way that other activities (personal growth) cannot replicate.”

I’m just one person, so this is only anecdotal evidence, but I tried that approach and I didn’t achieve “personal growth.”

Regarding Recommendation #2, you wrote, “Different Christian traditions have different approaches to their use of the Bible, but all of them find it central to life… So as far as leeway goes, there is an awful lot of leeway already within Christianity.”

I don’t necessary disagree, but once again, you’re indirectly proving my point: There IS leeway to interpret the Bible. The problem is that the growing parts of Christianity come from churches which make the Bible central to the faith. And how are they doing it? They are bringing in Christians from other churches. They are not bringing in agnostics or weak Christians from my generation. And therein lies the problem. It’s a demographic problem. The older generations will fade away, and what will be left? Not much.

Regarding Recommendation #3, you wrote, “There is no lack of Christian apologetical activity, both between Christians of various traditions, as well as in defense of Christianity as a whole.”

Then we have a major, major problem, my friend. I hope I’m not insulting my Christian friends and family members when I say that I can only think of ONE of them who could give a cogent answer to the question, “Why are you a Christian?” The rest of them would say something like, “That’s just the way I feel,” or “That’s the way I was raised,” or “It’s just the Truth; you can either accept it or not.”

Needless to say, I – as a person outside the church – don’t find any of this compelling. So if there is – as you suggest – “no lack of Christian apologetical activity,” going on, that activity has been – to put mildly – a spectacular failure.

You also wrote, “For the average believer, it is important enough that they understand their faith in a way that impacts how they live their own lives.”

Sure, that’s fine, but that’s not a way to keep the faith growing for the reasons I spelled out above.

Regarding Recommendation #4 about sex, you wrote a very eloquent response – dare I say, the most eloquent response I’ve heard a Christian make on this topic. Indeed, I share a lot of your ideals.

But we have a paradox: You are making a *faith-based* argument for controlling one’s sexuality. But the main reason so many young people remain outside the church is…wait for it…all those restrictions on sexuality!

In other words, I can’t see how your arguments can work unless a person has already committed to God (and specifically, Christianity).

So what’s my solution? Well, exactly what I said in my essay: DE-emphasize the sexual rules. Let people come to God/church without the fear of being condemned for being a “sinner” because they haven’t haven’t “waited until marriage” to have sex, etc. Then, once they’re inside the church and accept the “truth” of Christ, they’ll be open-minded enough to accept all of the sexual rules.

Regarding Recommendation #5, I share your view that this will be a “hard recommendation to follow.” As I said, I think the Church has an inherent right to be involved in the political process. But after 3 decades of the “Culture War,” I question how effective all this political involvement has been.

Think about it: What are the public policy successes of Christian conservatives? Not much. And at what cost? The news articles on my blog make clear that my generation has negative feelings – dare I say contempt – for the Christian Right, especially when it comes to sexual issues (see above): the rights of women and gays, abortion, etc. So what we have here is not a question of rights, but strategy: Is it good strategy for the Church to be a main player in politics? I say “no.”

In conclusion, I don’t want to put words into your mouth, but your rebuttal can be summarized into two points: 1) From a theological perspective, the Church just can’t change the sway you suggest, Todd, and 2) Most Christians wouldn’t want to change it that way, anyway.

If that’s true, then, in my humble opinion, the demise of Christianity in the West is irreversible. And if that happens, few Christians would be as sad as me. Why? Because I do think a strong, healthy Christianity is probably our best bulwark against the demise of Western civilization.

Just like the Roman Gods died with the fall of the Roman Empire, Jesus will die with the fall of the West (at least in the Western nations).

Luckily for me, I think the church can and will change. Perhaps quite soon. In the next 5-10 years. For me, the most relevant question is: Will it be too late??

-Todd



**UPDATE, OCT. 6, 2009**



TW: Nova, you think I’m wrong? Impossible!

But seriously… You wrote, “What we see happening now is a consolidation of Christianity… The unbelievers who were ‘nominally’ Christian are leaving the church, But the believers, the ones who really *do* believe in God and Christ and so on, are consolidating into the more traditional churches.”

Yes, that is my interpretation too, although I don’t share your jolly attitude toward it. There just aren’t enough men and women in my generation who want to submit to Christian fundamentalism. Thus, you’ll end up leaving a lot of folks out in the cold.

You wrote, “If anything is going to change, it’s that the demographics of whites are going to skew heavily in favor of people who grew up in one of these churches, because the whites who did not are being substantially outbred by those who did.”

If Christianity can survive the enormous cultural upheavals of the next 40 years largely intact, then yes, you’ll have a solid chance of winning the “breeding” game. But as I wrote above, I think it’s no better than 50/50 whether Christianity can do that. And if the Christian leaders adopt your inflexible attitude (“let the heathens go”), then I think the demise of Christianity as a cultural force in the West is already “baked in.”

You wrote, “You may not be aware that there is one of the larger Bible churches in the country located near Tyson’s Corner.”

Yes, I’ve been there twice. In fact, that church was the setting of Chapter 2 of my novel.

You wrote, “There are Christian ‘churches’ that have adopted your changes. Have you ever been to an Episcopal church? No judgment there about sex…So why aren’t people flocking to the Episcopal church?”

Simple. Because they rather not to go to ANY church. Even the most liberal church requires faith in Jesus, Jehovah, and the Bible and an ethic of self-sacrifice. To that, a lot of people are asking: Why bother?

You wrote, “They do not need the church. So they do not go. They only go, generally, when they have children, to put them through the stages of Christianity and so on, but then they fade away again.”

Yes, precisely. That’s the point I’m making above. You obviously see this as a neutral, even positive, development. I see it as dangerous unless it can be reversed. A strong, rational Christianity could be a useful bulwark against nihilistic atheism and Islamic terrorism. At least that’s my hope.

**UPDATE, OCT. 7, 2009**



Nova: “Christianity doesn’t exist to form a bulwark against radical Islam. It exists to be the church.”

TW: That’s fair. I have no criticism of that. Yes, the Church should be about advocating the “Truth,” not appealing to the masses. Heck, that’s my philosophy too! I’m just making a prognosis of where “The Truth” of Christianity – at least the “Truth” it’s advocating *today* – will take the church given current trends.

Nova: “In any case, it isn’t strictly fundamentalism that is doing well. The Catholic churches around here at least remain pretty vibrant places.

TW: The Catholic church may be vibrant compared to the mainstream Protestant churches, but it’s not growing, per se – at least not among white people. As others have pointed out, the growth is coming from the fundamentalist sects.

Nova: “There are plenty of tolerant churches out there where you don’t need to believe in anything… People are not flocking to these churches…because they offer them nothing of substance, spiritually. The idea that there is no nominally ‘Christian’ church out there for rationalist skeptics is simply inaccurate.”

TW: I’ve been to those “tolerant” churches,” and I agree with you that they offer “nothing of substance spiritually” – but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the REASON for their lack of substance is because the pews are filled with “rationalist skeptics.” The rationalist skeptics have no church.

Nova: “Are you familiar with the writings of Shelby Spong?…If people are looking for churches out there that endorse their rationalist skepticism and modern humanism, they’re pretty easy to find.”

TW: I don’t agree. Shelby Spong and his pals are advocates of irrational mysticism, NOT rational skepticism.

Nova: “It’s illogical to think that if McLean Bible started preaching the gospel of spiritual rationalism, all of these skeptics would flock there while they have ignored the available options that are already out there today.”

TW: I’m not inclined to tell the leaders of McLean Bible Church that they should start advocating my ideas from the pulpit. They already have a successful business model. To paraphrase Lincoln, “For the sort of people who like that thing, that’s precisely the thing they would like.”

However, I must challenge you when you casually state that there are similar “available options” to my philosophy “out there today.” As I said above, if you consider Shelby Spong and his pals to be a “similar option,” to me, then I couldn’t disagree with you more, for reasons I’ve already stated.

As a side note, I would say that there’s a large potential market for my ideas. Why? Because there are literally tens of millions of Americans who are inclined to faith but don’t find the current religious options compelling. Of course, not all of them would find my ideas agreeable, maybe not even a majority. But I would like to flatter myself into thinking that – at the very least – a large number of them would agree that my philosophical foundation is sound and that the foundation itself is a useful guide for happy living.

We’ll see, though. That’s what makes the future so exciting. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen.


**UPDATE, OCT. 7, 2009, PART 2**



Nova: “If that’s the way they feel, then they should found their own church.”

TW: Personally, I wouldn’t advocate that – at least for the time being. As Larry David would say, “It’s a big to do.” And I’m not sure how much it would actually accomplish.

Nova: “That’s been done in the past, with different degrees of success. It probably won’t be considered ‘Christian’ (look at the Mormons), but that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful, if there really is this critical mass of pent up hunger for rationalist faith out there. I am skeptical that there is, because I think a good number of these people are into new age, buddhism and similar esoterica like Robert Wright and his crowd, but we’ll see.”

TW: Yes, we’ll see. I’m not sure myself. You raise a fair point, though. It’s hard to understand the motivations of ANY single person when it comes to religious matters (so imagine how hard it is to speculate about millions of people!). Needless to say, the whole thing is a very complicated subject – mostly because each individual himself contains a competing swirl of motivations, which are usually quite contradictory. However, I remain optimistic about what I can bring to the table of current religious thought (which – while original as an entirety – is really just a synthesis of already-existing concepts). So in that sense I am hopeful.

Nova: “One thing I do know, however, is this: churches like the RCC, the EOC and the evangelicals are not going to become rationalist.”

TW: Yes, I think that’s almost certainly right. The main candidate for a “rational, muscular” Christianity would be the mainstream Protestant church. To be honest, I’m not familiar enough with the Orthodox community to make a judgment on their future. The Catholic Church could also be a candidate (don’t laugh!). I’ve actually been impressed with some of Pope Benedict’s speeches on this subject.

Overall, I think there’s reason to be cautious optimistic about the future of Christianity and the future of faith, overall. But that confidence on my part rests on my conviction that people – once exposed to true ideas – will gradually adopt those ideas. We’ll see, though.


**UPDATE, OCT. 8, 2009**


Nova: “The Catholics will never agree to put reason first.”

TW: Actually, fwiw, a few weeks ago, a Catholic friend of mine (who is pretty dedicated to his faith) was trying to convince me that under Catholic theology, Reason DOES come before faith. I wasn’t familiar enough with the subject to know whether he was right or wrong, but just the fact he was under that impression was intriguing to me.

Nova: “The mainline Protestants could be a source for your rationalist faith — a place like the Episcopal church (I keep coming back to them because they are the least confessional of any of the mainline ones) could be a place to do that.”

TW: Yes, I think that’s probably the best bet. The mere fact that the mainline Protestants give themselves permission to be flexible and innovative on these matters is what makes them the best candidate. But as I said above, I think there’s room for nearly all of the Christian denominations (except maybe the most hard-core fundamentalists) to move in the direction I’m suggesting.


**UPDATE, OCT. 8, 2009, PART 2**


TW: Nova, your summary of the Catholic Church’s position strikes me as accurate. And it’s precisely for that reason that I stand by my earlier assertion that the Catholic Church DOES – at least in principle – have a healthy respect for the concept of reason (especially in contrast to most of the evangelical churches).

For example, if you’re interested, Bryan Cross, a Catholic Professor at St. Louis University, has a blog in which he often writes about the role of reason in religion.

A few quotes from one article:

“‘Faith’ as an epistemic starting point is not what the Catholic Church teaches faith to be. If one’s epistemic starting point is faith, rather than knowledge of the world through our senses, then faith is an arbitrary, non-rational, leap in the dark. By contrast, the Catholic Church teaches that the assent of faith is ‘by no means a blind movement of the mind.’ Rather, the assent of faith is guided by motives of credibility that are grasped by reason.”

“We access Scripture through reason; we read it or hear it, and interpret it with our reason.”

“It is precisely by and through reason that we know that God is to be trusted, honored, and obeyed. Grace doesn’t bypass reason, or ‘inject’ faith into the soul in a way that bypasses reason; grace elevates reason, so that we know (through our reason) God as Abba Father, and love Him as Father. So reason makes possible true faith (as opposed to a fideistic leap), even though faith itself is a supernatural gift of grace.”

Just to clarify: I’m not a Catholic (heck, I’m not even a Christian). I’m merely pointing out that there’s room for my ideas within most Christian denominations – at least as a practical matter.


**UPDATE, OCT. 8, 2009, PART 3**


Nova: As I wrote in a previous essay...

The principles of Spiritual Rationalism are compatible with Christian teachings to the extent that Christian teachings are compatible with Reality."

I have only been alive for 29 years in one body. I am not presumptuous enough to say that I have access to all truth. There may be people out there whose experiences are radically different from mine – and based on those experiences – they have come to different conclusions about Christianity. That’s why Spiritual Rationalism isn’t a religion; it’s a philosophy.

To flesh that out: Let’s say – for the sake of argument – that a person came up to me and said, “You know, Todd, I think you’re onto something here. In fact, I accept your philosophical premise (which is really Aristotle’s philosophical premise, but whatever), and it’s precisely for that reason, Todd, that I DO accept the Resurrection, the sacrament, etc. etc.” That would be fine with me. Personally, I do not accept those Christian teachings because I am not convinced of the truth of Revelation – but since Christianity hasn’t been debunked either, I’m not in a position to say that Christianity is false.

**UPDATE, OCT. 8, 2009, PART 4**




Nova: When I first brought up the subject of Catholicism, my point was that I didn’t think my philosophy was in OPPOSITION to Catholicism, and that – contrary to the way Catholicism is portrayed in contemporary society – there is a healthy respect for reason within the church.

Ultimately, yes, the way I interpret Reality (through the use of reason) leads to conclusions that I think many practicing Catholics would find objectionable. I have no problem with contraception, for example. Heck, I’m a big fan of contraception!

Perhaps, in my last few posts, I’ve been too eager to blur the lines between Christianity and Spiritual Rationalism – and if I’m guilty of that, it’s because I don’t want people to feel like they have to make a choice between the two (because they don’t). The vast majority of Americans have a loyalty to Christianity (even if many of them are just in it for the Christmas presents), so I feel the need to be non-threatening in that regard. But ultimately – in my own personal life – I have no need to embrace Christianity because I don’t find much wisdom there; I find more wisdom through my own personal experience.


Quote of the Day



From yesterday's comment thread at
Seasons of Tumult and Discord...

Grim: Several women I know voted for Bill Clinton, GWB, and BHO because they found them sexy. Not because their policies would be good for the country, but for raw sexual attraction...Women are easily swayed by the powerful sexy man. Hitler and Mussolini’s biggest supporters were women, not men.


Todd White: You’re saying HITLER was sexy? Oh boy. Anyhoo, Hitler and Mussolini’s soldiers were 100% men.


Grim: It may seem crazy now but Hitler had chicks gina tingling for him all over the damn place. Most big men do.


Todd White: Oh boy! Someone’s been reading too much Roissy! But seriously, just out of curiosity, under your “gina tingling theory of human development,” do you explain Jesus’ popularity through gina tingling too? If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, did a gina tingle cause it?


And now for the actual quote...

Talleyrand: Looking at the way Mary washed Jesus’ feet and Martha cooked for him, I would say there was attraction for him. Aloof and unattainable are all alpha characteristics. Risk taking (his behavior ultimately gets him punished and killed while the Beta Peter lies to save himself) a disdain for convention and the social dominanace he has over his circle of friends all clearly indicates that Jesus was alpha and someone women would find attractive.

To that, I could only say...

I think this comment thread has certainly reached the “unintentional comedy” phase.

Personally, I find it sad that in your philosophy everything comes down to “gina tingling” and (I presume) “penis tingling.” Even Jesus is not spared your reductionist psychoanalysis.

I honestly have to wonder what life experiences you’ve had to allow you to believe such weird things.



Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quote of the Day


"Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin or Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them.

But, I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York . I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human." - Ben Stein


This is a very poignant essay, but I have two caveats.

1) I don't believe we have a "duty" to "help others." To quote Ayn Rand, "a moral commandment is a contradiction in terms."

2) I don't think there's a strong correlation between Stein's view that being a good family man should be one's "main task in life" and his so-called "duty" to "help others." Quite the opposite. A person's family (and close friends) SHOULD come first over the needs and requests of strangers.

Personally, in the last few weeks, I've used the following phrase a few times: "The world just ain't worth it." In other words, while it's a nice idea to help "the world," we should never let "the world" come ahead of the people who know us and love us. That's just silly.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Evolution's "Growing Pains"



Whenever a celebrity gets involved in a cause, it’s always a double-edged sword. They give you a platform that would be impossible without them, but since people believe that celebrities should stick to…well, being a celebrity…it automatically invites ridicule and suspicion. And with that, let’s discuss Kirk Cameron (former star of Growing Pains), and his decision to get involved in the pro-I.D. movement.


As People Magazine notes…

[Cameron] and other creationists have created thousands of editions of Charles Darwin's landmark work explaining evolutionary theory, with a 50-page introduction that picks apart aspects of Darwin's work and try to link it to everything from Nazi eugenics to the scientist's alleged "disdain for women."

On Nov. 19, three days before the 150th anniversary of the original publication of Origin of Species, Cameron and other religious activists will distribute their books at "the top 50" universities around the country.

An online video of Cameron describing his theory – and his controversial beliefs – has been circulated wildly across the Internet…

Cameron, who lives outside of Los Angeles with his wife of 20 years, Chelsea Noble, and their six children, realizes that he is making himself a target by being so outspoken, but is willing to do so for a cause that he believes so strongly in.

"I am proud to bring this to people's attention," he says. "You see things in the world that are truly distressing and you think, 'What can I do?' Well this is something I can do."

And what is the reaction of the Darwinists? Civil and rational, yes? Oh wait…


Arch-Darwinist P.Z. Myers, for one, is shocked by the “gall” and “sleazy tactics.”…


Richard Dawkins writes…

If this outrages you, then you're not alone. There's something we can do though. We can amass as many of these books as possible, remove the 50 page intro, and then donate perfectly good copies of 'Origin of Species' to schools, libraries, and Goodwill....

This is a shameful thing that Kirk Cameron and the Banana Guy are doing by altering another person's book in order to push their agenda. But we can help to restore the book to how it was intended and keep young minds from being brainwashed by misinformation.

Vox Day comments…

In case you're not convinced yet that the New Atheists and their acolytes are genuine morons, read that last paragraph again while keeping in mind that these are the people who genuinely believe they are particularly gifted in the reason department. But regardless of whether Cameron and Comfort can produce effective arguments against evolution or not, and I have my own doubts on that score, they have not altered anyone's book! Have they altered a single word from the text? Is the abridgment a dishonest cut-and-paste job? Do they pretend that their own words are Darwin's? If not, then there is clearly nothing objectionable about what they are doing, no matter how effective or ineffective their arguments are.

Atheism may not be a religion, but Darwinism has clearly become one for some. And such sensitivity from the very people who proudly piss all over the sacred texts of other religions is astonishingly hypocritical.

Indeed.



Weekly Wrap-Up



Free Will is Not an Illusion After All:
"Champions of free will, take heart. A landmark 1980s experiment that purported to show free will doesn't exist is being challenged."


Modern Evolutionary Synthesis - Science Stopper?: I'm not a scientist (I only play one in the blogosphere), so I can't judge whether this analysis is valid or not, but it strikes me as accurate:
"Carl Woese and Nigel Goldenfeld offer a scathing history of how the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis stagnated the study of evolution in microbiology...'The major wrong turn in biology’s course was its conceptualization and subsequent handling of the problem of the gene. It would come to a point where the discipline had to choose between the obvious biology of the situation and the tenets of reductionism. Molecularists choose the latter, thereby taking off the table a major biological question.'"


An example of how Christians work to thwart I.D. to advance their theology:
"Darrell Falk, one of the key people at Francis Collins’s BioLogos Foundation, has a remarkable piece arguing that Darwinian evolution is the only way to preserve Christian orthodoxy in the face of intelligent design." This is relevant to my earlier discussion with Chuck Ross.


Larry Arnhart's Review
of Hitler's Ethic: "Proponents of Darwinian ethics--like myself--should be honest in recognizing the impressive evidence that Weikart marshalls from Hitler's writings and speeches to show how Hitler's thought and actions were driven by a coherent view of Darwinian ethics."


Irving Kristol, Darwin Doubter, RIP: Kristol: "'Evolution' is no simple established scientific orthodoxy, and to teach it as such is an exercise in dogmatism. It is reasonable to suppose that if evolution were taught more cautiously, as a conglomerate idea consisting of conflicting hypotheses rather than as an unchallengeable certainty, it would be far less controversial. As things now stand, the religious fundamentalists are not far off the mark when they assert that evolution, as generally taught, has an unwarranted anti-religious edge to it."


Scientists Pull An About Face About Global Warming: "Prof. Mojib Latif...is one of the leading climate modellers in the world...Yet last week in Geneva, at the UN's World Climate Conference--an annual gathering of the so-called "scientific consensus" on man-made climate change --Latif conceded the Earth has not warmed for nearly a decade and that we are likely entering 'one or even two decades during which temperatures cool.'


Chuck Colson Uses My God/Dog Analogy to Defend I.D: I doubt Mr. Colson is reading my blog, though. I might have picked up the analogy subconsciously from someone else.


Christian Hotel Owners Face Ruin After 'Defending Their Faith' In Row With Muslim Guest: Let there be no mistake: Freedom of Religion is under assault in the Western World. H/T: Lawrence Auster.


Research Finds that Atheists are Most Hated and Distrusted Minority: Personally, I don't hate
any minority group, so I don't condone the intolerance indicated by this survey. Having said that, it might worthwhile for the Atheist community to do some soul-searching (pun intended) about why there is so much vitriol toward their beliefs. No, I don't want to "blame the victim." But let's face it: If modern atheists consider their mission to actively undermine religious belief (as opposed to the traditional atheist ethos of going with the currents of Western life) than they shouldn't be shocked when believers (80-90% of the population) react negatively.


From the "They Keep Pulling Me Back In" Department: Before I was essentially kicked out of Vox Day's blog, I participated in his discussion about feminism. One of my comments: "I can't find a direct link between feminism and the culture of booty calls, Internet porn, World of Warcraft, etc. Is modern feminism harmful? Yes. And is there a 'quality gap' between the sexes today? Yes. But there's still enough good women out there to justify holding men to the same high standard that we've always done throughout history (and even if the feminists don't keep those standards, we - as men - should). In addition, Novaseeker, a pro-Gamer blogger, has a fine essay, The Happiness Gap, which is worth reading.


**UPDATE, DEC. 8, 2009**



As part of a recent discussion at Luke’s website on the subject of “free will,” Brian G. made an excellent point…

In my view the problem with Libet's experiment is that it asked people to record the time when they felt the will to act. The problem is that it neglects an obvious part of the choice. As soon as the researcher explains the experiment, the person is making judgments about what he is going to do. The person might be thinking, "ok, it makes no difference which button I press, so I'll just press the one I 'feel like' pressing." But this itself is part of the choice. The person chose to let their subconscious do the work in selecting an arbitrary button. Then the researcher finds that the readiness potential proceeds the conscience choice. But the real choice was made when the person first was given instructions, and this had to be done through the conscious mind or else he could not understand the instructions of the experimenter.

To me it seems that the "I" must really be doing something. I would expect this even if it could be shown to be only a product of evolution. If the I doesn't do anything, why is it there? Natural selection is only interested in survival, not in giving us a show. A conscious mind that makes real choices, could help in survival. A conscious mind that only thinks it's making real choices cannot help survival.





Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Rise of Deism???


After years of public debate about "The Rise of Christian Fundamentalism," then "The Rise of Islam," then "The Rise of Atheism," are we are about to confront "The Rise of Deism?"

Steven Waldman, the Editor-in-Chief of Beliefnet, makes that case in his new piece, Deism - It's Back!

Inspired by the new Trinity College study on religion, Mr. Waldman writes...

When historians refer to some of the Founding Fathers as "Deists," it's as if they're talking about an extinct philosophy, like alchemy or phrenology. Very few Americans go around describing themselves as Deists.

Perhaps that ought to change. A new study reveals that a rapidly growing number of Americans hold the belief system that used to be described as Deism...

Barry Kosmin, one of the authors of the study, points out that an earlier study that looked at Nones as well as those who did "affiliate" with a religion found that 12% were Deistic. That would make Deists bigger than all of the aforementioned groups combined, and one of the largest spiritual groupings in America]

And that's if you use a pretty narrow definition of Deism. In my book, Founding Faith, I argued that even the so-called Deists of the 18th Century were a bit more religious than we think. Both Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin believed that God intervened in history. A recent study by the Pew Religion Forum, revealed that 35% of Nones pray weekly or daily.


Mr. Waldman's book looks very interesting, and I've added it to my Amazon Wish List.


Also, just for the record, I don't consider myself to be a "Deist," because - as Mr. Waldman points out - most Deists believe that God "created the universe and its laws but then receded from the action." Needless to say, that doesn't leave much room for a personal God, and I do believe in a personal God.
However, I'm glad that the Founding Fathers - who are usually labeled as "Deist" - also, apparently thought that "God intervened" in human affairs and "were a bit more religious than we think."


New Survey: 1 in 4 Americans Could Claim 'No Religion' in 20 Years




Yesterday, Trinity College released its American Religious Identification Survey plus a new report: American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population.

Dan Gilgoff at U.S. News describes some of the key findings....

Americans who identify with no religious tradition currently comprise 15 percent of the country, representing the fastest growing segment of the national religious landscape.

If current trends continue, a quarter of Americans are likely to claim "no religion" in 20 years.

While the numbers portend a dramatic change for the American religious scene—"religious nones" accounted for just 8 percent of the population in 1990—the United States is not poised adopt the anti-religious posture of much of secularized Europe. That's because American religious nones tend to be religious skeptics as opposed to outright atheists. Fewer than ten percent of those identifying with no religious tradition call themselves atheists or hold atheistic beliefs, according to the new study.

"American nones are kind of agnostic and deistic, so it's a very American kind of skepticism," says Barry Kosmin, director of Trinity's Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. "It's a kind of religious indifference that's not hostile to religion the way they are in France. Franklin and Jefferson would have recognized these people."

The new study found that, in addition to seeing relatively strong retention numbers, American nones are quickly gaining new members.

"Twenty-two percent of the youngest cohort of adults self-identify as nones and they will become tomorrow's parents," according to the report. "If current trends continue and cohorts of non-religious young people replace older religious people, the likely outcome is that in two decades the nones could account for around one-quarter of the American population."

What is responsible for the growth of the "Nones?" Andrew Sullivan speculates...

The intellectual collapse of Christianity under the leadership of Protestant fundamentalists and Catholic theocons is surely relevant. The well-deserved inability of literalists to win many converts among educated people is also surely salient. The emergence of the politicized Christianist right - and its assault on Christianity as a freely chosen spiritual process - will surely lead to a continued and accelerating flight from organized religion.

In 1990, the Nones were mainly Independents but were equally spread among Democrats and Republicans. Today, the proportion of Independents who are Nones has leaped from 12 percent to 21 percent; and the percentage of Democratic Nones has doubled from 6 percent to 16 percent. In stark contrast, the GOP share has fallen from 8 percent to 6 percent. I'd say that's a function of the GOP becoming an essentially Christianist fundamentalist party; and the Democrats having lots of Irish, Jewish and Asian supporters, who are the strongest groups in the None cohort.

The Nones are not wealthier than average, but they are more male. Almost 20 percent of American men are Nones, compared with 12 percent of women.

61 percent of Nones find evolution convincing, compared with 38 percent of all Americans. And yet they do not dismiss the possibility of a God they do not understand; and refuse to call themselves atheists. This is the fertile ground on which a new Christianity will at some point grow. In the end, the intellectual bankruptcy of the theocon right and Christianist movement counts. Very few people with brains are listening to these people any more. They have discredited Christianity as much as they have tarnished conservatism.

A few other points worth mentioning...

*In a previous essay, I speculated that there was a quiet "Sexual Revolution" during the 1990s. According to this report, there was also a quiet "Spiritual Revolution" during the same decade. To quote the report: "The 1990s was the decade when the "secular boom" occurred - each year 1.3 million more adult Americans joined the ranks of the Nones.

*According to the report, while "in terms of Belonging (self-identification) 1 in 6 Americans is presently of No Religion... in terms of Belief and Behavior the ratio is higher - around 1 in 4.

*The gender ratio among Nones is 60 males for every 40 females.

*Most Nones are 1st generation - only 32% of "current" Nones report they were None at age 12.

*24% of current Nones (and 35% of 1st generation or "new" Nones) are former Catholics.

*Class is not a distinguishing characteristic: Nones are not different from the general population by education or income.

*The specific beliefs of the "Nones" in contrast to "U.S. adults" as a whole can be broken down as follows:

"Regarding the existence of God, do you think...? "There is no such thing" (Atheist)

Nones 7%
All 2%

"There is no way to know" (Hard Agnostic)

Nones 19%
All 4%

"I’m not sure" (Soft Agnostic)

Nones 16%
All 6%

"There is a higher power but no personal God" (Deist)

Nones 24%
All 12%

"There is definitely a personal God" (Theist)

Nones 27%
All 70%

"Don't Know/Refused"

Nones 7%
All 6%


Personally, I would put myself in the "Theist" category (although I'd prefer to say, "There is almost certainly" [not "definitely"] a personal God. That position is also shared 70% of all Americans. Interesting, only 7% of Nones are "Atheists." That's amazing. And 51% feel comfortable stating that there IS a "higher power" (whether it's personal or not). An additional 35% are real agnostics.

*One final point: The survey results about evolution (cited by Sullivan) are misleading. The poll question was, "Do you think that human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals?" As I've discussed before, the idea of "common descent" is not equal to "Darwinian evolution." In fact, many critics of Darwinism (such as Dr. Michael Behe) support the idea of "common descent." Thus, while its likely that the "Nones" are more favorable toward Darwinism than the American population as a whole, I wouldn't conclude that "61% of the Nones support Darwinism."

I've written about the "Nones" a few times, including here and here.



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sex, Alcohol, and Body Image




In today's Daily Mail, there's an intriguing article, One in 20 Women Has NEVER Had Sex Sober as They Lack Body Confidence. But that's not the most interesting factoid in the piece...

Almost half of those questioned said they preferred sex while under the influence of alcohol because it helped them to lose their inhibitions and be more adventurous...

The average woman has slept with eight men, but was drunk with at least five of them.


On two of these occasions they couldn't even remember the man's name the next day.


Four out of ten have 'always' been a bit tipsy when they have slept with a partner for the first time.
But astonishingly 48.5 per cent said they preferred sex while under the influence.

The study also found that 75 per cent of women said they liked to drink before getting into bed with their husband or boyfriend. Some 6 per cent of women have never had sex while sober.

More than half of women polled claimed drinking with a prospective partner was 'part of the dating process' so they were bound to be a bit drunk when they had sex.


It was also revealed 14 per cent of women in a relationship can't face sleeping with their partner unless they had a couple of glasses of wine beforehand.


All very fascinating. But I'm not sure what any of it has to do with "body confidence." It just seems like stupidity to me.


Quote of the Day



On Facebook, in the "Info Section," they ask for your religion. Instead of listing "Christian" or "Atheist" or whatever, my friend posted a link to this video. Very cute.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Will Western Civilization End in Your Lifetime? Yes, Probably



Over at Seasons of Tumult and Change, Talleyrand and his pals are speculating about the "fall of Western civilization." Will it happen? Yep, that's the consensus. When? Perhaps quite soon.

Tal lists "24 reasons given for why the Roman Empire fell," and claims America has achieved 21 of them. Yep, 21 out of 24. He writes: "The betting pool for when the West collapses into chaos begins now. Only gold please, no fiat cigarette rolling paper."

I've been very leery of making predictions.

Back in April, I wrote...

I make no predictions. I can only state a single truth: "Ideas have consequences"...

If the day should come when a critical mass of Americans believe… 1) We are nothing more than hairless apes, and 2) Free will is an illusion...Then it’s hard to see how freedom can survive more than another 1-2 generations...unless, of course, there's some sort of intellectual renaissance.

The next month, when writing about the economic crisis, I declared...

We might be on the verge of an economic/social paradigm shift not seen since the 1930's!

Should we be concerned? Absolutely. From the perspective of a typical American, it's one thing to be out of a job for a while with the understanding that prosperity is "right 'round the corner." It's quite another thing when our economic system is shaken to its very core and our our standard of living is thrown into doubt. Right now, I would wager that we are between those 2 perspectives, but over the next 1-3 years, we may solidly be in the 2nd perspective...

We may be on the cusp of a total revolution in America's political, economic, and moral order. Or...then again...maybe not.

I've been coy in the past, but I'll be more blunt today:

As I commented on Talleyrand's site...

Yes, if I was a betting man, I would bet on the collapse of the West in my lifetime. But it’s far from guaranteed. And it will almost certainly be a gradual process – with some brief recoveries in between.

Why the pessimism?

First let me set the context: The mystery isn't why the West will collapse ("all good things must come an end"). No, the mystery is how the West was able to last as long as it did!

Think about it: For thousands of years of human history, life all across the world life was - to quote Hobbes - "nasty, brutish, and short." Then, in one small region of the world in one brief window of time, a civilization emerged in which people (on average) lived for 75+ years in excellent health, enjoyed an economic quality of life unimaginable to their ancestors, experienced freedom from tyranny and violence, and entertained nearly limitless opportunities for creativity and self-expression.

This civilization (first blossoming in the US, Great Britain, France, and Holland in the 18th century, spreading to most of Western Europe by the late 19th century, and spreading even into remote corners like Latin America by late 20th century) was no accident. And it was not inevitable. It was a coming together of a religion and a philosophy.


As I wrote in January...

I've never felt comfortable when politicians describe America as a "Judeo-Christian country" or reaffirm the need to preserve our "Judeo-Christian values"...It defines our country, our values, and our heritage through religion alone.

About a year ago, I coined the term "Christian-Enlightenment" because it combines the religion of the West (Christianity) with the ground-breaking Enlightenment ideas (freedom, reason, the Scientific Method, etc.) that enabled the West to dominate the world.

Ethiopia is a "Judeo-Christian" country, but it's one of the worst countries on Earth because it doesn't have the Enlightenment heritage of Europe and the United States.



The West is a product of the "Christian-Enlightenment." The "Christian Enlightenment" unlocked the "genius of man" - the genius of the rational man - unencumbered by religious superstition or political oppression. But how many people in the West realize that? Not many. And therein lies our problem. How can we preserve Western civilization when so few of us understand it?

Thankfully, the Founding Fathers understood it. They were the product of "The Age of Reason." They created the institutions and customs to preserve it. And when the European intellectuals started abandoning Reason in the mid-19th Century (and totally gave up on it by the end of World War One), only the U.S. was able to stop the descent into the abyss.

Why? Because of the Founders. They created the framework for the U.S. to become an economic superpower - and that economic power - in time - became military power -
unprecedented military power.

When Europe started obeying the Second Law of Political Dynamics ("everything turns to shit") - abandoning reason and embracing a pair of horrific mysticisms - only the U.S. could, and did, save them.

When the Nazis conquered Europe, only the U.S. could, and did, save them. France surrendered with barely a fight. Great Britain had the resources to resist invasion, but not to roll back the Nazi Empire. Only the U.S. could do it. And years later, only the U.S. - for the same reasons - could resist Communism when that other irrational ideology consumed one-third of the world, and threatened to overrun the other two-thirds.


Since 2001, the U.S. has been experiencing a major economic decline - although it was able to mask that decline for 7 years by borrowing from China and other hostile foreign powers to finance a consumer binge at home while also undertaking a modern-day illogical "White Man's Burden" in Iraq and Afghanistan. To achieve those goals, this year, the federal government will run a $1.8 trillion deficit. And over the next 10 years, the U.S. debt is expected to double to almost $20 trillion. We are broke. So, so broke.

As we saw during the Great Depression, the world doesn't react well to sustained economic downturns (the rise of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, World War Two, etc). Thus, we're in for a rough 5-10 years, to say the least. Can we stop the decline? Can we reverse it?

I'd say "no."


To quote Charles Murray...

What's happening? Call it the Europe syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase "a life well-lived" did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.

And how do we reverse this "Europe Syndrome?" According to Mr. Murray, we need a "political Great Awakening among America's elites."

When I say that something akin to a political Great Awakening is required among America's elites, what I mean is that America's elites have to ask themselves how much they really do value what has made America exceptional, and what they are willing to do to preserve it.

Indeed. But later on, Mr. Murray claims that Reductionist science will save the West. Seriously! as I pointed out in my essay...

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Murray correctly diagnoses the "bag of chemicals" philosophy as the source of the "Europe Syndrome," but he doesn't recognize that the syndrome can't be defeated by only treating the symptoms (in this case, rolling back the welfare state). The syndrome itself (reductionism) must be treated, as well. In some of the best unintentional comedy ever found in a political speech, Mr. Murray thinks reductionist science will help advance the conservative movement and facilitate the "happiness of the people!" Ha!

Ah yes, Reductionism. I won't do here another full-scale dissection of Reductionism here. Let's just accept that it exists and it's quite powerful. M'kay? M'kay.

As I wrote to Talleyrand on Sep. 3...

Today, Reductionist premises are ubiquitous through our public schools, universities, mass media, popular culture, legal system, and political system…Indeed, probably the only institution in modern society that hasn’t been infected is organized religion…Thank God for that, I guess.

I am 29. I assume you’re around my age. If that’s the case, we are only the second generation to be heavily exposed to Reductionist thinking (with very little resistance from organized religion, in most cases). The first generation was lucky. They lived off the fumes of an earlier Christian/Enlightenment culture. Today, those of us who are under 30 are living off the FUMES OF FUMES.

Again, at the risk of sounding over-dramatic, our generation will either be the one that begins an Intellectual/Spiritual Renaissance, or we will be the first generation in American history to know the twin evils of anarchy and tyranny.

Yes. The Elites are Reductionists. And the Christian Fundies are morons. Thus, it's almost irrelevant whether the Reductionist Party (the Democrats) or the Fundie Party (the Republicans) holds power. Both of them are actively undermining the vision of the Founding Fathers. They are destroying reason in place of mysticism.

As I wrote to Talleyrand in a separate post....

A "rational civilization" needs only 2 things...

1) A citizenry that believes in the power of reason - i.e., that people have the intellectual and moral capacity to live their own lives with a minimum of outside coercion (coercion from a government agency or a religious body or whatever), and

2) A government that operates in a way that enables its "rational citizens" to flourish (i.e, a government of limited powers that can maintain law and order).

By those standards, which civilizations are "rational?" Not many. The United States, Israel, and the Anglosphere (Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand). Maybe one or two others.

And obviously, all of those countries are in danger today, because the idea that reason is good for humanity - indeed, the very CONCEPT that reason even exists - is under attack.

Actually, reason - at least as a political matter - is already gone. In retrospect, history will probably the record the year 2008 as the year that the American people lost control of their government. If that's true, the collapse of the West is already "baked in."



When both the GOP and the Democrats ganged up on the taxpayers to bail out Wall Street crooks to the tune of $700 billion (actually a lot more than that) and destroyed the ethos of the capitalist system and the spirit of the American Dream ("if you work hard and play by the rules, you'll do OK) - and did it despite unprecedented voter opposition - then we knew "something was rotten in the state of Denmark.

Today, we've reached a state of
"demoschlerosis" that can't be resolved through constitutional means. When that bill was signed into law - the vision of the Founding Fathers and the American Republic - was given its lethal injection.

The Reductionists grow in power. And the Christian Fundies - while still powerful in many ways - refuse to learn and grow up. As for the rest of us? We sit and stew. And write. But we haven't reached a critical mass. I've entertained hopes for an "Intellectual Renaissance." And I still do. But now I'm starting to move those hopes to AFTER the collapse, not BEFORE the collapse, and thus avoiding the need for a collapse altogether.




So what does the future hold?

I’ll bounce this idea as pure speculation (not a prediction):

The world in 2050…

The US as a violent, economically-sluggish tyranny (think Cold War-era Latin America), China as the world’s economic superpower, but still a tyranny (in some ways, even more oppressive than today), Europe in a state of civil war (think 90s-era Yugoslavia), the Arab World in Stone Age conditions (with China controlling the oil-producing regions by force), Australia as a rising democracy (with large numbers of refugees from Europe and the US), Japan as a vassal state of China, India still growing peacefully (but behind China), Latin America dysfunctional (just like today) and Africa horrific (just like today).


Thoughts?