Saturday, December 31, 2005

My Favorite Things:

I hesitate to write a "my favorite things" post for the Postive Liberty blog, given that some of my personal interests are to some folks a little odd and "an acquired taste." But here goes anyway.

1) For books, It will have to be the Infinite Crisis series that is currently going on in the DC Universe. Infinite Crisis is the sequel to the 80s classic "Crisis on Infinite Earths."

Here is the pithy "cut to the chase." DC felt it originally needed Crisis because of "comic book time." Even though these heroes made their debuts in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, they don't age. They sort of magically bring about 10 years of history behind them and always exist in the present day. But some of the heroes' backgrounds were "tied" to historical events like World War II. If Superman, Batman, et al. operated in WWII, they'd be in their 80s now. This was even as issue 30 some years ago in the "Silver Age," so DC split the Universe into two Earths. Earth 2 would have Superman, Batman, etc. as they originally existed and tied to historical events like WWII, and Earth 1 would be the heroes as we currently read them in the books, with about ten years of history (since Superman made his debut) traveling behind them. But eventually the "multiverses" got out so out of hand with so many different earths that DC decided to get rid of them and merge all the Earths into one (including the Earths with the Shazam/Marvel Family and Charlton Heroes). Plus they used such an event to give their heroes much needed revamps. That was the Crisis on Infinite Earths in the 80s.

But Crisis left some interesting issues, many of which never were satisfactorily resolved. For instance, the "Justice Society of America" -- the hero league of WWII -- does exist in comic book continuity, but without the Golden Age Superman, Batman, and Wonderwoman, who have now been written out of existence (because the original Flash and Green Latern had different identities than their Silver Age counterparts, they didn't get written out). And in the meantime, the multiverses have returned to DC continuity.

Infinite Crisis reveals that some of those "pre-Crisis" characters didn't get erased from reality, but went off to a "paradise dimension." Most notably, the original Golden Age Superman was one of such characters. Since the original Crisis, comic books, not just specialty comics, but the "regular ones" too, have explored more "adult themes" and have become darker and more sophisticated. The Superman of Earth 2 has taken notice of this; he notes how originally this new "post-Crisis" Earth had potential, but eventually something went drastically wrong. So he wants to write that Earth out of existence and bring back his "Golden Age" Earth 2 as the "default" Earth. And he's going to challenge DC heroes (see this cover).

The series is supposed to significantly impact DC Universe continuity like Crisis did in the 80s.

For me this is special because 1) George Perez, who originally drew Crisis, is my favorite artist. He has a limited role in the art of Infinite Crisis (doing covers and some other things). 2) Phil Jiminez, my second favorite artist, whose work bears a striking resemblance to Perez's is the chief artist of the Infinite Crisis series.

2) For music, I am enjoying the G3 Live in Tokyo DVD. G3 are Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and some other 3rd virtuoso guitarist. In the past, they've had Adrian Legg, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robert Fripp, Michael Schenker, Uli Jon Roth, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Eric Johnson to fill the "3rd" slot. I've not yet seen a G3 live show, but eventually will. Speaking of Johnson, I just bought his DVD, Live From Austin, Texas, which I can't wait to watch.

Speaking of shred guitar, let me give an honorable mention to the Transiberian Orchestra. Not quite my cup of tea but I thank them for helping to bring the genres of heavy-metal shred guitar and progressive rock to the masses, or at least to the yuppie crowd who otherwise have conservative musical tastes.

And speaking of progressive rock, I found this gem with links to unreleased Kansas music on Christmas night. I won't defend the progressive rock genre; you either love it or loathe it. I will however, defend the assertion that Kansas are the most underrated progressive rock group and that, at their best, could go toe to toe with Genesis (Gabriel era of course), Yes, ELP, and Rush.

Vocalist/keyboardist Steve Walsh left the band when writer/guitarist/keyboardist Kerry Livgren became a born-again Christian and starting writing songs that Steve couldn't put his heart into. They instead hired, also born-again Christian John Elefante as a singer and produced two good (but not great) Christian Rock albums. Walsh has since rejoined the band. Sadly, his voice has lost some of its tone and range; but he's still a better singer than most of what's out there.

I hadn't realized that Kansas had recorded much of their Vinyl Confessions (their first with Elefante) album with Steve Walsh. And that demo recordings exist. For instance, even though the quality is not great, hearing Steve Walsh sing "Borderline" one wonders whether, if released with his vocals, it could have been their next "AOR" hit. In any event, I don't see how anyone could listen to him sing and not conclude as did Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett that Steve Walsh has "the perfect white rock voice."

For a representation of their progressive side, check out this bootleg version of Song For America. (Is anyone seriously annoyed yet?)

3) Food! One of the remarkable things about soon to be Justice Alito is his similar background (some argue also his jurisprudence) with Justice Scalia (hence "Scalito"). They are both Italian American Catholic conservatives who grew up in the Trenton area. Well that's right across the Delaware River from where I live in Yardley, PA. I teach at Mercer County Community College, and many of my students attended Alito's high school. I also found out, watching CSPAN that both Scalia and Alito (and me!) grew up eating at DeLorenzo's on Hudson Street, in Trenton. They serve the best "old school" Tomato-Pie kind of Pizza in the area, perhaps the nation (perhaps the world). But, they don't have a public bathroom. So remember to pee before you get there.

4. For a bookstore, sorry to be boring but the Borders in Langhorne, PA. (Oh yeah, there is Wade's Comic Madness in Levittown, PA.)

5. A blog: Well two. Dark Bilious Vapors and Juxtaposition Virus. I don't plug them enough. They are always good reads (plus, they have nice things to say about me).

Friday, December 30, 2005

Play it again Bob!

Since Robert Knight has seen fit to reproduce an article on America's religious heritage that features phony, debunked quotes, let me direct you to this past post of mine fisking it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mel Gibson Quotes:

Ed Brayton and a few other sources have brought up Mel Gibson's Playboy interview which includes among other things a dumb quote on evolution and some conspiratorial rants. The quotes were cited by someone who didn't have the issue in his hands (and the interview is not online); thus, it was cautioned to make sure the quotes were accurate before further disseminating them.

Well I do have the issue in my hands (long story short, my older brother's Playboy collection is archived at my house) and those quotes are 100% accurate.

I'll do a longer post on this. In skimming the article, those quotes just scratch the surface. It's ironic that the religious right lauds Gibson and thinks of him as a "good Christian family man." Well in reading the interview, his mouth is more like Howard Stern's than Billy Graham's. Now, Mel's potty mouth doesn't bother me. But I like Howard Stern type humor. The excerpt from the Lippard blog reproduces Gibson using phrases like, "you might have a bigger dick" and "She was a cunt." But there's much more....

Always nice to get a link from Andrew Sullivan. Thanks Andrew. You made my day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mental Health and Social Norms:

The death of Charles Socarides has brought to mind a regrettable tendency (one that often borders on tyranny) of the mental health profession. Socarides, if you don't know, was one of the godfathers of the "homosexuality is a mental illness" school of thought. And (Providentially, in my opinion) one of his sons turned out to be not just gay but one of the leading gay rights activists of the 90s.

The "regrettable tendency" to which I refer is the (mis)use of the concept of "mental illness" to enforce moral or social norms. Back in Socarides's day, it was the 1950s style social conservative morality which was "medicalized." Today it's PC. Previously, homosexuality and other behaviors which violated "traditional morality" were "mental illnesses." Today "racism" and "homophobia" are mental illnesses (or at least, some folks within the profession seriously advance this notion). As Pete Townsend put it: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

This problem within psychiatry doesn't lead me to the extreme position advanced by Thomas Szasz or Michel Foucault that "mental illness" doesn't exist. Psychiatric disorders do exist, some of them rather minor (a moderate anxiety disorder), some of them deadly serious (severe depression, which often results in suicide). But we should realize that underlying mental disorders have (or ought to have) nothing, absolutely nothing to do with social norms. They are "health" problems, not "moral" problems and as such are socially neutral and more analogous to concepts like "race" and "gender." Indeed, mental disorders are protected civil rights categories under the ADA and other related disabilities legislation. To say that someone has a "psychiatric disorder" is to say that their health is impaired in the same way that someone with high cholesterol or hypertension has their health impaired.

[One thinks of the recent hubub on Lincoln and homosexuality. Though historians strive mightily in their battles over whether Lincoln suffered from the "mental disorder" of homosexuality, no one seriously disputes that Lincoln suffered from the true mental disorder of bipolar. Likewise Thomas Jefferson most likely suffered from a physiatric disorder -- depression, as did Madison, who, given that he was convinced he would die an early death (he actually lived into his 80s), most likely had an anxiety neurosis. These conditions don't raise controversy because we properly regard them as socially neutral. Finding out that Madison had an anxiety disorder really ought to be no different than finding out he had male pattern baldness (which I don't think he did; but who knows? they all wore wigs).]

Therefore, properly understood, categorizing something as a "mental disorder" cuts against the moral and social stigma of that condition, and cuts in favor of social neutrality and civil rights protection of the underlying "disorder."

This isn't to say that there is no intersection between behavior that results from "mental disorders" and behavior that is immoral or otherwise socially unacceptable. One thinks of conditions like kleptomania or alcoholism. But still, those who wish to maintain a social stigma on the underlying behavior of for instance, kleptomania (stealing) must do so with no reliance on such behavior resulting from a "psychiatric disorder." Again, to rely on the mental health body of science to enforce your desired social norms is a fundamental misuse of the profession.

Even if tomorrow we discovered that kleptomania doesn't really exist as a "mental disorder" that would not (or at least it shouldn't) do one thing to "normalize" stealing if for no other reason than the vast majority of people who steal aren't kleptomaniacs and had no "mental disorder" prompting them to steal to begin with. They are simply bad people who wanted to get something for nothing. Indeed, take a person with a moral conscience, who truly desires not to steal and does everything he can to pay for his items, but "just can't help himself." And then he feels terrible guilt after the act is done and seeks mental help. Such a person, in my opinion, is more moral than the lazy jerk who wants to get something for nothing. Thus, while the kleptomania doesn't excuse the underlying stealing, it does indeed mitigate the behavior. Therefore, if kleptomania really doesn't exist as a mental disorder, all the worse for thieves.

My personal opinion is that Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings were on the right side of not just history, but science in helping to get homosexuality removed from the DSM. To hear the social right tell the story, homosexuality was "removed" for "political," not sound medical reasons. But this gets it exactly backwards. Homosexuality was put on the DSM list for "political," not sound medical reasons, and it took some political action to reverse that mistake.

If getting homosexuality removed from the list of "disorders" helped "normalize" it in a "social" or "moral" sense, then that's only because the social right improperly relied on psychiatry for maintaining the social and moral stigma on homosexuality. As with kleptomania, if homosexual behavior were truly "wrong," then removing homosexuality from the list of "disorders" would only make things all the worse for homosexuals.
Interesting Stuff on the Web Today:

First, James Q. Wilson on ID. Bottom line:

The other meaning of theory is the popular and not the scientific one. People use "theory" when they mean a guess, a faith or an idea. A theory in this sense does not state a testable relationship between two or more things. It is a belief that may be true, but its truth cannot be tested by scientific inquiry. One such theory is that God exists and intervenes in human life in ways that affect the outcome of human life. God may well exist, and He may well help people overcome problems or even (if we believe certain athletes) determine the outcome of a game. But that theory cannot be tested. There is no way anyone has found that we can prove empirically that God exists or that His action has affected some human life. If such a test could be found, the scientist who executed it would overnight become a hero.

John Stossel on the counterintuitive Truth that things are actually getting better, not worse:

"Life getting worse" is myth No.1 because in TV newsrooms, I hear a constant whine about life getting worse: avian flu will kill us if terrorism doesn't get us first; crime and pollution keep increasing, and the poor are suffering. But in truth, life keeps getting better. We live longer than ever, and with less pain (think about dental care in the 1960s). Crime is down. In America, even poor people have homes, cars, and access to music and other entertainment that was once only available to royalty. Pollution? The air and water keep getting cleaner. I jumped in the Hudson River not long ago to illustrate the point. There I was, swimming away and looking up at the Empire State building. Despite eight million people flushing nearby, the health department says swimming in the Hudson is now perfectly safe.

Despite all the complaints from the media, life keeps getting better. Let's complain less and enjoy 2006.

Finally, Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews Stanley Weintraub on George Washington & Christmas:

Lopez: "His Christmases [were] more hearty than solemn," you write. What did Christmas mean to Washington?

Weintraub: Christmas to most Virginia planters meant fox hunting, feasts of meat pies, guns shot into the air, Yule logs that meant freedom from work by servants (and slaves) as long as they burned, and festive drinking and conviviality, and "Christmas boxes" — usually a coin or two — for the servants, given on "Boxing Day," the day after Christmas. Not much churchgoing. Churches were often too far away by horseback and wagon for a family. Washington's church at Powhick was attended mostly by Martha. He invoked the Deity on occasion in speeches but he was not profoundly religious in the sense of prayer and church attendance. Our traditional Christmases, with Christmas trees, were still decades away.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

My Christmas Present:

I couldn't have asked for anything better (I found it tonight, so I don't know who to thank. Providence???): This link and especially this page. Songs like these, without question, are among the greatest progressive rock tunes, on par with the best of Yes, Genesis, Rush, and ELP. This is American Progressive Rock at its finest.
Executing Captain America:

I cannot more strongly recommend Kurt Busiek's Astro City series for comic book readers. Busiek takes already existing themes and characters, deconstructs and reconstructs them while adding his own originality to the mix such that the final superhero product is his own unique creation.

Most of these heroes, loosely (very) based on both Marvel and DC characters (for instance Superman is Samaritan, Batman is the Confessor, the Fantastic Four are the Furst Family, and so on and so forth), operate in one mythical city -- Astro City. The series has been compared to Alan Moore's "Watchmen" as a comic book with sophisticated, real world themes. But as Busiek has explained, Astro City differs from Watchmen in this sense: Watchmen explored what if heroes existed in the "real" world, with "real world" logical implications and asked "how would the world be different?" Astro City, on the other hand, takes real world like characters and puts them in a world where unrealistic comic book logic applies, and the world miraculously stays the same (check out this character who reads like a cross between Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, Joe Camel, and Fatty Arbuckle). As Busiek noted, "We've got trolls living underground in Astro City. We've got time travelers reweaving the future. We've got fantastic technology, mystical creatures, alien contact and powerful, violent destructive beings by the double handful....One of the most charming elements of the superhero story, for me, lies in the fact that the world it all happens in is our world -- that this fantastic, furious, cosmic stuff happens in what could be the skies over our heads -- and sure, it should transform the world into something unrecognizable, but it doesn't...." Busiek, Anderson, and Ross, Astro City, Life in the Big City, p. 9.

Pictured above is "Silver Agent" loosely based on Captain America. He is a hero of the "Silver Age" of comic books, and operated from "1956 to 1973. A statue was erected to him after his death." The statute has been long featured in the Astro City series and engraved on it was "To Our Eternal Shame." Fans long wondered what that meant and Busiek finally revealed in the latest issue that the Silver Agent was framed for a murder, tried by the US government, and executed (he declined all appeals). It reads like executing Captain America. Read more about it here.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Secularist Defense of Christmas:

From last year. The best passage:

Christmas perfectly exemplifies the larger phenomenon of the unique culture that is the West which has a religious (Jerusalem) and a Secular-Pagan (Athens) origin. Culturally, the West presently is and always has been every bit as much of a Pagan society as it is Christian.

And what makes the West special is this unique combination, this tension between Athens and Jerusalem. The orthodox and the Pagan agree on some matters, vehemently disagree on others, borrow from one another and create separately and together. Indeed, this tension enabled the West to be the greatest creative force there ever was.

Merry Christmas fellow Secular Pagans. It's our freakin' holiday too.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Kurtz's Obsession and more on Bisexuality:

Stanley Kurtz continues his obsession with trying to connect gay marriage with polygamy in this Weekly Standard article. Rob Anderson, writing in the New Republic aptly answers Kurtz's case. Among other things, Anderson addresses Kurtz's novel "bisexual" angle that Kurtz introduced into his analysis.

Kurtz's argument is predicated on the fact that there is a similar group of people waiting in the wings to enter into polyamorous relationships. Yet for all his talk of a "bisexual/polyamory movement," Kurtz does not provide much convincing evidence that one actually exists. To prove that it does, he points to the De Bruijn trio, a group of Unitarian Universalists that promotes polygamy, two pro-bisexuality articles that have appeared in separate law reviews, an academic journal, and--this isn't a joke--an independent movie about a love triangle that's slated to play on the BRAVO channel this spring. There is no meaningful leadership, no agenda, no broad-based organizational structure, no PAC, no lobbyists, no fundraising. Where is the menace?

Furthermore, for all of his time spent researching sexual orientation, Kurtz has a rather archaic view of bisexuality: "[I]ncreasingly, bisexuality is emerging as a reason why legalized gay marriage is likely to result in legalized group marriage. If every sexual orientation has a right to construct its own form of marriage, then more changes are surely due. For what gay marriage is to homosexuality, group marriage is to bisexuality." Bisexuals are bisexuals, they are not polygamists. To my knowledge, there is no scientific study showing that people who happen to be sexually attracted to both sexes are more likely than heterosexuals to chafe under the restrictions of monogamy. That's one reason why Kurtz's analogy doesn't hold up. The other is that marriage between two people, regardless of their gender, is fundamentally different than a union among three or more. In 2004 Slate's Dahlia Lithwick noted that "one can plausibly argue that there is a rational basis for states to ban polygamous and polyamorous marriages in which there has been historical evidence of an imbalance of power, coercion (particularly of young girls), and an enormous financial burden placed on the state. None of these arguments can be made against gay marriage." Same-sex marriage and polyamory are completely different things that can be differentiated by law and by morality. It is quite possible that the same people who support same-sex marriage would oppose polyamourous unions. In fact, since 65 percent of Americans already have a positive view of homosexuals living together and 92 percent disapprove of unions involving more than two people, a large percentage of Americans have already made such a distinction. We can have same-sex marriage without polyamory--just ask the American public.

By giving weight to insignificant events, Kurtz has created a problem where no problem exists. And while he wants us to believe that forces are converging to completely undo the fabric of our society, he's proven something quite different: It's not the social fabric of America that's coming apart, but the right's crusade against same-sex marriage.

Let me add that I think Kurtz fundamentally misunderstands the nature of bisexuality. He cites a Stanford law review article by Kenji Yoshino which asserts "that bisexuality is far more prevalent than is usually recognized" and defines "bisexuality as a 'more than incidental desire' for partners of both sexes." I don't know if that's a proper definition of bisexuality. I think bisexuality can be defined two ways: One, those who demonstrate a full and even attraction to both genders (or something close to it). These are very few in number and exist mainly among the female gender (in other words Kinsey, "3s"). And two those have *any* kind of desire for both sexes, even incidental attraction and experiences (in other words Kinsey 1-5s). These are some unknown but extremely large percentage of the population, much larger than you think. The 1-2s -- those who are fully attracted to the opposite sex, but somewhat less than fully attracted to the same sex -- make up the largest percentage of these folks and most of them identify and understand themselves to be heterosexual.

I agree with Yoshino that this kind of "bisexuality is far more prevalent than is usually recognized." But, "[t]he relative invisibility of bisexuality," is not because of "the mutual interest of heterosexuals and homosexuals in minimizing its significance" but rather because most of those within the largest group who have some kind of bisexuality -- those within the 1-2 range on the Kinsey scale -- feel perfectly comfortable with their "hetero" identity and lifestyle and existing within the "normal" social group.

In this sense, bisexuality is sort of like "race" or "handedness." We tend to understand ambidextrous folks as those with a relatively even and interchangeable abilities. If we instead defined it as *any* kind of skill with both hands, then arguably we'd all be ambi (though, I'm not arguing that we are all bisexual in this sense). Or with race, there are plenty of "black" people with *some* white blood. But we don't insist to lighter skinned blacks: "your not really black, technically you are 'mixed race.'" There are plenty of self-identified and self-understanding heterosexuals (a much larger % than real homosexuals, certainly in the double digits of the population) who have some sort of minor attraction to members of the same sex and in their past briefly acted upon them, but we don't or we ought not say, "your not really a heterosexual, technically your bi." Similarly, many of those "gay men" who were involved in heterosexual marriages like Jim McGreevy probably did have some sort of less-than-full attraction to their spouses, but couldn't flourish in those relations in the long run. Hence, they are better understood as "gay" even though technically Jim McGreevy is probably not a "6" on the Kinsey scale.

And this exposes the underlying flaw in Kurtz's thesis. Unless you are fully attracted to both sexes (or close to it) you are not likely to desire a "long-run" bisexually lifestyle. Rather, the actor will gravitate in the long run to that gender to which he or she is fully attracted. Certainly, a "marriage," whether plural or singular, to the less attracted gender will not work (do we really think McGreevy's marriage could have been saved by adding a third party, a male?).

Further, as Anderson notes, there is really no evidence that those with a "real" bisexual orientation, few as they are, have the "need" to be in long term relationships with both sexes. For instance, Anne Heche, Julie Cypher, those women with the wavering orientations who can flourish in long term relations bisexually...I don't see them needing to be in relationships with both sexes at the same time in a threesome. And that's because women, by their very nature, tend to be monogamous. Anne Heche falls in love with Ellen, she'll want to be with Ellen. She falls out of love with Ellen and in love with a man, she'll want to be with that man.

Although with the recent stories about Angelina Jolie....

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Is this really the Nature of the God of the Bible?

Michael Novak claims:

What does their religion -- almost entirely Jewish and Christian -- add to American civic and political life? you might ask. It grounds Americans' sense of personal dignity in the conviction that each woman and each man is made in the image of the Creator, and is loved by that Creator. It also grounds their fundamental right to freedom of conscience in the knowledge that God made human minds free, and chose to be approached by them based upon the evidence of their own minds, and through their own free choice, not through coercion. For such is the nature of the Jewish and Christian God [my emphasis].

These beliefs have always given Americans confidence in the idea that liberty is universal, intended by the Creator for all humans. Their philosophy of natural rights is backed up by their faith in the God Who addresses them in their liberty. In dark and difficult times, this faith is of quiet but irreplaceable assistance. It gives to Americans a sense that the world has a purpose and a direction.

Now this is certainly how many believers -- orthodox and unorthodox -- in the Jewish and Christian God have come to believe in His nature (and one could only hope that Muslims would likewise come to believe in their God this way). But it is not at all clear from the text of the Bible that this is the nature of God. And for most of the history of Judaism and Christianity -- thousands of years -- this was not the way the believers understood the text of the Bible or what their Churches otherwise held.

When Christians like Roger Williams started to advance such sentiments, they were utterly novel readings of the Bible. The argument that Roger Williams made in The Bloody Tenent, Of Persecution for Cause of Conscience got him banished from Puritan Massachusettses. In it Williams wrote:

It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of His Son, the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish or anti-Christian consciences and worship be granted to all men, in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in Soul matters able to conquer, to wit; the sword of the Spirit--the Word of God.

And Novak's line about "the knowledge that God made human minds free, and chose to be approached by them based upon the evidence of their own minds, and through their own free choice, not through coercion" is also nowhere to be found in the Bible, but rather paraphrases Jefferson's Virgina Statute on Religious Freedom which begins, "Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free...." Jefferson didn't get his ideas for that statute from the Bible, but from Locke and an Enlightenment understanding of reality.

Let us not forget that Novak's passage more reflects how Enlightenment impacted our religious tradition and not vice-versa. Novak's assertion of the nature of the Jewish and Christian God was not the understanding of the Catholic Church, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, John Winthrop and the founders of all of the American Colonies save Rhode Island, and most other prominent Jewish and Christian thinkers up to a particular fairly recent point in history (the 1600s). All of them thought that is was perfectly fine for the government to punish one, usually by tortuous death, for having the wrong religious beliefs and talking about them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Science & Religion:

The recent pro-science decision in Dover leads me to assert:

1) Evolution and belief in the supernatural -- "God," "Religion," etc. -- are compatible;

2) Evolution and the Christian Religion, and *certain* readings of the Bible are compatible;

3) Evolution and *certain* readings of the Bible -- for instance, young Earth creationism -- are not compatible.

4) There is far more scientific evidence in favor of evolution than YEC.

5) If there is a conflict between science and religion on a particular matter, science trumps. And it's up to religious people to modify their views to be consistent with science, not vice versa. People used to believe, as a matter of religion, that Apollo (or was it Helios?) pulled the Sun around the Earth with his magic horse. Science has since disproved this. Rational people are under no obligation to take seriously such flat-Earth like notions.

6) If God does exist and evolution is true, then He/She/It is a God who plays dice with the universe and manipulates probabilities and chance. And since miracles (a break in the laws of science like parting the Red Sea or turning Lot's wife into Salt) have never been proven by credible evidence or recorded in a lab tested environment, God doesn't break the laws of science when He intervenes; God only manipulates probabilities.

7) Point #6 doesn't belong in a science class, and even though I suspect it is true, I think it would be damn arrogant of me to try to get such a theory introduced into science education.

Where am I going wrong here?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fox News on Church & State and Classical Secularism:

Fox News had a special last night on Church and State. I give it a mixed review. The negatives were to be expected: Brit Hume's annoying slant to the story; trying to make the "pro-separation" forces out to be the bad guys; Bill Donahue, who is an obnoxious blowhard was given a soapbox on which to rant.

The positives: For scholarly opinion, they featured very credible, reasonable, distinguished scholars. They had Daniel Dreisbach, Philip Munoz, and James Huston. No "Christian Nation" hacks like David Barton or William Federer. (From what I've seen of it, I really like Munoz's work on the Church/State issue. It reminds me of Michael McConnell's.)

They should have given more time to some of the pro-separation scholars they featured, who were again, very good (Marci Hamilton and Rob Boston).

I think I could endorse what Munoz and McConnell (who wasn't on the show) seem to argue for; their theory arguably fits with what I call "classical secularism," and may not fully satisfy what the religious conservatives desire on Church/State issues.

For instance, let's make a spectrum: One one end we would have the notion that Establishment Clause prevents only a federally established Church and nothing else (states would still be able to have establishments). On the opposite end would be complete separation of Church & State: No government funds ever going to religion, no "under God" in the pledge, no "in God we Trust" on our currencies, no religious symbols on public property. The Supreme Court's current jurisprudence is somewhere in between, and changes inconsistently from context to context.

I'm more interested in where the natural law/natural rights ideal for which Jefferson and Madison argued in the Statute on Religious Freedom and Memorial and Remonstrance (which are the Declaration of Independence's cognate natural law documents) would fit along the spectrum if given constitutional status. Note, the Madisonian/Jeffersonian "ideal" constitutional standard may be far different than the Madisonian/Jeffersonian "practice" as Presidents and political leaders (for instance, as Presidents, attending Church services every week on public property; Madison voting on a committee to allow Congressional chaplains, but later arguing that in theory, they violate the Constitution, etc.). The "ideal" Jefferson and Madison, especially read at a higher level of abstraction than which they expected, would drive us closer to the "separation" end of the spectrum.

Also, given that Justice Thomas believes the Declaration's natural law is the organic fundamental law of the United States, he too should support giving those two VA documents constitutional status, certainly using them as a guide for Establishment Clause cases. I haven't read all of Thomas's Church/State opinions. I think he's closer to the extreme end that believes the EC only constrains the federal government and only prevents it from "establishing" a national Church. However, he needs to explain why if he believes in natural law, the Memorial and Remonstrance and VA Statute on Religious Freedom aren't likewise incorporated with the Declaration into constitutional jurisprudence. For instance, in CUTTER V. WILKINSON, Thomas writes:

The Clause prohibits Congress from enacting legislation "respecting an establishment of religion" (emphasis added); it does not prohibit Congress from enacting legislation "respecting religion" or "taking cognizance of religion." [Rowe: The "no cognizance" standard was articulated in the Memorial and Remonstrance.] P. Hamburger, Separation of Church and State 106-107 (2002)....In any event, Ohio has not shown that the Establishment Clause codified Madison's...view that the Federal Government could not legislate regarding religion....The words ultimately adopted, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," "identified a position from which [Madison] had once sought to distinguish his own," Hamburger, supra, at 106. Whatever he thought of those words, "he clearly did not mind language less severe than that which he had [previously] used."

However, as far as I know, Philip Hamburger is a legal positivist. The Constitution, from a positivist perspective and separated from the Declaration, is a pro-slavery document and thus makes a major "compromise" with the anti-slavery ideal in the Declaration. If it's proper to read the Constitution through the lens of the Declaration, why isn't it likewise proper to read the First Amendment (or other provisions of the Constitution) through the lens of the Memorial and Remonstrance and VA Statute on Religious Freedom?

And just what is the Jeffersonian/Madisonian ideal on separation of Church and State? Well, arguably, it's not quite ACLU style "separation" but rather full religious equality. That is equality between the orthodox and the unorthodox religions, and equality between religion and non-religion. Thus, perhaps this natural law theory would be better channeled through the Equal Protection Clause or some substantive recognition of Equality under the Privileges or Immunities Clause. Here is Munoz on the matter:

By "non-cognizance" Madison means that the state may not recognize or acknowledge the religious affiliation of individual citizens or associations of citizens. Literally, the state may not take religion into its view. To adapt a term from civil rights discourse, the state must remain "religion blind." The state, therefore, may neither privilege nor penalize [Rowe's emphasis] a citizen or an organization on account of religious affiliation. It may not grant exclusive privileges to one sect or to all religions generally. Ecclesiastical establishments, accordingly, violate the legitimate constitutional authority of any social compact. By definition, they fail to respect the "unalienable" character of man's natural right to religious liberty.

A majority of scholars and several Supreme Court justices have misinterpreted Madison as demanding a strict "wall of separation" between church and state. They fail to see the social compact framework of the "Memorial and Remonstrance," and thus fail to see that Madison limits the state's authority either to favor or disfavor religion. Just as the state may not single out Religious Liberty and the religion or religious citizens for beneficial preference, so the state may not exclude religious entities or religious individuals as such from generally available rights and privileges. To take one currently controverted point, according to Madison's principle, if the state supports a general social service program, it may not exclude, on account of religion, religious individuals or religious associations from competing for government funds.

Therefore, the constitutional non-discrimination principle on religion is analogous to race. Just as colorblind is a classical liberal constitutional ideal, so too should "religion-blindness" be. We are not a "white nation" in a public or civil sense. Neither are we a "Christian nation."

Likewise, Michael McConnell has argued for something similar and some social conservatives recognize it's not quite what they want. Here is Thomas West on McConnell's theory and on how it doesn't satisfy his traditionalist desires:

Law professor Michael McConnell gives the ablest scholarly defense of the view that government may promote "religion in general," but "must not favor one form of religious belief over another."9

Sometimes conservatives are even tempted to make use of the liberal view that government must be completely neutral between religion and "irreligion." In the Rosenberger case, the University of Virginia funded a variety of student publications, but it refused to fund a Christian journal. Michael McConnell argued to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Christian students that "the state should be completely indifferent to whether students use those benefits to participate in religious activity." The Constitution requires "neutrality between religion and its various competitors in the marketplace of ideas." The Court agreed. Unfortunately, McConnell's victory for the Christians was also a victory for Satanic, sado-masochistic, pedophile, and Nazi publications. They too are "competitors in the marketplace of ideas." They too have a right to government funding on an evenhanded basis.10

It's ironic that McConnell's notion of religious equality and neutrality is more consistent with natural law principles which Dr. West and Claremont purport to support.

The paradigmatic example of the classical secularism that I argue for is the Equal Access Act which both guarantees to religion "equal access" to use public facilities, but also limits such religious rights to circumstances where such facilities are available on a neutral and non-discriminatory basis. Therefore, religious student groups receive no more and no less protection that say gay rights student groups. Or take vouchers: As long as they are generally available to unorthodox religions and non-religious private schools, as well as traditional Christian and Catholic schools, they should be Constitutional. So along with Christian schools, secular private schools, Scientologist schools, Muslim schools, etc. may get vouchers too.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bailey on Wealth of Nations:

This article makes an important observation. It effectively answers why some nations are more affluent than others. It's really quite simple: "Establish the rule of law and educate people." Easier said than done, right?

It's also important to have a pro-market philosophy (economic freedom). If you have all three, rule of law, an educated citizenry, and economic liberty, it's almost as though you can't go wrong.

Indigenous natural resources mean little if anything for a nation's economic advancement prospects. As Fareed Zakaria has pointed out, there is almost an inverse relationship between indigenous natural resources in a nation and how affluent and advanced the nation is. You'd be better off if your nation just existed on one big rock like Hong Kong or Great Britain.

Another irony, and it's something we libertarians have to recognize, is that even though it would be better for the big governments to downsize and if all industrialized nations had governments closer to laissez faire, the system of managed-regulated capitalism, with its big bureaucratized governments, is workable, so long as government doesn't get so out of control that it does too much damage to the private sector. (Clinton and Blair's "Third Way").

[And please don't read this as an endorsement of big bureaucratized government. Like Milton Friedman, I'm disgusted at how Bush and the Republican Congress haven't been able to control their spending in Congress.]

Indeed, big government realizes that it needs a dynamic private market to support it. Economic growth leads to more tax revenues which in turn leads to bigger government. This is why economic liberalization and even tax cuts that took place not only under Reagan in the 80s but also in Western Europe (in short, pro-business capitialism) enabled bigger bureaucratized governments in the West.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Rev. Rankin responds...yet again!

Read his latest. Let me try to keep this brief to avoid going in circles.

Mr. Rankin:

You state that "the content [of the Declaration] is biblical, and the ethical instincts of all the signatories to the Declaration knew this. In the biblical order of creation, Yahweh Elohim gives us life, liberty and stewardship over his creation (which translates into the freedom to keep, spend or trade the property we produce)." Yet, as we've already established, the Founders didn't identify "Yahweh Elohim" as the source of unalienable rights (which concept you acknowledge does not derive from the Bible, but rather John Locke), but rather Nature's God. The term "Nature" as used by the Founders in this context means "discoverable by reason as opposed to revealed by God" (see Forrest McDonald's Novus Ordo Seclorum, p. xi) and as such Nature's God is "God insofar as we can discern his existence through our reason unassisted by faith" (see Thomas West's speech given to the Family Research Council on Locke).

Thus, what was significant about our Founding and its underlying natural law/natural rights theory, is that it held Man's Reason, not Biblical Revelation as the ultimate arbiter of Truth, or to be more precise of those Truths that will rule us publicly, (as opposed to the Truths that rule our private consciences).

See this article on the religious beliefs of our key founders, the founders most responsible for putting forth the ideas upon which we Declared our Independence and constructed our Constitution.

Although they believed that God primarily revealed himself through nature, they believed that some written revelation was legitimate. Finally, while they believed that reason and revelation generally agree with each other, theistic rationalists believed that revelation was designed to complement reason (not vice versa). Reason was the ultimate standard for learning and evaluating truth and for determining legitimate revelation from God.

How well this religious belief system "merged...with the ethics of the Reformational orthodoxy," is up for debate. In my opinion, the poster boy for "reformational orthodoxy" was John Calvin. And Jefferson wrote to Adams, with Adams in seeming agreement, that Calvin's God was a "daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin."

And as I've noted before, "Reason" couldn't even confirm for Adams and Jefferson (and likely Franklin and others) that God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses. Thus, it's doubtful that the "Nature's God" to whom Jefferson et al. referred properly could be described as "Yahweh Elohim" of the inerrant Bible. No doubt many, back in the day, believed Nature's God to be the God of the Bible and Jefferson, et al. did nothing explicitly to dispel that belief (indeed, they needed the support of many orthodox Christians in the revolution).

The solution to this potential doctrinal conflict, therefore, was to be purposefully vague about the attributes of Nature's God when publicly referencing Him. So it seems that you are exactly wrong in your conclusion that "No pagan deity or secular/agnostic/atheistic philosophy or amorphous Enlightenment deity defines rights which transcend human government, that is by definition, those rights which are 'unalienable.'" Nature's God is indeed an "amorphous Enlightenment deity."

Finally, regarding your claim of the "Biblical content" of a God who grants us the right to life, liberty, and property, (indeed, your broader claim that such a theory can derive only from the Bible and its God in Genesis), as Christopher Hitchens writes:

There has never yet been any society, Confucian or Buddhist or Islamic, where the legal codes did not frown upon murder and theft. These offenses were certainly crimes in the Pharaonic Egypt from which the children of Israel had, if the story is to be believed, just escaped.

I should also note that our modern understanding of property is far more Lockean than Biblical.

Also keep in mind that the notion of Truths ascertainable by "Man's Reason" alone, i.e., what man can know as man, which is central to our Founding, derives from Aristotle and Pagan Ancient Greece, and was only incorporated into Christendom by Aquinas.

As regards the issue of a God who grants us "liberty," from a textual reading of the Bible, Yahweh Elohim with all of His "do this, don't do that" commands seems to be as much of an anti-libertarian deity as one could imagine. I support your teachings on the impropriety of theocracy and on "maximum liberty for all people, so long as none of us deliberately harm the life, liberty or property of another." However, for thousands of years the Judeo-Christian tradition did not understand the Bible this way. Certainly the Catholic Church didn't. And neither did Luther, Calvin, or the Christians who founded colonial America, like John Winthrop. All were obsessed using the organs of the state to enforce religious orthodoxy and virtue and writing religious rules, often copying verses and chapters of the Bible wholesale, into the text of the civil law.

It wasn't until later that orthodox dissident Protestants (Roger Williams and the Baptists) and unorthodox liberal Protestants rejected the "Christian Commonwealth" (or "theocracy") model of government.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bye Howard:

Thanks for the fond memories. Now...the decision...should I or shouldn't I?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Derb on Religion, Morality & Social Science:

John Derbyshire has some interesting things to say on the connection between religion and morality, which parallels what I wrote in this post on Daniel Lapin's absurd thesis reacting to the data showing that secular citizens may actually be more law abiding and moral than religious citizens.

Derb writes:

This is a routine rhetorical flourish in reports of this kind. I imagine most American conservatives, including most nonreligious ones, would respond to that with some thought like: “Well, thank goodness we are not that secular. It’s our religiosity that gives us ballast, preserves our cherished institutions from unnecessary change, and keeps us on the straight and narrow.”

Is this true, though? So far as the straight and narrow is concerned, the notion that religious belief is a social good does not actually bear up very well under examination. India is much more religious than Japan, but much worse behaved. (Homicide rates 0.034 per 1,000 vs. 0.005; adult HIV/AIDS infection 0.9 percent vs. 0.1; etc., etc.) Similarly within these United States. George Barna’s surveys show that African Americans are the most religious group in U.S. society, Asian Americans the least religious, white Americans intermediate. The statement “My religious faith is important to me” draws an affirmative response from 52 percent of Asian Americans, 68 percent of whites, 72 percent of Hispanics, and 89 percent of African Americans. However, statistics on various kinds of social dysfunction and misbehavior — crime, illegitimacy, drug addiction, AIDS infection — vary in precisely the opposite way, Asian Americans having, and causing, the fewest problems, African Americans the most. (Barna’s surveys turn up a lot of counterintuitive results: For example, that born-again Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians.)

Note: I don't draw a causal conclusion. I could, but I won't conclude that therefore, "religious beliefs are bad for society." It may well be that many of those with devout religious beliefs would behave even worse if they didn't possess them. I'm of the mind that devout religion isn't for everyone, but it works well for some people, helps them keep their lives in better order and gives them a better peace of mind.

It could also be that atheism and irrelgiosity tend to work better for the really bright, well-educated folks, who tend to be more law abiding anyway. When Washington gave his farwell address telling us of the connection between religion and morality, he also noted how "the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure," could serve the same effect. Irreligiosity and civility may go hand and hand only if tended to be accompanied by bright, well-educated minds.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It's Official:

After grading my students' International Business term papers this semester, I've concluded that "Wiki" is to Generation Y what "World Book" was to my generation.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Steven Malcolm Anderson, R.I.P.:

I was shocked and saddened to hear the news that Steven Malcolm Anderson, who often comments at Classical Values and various other blogs, passed away.

He always had very, very kind words for my work, and I don't think I ever got the chance to thank him enough.

Thanks Steven and may you rest in peace.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Potential Contradictions in the Notion that God Grants Unalienable Rights:

The Reverend Rankin responded again. Here is my rejoinder:

Mr. Rankin:

Ultimately you fail to establish your case that the God of the Bible is the only viable source for unalienable rights and that granting same-sex marriage, because it seems to contradict what the Bible says, weakens the case for unalienable rights.

First, as I've previously established on this website and which you haven't challenged, the God of the Bible never was the explicit source for unalienable rights, rather "Nature's God" was. Nature's God, by definition, is God insofar we can understand His attributes from Reason, not from faith or Revelation. "Reason" may "discover" that Nature's God and the God of Biblical Christianity are one and the same, or "Reason" may "discover" God to have attributes that absolutely contradict orthodox Christianity.

That the God of the Declaration was not defined as the God of the Bible shouldn't surprise us: Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams made up a majority of the drafting board of the Declaration, and none of them were orthodox Christians or believed the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. And if you've read their writings in detail, you'll see that, for them, "Reason" discovered that God had attributes which absolutely conflicted with the teachings of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity (see this post where I discuss Adams explaining to Jefferson that "the laws of Nature" revealed "Nature's God" to be unitarian, not trinitarian, in His attributes).

Now, you seem to draw a distinction between "doctrine" and "history." If I understand your argument, you would assert that regardless of doctrine, the majority of the American population, when the Declaration was written and up to the present, understood "Nature's God" to be the God of the Bible. Perhaps this is so (I'm not sure if I would grant the majority of the signers of the Declaration understood this).

But given the uneasy tension between the proper understanding of the "doctrine" of "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" and the historical "understanding" (or misunderstanding) that the Declaration's God is the God of the Bible, contradictions -- for instance like same-sex marriage being understood as a "civil right" when the God of the Bible explicitly forbids homosexuality -- should be expected. Indeed, the entire theory of the God of the Bible granting unalienable natural rights is itself fraught with such potential contradictions. And some smart social conservatives understand this and hence downplay the importance of the Declaration as a "foundational" document.

For instance, Robert Locke writes:

But the Declaration says that men are endowed with these rights by God, not by the social contract. This is a puzzling assertion in light of the fact that God was worshipped for 4,000 years without anyone noticing that He had endowed man with unalienable political rights. The Bible does not mention social contracts (of Locke's variety) or democracy. When it does discuss governments, like King David's Israel or the Roman Empire, it not only does not say that they derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, but frequently intimates quite otherwise.

Thomas Fleming writes:

Whatever Mr. Jefferson and his colleagues thought they were doing (other than restating Enlightenment platitudes that have nothing to do with Christianity), they were not writing the fundamental law of a nation that did not yet exist. If they had been intending to establish Christianity at the center of the American system, they would have used Christian language instead of such deistic phrases as "Nature's god."

Robert Bork makes similar points in Slouching Towards Gomorrah where he writes: "Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of Independence is an Enlightenment document." And further, "The 'unalienable rights' of the Declaration turned out, of course, frequently to be alienable. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, for example, explicitly assumes that a criminal may be punished by depriving him of life or liberty, which certainly tends to interfere with his pursuit of happiness."

Nowhere in the Bible (especially the Old Testmanent!) does it state that God grants man unalienable rights, especially not the right to worship as one chooses. Indeed, the God of the Bible seems to be the very opposite of a rights granting God -- rather He is a jealous duty demanding God! The very heart of unalienable natural rights are those of conscience, which hold that God grants men the right to worship, not just the Christian God, but false gods or no god at all. Such behavior not only violates the Ten Commandments (which homosexuality doesn't), but also (like homosexuality) merits the death penalty in the Old Testament.

So from the very beginning, the notion that the true God, if He is the God of the Bible, grants men unalienable rights contained theoretical contradictions that were every bit as great as the Biblical God granting the right to homosexual marriage.

Monday, December 05, 2005

What I looked like....

Half my life ago. Me circa 16 with my Dad, and older-middle brother.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Sloppy Scholarship from a Secularist Professor:

(This is really bad.)

Since most of the time, on religion and the founding, I attack the sloppiness we often see coming from the religious right, David Barton, et al., let me now attack someone from the other side.

Writing in Liberty Magazine, Robert Sandler, professor emeritus of history, University of Miami, writes about the making of the Constitution in 1787 and an attempt (of which I've never previously heard) to get the name "Jesus Christ" put into the original Constitution. Supposedly, a group of orthodox Christians asked George Washington (president of the Constitutional Convention) and company that an “explicit acknowledgment of the only true God and Jesus Christ be included in the Constitution." [quotes in the original]

Sandler writes:

After deliberation the delegates denied the request.

Thomas Jefferson, who in 1776 had written the Declaration of Independence, was in France at the time the Constitution was written. He knew most of the delegates. Upon his return he made it a point to contact as many delegates as he could. He had, of course, met and worked with most of them before. Thomas Jefferson, a fine writer, had been keeping a journal of these important days, and he was interested in writing about the appeal of the religious group. He wrote the following description of the delegates’ response to the clergy: “The insertion [the only true God . . . Jesus Christ, etc.] was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they [the delegates] meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its [the Constitution’s] protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.” Those are the words that the writers of our Constitution gave to Thomas Jefferson for his journal (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. I, p. 45).

Now, as I said, I was not previously aware that a group of orthodox Christians had pestered the Constitutional Convention to include a reference to Jesus Christ, which was subsequently voted down by the delegates. I do know that after seeing that the Constitution lacked any kind of invocation to God or the Christian religion, many orthodox clergy fulminated against this "Godless" document and warned that we would suffer God's wrath for "forgetting" Him in our Founding document. (See this article by Susan Jacoby).

And the passage on Jefferson is totally wrong. In the quote that Sandler features, Jefferson was actually referring to his Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, where there was indeed a proposed amendment to insert the word "Jesus Christ," which was subsequently voted down. But Sandler has Jefferson speaking as though he was discussing the US Constitution.

Now, one could indeed draw a connection between Jefferson's VA Statute and the US Constitution, arguing that they were both part and parcel of the unalienable natural rights of conscience approach, and that such theory applies universally to orthodox as well as unorthodox beliefs, that the US Constitution followed the Virginia model of complete religious neutrality and not the model of other states where a Christian sect was officially established and had greater rights granted to it than other religions. As Jacoby puts it:

The influence of Virginia's law, enacted less than a year before the writing of the federal Constitution, cannot be overstated. The delegates in Philadelphia could have looked for guidance to a crazy quilt of conflicting state laws, rooted in religious prejudice and incestuous Old World church-state entanglements. Instead they chose the Virginia model, which, as Jefferson proudly stated in his autobiography, "meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination."

However, that's not what Sandler is stating. He is stating that Jefferson's quote was directly speaking on the religion clauses of the US Constitution! It wasn't.