Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Paper From Seth Tillman on Originalism:

American Creation readers may remember Seth Tillman from his critique of Geoff Stone's anti-Christian Nation law review article here.

He has a new working paper entitled, "The Originalist Who Came In From The Cold: A 'New' View of the Incompatibility Clause, the Removal & Disqualification Clause, and the Religious Test Clause–A Response to Professor Josh Chafetz’s Impeachment & Assassination." You may access it here.
Universal Reconciliation & the Reductio Ad Hitlerum:

Over at WorldNetDaily they seem to have a problem with the moderate evangelical best selling book "The Shack" because it's too...moderate. As I noted in this post, George Washington didn't seem to have a problem with Christian-Universalism. Indeed, I think GW probably believed like the other "key Founders" did -- good people get into Heaven, bad people are temporarily punished, eventually saved. Though, his views on the afterlife are hard to pin down; they seemed as much "Greco-Roman" as "Judeo-Christian," and that synthesis is certainly consistent with the notion that virtuous people get into Heaven, the bad temporarily punished.

Here is their reductio:

Universal reconciliation is the teaching that all people go to heaven. Even the wicked angels and wicked people will repent in hell and get to heaven. The most heinous evils committed by the Hitlers of history find forgiveness. Even the embodiment of evil, Satan, the devil himself, will finally repent and enter heaven. God's love conquers all. Hell ceases to exist.

Unfortunately, this teaching overlooks the "little matter" of God's justice and holiness. In my book, "Burning Down the Shack," I expose the universalism still embedded in the novel.

Why even mention Hilter to prove the point. As far as I understand orthodox view of salvation, Hitler could have had a deathbed conversion to Christianity and be in Heaven, yet every Jew he had killed, if they didn't have a similar conversion, ends up in Hell for eternity where, according to some orthodox notions of Hell, they experience something even worse than the Holocaust.

This, to me, is as nuts as the worst I've heard come from the Bin Ladens of the world.

But even if Hitler DIDN'T have a deathbed conversion, the orthodox version of eternal damnation relativizes his sin and teaches Hitler ends up in the same place with the Jews killed during the Holocaust, Ghandi and those who believe in soul damning heresies like Mormons (and perhaps even Roman Catholics).

At least with universal reconciliation there is room for punishing folks IN PROPORTION to the sin they committed on Earth so that, if everyone gets into Heaven, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao are at the END of the line (for humans). And Satan, at the end of the line for all beings.

That makes far more sense than the orthodox version of eternal damnation. Now, if one wants to stick with, "this is just what the Bible teaches," fine. Don't try to argue there is any rhyme or reason to it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

John Adams on the French Revolutionary "Christian" Millennial Republicans:

They were quite an ecumenical and diverse coalition. To JAMES LLOYD, 14 February, 1815:

The Quakers, as I said in my last, were in principle against all wars, and, moreover, greatly prejudiced against New England, and personally against me. The Irish, who are very numerous and powerful in Pennsylvania, had been, and still were enthusiasts for the French revolution, extremely exasperated against old England, bitterly prejudiced against New England, strongly inclined in favor of the southern interest and against the northern. The Germans hated France and England too, but had been taught to hate New England more than either, and to abhor taxes more than all. A universal and perpetual exemption from taxes was held up to them as a temptation, by underhand politicians. The English, Scotch, and Irish Presbyterians, the Methodists, Anabaptists, the Unitarians and Universalists, with Dr. Priestley at their head, and all the other sectaries, even many of the Episcopalians themselves, had been carried away with the French revolution, and firmly believed that Bonaparte was the instrument of Providence to destroy the Pope and introduce the millennium. All these interests and parties were headed by Mr. McKean, an upright Chief Justice, an enlightened lawyer, a sagacious politician, and the most experienced statesman in the nation; by Mr. Mifflin, one of the earliest in the legislature of Pennsylvania and the first and second Congresses of the nation, an active officer in the revolutionary army, always extremely popular; by Jonathan B. Smith, an old revolutionary character.

I get the impression these were, basically, the Jefferson-Madison Democratic-Republicans and this is how they approached what was going down in France at the time.

I've long corrected what I see as an error coming mainly from the ("Christian America") political Right that as soon as the French Revolution broke out, America was against it because America's Founding was "Christian," France's Revolution was "Secular." In reality, most Founding era Americans, swept up in a revolutionary zeitgeist saw the French Revolution as a continuation of the American.

But by the time Bonaparte hit the scene, Adams' and Hamilton's Federalist Party were decidedly anti-French Revolution, with the Democratic-Republicans holding onto hope of the FR's success. Though I haven't confirmed every above name person or group neatly "fit" this categorization.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Heads Up:

I'll be guest blogging at Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars from Dec. 19-27. My grades (for 21 credits) are due Tuesday morning, so I'm not sure how much blogging I will do till then.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Does The Bible Teach Necessity As a Defense (or permitted exception) to Incest?

In my last post I noted, if one wants to justify (the normally prohibited kinds of) incest (as noted, if you extend "incest" beyond the nuclear family, we are all distant cousins), perhaps one could use, NOT same sex marriage but the Bible itself in certain circumstances (though what that Columbia U Prof. did probably doesn't qualify under the exception).

The Bible does in some sense prohibit incest like it prohibits lying and rebellion against government. I used those latter two as examples because there is debate as to just how "absolutely" the Bible prohibits those things. We've all heard "there are no absolutes" to which good, Bible believing non-relativist believers balk. "No, there is truth in black and white".

But even regarding something so elementary as lying, there is an arguable biblical defense of "righteous deception" that accords with the reductio, "would you tell Nazis who knocked on your door whether you were hiding Jews in your attic?"

Likewise with Romans 13, the biblical-Christian case for "rebellion" (if there is one) relies on the idea that the Romans 13 prohibition against rebellion, properly understood, is a general rule that is qualified with exceptions. If an exception does not exist (which some/many biblical Christians claim) then the American Revolution was not a biblically justified act. (What do you value more, the American Founding or the Bible?)

As an attorney, I'm familiar with the common law rule that "necessity is a defense to all crimes against homicide" (likewise with duress). Does the Bible, arguably, teach the same thing on incest? Imagine in the present day a twenty something brother and sister, with drop dead gorgeous good looks/physical appearances stranded via a plane crash on the Island of Eden as a result of a huge calamity which, as far as they know, killed millions of people (perhaps much more, perhaps they are the last two survivors on Earth). Fortuitously (or Providentially), they have what they need on that island to survive.

Now, they may have such a strong incest aversion that the answer is already made for them. But maybe not. What do they do, using the Bible as a guide? There are the general, above linked incest prohibitions. But there is also the Garden of Eden, which, literally interpreted, means all humanity came from two human beings, necessitating either brother and sister or some other kind of incest. There is also, from the literalistic perspective, the story of the 8 humans left after the Noahic flood which likewise necessitates some kind of incestuous reproduction.

Finally, there is the story of Lot and his daughters. I had to reread this one after someone informed me via email that the context of the tale is clearly anti-incest. I'm not so sure.

As the Bible says in Genesis:

31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab[g]; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi[h]; he is the father of the Ammonites[i] of today.

There are two competing contextual themes here. One, the anti-incest idea that the daughters had to get the father drunk -- therefore, they all knew something was wrong with what they were about to do. Versus, two the necessity in preserving the bloodline, the idea that they felt they had no other choice to fulfill the biblical command to "be fruitful and multiply." And this necessity defense also resonates with the story of the Garden of Eden AND the propagation of the human species after the Noahic flood.

The Bible, seemingly, is precisely the opposite of a "book of absolutes."
Self-Serving Slippery Slopes:

Analogies can be tricky things. That's something that Dr. John Corvino has noted. Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, our old friend EV has blogged about the recent case of the Columbia Professor charged with incest. Unfortunately some commenters have (expectedly) used this to engage in their anti-gay biases.

One good thing I hope comes out of the moral-philosophical analysis is the following insight: The existence of the self serving slippery slope. That's something in which attorneys and philosophers who make moral arguments specialize. I tend to agree with professor Volokh that the slopes do exist. However, they tend to be misused by all sides.

There are good slippery slopes and bad ones. A good slippery slope is when a certain moral claim or a past court decision "slips" into your desired results. "Of course, Loving analogizes to gay marriage." A "bad" slippery slope is when a position "slips" into something with which its proponents disagree. "Of course, gay marriage would lead to polygamous and incestuous marriages."

A is not B. Once you try to connect A with something that is not A, other folks can connect it with C, D, and E. The slippery slope doesn’t just work against the things you want it to. If you want to connect A to B, but distinguish it with C, D, and E, you make a law office argument.

As I've noted before, I'm willing to hold off the Loving analogy to same sex marriage (so the opponents of SSM don't feel like they are accused of being bigots) as long as opponents do not analogize homosexual relations to bestiality, pedophilia and relations with inanimate objects (because if they do, then they are bigots). So invoke any of those three I will automatically analogize interracial relations to same sex relations and demonstrate why on logical grounds I'm justified in so doing.

But permit me to make an exception for incest today, to demonstrate the claim that the slippery slope doesn't necessarily work the way YOU desire it to: Proponents of incest is no way need homosexuality to take advantage of the "good" (for them) slippery slope; they have Loving. Indeed, one can argue that incest is MORE analogous to interracial relations than to homosexual relations because prohibitions on miscegenation and incest, unlike with homosexuality, relate to NOT wanting such couples to procreate. Whereas homosexual relations were prohibited in large part because such relations could not procreate.

Indeed prohibiting incest and miscegenation arguably could be viewed under the rubric of "consanguinity" regulation: With incest, the couples are too closely related, with miscegenation, too distantly related. And where does one draw the line? Whether one believes in evolution, the Bible or both, we are all related if we go back far enough. Everyone practices incest with their very (and sometimes not so) distant cousins. And everyone race mixes, if we take the one drop rule literally enough.

What else could connect to "incest" in the sense of "that which is not incest justifies it"? Well, the Bible. If one believes in Young Earth Creation, where did Cain and Abel's wives come from? They probably practiced biblically justified brother sister (or parent child) heterosexual incest.

Yes, I know the Bible elsewhere speaks against incest. But, as I've observed, even the most seemingly literalist of fundamentalists can read a sense of "generality, with exceptions" into places where the Bible seems to speak in absolute terms. The Bible speaks against lying? But what about righteous deception like when the Nazis ask you whether you are hiding Jews in your basement?

Again, because I've dealt with this so much, Romans 13 seems to categorically FORBID rebellion against government. Even before the "would you submit to Hitler, Stalin and Mao?" reductio, hundreds of years earlier Christendom dealt with the problem of tyrannical Kings and began to carve out exceptions to a rule that seems absolute in the way St. Paul articulated it.

Indeed, I have a co-blogger who, not alone in this method, looks through the biblical record for examples of seemingly righteous, Godly biblical characters who seemed to rebel against tyrants contra St. Paul in Romans 13. Othniel is one such example. Using that method, one could view what Lot did with his daughters as righteous incest, something where an exception carves from a general rule.

Historian John Boswell did the same thing in his quest for a pro-homosexual Bible.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Death Penalty:

I have an issue with the death penalty on government incompetence grounds. But when there is no doubt that someone has done something like this, I'd like to see a system where we not just execute these people but do so within a less than 10 year time frame.
How Thomas Jefferson Conquered America's Religion:

In a sense. From Eve Tushnet. A taste:

Thomas Jefferson’s most radical declaration of independence isn’t his most famous. In 1820 Jefferson created a simplified, reasonable version of the Bible—taking out the miracles, prophecies, claims of Jesus’ divinity, and other weirdness which offended his Deism. Kenda Creasy Dean suggests that mainstream Christianity, in virtually all of its manifestations, has been similarly bowdlerized. Instead of the life-changing, culture-challenging demands of the gospel, Dean argues, American teenagers follow a mutant creed best understood as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Almost Christian, a popularization of the results of the 2002-05 National Study of Youth and Religion, attempts to help Christian parents, youth pastors, and others who are alarmed at the shakiness and incoherence of most teens’ faith.

The content of that faith is simple and as American as a smile in an airport. The tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) include belief in a god who watches over us and orders life on earth, and whose major moral concern is that humans should be nice to one another: “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” These kids aren’t hostile to religion; who would kick such a toothless cocker spaniel? Dean argues that adolescents who were able to be articulate and expressive when discussing issues they really cared about suddenly became tongue-tied when the subject of God or religion came up, falling back on phrases such as “I would imagine [God is] a very nice guy.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Should We Thank Pornographers?

Economist Steve Horwitz kindly pointed to a great little article of his on futurism. I can't find a thing in it with which I disagree.

He writes:

But even there it took years for the vast majority of e-commerce to be profitable. For most of the first decade or so of the World Wide Web, the only profitable business was that most mundane of human activities: sex. Adult websites provided perhaps the only consistently profitable business in cyberspace; they also pioneered many of the technology-meets-commerce innovations that are now part of our everyday web experience. For example, adult sites were among the first to master streaming video and to figure how best to use credit cards securely. They launched a number of the consumer-friendly data-tracking processes that are now standard at places like Futurists saw the technology but overlooked that its biggest impact would come through its combination with commerce, and that this combination would be driven by the demand for sexual content.

Good futurists wouldn’t have overlooked the sexual aspect because almost every other advance in communications technology of the last hundred years has had sexual content at its leading edge. In our own times one need only point to the early success of the VCR, a significant demand for which came from people who wanted to watch adult films in the privacy of their own homes rather than in some dreadful theatre on the wrong side of town. Nude photographs are as old as photography itself, and the same is true of pornographic films. Even as you read this, there is a burgeoning market in 3-D adult films that will surely drive the spread and improvement of that technology. For an invention to enhance wealth and happiness, it must meet up with the market.

Readers know I spend a great deal of time examining religion and America's Founding form of government (so it's no surprise it's on the top of my mind for analogies). One motivation for arguments in that area of study is this sense, if "we" (whoever the "we" is, the religious or more secular types) gave this to you, we own it in a metaphorical sense and are somehow more justified in claiming its heritage so we can run America.

When the traditionally religious argue against atheism they oft-ask questions like "what has atheism done for the world?" and note the accomplishments of Christianity. They may condescendingly ask for "thanks" for all they have done for the world.

Leaving that aside, should we be grateful along these lines to pornographers for their help in driving technological advances and building up the Internet?

To the more traditionally religious readers who may use these things about which Dr. Horwitz writes, can you be grateful to pornographers for that aspect of their contributions while disagreeing with others. I think -- if I am not mistaken -- Richard Dawkins, or perhaps, some notable Richard Dawkins like atheists, have noted they can be grateful to Christianity for how it inspired great works of art, literature and architecture while strongly disagreeing with the whole shebang.

The last few hundred years have seen dramatic advances in scientific and technological developments. Yet, when we imagine a future 30 plus years away, we tend to "see" scientific advances arriving prematurely. Folks in 1950 thought everyone would have flying cars by 2000, and, likewise, all diseases would be cured by then.

One thinks of Back to the Future 2 which took place in 2015. If those predictions were accurate, we only have to wait four more years for "Mr. Fusion" and flying cars.

One area, however, where that movie's predictions seemed pretty close was advances in graphic, visual technology and information transfer. (Though, they still didn't predict Facebook, I don't think.) That movie came out when 8 bit Nintendo was the current technology.

I think holograms aren't too far off. But when are we going to get flying cars and Mr. Fusion? And cures for cancer? Perhaps we'll have to wait till 2100.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans:

My thoughts on the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death. You don't need me to tell you he was a genius; he was. (So was Paul, but John was better). You don't need a music degree (I have one) to learn that this genius is something you (probably) can't teach. You can teach folks to sing/play well. And to write tunes that "work." Work in the sense of hitting the right notes with the right chords at the right time that make sense to the ear, played in the background of a mall or elevator.

But you can't teach folks to be the next Lennon or Dylan or Young.

Lennon had some ideas too. Not all of them good. I agree with about 1/2 of those in Imagine (I certainly disagree with "imagine no possessions.")

But that little line from Beautiful Boy might just be the wisest thing John Lennon ever wrote.

A certain degree of planning is necessary in life. However, over-planning is unnecessary, could be counter productive and psychologically unhealthy. As with everything in life, it's best to do things from an emotionally unattached state (if you are having a hard time getting to this state, meditate like the Beatles did and Paul and Ringo still do). As such, it's better to be responsibly informed about things in a "general" sense so that you can make spontaneous decisions -- just in time -- when the moment is right.

Of late, I've been thinking about Eastern philosophy and how Western New Age types sell these ideas (and often distort and water them down). Some/many self help guys give valuable advice; but almost all have something about them that I think they get wrong. One guy in particular -- I won't name him -- taught something I think is way off (I heard it on one of his cassette tapes years ago): If you combine meticulous planning with positive thinking, that outcome will occur. You mean if I keep telling myself I'm as good as John Lennon, I'll be the next John Lennon? Dream on.

What surprised me about this guy is that he's a conservative capitalist self help guru (many of them are; they are not all political lefties). He's actually made quite a bit of money in business (I've heard). But the modern lesson of capitalism has been top down central planning doesn't work as well as spontaneous, unplanned market forces.

As such the spontaneous, unplanned, going with the moment and reacting to things as they happen, perfectly resonates with the Hayekian idea of a spontaneous, decentralized, unplanned economic order, and not with heavy government economic planning.

I'm not sure how well folks actually understand what I'm about to tell. Understanding it seems so elementary; but many (perhaps younger, but some older) folks don't seem to get this: Life throws everybody unplanned, undesired curve balls. The key to attaining optimal happiness is accepting this truth and doing your best to deal with it.

The best way to deal with one of those curve balls is to hit it out of the park. But sometimes you have to accept a swing and a miss or even taking it on the chin.

But whatever it is you think you can plan, those curve balls are spontaneous.
Turley, Palin, GW & SHMG:

One of Ray Soller's post from American Creation was referenced by Jonathan Turley here. And Chris Rodda too!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Not as Straightforward As You Think:

WorldNetDaily chronicles a Christian Americanist critique of National Park Services tours.

The pastor in question, Todd Dubord, is quoted as stating the information he is trying to peddle is "'straightforward biography' and not subject to conjecture or private interpretation,..." The problem is the pastor's Christian America spin is not as straightforward as he is trying sell.

What follows is an email I sent to the author of the WND piece:


The pastor's history seems as bad as the tour guides. ME Bradford didn't "find 50, perhaps 52, of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention professed to be orthodox, Trinitarian believers who were in good standing at various Christian churches." Rather he found they had some kind of affiliation with those churches. Bradford's figure is worthless. All 55 members, including his 3 Deists, had those affiliations. The problem is one could be affiliated with said churches for social network reasons and NOT believe in their official creeds and doctrines. Thomas Jefferson was Anglican and disbelieved in every single tenet of orthodox Christianity!

Likewise "Samuel Adams, Josiah Bartlett, Benjamin Franklin, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, Samuel Huntington, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas McKean, John Morton, Robert Treat Paine, Benjamin Rush, Roger Sherman, Richard Stockton, Thomas Stone" didn't all practice the same kind of Christianity and arguably half on that list wouldn't qualify as "Christians" according to "orthodox" standards. If Jefferson and Franklin qualify as "Christians" you are setting the bar pretty low for who gets to be a "Christian."

Feel free to forward this to Mr. DuBord.


Jon Rowe

I found Dubord's church's statement of doctrine here.

The question I pose to Rev. Dubord is how do you call these men "Christians" if many of them listed (Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin, Robert Treat Paine, and others) disagreed with a great deal of these doctrines which your church endorses? Because they called themselves "Christian?" Is that the standard?

Listen, I understand the pastor's objection to certain prevailing ideas that the NPS may be parroting (some of the things the NPS is reported to have stated, on the other hand, are perfectly defensible -- for instance, just because the FFs attended a church doesn't necessarily mean they believed in the church's doctrines; or the FFs and religion issue is something, the finer details of which, folks have to research on their own and draw their own conclusions, because things can get complicated). But he and his don't get to write the tale either.

I am available, by the way, to help write a consensus oriented narrative that both sides could agree on.

But, if there is a solution to this culture war issue, that's it: Straightforward consensus oriented lowest common denominator facts that all sides can agree on. And the ME Bradford footnote is not one of them.

For Ben Franklin it would be something like:

1. Was affiliated with the Anglican and Presbyterian churches (even though he was one of Bradford's Deists!).
2. Believed in an active personal God, sometimes quoted the Bible as if he believed at least parts of it as legitimately revealed (i.e., speech at the Constitutional Convention).
3. In one letter wrote there are certain things in the Old Testament impossible to have been given by divine inspiration (i.e., didn't believe the Bible infallible).
4. In one letter doubted Jesus divinity while praising him as the greatest moral teacher.
5. Thought works were more important than faith for salvation.
6. Called himself a Deist at one point but then backtracked. Seemed comfortable with the "rational Christians" who doubted or denied Jesus' divinity (Joseph Priestley and Richard Price, the dissenters in England to whom he alluded in his letter to Ezra Stiles that doubted Jesus' divinity).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Waldron on Issues with Imago Dei:

Jeremy Waldron is probably the foremost authority on the need to give human rights a theological grounding. This paper explores issues with using "Imago Dei" to ground human rights.

A taste:

Second, there are questions about what imago Dei means in the light of doctrine of the fall into sin. What is the relation between imago Dei and our fallen sinful nature? What can human rights theory do with Calvin’s doctrine that the image of God in us is now but a “relic” or Martin Luther’s teaching that since the Fall we are more “like” the devil than “like” or “in the image of” God?  When we use this doctrine in the context of human rights, are we committing ourselves to saying that Luther and Calvin were wrong?

It's surprising how many otherwise informed and intelligent folks are so quick to conflate their theological desires with America's Founding Fathers. The syllogism works something like this:

1. The Bible/Christian Religion/Calvinism is true;
2. Therefore I am a reformed Protestant in that sense;
3. The American Founding was a great event, one in which I'd like to believe my personal religious tradition gave us;
4. Therefore, the political-theological basis for the American Founding must have been the same as Calvinism (or whatever my religion is).

This syllogism works with anyone's personal religion. Though the further one's personal religion from that of the actual American Founding, the more of a stretch it becomes.

For instance, beginning with "Hinduism is true" results in an especially absurd syllogism. But ultimately, the entire syllogism, no matter what one begins with is an error. As I've said before, the political theology of the American Founding offers a little for everyone (including the Hindus!) and a little for no one.

If one doesn't take one's personal religion that seriously, the syllogism seems a harmless error. The more seriously one takes one's religion and values it over politics, the more dangerous the syllogism. America's Founders could have been wrong on how they understood theology and how it ought to apply to politics. If they were wrong on Romans 13 (which there is good reason to believe, from a strict literal textual interpretation, they were) the Bible says, "they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

It's only your soul that is on the line. Don't let America's Founders, and your desire to claim them, confuse you into making a soul damning error.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Helen Kushnick:

This HBO made movie is worth seeing for Kathy Bates' performance as Helen Kushnick, Jay Leno's late manager.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Did Allan Bloom Die of AIDS?

Some enemies of Saul Bellow and friends of Allan Bloom have tried to cast doubt on the idea that Allan Bloom died of AIDS, a fact that Bellow spread in his roman à clef about Bloom, Ravelstein.

The latest of these is a bitingly critical article on Bellow by Joseph Epstein in The New Criterion.

The relevant passage:

But with his final novel, Ravelstein, the acetylene torch truly seared the back of his pants. “I’ve never written anything like Ravelstein before,” Bellow wrote to Martin Amis, “and the mixture of fact and fiction has gotten out of hand.” In the less than clear sentences that follow, he writes that “Allan [Bloom, the University of Chicago teacher who is the undisguised model for the character Ravelstein] had enemies who were preparing to reveal that he had died of AIDS. At this point I lost my head . . .” Professor Taylor ought to have stepped in here with a lengthy footnote to recount, and if possible clarify, the import of what Bellow is saying, but, with his hands-off editorial policy, he doesn’t.

What was at issue is the exact cause of Allan Bloom’s death, which, so far as I know, has yet to be made finally clear. In Ravelstein, Bellow kills him off with aids. Bloom’s friends all insist that the effects of the disorder of the nerves called Guillain-Barr√© led to Bloom’s death by heart and liver failure. Werner Dannhauser, Allan Bloom’s closest friend, asked Bellow to lessen the emphasis on Bloom/Ravelstein’s private life, which would, one gathers, have meant playing down his homosexuality and expunging his death by AIDS. Bellow writes to Dannhauser that he tried to do so, but it didn’t work. By “it didn’t work,” one assumes Bellow meant that his plot required that Allan Bloom die of AIDS.

Bellow did, apparently, tone things down but not decisively. Then, later, after the book was out in the world, he told a reporter from The New York Times: “For a long time I thought I knew what Allan died of, and then I discovered other things that didn’t jibe with that, so I really can’t say now. I don’t know that he died of AIDS really.” So there it stands, a mess, created by a man willing to sabotage a putatively dear friend to contrive what he thought an appropriate ending for a novel.

This is a serious charge against Bellow. While I strongly believe in respecting individuals' privacy while they are alive, when dead, they belong to history. And Both Bloom and Bellow are dead.

So I'll do my best to help clarify the facts, for history's sake.

While I can't say for sure whether Bloom had or died of AIDS, I can say with good reason that he was, at one point, taking AZT in the hospital.

In Ravelstein, Bellow recounts an incident where a nurse let the cat out of the bag, in front of visiting friends, that Bloom was taking AZT. The book portrays Bloom as very angry with the nurse for disclosing he was on that medication in front of people.

Dannhauser, in turn, confirmed the incident did occur during the big "critical discussion" of Ravelstein that was broadcast on CSPAN. See the 19:45 mark on this video.

Dannhauser said this in the context of trying to criticize Bellow for violating Bloom's confidences (he stressed how upset Bloom was at that nurse), but probably unwittingly gave more info to confirm Bellow's thesis than he desired.

It is possible that one could be given AZT without being HIV positive; but I think it makes Bellow's thesis more credible.
Cracking the American Civil Religion:

I did it in a comment at First Things here. I wrote:

The American Civil Religion is actually somewhere between “all faiths are equally valid” and “Christ is the only way, all other faiths are false.”

It holds that all faiths are VALID paths to God, but that Christianity is the quickest path up the mountain of salvation because of the superiority of Jesus of Nazareth’s moral teachings. As it were, Jesus of Nazareth was not (knowably) God Incarnate, 2nd Person in the Trinity. Rather, the greatest moral teacher man had ever known.