Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
The Week Ends Oddly Enough
The point, perhaps not made well but attempted anyway, in The Fire Below, was that in looking behind the flow of news stories - a scandal here, a terror warning there, and way over there a speech of note - sometimes you could tease out something of a pattern that let you get a sense of the real cultural dynamics at play. The contention was that the scattered events all pointed to an underlying conflict, and one as old as we've had the ability to think, and then been told too much of thing "thinking" stuff is dangerous.
That conflict tied together the Bush speech and the issues folks had with the woman he nominated to the Supreme Court - he seemed to be saying we all are over-thinking this and we should just trust him. And as laid out with citation after citation, it seems a good number of people just couldn't help themselves. They wanted to think things through, and wanted someone deciding the scope and the limits of the laws of the land to do the same.
Friday Bush was asked about these people and said this: "When she's on the bench people will see a fantastic woman who is honest, open, humble and capable of being a great Supreme Court judge."
He seemed to think that was a fine answer.
The message? "Trust me, confirm and then see if you're surprised or not - and you folks of little faith will see you were right to blindly trust me." People are grumbling about that still.
Here's some representative grumbling from the pro-life (anti-abortion) side, from the Reverend Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International -
It seems Catholic Church has its usual faith in the Holy Trinity, but is having a problem with its faith in George.
But here an odd thing, they don't seem to have the American-style faith in the Holy Bible. The Catholic bishops of England are pretty much telling the American fundamentalists not everything in the Bible is literally true: "We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision."
Okay. Now they've abandoned God.
From the Catholic, gay, conservative but anti-Bush Andrew Sullivan: "Anyone who believes that the world was literally created in six days a few thousand years ago is not expressing his or her 'religious beliefs.' Believing something that is demonstrably and empirically untrue is not religion. It is simply superstition or lunacy. It has nothing to do with faith in things we cannot know. The notion that it should actually be taught in public schools as science is beneath even debating."
Yeah, well Bush really is too a man of faith. Consider the man he appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior Paul Hoffman, who last year overruled geologists at the Grand Canyon National Park and instructed the park's visitor centers to stock a creationist book that explained how God made the canyon six thousand years ago, deciding a flood to wipe out "the wickedness of man" would be a fine idea. The Park Service says that it really could be so. So THERE!
And Sullivan calls this superstition or lunacy.
Why, in central Pennsylvania, in the Dover trial, they're still arguing the inadequacies of evolution and geology in science - arguing science itself, that stuff of the mind, is inadequate and dangerously subversive. Bush and Senator Frist and John McCain have all come out and said science classes in public school in the United States should teach both side of the controversy - science may explain a lot and be kind of cool, but it may be inadequate and dangerously subversive because some things show it's "scientifically plausible" that much of what science hasn't figured out yet was thought up and plopped down here by the old, bearded white man in the sky, or some intelligent designer.
As before - faith (and trust) versus reason (and inquiry), the apple that tasted so good and got us kicked out of Eden, Galileo and the Catholic Church, Voltaire mocking religion and being denounced, Darwin and Huxley all the way to the Scopes trial, to Dover in Pennsylvania this month - this all had not been resolved, and may never be resolved. It's just one long argument, over and over.
The argument escalated when, on Friday, October 7th, Sam Harris' item There is No God (And You Know It) was all over the place - The Huffington Post and Yahoo News and elsewhere. This is an excerpt from An Atheist Manifesto, a book due to be published in December, but somehow it appearing now is a shot across some bow or another.
Harris picks up on the bread- and-butter of cable news on television in America, the abducted cute kid or blond teenage girl of the week -
But they do believe it. If you can deal with being a voyeur who gets his or her jollies watching parents in agony claiming God will make it all better, over and over, you can watched the interviews. They're on the screen all the time. Yeah, this turning to the Devine protector is a "defense mechanism" of course, even if this entity (or whatever) is something that is neither demonstrably nor empirically present. It's a matter of faith.
And the kid is still dead. Then it becomes trying to understand God's will, and if that fails, accepting His "will" on faith. He knows best, after all.
The other staple of cable news? Disasters! Hurricanes bring good ratings. And what of science versus faith here?
One wonders why. Perhaps one should ask Bush and Miers.
And this is works for those who have the "wrong" faith:
Interesting, Allah is as useless as Jesus. And these disasters make folks believe even more fervently. Harris says, smugly, only the atheist recognizes "the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved."
Yeah, yeah, but people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. That's our fault, or no one's fault. And then they assure each other God is both omniscient and omnipotent? So what's up with that?
As you see, Harris thinks too much, and he gets all logical. His position is that atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. The problem as he sees it? We live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle.
No Supreme Court nomination for him, or even a job with the Park Service.
But it's odd this hit the wires this week - or maybe not.
The Big Speech
Midmorning Thursday, in another "trust me" thing, the president gave his long-awaited speech in which he was going to explain everything about the war in Iraq. Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, tells me that in fairness I should note that when reporters asked about the speech ahead of time - if it was going to be about Iraq - the White House said no, it will be about the War on Terrorism, but will also cover Iraq. And so it did, but since they are one in the same to the White House, there seems little point in noting the distinction.
As before, the speech seemed to be a halftime pep talk, a "we can win this thing" exhortation - but the coach didn't diagram any new plays or suggest different coverage patterns on defense, and he certainly didn't change the lineup at all. He didn't mention the score. He may not know the score.
And by late Friday everyone had moved on. The most complete analysis of the speech, point by point, came from Juan Cole, the University of Michigan professor of Middle East studies there, who writes that "Bush's attempt to conflate the regimes he doesn't like with al-Qaeda makes nonsense of his whole vision." Knowing the area, the conflicts, the players and reading and speaking the languages, Cole ended with this: and "as for the rest of your speech, it is all made up as you go along, just like your whole administration."
He didn't like it. Something about the facts and logic.
Cole will never be appointed to anything in this administration.
Who will? Try a second-rate angry Hollywood actor, one of the few who defends Bush as a great man. See this White House Press Release, Friday, October 7, 2005, Nominations Sent to the Senate: "Ron Silver, of New York, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the United States Institute of Peace for a term expiring January 19, 2009."
Yep, peace is at hand. Add your own comments about meritocracy being an outmoded concept, like competence and any sort of background. Loyalty trumps that stuff. Silver's films are listed here. A long time ago he supported the New Jersey liberal Democrat, Bill Bradley. Ah well.
Terror in the Tubes
There was the terror alert concerning the New York Subways - trust us, this is serious, but ride them anyway. That was still being discussed Friday, along with the Friday bomb threat at Washington Monument (hoax) and the Friday bomb threat up in San Francisco on BART, their subway system (hoax). Folks are nervous.
Of course everyone Friday talked about how New York mayor Bloomberg and his men said the threat was specific and credible, and the Department of Fatherland Security (yeah, couldn't resist) said the threat wasn't credible at all, and the FBI disagreed. You heard that stuff all day. (See New Yorkers Baffled Over Differing Stances on Terrorist Threat.) Who do you trust? What do you take on faith, in this case, faith in the leaders you elected to assess these things?
It seems the threat had been out there for days. Why act now? Put on your tin-foil hat, but note these items:
TV news chief held terror threat story at request of officials (Newsday) -
Craig Crawford here (CBS Public Eye) -
Oh, ye of little faith! See also Whom Do You Trust? (CBS) for more on this matter.
Do you just trust the president in Harriet Miers?
See Gingrich: Conservatives can trust in Miers - or see this: "Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, yesterday [Monday, 10/3/05] held a conference call with conservative leaders to address their concerns about Miers. He stressed Bush's close relationship with Miers and the need to confirm a justice who will not interfere with the administration's management of the war on terrorism, according to a person who attended the teleconference."
So it's really about having someone on the Supreme Court, a swing vote, who won't rule against the president's right to imprison anyone he selects for as long as he likes, without charges, or who won't rule against the claim the administration has the right to approve torture and kidnapping (or as we call it, "extraordinary rendition")? Maybe she knows of some other things she can help him with, stuff he shouldn't have done, in a legal sense, as it were. Well that's possible.
One never knows. And knowing anything is getting harder.
Monday the 10th the BBC runs that documentary with this:
Did he really say that?
1.) White House Denies Claims of 'Divine Order' for Bush
2.) Abbas Says He Never Heard Bush Talking about Religious Reasons to ... (Palestine News Agency, Palestine)
3.) Yes, George Bush did tell me he was on a mission from God (Times Online, UK)
We know less and less every day. Maybe faith really is the answer.