Topic: God and US
Deep Thoughts: Mondays With Murrow
When one no longer commutes to work but leads the life of an obscure minor writer and professional photographer (actually sold a few) in Hollywood, one doesn't often listen to what made creeping along in Los Angeles morning traffic tolerable - National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." There's no way to listen to that in this old Hollywood apartment building, built in the late sixties - the floors and load-bearing walls are poured concrete with reinforcing bar. Only KUSC, the classical music station, seems to be able to push its FM signal through all that, and the oldies station - but how much of the Beach Boys and the Supremes can one take? I never "got" Diana Ross. So mornings are the cable news shows murmuring in the background, reading the paper, and checking the news services and blogs on the net - and lots of black coffee and smoking the pipe.
But it seems you can miss a lot by not driving off into the sunrise each weekday to face the next systems problem and the crew of eager computer folk, listening to NPR so you don't have to think about servers and code and all that stuff before you get there.
What I missed? On April 4th of this NPR started a new Monday series, "This I Believe," and say this is a national project "that invites you to write about the core beliefs that guide your daily life." (No one asked here.)
NPR airs these "personal statements" each Monday on "Morning Edition" and again on the afternoon commute-show, "All Things Considered." And I see by their promo that series producers Dan Gediman and Jay Allison "hope to create a picture of the American spirit in all its rich complexity." Good luck with that.
But the cool thing is "This I Believe" (current version) is based on a fifties radio program of the same name, hosted by Edward R. Murrow. Murrow said his program sought "to point to the common meeting grounds of beliefs, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization." And who spoke on that program? Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Harry Truman - and corporate executives, and cab drivers, and scientists, and secretaries.
Jay Allison today - "As in the 1950s, this is a time when belief is dividing the nation and the world. We are not listening well, not understanding each other - we are simply disagreeing, or worse. Working in broadcast communication, there's a responsibility to change that, to cross borders, to encourage some empathy. That possibility is what inspires me about this series."
And these radio essays are going to bring us together?
Well, we are divided. Edward R. Murrow had Joseph McCarthy and all that that fellow stood for - McCarthy was the "us versus them" guy of his day. We have Bill O'Reilly and his new enemies list of people who are bad for America (and don't like him either). O'Reilly says he'll publish that soon. Americans will KNOW who the bad guys are. Joseph McCarthy shouted out "I have a list!" - Bill's doing the same.
NPR has its work cut out here. We are divided. O'Reilly and the whole Fox News network have mounted a campaign to end the oppression of Christians in this country and save Christmas from the secular overloads. See this for a discussion, or check out the new book by another Fox News anchor - John Gibson's The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought (Sentinel, October 2005). Bill says we need to get back to what the Founder Fathers intended (but ignores that they worked on Christmas Day 1776 and Christmas wasn't a national holiday before 1870).
And then there's that new Harry Potter film -
Yep witchcraft is a serious problem - always has been.
It's not just the war that divides the country, or social policy (those folks died in New Orleans because they chose to be poor). It's the fundamental stuff, the God stuff, the science stuff, and the sense that there are those who want to understand things and those who have faith and think understanding how things work undermines their chance to meet their savior in the sweet beyond.
It's the big stuff, and this NPR show, independently produced by This I Believe, Inc. in Louisville (that's Gediman and Allison) and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and supported by the Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Righteous Persons Foundation (Santa Monica, of course), may make things worse.
They will make things worse airing this sort of thing - Monday, November 21, 2005, There is No God by Penn Jillette.
You might remember Penn Jillette from his HBO series Bullshit - documentaries on the odd things people believe. It wasn't very nice to Creationists or "life style coaches" and many other folks. But it was funny. He just let them all talk.
Well, his NPR contribution gets right to this point -
And it all flows from that -
Who said one cannot be ethical without being deeply religious - it's impossible as religion is the sole source of all concepts of write and wrong? Dennis Praeger? Jillette says that's bullshit. In fact, he says the opposite is true.
And then there's this -
Yes, it is hard to agree on reality - just what is what - when you cannot talk, or more precisely, when it is a given that no matter what one party says the other cannot and will not consider anything about it. How did Swift put it? - "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into."
And Jillette then turns the "personal responsibility" mantra of the evangelical Christian right on its head. Not believing in God makes you more responsible and forces you to deal with things. As in this -
This man is dangerous. He thinks we mere mortals here on earth can fix things - it's not in God's hands.
On the other hand, what he says may be a reply to this NPR segment on "What I Believe" - William F. Buckley, Jr. on May 23, 2005, How Is It Possible to Believe in God?
Buckley doesn't exactly answer the question, but he doesn't answer the question quite elegantly -
You can almost hear Penn Jillette mutter the name of Jillette's old HBO series. Search high and low in everything Darwin wrote and you won't find any reference to Hamlet being the result of some process of natural selection. Darwin does not address why people write really good literature (or bad literature either), nor does he discuss cheeses or glass blowing. The "elderly scholar" just missed the point. But it's good enough for Buckley.
Then there's this -
Let's unpack that. That "historical cosmologist" (Marx) is dead, so what does he know? Look at all them stars up there! Could be just a natural phenomenon, or could be a big design by God. Assume the latter. Why? Because it feels good to assume the latter? No, just because it's easier.
As in this -
He just doesn't want to "submit" to the other concept - "felicitous congeries" - the idea that you can examine natural phenomena and see how things thing developed - this happened which caused this which cause that and then we got a sky full of stars. Yep, they're pretty, and that is felicitous of course. But empirical science - figuring out what happened from the evidence - here is something he call mere congeries - magic tricks.
I guess we shouldn't have had that Enlightenment.
And maybe I should listen to the radio a bit more.
Penn Jillette (on the left) on display in the offices down at the Goodyear Blimp - he took a ride and left a photo -
Edward R. Murrow on Hollywood Boulevard