In response to T. Paine's
Religion Promotes Knowledge, Truth, and Compassion
I would submit to you that a morality based on Judeo-Christian values at least has a standard for that morality.
- T. Paine, January 10, 2013
If I wrote down all of my values, we could call the resulting text a "standard for morality." That wouldn't mean that it would be worth following. Our standard, at its broadest, should be reason applied to human desires, not the words of the Bible. We use objectivity to judge the Bible, not the Bible to judge objectivity.
Then there are the myriad interpretations of "Judeo-Christian" values...
It is the moral relativism of the secular society today that has no objective standard of morality so consequently anything and everything is acceptable.
- T. Paine
Anything and everything? Really? So all of us secularists believe that murder is acceptable? No, in reality, our culture is becoming tolerant of behaviors that do no harm unless one twists the meaning of harm to a point at which it has no value. That many of us accept abortion and gay marriage is not evidence of moral relativism, but simply of different morality that increasingly rejects the value of supernatural claims and mere disgust in our moral calculus.
You would be better off assuming that so-called moral relativists are just people who haven't realized the harm that (you believe) their behavior causes--not people who have no values at all.
Indeed it was the Catholic Church that founded the university system, the scientific method, and even modern day genetics.
I addressed this before, though you might have missed it. Your claim, on your blog, that monotheistic religion (specifically Christianity) was necessary for the development of the scientific method and that atheism could never have developed it is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard from you.
Here is a simple test: Is the scientific method reasonable? If so, then it should be evident to reasonable people regardless of their religious beliefs. If not, then it has no value.
You cannot reasonably look at history and declare that, since the scientific method was formalized by monotheists, it could only ever have been developed (you even say created) by monotheists. One version or another of the method has been around about as long as our species has because we are curious, social creatures.
You go on to construct a straw man of the atheist's position as if you had never spoken with an atheist in your life. Here's a clue: theists are far more likely than atheists to say, "That's just how things are." They just phrase it a bit differently: "God did it."
Whatever we think about the origins of the universe, we still live in it. Curiosity and concern for the truth drive us to seek answers whether we have unfalsifiable beliefs in the supernatural or not.
In short: you do not get to define me and other atheists as moral and epistemological nihilists just because you do not understand us.
In addition to helping us explore pitfalls of religiosity, Ryan also writes for his own site, where curiosity and concern for the truth drive the discussion.
Please visit Secular Ethics.
It promotes a damaging and bigoted fake morality consisting of arbitrary sexual taboos.
It has fought against scientific progress every step of the way for centuries and continues to do so. Its opposition to evolution and stem-cell research threatens to put the United States at a disadvantage relative to more secular countries whose educational systems are uncontaminated by such nonsense.
- Infidel753, January 7, 2013
Infidel, I find your take on religion to be fascinating, even though skewed from reality in many ways. I would submit to you that a morality based on Judeo-Christian values at least has a standard for that morality. It is the moral relativism of the secular society today that has no objective standard of morality so consequently anything and everything is acceptable. That strikes me as being fake.
Next, you are very much mistaken about Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular when it comes to science. Indeed it was the Catholic Church that founded the university system, the scientific method, and even modern day genetics. If you care to check out some contradictory evidence to your incorrect assertion: Click here
Next, when it comes to stem cell research, Catholicism strongly supports the efficay and research done with the very successful adult stem cell science. What it doesn’t support is the morally wrong and scientifically challenged embryonic stem cell research which has yielded nothing in the way of therapies or cures, in contrast with adult stem cell research.
As for evolution, the Catholic Church teaches that God and evolution are not necessarily at odds. Micro-evolution is a scientific fact. Macro-evolution is not. That said, the Catholic Church also warns against creationism and a literal interpretation of the Bible on the account of creation. I understand that such is not the case with all Christian faiths, however.
Overall, I would submit to you that far more good has come over the centuries because of peoples’ faith in God than has come harm. When bad outcomes have resulted because of faith, it is often because of man’s misinterpretation or wrong-headed view of what their faith actually is. The world today would be a much harsher and crueler place without Judeo-Christian faiths though, my friend.
Actually, the US has passed a lot of legislation that violates people's rights to religious freedoms. Mormons and Muslims cannot marry more than one wife. Muslim women have to remove their veil when they have their driver license picture taken (iirc). Rastafarians cannot smoke marijuana. And then, of course, there are a host of practices that the Bible tells people to do that just aren't done anymore but would be illegal if someone tried to do it (beating children, killing nonbelievers, corporal punishment for crime). So while I'm not a Biblical scholar and I certainly don't know your mind and what religious freedoms you feel were violated, I do know that this country allows violations of religious liberties if they pass the Lemon test. Personally, I fail to see how excepting churches from the insurance mandate (the exception, in my view, has the primary purpose of promoting religion) but I accept that forcing employees to ovulate isn't a tenant of their faith and I just misunderstood something.
- Emily, January 9, 2013
Emily, while I understand and even agree with your point, I think you are not aware of mine. Indeed some religious practices are illegal since they negatively impact others or can do harm to society. With the HHS mandate that Catholic hospitals, schools, charities etc. must provide contraception, sterilizations, and abortifacients in their health coverage, there is a difference. Contraception etc. is widely still available at low cost or even free to those that still want it, even if they are employees of said institutions. There is not a shortage of supply or access to such things economically. By attempting to force Catholic and other religious-founded institutions to violate their consciences without a demonstrable need is abhorrent. Further, the Catholic Church will not comply with this mandate. Worst case, they will either no longer offer ANY health insurance or they will cease operations of these businesses. Do you know how many schools, hospitals, and charities the Catholic Church operates? By shutting these down over something that is not even a problematic issue to society in general, the negative impact to millions of people will be the ultimate result. That is a huge detriment to society and freedom simply because Obama and the left wish to make a political statement, ma’am.
In addition to his noble struggles here to correct liberal vices, conservative T. Paine also writes for his own site, where freedom rings and morality reigns.
Please visit Saving Common Sense.
In response to John Myste at Why People Get Angry About Religion
As for the idea of getting angry or upset that the majority believes that two plus two equals five, that it a problem in the angry fellow more than a problem in the believer.
- John Myste, January 7, 2013
Of course the anger is the angry fellow's problem. It is his own anger. The consequences of the belief in 2 + 2 = 5 (and the implications of the fact that so many people could actually believe this), however, are everyone's problem.
His psyche is damaged in some way
- John Myste
Are you serious? What I've described is a common and natural reaction. Our ability to detect errors--not just deviations from our own beliefs, but actual errors--and our concern over correcting them are beneficial and make sense in terms of our evolution as a social species. That does not mean that it is always good to care about what others believe, but it is hardly evidence of a "damaged psyche."
Through wrong about many things himself, as all humans are, he resents it when others are wrong where he is not.
I don't see the point here. Obviously, if he perceives wrongness, he resents it; if he does not perceive wrongness, he does not resent it. Whether or not he has his own blind spots has no bearing on whether or not he should care about identifying and correcting errors.
But note that having a problem with others believing that 2 + 2 = 5 is not necessarily the same as having a problem with others being wrong. I chose that example to be a clear case of "irrationality and belief in the absence of (or opposition to) evidence." It is one thing to mistakenly believe, after extensive research, that some economic policy will be beneficial to our country; it is another to believe that, say, God loves you but will torture you (justly!) for all eternity if you don't obey its rules. Both beliefs are false and therefore worthy of condemnation, but one belief deserves further condemnation because of its nature and the carelessness of the process by which people came to believe it.
He is constructing his own unhappiness, irrationally, I daresay.
In some cases, yes. When the costs associated with caring about and trying to correct errors outweigh the benefits, it is rational to move on. But we are not always able to perform that cost-benefit analysis, since (1) we don't know when we will be able to convince others that they are wrong and (2) the costs (one's time, effort, etc.) do not compare easily to the benefits (correcting the error). Moreover, if one comes to enjoy the process, he has one more benefit to consider. I occasionally respond to T. Paine even when I know that it will do no good; I derive some pleasure from it in either case. Some.
In addition to his valued contributions here, Ryan also writes for his own site, where the benefits of rationality outweigh the occasional frustration.
Please visit Secular Ethics.
I confess I have never been able to generate within myself much empathy with the anger that so many invest in debates about spirituality.
Frequent generous participant Ryan of Secular Ethics provides what I take to be a heated response. It consists mostly of a series of statements, each of which begins "Some people are angry because..." Each statement ends with a criticism about religion.
Ryan begins with "Some people are angry because they don't want to be affected by others' religious beliefs."
He ends with what he finds to be most compelling:
It would bother me if a large group of people--especially a majority of my country or the world--believed that 2 + 2 = 5. Would it bother you?
As I expressed my initial thought, I was thinking mostly of the anger sometimes expressed by believers, adherents to religious faith. I don't have an emotional understanding of anger by members of my faith, of any faith, toward those who believe differently, or toward those who do not believe at all.
Is there a temptation to take offense on behalf of God? A character in the film "The Big Country" is played by Gregory Peck. He is asked a question, not about his heavenly father, but rather about his biological father. Still, his answer strikes me as appropiate here. In a discussion about what is or is not worth physical violence, he is asked whether he would be willing to defend his father's honor. He answers, according to my flawed memory, "It has never occurred to me that his honor would need defending."
If, as we are sometimes taught, we are the body of Christ, a few may believe God depends on them to be his fists, striking out when they reckon the Lord would take insult and lose his temper. This is the sort of believer, I suspect, who sees God as expelled from schoolhouses or government buildings, when icons or Commandments are not displayed. To me, this would be a weak sort of deity.
We operate at our peril, figuratively, when we are tempted to paint too detailed a picture of God, describing a Creator beyond our imagination. Still, my own imagination presents picture of God bestowing a special place in his heart for the compassionate human who shakes an angry fist at the Lord.
I suppose there is a perverse logic in seeking to impose a religious belief on another. One who sees me as doomed to an eternity of incredible pain might feel it charitable to compel me to believe, for my own sake. From those who would torture Jews into conversion during the Middle Ages to those who corner hapless passersby in the village square today, I do not see how that terrible reasoning would include hatred.
Yet there it is. Those who choose Door Number One sometimes convince themselves that those who choose Door Number Two, or no door at all, are doomed. And I sense more than a bit of glee at the prospect.
It is possible that my own surroundings as a teenager, extending into early adulthood, influence me. I am comfortable around skeptics, even those who might hold my religious beliefs in disdain.
Reader Emily writes to ask if I see a distinction between spirituality and religion. I suppose I do. To me, religion is an artifact, a way of putting a reality beyond my ability to comprehend into a recognizable form. Religion offers to me a relationship more than any certainty.
John Myste offers a rapier wit when he attacks my faith. I laugh with him at the absurdity he exposes. If there is any resentment on my part because the absurdity he attacks is my own, I am not conscious of it. He most recently expresses a kinder, gentler question.
Do you then think it is possible that the Unity social philosophy is more in line with your own, but the Methodist philosophy offers one thing that the Unity philosophy lacks, one deal-breaking thing: It sees God as a sentient law-declaring Entity that one should follow?
It is a discussion we have had before:
It is possible that God is less personality than principle. I have a harder time seeing myself in a loving relationship with a principle, but that may be my own limitation. I would see it as akin to worshiping gravity. I don't reject the idea as much as I find it impossible to sustain. I lack the emotional,maybe spiritual, energy.
I suppose I credit such formulations with the same sort of veracity as would a parent on being told that a child is simply a fortunate interactive collection of molecules and electrical impulses: Nodding in understanding, but experiencing a relationship with that child as transcending that explanation. The desk at which I sit is mostly space and energy. My experience is that I am at a desk.
It is possible that God, along with all that flows from God, is an illusion. If oppression, slavery, justice, and love are illusions, if they are constructs we design to endow our own lives with meaning, it is an idea I can grasp but cannot sustain. A psychology professor once explained to me that consciousness is an illusion. Although I acknowledge that as a theoretical possibility, I still had to suppress a laugh. We sacrifice politeness only with cause, do we not? My question was unexpressed: If consciousness is an illusion, who is around to be fooled?
In retrospect, it is obvious to me that, in the comment that provoked my friend Ryan, I was expressing the inverse of what I intended. It is inverse, isn't it? I was thinking of the anger expressed by believers. I can't quite see from whence it flows. Still, at least some of Ryan's objections to religion strike me as objections to something other than religion itself.
I don't get angry about religion unless some "elected official" wants to ignore that part of the first amendment that talks about "the free exercise thereof" and thus tries to force me to ignore the dictates of my faith and conscience.
T. Paine is a little clever here. He objects to requiring an employer, even indirectly, to support birth control. I would expand on his objection. I object to government dictating how I worship. I object to my boss requiring me to follow a set of religious principles that are not my own. I object to any government or employer requiring that others worship according to my own beliefs.
Sometimes government will prohibit some religious practices. Human sacrifice comes to mind. Sometimes government requires what may be a violation of personal belief. Henry David Thoreau was angry when a well meaning friend secured his release from jail. Thoreau objected to paying his taxes when a portion of those taxes would finance what he saw as an unjust war. He saw it as his duty to submit to criminal penalties. He also saw it as the duty of those who administer the law to apply those penalties.
Like Ryan, I object to the evils perpetrated in the name of religion. History is replete with violence and death. Intolerance takes many forms, but it is usually accompanied by an unjustified certainty, an elevation of some ideal above the value of mere humans. Beliefs, whether in religion, or racial purity, or in many movements, have morphed into a sort of sociopathy.
I embrace the good that comes from a healthy relationship I believe to be possible for any individual, a relationship with both God and man. Do we see the good in countless religious folk who walked with King and, before him, Gandhi? Do we walk in spirit with Desmond Tutu against apartheid? Do we walk with Dietrich Bonhoeffer against Nazism?
I continue to practice my own beliefs while knowing they are flawed. They pretty much have to be, confined as I am by the limits of what wisdom is available to me. I continue because I experience those beliefs as true.
My beliefs are limited. There is a sort of believer's agnosticism within me. I carry with me, folded with the occasional dollar bill, a paper containing a prayer by the late Father Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
In the end, I offer no polemic to justify my belief. I have no compelling argument outside what the occasional witness might find or reject through personal introspection.
If a friend's different set of beliefs offends my neighbors, I do not see why.
If a neighbor's complete lack of belief makes my friends angry, I do not understand it.
If my beliefs offend, I accept that anger, although it is a mystery to me.
I can only tell you why I believe.
It is really quite simple.
I can't help it.
In response to Burr Deming's
Year End, New Year, Cliff Notes, Gun Violence
I confess I have never been able to generate within myself much empathy with the anger that so many invest in debates about spirituality.
- Burr Deming, January 5, 2013
Some people are angry because they don't want to be affected by others' religious beliefs.
Some people are angry because they view religion as a scam.
Some people are angry because they believe that religion spreads immorality without offering sufficient benefit.
Some people are angry because of their personal experience with religion and, perhaps, their shame over being involved with it.
Some people are angry because they despise irrationality and belief in the absence of (or opposition to) evidence.
The last is perhaps the most compelling for me. It would bother me if a large group of people--especially a majority of my country or the world--believed that 2 + 2 = 5. Would it bother you?
Ryan also writes for his own site, where reason prevails and opposition to irrationality is never despised.
Please visit Secular Ethics.
Introduction, Traditional Service,
9:00 AM, January 6, 2013
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
We pray for that deliverance.
We pray for that guidance,
so that a world with too much suffering
may be healed,
so that our lives may be transformed.
In worship, we listen to God’s Word.
In our hearts we hear a still small voice.
In the eyes of each child of God,
living in pain, living without hope,
we find a star,
guiding us to become healers of that pain,
to become messengers of that hope.
Our lives are changed. And we are led.
Found on Line:
Complicated things are often understood with the help of analogies. Bad analogies kill brain cells. Rumproast points out that a few really bad analogies about deficits and the economy are leading the country into extreme economic danger.
Jack Jodell, at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST recounts, with appropriate outrage, efforts by the conservative Republican fringe to bring down the US economy, then deprive victims of superstorm Sandy.
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite looks at contrasting televised analyses of a CBO report on the fiscal cliff resolution. A panel of Fox News experts is befuddled and finally gives up, while Rachel Maddow carefully breaks it down and presents it with clarity.
The Heathen Republican contemplates a series of conservative predictions of evil results from liberal actions, such as increasing deficits, which evils never seem to come true. Well, it's a beginning. Since he has previously embraced the measure of deficits only as a proportion of GDP, he may want to go on to examine that portion of the deficit that will disappear as the economy improves. He may find that President Obama is addressing the issue pretty well. The Heathen Republican is often one of the more thoughtful conservative political analysts on the web. I try to forgive him for his talent.
Dave Dubya suggests that, as their national support continues to diminish, Republicans in Congress will grow more radical and rely increasingly on brinkmanship.
Conservative James Wigderson graciously re-posts a review published here of the largely unknown wartime experiences of actor Charles Durning, who recently died, and the important lessons his bravery and suffering provide. Thanks to James. And especially thanks to Charles.
Intelligence shortcuts, such as torture, tend to be impractical as well as ... you know ... real wrong. Conservative Julian Sanchez takes on the Wall Street Journal over warrantless wiretapping. This is one of a series of articles at his site dissecting recent FISA legislation, including this short video.
Max's Dad doesn't normally take the lead in cheering for CNN's Piers Morgan. He makes an exception in the face of know-nothings who seem to believe the Constitution begins and ends with the Second Amendment. They advocate the deportation of the television host for exercising rights covered by the First Amendment.
Infidel 753 posts a series of images - words and photos - ranging from skepticism to derision about religion. I confess I have never been able to generate within myself much empathy with the anger that so many invest in debates about spirituality. My thoughts about faith are here, and also here.
- PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, holds a bad cold as evidence against evolution. I suspect sarcasm. He goes on to describe a few underreported stories of the year just past.
Jay-Z is writing part of the score to Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby, and what a perfect fit it is. Hova's lyrics and F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic have so much in common: Both describe struggle and dejection, gender roles and social ills, the glamour and trappings of wealth, and the allure of the American dream. Plus parties and cars and fashion! Take our quiz and see if can tell your West Eggs from your Hello, Brooklyns.
We have to wonder what inner stamina John Boehner brings to bear to sustain him. It can't be easy. And what looks for all the world like strain is beginning to show itself.
President Obama made offers last July as Republicans held the nation's economy hostage. John Boehner appeared ready to accept them, even working out details and obtaining further concessions. Then, after meeting with his Republican caucus, he returned to dismiss the President's commitments as insufficiently harsh toward the nation's poor and middle class. Okay, no deal.
One election later, an election in which voters endorsed the President's campaign positions by a decisive margin, Speaker Boehner proposed that the President begin negotiations with the offer Republicans had rejected six months earlier. The re-election of President Obama was no small matter. It put to a severe test the Republican embrace of the Fox News worldview. President Obama was supposed to lose by a large margin. Sean Hannity and a host of others had said it so, and repeated it with conviction. It was a done deal.
When President Obama won, it was an electoral event worthy of note. He was the first candidate since Dwight Eisenhower to win two Presidential elections with over 51% of the vote. He did not campaign on a pledge to continue negotiations from the more vulnerable position in which he had found the country in July.
So, when Speaker Boehner said he might be willing to listen if the President began negotiations where they had left off in July, the President said no. Actually, I wonder if maybe it was HELL no. The offers that were made and then rejected back then were not to be made again, as if there had been no history since.
To an outsider, it may seem reasonable that an offer, once rejected, an offer made months before, would not be an eternal one-sided commitment. Suppose, back before I had met the one I love, I had asked some lady to marry me and had been refused. If, several months later, she called to say she had changed her mind, would she be offended to discover that I had changed my mind as well? Should she?
Speaker Boehner told his caucus that he would no longer negotiate with President Obama. Not now, not ever. Never.
You can kind of picture him pounding the lectern in animated fury as he complained that the president had "moved the goalposts." Uh huh, that's what he said. Moved the goalposts. The rational part of the Republican caucus shouted in unison, "Well, DUH!" Which is to say there was no reaction from Republicans except empathetic anger. How could the President be so shockingly unreasonable?
To be sure, that was not the only emotional outburst that might indicate an understandable buckling under stress.
The Republican caucus not only held the economy hostage, they held their own Speaker hostage as well. They made it clear they would not accept any offer from the President. Then they told their speaker they would not endorse his own extreme plan to severely penalize the middle class and those struggling to get out of poverty. His position was simply not severe enough. Besides, it would not protect the wealthiest one eighth of one percent from a marginal increase in taxes. Unacceptable.
The Hastert rule is not an actual rule. It is a "rule" only as long as the Speaker follows it. The Hastert rule is named after former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert. It says that, when Republicans have a majority in the House, no bills are to be introduced unless a majority of Congressional Republicans say so. An extreme conservative majority of a slim Republican majority means that a little more than a quarter of one half of the federal legislature can keep a popular bill from being passed. That would be one half plus one of a slim majority of one house of a two house Congress, one of three branches, holding up everything. Thank you Mr. Hastert.
The fiscal cliff had originally been engineered by Mr. Boehner's caucus during the July hostage negotiations between Republicans, who held the economy hostage back then, and the rest of Congress and the President, who wanted to save the economy. The idea was that tax increases on everyone would combine with horrible cuts on programs benefiting the poor and middle class, as well as defense and highways and pretty much everything you can think of. It would push the economy into an abyss. All that would happen if Congress and the Senate did not pass an alternative that the President would be willing to sign.
Now that bill was being held up by a majority of a majority, which is to say a minority, of the House of Representatives.
Senator Harry Reid was blunt about the prospect of draconian cuts and raised taxes on the poor and the middle class, all because of the "Hastert rule." He focused on "the 250," the income tax cut off of 250,000 a year in salary proposed by the President. Those making more would have a modest tax increase. Those making less would have no tax increase. Senator Reid was blunt about the pointless holdup.
The American people I don't think understand the House of Representatives is operating without the House of Representatives. It's being operated by a dictatorship of the speaker, not allowing the vast majority of the House of Representatives to get what they want.
If the 250 were brought up, it would pass overwhelmingly.
Hard to see anything inaccurate in that assessment. Pretty straightforward. The Speaker was allowing a small number of Republicans to gum up the economy, hurt the poor and the middle class, and raise taxes on everyone. Welcome to lower paychecks next week.
Later, after all the dust was settled and the Speaker was pretty much forced to violate his own "Hastert rule," and the economy was saved until the next hostage taking, Speaker Boehner happened to catch sight of Senator Reid hurrying from one meeting to another. He loudly dropped the F-bomb, demanding that Senator Harry Reid perform an anatomical improbability. Reid was visibly startled, seemingly wondering if he had heard what he had heard. So Boehner repeated his suggestion that the Speaker find a way to engage in unlikely carnal knowledge of himself. "Go F--- Yourself!" he shouted.
There was no word on whether this reflected the will of a majority of a majority, the minority that consists of a majority of the Republican caucus.
We speculate that the Speaker remains their obedient servant.
For a couple of years, we have been debating the Mayan prophesy of the disappearance of the Republican Party. Okay, okay, the Mayans have nothing to do with it.
In July, 2010, I made two suggestions. One was that Republicans were likely to be triumphant four months later. And so it came to pass, causing those of us who are not in love with the gazillionaire funded Tea Party to gnash our teeth and weep bitter tears. The other suggestion was a bit more bold:
And this is also where I repeat that the Republican Party, the one about to take over the legislative branch, the one some polls are showing to be the preference of a majority of voters as a counter balance for the President, yeah that Republican Party, will last as an effective political force for no more than another decade. Yup. By this date in ten years the GOP will be gone.
The prediction was not wishful thinking, as far as I can tell. There are limits to any mortal's ability to see accurately what is in the human heart. But I do not base the prediction on pixie dust and good, good thoughts. I don't base it on the evil in the hearts of Republicans, which is unknowable except by the Shadow.
In the past, political parties survived the ebb and flow of political tides by adapting. Defeat provokes painful introspection, which provokes revision and adaptation, which promotes victory.
I suggested that technology makes that impossible for what once was the Party of Lincoln. The downward cycle is fueled by technology. Choices are available to conservatives now that were not dreamed of when I was a lad. When unpleasant news disturbs the delicate sensibilities of GOP loyalists, they can simply turn the channel or click on another site. Kind of like the motorist who deals with warning noises from the car engine by turning up the radio, the better to hear Rush. The ability to surround yourself with pleasing news means that it becomes far easier to believe things that would have been unusual in earlier times.
The downward spin of the GOP is not the result of a strategic decision or bad tactics. It is a sociological phenomenon. It is not in anyone's control. We've been through this before, but for the benefit of those who came to class late:
If GOP candidates get few enough votes in enough elections, the party will disappear.
If the GOP grows extreme enough, it will attract fewer voters, thus fulfilling Number 1.
If less conservative members continue to leave the party, the party will become increasingly extreme. Thus fulfilling number 2, which makes number 1 a certainty.
If more conservative members of the party continue to believe ideological purity is the key to victory, they will continue to make the GOP a less and less hospitable home for mainstream conservatives. Thus fulfilling number 3, thus making numbers 2 and 1 a certainty.
If extreme conservatives listen to what they are being told by conservative media, they will become increasingly certain that any setbacks are caused by a lack of ideological purity. Thus fulfilling number 4, making number 3, 2, and 1 a certainty.
- If conservative media stop telling extremists they are right, extreme conservatives now have the easy ability to find other more conservative media alternatives. Thus making it all come together in a very happy, yellow-brick-road ending.
That last step is critical. It is the source of every other step. If conservatives acquire a hunger and thirst for reality, the entire edifice falls and the GOP revives, like the Phoenix of ancient Greek mythology rising from the ashes.
How are we, then, to greet this new bit of news about what passes for news at Fox News?
Sean Hannity of Fox News has been losing viewers like mad. It is a trend that began right after voters decided, by a substantial margin, that President Obama will remain President Obama for another term. Neilson ratings show a decline of about 50%. Fifty percent? That's ... uh ... carry the two .... HEY that's almost half. In fact it is half. From Don Kaplan of the Daily News:
The going wisdom is that viewers who basked in his preelection anti-Obama rhetoric tuned him out when they were stunned to wake up on Nov. 7 and discover that the President had won a second term — a scenario that Hannity had all but promised could never happen.
If Kaplan's speculation is right, and it is plausible, then not only some conservatives, but a large group of conservatives, are demonstrating an ability to reject right wing fantasy and actually quest after something closer to reality.
Okay, it's just one bit of data. And other Fox shows are keeping their audience. Bill O'Reilly lost only 30% of his viewers. And Fox itself remains strong among conservatives. Besides, a couple of months is a little soon to write off Hannity. His viewers might return. Or they might simply coalesce around some other extreme conservative television personality. They might still surround themselves with the soothing sounds of we-don't-need-to-change.
On the other hand, I may be delusional.
The GOP is still doomed (I think). Sean Hannity's incredible loss of height doesn't bring down the six story structure of prediction. But it does provide a bit of an earth tremor. Did you feel that?
You guys go out and celebrate the fall, how ever temporary, of Sean Hannity.
I believe I'll stay here, weep in my beer, and pray that enough right wingers continue to bay at the moon.
House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t hold back when he spotted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the White House lobby last Friday.
It was only a few days before the nation would go over the fiscal cliff, no bipartisan agreement was in sight, and Reid had just publicly accused Boehner of running a “dictatorship” in the House and caring more about holding onto his gavel than striking a deal.
“Go f— yourself,” Boehner sniped as he pointed his finger at Reid, according to multiple sources present.
- More -
Here are two old headlines, possibly even real headlines, that have been floating around the net for years.
One involves consumers who can't pay high prices for milk and switch to powdered milk:
"Milk Drinkers Turn to Powder"
The other is about agricultural legislation that can't get through Congress:
"Farmer Bill Dies in House"
Now it appears to be the Republican caucus that has turned to powder, and poor Farmer Bill might survive for a while longer.
Almost unnoticed, in every paycheck's concern with Republican hostage taking on the economy, is that other fiscal cliff. It's what you might call the milk cliff.
At the very last minute, it looks like a Senate bill that was passed months ago might be considered in the House of Representatives. No, no, no, not on the Fiscal Cliff, that Republican suicide vest that threatened the economy. We're still talking about the Milk Cliff, the one that might cost you every time you buy groceries.
Back in Great Depression days, people figured out that the United States still was largely an agricultural economy. The thought was that if the family farm was in trouble, the entire economy would keep on going deep in a Hoover-type direction, down-down-down.
Farmers had a hard time with a produce market that bounced all over. In most businesses with a line of multiple products, it can be a big deal to switch from one product line to another. It can be done, but it's not a simple thing. If the market turns and the price of hammers goes down, it's possible to switch some manufacturing lines to bolts or wrenches. That's how a market economy is supposed to work. One item becomes less profitable and demand goes up for another. Suppliers switch and prices stabilize.
In farming, that poses a problem. You can't uproot a growing crop to switch to another. You have to wait for the next planting season. By the time the next crop, the new crop, is harvested, the market has changed again.
So a system of price supports came about. Sometimes it involved paying subsidies for growing certain crops. Sometimes farmers were paid for not growing other crops. It wasn't just crops. Price supports worked with poultry, livestock, milk.
Family farms are much more rare now. Mega-corporations own agribusinesses, what had once been family farms. But the price stabilization system still makes corporate life more predictable.
Every five years the supports come up for renewal. They have always been passed again routinely.
Enough Republicans came out against milk subsidies to kill Farmer Bill.
There is a sort of corporate war going on. On one side are agriculture suppliers, what used to be farms. Purchasers are on the other side: supermarket chains, processors. The purchasers would very much like price supports lowered or eliminated for milk. They want wholesale milk prices to go down. Those purchasers donate to Republican candidates.
But that isn't why Republicans have been against price supports. Agribusiness donates to Republicans as well.
The donations are the campaign finance equivalent of what I told a departing co-worker once. On the one hand, I was really sorry to see a good friend leave. On the other hand, I wanted to see a good friend pursue opportunities, going for professional growth. "So on balance," I said, "I feel nothing."
On balance Republicans are equally beholden to all sides, so all is fair.
The price supports are an affront to libertarian, laissez-faire, let-the-market-rule, Republican philosophy. Republicans like a let-ill-enough-alone system, at least in theory. And most of our economy works because of that.
But that isn't why Republicans have been against price supports.
Lower prices would certainly benefit consumers. But that isn't it either. In fact, a wrinkle in the law, a leftover from 1949, would raise price supports way way high if the bill isn't renewed. Milk prices wouldn't go lower. Officials in the US Department of Agriculture predicted you and I would be paying seven dollars a gallon. Seven dollars a gallon is a bit more than most of us would like to contemplate.
So the effect on markets has no influence on why Republicans have been against price supports this year. It hasn't much mattered to Republicans whether holding up Farmer Bill would raise those prices way high for milk.
Here's why Republicans have held up price supports until they were about to expire. Part of the renewal bill allows for nutrition programs for families trying to get out of poverty. Republicans wanted to slash that down more than any other cut to nutritional programs since anti-poverty programs were invented.
It now appears Republicans will give up and allow price supports to go on. The exact details are being worked out. Maybe the 1949 provision will be suspended. Maybe the extension will just be for a year. Or nine months. Or a week. Or something.
Consumers are happy. Prices won't go up to $7.00 a gallon at the supermarket. So powdery consumers won't disintegrate when they hit the checkout counter.
Agribusinesses and what are left of family farms are happy. Price supports won't be eliminated. The execution of Farmer Bill will be postponed for a while.
Purchasers are resigned. Prices won't go down, but they won't go way up, either.
Advocates for the poor are happy. Nutrition programs will be continued.
Republicans are pretty mad. That is nothing new this season.
The stereotype has long been that conservatives lie awake at night worrying that somewhere, somehow, some black person is getting away with something.
The new House reality can now be updated. Congressional Republicans are worried sick that somehow, somewhere, some undeserving little kid might be drinking milk.
Word is that negotiations have resulted in an eleventh hour and fifty ninth minute agreement. It is a caboose led train, the reverse of how things are supposed to work.
The focus of cliff negotiation had shifted to the President and the Senate, reversing the Constitutional path of fiscal legislation. Supposedly, it goes from House to Senate to President. Now the river flows upstream, from President to Senate to House.
Presumably, some form of legislative fiction will meet the Constitutional requirement. Maybe they'll backdate the unfolding Senate agreement the House ratifies. Maybe they'll get the CEO of some large banking institution to help forge the supporting documentation. If these guys can seize a mortgage holder's house through fraud, surely they can create a way to seize Boehner's House by manipulating documentation.
This has not been an easy year for Republicans. The stereotype of Republicans acting solely in favor of the wealthy, indifferent to the middle class, disdainful of the poor, had been denied, sometimes vigorously. In the Reagan years, Republicans largely seemed to dispel the image for a while. The idea that Republicans were interested solely in the wealthiest of wealthy Americans had never been vanquished, but it had been diminished. It bubbled along beneath the surface, breaking through enough to keep the legend going.
It was a sort of Loch Ness monster. Nobody had actual evidence. No photographs could be authenticated beyond vague shapes that could have been anything. The actual proof emerged this year. The Boca Raton sighting was completely verified. The existence of the monster was documented. It was indisputable.
Not that lots and lots of evidence didn't already exist. Policies favoring the rich had been a Republican staple for a long time. Those policies had been somewhat obscured, still perceptible, but only as through a glass darkly. Policies favoring the rich were supported for decades by trickle down theories which eventually mutated into Supply Side theology. Working class folks were offered reasons for pain. In the long run, tax policies that spared the very rich would help everyone else. There were charts, projections laid out on paper, bell shaped curves that put actual graphical imagery into play.
Even Republican debate audiences could be explained, in a way. Yes, they could be seen and heard on television, cheering at death for the uninsured, booing combat heroes if they were gay, ecstatic at capital punishment administered to those of doubtful guilt. But the eventual candidate was said to have merely pandered. He was rich, but he was no caricature.
Then came the Boca Raton footage, the 47 percent. The picture of those lazy, irresponsible, people composing the 47 percent as presented to wealthy Romney backers had an effect. The donors approved the picture and disapproved of those who hadn't achieved the success that must surely go to the virtuous. The video of that presentation, the picture of rich folk pointing fingers at those not wealthy, made a stereotype of the rich, and of Republicans, and gave it substance.
A blogger once reacted to a comment of mine, posting on line "To all idiots named Burr Deming..." When family members googled my name, they would find that posting. I remember mentioning once that, since the blogger hadn't been more specific, I just assumed he was talking about some other Burr Deming.
I suspect that many of those 47 percent did not take personal insult at the tape of the after dinner slur. My imagination tells me that many, perhaps most, thought the remarks were aimed at someone else. Combat veterans in treatment, working Americans riding buses to and from work, senior citizens receiving Social Security, little kids receiving breakfast programs, would not be inclined to think of themselves as part of the group being insulted.
I also suspect that most people, whether in that group or not, even if they took no personal insult, were offended. Those others, those down on their luck, those needing a helping hand, did not deserve to be regarded so heartlessly.
The image of the harsh conservative, concerned only with wealth, wrapped in snobbery, insulated in privilege, took on new life for those whose continuing financial concern is economic survival.
And that was only in the months before the election.
Post-election maneuvers have not been more kind to Republicans. Before Speaker Boehner disappeared into a purple haze, back when he was negotiating on behalf of House Republicans, President Obama had issued an initial proposal. It was based on positions taken and promises made during his reelection campaign, positions endorsed by a solid majority of voters. It included a tax increase on Americans earning over $250,000 a year.
Republicans first responded with a four page letter, most of which was an angry series of complaints. What struck me was what accompanied a demand for more entitlements.
The most telling part of the original negotiations, the talks between House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama, was the nature of the Republican demand for a reduction in what they are calling entitlements. An entitlement would be a paycheck for a teacher or a police officer. An entitlement would be medical care for an elderly patient or a wounded combat veteran. An entitlement would be breakfast for a little kid before school, or an unemployment check, or a grant toward college expense.
The Republican demand for slashes that affect the poor and middle class was accompanied by an equally important demand, one which the President rejected right away.
Republicans had wanted to name an amount that these programs would be mowed down. But they wanted the President to make the decisions about which people would suffer and by how much. They wanted no Republican fingerprints on GOP-forced sacrifices from ordinary folk.
Republicans would name the figure. The President would allocate the pain.
It is easier to make demands than to accept responsibility.
President Obama has invented a negotiating opponent. It's weird, but what's he gonna do?
A week and a half ago, the Speaker of the House of Representatives announced that his part of Congress would not hold a vote on any proposal to keep rates from going up on American taxpayers. Not the latest proposal from the President, not the response, such as it was, of the Speaker and his Republican caucus, not the conservative wishlist presented as the Speaker's own Plan B. The economy thus faces what most everyone agrees will be a catastrophe if it extends for months ahead. The Speaker said it was "the will of the House" that no plan would pass.
It wasn't exactly a majority that composed the will of the House.
A majority of seats in the House are held by Republicans. Most voters voted for a Democrat for their Congressional Representative this past election. Aggressive gerrymandering combined with accidents of population distribution combined to produce a Republican majority. Still, Democrats in the House got more votes in the election than did Republicans. It has happened only twice before within the previous hundred years that most voters cast ballots for one party while the other party took control.
And it isn't necessarily a majority of the gerrymandered House that opposes the passage of some realistic plan to keep tax rates down for most Americans. It is mathematically possible, and even politically plausible, that just enough Republicans might vote on some version of the President's proposal to keep the economy going. Saving the economy will happen if Democrats maintain the unity they have demonstrated so far and if 18 or so Republicans want to save the economy.
But the Speaker's "Will of the House" has kept the will of the House from being expressed.
That pretty much left President Obama with nobody with whom to negotiate. So he kind of invented someone. He appointed Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to negotiate with Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. Senator McConnell had wisely kept out of the turmoil up until then. He is the least popular US Senator among constituents and he does not crave a new place in the Guinness Book of Hated Office Holders. He was eventually found hiding under his Senate desk, having handcuffed himself to a bolt in the floor. He was drafted into service.
That last is a figurative illustration, not to be taken literally. He didn't really have handcuffs.
Actually, the Senate is not supposed to originate a fiscal bill. I know this because I saw the cartoon "I'm just a Bill" which I have been urging on unwilling Republican friends ever since.
The House of Representatives is supposed to come up with all things financial, which all-things are then voted on by the Senate and then go to the President. But since the House Republican caucus disintegrated into pixie dust and scattered into the brisk Washington breeze, what's a grownup gonna do?
If Senator Reid and Senator McConnell can't come to terms, the President will produce a bill. The calculation is that the minority composed of Republican Senators, the ones who filibuster pretty much everything these days in a new sort of legislative routine, won't filibuster this. That's because they don't want to be blamed for everybody's taxes going up.
So the President's bill will get passed by a majority of the Senate. It's possible even a few Republican Senators will vote for saving the American economy.
Then it will go to the House of Representatives. The House will have reassembled by then, kind of like in the transporter on StarTrek. Everyone will look around and blink and rub their fingers together to make sure everything is still intact. Republicans will elect Speaker John Boehner to remain Speaker John Boehner and then they will pretend for the cameras that they have no idea at all what will come next.
Only then will the Speaker allow the House to vote on the Senate bill to save the economy or the President's bill to save the economy. House Republicans will appear on camera to lament how they were sold out by the Speaker they had just voted for, and will explain that they had no idea, no idea at all, what he would do.
Shame on you Mr. Speaker, they will cry in unison. Then they'll buy him dinner at Wendy's.
You see, the House will vote on the President's bill to save the economy because Speaker Boehner will be concerned about the country, or about his place in history, or about human decency, or something.
Okay, okay, that's the weak point in this plan.
But if the Senate passes a bill, and if the Speaker allows a vote, and if enough Republicans become patriots and join Democrats in passing it, everything will be okay until the Debt Ceiling that is not actually a ceiling on debt comes up. At that point, we'll do it all over again.
The President was on Meet the Press yesterday. He expressed a bit of impatience with gamesmanship, political kabuki, and twisted news coverage.
The news coverage part raised some mild indignation on the part of news coverers later in the program. The President lamented balance at the expense of truth. Undoubtedly, this is because he has been reading Fair and Unbalanced in his spare moments. I feel so proud.
David Gregory asked him about the frustration ordinary Americans feel toward Washington. The President answered.
Well, I think we're all frustrated. You know, the only thing I would-- I would caution against, David, is I think this notion of, "Well, both sides are just kind of unwilling to cooperate." And that's just not true. I mean if you look at the facts, what you have is a situation here where the Democratic Party, warts and all, and certainly me, warts and all, have consistently done our best to try to put country first. And to try to work with everybody involved to make sure that we've got an economy that grows, make sure that it works for everybody, make sure that we're keeping the country safe.
He then applied his observation to the current crisis.
What I'm arguing for are maintaining tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans. I don't think anybody would consider that some liberal left wing agenda. That’s some-- that-- that used to be considered a pretty mainstream Republican agenda.
And it's something that we can accomplish today if we simply allow for a vote in the Senate and in the House to get it done. The fact that it's not happening is an indication of, you know, how far certain factions inside the Republican Party have gone where they-- they can't even accept what used to be considered centrist, mainstream positions on these issues.
Okay. That's pretty clear. So how exactly should the press report this entire mess?
A crisis is here that Republicans back in July insisted be invented. It's not so much a fiscal crisis as a fiscal suicide vest. The theory was that everyone would vote for SOMEthing grownup in order to prevent the explosion. Pass a budget or the economy gets it. That was the Republican plan. Eventually everyone agreed, in order to keep the economy from blowing up right then.
Now we've gotten to the deadline that Republicans built.
In the House, a majority of a majority elected by a minority is able to keep pretty much anything from happening.
The President has prodded the leaders of the Senate into doing what the House is supposed to do, but can't because Republicans in the House are keeping the House from doing what the House is supposed to do.
If the leadership of the Senate can't come up with a plan, the President will. If even a few Republicans in the Senate come up with an attack of patriotism, no filibuster will happen and some plan to save the economy - the President's or that of the leadership - will pass, maybe even with a few patriotic Republican votes.
If Speaker Boehner experiences a sudden attack of patriotism and allows a vote, and if enough Republican Congressional Representatives experience a new birth of patriotism and vote with Democrats to save the economy, everything will be okay.
Until the the fiscal crisis of the so called "debt ceiling." Then we'll start it all again.
Do we have any a clue on how the reporting will go? Well, yes, in fact, we do.
David Gregory reacted to the President's oblique criticism. "... there’s something I also wanted to pick up on. The president’s obvious irritation, Chuck was just mentioning it before we started, at the notion that it’s a pox on both Houses."
And one of the president’s top advisers is rather defensive on Twitter saying that it-- you know, it should bug every American because it’s lazy journalism and punditry and has a real effect on our political system. Well, here’s the reality that even his advisers have to understand. The American people, Republicans and Democrats, do look at results or the lack thereof. So, it’s not lazy punditry when people are out there very frustrated with both ends of this.
So there you have it. It isn't lazy journalism. The American public is just too frustrated.
They can't handle the truth.
Introduction, Traditional Service,
9:00 AM, December 30, 2012
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
This is the House of the Lord.
It is a place of worship,
a place of sanctuary.
It is a place of healing,
where every troubled soul is accepted,
where every homeless child is welcomed.
We are the people of the Lord,
going wherever we are sent,
calling to every child of God,
telling all who are broken, all who are lost:
That we can start again,
that a baby is born,
that this is Bethlehem
and God is calling you home.
Found on Line:
"Children, Go Where I Send Thee"
December 21, 2008