"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Failed Promise Of Logic - How Faith And Credulity Always Rule

The role of faith and reason as means to salvation was debated for four centuries after the death of Jesus Christ.   The early church fathers were disciplined thinkers who first developed logical apologies to defend Christianity from its persecutors; and then after Constantine and the progressive acceptance of the religion into the Roman state Christianity, necessary during the long years of persecution, continued their exegesis to convince non-believers to adopt the true faith.

None of them, however doubted the existence of God; and were only concerned with his nature and that of the humanity and world he created.  Did God create the world out of nothing (ex nihilo)? Or following the reasoning of Plato did matter exist but only in a chaotic form waiting for divine enterprise to give  it order and meaning?  Did Jesus Christ always exist in divine spirit equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit, or was he secondary and subservient to the Father who gave him life? What in fact was Jesus’ nature?  Was he fully divine, fully human, or a mystical combination of both.

St. Augustine, perhaps the most influential of early church theologians made it clear in his Confessions and The City of God that faith must precede reason.  The only way to fully understand the mysteries of God was to put faith in his divine wisdom.  It was he who would lead the seeker to full understanding and complete belief.   Although his journey to faith was a long and difficult one, he found faith and was then, like the Christian thinkers who preceded him, used reason to explain and justify the words and intent of the Bible.

Agnostics on the other hand use reason to determine whether God exists or not.  How could one take the Bible as the inspired word of God, they argue, if much of the Old and New Testaments is derivative.  Many Egyptian and Mesopotamian myths precede or are contemporary with the stories of the Bible.  The flood, the murderous relationship of brothers, the virgin birth, Moses’ heroic march out of slavery to the promised land, resurrection, and the complex relationships between Man and God were not new.  If the Bible were truly divine, then God would have corroborated its stories with historical events.

If God is omnipotent and omniscient then why did he create mankind in the first place; and why did he create beings which were disobedient, disrespectful, venal, and evil?  Why did he choose to create the world when he did, given the eternity of time which preceded creation and followed it?  Why did he confect such a universal drama when he could have, as Genesis suggested, created man in his own good, righteous image?

Tolstoy, like Augustine, wrote a memoir of religious quest - A Confession – and in it chronicled his odyssey from non-belief to faith.  Tolstoy struggled with questions of God, existence, suffering, and the nature of good and evil using every logical methodology he knew.  He studied history, art, mathematics, political philosophy, and science in hopes of finding answers.  Finding none, he turned to religious writings, but found no solace or rewards there either.  He, a supremely logical man, could not abide the a priori judgments he found in religious texts.

In the end he gave up and backed into faith.  If billions of men before him had believed in God; and if millions of Russians, Europeans, Amazon tribes, and Eskimos believed in him now, then there must be something to faith.

Tired from his efforts, exhausted at decades of pursuing leads down blind alleys and always coming to the same conclusion that neither faith nor reason could lead him to an understanding of why he was created and why the world was configured the way it was, he gave up.  Adopting faith as a default was an understandable but easy way out of his dilemma.

Evangelical Protestantism puts a premium on faith and dismisses logic altogether as a way of finding God and attaining salvation.  One’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ is all that matters, and such a relationship can only be achieved through abandoning reason and opening one’s spirit to the divine.  Although this behavior has intellectual roots – the Protestant theory of grace focuses on faith rather than works and the absolute adjudication of Jesus Christ on Judgment Day – it is only part of hymn and liturgy.

Islam is based on obedience and subservience to God.  It is a comparatively simple religion without the theological complexity of Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism.  Mohammed did not arrive at his severe monotheistic beliefs through the same academic, intellectual efforts of Jewish and Christian thinkers.  Mohammed saw a divine vision in a cave not far from Mecca and for him that was enough. 
Revelation was not a matter of intellectual inquiry and deconstructing faith to discover divine essence.  He, like Saul of Tarsus, saw God and from then on his life would never be the same.
Islam and evangelical Christianity share the same belief in the absolute power of God, that salvation can only come through him and abiding faith and fealty.

Pope John Paul II severely criticized Christian fundamentalism because it ignores reason, dismisses Augustine and Aquinas and there conviction that both reason and faith must coexist.  Both theologians understood the primacy of faith but believed that only by logically considering ideas such as the Trinity, divinity, resurrection, and crucifixion and how they figure in the quest for salvation, would one’s faith be solid, unwavering, and invincible.

Yet few believers, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Hindus bother with such intellectual presumption.   Brought up in faith, taught to believe and to respect the Almighty, they choose to celebrate their faith rather than question it.  Most Hindus worship a multiplicity of gods, unaware of the sublime philosophy of Oneness that underlies the religion.  Similarly few Christians spend much time on John 1: 1-5 and his sublimely sophisticated conception of divinity; or on Genesis 1-11 where the same profound issues are presented.

The distinction between religious scholarship and the faith of the people has never been more pronounced.  As the world becomes more complex, more competitive, more dangerous, and more unknowable, faith becomes essential. Faith provides simple answers, solace, comfort, and even peace.  It matters little that people arrive at faith in non-rigorous ways and are far removed from the deliberations of Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp.

In fact logic is overrated in more ways than one.  While logic essential to navigate one’s way through the day, and without it there would be no architecture, bridges, medicine, or the computer; still it offers no privilege to those who feel the need to sort things out before they die.  “Too soon old, too late schmart” goes the Jewish saying.

Ivan Ilyich in Tolstoy’s story of the same name uses logic to construct what he believes is a perfect world, one which allows him freedom, a modicum of pleasure, freedom from want and suffering, and even happiness.  As he lies dying, he realizes that all his carefully-laid plans have come to nothing.  He is faced with extinction and has never even considered eternity.  He is afraid of death because he has had neither faith nor the right kind of reason.

Many critics have lamented the dismissal of fact in the current (2016) election.  How can people dismiss Donald Trump’s distortion of fact, truth and reality? How can they be so complaisant and lazy?  Yet these critics have overvalued logic and reason and disregarded the visceral human tendency of illogical belief.


Conspiracy theorists have analyzed what is a very common phenomenon in the United States.  People believe the most impossible scenarios; and once they have crossed the line and adopted one illogical theory, it becomes easier and easier to adopt many more.  They have suggested that conspiracy theories are the result of social marginalization, psychological weakness, lack of education, indifferent upbringing; but have concluded little.  People suspend logic easily, often, and without question.

It does not seem coincidental that there are so many people of faith in the United States and so much dismissal of reason.  If one takes the Bible as the word of God without question (even Augustine and his colleagues understood the importance of Biblical allegory and interpretation) then it is not surprising that one accepts secular propositions of faith as well.

The coming post-human age in which everyone lives in a world of virtual reality – a complete symbiosis of mind and computer – is the logical result of a diminishing concern with reality, truth, and fact.  Logic in this highly-personalized, subjective world will be worth little.

We are different from the animals, says the Bible, because we have reason; and God himself endowed Man with the free will to make logical choices.  Only through such rigor could one choose between right and wrong.  Yet as Dostoevsky has pointed out, men only look for mystery, miracles, and authority.  Faith is all that is required.  Free will is irrelevant.

This all leaves most of us nowhere.  As we get older questions of life, death, and eternity become more pressing.  We all deal with them in our own way; but most of us reach the end without every being schmart.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Separation Of Church And State And Augustine’s The City Of God–Time To Reconsider Secularism?

Ivan Karamazov, Dostoevsky’s  character in The Brothers Karamazov, explains to Father Zossima why he believes that the state should be subsumed within the Church.  How little crime there would be, he said, if men were beholden to first to God, the final arbiter of right and wrong.  Crime – sin – would be punished at Judgment Day, the consequences of ill deeds far more lasting than any secular punishment.

The United States, of course, has fiercely defended the separation of church and state and insisted; but the intent of the Founding Fathers has been misinterpreted ever since the framing of the Constitution.  Jefferson et al were never against the incorporation of and respect for religious principles within a secular state; just that no religion should ever be imposed on anyone.

The principles of the Enlightenment on which both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were based were profoundly religious.  Although philosophers of the 18th century valued logic and rationality above all, they were insistent that they be put to use in the service of God.  They like Augustine and Aquinas before them understood that the way to faith was through logic; and while faith would always triumph, the exercise of reason would strengthen belief not diminish it.
Today, however, these Jeffersonian principles have been deformed into policies which forbid the inclusion of religion in any secular institution or debate.  As a result the teaching of Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards find no place within schools at the very moment when they are most needed.  The dysfunction of inner-city communities from which the majority of public school students come, demands an insistence of the values of honesty, honor, respect, courage, and compassion embodied in both Old and New Testaments.

These values predate Christianity, of course.  The diptychs of Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) included in a curriculum for future Roman leaders stressed the same ideals.  A good Roman consul or even Emperor needed to have more than good management, military strategy, and administration to rule well.

In other words, Roman-Judeo-Christian values are universal and ex-temporal.  No successful civilization has ignored them; and most have incorporated them in education and civic life.
The institution of moral and ethical principles as normative values in society is a far cry from theocracy; and given the austere, medieval nature of ISIS and others which propose a religious caliphate, it is no surprise that Western democracies are harshly critical.   Similarly, since religious fundamentalists in the United States have often espoused radically right-wing conservative views and have flaunted their anti-intellectual sentiments, it is no surprise that progressives have been quick to dismiss them as retrograde and dangerous.

Worse yet, these same progressives have insisted that Judeo-Christian values have no place in a pluralistic democracy like that in the United States.  The inclusion of distinctly Jewish and Christian values would automatically marginalize and disrespect those of other religious traditions.

Nothing could be further from the truth. All religions espouse the very same principles.  Teaching – insisting upon – honesty, integrity, respect, honor, discipline, courage, and compassion would strengthen common values and would do nothing to disturb or challenge the beliefs of non-Christians.
America is very much a Christian country in that it espouses these Biblical values; and confirming that belief and commitment in no way disrespects those of a non-Biblical heritage.

Political movements which focus on ‘traditional’ values – respect for family, God, and Biblical lessons and injunctions – are not retrograde but avant-garde, for they see that that progressivism in an age of contentious divisions is in itself retrograde.

Identity politics which favors self-interested separatism instead of social and philosophical integration are corrosive and dangerous to the body politic.  Pride in ethnic, gender, or racial identity in and of itself is not dangerous; but when self-serving, often venal, principles replace common, mutually-respected values, there is indeed a problem.

Augustine’s work, The City of God is perhaps the most important Western work on the relationship between church and state.  As a good Christian who evolved from doubting roots into Christianity’s most influential theologian, Augustine argued for the co-existence if not integration of church and state.  As a good Christian, he believed that nothing was possible without faith – not civil society, not government, not family or community.  Faith precedes logic, civil discourse, laws, and governance, he said.  Without it, mankind would be lost.

Rational secularists believe differently. Justice can and indeed does exist without faith.  Belief is an add-on, important if not essential, but not indispensable.  Augustine never goes as far as the fictional Ivan Karamazov, but he comes close.

Where, then, does this leave us? The United State is a peculiar country.  It is one of the most avowedly religious in the world, but it insists on the separation of church and state.  At the same time, inroads are being made into America’s dogged insistence on institutional secularism. 

States are challenging the principle and the rulings of the Supreme Court – the philosophical fulcrum of liberal democratic secularism.  Individuals and businesses which reject abortion and gay marriage are mobilizing to challenge the purely secular judgments of the Court.   Conservative activists would like to see a diminution if not not elimination of what they see as a secular ex cathedra institution.  There is no way that the Court should decide Biblical matters.

There is no way that the United States will ever become a religious state let alone a theocracy; but these populist demands to de-secularize the state have gained traction and credibility.

The evolution from a secular and increasingly progressive state to one more attuned to Judeo-Christian, Biblical values will be long process; but the lessons of radical Islam –as dismissed and criticized as they currently are – cannot be ignored.  The advocates of a Muslim caliphate insist on God’s law over all; and while such authoritarianism is questioned, its purpose and goals must be considered.

Muslim radicalism is attacked and marginalized for the wrong reason.  Suspension of civil rights, misogyny, and rejection of liberal democracy are important considerations; but the advocacy for divine law are not.

Essential, historic, and universal values have been discredited, dismissed, and ignored by progressive secularists.  They persist at their peril.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

RECIPES–Baked Whole Cauliflower With Spicy Rub

There have been a number of recipes for baked whole cauliflower recently for good reason.  Slow baked with a spicy rub is a perfect variation from the usual recipes.  Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that needs a boost, and toppings are usually it.  Cold cauliflower with a mayonnaise, anchovy, caper dressing is a good example.  Alu Gobi, the classic Indian curry dish is another.  Baked cauliflower with a rub of a mixture of spices is simple, unique, and delicious.

Baked Whole Cauliflower With Spicy Rub
* 1 lg. cauliflower with leaves and stem trimmed
* 2 tsp. paprika
* 2 tsp. thyme leaves
* 1 Tbsp. garlic flakes
* 3 Tbsp. olive oil
* 1 Tbsp. good Dijon mustard
* 10 gratings fresh pepper
- Place all spices in a mixing bowl and mix well

- Taste the mixture and add spices as needed

- Rub over the entire head of cauliflower

- Place in baking dish uncovered

- Cook for 2-3 hours or until done (fork penetrates easily, nice crust on top)

- Drizzle another 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil after 2 hours.

- Serve 

Discrimination Against Men–Claims Of Universal Misogyny And The Moderating Role Of Strong Women

This is The Year of the Woman.  Not only is a woman running for President of the United States, but she has made her sex an issue.  The fact that she is the first woman to run for the office is beside the point, lost in her radical feminist attacks on men.  Although her slams are aimed at Donald Trump - a sexist, woman-hating, abusive misogynist – women understand that she is taking up the cudgel against all men who, no different from Trump, harbor and  express their disdain, disregard, and dismissal of women.

The animus is understandable and predictable, women say.  Little boys are treated differently and specially.  They are given sexual license while little girls are taught to be demure, chaste, and complaisant.  Boys’ sexual enthusiasm is dismissed as ‘boys will be boys’ but any sign of girls’ flirtation or ‘come hither’ suggestions are disciplined. 

It is quite natural for boys to grow up as crude, undisciplined misogynists. How in a sexist world and within male-favoring families could they possibly be otherwise?

Today’s woman, as embodied in Hillary Clinton, has had enough.  She has suffered  slights, sexual innuendoes, unwanted advances, and sexual abuse her whole life, and it is time to put a stop to it.

Hillary, consummate politician that she is, understands the zeitgeist of America.  Men are on the run everywhere.  Universities accept all women’s claims of sexual impropriety, and deny the accused men of due process.  College administrators create safe spaces for women to isolate them from their predatory male classmates.  Threatening gestures, words, looks, and insinuations are considered potentially abusive, and men are schooled in how to behave with women so not to give even the slightest intimation of offense.

Women on the other hand are given free rein.  How they dress, no matter how provocative, is considered their own business.  If it arouses men, that’s their problem.  They must wait in the wings blue-balled until called.  Girls can drink as much as they want without concern for consequences.  If they consent to a sexual encounter under the influence of alcohol which they might not have if sober, they have been raped.  Women can act with impunity while men are always under suspicion.

If this is not a heating up of the war between the sexes, nothing is.  The fact that women label all men as potential rapists is as slanderous and pernicious a discrimination as any.  Discrimination is defined as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex”.  In women’s blanket assumption about male behavior, are they not discriminating against a category or class of Americans as a Southern racist might blacks?

Women’s sexual discrimination shares another unfortunate trait with the racial variety – innateness.  The racist condemns all black people because they are innately inferior; and the female sexist condemns all men because of their innate, genetically-programmed, inescapable abusive behavior.
Most women and men share none of these discriminatory feelings.  Women understand that men have pursued them aggressively for a million years; and that women have been reluctant, diffident, and dismissive in response.  Taking on all comers would be tantamount to throwing survival to the winds; and up till recently, women have always played this careful, selective role.


Strong, confident women today know that there are far too many men who cannot manage their sexual drives; and who, instead of solving the puzzle of women’s desire, turn violent; and are on the lookout.  Women’s radar is highly attuned to the boor and dismiss him easily.  They pick up negativism, frustration, and crossed wires, and move on quickly.

In other words, they understand men – what makes them tick, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they can be led.  They are careful to avoid situations where boors can turn nasty.  They know that despite feminist manifestos, provocative dress and sexual flirtation can indeed lead to unwanted sexual advances; and have learned when and how to behave to get what they want and deter what they don’t.

All men talk dirty, always have, always will.  Savvy women understand men’s boasting, braggadocio, and lewdness; and know that it derives from three sources – male libido which forces men to think about sex all the time; competition; and sexual insecurity.

Men are  obsessed with sexual conquest, anxious to best all competitors, but timid and unsure around women.  They talk big in the locker room, share stories of sexual adventures, ogle pictures of naked women, and puff, prance, and strut; but cannot seem to find the gumption to make the first move.
Knowing this, savvy women dismiss the talk as silly sexual ineptness, use the poison-tipped, ego-deflating feminine rapier to deflate all ignorant comers, and clear the way for those few confident, admiring, appreciative suitors who get them.

Strong, confident men understand that women raised in patriarchal families respond to men like Daddy – unquestioning love, kindness, support, and admiration.  These men know that the way to a woman’s heart is to reflect Daddy.  Patience, respect, interest, and courtesy are not only good general social skills but the unequivocal keys to sexual conquest.


These men know that even in an age of sexual freedom, women are offended by sexual ineptness.  An arm around a woman’s shoulders at the wrong moment is inappropriate, but at the right moment a sign of affection and interest.  Women have always been the arbiters of physical intimacy; and all but the most obtuse or disturbed men respond accordingly.

The reason why the war between the sexes, usually a stalemate, has gone out of kilter is because of the current progressive demands for recognition, retribution, and compensation regarding race, gender, and ethnicity.  In an era of such universal reform, the sanctity and identity of each aggrieved group is tantamount.  Rights and privileges not enjoyed by the majority will be awarded to the minority until balance has been reestablished or achieved.

Men, white people, and Anglos need to back off while minority grievances are redressed and social equilibrium is restored.

Normal sexual relations have been interrupted by ‘No Means No’ and the legal processing that must occur before any male advances.  An inept gesture of hope and interest (the arm around the shoulder) is not dismissed as such but decried as abusive groping.  In such a climate a focus on actual, real, indefensible sexual aggression risks being blurred.

Resolution to any conflict becomes more difficult when one side intractably assumes the moral ground.  Not only does such sanctimony hinder any understanding and mediation, it fuels resentment, anger, and hatred on the other side.   More whites have negative feelings about blacks the more groups like Black Lives Matter make unrealistic demands based on questionable evidence.   More men resent women in this environment of universal condemnation and calumny than before.

Strong women have always managed the most difficult of men.  The fictional defiant heroines of Ibsen, Strindberg, and Shakespeare – Hedda Gabler, Rebekka West, Laura, Miss Julie, Gertrude, Margaret, Goneril, Regan, and Volumnia – were more than a match for their weak, errant husbands; and negotiated the patriarchal societies of Victorian Europe and Elizabethan England with ease and dispatch.  Did anyone worry about Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, or Indira Gandhi?


Or Mary Callahan Erdoes, CEO J.P. Morgan Asset Management; Abigail Johnson, CEO Fidelity Investment; Marie Chandoha, CEO Charles Schwab; or Charlotte McLaughlin, President and CEO, PNC Capital Markets?

It is to these women – strong, self-assured, aggressive, smart, and savvy – that feminists should turn as examples of women who have – like Shakespeare’s historical heroines – navigated the treacherous waters of male dominion with conviction and aplomb.  Young women who are brought up to believe that they are victims, that the enemy is everywhere, and that they need and deserve protection can never become strong and self-assured.  The world is a dangerous, tricky place, and only the fittest survive – true for politics and true for mating.

It is encouraging to see that the tide may be turning slightly.  Conservative activists have challenged progressive reasoning and have insisted that university administrators re-calibrate the scales of justice and encouraged men not to take allegations without defense.

Male students on campus have for too long, they argue been asked to give up their rights to due process in the name of exposing predatory, abusive behavior.  Women, even those with questionable claims, have been encouraged to speak out because they have for so long been forced to remain silent.

Everyone in America seems to be warring with someone else as identity politics takes its toll.  Yet, given the long-overdue rise of women to political and corporate power, perhaps the inflamed and discriminatory rhetoric against men can be quieted as women begin to assume more responsibility for their own fate.

To be sure, the world is a dangerous place; and the erosion of traditional morals seems epidemic.  Crime of all kinds is endemic and growing in many areas. Women especially need to be particularly wary of criminal assault; and the full force of the law should be leveled on those convicted of it.  At the same time, the world that most of us inhabit is not so dangerous or fraught with threat.  We deal with bullies, jerks, dopes, and assholes all the time.  We learn to sort them and toss them overboard and move on.  This is the normal world of men and women.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Radical Populism, And The Decline Of Democratic Liberalism–A Post-Election Scenario

As of this writing (10.23.16) it seems likely that Hillary Clinton will be elected President of the United States; but this in no way means that Donald Trump or his radical populism will disappear.  On the contrary, it will grow.  The anger, resentment, and frustration of the electorate with the Washington establishment and the collusion, corruption, manipulation, and arrogation of power it has come to represent are too virulent to fade away after November 8th.  In fact it is more likely that the movement will coalesce, be strengthened by a new Tea Party-like coalition in both House and Senate, and energized by Trump himself who, on a new media platform (his proposed new network), will be as outrageously honest as he has been during the campaign.

This emergence of a disaffected electorate in the United States is not new and parallels the rise of Putin and Neo-Imperial Russia, authoritarian but hyper-productive China, Duterte and the popular acclaim for extra-judicial governance, the rise of Muslim separatism and Islamic orthodoxy, and the ascendency of the Right in Europe.


Traditional liberal democracy is being questioned more than ever not only in the Middle East where God, not the State, is considered the final arbiter of all things spiritual and secular but in Russia and China whose leaders refuse to compromise their autocratic rule for the sake of democratic traditions.

Since Deng Xiaoping opened China to the world economy and geopolitical arena, the country has grown rapidly.  GDP growth has been in the double digits for more than a decade, and tens of millions of Chinese have been raised out of poverty.  This accelerated economic growth and concomitant political power have come at what the West considers an unacceptable price – inflexible restrictions of civil liberties.  Yet China has refused to capitulate to demands for reform and in no way wants the divisive, corrosive, democratic chaos of today’s America.  Socio-economic development is too important, Chinese officials state, for political debate and ethnic separatism to get in the way.


Vladimir Putin has rejected the concept of the nation-state and is redrawing old boundaries according to the demands of Russian ethnic nationalism.  Putin has annexed Crimea and maintains de facto control of Eastern Ukraine.  He has made his intentions perfectly clear – to reconstitute a strong, ethnically united, militarily and economically powerful Russia which rejects integration within Europe or a peaceful and complaisant relationship with the West.

President Duterte in the Philippines has rejected the United States’ call for moderation and respect for the rule of law and continued his extrajudicial war against drug trafficking.  As a result he has an approval rating of over 80 percent.  His forthrightness, political honesty, and commitment to radical reform are applauded.  The ends justify the means.

Right-wing parties are in their ascendancy in Europe after repeated terrorist attacks and a flood of Muslim migrants.  France, always a champion of the rights of man, secularism, and justice has imposed an extended state of emergency, a measure close to martial law.  Individual rights are abrogated in a campaign to expunge all traces of foreign and native-born terrorism.  It has become more defiant than ever concerning secularism, forcing increasingly fundamentalist Muslim communities to abandon certain religious expressions and practices.  Scandinavia, once considered the model of European socialism and equality, has turned its back on this storied past and found multiculturalism corrosive and dangerous.

Only America persists in its commitment to progressivism and the role of the state in mitigating if not resolving social problems and promoting economic growth.  Yet because of the growth of radical liberalism and the multiculturalism which it has spawned, the country is more divided than it ever was.   Identity politics have separated racial, ethnic, and gender groups and delayed or even deterred national integration and social harmony.  America is no longer a country which welcomes immigrants as long as they assimilate but one which celebrates their differences.  This spirit extends to native minorities, especially African Americans who are encouraged to speak as an oppressed group with special privileges rather than one whose separatism is discouraged.

Universities have ceded their responsibility to educate at all costs and have become political side shows where learning has taken a back seat to espousal and promotion of progressive causes.   This political correctness has infected all area of American society and in its deliberate closing of the American mind has fueled anger, resentment, and frustration as well as promoted divisiveness.

The Supreme Court has become increasingly activist and has ruled on issues which should more rightly be left to the electorate.  There is no justification for continued judicial support for universal abortion when a significant number of Americans oppose it.  Likewise, there is no reason why the Court should interfere with majority views on traditional marriage or religious rights.

Trump has been openly and avowedly antagonistic to all the above.  He sees the Washington cabals as destructive, self-serving, self-perpetuating destroyers of America.  He calls out their arrogance, sanctimony, and self-righteousness.  He blames the liberal Left for imposing social judgments on millions of citizens who have not yet sorted through issues of abortion, gay marriage, and religious rights. 

He excoriates progressives for their dogged advocacy of social programs which after decades of support and billions in taxpayer investment show little or no results.  He is incensed that the mainstream media with few exceptions are unashamedly staffed by liberal staffers, editors, and publishers.  Even the traditional conservative media have ignored the populist sentiments of his followers.

He refuses to accept the conciliatory approach of the Left, fueled by multiculturalism, to immigration.  He understands that many if not most Americans feel threatened by what they see is unfettered access to the country.

The election for all intents and purposes is a fait accompli.  No matter what Wikileaks may reveal over the coming two weeks, there is no time for the legislative or judicial processes  to indict Hillary Clinton.  She will be elected as one of the most unpopular presidential candidates in American history – largely because much of the country is unprepared for or harshly antagonistic to Trump’s radical populism and his outsized personality.

The movement, however, will not disappear.  A hopeful if not likely short-term scenario is the following:
1. The House and the Senate remain Republican, and a significant minority of those elected come from Trump districts.
2. This new coalition can be as effective as the Tea Party in promoting a radical agenda that will satisfy Trump supporters and those who will join the populist movement.
3. Trump will start up a new network which will in theme, content, format, and personality reflect the same sentiments that have been so angrily expressed during the election.
4. As a result of the above, local Trump supporters will be more open about their radical conservatism and an energized, activist base will be formed.  A an organized grass-roots movement will replace individual expression, and as the movement becomes institutionalized, it will gain influence in statehouses and Washington.
5. The new appointments to the Supreme Court may not be as radical as they would be under a Trump presidency, but will far more moderate than the liberals currently serving on the bench. 
In the longer run, the Clinton presidency will not last more than one term and a radical populist president will be elected.  If the above five-point scenario comes even close to reality, the new president will have unequalled support from the country.  Although he may not take the same authoritarian measures as his international counterparts – Putin, Duterte, Xi Jinping, Sissi, Netanyahu, and Le Pen (and, like it or not, Assad, the Ayatollah, and al-Baghdadi) – he will begin the process of reforming government but much more importantly, governance.

Trump has been good for America.  A cleaning of the Augean stables was long overdue.  The Washington Establishment was getting  inbred if not incestuous and the lines been big money, big government, big media, and big industry were being blurred.  The arrogance and sanctimony of all these sectors was becoming insulting and intolerable.  Although Trump himself might not have made an ideal president – the country is not yet ready for a Duterte – the revolution he inspired and supported is underway.


Friday, October 21, 2016

What Ever Happened To Civil Discourse? A Return To Manners, Civility, And Politeness

After months of trying to get her children to sit up straight, eat properly, chew with their mouths closed, and stop picking at the serving dishes, Eleanor Bradley had become frustrated and exasperated.  She had been brought up in a strict home where napkins were spread evenly on laps,  knives and forks were used properly and quietly, and mouths wiped carefully and decorously.  The dinner table at her own house was feral and disgusting.  She blamed it on her husband who had been brought up to eat ‘with gusto’ , as he described his extended family meals; but to her these dinners were free-for-all, undisciplined affairs at which food was eaten quickly and carelessly.

“Manners are bourgeois”, said her teenage son, and served no purpose in the modern world.  They were vestiges of an elitist system.  They were markers of class and lineage designed to distinguished aristocrats from rabble; and whatever the social value in earlier times, they were unnecessary reminders of oppression.

“Yeah”, said his younger sisters. “Who needs them?”

That was when the mother put down her fork and stared across the table at her husband and children.  She patted her lips, carefully folded her napkin and laid it next to her plate, and stood up.
“Manners are not for you”, Eleanor said. “They are for me.  I have to look at you, and I am disgusted.” With that she left the table and did not return.

It was an epiphany.  The children and their father looked at each other.  None of them had ever thought of manners this way. They were always an unwanted, unnecessary obligation.  They made eating tedious and inefficient.  They were relics from an earlier age that inhibited ‘gusto’ and the enjoyment of food.  In short they were restrictions on individual behavior, on personal space.
With their mother’s few words, they finally understood.   For the first time in their lives they put themselves in her shoes, imagined what they must look like to her – pigs at a trough; cud-chewing cows; a pack of dogs tearing at dead meat.

From then on while never perfect, their manners were much improved. They ate well if not properly, and their mother was pleased.

Eleanor Bradley was right, of course.  Manners, politeness, civility are for other people.  Yes, they do reflect well on one’s own upbringing and education, but courtesy is for others.

The American presidential campaign (2016) is an example of bad manners, incivility, and disrespect.  There seems to be no end to the vitriolic, nasty,  and deliberately abusive and demeaning language of the two candidates.  Politeness, demurral, and respectful silence are seen as signs of weakness.  Americans, the candidates have concluded, respect combativeness as a sign of strength; respect as sign of defeat, personal attacks as fair tactics in a high-stakes game.

It wasn’t always like this, of course.  The Kennedy-Humphrey primary debate in West Virginia in 1960 was a model of propriety, respect, politeness, and good manners.  The candidates expressed their views and commented on those of their opponent; yet the discourse never left the high ground.  Points were scored on intelligence, clarity, precision, and insight.


What has happened in 50 years? How did America go from a society where civility and respect were the norms to one where discourse is discordant and individual identity primary?

The movies of the 40s reflect this culture of good manners and social propriety. Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, and Lionel Barrymore were exemplary of a culture which, while no less enterprising as today’s, respected a notion of social grace.  Men wore suits and hats.  Women dressed elegantly but conservatively.  Clothes were both fashion statements and reflections of common social values.  A suit displayed formality, shirtsleeves an intrusive, personal informality.
Graceful masculine manners – holding a door, standing up when a woman entered the room, helping her with her coat, escorting her to her car – were not the now-parodied  symbols of male superiority and chauvinism but tributes to a woman’s own careful attention to her dress, demeanor, and social behavior.


In other words, civility in dress and behavior was a way of respecting not only others but the entire community. 

Society was simpler,  less diverse, and far less aggressively competitive than that of today.  More people lived in small towns where everyone knew each other and where individual propriety and manners were not only matters of civility and respect but survival.  Conformity to social norms was the rule. 

Sinclair Lewis, most often thought of as a savage critics of the fat and happy American bourgeoisie of the early 20th century was far from it.  Main Street, perhaps his finest novel, tells the story of a young woman who moves from a city to a small Midwestern town to follow her physician husband who intends to set up a practice there.  She is intelligent, sensitive, and ambitious and quickly finds the town insufferably conservative and insular.  Her attempts to start a theatre group, revitalize the library, and introduce art and literature to the community are considered intrusive and seditious. 

Yet despite sympathizing with his heroine in her struggle for personal authenticity in a society which has no use for it, Lewis never condemns the town itself.   There is something important, he concludes, about social  integrity and community – something very American.  Life on the prairie in 1920 was harsh and unforgiving; and only with social solidarity could survival and prosperity be assured.  Individualism had to give way to normative behavior.

In the end Lewis’ heroine, Carol Milford, comes to realize that her husband despite his intellectual timidity and bourgeois sentiments, is a good man; that his profession is difficult and essential if not noble.  She is less critical of her neighbors who might lack creative spirit but who are hardworking, essentially moral, and patient.  ‘Boosterism’, Lewis’ satirical characterization of America’s self-assured but sanctimonious belief in and promotion of small town values is less prominent in Main Street.  In the novel he has as much respect  for the town of Gopher Prairie as he does  for Carol who struggles for independence and individual expression.

Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding (1946) is both a celebration of family as it is about the integrity of community.  It not only is the story of a multi-generational, closely-knit family but its simplicity extends beyond the plantation.  Welty chooses not to write about the Civil War or Reconstruction, both of which were only decades before her story of the wedding.  The plantation is a physical and historical enclave. 

The only past that has any importance for the Fairchilds is the one of their ancestors.  Welty makes occasional but only incidental references to the Civil War, who went off to it and who came back.  There is nothing about the War itself, the battles that were fought in the Delta, Radical Reconstruction, refugees, the dislocation of the planter class, the difficult restructuring of the slave economy, or the political and social upheavals that resulted.

Welty, then, by writing about a family isolated from the devastation of the War and its consequences and leading an idyllic and romantic existence, had another agenda

Some critics have suggested that the sense of place was really what gave her later works distinction; and that novels like Delta Wedding were examples of how the ‘place’ of the Delta and the Fairchild plantation was a metaphor for place and family: Place is vitally important to Welty. She believed that place is what makes fiction seem real, because with place come customs, feelings, and associations.
Place answers the questions, "What happened? Who's here? Who's coming?" Place is a prompt to memory; thus the human mind is what makes place significant. This is the job of the storyteller.

Today’s world feels and is very unlike those of Welty, Lewis, or Wilder who in Our Town writes of the same conservative values of Grover’s Corners and about the necessarily small interstices between its residents and how this social integrity is essential to individual life and community.  Our world not only celebrates classic American individualism but has turned it into a culture of identity.  Society has become so diverse sexually, ethnically, and racially that each group and sub-group must fight for air, space, and territory among many competing claims.   How can civility, manners, and mutual respect prevail in such a competitive  environment?

The dream of social integration first expressed in the 60s has been replaced by separatism in the name of civil rights.  The only way for gays, racial and ethnic minorities, and women to attain social and economic parity is to first fight for turf and perimeter.  Then, once parity has been attained, assimilation of identity groups can occur.

Aggressive individualism is taught in the home as well.  Self-worth, self-image, and personal identity are valued more than civility, respectful demurral, compromise, and accommodation. 
There is no way to impose a 1940s conception of  civility on 2016 America.  It is too late, and except for ironic revivals of old fashion, the past is dead and gone. 

Yet is it? Americans always refer to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, the genius of the Bill of Rights, the principles of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Franklin; and the invocation of the past is never considered retrograde or antiquated thinking.  Why not the 40s for its graceful civility, manners, and polite respect?

Of course there was a dark side to the era – Appalachia, the Deep South, urban ghettoes were as much a part of the post-war period as the enthusiasm of the middle class – but such undersides exist in every period.  It is historically revisionist to focus on underclass when the middle- and upper-class were defining American values.

So, a re-visitation of Welty, Lewis, and Wilder might be good for a start; or a non-ironic read of Emily Post; or Dark Victory and The Talk of the Town.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bob Dylan And The Nobel Prize–What Is Art Anyway?

Ever since Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, traditional naysayers have been in lockstep.  How could the committee honor Dylan when prize-winners have included Faulkner, T.S.Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Eugene O’Neill, Yeats, and Tagore, artists of transcendent genius?

There are of course those who say that Dylan’s lyrics are poetry, and as lyrical, profound and lasting as those of any poet in the pantheon. 

Here is the opening stanza of Dylan’s most popular song:
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind…
Compare them with  these verses from T.S.Eliot:
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom (The Hollow Men)

From the point of view of classical literary criticism, there is no comparison.  Eliot’s poetry is complex, interior, intellectually challenging, and chilling in its commentary on death, despair, reality and life itself.
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Dylan’s poetry in contrast  is simple, folk, and derivative.
Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky ?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry ?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
By further contrast, here is an excerpt from Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium’, a poem like The Hollow Men, which expresses man’s universal concern with mortality.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

And finally from Dylan:
Come gather 'round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
Accept it soon, you'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin', you could sink like a stone
For the times, they are a-changin' (The Times They Are A-Changin’)
There can be no comparison.  Dylan is a popular songwriter, the 60s version of Moss Hart, Hoagie Carmichael, and Cole Porter.  Porter, whose lyrics have been criticized for their silly lightheartedness, their celebration of fantasy, high times, and inconsequential love affairs, was a genius at capturing the sentiment of the nation at a particular moment of history – a moment between the wars where silly sentimentality and escapism was embraced.

Dylan wrote in a more conflicted age and was concerned with more weighty matters; but he was as rooted in zeitgeist as Porter.  Both  Porter nor Dylan chose to write about the times, the moment, the cultural event of an era.  They did not try to address the human condition, its brevity, meaning, and import as did Eliot and Yeats.

One of Picasso’s most popular works is Guernica, a depiction of the brutality of the Spanish civil war.  He departed from his more essential themes of human nature and being to be political.  Although in the painting he did not take sides he, like Dylan, expressed a political sentiment and diverged from his focus on more fundamental issues.

Should Dylan be given extra credit for political awareness?  Is being tuned in to popular political sentiment and zeitgeist an additional criteria for the Nobel Prize?  Should one put aside a more critical assessment of the art itself and judge the work on its social and political influence?

The answer is no.  Churchill never received a Nobel Prize for his war speeches, although without them and their call to patriotism, national h0nor, and moral principle the Battle of Britain might never have been won.
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills.
We shall never surrender…
His words are inspirational, heroic, and powerful; but they – by any standards – do not achieve the existential power and sublimity of those of Eliot or Yeats.

The issue of Dylan’s prize raises an important question.  What is art, after all?  Are there as conservative critic aver, universal standards of literary or artistic greatness.  Should one revere Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Joyce, Blake, and Faulkner above all?  Are their works on a higher plane than Dickens, Dreiser, Hardy, and DuMaurier because they distilled the human experience rather than narrate it?

Are the works of Picasso, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Michelangelo more enduring, more insightful, and more expressive than Dale Chilhuly or Normal Rockwell?

Deconstructionists have for no other reason served an important purpose in forcing us to define excellence, artistry, and genius.  The most radical of them have contended that there is no such thing – that car manuals are no different than the King James Version of the Bible or Hamlet.
Although their critics would insist that there are such things as universal criteria – that a great work of art must be transcendent, expressing central human concerns in unique and powerful ways – is there no room in the canon for the immediate and the temporal?

The answer is ‘No’. The best contemporary writers such as Richard Ford and Hilary Mantel are cut from the cloth of Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee.  They display the modern human condition as the human condition. Marriage, divorce, family dysfunction, jealousy, inheritance, rivalry are all part of a human desperation for meaning and purpose.

The painter Anselm Kiefer shares nothing whatsoever with Dale Chihuly, a craftsman glassblower.  Kiefer’s over-sized tableaux are inescapably frightening, almost impossible to look at.  They are dark and brooding, reminiscent of Armageddon, Holocaust, and the end of days. 

Chihuly’s works are fanciful, colorful, delightful, and meaningless.  He and Kiefer should never be included in the same discussion.

Wagner’s The Ring Cycle has been praised as a monumental operatic work and dismissed as proto-Nazi glorification of the Aryan race.  Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and his Ode to Joy have been acclaimed as among the highest achievement of symphonic works and as a powerful religious and political statement:
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muß er wohnen.
So, Dylan gets high marks for incisive zeitgeist. Perhaps not so  demanding and enduring as Guernica or War and Peace but at least representative or a type of current, temporal art.

He gets low marks for language, complexity, and philosophical sophistication.  His verses, taken out of their social and cultural context, are trifles – lyrics of popular songs which will be hummed and sung but never enshrined.

Should he have gotten the Nobel Prize for Literature? No.  Should he be internationally recognized for having been a lyrical voice in popular revolution? Yes.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Why All Liberals Become Conservatives If Given Enough Time

Although  liberals now refer to themselves as progressives to emphasize the distinction between the classic free-market liberalism which they abhor and communal efforts to create a better world they question and to convey the idea of progress, they are no different from Lafollette, Brandeis, Dewey, and Lippmann who fought for the rights of the disenfranchised, sought to alleviate poverty through government largesse and social programs.

While conservatives believe in the ineluctability of human nature – human beings have always been self-interested, self-protective, and territorial – liberals see no such thing.  While we can do nothing to vitiate the demands of hunger, thirst, and sex, they say, we can certainly curb our more aggressive instincts.  Human beings, although descended from apes, were of a completely different order once the threshold of consciousness was reached.  Intelligence and an innate sense of morality gave Man the ability to act responsibly and the obligation to do so.

Dorothea Marks had been a liberal for as long as she could remember.  She did not come from a liberal family.  Far from it.  The Marks family has a long aristocratic English history.  Dorothea’s  branch can be traced back to John Marks who was born in Suffolk, England in 1650, married Elizabeth Hastings, and died in Virginia.  The family tree is as complex as any and by no means all reputable. 
Henry Marks, for example, left the family estate under suspicious circumstances, but emerged twenty years later as a successful merchant in Norfolk. His descendants had for a long time claimed that he was closely related to the Marks of Marks & Spencer, but once they discovered that the department store scion was Jewish, they quickly distanced themselves from any possible family tie.

Llewellyn Marks, despite his aristocratic pedigree and careful upbringing – Eton, Cambridge, and an oak-paneled office in the City overlooking, of all places, St. Mark’s Cathedral – used his family crest and elite education as a cover for the worst financial dealings that London had seen since the Restoration.

“Marx, like in Karl Marx?”, Dorothea was often asked; and rather than set the record straight and do justice to her breeding and family lineage, she replied, “Not quite, but almost”.  As a committed progressive she was pleased that so many people associated her with the great man.  In her earlier days Britain and much of Europe was enamored with Soviet Communism and intellectuals chose to overlook Stalin’s autocracy and civil abuses and see only the promise of a more just, equitable, and fair system of governance.

Image result for images karl marx

Dorothea was American to the core.  In fact Herbert Marks, her ancestor, was one of the first settlers in Jamestown and therefore she qualified as a First Family of Virginia.  However, because of her emotional, intellectual, and social commitment to socialist liberalism (a useful appellation, she explained, because it softened the Communist-tinged European movement of the 1950s, and expressed a more American participatory democracy), she never mentioned Herbert Marks nor his tobacco plantations on the Northern Neck nor his trade in cotton.  She preferred to think of herself as a Marx.

Unlike many of her progressive friends who came from Jewish families who adored Samuel Gompers and volunteered at The Daily Worker or whose fathers had been academics at Columbia or Chicago and steeped in the ethic of community organization and social protest, Dorothea grew into liberalism as a rejection of her immediate family and its long history.

She had grown up on Park Avenue, went to the finest private schools in the City, spent summers on the North Shore of Long Island, played tennis at the exclusive Piping Rock Club, and was accepted to Wellesley – the only one of the famous Seven Sisters colleges that had not lost its cultural traditionalism; but after only one semester was completely disenchanted by the chatty clubbiness of well-to-do classmates.  She was determined to disavow them, the elite life of the Hamptons, and the predictable paths to proper marriage and comfort.

She turned adolescent rebellion into a social cause.

Not unlike most progressives she saw all social ills linked.  There was indeed a link between crony capitalism, the One Percent and the affliction of African Americans; or between global warming and white privilege; incarceration and homophobia; the plight of the Palestinians, rapacious multinationalism, and a disregard for the oppressed.

Such conflation, perplexing to some was essential to the progressive world view which, derived indeed from Marx, Lenin, and Engels, was rooted in social inequality, the pernicious influence of class and status, and a distorted economic structure.  It was necessary to fight racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, elitism, income inequality, and social dysfunction as one complex but unified problem.

Dorothea, therefore, was a member of the American Feminist Alliance, The Coalition Against Global Warming, Queer Nation, and La Lucha.  She marched against pipelines, offshore refineries, coal plants, nuclear power stations, clear cut logging, Hooters, and NAFTA.  She gave generously to Save the Bay PIRG, The Environmental Defense Fund, and Women Against Men.

Until her mid-Fifties, Dorothea had never experienced a crisis of faith.  She marched in lockstep with her progressive colleagues, felt good about the rough-and-tumble, slightly dangerous protest marches that reminded her of Selma and Birmingham.  There was indeed a solidarity and a communalism that conservatives would never know.  They were isolated by their individualism, dispirited by their belief in the unchangeable and greedy demands of human nature.  Progressives understood that living a life of political and social solidarity was a conviction that the means were as important as the ends.  One’s life must be exemplary of the goals to be achieved.

As she grew older, however, and as much as she hated to admit it, the bloom was fading from the blush of the rose.  She found herself angered at the selfish shenanigans of Black Lives Matter, the persistent embrace of a culture of entitlement instead of individual responsibility, and the constant, interminable howls of protest against rape, abuse, and dismissiveness of women. 

Women were quite able to fend for themselves, Dorothea knew after years of outmaneuvering men.  Smart, sexually savvy women like her  know that their feminine charm and allure, their lock on paternity (only a mother knows for sure), their easy exploitation of fragile male egos, their sensitivity, social skills, and sharp perception all make them equal to if not superior to men.  The hoopla about safe spaces, sexual abuse, rape counseling and the feminizing of men was, in her opinion, nothing but an expression of frustrated personal identity and lack of confidence.

Her trips to Africa disabused her of any notion of the rightness of foreign aid.  Most African leaders were autocratic kleptocrats who enriched themselves with international largess, made sweet deals for natural resources the profits of which never trickled past Swiss bank accounts.  Famine after famine was lamented in the world press.  Musicians, Hollywood film stars, and European royalty all sponsored events to raise money for Ethiopia, when corrupt leaders, endless and pointless war, savage ethnic conflicts, and retrograde politics simply siphoned off newfound riches to further their ends.
Decades of liberal concern for the inner cities resulted in nothing but increased violence, social and family dysfunction, failing schools, and political favoritism.

‘A woman’s right to choose’ became distorted and expedient.  Any deliberation about the morality of abortion, the inevitable erosion of the dignity of all life, and the Biblical injunctions against it was considered off the table.  Abortion was settled policy, Pope John Paul II notwithstanding.

Environmentalism ignored economic reality and evolved from a movement of legitimate concern to an angry defiance of capitalism and economic progress.  There were never two sides to the question of alternative energy, no objective risk analysis, no cause-and-effect analysis.  Environmentalism became received wisdom insulated against criticism.

In other words the more Dorothea saw of progressivism and its one-sided, arrogant assumptions of right; its sanctimoniousness; and worst of all its rejection of objective logic, the less respect she had for it. 

Most importantly she came to see that conservatives were very right in their assessment of human nature.  It was indeed self-protective, territorial, aggressive, insistent, demanding, and all-powerful.  No civilization, society, or community has ever been exempt from its demands.  All social groupings whether families, communities, or nations act in the same, predictable, and similar ways.   No matter how much progressives have tried to alter the interminable cycle of human nature, wars, civil conflict, ethnic and religious rivalries not only still exist but are in no way diminished in frequency, severity, or scope.

In short anyone who has lived a moderately long life and who has kept their eyes open at least part of the time can only conclude that unless human nature is altered, human activity will remain unaltered.  No matter how high the ideals nor how generous the investment nor how intelligent the planning, human society continues to revolve around the same, millennia-old axis.

By the time Dorothea was 60 she was a committed conservative; and by the time she reached 70 she was absolutely, positively convinced of the rightness of her vision.  Yet it would be hard to criticize her for being as insular and hidebound as the progressives around her.  She looked.  She observed.  She pondered, reflected, and thought for fifty years.  Her conclusion was not drawn lightly or idealistically.  How could one not see what she saw when the world itself was a mirror of her insights?

She lost a lot of friends.  Those with whom she had grown up and who had not outgrown their progressive idealism, were increasingly impatient with her and one by one unfriended her, declined lunch invitations, and eventually dropped out of sight.

Because hers was an intellectual, historical conservatism, she found no new friends in the radical fringe, a territory of conspiracy theories, hatred, and venomous attacks.  Although she sympathized with religious fundamentalists who, she felt, had been unfairly attacked by secular progressives, she could not in good faith befriend them.  Her objectivity and rationalism were too much at odds with their profound a priori belief.

Nor did she become a nasty, bitten, angry conservative.  She kept her own counsel, spent time with family and friends who like her had left idealism and identity politics behind long ago.   In the end she turned out to be the best sort of conservative.  She often wondered how she had put up so long with liberal cant, but that’s life, so much the better.  Who knew how myopic she might have become had she simply drifted into her parents’ settled ways?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Creation–Why Did God Even Bother? Omnipotence, Omniscience, And Myth

Christian theologians have debated the meaning of Jesus’ birth, crucifixion, and resurrection for over 1200 years.  Why did God send him?  What was his divine and human nature? How exactly did his passion, suffering, and rise from the dead enable the forgiveness of sins and redemption of mankind? What is his relationship to God the Father and the Holy Spirit; and what are the separate and distinct functions of each part of the Trinity?

Yet, there was very little debate in the early Church about the even more crucial question of why God sent his Son to earth and why at that particular moment of history.  The traditional Christian answer is ‘To save our sins”; but if one uses the Ten Commandments as a yardstick, men have been lying,
cheating, disobeying, committing treachery, adultery, and murder since the first human settlements. 

Why did God wait so long?  Given what he saw had become of the descendants of Adam and Eve, he could have intervened much sooner, offered his promises of salvation and redemption as early as the first Homo Sapiens or, in Biblical terms, soon after the Fall.  Did he want to see if mankind would turn itself around? Or did he feel that a million years of unredeemed sinful behavior and denial of heavenly rewards was the punishment that the human race deserved? 

Perhaps this chronology is off; and that one should not count from the beginning of mankind but Moses’s receipt of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Ararat in the early Hebrew period.  Earliest man, although sinful by post-Mosaic standards, were ignorant of God’s law and therefore could be exonerated.  Yet that argument holds little water, for murder, rape, incest, deceit, charlatanry, duplicity, and theft are still heinous, anti-social, and disrespectful acts, even though cavemen had no idea of the divine seriousness of their offenses.


Not only is one forced to wonder why God waited so long, but why he chose the method of redemption and salvation he did.  Some say that the story of the virgin birth, evangelical odyssey, crucifixion, and resurrection of a God-Man was a good and right choice because it is so mythic. People need a storyline to make theological abstractions real.  Similar stories or myths were not unknown in the Greco-Roman and Hebrew world.  Such familiarity and the tendency, as Dostoevsky pointed out, for Man to look for miracles, mystery, and authority rather than a sophisticated theology. Yet he had to have known that reliance on traditional myth and storytelling would erode the majesty and complexity of his message.

Some Christian apologists contend that God had good ‘scientific’ reasons for waiting as long as he did to create life on earth.  This chart citing why God decided to create the world when he did is a good example of  reverse inference and reverse causal reasoning; and demonstrates how attempting to justify God’s plan through scientific reasoning makes both look even sillier than they should be (www.godandscience.org)
Display God's Glory
  1. Universe must be very large
  2. Earth must display God's handiwork
  3. Earth must be old
  4. Earth must display a long history of God's creatures
Evil must be limited
  1. Evil must exist
  2. Human choices for evil must be limited through restricting humans to a small part of the universe….gravity must exist to restrict space travel; complete separation of humans from God’s domain (heaven) during the time they choose to commit evil deeds:
  3. Limited human lifespan (death must exist)
  4. Complete, permanent separation of humans who refuse to choose good over evil
Humans must choose
  1. Humans must have free will to choose
    1. Good choices must exist
    2. Evil choices must exist
  2. Humans may choose to participate in spreading God's message
    1. Human language must exist
    2. Technology must exist, requiring
      1. large deposits of metallic ores (produced over long periods of time)
      2. large deposits of fossil fuels (produced over long periods of time)
Universe must be temporary
  1. Requires the first and second laws of thermodynamics
  2. Requires the existence of time
The Early Church Fathers took God’s will for granted, and their deliberations were less about why he did what he did and when, than what his actions meant. No one can know the mind of God, they argued, so theology must be based on what he has revealed, and the Holy Scriptures are his absolute word.  The arrival of Jesus Christ on earth was considered a fait accompli.  God desired it, willed it, and it happened.

The question of why God bothered at all with Creation let alone resurrection and redemption is equally perplexing.   In all the infinite possibilities of an infinitely powerful and omniscient being, why did he create this dog-eat-dog world of brutal evolution, wars, genocide, and rapacious territorialism?  What was wrong with the Garden of Eden?

As Dostoevsky suggested in the Grand Inquisitor chapters of The Brothers Karamazov, man is quite happy to live by bread alone and trading sufficiency and freedom from want for the possibility of salvation was illogical.  In fact, the Grand Inquisitor goes on, Christ/God could have easily lifted the burden of penury, misery, and painful death from mankind; and the fact that he did not was an existential betrayal.

If God in his omniscience knew exactly how mankind would turn out – sinful, nasty, brutal, and unthankful – why bother at all?  “No one can know the mind of God”, believers say, but for the rest of us these essential questions get at the very nature of religion.

Hindus perhaps have the more rational and reasonable approach to religion, and do not duck these questions.  There is no particular reason why mankind was created.  Human existence is simply an expression of God, and it, like everything else in the universe will be destroyed, recreated, and destroyed again in endless cycles of becoming until all is folded back into a timeless and eternal Oneness (or Nothingness).  Although getting around the conundrums of purpose and design, Hinduism still sticks to myths of Creation.  Indians like all the rest of us have difficulty living in a totally random world.

Nihilists and philosophical determinists are quite content with this stochastic view of the world.  We are accidents of a universal nature with no purpose for being, no heaven or hell, only the consoling thought that in an amoral, purposeless world, there is absolute justice and fairness.  Everybody is equally at the whim of fate.

Why is any of this at all relevant?  Why can’t one either be happy with the ‘mind of God’ response or a belief in a meaningless, purposeless world which exists independent of any divine force and is no more depressing or hopeless because of it?

The most important reason is that if all Christians  were to put aside ‘the mind of God’ and the a priori assumptions of the existence of God and the Trinity and began to ponder questions of divine existentiality, they would end up concluding that not only Christianity but all religion is myth.  
There are simply too many illogical, unreasonable, and unnecessary actions attributed to an omniscient and omnipotent Judeo-Christian God to make sense.  There is no reason at all why God in all his omniscience and omnipotence should have created this Earth and the humanity that populates it, nor why he decided to do it when he did; nor why he created a sinful, reprobate version of himself; nor why he waited so long to fix things and to offer some kind of recall. 

Christianity – and Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam for that matter – are perfectly reasonable and legitimate codes for moral behavior, escape from suffering and hopelessness, and promises of a far, far better world than this one.   As myth, they make perfect sense, for their story lines coincide with all men’s need for mystery and miracles, a supernatural world of eternal happiness, and a gritty story of suffering, passion, and impossibly wondrous events. 

Christianity involves the willing suspension of disbelief and an a priori faith; and for most Christians, this is more than enough.