I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means

Over the past week I’ve heard several mentions of the breakout of prayer by students at a football game in Marianna, children-praying-in-school-300x300Florida.  The local TV station reported “Just before Friday night’s football game at Marianna High School, students, parents, and even the players went through with reciting the Lord’s Prayer.”  Further, a student is reported as saying “It just shows that with God anything’s possible, nothing can stop us.”  This is all in response to the fact that the local school board had decided that an organized prayer was problematic, something that has been repeatedly upheld by the courts.

Here is what I find odd about all this.  People keep acting as if the students and parents taking it upon themselves to pray is some kind of triumph over some movement to prevent that kind of thing from happening.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  No one has ever suggested that private individuals are not allowed to pray before football games, at graduations, or anything else.  That has never been the issue at hand.  What has been at issue is the idea of prayers organized by public school officials, and this is for a very simple reason.  It is both illegal and inappropriate for the government to endorse any particular religion.  And, of course, that’s what almost all parents, including those in Marianna, Florida, want, even if they are not aware of that fact.  I promise, the last thing any these people who recited the Lord’s Prayer want is for some school official to stand up and lead their children in a prayer a Hindu deity.  They would absolutely freak out.  But, of course, that’s the same kind of respect Hindus want as well.  They don’t want someone in power telling their kids to what god it is appropriate to pray.  And I doubt Protestants want a Catholic official leading students in a prayer to the Virgin Mary, and I can’t help but think that most Southern Baptists would be incredibly uncomfortable if the team coach broke out in Tongues before the big game.  I can come up with these examples all day long.  The only prayers people want their kids praying are prayers to their own god in their own way.  And that’s exactly the reason for not having public school officials lead the children in their charge in prayers in general.

But none of that has anything to do with individuals themselves saying prayers to whatever they want.  On the contrary, that right has been affirmed repeatedly by the courts and defended by that oft-maligned “liberal” group, the ACLU, the same group the report above says claims “it’s against the law for school administrators and teachers to either encourage or discourage [prayer].”  And that is exactly what they say, that school officials cannot encourage or discourage school prayer, but it is that last part that people so often seem to neglect.  There is this strange conviction held by many Christians that they are somehow persecuted, that some secret, nefarious, liberty-hating liberal (funny as that is) cabal within the government is desperate to prevent Christians from worshipping as they wish.  Their evidence of this is that others’ liberties are being protected, namely the liberty to not be coerced into worshipping any particular god at all.  But that is evidence of no such thing, and I am constantly puzzled and dumbfounded as to how anyone who is in control of their mental faculties could ever draw such a conclusion.

A group of Christians praying in public is no victory over anything.  No one is attempting to prevent Christians from practicing their religion.  The only thing at issue has been whether government officials should endorse a particular religion, and this is exemplified here by the idea of teachers leading children, who are told to do as their teachers say, in prayers to entities that may or may not be approved by the children’s parents.  That’s it.  Pray in public all you want.  But when you brag that you’ve somehow overcome prejudice and attempts to revoke your rights because you prayed to Jehovah, you just look foolish and show your own radical misunderstanding of how your own rights are being protected.

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On the Death of America’s God

One of the many things that Jim and I share in common is the fact that we are often assumed to be Christians because of the serious (I’m tempted to say reverent) way in which we approach questions of God and morality in discussions with believers.  As an atheist, you get much further in discussions about any particular religious puzzle when you bracket the BIG question of God’s existence in favor of the smaller questions that arise when you grant the assumption that the Bible (Quoran, etc.) is Divinely-inspired.  People are more interested in having a discussion about belief with you when you don’t start by taking a jackhammer to their epistemic foundations, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise to me that thoughtful Christians might use the same tactic in order to facilitate productive discussions with non-believers.  Still, I was somewhat shocked to come to the end of this essay which decries the shallowness of many Americans’ faith and concludes that “America’s god is not the God that Christians worship” only to find that that it was written by a man named the “Best American Theologian of 2011” by Time Magazine.

Stanley Hauerwas’s essay, “The Death of America’s God” is not one of the most philosophically persuasive pieces that I have read this year.  He makes at least a half-dozen assertions that I find questionable and a few more that seem plainly wrong.  That being said, his thesis is fascinating, and I find his predictions almost perversely exciting.  Moreover, it is genuinely comical that a man who is so thoughtful and observant as a social critic seems so plainly lacking in self-awareness when it comes to his own beliefs.

Hauerwas’s core assertion is that Americans view the relationship between God and Justice differently from the rest of the world.  His thesis is that America’s faith in God is threatened by America’s crumbling faith in the Justice and/or intrinsic Good of our society.   His prediction is that the current political climate will force a reformation of the Protestant Church.

I think much of Hauerwas’s characterization of American thought is roughly correct.  Politicians in other developed countries usually do not get elected by talking about their personal relationship with God, but in the U.S., politicians are more likely to be perceived as trustworthy and honest when they claim to have submitted their will to an all-powerful entity with whom they have a deep, interactive relationship.   Hauerwas is right that most Americans believe that they have free will, that freedom is the quintessential element of a just political system, and that this is unproblematically compatible with belief in and submission to an omniscient, omnipotent god.  I don’t know how we could possibly assess the causal direction between faith in God and faith in Justice/Freedom, but obviously Hauerwas is also right that Americans have a tendency to see these things as interconnected.

So, now to the fascinating-if-unprovable thesis:  Are we nearing the point in history where the failures of our political system will force a religious reformation?  I am skeptical.  I don’t think that revolutions of any sort occur just because people realize that the institutions they trust to make their lives better are founded upon false principles and full of corruption.  I think revolutions only take place when those institutions are so dysfunctional that they no longer provide people with enough protection/peace/order to justify their existence.  Still,  the idea that our religious institutions actually depend upon other types of American faith – faith in democracy, faith in freedom, faith in the basic virtue of the common person- in order to promote faith in God is really interesting.  And Hauerwas’s prediction that our crumbling political order will force a religious reformation seems urgent even if it so vague as to be ultimately unverifiable.

Hauerwas takes the standard historical account of how the Protestant Reformation and Enlightenment spawned the American Revolution and folds it back over onto itself.  According to this narrative, the failure of European Catholicism created the foundation for American democracy (and whatever it has become today), but the failure of American democracy (and, of course, by that I mean the failure of modern-corporate-oligarchy-disguised-as-republicanism) will bring about the decline of American Protestantism.   This is exactly the sort of analysis that I would expect out of a Marxist or someone who believed in historical inevitability, but I wouldn’t expect it from a theologian because the tacit implication here is that most Americans’ faith has nothing to do with God’s actual existence and everything to do with cultural affectation.

Hauerwas may be a Christian, but his assessment of American religious life as shallow, contradictory, and cultural (rather than considered) is as damning as anything an atheist could write.  I expect that Hauerwas’s own beliefs are more theologically-sophisticated and perhaps better justified than those of his American Protestant peers.    But there is still something deliciously ironic about the fact that Hauerwas knows that most people believe in God for bad reasons -his entire argument depends upon it- and yet he holds his own faith up as a solution to this problem, concluding with his hope “that God may yet make the church faithful.”   I don’t know if Hauerwas is correct that American atheists are not interesting because “the god most Americans believe in is just not interesting enough to deny,” but I am certain that his argument is more interesting because he is a believer.

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Tolerance of Religion vs Respect for Religion

The question of religious tolerance may very well be the single most divisive issue among secular liberals in the west.  From the proposed French ban on female head-covering to pandering defenses of female circumcision, liberals find themselves divided on the question of when and whether it is appropriate to tolerate the institutionalized intolerance that is often a part of religious conviction.  The debate takes on a special vitriol in the United States where minority religious rights are as close to a sacred value as any secular principle could be.  We hold it as a virtue to protect freedom of worship, even if we cannot agree about what god, if any, is worthy of our worship. But, at the same time, we are made uncomfortable when confronted with the racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, and xenophobic descriptions and prescriptions that lurk in the pages of every major religious text.  We embrace liberal theologies that explain away these uncomfortable details, and we shake our heads with frustration when confronted with fundamentalists who refuse to compromise.

The recent controversy over the proposed plan to build a Muslim community center- which would include a mosque- a few blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood has given me pause to reconsider the puzzle of religious tolerance.  Let me say from the outset that I have no problem with a mosque being built at or near ground zero.  If the United States protects the rights of citizens to peaceably assemble for the purposes of religious worship and fellowship, then it should protect that right for all citizens, regardless of the content of their beliefs.  Moreover, most of the people who are complaining about this "disrespect" or "insensitivity" really just have a problem with Muslims, not the content of their beliefs (which are, incidentally, much more similar to the beliefs of Christians and Jews than are secular philosophies and various other Eastern and polytheistic religions).  So, lest there be any confusion on the matter, I am not on the same side as Sarah Palin and her ilk.  I don’t think building a house of prayer "hurts hearts."  I don’t think every Muslim is a potential plane hijacker anymore than every Christian is a potential abortion-clinic bomber.  And, if places of worship are going to be built, I think the former site of the Twin Towers is as good a place as any to put one.

All of that being said, I don’t think the imperative to tolerate peaceful assembly or private religious fellowship in any way extends to an imperative to respect religious belief.   If your religion tells you that the world is less than 7,000 years old and you believe it, then I think you are an idiot.  If your religion tells you to disown your gay son and shun your immodest daughter and you do it, then I say you’re an awful person.   I can tolerate your believing things that are nonsense so long as you aren’t breaking the laws we’ve both agreed to obey, but that doesn’t mean I respect what you believe.  Moreover, I think I have a moral obligation to challenge your beliefs when you hold them up in defense of a policy that will affect me and other people in my community.

It’s this distinction between religious tolerance and religious respect that is really at issue in the mosque-at-ground-zero controversy.  The most vocal critics of the mosque are not rabid atheists who are angry about religious zealots killing people.  They are right-wing Christians.  Now, leaving aside the possibility that some of the Christian mosque-building opponents are just plain racists, I think the best explanation for why this group opposes building an Islamic house of worship near the former site of the Twin Towers is that they conflate the imperative to tolerate peaceful religious practice with an obligation to respect the content of other people’s religious belief.  Their thinking seems to be that because Muslim belief (among other things) motivated the 9/11 hijackers, showing tolerance for Muslim belief so close to the site of the attacks is an inappropriate sign of respect for the religion.  If you think about it from their perspective, the twisted logic is not hard to follow.  The Christian right is quite fond of accusing the secular left of intolerance. Whether by charging that the left is "closed-minded" for not teaching creationism as a science, or "ignoring the will of the people" when a federally-appointed judge overturns the church-promoted Proposition 8, Christians in this country are fond of painting themselves as the victims of religious persecution.  So, given that the Christian right conflates legitimate challenges to their beliefs with "intolerance," it kind of makes sense that they might confuse the reasonable mandate to tolerate Muslim religious practice with a legitimate objection to belief in the tenets of Islam.

So, let me make the distinction between religious tolerance and religious respect explicit.  Refusing to teach religious myth as science in public schools is not intolerant.   Allowing homosexual couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples is not intolerant.  Blocking people from building a religious community center on property they have legally acquired is intolerant.  In all three cases, I don’t respect the religious beliefs that motivate the project.  I don’t believe in your God, so what you think He says about the age of the Earth, the sin of sodomy, and the proper way to pray doesn’t matter to me.   In the first two cases, the issue is not private religious belief but the legal definition of the terms "science" and "marriage" which have implications for everyone in the country, regardless of their beliefs.  In the third case, once the legal status of the building property is determined, the issue really is private religious belief.  I am not affected by you praying at your house of worship, but I am affected by you legislating from it.  Perhaps the religious right would appreciate the relative harmlessness of the former if they stopped doing the latter.

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Stupid Is as Stupid Does: Creationism in my Backyard

Map of Louisiana highlighting Livingston Parish

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I think it’s been mentioned before on here, but I live in Louisiana.  I’ve been in New Orleans for just under a decade, though I’ve spent a good bit of my time very recently in Shreveport where most of my family lives.  For this reason it is of particular interest to me when nonsense pops up in the state, right on my own doorstep.

A few days ago it was announced that the school board of Livingston Parish was proclaiming their intent to get creationism into the science classes in public high schools.  To quote an article from the local paper, The Livingston Parish News:  “The School Board Thursday petitioned Livingston Parish Public Schools administrators to investigate options to study the teaching of creationism theory in high school science classes starting in the 2011-12 school year.”

For those of you unaware, the teaching of creationism is explicitly prohibited in public schools and for good reason.  It specifically violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  This isn’t something I’m just saying; that’s the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 is the case in question, and, in relation to the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act," it held that “The Act is facially invalid as violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because it lacks a clear secular purpose,” that “The Act does not further its stated secular purpose of ‘protecting academic freedom," and “The Act impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind.”

It’s difficult to get more clear than that.  And guess which state was responsible for above act that was struck down so decidedly by the highest court in the land…Louisiana.  Man, we just can’t learn even the simplest lessons here. I can’t help but marvel at the willingness of the people of this state, elected officials, people of power and supposed learning, to make themselves into full-on fools in the eyes of their neighbors and the country and world at large.

One has to wonder, then, what possible justification the school board could use in petitioning school administrators to figure out how to get creationism into the science class.  Let’s look at their own words.  Again from the LPN story linked above, “Board member Clint Mitchell said that teaching creationism is not really teaching religion.  ’Teachers should not have to be afraid to not teach those things that are not prudent in evolution’, Mitchell said.”

First, the Supreme Court clearly disagrees with Mitchell that “teaching creationism is not really teaching religion.”  Further, I can’t imagine how one can even attempt to make such a case when creationism, by definition, proposes that world is the world of a supernatural act of Creation by some Creator.  How can we get around that being religion?  Also, what does it even mean to say “’Teachers should not have to be afraid to not teach those things that are not prudent in evolution”?  What does prudence have to do with what is relevant to the teaching of evolution?  I can only guess that board member Mitchell has no idea what “prudence” is.  The idea that such a person is given the task of deciding what is appropriate to be taught should terrify everyone reading this, regardless of their position on the issue.

Fortunately (what an absurd situation it is when the following is considered “good fortune”), some of the other board members were much more forthright and honest.  Board member David Tate said, “We just sit up here and let them teach evolution and not take a stand about creationism. To me, how come we don’t look into this as people who are strong Christians and see what we can do to teach creationism in schools. We sit back and let the government tell us what to do. We don’t pray to the ACLU and all them people: we pray to God.”

There can be no misunderstanding as to Tate’s reasoning.  He is explicit that creationism should be taught because that’s what “strong Christians” should do because they “pray to God.”  One can only wonder what Tate’s response would be if it were some other religion’s creation story being put for as appropriate material for the science class.  I can’t help but think he would consider that an infringement upon his right to worship his own god as he sees fit.

Board president Keith Martin has perhaps the most interesting reason for bringing in creationism to the science classroom.  He said, “Kids are getting harder and harder to discipline. Without this kind of thought, it will get even harder.”  That’s right.  We need to teach creationism because kids are acting up in class.  Whether or not this is science or even true doesn’t matter.  What matters is getting kids in line.  And it’s got to be clear to everyone how teaching creationism will solve these disciplinary issues.  Right?  It’s because…well, because…just because, ok?!

Beyond the legal issue is the bigger issue of whether or not creationism is science.  It isn’t.  There’s no way around that.  There is no scientific evidence for anything like a supernatural creator, and that’s just the way things are.  Does that mean you can’t accept that as an article of faith?  Well, that’s a different issue.  What is at issue here is what is appropriate for the science classroom.  Since the class is about, you know, science, it would seem obvious that science is the appropriate subject matter.  Attempting to shoehorn religion in there is not just illegal, it’s stupid.

Come on, people.  Let’s not be so stupid about this.

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I’m the One Full of Love, You Jerk!

castanza7For those who don’t know, Christopher Hitchens has cancer.  It’s become this weird kind of big deal as a lot of the people who have been his intellectual adversaries have been fumbling all over themselves to let everyone know that they are praying for him.  I find that odd in the first place because I don’t see 1) why they presume that anyone would think otherwise, and 2) why they would think that if someone did think otherwise that their coming out and saying anything would change that person’s mind.  I mean, if I thought you were the kind of bastard who would wish someone dead by way of a terrible disease that causes a great deal of suffering over an intellectual disagreement, strenuous though it might be, why would I believe you when you tell me that you’re really not a bastard at all? 

Regardless, a quick web search would tell you all you need to know about that.  But then there’s a new thing that occurred on Wednesday.  David Brog, a long-time critic of Hitchens, came out over at HuffPo to tell everyone that not only is he praying for Hitchens, but that he, and other Christians, are all better than Hitchens, too.  After talking about how it is only natural that he and his fellow Christians in the media would wish Hitchens well and pray for him, Brog take the opportunity to get in the amazingly low blow.  He writes,

I doubt we’ll ever hear Hitchens apologize for blaming almost every evil in human history on those with whom he disagrees: Christians, Jews, and other assorted faithful. Hitchens is fierce and downright ugly in his attacks on religion and the religious. He and the generation of new atheists he lead don’t just disagree; they demonize and dehumanize.

Don’t hurt yourself with all that Christian “charity” there, buddy.  Yea, it’s not just Hitchens who is a jerk.  It’s all the “new atheists.”  You’d never catch them wishing anyone well if they got cancer!  Jerks!

Then it gets even more strange.  Brog writes,

The fact is that people of faith have been the driving force behind every one of the West’s most important human rights struggles. It was devout Christians — and only devout Christians — who fought the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the American Indian. It was believing Christians — and only believing Christians — who fought to end the slave trade and then slavery itself in both Great Britain and America. Our civil rights movement was largely a movement of the churches led by pastors. And today, those at the forefront of the struggle to relieve the debt and disease of Africa are typically committed Christians and Jews.

That’s right, it was ONLY devout, believing Christians who opposed the wars against American Indians, opposed slavery, and who fought for civil rights for minorities here in the US.  None of those jerk atheists, self-described agnostics, deists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus (fuck you, Gandhi!), Buddhists, or anyone else ever stood with Christians on those issues!  Jerks!

Groan.  All I can hear is Weird Al singing “Think you’re really righteous? Think you’re pure in heart?  Well, I know I’m a million times as humble as thou art!” from “Amish Paradise.”

It’s difficult not to wonder if this is some kind of bizarre joke.  I can’t help but be curious if Brog even showed this to anyone else before he published it.  It’s hard to imagine that no one noticed the irony of the piece before it was published, that it’s quite an odd juxtaposition to claim the moral high ground while attacking a guy who likely won’t have much time to respond seeing as he’s battling throat cancer.  Basically, Brog is telling us that he is better than Hitchens because he would never attack someone personally the way Hitchens does, but in doing so he’s not criticizing any particular argument Hitchens has made or even his larger position.  Rather, he’s just saying that he thinks Hitchens, and all “new atheists,” is a jerk, he’s attacking Hitchens personally, and he’s doing so while patting himself on the back for being big enough to pray for Hitchens while he has cancer.  Man, what a jerk move.

Brog finishes with this:

Christopher Hitchens’ arguments have never persuaded me. But it is his behavior — especially when contrasted with that of believers — that has done the most to convince me of the limited value of his ideas.

Wow.  Irony.  I can’t help but wonder if that’s going to come back to bite him.

 

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The God-Fearing Democrats

People in my family don’t follow sports much, but, to make up for it, we follow politics and cheer on our party as though it were an athletic team. At a very young age, I came to understand that the Democrats represented most of the things that were good about America- fairness, equality, diversity- while the Republicans represented the things we ought to work against -elitism, dogmatism, and stinginess. Democrats were the party of the poor and also the party of the intellectually inquisitive (my family being both), while Republicans represented the rich and the religious, an unholy alliance brought together by Reagan (a quasi-demonic figure in my non-religious household).

Life and education have slowly stripped away the simple political narrative that shaped me. I now know that some Republicans are atheists, and lots of them are poor, just as some Democrats are racists, and lots of them are dogmatic. Still, I was a bit shocked to learn from Charles Blow’s most recent New York Times column that, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last week, more Democrats than Republicans expect Jesus Christ to return to the Earth by the year 2050. Blow takes this information in stride, explaining that two highly religious groups, black and Latino voters, currently comprise about 37 percent of the Democratic base, and another 20 percent of the base is composed of very religious white people. The Democrats are becoming more religious because they are the party of growing ethnic minorities. These groups, comprised mostly of the descendants of former slaves and recent immigrants, have become a significant chunk of the party’s base because they see the Democrats exactly as I did- the party of fairness, equality, and diversity, and the party that represents the interests of the poor and the working class.

I don’t call myself a Democrat these days. I don’t even think it’s important that I vote. But, I have to confess that there is something about my home team putting bets on the Apocalypse that really makes my skin crawl. The explanation behind this recent trend reveals something that has long-embarrassed Democrats, which is why they have failed to exploit it the way Republicans have: Class is highly correlated with education, and education makes people more tolerant and less religious, in other words, more liberal. If anything, this observation seems like it should favor Democrats, but clearly the Republicans have made better use of its strategic implications. Over the last 35 years, the Republican Party has successfully managed to convince millions of working-class, religious white people who did not go to college to consistently vote against their own economic interests. It has done this by telling a story of cultural identity that exploits religious faith, racial prejudice, and xenophobia, and makes the base believe that labor and environmental regulation hurt their job prospects and that immigrants and “welfare queens” steal their hard-earned income through redistributive taxation. Republicans have managed to convince their base that intellectual sophistication rather than material privilege is the sign of true elitism, and that the people who teach their kids, not the people who own the means of production, are their political adversaries. The Democrats, in contrast, have no story of common identity and are reticent to identify a common enemy. They are the party of organized labor and most college professors, but they fear both populism and elitism.

Picturing an average Republican is easy: He’s white, drives an SUV, owns a gun, waves a flag, and goes to church on Sunday. Of course, the next Republican you meet might not fit any of those descriptions, but that doesn’t stop the image from persisting. In contrast, picturing an average Democrat is difficult. A Prius-driving vegetarian, a blue-collar AFL-CIO rep, and a black church-lady, wealthy or poor, are all equally plausible models. Even though the average Republican may have gone to college, may have gay friends, and may believe in evolution, he can be counted upon to vote with the party that panders to Christian fundamentalists because that’s what it means to be a Republican. The meaning of “Democrat” is, in contrast, much less precise. Some of the same Democrats who voted to elect Barack Obama voted against gay marriage on the same ballot in California. And a similar vein of social-conservatism runs through “purple” rust-belt states such as Pennsylvania, where the Democrats who get elected are often both pro-labor, and “pro-life.” Religious and cultural identity is likely to influence whether you are a Republican, but not how you vote. The same can’t be said of Democrats, and this is why the rise of the religious Left scares me.

I would like to believe that the Democratic Party is attracting more religious people because the religious are starting to believe that the Democratic platform better reflects their values (aid to the poor, fairness, etc.), but I think it’s more likely that they just see the Democrats as better representing their interests*. This isn’t all bad. I’m glad that religious people in my tax bracket want their vote to represent their economic interests because I share the same interests. However, I don’t share the same values as religious Democrats, and that’s a problem because, as we’ve seen with the religious Right, values are at least as important to most voters as economic self-interest. I haven’t seen as much pandering to the anti-gay, anti-choice, evolution-is-just-a-theory- crowd by the Democrats as I have seen by the Republicans, but there really isn’t any good reason to think that the Democrats won’t pander to this group if it becomes politically advantageous for them to do so, and, with growing numbers of religious Democrats, it may. I could say that a robust package of social programs, including low-cost higher education is likely to make the children of today’s religious Democrats less religious and more socially liberal than their parents, but that hope reeks of just the sort of paternalism that embarrasses liberals like me. I want my “team” to represent the interests of the common person, but I want the common person to share my values. This is why I don’t study politics anymore.

*Let’s be clear here, I don’t actually think the Democratic Party really represents the interests of poor/working people, regardless of race. The Republicans have just done such a good job of alienating black and Latino voters by pandering to racists and xenophobes that the Democrats have won them over by default.

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Prince Charles Blames the World’s Ills on…Galileo?

Charles, Prince of Wales outside the White Hou...
Image via Wikipedia

In an article published in the Times Online yesterday, Prince Charles, the person next in line for the throne in England, said that science is to blame for the various issues, from environmental to economic, facing the world today.  In specific, it is the mechanistic view of the world at the core of scientific explanation that the Prince believes has led to the West being “de-souled,” and that is the root of all our problems.  He said,

This imbalance, where mechanistic thinking is so predominant, goes back at least to Galileo’s assertion that there is nothing in nature but quantity and motion.  This is the view that continues to frame the general perception of the way the world works, and how we fit within the scheme of things.  As a result, Nature has been completely objectified — “She” has become an “it” — and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo’s scheme.

Yes, the very same science that is responsible for the incredible increase in quality of living, human lifespan, knowledge of how the world works, and countless other things is what is at the heart of every problem we have.  Or not.

This kind of absurdity always annoys the piss out of me.  I don’t know that it’s possible to overstate the benefits that science has afforded our species.  Certainly, if you take things like eating, drinking, giving birth to fertile offspring, protection from the elements, community and interaction with loved ones, or any of the other aspects of human life that we generally think to be desirable and valuable, science is the single greatest boon we could ever imagine.  All of that stuff has increased thanks to science.  Yet, here we have someone who is learned and supposedly knowledgeable making the ridiculous assertion that it is, in fact, this very same science that is the cause of human misery.

And what’s the cure?  Apparently something mystical and mysterious.  It’s hard to say.  From the article:

Speaking at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies to mark its 25th anniversary, the Prince — who is patron of the centre — said that the West had been been “de-souled” by consumerism.

He said that the present approach to the environment was contrary to the teachings of all of the world’s sacred traditions. The desire for financial profit ignored the spiritual teachings.

“Over the years, I have pointed out again and again that our environmental problems cannot be solved simply by applying yet more and more of our brilliant green technology — important though it is.

“It is no good just fixing the pump and not the well,” he said. Talk of an “environmental crisis” or of a “financial crisis” was actually describing “the outward consequences of a deep, inner crisis of the soul”.

Honestly. I’m not sure what the Prince is actually proposing here.  Putting aside the question of whether our “present approach to the environment” really is “contrary to the teaching of all the world’s sacred traditions,” though I am wildly skeptical about such a claim, what is it that spiritual teachings are supposed to do for us?  How are spiritual teachings going to give homes to the homeless, feed the hungry, provide for the poor, or heal the sick?  What exactly are these teachings supposed to do at all?  Further, once we have figured out what these great cures are supposed to be, how are these spiritual teachings going to achieve those goals?  I can only assume that the Prince is aware that spiritual teachings were the dominant means of solving problems for most of human history.  It is only recently, by the Prince’s own counting since Galileo, that science has been the means by which we come to solutions for the bulk of our problems.  And yet, it does not appear as though the times when spiritual teachings dominated that environmental and economic problems all magically went away (see what I did there?).  Given that, what reason is there to think that abandoning the amazingly successful solution machine of science in favor of the old failed method of spiritual teachings is going to help us out with anything at all?  I see none.

While I’m taking apart the nonsense the Prince said, Nature is not a “She.”  Nature does not have a sex.  It does not even have a gender.  Nature cannot be harmed, it cannot be destroyed, and it cannot be betrayed.  Nature does not care. When we all die, Nature will continue to be the same, and it will not even notice our passing.  Seriously, what kind of hubris must one have to think that Nature is human-like?  Hey, guy, you’re just not that cool.  Get over yourself.

It is hard to believe that someone of the level of sophistication of a future King could be so woefully ignorant and clueless.  But here we are.  At least we can be thankful that he is mostly just a figurehead with little genuine power or influence.

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