Archive for the ‘Religious follies’ category

My New Favorite Mayor…

July 20, 2014

…would be Her Honor Kimberley Driscoll, chief executive of the town of Salem, MA, now caught up in a  dispute with Gordon College.   Gordon is a Christian school with an educational mission it describes thusly:

The best foundation for Christian higher education is the narrative of Scripture, and the goal of Christian higher learning is love—for both God and neighbor.”

That love does not extend to all neighbors.

Thomas_Eakins_-_Swimming_(1895)

The college recently requested an exemption from President Obama’s LGBT anti-workplace-discrimination order, a decision that caught the attention of Salem officials.  In response, the city  ended a contract it had with the school to manage its town hall.

That caught the attention of, among others, Glenn Beck, who warmed up the usual suspects to object to Salem’s decision.   In a letter posted to her Facebook page on Wednesday, Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said her office had received more than 50 calls that day from supporters of Beck and “right-leaning” blogs result,  many of them…how to say this?…not what you would call civil:

Driscoll said the callers expressed “some patently offensive views regarding LGBT individuals.”

No surprise there. But what came next turns this from a conventional story of conservative/religious push-button rage that the exercise of the their first amendment rights were not without consequences into a lovely moment, courtesy of Mayor Driscoll:

So to fight back, she said she planned to donate $5 for every phone call to the North Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (nAGLY).

Hee!

You go, Madam Mayor.

Image:  Thomas Eakins, Swimming/The swimming hole, 1885

My New Favorite Judge

July 7, 2014

Would be Bush 41 appointee Richard Kopf*, a member of the Federal District Court bench for in Nebraska.

Why?

Because of this:

In the Hobby Lobby cases, five male Justices of the Supreme Court, who are all members of the Catholic faith and who each were appointed by a President who hailed from the Republican party, decided that a huge corporation, with thousands of employees and gargantuan revenues, was a “person” entitled to assert a religious objection to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate because that corporation was “closely held” by family members. To the average person, the result looks stupid and smells worse.

[h/t Talking Points Memo]

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Judge Kopf elaborates:

To most people, the decision looks stupid ’cause corporations are not persons, all the legal mumbo jumbo notwithstanding. The decision looks misogynist because the majority were all men. It looks partisan because all were appointed by a Republican. The decision looks religiously motivated because each member of the majority belongs to the Catholic church, and that religious organization is opposed to contraception.

Kopf adds both in a disclaimer both truthful and politic that he is not saying that the majority in the Hobby Lobby decision were actually driven by the considerations that it really really looks like they were. But the point is made — and he adds the equally valid observation that there was no actual necessity for the Supremes to take the case in the first place. Such judicial passivism, he says, would have been better than this result.

In that context, the good jurist has the temerity to offer advice to his betters:

Next term is the time for the Supreme Court to go quiescent–this term and several past terms has proven that the Court is now causing more harm (division) to our democracy than good by deciding hot button cases that the Court has the power to avoid. As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu**

To which I say, Amen and Amen.

*As the TPM piece linked above reports, Kopf achieved a measure of — fame is not quite the word — notice for an earlier blog post advising young women lawyers how to dress for court.

**I do love the link that Judge Kopf kindly provided for his less internet-meme-familiar readers to that last term.

Image: William Hogarth, The Court, c. 1758. You’ve seen this one before, I know. I generally try to find a new image for every post, but this one so perfectly captures the contempt I feel for the current Court that I just keep coming back to it. Sorry.

The FSM Moves In Mysterious Ways

August 26, 2013

Presented without (much) comment:

The latest measles outbreak is in Texas, where the virus has sickened 25 people, most of whom are members or visitors of a church led by the daughter of televangelist Kenneth Copeland.

Fifteen of the measles cases are centered around Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas, whose senior pastor, Terri Pearsons, has previously been critical of measles vaccinations. [via TPM]

 

Titian_-_The_Sick_Man_-_WGA22934

The church in question understands how to deal with such awkwardness:

 We know the truth; we are healed according to Isaiah 53:4-­5 and I Peter 2:24 and are standing against any plague that would try to attack us as a body. So agree with us that this will stop now according to Matthew 18:19.

But nonetheless hedges its bets:

Kenneth Copeland Ministries’ position regarding dealing with any medical condition involving yourself or someone in your family is to first seek the wisdom of God, His Word, and appropriate medical attention from a professional that you know and trust. Apply wisdom and discernment in carrying out their recommendations for treatment. This would include:  vaccinations, immunizations, surgeries, prescriptions, or any other medical procedures.

For my part, I’d skip the other stuff and head straight for one of the greatest inventions ever in the service of human well-being, the prophylactic vaccine.

I’ll close here, without diving into any “it’s not whether you believe in evolution, it’s whether evolution believes in you” species of snark.

Image:  Titian, The Sick Man, c. 151

Presented Without (Much) Comment: Did Benedict Resign Because of Naughty Times in the Vatican?

February 22, 2013

Don’t know what to make of this one, really, (any of you know how rigorous La Repubblica is in its journalism?), but here’s the Grauniad’s gloss on that paper’s report:

A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.

The pope’s spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called “Vatileaks” affair.

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Last May Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with having stolen and leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.

According to La Repubblica, the dossier comprising “two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red” had been consigned to a safe in the papal apartments and would be delivered to the pope’s successor upon his election.

The newspaper said the cardinals described a number of factions, including one whose members were “united by sexual orientation”.

In an apparent quotation from the report, La Repubblica said some Vatican officials had been subject to “external influence” from laymen with whom they had links of a “worldly nature”. The paper said this was a clear reference to blackmail.

It quoted a source “very close to those who wrote [the cardinal's report]” as saying: “Everything revolves around the non-observance of the sixth and seventh commandments.”  (h/t GOS)

Correlation is not cause, even if La Repubblica really has this story nailed, though I can certainly see how such a report might confirm someone in Benedict’s position in their conviction that it might be time to take a hike.

I’m not a Catholic myself, as I’m guessing most of you know, and I’ve never reported on the Vatican (though I’ve been a guest inside its walls on a couple of occasions).  So I can’t claim any insight into the politics behind St. Peter’s Square.  So here’s Charlie Pierce with a more informed take:

La Repubblica is not a scandal sheet, regardless of what you’re likely to be hearing from members of the Clan Of The Red Beanie over the next few days. The Italian press is famous for journalistic, ah, entrepreneurship*, but this newspaper notably has not been a big part of that culture…

What gives me a little pause is that the “secret gay cabal” theory is an old favorite among those curial powerbrokers for whom Machiavelli was something of a wimp. It also has been a regular trope of conservative Catholics seeking to defend the institutional Church’s inexcusable behavior in the face of the sexual abuse scandal, largely through the rancid technique of implying that being gay and being a pedophile are so closely allied that the former have a reason for covering up for the latter. (The linked piece from the Telegraph makes it clear that “the other side” that so exercised Dreher was not a “Lavender Mafia,” but the usual cast of institutional authoritarians up to and including John Paul II) It also is an old-line reactionary conspiracy theory beloved of, among other people, the late crackpot Malachi Martin.

…There’s a helluva lot more in the VatiLeaks documents than sins of the flesh. There’s a whole rat’s nest of bribery, nepotism, influence peddling and many other things not unfamiliar to those of us who have covered the state government here in the Commonwealth (God save it!)…

Go read the rest of what Pierce has to say; it’s all good.

One last note:  as we all know, the US Catholic Church (or rather its princes) have spent a lot of time in recent years injecting their claims of moral authority into civic debate.

That they have some reason for humility before the temptation to thus lecture the rest of us we all know.  With this, assuming it proves out, we now have one more reason to add to an already ample tally to point and laugh each time they once again condescend to lecture the civil body.

*I can attest to this “entrepeneurship” myself.  I was a cub reporter, a stringer for Time, in London when Calvi, the Vatican’s corrupt banker (early 80s edition) was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.  I did a little reporting on that story, though bigger wigs than I got most of the fun.  I did come across one delicious unpublished detail, though:  an Italian TV news team, too late to film the body in situ bought a blow-up sex toy in Soho, dressed it up in a dark suit, and filmed the resulting ringer.  Awesome.

Image:  Diego Velasquez, Portrait of Cardinal Inquisitor Don Fernando Niño de Guevara, 1596-1601

Where Mike Huckabee Needs To Go

December 15, 2012

Mike Huckabee has never been what you might call my favorite person.  But it’s always depressing to see folks with influence plumb new depths.  By now, I’m sure you’ve heard he had to say about the Sandy Hook School shootings:

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News.”Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

In other words:  Twenty-eight deaths, including the murder of twenty kids, was the fault not of the shooter, nor of a gun lobby that portrays military weapons as household tools.  Rather, said Huckabee, it was your fault and mine for having failed to appease his angry god by public worship in school.

Saying so is to implicate not just America at large in the crime.  It also adds up to a claim that those involved in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in particular were complicit in this massacre, for the banishment of one deity or another occured in that particular school too.  Lost a kid?  Too bad.  Shoulda prayed harder; shoulda held up a cross; shoulda, coulda, sorry old chum.

I can’t begin to write the rage and disgust I feel for that sanctimonious shit.  (Whether the word “shit” in that sentence applies to the man or the thought I’ll leave it to the reader to decide.) I want to say that it seems to me that there is a special place in hell Mike Huckabee.

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Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say that any more eloquently  than a howl and a “with a rusty pitchfork too!” kind of remark.  Fortunately, there are others who could and did describe exactly the appropriate fate for Mr. Huckabee — from one of whom, with your permission, I will now borrow.

Here’s one possibility that would satisfy my sense of justice:

The sides were crusted over with a mould/Plastered upon them by foul mists that rise,/And both with eyes and nose a contest hold./The bottom is so deep, in vain our eyes/Searched it till further up the bridge we went,/To where the arch o’erhangs what under lies./Ascended there, our eyes we downward bent,/And I saw people in such ordure drowned,/A very cesspool ’twas of excrement./And while I from above am searching round,/One with a head so filth-smeared I picked out,/I knew not if ’twas lay, or tonsure-crowned./‘Why then so eager,’ asked he with a shout, ‘To stare at me of all the filthy crew?’/And I to him: ‘Because I scarce can doubt/That formerly thee dry of hair I knew…

But perhaps that’s not miserable enough.  How’s this?

Then we descended from the bridge’s head,/Where with the eighth bank is its junction wrought/And full beneath me was the Bolgia spread,/And I perceived that hideously ’twas fraught/With serpents; and such monstrous forms they bore,/Even now my blood is curdled at the thought./Henceforth let sandy Libya boast no more!/Though she breed hydra, snake that crawls or flies,/Twy-headed, or fine-speckled, no such store/Of plagues, nor near so cruel, she supplies,/ Though joined to all the land of Ethiop,/And that which by the Red Sea waters lies./’Midst this fell throng and dismal, without hope/A naked people ran, aghast with fear—/No covert for them and no heliotrope/Their hands were bound by serpents at their rear,/Which in their reins for head and tail did get/A holding-place: in front they knotted were./And lo! to one who on our side was set/A serpent darted forward, him to bite/At where the neck is by the shoulders met./Nor O nor I did any ever write/More quickly than he kindled, burst in flame,/And crumbled all to ashes./And when quite He on the earth a wasted heap became/He on the earth a wasted heap became,/The ashes of themselves together rolled,/Resuming suddenly their former frame.

(Dante, Inferno, Canto XVIII, lines 106-121 and Canto XXIV, lines 79-106)

The translation’s a little old-fashioned, I know — but that’s what Gutenberg.org had on hand.

In any event, if I were a believer, I’d be hoping that Dante’s description of the torments of the damned is spot on.  And if it were then I would suggest to Mike Huckabee that he be afraid.  Very, very afraid.

Image: Pieter Huys, The Last Judgement, between 1555 and c. 1560

The “Have A Beer With Primary”…

July 14, 2012

…is over.

Well, actually, it’s been over since Mitt clinched the increasingly poisoned chalice that is his nomination, given his religion’s prohibition on consuming alcohol.  (See:  Mitt and Osama do/did have something in common…)*  But this piece in Mother Jones by Tim Murphy (via Ed Kilgore) captures yet one more reason to believe that Mr. Romney is not in fact a human being, but rather a strangely ill-designed bot intended to simulate human behavior.  Consider:

Mitt Romney has a complicated relationship with fast food. He likes pizza, but insists on scraping off the cheese before he ever takes a bite. He likes fried chicken, but only when the skin has been removed. He likes Big Macs, but only after removing the middle bun. He likes Coca-Cola because, he explained in his 2004 book Turnaround, it reminds him of polar bears, but he rarely drinks it because he can’t have caffeine. On the trail, Romney has name-dropped Carl’s Jr. and spoken of the wonders of WaWa but subsists mainly on granola he carries around in one-gallon Ziploc bags.

Anne Laurie blogged on this general topic this morning, quoting Taibbi on how most presidents have some capacity for engaging other human beings — a liberal could enjoy watching football with George Bush and so on.

That seems basically right to me, at least in principle.  I’m not sure if I could at this point stand being in the same room with 43, but I can at least see how it might be possible to have a reasonably pleasant interaction watching my team shred whoever it is he supports.

This is more of the same.  I’ve spent plenty of time in red states or settings, surrounded by folks who are as different from me politically as it is possible to be, and had absolute common ground in the matter of getting elbows deep in food that’ is gloriously bad for us all.  I’ve been taught to suck the heads of crawfish in rural Lousiana with folks with whom I dared not mention politics or faith.  I’ve done double duty at one of the true Meccas of American junk food, the Minnesota State Fair, (bacon ice cream? cheeseburger sticks?) where the proposition that there is nothing that can’t be improved by immersion in vats of fat is annually put to the test. I’ve…well, you get the idea, and we have ample evidence from this blog that lots of folks here take enormous pleasure in dining high and low.

But then you read Mitt’s preferences — or rather I do — and what I see there is someone who’s hinky.  A bit weird.  A control freak and someone deeply uncomfortable — unprepared, even — for the daily reality of, well, just being.  And hence, in some deep way, unprepared, unqualified for the job he seeks.

Seriously.   Put youself in the scene:   imagine you’re at parlous sitting at the counter when Mitt Romney of the Perfect Hair And Teeth walks in.   The guy behind the counter hands you a fresh pie, and a few minutes later RMoney gets his.

You grab a slice (the one you have to kind of torque so the cheese doesn’t slide away), and you get that first bite when the cheese hasn’t fully set yet and it’s still hot enough to burn the tongue if you’re not careful, and it has that same satisfaction that one gets from the very first gulp of a very cold beer on a day as hot as it is as I write this — and then you look up and there’s RMoney, delicately picking at the mozzarrella with a fork as he tugs and pulls with precise movements until the surface of what he’s about to eat is pristine, utterly free of dairy products.  He completes his task, and all he’s got left is a drooping triangle of bread slathered in tomato goop.  A perfectly innocent morsel of wood-fired arterial disease transformed into something miserable, mutilated; almost an atrocity worthy of the folks at the Hague.

By this time, if the “you” here is me, I’m (a) done with my first slice and grabbing more and (b) nervously realizing that there’s something really wrong with the guy next to me.  I’d start to edge away from the counter as I watch him consume in perfect, portion controlled bites the entire tomato-crust exercise in pointlessness.  Horrified, fascinated, I’d find it hard to pull my eyes off him as he takes the next piece and does it again.

Finally I’d come to my senses. That’s when I grab the counterman’s eye and ask for a take-out box.

All of which is to say that Mitt Romney has all the money it takes to become president and then some.  He has the advantage of a complaisant and oligarchic media whose owners have a direct interest in a Romney victory.  He has the challenger’s advantage that the economy still sucks while his allies try to make sure that it continues to do so through November.  And yet I’m not at all sure he can overcome his greatest problem:  he can’t cease being Mitt Romney, and that is someone — or something – that is deeply weird, and not at all in a good way.

Oh — and go read the rest of Murphy’s article; it captures a microcosm of who wants Romney to win and why.  The shorter:  Romney is the candidate for those who think the minimum wage is and ever was too high.

*BTW — I don’t think I’ve seen it written, and it hasn’t occurred to me till now, but how do the geniuses of the birther crowed line up Barack Hussein Obama’s not Islamic and very public pleasure at hoisting a brew and his Sekret Moooslim status.  I mean, I can guess — it’s not a lie if it’s intended to deceive the infidel and all that, but still, I’m not sure there’s enough tin foil in the cosmos to channel the mixed messages those folks must process.

Image: Pieter Breughel the Elder, Peasant Wedding, c. 1587

Money Lenders 1, Temples 0

March 10, 2012

Ed Kilgore’s been doing a fine job as Steve Benen’s successor at the Washington Monthly. He’s smart, he’s got a good bullshit detector, and he understands that the modern GOP is doing it’s best impression of a bunch of Kamikaze pilots taking the helm of the Queen Mary 2.

But even the good ones swing and miss some times, as here, in this take on the rise in foreclosures on churches:

Do you perhaps think the closure of churches in the midst of a Great Recession might be as much a threat to the free exercrise of religious expression as, say, a requirement that church-affiliated institutions allow their insurance companies to provide contraception coverage for their employees?

I mean, I think I get what he’s after here, as he writes in the last line of his post.

Bankers wanting their payments are apparently off-limits to criticism, unlike a president trying to ensure something within shouting distance of equality in access to health care.

I’m fine with the idea that there is something fundamentally cocked up about our banking system and the foreclosure industry.  If Ed’s point was that church leaders should imitating Christ in seeking mortgage fairness for all, I’d be happy to join an amen chorus.

But a religious freedom argument? This is one of the silliest things I’ve read in a month of Sundays.  To gloss the comment I posted over at Ed’s place:

The threat to religious freedom in the contraceptive battle is comes with what others’ fundamentalisms do to my religious beliefs and ethical commitments.*

Requiring institutions operating under the color of faith to meet their obligations, freely entered into?  Not so much.

In fact, if we were to do what Ed implies, and give some folks a free pass on their mortgages just because they say they talk to gods in the company of like-minded souls, that would be one more step in the horrendous theocratic power grab we see happening around us.

Hell, if all it took to avoid paying off my mortgage would be to incorporate as the Eleventh Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Reformed), sign me up. But the notion that a group or corporate body would claim immunity from basic life-crap like paying off the loan you signed up for just because you kneel in the right direction?  Oy.

IOW — this is just reflexive backward-collar genufluxion.  You own a piece of real estate; you borrow on it; you are subject to the same consequences that the rest of us face.

Again: if Ed were to argue that the steep rise in church foreclosure is another sign that our lending system has gone awry, and that there should be a  review of how to rescue underwater property owners of all stripes, that would be another matter.  But giving churches a break just because they are churches?  Dumb, dumb, dumb — and a sign that the first amendment really is hard for even smart people to grasp.

*More generally and formally, to allow one sect’s claim of religious authority to trump both other faiths and secular commitment to a public sphere is a bitter inversion of what it means to have liberty of faith and conscience in a anti-establishmentarian polity.

Image:  Amal Khurram, Shah Jehan with Angel musicians,  mid 1600s.

David Brooks Is Always Wrong-Yeshiva Bocher edition

February 19, 2012

David Brooks is the plausible half of the Times’ con-op pair; Douthat, to be sneered at later, is the best known for not being as overtly, epically awful as William Kristol.  (Talk about the subtle bigotry of low expectations.)

Brooks’ trick, the one he’s mastered as his inferiors on the Right bloviating bench have not, is to present sentences that seem to imply great learning, whilst never falling into the temptation to make specific claims of fact that can be shown to be wrong.  It’s an important skill, and it fools lots of people who should know better.  Not so long ago, I was talking with a reporter from the Great Grey Lady herself — a good one, a real journalist covering a difficult beat and doing it well. Douthat, my interlocuter agreed, was an embarassment.  But Brooks.  Now there was someone, said my companion, who even if you disagreed with him, always managed to surprise you.

Well, I suppose, but not in a good way.

After I recovered from blowing bourbon though my nose, I put it to the room that the problem was that Brooks arrived not at unanticipated conclusions, but at pre-determined ones, to which he gave unmerited weight by grabbing the lustre of some intellectual antecedent or another whether or not that purported authority actually bore on the case at hand.

He does some variation on this gimmick over and over again.  It can be an appeal to anonymous “culture” — as in this catastrophe of a column — or it can be a more direct invocation of some exceptionally learned, and often obscure source.

So it is with Brooks now infamous  column on Jeremy Lin, basketball and Jewish Modern Orthodoxy.

Brooks of course has taken plenty of hits for his astonishing display of cluelessness about big time sports in general, basketball in particular, and the nature of the point guard position in fine detail. Charlie Pierce’s take down is vintage, but folks both here and many other places have had their way with the last-kid-picked-for-dodgeball poster child that is our David.  I agree with everything said in such pieces; it takes a willed choice to write so badly, so wrongly about something as broadly understood and loved as basketball.

But I think that all those snarktacular take downs stopped short.  Brooks is probably not as utterly dumb about this stuff as he appears to be in the first three quarters of the column; rather, as always with this sorry excuse for a public thinker, there’s a specific goal in mind.  You have to look carefully, because he tries to disguise the tell in such a way you won’t notice the bad faith that underlies what he presents as a self-evident conclusion.

So, in this column, the goal isn’t to make any kind of point about basketball, or the nature of sport, or even about what actually goes into superlative performance in any human endeavor.  The real end of Brooks’ barrage of high-toned word salad* comes late, almost buried in a gush of seemingly deeply pondered thought:

Much of the anger that arises when religion mixes with sport or with politics comes from people who want to deny that this contradiction exists and who want to live in a world in which there is only one morality, one set of qualities and where everything is easy, untragic and clean. Life and religion are more complicated than that.

Translated: it’s OK for the bishops to meddle with your lady parts because they are really engaging the tragic tension between ambition and self-abnegation.  Don’t get angry, because, damn it, this moral balancing is hard.

Of course, had Brooks simply said that we should not resist the injection of one view of religious obligation into the discourse of civil society, it would have been much easier just to say what many have recently hammered home:  it’s not religious conscience that’s the problem; it’s the assertion of one person’s religious views (biases, delusions) at the expense of others’ ethical, moral, and or faith-derived perspectives.

So, what Brooks has to do here, slyly, is to assert a universal, inarguable property of moral thinking that could trump any picayune sectarian objection that, say, my interpretation of Jewish tradition would prohibit state-sponsored rape.  He does so with the rhetorical gimmick outlined above.  Lin, he tells us, is caught between his desire to excel as a basketball player, which Lin sees as self-glorifying, and the ability to direct the greater glory to the divine.  That tension, Brooks tells us, lies between “two moral universes” that are not reconciliable.

And here is where he rolls out his big gun, a suitably impressive sounding, but (outside certain circles) almost wholly unknown really smart guy:

Our best teacher on these matters is Joseph Soloveitchik, the great Jewish theologian. In his essays “The Lonely Man of Faith” and “Majesty and Humility” he argues that people have two natures.

A couple of things to note here.  First, check out the very clever way in which Brooks appropriates to  himself the mantle of the wise man.  “Our best teacher,” he writes, to introduce Rabbi Soloveitchik, who is indeed a major figure in the construction of the Modern Orthodox view of Jewish life and faith.  The implication is clear.  Brooks himself has tilled these fields, has spent all the needed long hours in the study hall to master his Torah and his Talmud, the commentaries and the responsa — and from all this has distilled the labor of centuries to an essence captured by this one writer, hitherto utterly unknown to most of his readership.  It’s a lovely bit of sleight of hand: Soloveitchik’s asserted authority confers greater weight on Brooks himself in his role as the judge of the “best” source on matters of moral complexity.  How fortunate we are to have humble David as our guide!

The second feature to notice is that Brooks, in what appears to be his SOP, seems to hope that no one will actually go read the (outside Jewish Orthodox circles) reasonably obscure works he references.  You will note that links to the two essays Brooks singles out are strangely missing.  One might infer that such works — religious meditations by an orthodox Rabbi who died almost a decade ago (aeons in internet years!) could only be found in tattered volumes found in stacks to which most folks will never gain access.  Or one might wonder about the possibility of bad faith.

Bet on door number two.

Just to do what Mr. Brooks would not:  here’s the link (PDF) to “The Lonely Man of Faith,” and here’s one for “Majesty and Humility.

So what happens should you actually dive into that work?

Well — let’s look at what Brooks says he gets from his august teacher:

First, there is “Adam the First,” the part of us that creates, discovers, competes and is involved in building the world. Then, there is “Adam the Second,” the spiritual individual who is awed and humbled by the universe as a spectator and a worshipper.In The Lonely Man of Faith and Majesty and Humility, he argues that people have two natures. First, there is “Adam the First,” the part of us that creates, discovers, competes and is involved in building the world. Then, there is “Adam the Second,” the spiritual individual who is awed and humbled by the universe as a spectator and a worshipper.

Soloveitchik plays off the text that humans are products of God’s breath and the dust of the Earth, and these two natures have different moral qualities, which he calls the morality of majesty and the morality of humility. They exist in creative tension with each other and the religious person shuttles between them, feeling lonely and slightly out of place in both experiences.

A couple of thing.  For one, it’s  “The Lonely Man…”  that engages the story of the two Adams. The other essay does draw a dichotomy based on two notions of the first man’s creation, but it draws on a rabbinical tradition to pick out two aspects of religious experience which Soloveitchik deploys to a distinct interpretative end — an astonishingly moving one when the essay shifts from a larger argument to an account of Soloveitchik’s search for some communion with the divine at the point of his wife’s death.

But really, all that’s trivial compared to the real sin Brooks commits here.  That would be — and I’m sure this comes as no surprise — that he simply gets it wrong.  What Brooks says about Soloveitchik’s teaching is not what can be found in the writing cited.  Look above:  Brooks claims that the  man of faith suffers loneliness because he must move between an active role building the world and the passive one of an observer humbled by the glory of God’s creation.  Here’s what the rabbi actually concludes:

Modern Adam the second, as soon as he finishes translating religion into the cultural vernacular, and begins to talk the “foreign” language of faith, finds himself lonely, forsaken, misunderstood, at times even ridiculed by Adam the first, by hinself. When the hour of estrangement strikes, the ordeal of man of faith begins and he starts his withdrawal from society, from Adam the first—be he an outsider, be he himself. He returns, like Moses of old, to his solitary hiding and to the abode of loneliness. Yes, the loneliness of contemporary man of faith is of a special kind. He experiences not only ontological loneliness but also social isolation, whenever he dares to deliver the genuine faith-kerygma. This is both the destiny and the human historical situation of the man who keeps a rendezvous with eternity, and who, in spite of everything, continues tenaciously to bring the message of faith to majestic man. (“The Lonely Man of Faith,” p. 65)

So, to Soloveitchik, a person engaged in this world, Adam the First, is demonic (his word) in his quest to succeed.  Adam the Second is lonely, but not because he has a dual allegiance, not because he flits between a sense of work and success in this world and a contemplative life of prayer and surrender.  Rather, he suffers solitude — or embraces it — because the men and women of the world pay him insufficient heed.

That’s Soloveitchik’s view.  I think it suffers from a conclusion derived from assumptions not in evidence, but that’s not the point.  It is, rather, that Brooks distorts what his source plainly writes to bend that thinker’s ends to his own.  This is the most basic form of intellectual dishonesty, an attempt to bolster a bad argument by laying claim to the authority but not the actual sense of a mind greater than one’s own.  It is Brooks’ stock in trade.

And this takes us back to the end to which Brooks hoped to turn this bit of fakery.  Remember, we face an irreducible contradiction.  We must, he beseeches us, concede that the two goals of mastery — really authority over our own bodies, agency — and that of surrender, of devotion to something beyond ourselves are “irreconciliable” — which means we must at times defer to one side or the other.  And that, he says, is what those who object to religion’s intervening into politics don’t get, but should.

Which is to say — sometimes you have to let the bishops mess with your body, or your desire to have sexytime without intending to enjoy babytime.  That’s the price of living with the incompatibility of agency and surrender to established (moral) authority.

You can see why Brooks might not want to say that plain.

More simply:  Expressed clearly Brooks’ conclusion does not follow from his premise:  a this-world focus does not preclude a rich moral life, nor does it bar the recognition that life is tragic, that man (and woman) born of woman is bound to die.  Those who oppose the injection of particular religious views into politics are unable to see complexity in life?  Really?  In what corner of the multiverse?

And that’s why you get all the wind and the flapping of authorial buttocks in this piece: Soloveitchik is this week’s victim of David’s friendly fire, just a name to be propped up to obscure the fatuousness of the underlying argument.  No orthodox anything me, but the old Rabbi deserves better, and Brooks should, but won’t, be ashamed of himself.

I’ll give him this, though:  he’s good.  You do have to work to find the con in his work.  But it’s always there.

So, in conclusion, let me simply say to Mr. Brooks (having finally exhausted any last reserve of politesse)…

…F**k you.  With an oxidized farm implement.

*Think of Brooks as the rocket, goat cheese, and heirloom pear end of the spectrum of the baffle-with-bullshit crowd.

Images:  Rembrandt van Rijn, The Old Rabbi, 1642

Pedro Berruguete, Burning the Heretics (Auto da fé), c. 1500

Eugène Delacroix, The Barque of Dante (Divine Comedy, Inferno, 8) ,1822.

Jacob Jordaens, Suzanna and the Elders, before 1678.

No, No, No, Frothy Mixture. The Question Is: Does Natural Selection Believe in You?

December 10, 2011

Missed this yesterday, but via TPM, this,  from the candidate with the unfortunate Google problem:

Discussing controversial classroom subjects such as evolution and global warming, Santorum said he has suggested that“science should get out of politics” and he is opposed to teaching that provides a “politically correct perspective.”

(From the Des Moines Register.)

Well then, dude.  That settles it.  I guess the Santorum Administration…[pause to quell my alternating gusts of laughter and nausea]…will balance that damn budget by axing the NIH and the NSF, for starters.

I really have nothing else to add, except this:  I just hope (really — I mean this) that no member of the Santorum family ever gets infected with a religiously incorrrect MRSA bug.  Santorum may not believe in evolution, but our old friend staph?  Mr. aureus (et al.)  sure does…

 Image:  Henri Rousseau, Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) 1881

It Hurts Too Much To Laugh…

July 15, 2011

…And I’m too old to cry:

Via Josh Rosenau’s fine blog Thoughts from Kansas, this video compilation of Miss USA thoughts on evolution seems a perfect comedy/tragedy hit to engross whilst consuming the first of the weekend cocktails:

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Miss Connecticut gets the prize for stating the obvious with no fuss or bother.  As for the rest, I couldn’t stick to it long enough to tally the full march of folly.  Fortunately, Josh kindly provides a complete transcript at the link above, for those gluttonous for punishment.

But of course, this is nothing that a voucher + religious charter school education reform can’t solve.

If the Soviets launched Sputnik today, we’d ramp up to match them with a private sector RFP seeking designs for the flying dinosaur that carried Jesus to heaven.

But I can’t get too worked up on this fine afternoon.  The only question I’m going to tackle is how much lime to put into that lowball glass.

Cheers!


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