Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Wages of (Postmodern) Sin


When the faithless masses of my contemporaries die, their souls do not end up in Hell--no, they end up in Heck. One may think this punishment less, but still it is extreme. For eternity they will wail there, regretting that they hadn’t been perceptive enough in life to attain to faith and so have a route to redemption. But they will also gnash their teeth in shame, recognizing they never had enough grandeur in them to merit the flames of Hell. And so Heck will drag on, a fetid heaviness in the air, as they spend their days in lines waiting to exchange coupons for gadgets and novelties which keep repeating themselves--which, when they get them back to their cubicles, always somehow end up being the same thing: a little semi-lifelike effigy of the buyer him- or herself which, when pressed, speaks a few remembered lines.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Trump Derangement Syndrome: The Threat is Real


Antifa: The Revolution in All New Two-Digit IQ

Only you can stop TDS. Trump Derangement Syndrome, a serious mental disorder that primarily attacks those on the Right Side of History™, is spreading rapidly through our nation. Symptoms include: infantile denial ("She really WON!"), paranoid delusional thinking ("Russia Russia Russia"), and a tendency to lash out violently against law-abiding Americans while hallucinating they are “white supremacists” and “fascists”. Mental health professionals have noted that demographics on the east and west coasts are especially susceptible to TDS.

If you see symptoms of TDS in a loved one or coworker, you might provide initial assistance by telling him or her or xem or pfiff to "Pull Your Head Out of your Ass and Face Reality Why Not?" If the sufferer continues to spout garbled SJW or CNN soundbites from the rectal cavity, seek professional help immediately. Psychiatrists warn of a possible major outbreak of the disease on November 4th.

Trump Derangement Syndrome, though widespread, need not lead to the breakdown of law and order in America. But the threat is real. Sane citizens are advised to take the epidemic seriously, and to prepare for any eventuality.

E.M.

Have some deadpan with your coffee. Check out Idiocy, Ltd.. Dryest damn humor in the west.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Censorship: “Everyday Liberals” Dangerously Unclear on the Concept


File under All too typical. After the horrific mass murder in Las Vegas on Sunday, voices in our liberal press are again taking up their push to control which voices can enter the public arena. The Dem-friendly media is renewing their calls for censorship, repeating the tactic they began with their bogus “Russia Russia Russia” mantra after Hillary Clinton’s upset loss last year.

The following is a Facebook thread. If I got so combative, it’s because I’m so thoroughly sick of what I’m seeing. Note this guy Jonathan Barkley. He is what I’d call an “Everyday Liberal”--to distinguish him, and the tens of millions just like him, from classical liberals, who are getting rare indeed in the populace.

Unclear on the concept. Unclear on the concept.

Eric Mader



This post linked to a Daily Wire article by Robert Kraychik. If you value free speech, go read it. The comment thread on my wall went like this:

MICHAEL A.: Censorship is the tool used by those too scared to enter into dialogue. The whys should be obvious. The hows need to be read between the lines. That takes thought and discernment.

ERIC MADER: Indeed. And who, pray tell, is clearly too scared to enter into dialogue, our free-speech right or our SJW left? It's obvious as daylight. This new fake left LOATHES dialogue.

JONATHAN BARKLEY: [friends with Michael A.] Why do you keep spreading utter bullshit like this?

Looking at ratings of various "News" agencies on a fact checking site like Politico shows, without a doubt, that mainstream "news" outlets like Fox are guilty of fabricating complete bullshit and spreading it as fact.

There are no left wing equivalents to sites like Breitbart or any of the new alt-right outlets.

Fake news is primarily a right wing disease.

As for the Russian hacking, keep talking, asshat, and the rest of us, the ones grounded in fucking reality, will laugh our asses off and the Fascists pieces of shit now running the US start getting hauled off in handcuffs.

#trumptard

ERIC MADER: Jonathan: Of the several bits of blathering stupidity in your comment, I'll pick out a few to focus on.

1) You need to learn to read. As in literally: You can't even read the few clear sentences of my post. I never said "CNN and MSNBC promulgate fake news, but Fox doesn't." No, if you take your head out of your ass and look at what I wrote, I said "false information is always in circulation" and that "corporate media" spreads it. Note that Fox News is also corporate media. Duh.

2) If I focus my ire on the leftward spectrum of corporate media, the reason is clear from my post. It's because it is those sources, not Breitbart or other right-leaning media, that keep using the presence of "false information" in public discourse to call for what I think is the real threat: censorship. Add to it that those sources are themselves constantly spreading false information--indeed, spreading anything that will advance their narrative, and not bothering to verify their sources. CNN and WaPo are particularly guilty of this. CNN, especially, which used to be more reliable than Fox in this regard, is now nothing but 24/7 Hillaresque propaganda.

3) An example: You mention the "Russian hacking". Do you happen to know that after EIGHT STRAIGHT MONTHS of top-of-the-hour news from CNN on "Russia Russia Russia" that the Russian hacking never occurred and has basically been proved never to have occurred? That based on the data cache with the original "hacked" emails, the supposed fact they were hacked is technologically impossible? Cf. the link below. There's a reason CNN finally gave up their daily, nearly-year-long soundbite loop on Russia. The reason is that even they finally had to acknowledge it didn't hold water. Not that they ever retracted EIGHT MONTHS of reporting on their SOLE STORY. No, they just changed the subject. 1984.

4) And so, my worry isn't false information. My worry is CENSORSHIP. I believe that freedom of speech includes the right to speak or write or post false information. If it didn't, from a philosophical view alone, we'd have to shut up most of the time, because being human we are liable to error or exaggeration. And some of us, as you prove, literally can't even read clear sentences in their own native tongue.

I don't like the term "fake news". Because it suggests a sharp dichotomy between items, as if our ability to label one news item "fake" means that other news is factual. The genre of news reporting, even if we try our best to be objective, even if we are very damn good at it, is always going to include bias and blindnesses, which are there already in what we choose to report as important and what we choose to ignore.

5) America is not a fascist state, and Trump, for all his evident flaws, is not a fascist. I'd even say he's not consistent enough, not guided enough by principles, to be a fascist. In any case, fascism isn't a very helpful term when trying to understand current American scene. The actual fascists, a few keeners on the alt-right, are nowhere near as powerful at present as our would-be SJW authoritarians. The latter are literally in control of our universities, from the Ivy Leagues down.

I can put up with stupidity and I can put up with people using vile language to insult me. What I can't put up with is both simultaneously: the grade-school beginner who thinks he can call me an "asshat" just because he can't slow down enough to actually read the sentences in front of his face. So I invite you to fuck off from my wall.

The following piece is long, Jonathan, it contains a lot of technical language, five-syllable words and such, so it may be a challenge for someone like you. But since it DOES come from a left-leaning source, at least you might be disposed to actually "read" it, in your way: About That DNC “Hack”.

JONATHAN BARKLEY: Fuck you you ignorant twat.

Simple enough for you?

ERIC MADER: Yes, very simple. Everything you manage to say is likely to prove just that: VERY simple. To the tune now: "A, B, C, D, CNN . . ."

Bye.

JONATHAN BARKLEY: Holy fuck you're full of shit.

Russian interference has been proven. Fact. Now it's about who is going to jail.

Politifact disproves your entire premise.

You are the problem.

Get your head out of your ass and try facts instead of spewing up Koch Bros sponsored talking points you corporate shill.

ERIC MADER: Okay, whatever you say, little Johnny. How do you know Politifact disproves my entire premise when you still don’t even recognize what my premise is? True to form for guys like you, you answered so quickly that it didn't provide you time to "read" the linked article on your "Russian hacking".

Now how about you get off my wall? I teach Asian preteens for a living, so don't appreciate having to debate Western preteens during my off hours.

[And he got off my wall. And blocked me besides, as if I was going to bother following him to his wall. I don’t even know the guy.]

* * *

CODA: I know, I know, even blogging about an exchange like this is tedious. And so: What’s my point? My point is that this is so sickeningly characteristic. This has become the usual attempt to discuss censorship with any American to the left of Ronald Reagan. Try to talk about the First Amendment and point out that Silicon Valley or mainstream media MUST NOT be given the keys to public discourse and you are a “fascist”, an “asshat”, a “twat” or, oh-so-ironically, a “corporate shill”. These are our everyday liberals, the voters who will come out in droves to elect the next Democrats.

In short: We’re in big trouble.

E.M.

Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. at Amazon.com and begin the long, hard reckoning.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Atheism, Utopianism, Tyranny, Creation: A Damaged Debate


Let me introduce this thread with one of my last comments on it:

ERIC M.: Nothing I hate so much as disrespect for dialogue, whether in the form of direct censorship or attempts to efface or erase the record of dialogue that took place, especially when the dialogue was worthwhile. And so, to everyone still here, I'm saddened and angered that Allan H., after writing that he respects me as a debate partner, and whose own ideas I've often praised, has decided out of the blue to unfriend me and also to delete all his comments in this thread. It is deeply disappointing.

Is Allan maybe ashamed that he got called out on certain fallacies? So censorship of the record is the correct answer? Sorry, but all I can say is: Atheist values. It's not the first time I've been hit in just this way. The worst of it was a poet I admired a few years back, whose work I’d written about, but who saw nothing in deleting my comments from threads on his wall when I even so much as touched on religion or questioned his arguments. An atheist who admired the New Atheist bunch, he assumed ethics just meant shutting up religious people. And we Christians are supposedly the ones who censor and close down debate.

It’s happened to me a handful of times since, but Allan’s unfriending this time, suddenly and with the erasure of all his comments, is really a disappointment.

Because of Allan’s sudden disappearance and self-erasure, our long discussion was left on my wall with holes all over it. Yet another broken dialogue.

Still, I decided I wanted to salvage it as best I could, and so have written in what I remember of his remarks. No, my versions of his arguments might not be as sharp as his were, and they are briefer. But I’ve no choice. While our spat was going on, I knew I’d eventually want a record of it; and when, returned from a trip a week or so later, I went to my computer to save it, I found all his arguments gone, and he himself no longer a contact.

[Update: I’ve still no explanation for Allan's sudden disappearance, although I did learn later from a mutual friend that Allan had in fact completely deleted his Facebook account. So perhaps my initial anger was a bit misplaced? Perhaps. But I don’t think completely.

When you engage in dialogue with people, then decide to erase the whole history of those dialogues by clicking DELETE ALL, you are, whether you know it or not, deleting their access to that dialogue as well.]

Eric Mader

Atheism, Utopianism, Tyranny, Creation

On Sept. 9th, I posted the following image, from the Freedom From Atheism Foundation:



Details from image:

Aboriginal Religion
Yakubu Gowon (1966-75) Nigeria
Kills 1.1 million

Atheist
Mengitsu Haile Mariam (1974-91) Ethiopia
Kills: 1.5 million

Atheist
Kim Il Sung (1948-94) North Korea
Kills: 1.6 million

Atheist
Pol Pot (1963-81) Cambodia
Kills: 1.7 million

Muslim
Ismail Enver Pasha (1913-19)
Kills: 2.5 Million

Buddhist
Hideki Tojo (1941-44) Japan
Kills: 5 million

Catholic
Leopold II of Belgium (1865-1909)
Kills: 15 million

Racial Nationalist
Adolf Hitler (1934-45) Germany
Kills: 17 million

Atheist
Joseph Stalin (1922-53) USSR
Kills: 23 million

Atheist
Mao Zedong (1942-76) China
Kills: 78 million

This FFAF post links an article by Dinesh D’Souza.

The thread began with Allan’s first comment:

ALLAN H.: [Another anti-atheist post. Really, Eric, this is beneath you. It is not atheism that leads to mass murder. Rather, any ideology or “-ism” can do so. The problem is that people don’t know they have the possibility of not listening to authority. I they are taught to think for themselves, they can refuse orders to commit atrocities. The real problem is people NOT thinking for themselves, people submitting to arbitrary authorities that gain a following by reference to some ideology. Leave atheism out of it.]

ERIC M.: Allan H.: In fact I partly agree with you. But with reservations having to do with the question of how ethics might be grounded. Also, in our modern West, it's atheists who have always been more apt to be become fellow travelers of utopianism: that fatal pipe dream that we can remake society from scratch, and that our remake would be an improvement.

In terms of religious communities, this is how these atheists always sound: "Since Utopia obviously hasn't arrived, and since religion remains part and parcel of our current flawed community, and since moreover religions are OLD and our project is to birth the NEW, which is of course the GOOD and the NECESSARY, because it will bring the PROGRESS we foresee, this all means that religions (read: religious people) must be expunged."

Like it or not, such thinking is still an integral part of our progressives' general world view, and given an illiberal turn, which is very possible, indeed already happening, this thinking could easily again become weaponized. Or rather: re-weaponized.

After 1) the problem of grounding any workable ethics and 2) the link between atheism and utopian projects, I might also mention 3) the fact that there are now many serious scholars who wonder if our liberal order could even survive without maintaining its Judeo-Christian roots. Our Western liberalism, with its stress on human rights, arose and flourished in the Christian West. This is not merely a random historical accident.

But if I continue to post against atheists, especially if I continue to underline the societal collapse and horror that has come when officially atheistic parties gain control of the state, there's yet another reason. And it's that it's still common to hear people say: "Religions and conflicts over religion have caused more wars and killed more people than anything else in history." I just heard my father say this last time I visited him. It's typically one of the first cliches to come up in barroom discussions of religion vs. secularism.

The problem with this cliche, of course, is that it's patently false. The above meme does a bit to underline how, especially in modernity, this cliche is actually worse than false. Because the truth happens to be quite the opposite. No ideology has gassed, tortured and executed more human beings than those great experiments in "scientific" socialism called Marxist-Leninism and Maoism. A second place prize, in terms of sheer number of dead, has to go to the "scientific" racism of the Third Reich. It is modern utopian fantasies of a perfect society, combined with a rejection of the traditional culture of the society in question, that has killed by far the most of our fellow humans.

And now again in 2017, look, it's "scientific" thinking on the definition of the human person that allows for increasing application of “mercy killing” of the elderly, infirm or mentally deficient. This is happening in Europe as I write, and in Canada, and there's no telling where it will lead, once social and economic pressures increase, as they will. I'm utterly against it. On Christian grounds.

But secular ethics, like it or not, has always tended to make more and more room for the “practical”. Against this, Christianity, I am glad to say, is not practical. That child who will be born with Down syndrome? She must not be aborted, says the Christian. She is a human person, a soul linked to a body. It's not any medical panel or state institution’s right to declare on her "quality of life" and snuff her out, supposedly in her own interest. Likewise with the elderly. I predict we'll be seeing more and more people disposed of because, ultimately, they are judged to be impractical to have around. You heard it here first.

But one more thing. Being religious, I'm supposedly the one who is intolerant. And yet isn't it odd that among the fellow Christians I keep in touch with, a few of them on Facebook, I have never yet heard one say anything along the lines of "These atheists need to be wiped out." Or: "These secularists need to be removed from society, then we can get back to building a healthy culture." I never hear religious people talk this way. I never even hear them say that atheists should be censored or jailed.

It's quite the contrary with atheists. Just last year, I caught a liberal friend of mine weighing in to the effect that "It's time we finally scrub all these Christians out of American society for good."

"Scrub"? That's a metaphor from the realm of hygiene. As in cleansing. As in, yes, precisely what Hitler said of the Jews.

Another friend, and you know him, just last month weighed in here on Facebook with the keen comment: "All religious people should be locked away in a closet and the key should be tossed. After 3,000 years we'll come back, and we can talk." That's our friend Michael A.’s take. Myself, I've never argued that atheists or SJW extremists should be "locked away in a closet". To say religious people should be locked away is bigoted, offensive--a serious offense against the basic rules of our civilization.

And it reveals something about whoever could write such a sentence. Somewhere in his noggin, and it's not far from the surface, he really does seem to believe that religious people are a kind of cancer on the social order. That if they were all gone, things would start to get better and sanity and reason would reign. The question of how to make them gone is just a matter of practical application. The Soviets got to work on such practical business when our great-grandparents were around: millions murdered, sent to the gulag, etc.

The sentence "Religious people should be locked away in a closet" is not really that different from "Wouldn't it be great if we just got rid of all these Jews?" I find both sentences about equally amusing.

So I'm supposed to NOT be critical of atheists, when even among my more liberal-minded atheist friends this kind of "cleansing" shit appears regularly?

Yes, sure, Michael will say he's joking, just mouthing off. But I'd argue there's more to it than that. It's the New Atheism that has set the ground for this kind of "We need these people to shut up now" approach. Michael's only excuse, I think, is that he repeatedly rails against humans in general as a cancer. Still, his point is clear: Humans would not be quite the cancer they are if only the religious among them were gotten out of the way.

I have no problem with atheists or secularists being around. In my mind, they're just folks playing with a deck that's short a few cards. I'll continue debating and discussing with them, but wouldn't imagine that they're eventually going to disappear from the social order. I'd never dream of scrubbing them from society. Quite differently, many many atheists and secularists clearly DO imagine that religions will eventually die out. It's part of the shallow ideology "History = Progress" that they've inherited from Enlightenment culture. The unselfconscious but persistent notion that progress means old things are necessarily replaced by new things and that the replacement is always good.

And so religions will be replaced by MTV, I suppose. Or Community Ethics Brigades, something along the lines of the Red Guards. "You'll know it's Progress because they'll have smart phones!"

Ever notice how in nearly all science fiction movies the characters don't really follow any religion? That's because, don't you know--"In the future, religion won't exist anymore."

Uh-huh.

Ever notice also how in science fiction movies the characters don't ever shit or eat either? That's because, don't you know--"In the future people won't need to shit or eat. Those things are part of the old present. In the future we'll all wear cool uniforms and talk in a dry, scientific way. Because it will all be, you know, really SCIENTIFIC."

Pardon me if I’m not impressed by such childish stuff.

Myself I don't think evil decreases with More Science or new technological advances. With digital culture, we may finally have to conclude that the opposite is true: Our digital technology, this pervasive connectedness and speed of communication, is making us more of a threat.

The human animal remains the same, as subject to ideology and groupthink and mania as he or she ever was.

If I have faith in the Christian vision of humanity, it is in part because it is more beautiful, deeper and more variegated than the other visions on offer. It links my thought and daily perception to a communal experience that reaches back through Europe into the ancient world, and it provides me lenses that reveal more than the lenses of the various secular ideologies I've studied. Aside from this, of course, is the fact that I believe in God--a One God glimpsed by the ancient Israelites as well as by some of the earliest of Greek philosophers. Xenophanes, Heraclitus.

Cheers, all.

ALLAN H.: [Who are you kidding about Christians not wanting to cleanse society of atheists? I’ve many times, on atheist chat boards, had to deal with Christians throwing out the most violent rhetoric. Aside from the common “You’re all going to hell anyway” refrain, which in my mind pretty much sums up just how loving and ethical Christianity leads people to be.

Further, how is it you manage to ignore Christian utopianists? Of course Christians are guilty of the same kind of utopian thinking when they project a perfect society in which everyone believes in their god. Christian Fundamentalists believe in a utopia in which everyone accepts and practices Christianity, often expressed as a "return to" a state or order of things with a dogmatic hierarchy that is often sexist and classist. And look at our Muslim utopianists. You don’t find ISIS, a religious movement, to be murderously utopian?

Finally, not all atheists subscribe to radical utopian projects, so your attack against atheism as a an intellectual position is unwarranted. And as for scientism, it's not an inherent element of atheism. Scientism is just a quasi-religious belief in the power of science to ultimately explain all phenomenon and decisively disprove the existence of any supernatural entities or forces. Though atheists don’t believe it likely that any supernatural entities exist, many of them doubt that science will ever be able to prove this.]

ERIC M.: I don’t doubt you’ve experienced verbal violence from some Christians in heated discussion with atheists. I don't doubt that it happens, but as I don't spend time on atheist chat boards I rarely see it. But note: Verbal violence is one thing. Enacting large scale cleansing operations, with gulags or gas chambers, is quite another.

Myself I don't think I argued above or elsewhere that all atheists are subscribers to radical utopian projects. Rather, I argued that if you find aggressive utopian projects in the modern world, the kind of political projects that typically lead quickly to mass graves, then you'll find that atheists are massively represented in the ranks of the radicals, or that atheism or anti-religion is one of the key elements of the project. I don't think this can be denied. And thus I find atheism combined with scientism a very serious modern threat because, of course, there's the empirical evidence of the last century. Try to deny that evidence all you want.

Nazism sought to displace both the Lutheran and Catholic churches as spiritual center of German culture and put in their place a cult of the German race that was based on supposedly scientific racial theories. In Russia, the displacement was of Orthodox Christianity with a scientific theory of history. The atheism in Nazism was not as explicit as with the Soviets, or at least not at the start, but the program to repurpose the churches as sites for the worship of Hilter and the Volk are very well documented. Both Soviet and Maoist utopianism were, of course, explicitly atheist.

What’s more, you seem to be mischaracterizing a key term in our discussion. You accuse me of ignoring Christian and Muslim utopianists, but in the large picture, this is to misrepresent utopianism. Especially with Christianity, the claim in itself is incoherent.

Utopianism refers to attempts to create a perfect society on earth. This is not something Christianity has ever believed in. The point of Christianity is that the historical realm is fatally fallen, sin cannot be reformed or legislated away, and that only God could radically transform our condition. By definition, utopians are people who believe otherwise: that if we reorganize production, law, thinking, etc., we humans ourselves could bring about a Utopia. There were, especially in the 19th century, small Christian communities characterized as "utopian", but these were mainly a matter of breakaway groups trying to build separate communities in which Christian life could flourish. They were not aimed at "remaking the world” according to some new social plan, which they would have considered, theologically speaking, an impossibility, a project akin to the Tower of Babel. In short, there wasn't the totalizing vision we normally label utopian.

So if you want to claim utopianism is also a Christian threat, just as it has proven a threat from atheistic, pro-"science" utopianists, point me to your examples. Where are the mass graves? And please don't try to change the subject to war, because, again, wars, such as the Crusades, are not examples of trying to create a Utopia on earth.

You write: "Christian Fundamentalists believe in a utopia in which everyone accepts and practices Christianity, often expressed as a 'return to' a state or order of things with a dogmatic hierarchy that is often sexist and classist." Sorry, but that is not a utopia. That would just be a Christian society of a certain kind. And again, these fundamentalists have not organized cadres of armed thugs to take over any Western government and impose their vision by slaughtering those who think differently. Even aggressive fundamentalists recognize that they must spread the faith through persuasion.

The ISIS caliphate is a different matter. Here I think you might argue for a utopian vision. So there's that. Islam doesn't have quite the notion of humanity's fallenness that Christianity does.

The other term I think you seriously mischaracterize is scientism. You call it “a quasi-religious belief in the power of science to ultimately explain all phenomenon and decisively disprove the existence of any supernatural entities or forces." I don't think that's what scientism is. The quasi-religious part is right, but the desire to "explain all phenomena" is of course shared by science and scientism. I don't think that desire is a bad thing, by any means. It's what science seeks to do.

Scientism is the uncritical application of scientific method to areas where science can't really apply. It's the uncritical belief that science can give humans not just knowledge of the physical universe, but also guidance in social norms, ethics, etc. The problem is obvious: Empirically-derived knowledge of what this or that thing is as a material entity cannot tell human beings how they should live. Scientism can offer no ethics, because the empirical findings will always have to be supplemented by ideology. Scientists know that science can inform ethical decisions, but cannot provide the criteria of what is ethical or unethical. Those who subscribe to scientism (and the New Atheists, especially Richard Dawkins, are the poster kids here) forget this basic philosophical truth.

Good to read your comments, as always.

Cf. on Scientism

MICHAEL A.: Sometimes I feel Eric Mader and Allan H. are the same person. Alter egos having some slap and tickle. As for the mass murders above, the communists included, I would say: Not in the name of atheism.

JEROME K.: My guess would be that the numbers in the image above were strongly be influenced by the vast number of people under their control or sway and how many True Believers (a la Eric Hoffer) they had in their ranks.

ERIC M.: Jerome: Yes, a fair point. And though it was long long ago that I read Hoffer, I'm glad you mentioned him. Because those True Believers, as Hoffer knew, are recruited from the ranks of people who suffer a deficit of meaning, who aren't able to find meaning in human society as it is. For them meaning and validation (Hoffer considered pride a key motivator) could only come in company with the zealots out to overturn that social order in which they felt meaningless. Hoffer probably would have plenty to say on the rise of both the alt-right and the SJW left in the US: mirror images of each other, in my view.

Would love to hear what you might say about Allan's vs. my points above. And maybe you've a few ideas on what poses the most danger to Western liberal order at present. If you've time, of course. My burning question at present is: Will a diet of consumerism and selfie love, combined with decreasing economic opportunities, not lead almost inevitably to a huge demographic ready to be converted as True Believers in the Hoffer sense? Isn't it already happening?

MICHAEL A.: The concept of the God gene comes to mind. The vast majority of sapiens believe in an invisible, omnipotent, omniscient entity that has an obsessive fascination with what we do on earth.

Anthropocentric is the word of the day again. The hubris of mankind won't ever cease to amaze me.

Science fiction often has a world or worlds with no religion because, well ye know, Eric Mader, religion has totally failed to bring us together as a species. It's a failure--like communism, Marxism, I'd venture democracy too, etc.

We've outgrown religion in those movies. If only.

Geronticide (and voluntary suicide of the aged) and infanticide have been with us since the beginning. Nothing to do with atheistic parties.

I absolutely do not believe in me "noggin" that it'd be better if religious people were all gone. I think religious people are deluded. It isn't their fault. Bless.

ERIC M.: Of course everything will fail to bring us together as a species. But again, I don't think it was religion's goal to bring us together, or at least it was never assumed in most religious traditions that all the world would be brought together. Not so with Marxism or democracy.

I think you're deluded. But it isn't your fault either. And in any case, I don't think you should be locked away in a closet. At least not quite yet.

MICHAEL A.: Claptrap! The goal of the monotheisms has, for the most part, been to convert or kill the nonbelievers. Once they become threatened, they fight.

And btw, on the original post, there is no mention of the millions of native North and South Americans murdered by the righteous, brave, God-fearing white folk. In whose name? You guessed it in one! Praise Jehovah!

ERIC M.: In the name of the King of Spain. But of course you've a good point. In North America it was mostly slow expansion, land grabbing, often brutal and two-faced, but in South America--enslavement, destruction of the native cultures.

MICHAEL A.: Which country has polluted this unique planet more than any other? God's chosen one of course. The good old Christian U S of A.

MICHAEL A.: Faith is fiction (delusional and sometimes funny). Science is science. These are empirical truths.

ERIC M.: Is that so? Impressive that you can define these two things so concisely. All the many books and philosophical papers--we don't need them. We just say: "Faith is fiction. Science is science."

You could have saved a lot thinkers an amazing amount of trouble if you'd have showed up earlier.

MICHAEL A.: If the god gene is real, and I suspect it is, then billions of people have spent a lifetime thinking about their existence. Worthwhile no doubt. Out of this contemplation, serious debate on the origins of life and our place in the universe has awakened.

Time to move on, Eric. If it's in your DNA, I can't help you. Boohoo!

ERIC M.: Speaking of moving on, and of what science has brought us, the argument that our universe is created, and that there is a creator, has never been stronger than in the past couple decades. Serious secular-minded scientists, among them Stephen Hawking, acknowledge this. Note that this thesis makes no claim about which religious tradition gets it right, or even if religion is the right matrix through which to understand creation; it makes no claim as to the ultimate purpose of life. It merely makes the claim that the universe we're in appears to be a created artifact. Do you know this thesis, and how uncannily grounded it has suddenly become in the best of what hard science has shown us?

Most people I debate on these questions are amazingly stuck in the 19th c. as far as their general understanding of what science is.

Now here's a little article that lays out some of the metrics. I've posted this article before, but not sure either you or Allan took the time to read it. I'm not so much interested in the biological arguments on cell structure, but more on the first part of the article, on the physical universe and the fact that it does host life. Also, don't bother to try to dismiss the article because of who wrote it. Look at the contents, at the factual data. The multiverse vs. created universe debate is what concerns me. Theists have long been accused of making "God of the gaps" arguments. I consider the multiverse theory to be clearly an "atheism of the gaps" argument. Why? Because the only evidence its supporters have for their claim is the deeply troubling "coincidence" that the physical parameters of our universe are hospitable to life. The multiverse is a mythical entity invented to dull the sting of the fine-tuning science now allows us to see in the actual universe.

Worth a read, as it gathers some of the main arguments.

Cf. The Return of the God Hypothesis

JEROME K.: Eric: 1) This is a heavy argument to wade into, but let me start by saying I always recommend Hoffer's True Believer since he makes the point that whether one be Marxist, religious, nationalist, etc., one can try to find a lost identity and self worth in a cause; it transcends but also fits the religious/science debate because of that. Just as I recommend Mircea Eliade's work Sacred and the Profane as something that applies as well outside religious circles; i.e. for true Elvis fans, Graceland is the center, and the sacred. What this comes to is understanding the difference of how we forge paradigms in the realms of physics and metaphysics.

2) (What follows will be partly a plug for and brief summary of points in my most recent book, The Paradigms that Guide Our Lives and Drive Our Souls. The religious/science debate gets confusing since it comes from two different realms that we live in (the third realm is phenomenology) namely physics and metaphysics. In physics we discover and forge our paradigms as we learn the "laws of nature,” etc. Unfortunately, physics tells us nothing about teleology and meaning or purpose in life. For that we have to go to metaphysics, where things cannot be proven as in physics but by which we try to determine how we should live in community. Here we are in a realm of faith whether we are religious or atheists--that is the key that has to be realized. Agnostics generally hold off judgment and sit on the fence--acceptable, but one eventually has to make some sort of community decision. In metaphysics we don't discover paradigms like we do in physics: instead after our faith decision/choice we try to build them from faith, presupposition, past teachings/experiences, etc., whether we be atheists or religious. Religious people have an advantage since they have elaborate systems answering anomalies; atheists lack such as they seek to build a humanistic community. Hope that is not too confusing. Remember there is a third realm, phenomenology--very subjective, but very real as well.

ALLAN H.: [Jerome: Which would seem to suggest that all constructs of reality are equal, yes? That one cannot presume to judge other cultures or a different reality construct.]

ERIC M.: Jerome: A very concise outline with a lot of overlaps on how I see these issues as well.

I read The True Believer long ago, and really should read it again. Back then it formed for me, along with Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem and Crane Brinton's The Anatomy of Revolution, a kind of quick Master Course in the dynamics of tyranny. Hoffer and Arendt present very different theses, but both offer crucial portraits of different types that end up part of tyranny's machinery. I haven't read Eliade.

I'm glad you plugged your book, because I'll be putting it into my next shopping cart. Given what you've laid out in these comments, it sounds useful as a schematics of how we construct and negotiate meaning, and I suspect the tripartite structure might reveal much. And you work as well into phenomenological questions, where I've some grounding, being a student coming out of a Comparative Literature department where Heidegger (pro and contra) was all the rage. I’m looking forward to it.

Your remarks are congenial besides because, in what you define as the metaphysical, you make a point I keep trying to make but that regularly falls flat. Namely: "Just because you, [Dave or Lisa or Mike], don't subscribe to a religious understanding doesn't mean you are not reading the world in basically mythological terms. Because you are. You have partly constructed and partly been indoctrinated in an ideological system, a myth construct, that you don't even suspect. You assume your thinking is just 'perception' or 'obvious' when it is in fact a semiotic construct not all that different from any other, including any religious or political construct any human has made at any time in history."

I think you can get my meaning, though most people I debate, especially online, do not. They assume they are just being "objective”. Not willing to struggle with philosophical problems, which is hard work, they don't end up facing up to the tentativeness and (usually) bland conformity of their own metaphysics. Led by the nose.

Of course what you call the metaphysical level has huge overlap with the religious and ideological and mythical--that in fact with a few shifts of emphasis we're talking about the same cognitive realm. "Metaphysical" being a good general designation.

I'm getting ready to head out of town, so won't continue this discussion for now. But thanks all for weighing in.

One more point for Allan H.: Myself I believe all humans have value, that it is wise we recognize them as having equal value in terms of law and right to life and liberty, but I don't think this means that all constructed "realities" are thus equal. I'd say they're clearly not equal, but that the challenge of judging among them arises from the fact that no one is really qualified to do so. As no one, and certainly no committee, can escape the blindnesses of their own reality construct, it is impossible to establish an objective ground at this level. Which doesn't mean we don't constantly make such judgments, just that we can't claim objectivity.

I think radical relativism, i.e. the "All reality constructs are therefore equal" stance, is a way some people try to avoid the conundrum, but ultimately no one really lives by this belief, and philosophically it's a cop-out, aside from being self-contradictory. After all, what if I say: "You claim all reality constructs are equal. My own reality construct says 'No, you're wrong.' You have to acknowledge my position as equal to yours."

This very conundrum is a kind of nutshell image of what current Western liberalism goes through when it claims to respect and welcome all cultures equally. There's a logical incoherence that liberals can't manage to face up to, mainly because they believe their own culture is somehow "neutral". Cue Europe and its current predictable malaise over mass immigration from the Muslim world.

ALLAN H. [weighs in with an initial response on the “God Hypothesis” link, arguing that the interpretation of the data is tendentious, that the data doesn’t necessarily suggest the universe was created to host life, that vast stretches of the universe can’t host life in any case.]

ERIC M.: I’ll have to reply in depth later as to your arguments on the structure of the universe(s). In any case, as often, medieval Catholic thinkers were already dealing with many of the logical problems: How a Medieval Philosopher Dreamed Up the 'Multiverse'

ALLAN H. [posts a lengthy few paragraphs on the, in his mind, particular evil of the Catholic Church. His focus (surprise!) is on reproductive rights and the Church’s teachings against abortion and birth control. Allan underlines that especially in the African context, where many people take the Church’s teachings seriously and where HIV is a particular threat, the Catholic Church can only be seen as “pure evil”.

Allan goes on to say that the Church’s teachings against abortion are grounded in nothing but myths and an abstruse and convoluted logic which is used as a cover to pull the wool over people’s eyes.]

ERIC M.: Allan: My Church runs hospitals and clinics all over Africa, caring for the sick and needy, as well as schools and universities, educating the next generations. It also runs myriad charities in service to the elderly, the displaced, refugees. In all these areas the Catholic Church is one of the continent's major providers. What's more, Christianity has been in Africa as long as it has been in Europe; if we're talking Western Europe, it has been in Africa longer.

Many African nations are finally pulling out of the rut of the just post-colonial period, and for some of these countries, I'm quite optimistic. My African friends here in Taiwan, most of them Catholic, most of them from West Africa, are among the sharpest, most mature people I know: centered and wise; principled and dedicated; and not overly impressed by American liberals who imagine themselves in a position to teach Africa about sex and family life.

In fact, my African friends see America as a culture in steep decline: a culture that lives for consumption, that is media-obsessed, sex-obsessed; a culture many of whose young people aren't much interested in building families. When I've listened in to their discussions of politics in their respective home countries, the focus is typically on which party's policies can actually be implemented, how these policies will help or hurt the economy or which parts of the economy, which party is doing the best to fight corruption, etc. When I'm around Americans talking politics, by comparison, the focus tends to be quite otherwise. Last time I was with Americans talking politics, the topic shifted quickly to trans soldiers in the military.

The Catholic Church's teaching on issues of sex, marriage and family actually has much more in common with the thinking of many African cultures than does the mainstream liberalism now dominant in the US. You imply that, as a "religious" teaching, the Church's stance against artificial birth control must be mysterious and convoluted. I'm not sure you even know what it is. I could state it in a few sentences:

1) By our observation, we recognize that like many species the human species is divided into two sexes, male and female, and the evident telos, or ultimate purpose, of this sexual division is the reproduction of the species.

2) Being that new life is a good, and that the ultimate purpose of sex is clearly new life, intentionally interfering in that purpose by artificial means is a perversion and deformation of the gift of sex.

3) Sexual relations should occur only in the context of marriage, to allow for the raising of any new life that comes about, and those sexual relations must always be open to the possibility of new life.

You may agree with this teaching or not. But you could only call it "convoluted logic" if you were particularly stupid. Notice also that none of it has anything to do with "bowing down" to some "mysterious" ecclesiastical doctrine, again to use your language. Rather, it’s very direct and grounded, earthy even, the only real metaphysical elements being the recognition that 1) we should respect an evident ultimate purpose, and 2) we should recognize our sexuality as a gift.

A lot of Catholic teaching is like this. Of course reference is made to Scripture as well, but the doctrinal argumentation, the philosophical buttressing of what the Church teaches, is often very straightforward. Which is not to say that it is easy to live according to such teaching.

You write of religious institutions or approaches as if they were all sheer madness, but you yourself flail about without showing that you even know what you're writing on. You write of Christianity as if it worked something like Aztec religion or Babylonian magic. Who is the mad one here? In any case, you are clearly quite mad in the other sense of the term: i.e. angry.

Perhaps it's because you are very dedicated to Africans living in poverty, and you're sorry to see that this poverty might be exacerbated by lack of birth control. I'm guessing you contribute to various secular charities because of your concern for the plight of Africans, right?

As I'm heading out soon, I'll say one more thing. I began this discussion by pointing out the evident horror brought into the world by atheistic utopian projects, and pointed especially to the systematic disappearing of millions of people by, especially, the communist ideologues. I was talking of arrest, torture, enslavement, and murder of tens of millions in the name of "scientific" ideologies of which anti-religion was a central plank. To me it's kind of odd to note that the first time you utter the word "evil" in this whole discussion is when you want to criticize the Catholic Church for being against condoms. This oddity could only arise from a serious, deep-seated resentment against all things Christian (your memes certainly suggest it), or from a pretty weak ability to distinguish magnitudes of evil. I'm talking the gulags, the millions murdered during the Cultural Revolution in China--and your example of "evil" is that my Church teaches against extramarital sex and condom use? Are these really commensurate horrors?

It's sadly typical of Western liberals, especially in the English-speaking world, to think morals or ethics refers largely to questions of sex.

Q: Who can have sex and when?
A: Anyone, anywhere!
Q: Who can say what is or isn’t right in sexual behavior?
A: No one!
Q: How many genders are there, 52 or 94?
A: We’re still counting!

Right here we have about 90% of what American liberals think ethics is about. And any institution that dares answer these questions otherwise MUST be insane, right? MUST be mumbling inanities that have to be bludgeoned into youth because they have no grounding in reality, right? MUST be just trying to mesmerize with convoluted logic.

Sorry, but I’m not so impressed by your notions of where the real evil resides.

PAIGE W.: Eric: An excellent, excellent, excellent reply! Thank you. And so on point. Let me count the ways.

ERIC M.: Thanks, Paige.

ALLAN H.: [doesn’t address my points re: Africa or Catholic teachings on sex; returns to the claim, this time worded differently, that Christianity is “utopian” and equally dangerous as any atheist ideology on record. Reiterates criticisms of “The God Hypothesis”, argues that there’s nothing in science that supports Christian doctrines like the Trinity or the Resurrection, etc.]

ERIC M.: Setting some high ethical standard in this or that realm is not the same as "utopian". Look up the word utopianism and see how it's used.

As for the "Christian slant" of the paper, just read the facts presented, the physical facts. And they are facts; they are what recent science has revealed. These facts don't point to anything specifically Christian by any means. All they point to is fine-tuned design of a physical matrix in which the rise of life is possible AT ALL. And that is improbable to the point of uncanny. But Christian? If I put on my skeptic’s cap, for all we know from such data, I might equally speculate that the universe is a sort of computer program created by some alien intelligence for kicks. But you do recognize that already with Big Bang cosmology, the argument for creation of one sort or another got a boost. Which is why the Soviets forbade teaching Big Bang cosmology.

From a scientific point of view, to me the whole question hinges on the viability of multiverse theory. To the extent that theory is just a reaction to growing evidence of the mind-bogglingly narrow parameters necessary for life to emerge, then it is little more than scientific myth-making, a form of stubborn materialist wishful thinking. All those who keep insisting that 1) empirical evidence is everything, and that 2) empirical evidence supports only a universe that arose randomly, without design, are revealed suddenly with their pants down, in a monstrous contradiction. Until of course they can provide empirical evidence of the multiverse. Which they may eventually be able to do. But until then, their smugness is unwarranted.

ALLAN H.: [argues that the universe is massive in scale, that life cannot exist in vast stretches of it, that it is absurdly anthropocentric to assume the universe was created to allow for the rise of humanity, and that the physical constants are significantly different in different regions of the universe. NOTE: I think this last point is simply false.]

ERIC M.: The basic physical laws of the universe are constant across it. So I’m not sure what your point is.

1) In terms of cosmology, I never claimed a universe created for specifically human life, but only that the argument for a universe created within parameters to allow for the rise of life, in whatever form, is persuasive, given the staggering improbability that the physical constants would be set as they are, i.e. just right.

2) I think your concern with the size of the universe, that vast stretches of it may well not have life or allow for it, is irrelevant. Why? Because size and distance, like time, are realities within this universe, but not necessarily relevant outside it: they may offer no challenge or even experiential (?) relevance to the creating intelligence, whatever that intelligence may be. What's more, we inevitably think space and time on human scale, which makes light years impressive to us, but may not to a superior intelligence. As for the problem of whether that creating intelligence "cares" about life, all we could infer, from the fine-tuning hypothesis, is that it cared enough to create a universe set to allow for life.

I don't think my speculations in 1) and 2) here can be called religious, do you? I don't think I'm promoting some "religious ideology" with such speculations, but rather believe they follow reasonably, if only as speculations, from the evidence.

Will be busy for awhile, but it was, as always, interesting.

ALLAN H.: [further comments on Christian “utopianism”]

ERIC M.: Again you bring up utopianism. I still think you are misusing this word, in ways I thought I’d explained. Let me add the following: Christians would never assume that a world in which everyone was Christian and did their best to follow the faith would be a perfect world. No, it would still be full of sin and suffering and disorder. Because, again, humans cannot create a perfect world from within the human condition, which is by definition fallen. This is what makes Christianity particularly resistant to utopianisms. You really need to finally get this point.

Put in the simplest terms, the utopianist is convinced that humanity can be significantly improved via some radical and sweeping social overhaul. The Christian knows that this is nonsense, that no matter what laws or new economic relations are enacted, precisely the same spectrum of sins will reappear in slightly different costumes.

MICHAEL A.: Mother Theresa was a murdering bitch!

ERIC M.: Hitting the bottle already, Mike? It’s not even dinner time.

PAUL W.: Have you read The Missionary Position, Eric? You should.

ERIC M.: Haven’t read it, but I do know of it. I was aware Michael was likely basing his comment on that book, but this fact doesn't mean 1) he wasn't hitting the bottle, or 2) his remark is any less a non sequitur.

STEVE M.: Well, I did in fact read as much as I could on this thread. So, I may have been the one to argue that "Christians" should be eradicated, or some sort of argument that was a few dance steps away, but normally, I tend to say "religionists". And typically, I don't tend to feel that my meaning is for all the practitioners, just the ones that want to change what I think is fairly obvious facts into their version of facts. In general, I think that any sort of dogmatic view tends to bend, eventually, to the extreme, as the dogma itself is addictive, and with addictions it always takes more of the juice to meet the need. When I burn the religionist doctrines in effigy, it is most often because they have crossed some boundary that I feel is part and parcel of what culturally is now, or should be, sacrosanct. Sometimes I ask, “Why aren't all Christians like Eric Mader?" Then I remember, “Oh yeah, he is against legalizing gay marriage, because of ancient times, and since ancient times is the basis for now, so ancient times wins.” Can you pass the refrigerated meats when you are done making your point? There is no clear cut "atheism" in my view, and if I am to believe Eric, when I get into a debate here in my local community with people who argue that it is THEIR CHRISTIANITY that informs them that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and thus it must be taught in schools, because well, “Everyone has an opinion and that makes them all equal” . . . there are no clear-cut "Christians" either. Because many Christians don’t argue in this lame way about science. Not sure if this post is entirely coherent, but I am working now, so I hope what it conveys, basically, is that there are no One Size Fits All religionists or atheists, and we are shaped by the immediate and local experiences we have. I don't know many Christians like Eric anymore, but sense that back in the '80s they were the norm. I suppose atheism is gone the same route.

ERIC M.: I don't suspect I'd recognize the facts you find "obvious" as really being obvious. Also I don't think any ideological group, however eccentric in their "facts", should be eradicated. To suggest otherwise is to break the liberal project. In fact, the only grounds for eradication is when some group takes it into their heads to break that project through violent overthrow. For example, again, ISIS, or, with more time and power, our SJW crowd. I don't object to SSM because of "ancient" thinking. After all, most of the world, now in 2017, still rejects SSM. As we Westerners did through most of our modern history. You need to get out more often. As in: Out of the US. Still, thanks for the kudos. I agree the increasing extremism from all corners needs to be defused. But probably won't be.

STEVE M.: I may not have been clear. Ignorance is what needs to be eradicated. What ignorance is, is probably problematic to ascertain. People should not be eradicated. I think there are many obvious things that you would agree with. I will provide some examples: The Earth was created in seven days is a theory, as is the idea of how the solar system was created. Likewise evolution is a theory. “Theory” means (according to those who feel they should be taught as equally relevant in schools) “not proven”--and therefore equal in stature. Sort of like "opinion" on what tastes better, chocolate or vanilla? There are more. There was no such thing as dinosaurs. Or, there were dinosaurs, but they lived alongside man. Or, there were dinosaurs, but they existed inside of the 10,000 years that the Earth has existed. I think all of these sorts of notions you would find obviously flawed. When you very lucidly stated your views on what the religious views of Scripture were in the premodern world, and how the ancients never presumed Scripture was a science textbook, I was blown away. I recalled how many of my friends in high school and years prior had that ability. In America, that way of thinking is dead on many levels. Now, for many of these people, the Bible is to be read LITERALLY like the Wall Street Journal. And if it is not read that way, then it is, they think, being subjected to flawed interpretation. Except the literalists here are not using any kind of traditional interpretive approach (like those you sketched out in your essay) but simply claiming “This is what literally happened because the Bible can’t be inaccurate.” Or worse, they are turning their suppositions as to what the Bible is into a Political Action Committee, linked to the Republican Party, and meanwhile ignoring the golden rule of Jesus Christ.

ERIC M.: A couple points. First, these young earthers do not represent a serious threat to society, and in any case the level of understanding of evolutionary theory even of the vast majority who accept it as true, as I do, is pitiful. In short, you may think the young earthers annoying fools, but if you go and question Americans in general on the basic mechanisms of evolution, how random mutations and selection drive it, you will find nine out of ten can't even explain it. I'be had many instances of smart alec secularists assuming that I don't believe in evolution that, when we actually begin to discuss it, reveal kind of embarrassingly that they don't even get the basic theory. Second, in my view, all of this comes round to a sad but unavoidable truth: America is basically a failed state when it comes to education. This holds across the board: history, civics, science, religious education from the churches (what we call catechesis). Our contemporary America is a failed state.

STEVE M.: I hear you man. Not a threat. Until your kid has to attend the school that has teachers that insist on ignorance as truth, and are responsible for teaching mythology as equal to fact. Probably explains a few other reasons America has divorced itself from facts in the political realm too: they must do so if they want to maintain their cherished beliefs.

ERIC M.: No, I disagree with you here. Both theories of creation and evolutionary theory could be taught with rigor, but in America, there is no rigor, virtually no homework, and so virtually nothing is taught. I know whereof I speak. I teach in a country [Taiwan] whose kids know how to study, whose parents and teachers consider the process very important, and intellectually speaking my 13-year-olds could eat most American 16-year-olds as a pre-breakfast snack. I've seen them do just that.

STEVE M.: Eric: Although I have no issue with your comments on American education, regarding creationism and evolution you are dead wrong. 100% incorrect. There is no circumstance, except in a religion or mythology class, where creationism can or should be taught. Period. It is not science on any level, and is nothing more than pure myth.

ERIC M.: I don’t think the biblical account should be taught as science. But as for creationism per se, namely the theory that the universe was created by a superior intelligence, I think you might change your tune if you carefully read through the link I posted above titled “The Return of the God Hypothesis”. Recent developments in physics and biology have made this question look very different than it did a few decades ago.

ALLAN H. [posts a video of a lecture by a professor in the “Christ Myth” camp, with the comment that “I seriously think people aren’t skeptical enough as regards the question of Jesus’ supposed existence.” I can’t recall the video’s title, so can’t link it here.]

ERIC M.: Re: the Christ myth theory. No, Allan, and really, you should know better. Why? Because the vast majority of qualified scholars of the period, religious or atheist or otherwise, recognize Jesus was a historical figure. This is not in the least controversial.

As for the reliability of the Gospel accounts, that's a whole different matter and much more complex. Scholars basically agree on a handful of facts as certain: he came from Galilee, he gathered followers, he was crucified by the Romans.

In serious scholarship, the Christ myth theory is fringe, only kept alive because there's a willing audience for it. I find it borderline offensive, because there are myriad ancient figures for whom we have far less textual evidence but whose existence is not in doubt. And so, by all means doubt the miracles, doubt Christian teaching on what Jesus meant, but there was a radical peasant itinerant teacher named Yeshua at the origin. I could go on at great length, as I've spent years on the history, but am typing on a keypad and am besides, as of today, am on vacation in Paris, so I’ve better things to do.

See here for an overview of the scholarly consensus: The Historicity of Jesus

ALLAN H.: [There is no good reason not to doubt the existence of Jesus. Just because millions of believers worldwide choose to believe he existed, thus providing a reason for scholars to go along with the belief, does not decide the matter. To refuse to raise the question is anti-intellectual. I think you are letting your religious commitments undermine your objectivity.]

ERIC M.: Allan: Here you're just being dumb, and frankly you're way out of your league. The vast majority of scholars of the period, most of whom are not in fact Christian, accept Jesus' historical existence. Scholars, well upwards of 95%, accept Jesus was a historical figure. That millions of believers also accept it is irrelevant here. Only the fact that trained historians of the period, with their own rigorous methodological tools, accept Jesus' historicity--this alone should be decisive for you in judging likelihood. Unless of course you yourself are anti-intellectual.

STEVE M.: I just read the Wikipedia link, and see the point. Historical vs. historicity. As for the historical, that is all debated. It is not, that he said this, or did this or that. Those points are all questionable. But that there is a historical figure behind it all--that is what the scholars agree on. He may not have gone by the same name, nor done the things he is claimed to have done by others, but there was in fact someone who lived. From my perspective, Eric, this is a far cry from what Christians claim, but hey, since the standard of existence here is so low, compared to the standard for claimed statements, actions, and meaning--sure, there was a Jesus.

ALLAN H.: [Yeah, no kidding. It coulda happened. He could have been this guy or another guy with a different name. But there was a guy.]

ERIC M.: Yes, Steve, that’s the basic difference between historicity and questions about the “historical Jesus.” My point re: the “Christ myth theory” is that it’s fringe. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t hold up to the kind of records we have of Jesus: the imprint left in the Gospels. They are not texts about a mythical figure, but clearly texts about a historical person.

And Allan: The question of Jesus’ name, that you’re quibbling on here, is just dumb. In ancient Hebrew the modern name "Jesus" doesn't exist. The name is Yeshua, identical to our Joshua. Identical to the Joshua of the Old Testament.

PAUL W.: "Josh". Imagine if that was the savior's name.

ERIC M.: As for the historical Jesus, if I put on my secular historian’s cap, my own view is that most of the parables represent a core authentic tradition. Why? Because there is a unique genius and concision, a unique and utterly odd philosophical vision, a voice different from any other ancient voice, and there would be no likelihood of different followers inventing these parables.

Anyhow, I'm not wasting further time on this. It's only pigheadedness, and a misunderstanding of how ancient historians work, that leads to the spread of the Christ myth theory. The theory might have made some sense in the 19th c., but our methodology and ability to understand the records has sharpened enormously in the meantime.

ALLAN H.: [Nothing that Jesus supposedly taught was not taught previously by other ancient figures.]

ERIC M.: No. You're dead wrong. Many key teachings are utterly new, and there are utterly different stresses, as well as a unique linguistic register in which it was all conveyed.

ALLAN H.: [Yeah, OK. But as for the consensus of historians, their methods may be wrong, the consensus might change. There’s no way they can be so certain on the historicity. They might be wrong. Happens all the time with humans. And I find the reasons for skepticism to be compelling. But whatever.]

ERIC M.: What’s your career, Allan?

ALLAN H.: [I’m in IT security, assessing risk to systems and predicting risks.]

ERIC M.: OK, so say I spend fifteen hours of my life reading up on IT security, then watch a handful of videos on it, then come into your office and start telling you how almost everyone in your profession, including you, has got it wrong. And when you point out that, “Well, it's not quite what you think, Eric, there are complex reasons why your arguments don't really hold water,” I reply with, "Yeah, OK. Whatever. Humans are wrong sometimes, and you might be wrong on this too. Anyhow. But whatever."

This is what you're doing here.

STEVE M.: if you walked into my office and said the same, I would smile and laugh and then assume that your fresh eyes might be better than me and my colleagues. I would also presume that although you don't understand the underpinnings of why things are the way they are in IT, where I also work, you might still have a lot to contribute. I would also leave that room, and demand of my profession a way to make it impossible for your critiques to be shut up. I would demand this of my profession because nothing frustrates me more than the failures of my profession.

ERIC M.: Hey, appreciate the confidence, Steve! I’ll be in your office soon.

But the problem is, in scholarship, underpinnings are everything. Real historians don't offer a product for an ever-changing market. They offer understanding, and understanding ancient texts is a very tricky business, because ancient genres and our genres, which is to say assumptions about what a text is supposed to accomplish, are radically different. In the twentieth century especially, scholars began to grasp how truly foreign these ancient texts were.

My dull eyes are off to breakfast, so I can't elaborate further.

ALLAN H.: [Eric: We are going to continue to disagree on this question of Jesus’ historicity, as with many other things. That’s just the way it is. You’ve ultimately left me unconvinced of most of your key points here.

Still, I hope our disagreements don’t become grounds for personal animosity. I consider you a very worthy challenger, often with the sharpest of arguments, and found much in this debate well worth my while. I hope you can accept both the disagreement and my respect simultaneously.]

ERIC M.: Fully agreed as to your approach to these challenges, Allan. And thank you for the kind words. I also recognize you as a clearly serious debater, and a damn good writer besides, and it's a delight to take on your arguments. Of course you have my respect. I’d write more now, but have to head out.

My novel A Taipei Mutt is now in print. The Asian capital unmuzzled.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hillary Clinton's What Happened--Table of Contents Leaked



On Monday we received two screen shots of what we believe to be the Table of Contents page of Hillary Clinton's upcoming book What Happened. Our source, a connection in publishing circles, has requested to remain anonymous. Following are the chapter headings. Original screen shots below.

Eric Mader
Clay Testament
Editor in Chief


What Happened:
Contents

Preface

Introduction

Ch. 1: A Life in Public Service

Ch. 2: My Turn

Ch. 3: Campaign Kickoff: A Running Start

Ch. 4: A Woman in the Lion’s Den

Ch. 5: A Better America

Ch. 6: Hollywood Nights: George, Amal, Meryl and I

Ch. 7: Bill’s Baggage

Ch. 8: I Never Liked that Man, Jeffrey Epstein

Ch. 9: Things Start to Go Wrong

Ch. 10: John Podesta: Friend, Art Connoisseur, Pizza Lover

Ch. 11: The Blankfeins are Such Wonderful People

Ch. 12: Bernie Sanders: Marxist

Ch. 13: A Strong Wall Street is a Strong America

Ch. 14: Comey Drops the Investigation

Ch. 15: We Kill Seth Rich

Ch. 16: Bleaching Emails to Protect National Security

Ch. 17: I Need to Remember to Stay Hydrated

Ch. 18: The Russian Hack Idea

Ch. 19: Donald Trump and Rape Culture

Ch. 20: How I Almost Killed Huma

Ch. 21: The Final Stretch

Ch. 22: Our Misogynist Racist Working Class

Ch. 23: Whose Fault Was It?
The FBI, Vladimir Putin, the Obamas, the New York Times, James Comey, Huma, Suburban Women, Bernie Sanders, Julian Assange, John Podesta, Corporate Media, Misogyny, My Campaign Staff, Aspartame, Macedonia, Our Misogynist Racist Working Class, Alexandre Dumas, Facebook, Pollsters, Harambe, Meryl, El niño, Anthony Weiner, Ohio’s Department of Motor Vehicles, Twitter, Chipotle

Ch. 24: We Kill Klaus Eberwein

Ch. 25: Looking Ahead: 2020?

Index

Original Screen Shots
(Click to enlarge):




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Sunday, July 30, 2017

On Freddie Mercury, Scaramouche Scaramucci, and Not Getting Played by the Trump Administration




My friend the poet JP posted this colorful recap of Anthony Scararamucci’s talk with the New Yorker, and commented:

This is absolutely amazing. This administration is going down the toilet. Trumpism at its lowest. But no, it can go lower.

JP has a lot of friends, and a quick dozen or so people weighed in as follows:

VARIOUS COMMENTERS: “Horror!” “There should be a law to remove these people!” “Amazing! I can’t believe it.” “A new low.” “No, it’s only just begun.” “Vulgarians.” “What’s happened to our country?” Etc., etc.

To me all this handwringing was off-putting, and I did my best to explain why in the rest of the thread, starting with . . .

Eric Mader: Satire has become impossible in America.

JP: Almost. I first thought this was complete fiction. I looked it up to make sure before re-posting it.

Eric Mader: QED

COMMENTER:

COMMENTER:

COMMENTER: And some people actually prefer these vulgarians to the Democrats.

Eric Mader: I hate whataboutism, so that's not the point of what I’ll say, but of course vulgarity from our political elite is nothing new. Democrat Rahm Emanuel was pretty much in the Scaramucci mode under Obama. Were we equally horrified, or talking about End Times re: Emanuel's lexicon? Also, and this is key to the question of whether there is method in the Trump madness: 1) Scaramucci is FUNNIER than any Obama official could have been. He looks and talks like some of our favorite Scorsese characters. And this may partly explain Trump's choice. If the political calculus is bread and circuses, with Scaramucciface Trump is delivering the circuses. 2) Note also what has happened in the past few weeks. When the biggest story should be Trump's shabby treatment of Jeff Sessions, the blogosphere is suddenly screaming about "No trans folks in the military!?" then suddenly this Scaramucci “interview”. I.e.: Method. The same method of constant churning scandal that arguably put Trump in the White House. A fact that Trump knows if he knows anything. Thoughts?

JP: Whataboutism! Love it. But at least Rahm said it not directly to a reporter, immediately after being hired, and said so many ugly things at once. Lethal combo.

Eric Mader: The press hates Trump and hated Spicer. "So," Trump says, "why not replace Spicer, and give them someone even worse, a full-on clown, the Mooch?"

JP: What's to like? Clowns are fun, but decorum is fun, too.

Eric Mader: I get your point "What's to like?" but want to see you argue the thesis "Decorum is fun".

JP: I write sonnets.

Eric Mader: Okay, give us an “Ode to Decorum". But it has to be a FUN sonnet.

COMMENTER: Well, Eric Mader, putting the Mooch in there may be an intentional distraction, but what good does it do the country?

Eric Mader: Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asserting anything about helping the country. I'm analyzing a political practice. To me Trump is not so much a cause of our national dysfunction as he is a symptom of it. If the Dems had not been 8 years of corporate-friendly economics and PC identity politics, the Trump administration wouldn't exist. And that is not my opinion, it's a glaring fact.

COMMENTER:

COMMENTER:

COMMENTER:

COMMENTER:

COMMENTER:

Eric Mader: Alright, this thread is winding down, but listen JP, above you parry one of my points with the phrase "I write sonnets."

Fair enough. And you do write sonnets THAT WILL LAST. Still, consider the following: "This is absolutely amazing. This administration is going down the toilet. Trumpism at its lowest. But no, it can go lower."

You wrote that too, JP. And that's not a sonnet.

Most commenters above agree with you that "This is amazing", etc., etc. "A new low", etc., etc.

I’m not in this camp. I’d argue that it's "amazing" only in the sense of sparkling, attracting the eye; and that millions of good citizens, some of them here in this thread, are thus reacting to it as “newsworthy”. But I think these good citizens are being played, they're being successfully trolled, and their reactions are a MISTAKE.

My point is that this Scaramucci bit is precisely NOT "Trumpism at its lowest". Trumpism at its lowest is what the president is doing at present to the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Which is vulgar. And cheap. And personal. And arguably insane. Not because Jeff Sessions is a great man (one could argue that one way or the other) but simply because he was nominated Attorney General. Trump's behavior toward Sessions these past weeks shows he literally doesn't think he needs to work in a government with separate branches. And if Trump now sends out this new communications director whose communications shock, if Trump gives us the Mooch--it only succeeds in distracting from what is REALLY low in this administration's present workings.

The key word is: succeeds.

In short: Stop being played, folks. Don't react to vulgar comments and tweets. Call them out as the INTENTIONAL diversion tactics they are meant to be.

Trump was under serious fire for his shameless bullying of Sessions, and suddenly with a few flicks of the Trump wrist he manages to get the whole country talking about “amazing” things: trans soldiers, a new Scorsese character, whatever.

Yes, I posted on the Mooch's "interview" too, so I'm guilty as well. But if I were a good citizen, I'd not be focusing on Mooching and tweets, but on how Trump's recent actions, especially toward Sessions, show deep contempt for basic process in how our government works.

That's what the focus should be, not vulgar language from a communications director.

JP: I think it's all of a piece. Par for the course.

Eric Mader: A fair point. But if you or others here intend to fight it, the focus must be kept on how it's working. As strategy. Because it is more or less working. Otherwise Trump wouldn't have gotten elected. This is a new American politics.

MS TERESE COE: Repugnican Family Values

COMMENTER: Scaramucci is not a Republican Ms. Terese Coe

JP: Well, in a little bit, I'm deleting this whole thread. The language in the headline is something my children might see, and call me old-fashioned, but I'd like them to not have to say, Daddy, what does that mean?

Eric Mader: A fine thread it's been. But your call. At least you give us fair warning. And if your kids actually scan the FB, understandable.

But I'm gonna expect that sonnet on the fun of decorum.

Oh, one more thing. I should close with Freddie Mercury, who saw this whole episode coming:

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning,
Very, very frightening me.
(Galileo) Galileo.
(Galileo) Galileo,
Galileo Figaro
Magnifico-o-o-o-o.


Prophetic, don’t you think, JP?

NB: 1) Since JP cut the thread I didn’t have time to save it all, and besides I’ve left JP anonymous, as maybe he wouldn’t want his comments published on my blog. 2) Scaramouche, Scaramucci: from It. “the Skirmisher”, stock clown character from the Commedia dell’Arte and actual family name of our president’s new communications director. Yeah, that thing about fiction and life. Par for the course.

Satire with a bite. Check out my Taipei Mutt. The Asian capital unmuzzled.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What to do about our Left? Smash it Before it Gets Worse


Charlie Gard with his parents

British courts have ruled that parents of eleven-month-old Charlie Gard do not have the right to take their son to America for treatment they hope may save the boy’s life. Even though the parents planned to pay for this last attempt at saving their son, they are ordered by the courts to let him die, because the courts judge their hopes to be vain. Thus the liberal state now gives itself the power to thwart parents’ attempts to save their own children’s lives.

European liberal governments continue to promote immigration from Muslim countries, mainly immigration of young Muslim men, even though these governments already spend untold sums trying to keep an eye on the immigrants they’ve already allowed in. Germany has passed laws that make criticizing the behavior of these newly arrived Muslims a “hate crime”. Thus the liberal state now gives itself the power to remake the culture of its own territories, while criminalizing open discussion of the slated remake.

Meanwhile in North America, young people continue creating designer genders for themselves, and in the US these pseudo-genders are eking their way toward Title IX protection, with the result that any citizen who refuses to use the proliferating swarm of ersatz gender pronouns may soon be liable to prosecution for committing a human rights violation. In Canada such laws are already on the books. Thus the liberal state now gives itself the power to ratify in law whatever new identity fad it chooses, as well as the power to punish those who disagree as "human rights offenders".

For so so many reasons, our Western liberal left must be smashed out of existence. Yes, it is sad. The left potentially had so many things going for it. But it has taken all the wrong turns, and has morphed into a full-blown intellectual cancer. Smash it at every turn.

Eric Mader

Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. at Amazon.com and begin the long, hard reckoning.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

On Being a Good Father (by Esther Xu 徐雨柔)




I’ve been teaching Esther Xu (徐雨柔) for a few years now. More than any other student, I have trouble understanding her when she speaks Chinese, because her voice is very soft and she speaks very quickly. Her name in Chinese, 雨柔, means “soft rain”, which makes sense. But though Esther is quiet, I know she’s very smart, because her scores on English homework and tests are always great.

Esther had to write a speech about her father for school. Teacher Glory helped her type it out, and Glory and I corrected some of the grammar. I think it’s a great little speech! Esther and her sister Rebecca, who I used to teach, are both examples of very smart, level-headed Taiwanese girls. It’s these kinds of students that make me think Taiwan has a great future.


Eric
at ELT: Effective Language Training


On Being a Good Father

The person I love the best is my father.

I have a super father. The reason why he is super is because he doesn’t only do a father’s work, but also a mother’s work.

First, he prepares delicious breakfast for me every morning. And his breakfast is always yummy and healthy. For example, you can see different colors of food in my sandwiches, with beef, chicken or bacon. Sometimes I can hear him singing while cooking. It seems that he really enjoys everything he does for me.

He takes me to school every day. Rain or shine, he takes it as a pleasure to spend time with me. Sitting on the back of his scooter, with my father, I always feel well-prepared for the day because I know he is there for me. After I get to school, he goes back home to clean up the mess I leave in the morning.

You might wonder where my mother is. Well, she always sleeps late in the morning. Of course he loves my mother very much too. He takes care of us so that my mother can get more sleep.

He not only takes good care of me, but also teaches me some great values of life. The most important rule is to respect others. He shows me how to think for myself. Whenever I have a quarrel with my sister, he never gets angry. Instead, he leaves both of us some room to think. This has made me an independent thinker. Now when I have trouble, I’m not afraid. I know I can figure things out by myself.

Since I am a busy junior high student and I have to study hard every day, pressure is a common thing in my daily life. My father knows that, so he sometimes plans family trips for us. We go camping all the time. We have camped from the north to the south of Taiwan.

I always remember my first time camping. It was a typhoon day. It was so stormy that our tent was blowing in the wind. And what was worse, we found a hole in the tent and it suddenly began to leak. At that moment of despair, guess what, here came my super father! He struggled to fix our broken tent with his own hands. And while we were taking shelter in our van, he even cooked a tasty dinner, alone, by himself. Although we ended up staying at a hotel that night, instead of in our tent, I’ll always remember the picture of my super father in that stormy rain. What an unforgettable trip.

When I was little, he used to tell me and my older sister bed time stories. And we would share everything happening in our daily lives. Now, after school, I eagerly tell him about my school life, good things and bad things. He always listens patiently and tries to give me some advice. Looking into his eyes, I feel myself well-understood and well-protected, whatever happens.

This is my super father, and he can do almost everything. I want him to know I love him just as much as he loves me.

Esther Xu 徐雨柔

Check out More English Writing by My Students, some of it quite funny.

ANNOUNCEMENT:



My book Idiocy, Ltd. (白痴有限公司) will be published in Taiwan in Chinese translation this summer. Go like my Facebook page Eric Mader 枚德林 for upcoming publication announcement and other book-related news.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rod Dreher's Wake Up Call




Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option has been out for a few weeks. As a Christian, I’m hoping the book puts down deep roots, that it escapes the fate of most books on the culture, which make a brief stir, then slip off the radar. Dreher’s book doesn’t deserve such a fate.

Dreher has been writing on a “Benedict Option” for years. He coined the term in echo of a passage near the end of Alasdair MacIntyre’s classic After Virtue, where the Scottish philosopher argues that what the West now needs is a figure similar to St. Benedict. Referencing our current state, MacIntyre wrote:

What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. . . . This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another--doubtless very different--St. Benedict.

After Virtue is one of the most cunningly constructed philosophical wrecking balls ever to be swung at the edifice of Enlightenment ideology, and MacIntyre's deep critique of modern bureaucratic culture and the “emotivism” that modernity has spawned leads him to put new emphasis on communal practices as the only viable basis for a meaningful ethics. Dreher, seeing the need for a similar return to Christ-guided practices among Christians, and taking the seminal case of St. Benedict as touchstone, slowly began compiling what would become The Benedict Option.

I come to Dreher’s book from a unique place, a personal history that all but forces me to recognize the troubling truth in his main arguments. Dreher insists that American Christians have for a couple decades now been ignoring their real position in American culture. He is right. What’s more, I believe his widely misunderstood ideas about what must come next, if Christianity is to survive, are right as well.

For most of my adult life I counted myself on the left. As a student in Madison, Wisconsin in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, I was active in the Divest from Apartheid movement and very active in the nuclear weapons freeze movement. My theory-heavy area of study, Comparative Literature, left me with a keen sense of the subtle powers of ideology in discourse, whether political discourse, or literary, or in the everyday. Many lifelong friendships began in Madison, and this web of friends for many years kept me committed to a politically left reading of the world and American culture. That commitment, however, started to crack in 2011.

Already back in university I was something of an odd man out, because I was also Christian. I defined myself as a “left Christian”, of course, stressing the social doctrine side of the Gospel, but always had a strong sense of the divine Presence in the world, of a Mystery that wasn’t to be seized in language but must nonetheless be reverenced. Early on I understood that this reverence for God was connected to anything the West might mean by human rights. My focus on European literatures gave me in addition a deep respect for the Western tradition.

All through those years, and up to the start of the new century, there were things in the American left I didn't support; causes my peers considered progressive but that I stood against. At that time, back in 1989, in 1995, perhaps even in 2003, this was still possible: I could be a faithful Christian but still part of the American left.

All that has changed. The new century has seen our “left” almost completely abandon the goals that kept people like me in solidarity. Worse, it has seen the rise to prominence of all the elements I didn’t support: the shrill identity politics, the speech codes, abortion “rights” as the meaning of womanhood; and most noticeable of all, the now fanatical fetish of sexual self-definition--the more perverse the better--as the very meaning of "progressive".

As Rod Dreher lays it out in The Benedict Option, what we are seeing in all this is the final, decisive victory of the Sexual Revolution that began in the 1960s, the LGBT movement its final avant-garde:

The advance of gay civil rights, along with a reversal of religious liberties for believers who do not accept the LGBT agenda, had been slowly but steadily happening for years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage was the Waterloo of religious conservatism. It was the moment the Sexual Revolution triumphed decisively, and the culture war, as we have known it since the 1960s, came to an end. In the wake of Obergefell, Christian beliefs about the sexual complementarity of marriage are considered to be abominable prejudice--and in a growing number of cases, punishable. The public square has been lost.

Dreher is especially persuasive in arguing that this victory is not merely a matter of the previous culture “loosening up” its sexual mores or expanding the range of acceptable sexual behavior. He sees it rather as a thoroughgoing shift in cosmology, a culture-wide rejection of the Western understanding of our place in the universe and its replacement with something utterly different. What we are undergoing, according to Dreher, is a far-reaching redefinition of the meaning of sexuality and of the individual’s relation to his or her own being. With the Sexual Revolution’s triumph, sexuality is no longer grounded in any metaphysical truth of human nature, but has become a pure expression of the self’s supposed ability to define itself. One’s sexual being is no longer a given, grounded in one’s sex. Thus, in our new order, “We are married” no longer presupposes a sex-based understanding of what that means; nor, with more recent developments, does the statement “I am a man” even presuppose a male body.

One good reason to read The Benedict Option is to get a sense of what this shift means in relation to the millennia of cultural life that came before. In clear, reader-friendly prose, Dreher lays out some of the intellectual history that prepared the soil for the shift, but he’s especially strong in his depiction of just how different this new version of humanity is. He is right, besides, that Christianity can make no peace with this particular revolution. Biblical anthropology stands on completely different grounds, a vision of the meaning of sex as rooted not in individual desire, but in male and female as embodying a supra-individual cosmic mandate. Sexuality in the Christian rubric was not mostly a matter of what turned individuals on, but of how individuals were to fulfill their relation to that divinely given purpose.

How did this revolutionary victory, once realized, affect the culture? Myself I noticed a very tangible shift in the terrain during Obama’s second term. I now attribute it to awareness among liberals and leftists that, with “marriage equality”, the old regime had finally been routed. This meant a new kind of relationship to those like myself who were, on some matters, still part of that old regime. If previously the left could consider me one of them, a somewhat eccentric religious guy whose “heart was in the right place”, suddenly there was a new coldness. In the past it had always been “Well, Eric, you subscribe to a religious interpretation, I don’t”--but our conversation, whatever the subject, would go on. Now any time the discussion, whether face to face or online, got near any part of my Christianity, their point seemed to be that the conversation would not go on. I’d get the equivalent of a scowl, as if even mentioning the Christian tradition was repugnant: all such thinking needed to be finally and utterly pushed out of sight.

I’d always had gay friends, written on gay writers, supported gays and lesbians in their struggles against the anathema conservatives placed on them. I’d always found the bourgeois Christian stigma on sexual sin over the top; it was often cruel and un-Christian--seeming to imply as it did that sexual sin was in a special category that made it worse, even qualitatively different, than sins like pride or greed. I never thought this way myself. But any nuances in my thought made no difference in the new climate. When it became clear to liberal acquaintances that I didn’t agree to their fickle redefinition of marriage, they jumped straight to ostracism. It was not any more that I “disagreed” with them (as I always had on abortion)--no, I had to be made to disappear. Those who held to the old view of marriage were to have no place in our Brave New World. They could be given no place even to speak.

Why such weight put on this particular issue? I’d disagreed with my fellows on the left before, and my right to such disagreement had been recognized. Why now was it suddenly necessary to censor me?

I now see it as related to something Dreher and others have been onto for years. The logic of Enlightenment, the way this logic has been pushed and combined with the Sexual Revolution, has in fact made sexual self-definition the very center of a new cosmology, even a new religion of sorts. On this Dreher has learned much from the brilliant sociologist and culture critic Philip Rieff:

In Rieff’s theory of culture, a culture is defined by what it forbids. Each culture has its own “order of therapy”--a system that teaches its members what is permitted within its bounds and gives them sanctioned ways to let off the pressure of living by the community’s rules, which are traditionally rooted in religion. Moreover, the asceticism in a culture--that is, the ideal of self-denial--cannot be an end in itself, because that would destroy a culture. Rather, it must be a “positive asceticism” that links the individual negating his own particular desires to the achievement of a higher, positive, life-affirming goal. . . . A culture begins to die . . . “when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling, first of all to the cultural elites themselves.” . . .

What made our condition so revolutionary, he said, was that for the first time in history, the West was attempting to build a culture on the absence of belief in a higher order that commanded our obedience. In other words, we were creating an “anti-culture,” one that made the foundation for a stable culture impossible.

That is, instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a culture built on a cult of desire . . .

“Eros must be raised to the level of a religious cult in modern society, not because we really are that obsessed with it, but because the myth of freedom demands it,” says political philosopher Stephen L. Gardner. “It is in carnal desire that the modern individual believes he affirms his ‘individuality’. The body must be the true ‘subject’ of desire because the individual must be the author of his own desire.”

In declaring myself against “same-sex marriage” in 2011, I was thus offending against the very core of this new Sacred. Soon to follow the redefinition of marriage there came the supposed right of individuals to define their gender, indeed to invent dozens of new “genders” to correspond to whatever their self-mythicization might project:

The Romantic ideal of the self-created man finds its fulfillment in the newest vanguards of the Sexual Revolution, transgendered people. They refuse to be bound by biology and have behind them an elite movement teaching new generations that gender is whatever the choosing individual wants it to be.

Back in 2011, during the marriage debate, what struck me most was the almost apoplectic fury of liberals when faced with any disagreement. It was a visceral hatred, flaring suddenly, accompanied by the most vulgar insults and sometimes even veiled threats of violence. And this from people who knew me as someone more or less in their camp on other issues.

Deep hatred of anyone who doesn’t march lock-step with LGBT dogma is now widespread. I remember once going to a Facebook page in support of Barronelle Stutzman, the soft-spoken 72-year-old Washington state florist now being sued out of house and home because she told a gay customer she couldn’t arrange flowers for his wedding. Here were the two first visitor comments that appeared:


And Barronelle, a woman who’d always treated this particular gay customer well but only demurred on wedding flowers--these people would have you believe that she is the hater.

The insults I was getting from my fellow leftists were not far from what these “progressives” dished out to Ms. Stutzman. Which made me realize: Were they actually my fellow leftists in any meaningful sense? Could I in any way work together with people who obviously wanted me in a prison camp?

To interpret such visceral hatred, I now think it useful to focus on the revolution part of Sexual Revolution. We might look at previous political revolutions to get some idea of where we’re at as orthodox Christians. American historian Crane Brinton, in his The Anatomy of Revolution, was one of the first to analyze the stages a revolution goes through.

Revolutions are typically won by a coalition of political actors working together. Once victory is clear, there is often a brief “honeymoon period” where it seems to the victorious classes that anything is possible. For obvious reasons, this euphoria wears off quickly. Because it’s not long before those who backed the revolution realize that life goes on much as before: Utopia has not been established on earth. A growing malaise combines with the fact that the revolutionary leaders are used to living in battle mode, and thus comes the predictable next step. Moderates among the leadership are accused of not being radical enough in their policies--“We must not give in to these backsliders!”--a purge takes place, and the radicals take over. The ambient ardor left over from the initial revolution is then refocused on two new tasks: 1) ensuring ideological purity; 2) mopping up what remains of the defeated classes, who are depicted as all that stands in the way of Utopia’s final arrival. Thus begins the Terror. During this immediately post-revolutionary period, wholly new planks are often introduced into the ruling committee’s platform, typically of a more extremist nature than what was originally demanded in the revolution.

If we view the Sexual Revolution through this lens of past political revolution, it’s pretty clear where we are at present. The revolution has been won, sexual Utopia still hasn’t arrived (because, duh, it never can arrive) and the only thing that might keep our successful revolutionaries busy for the next decade is mopping up what remains of those who refused to drink the Rainbow Kool-Aid when it was first served--i.e. us orthodox religious people. Religious conservatives must be mopped up because, according to the logic, it is our mere existence that prevents Utopia’s final arrival.

This is in fact just how it is playing out in America, in our media and in our courts. Note especially the new plank that was quickly added to the revolutionary platform: the trans movement. There’s really no surprise in the meteoric rise of this raging trans craze. All the revolutionary zeal left over after the victory on marriage--something had to be done with it, no? To keep momentum going, the woke among the liberal intelligentsia had to quick set about destroying the very idea of sexual difference. “Yes, let’s invent thirty new genders and demand citizens use new pronouns. Those who don’t will face fines. Let’s put biological males in teen girls’ locker rooms. See how the rubes like that!”

It’s all both supremely perverse and, and, given where we’re at, depressingly predictable.

Liberals often accuse Christians of being obsessed with sex, but really there’s nothing like the obsessive focus on sex we see in this new mainstreamed liberalism. The reason for it, again, is the need to make the desiring individual the very center of the Sacred. To balk at a man who demands you refer to him as they or ze rather than he is now a kind of sacrilege. And they want punishment for those who don’t conform. (Cf. the struggles of Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson.)

So who here is really obsessed with sex as the Center of all Personal Meaning--Christians or this SJW rainbow crowd? I think the answer is obvious.

None of which is to say that sex is unimportant in Christianity. But the Christian understanding of sex is radically different. Dreher:

In speaking of how men and women of the early Christian era saw their bodies, historian Peter Brown says the body “was embedded in a cosmic matrix in ways that made its perception of itself profoundly unlike our own. Ultimately, sex was not the expression of inner needs, lodged in the isolated body. Instead, it was seen as the pulsing, through the body, of the same energies as kept the stars alive. . . .”

Early Christianity’s sexual teaching does not come from the words of Christ and the Apostle Paul; more broadly, it emerges from the Bible’s anthropology. The human being bears the image of God, however tarnished by sin, and is the pinnacle of an order created and imbued with meaning by God.

The sexual binary of male and female is an integral fact of this created order. In itself it bears metaphysical meaning: “The significance of sexual difference has never before been contingent upon a creature’s preferences, or upon whether or not God gave it episodically to a particular creature to have certain preferences,” writes Catholic theologian Christopher Roberts. He goes on to say that for Christians, the meaning of sexuality has always depended on its relationship to the created order and to eschatology--the ultimate end of man. “As was particularly clear, perhaps for the first time in Luther, the fact of a sexually differentiated creation is reckoned to human beings as a piece of information from God about who and what it meant to be human,” writes Roberts.

Contrary to modern gender theory, the question is not Are we men or women? but How are we to be male and female together? The legitimacy of our sexual desire is limited by the givenness of nature. The facts of our biology are not incidental to our personhood. Marriage has to be sexually complementary because only the male-female pair mirrors the generatively of the divine order.

Gay marriage, as Dreher indicates, denies this complementarity and thus cannot be actual marriage. “Similarly, transgenderism doesn’t merely bend but breaks the biological and metaphysical reality of male and female.” Dreher again cites Philip Rieff:

Rieff, writing in the 1960s, identified the Sexual Revolution--though he did not use that term--as a leading indicator of Christianity’s demise. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, “the rejection of sexual individualism” was “very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.” He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture and redirecting the erotic instinct was intrinsic to Christian culture. Without Christianity, the West was reverting to its former state.

It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to comprehend why sext was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among the People. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour porto-puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.

In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitative Greco-Roman culture of the time--exploitative especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage--and marital sexuality--with love.

What we have now, in the West, are two incompatible anthropologies. Worse, those who support the Sexual Revolution are uninterested in classical liberal pluralism, which would allow for space in the public arena for the two anthropologies to compete. After Obergefell, many Christians expected, as the LGBT activists promised, that the legalization of same-sex marriage would not impinge upon the rights of Christian institutions to live by and teach their own understanding of marriage. It is turning out quite otherwise, with a mounting wave of lawsuits that threaten the very existence of Christian schools, universities and charities. The gay lobby pursues these cases with evident glee. It is they who do not want to live and let live.

What then must be done given 1) the post-revolutionary fury with which the LGBT movement seeks to expel orthodox Christianity from the public arena, and 2) the necessity for Christians to remain faithful to biblical principles for the church to survive and thrive? What is Rod Dreher’s advice for Christians at this juncture?

My writing here so far, especially if read by liberals, likely gives the impression that The Benedict Option is little more than a handwringing conservative lament on American sexual ethics. It is nothing of the sort. Rather, Dreher’s book as a whole presents a multi-faceted strategy for revitalizing Christian life through intentional life choices and a renewed engagement with earlier Christian practices--the faith as it was lived and practiced before the 20th century flood.

Part of Dreher’s assessment of current Christian culture is based on research done by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. What Smith and Denton discovered, through study of the beliefs of actual Americans, was that the de facto “Christianity” now practiced in America, particularly among the young, has very very little in common with the traditional faith. They coined the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) to describe this new American religion. Compared to the historical faith, MTD is doctrinally paper thin, and can be summed up in a few bland credos, among them: 1) God is looking over us but not much involved with happenings on earth; 2) God wants us to be nice to each other and to be happy with ourselves; 3) Good people, when they die, go to heaven.

Dreher believes, and I agree, that this way of living our faith is both widespread and seriously inadequate. He also believes that the churches--too much in the business of flattering the feel-good vanities of the flock and not enough concerned with forming souls--are deeply implicated in the spread of this eroded version of what the Apostles taught. He insists that we as a people, the earthly body of Christ, stand no chance of surviving the corrosive secularism of this new century if we continue muddling along in this milquetoast therapeutic version of our faith.

Many of Dreher’s chapters are dedicated to studying alternatives to our current state, and he begins, aptly, with a long chapter on the Benedictine monks of Norcia, Italy. This portrait of a group of men, our contemporaries, who’ve willingly given up everything and dedicated themselves to prayer, contemplation and the works of mercy, allows Dreher to delve into what a more authentic Christian understanding of work, community and spiritual life might look like. It proves a good starting point, as it gives Dreher the chance to clarify a general thesis: that we, as Christians, though not all called to monastic life, are nonetheless called to bring our everyday life activities as much into harmony with Christ as we can. We are failing in this, especially as regards our attitudes to community and work, which for most of us have been shaped almost entirely by the secular culture we were raised in. According to Dreher, this inability to let Christ into our communal and work life has made us into little more than churchgoing versions of the late-modern Standard Issue Human: egotistical but lost, ethically without rudder, consumerists dragged to and fro by advertising, fashion, zero-sum-game politics, Facebook “likes”.

The Norcian monks are just the first of many intentional Christian communities Dreher touches on. Another of them, also in Italy, a group that charmingly calls itself Tipi Loschi--i.e., in Italian, “the Usual Suspects”--is practicing a radical form of community building and youth education that also might offer no small light to those seeking a Christian way out. Of course Dreher also interviews people in many intentional Christian communities in the US, whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, seeking to answer the question: What does a “Benedict Option” lifestyle really look like? How can one be part of American culture, yet also establish a distance that allows for the cultivation of the soul in a community of like-minded others? Dreher gives multiple examples of the joys and potential challenges.

Not surprisingly, Dreher also addresses one of the starkest challenges serious Christian families now face in America, namely: how to raise children in the faith and keep them from being corrupted by the trashy ethos the dominant culture now models for them 24/7. These chapters on youth and education are some of the most interesting in the book, and they address everything from options for schooling (Dreher advises, if at all possible, that you get your kids out of public schools) to the threat posed by smart phone culture.

But what of Christian politics? How should Christians engage in the political process? This is one of the areas where Dreher’s work has been most widely misunderstood. Far too many have seen in Dreher’s project a call to “run for the hills”, to “retreat” from public life; a call to “let the public arena go to hell on its own” while hiding out in the catacombs, as it were. Many of these critics, to read them, seem not to have read the same book I just finished. Their reaction to Dreher’s project might have been understandable before the book was out, but now that the book is on the shelves, I think they might need to take a more careful look at the actual arguments, the double-directedness of the project. On this, Dreher quotes with approval one of the Norcian Benedictines, who speaks of the need to have "borders" behind which we live to nurture our faith, but also the need to "push outwards, infinitely." This double focus has always been implicit in Dreher's writing on the Benedict Option, so it's odd how often it's missed. Some critics, I suspect, are mainly afraid to face up to what's happening in America.

Given our decisive rout in the culture wars, you’d think we Christians would step back a bit and ask ourselves if we weren’t doing a few things wrong. Dreher identifies the virtual fusion in many minds of Christianity and the Republican Party as one of the biggest mistakes of recent decades. A sizable demographic, he argues, came to think of their Church as “the Republican Party at prayer”. The problem here, in my analysis, was not so much that power corrupts, but that imagined power corrupts. How so?

Far too many conservative Christians came to believe that, as long as their governors were in office, or as long as a Republican was in the White House, the Gospel was doing well. This was a grave error. It was an example of bad faith, shirking off responsibility to others, in this case to a political party that was more interested in serving its corporate interests than in smoothing the way for the Kingdom. Meanwhile, as American Christians told themselves that all was right with the world because the GOP held enough seats, the GOP was simultaneously self-justifying its relative inactivity on abortion or economic justice or religious liberty by saying that, after all, they were just politicians, and if the churches could not gather enough public support for what they wanted, if the churches couldn’t manage to sway corporate opinion as to their demographic clout, who were they, mere politicians, to do anything risky? After all, they needed to ensure they’d get elected next time around.

The degree to which this kind of mutual bad faith weakened Christian witness in America over the recent couple decades would be hard to exaggerate. Dreher, always an astute political observer (his blog is must reading) saw just what would follow once the corporate world realized that money was to be made in cozying up to the LGBT movement. And so in Indiana, when modest religious liberty protections were proposed in 2014, and the corporate boards decided to virtue signal by threatening the state with boycotts should they actually enact such “bigoted” legislation, GOP governor Mike Pence didn’t stand his ground. Under pressure from the business lobby, the Indiana law was swiftly rewritten to the point of making it toothless. This, Dreher has said repeatedly, is what you will get if you put your hopes in the Republican Party.

Which is why Dreher now insists that putting too many of our eggs as Christians in any political party’s basket is a serious mistake. When push comes to shove, the Republican Party will sell us out. What is necessary for us to work on at present is building up solid Christian communities. Because, if our eyes are open, there is little hope in anything else.

In one fascinating chapter, Dreher offers portraits of two famous Czech dissidents under communism, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Benda. These men, he argues, offer examples of the kind of “antipolitical politics” we should begin to practice as Christians. Both Havel and Benda realized the importance of resistance at the individual, everyday level. And they understood the necessity of building alternative communities under or parallel to the overarching, oppressive national political order. One gains hope from these examples of anti-communist resistance because, as surprised even them, their steady underground resistance finally bore fruit. Similar dynamics in Poland also saw the Church prove decisive in bringing down totalitarianism.

But we in America are not (at least not yet) under such intense political pressure. Which is all the more reason, according to Dreher, for us to be both strategic and steady in our political efforts. Being joined at the hip to any political party is not strategic given where we’re at. The only cause Dreher insists we should be intensely involved with (as in paying attention and organizing and pressuring our representatives) is the constitutional cause of religious liberty. Because if that is lost, so much else of what we can accomplish, through schools or charities, will be lost too.

Dreher is emphatic about this fight because it is by no means certain that we will win it. It is all too obvious that the new Sexual Identity Commissars are busy 24/7 trying to take away the rights of Christian schools and universities to teach the faith and run their institutions on Christian principles. We must remember that vast swaths of the liberal intelligentsia no longer even believe religious liberty exists as anything other than “an excuse for hate”.

And so I come full circle, back to the question of the threat posed by LGBT activists and their ever-supportive SJW ranks. These people have already gained far too much sway over our courts, schools, and media, not to mention the sway they’ve gained in many denominations. Aside from fighting for religious liberty, how should orthodox Christians meet this threat in the public arena?

One thing I wish Dreher had included in this book are his thoughts on what might be called the rules of engagement between orthodox religious people and the sexual revolutionaries. How are Christians, in the public arena, to communicate with a public that largely supports the “reforms” demanded by Team Rainbow?

My intellectual background convinces me of one thing: Language is the crowbar of ideology. It is language, the manipulation and coining of terms, that ideology uses to pry its way into social consciousness. It is via new concepts, embodied in language, that new ideologies set up shop.

In many circles in America people no longer bat an eye when someone refers to Rob’s “husband”. And it’s growing ever more common for people to refer to some biological female as he or ze or even they. It’s now considered correct to accept and make an effort to use whatever pronouns an individual demands--otherwise one is a bigot. Courts have already come down on the side of people insisting on these new pronouns; fines have already been levied. In Canada, which now has it worse than we do, refusal to use these newly minted pronouns is literally illegal.

The man next to one says: “I’m Rob. This is my husband Dave.” The woman next to one says: “I’m nonbinary. My pronoun is they.” My question: Should Christians agree to use any of this language?

This question is not a trivial one, nor is it easy to answer. On the one hand, Christians must show concern and love for others, regardless of ideological differences, a truth Dreher underlines repeatedly. In this vein, how would it show care and concern if one refused even to acknowledge an individual’s married status? To insist on using partner rather than husband for a married gay couple would now widely be seen as openly disrespectful, besides being, in many instances, legally actionable. Perhaps this will soon be true also with the many new gender pronouns. Shouldn’t Christians just agree to use the terms society is using, as a gesture of peace and goodwill? Can’t Christians just maintain their disagreement in their hearts and in the more closed confines of their communities?

It may be best to do so. But the cost is huge. Because, as I’ve suggested, to use another’s descriptive terms is already to agree to the reality they are promoting. To refer to a woman’s partner as her “wife”, even to do it out of politeness, is to agree that their relationship is actually a marriage. To use ze (rather than he or she) to refer to an individual is to admit that there is such a gender that corresponds to that term. And so: When a Christian agrees to use this terminology, isn’t that Christian more or less burning a pinch of incense to Caesar?

I’d be very curious to see how Dreher might answer these questions on linguistic rules of engagement. I was somewhat surprised he didn’t address such issues in his book. I won’t quote the Havel passage in full, but I wonder: Every time we utter one of these demanded terms, aren’t we forfeiting the bravery shown by the greengrocer who refused to hang the “Workers of the World” slogan in his shop window?

I admit that I’m not sure of the right way forward on this. Is it better, on terminology, to err on the side of peace-making? Or should we ensure that our speech always testifies to what we believe is the truth?

Dreher’s Benedict Option is a brilliant call for Christians to return to the basics of the faith, to recognize how far we’ve been led astray in our hyper-consumerist secular culture. He has brilliantly made the case for a return to an earlier Christian understanding, the authentic one, and for changing our daily lives through a more thoughtful, principled Christian practice. The book doesn’t answer every question (no book can) but it makes for a brilliant “starter manual” of sorts for those who recognize the need for serious change. I’m hoping the book puts down deep roots.

Check out Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

Check out Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory

And for something completely different, check out my Idiocy, Ltd.