Huckabee’s Judgement Trick

Huckabee just keeps running into his biggest liability: his own words.  (If all of this is pouring out now, imagine Huckabee in the general).  TPM via freakgirl:

Oh, man. One of Mike Huckabee’s chief advisers has just attempted to clarify the Arkansas Governor’s apparent equating of homosexuality and necrophilia.

In an interview with TPM Election Central, Joe Carter, Huckabee’s director of research, argued that while Huckabee does think both fall in the category of “aberrant behavior,” he’s not arguing that they’re the same and sees them as being at “opposite ends of the spectrum” of such behavior.

Captain tolerance doesn’t stop there:

Asked to elaborate further, Carter said: “He was describing behavior. He’s not casting judgment on the people themselves. His point is, the culture is becoming more accepting of aberrant behaviors.”

This is a really neat trick played to the tune of “hate the sin, not the sinner”.  To put this in perspective, Carter could have just as easily said Huckabee won’t cast judgement on murderers, adulterers, thieves, or anyone else who “sins”.  This only confirms that Huckabee’s objection to homosexuality is grounded in religion.  Further, the rhetorical impact approaches that of explicitly casting judgment.  The language shift is crafty, but it is working towards the same tired effect:  the demonization of an “other”, in this case homosexuals.

One more note (emphasis mine):

As first reported yesterday by David Corn at Mother Jones, Huckabee said the following in a 1998 book he co-wrote called Kids Who Kill:

It is now difficult to keep track of the vast array of publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations—from homosexuality and pedophilia to sadomasochism and necrophilia.

When we asked Carter if Huckabee stood by this quote, he didn’t disavow the comment. But he sought to clarify its meaning, denying our suggestion that the quote equated homosexuality and necrophilia.

“He’s not equating homosexuality with necrophilia,” Carter told us. “He’s saying there’s a range of aberrant behavior. He considers homosexuality aberrant, but that’s at one end of the spectrum. Necrophilia is at the other end.”

The real outrage isn’t that he places homosexuality and necrophilia on the same spectrum.  As Carter takes pains to point out, that isn’t equating them.  But he is quite clearly putting pedophilia at the same end of the spectrum as homosexuality.  So if Huckabee equating homosexuality and pedophilia?  That strikes me as casting a very nasty judgment indeed.

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Faith and Religion vs Belief and Spirituality

Faith is not religion.  It is a way of knowing that intersects with religion in a vital way.  Religion makes use of faith, one might say.

I bring this up after reading an illuminating post by Amanda at Pandagon:

Goddamn, this is tiresome, just this headline:

Why “new atheists” are ignorant about God

That’s like a headline that says, “Why ‘new skeptics’ are ignorant about unicorns.”

It’s an interview with theologian John Haught about how new atheists haven’t earned the right to be atheists or something, because I dunno, they didn’t martyr themselves by swimming in religion before deciding it’s crap. Which, to my mind, is a sign of progress. I shouldn’t have to sink myself neck-deep in nonsense to have the right to call it nonsense. Do I have to study unicorn lore up and down before I get to say unicorns don’t exist?

From the Salon piece:

They talk about the most fundamentalist and extremist versions of faith, and they hold these up as though they’re the normative, central core of faith. And they miss so many things. They miss the moral core of Judaism and Christianity — the theme of social justice, which takes those who are marginalized and brings them to the center of society. They give us an extreme caricature of faith and religion.

John Haught misses a central point and makes a rather embarrassing misstep for a theologian.  Faith is by definition belief sans proof.  As soon as you let proof into the equation, it transforms into belief.  Perhaps even justified belief, depending on the epistemic standard applied.  So in that sense the aggressive critique of faith is that it is very prone to abuse.  If you allow yourself to trust completely in something, that trust itself may be misplaced, but it may also be a vehicle for power.  The Catholic Church’s abuse scandal has illustrated this as clearly as the acts of terrorism the “new atheists” write about.  So faith is simply faith, and the moral core of the religions he brings up misses the sharpest point of the critique of the new atheists.

Religion, while it makes use of faith, does not necessarily require faith.  While the more fundamentalist groups might (Pandagon):

Fundamentalists are disgusted with liberal churches, who they see as a bunch of pussies who have given up what’s really important about religion (power) in a bid to continue existing. Which strikes the fundamentalists as no different than running up the white flag.  What’s the point of religion, if not to have an unquestionable, unproveable authority to invoke to force your will on everyone else? The great offense of the new atheists in focusing on fundamentalists is that they’re saying, in essence, the fundies have a point. The heavy fist of the great patriarchal god of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims ceases to make sense if you’re not willing to put it to use for political purposes.

Outside of that narrow world view of the fundamentalists, can you really see a Pastor, Rabbi or Imam turning someone away because they have substituted belief for faith?  The reason belief without faith is troubling even to more liberal organized religion is that it ends up cutting down the number of beliefs which survive the transition.  Some things, such as the particular events in the Bible, are not provable (no matter how much people of faith strain to do so).
Which brings us to religion vs spirituality and the eastern religions:

Now, I think there’s a reasonable criticism to be aimed at the “new atheists” for a failure of imagination. It’s possible, for instance, that some Eastern religions have been compatible with modern society in a way that the big monotheistic three have not. It doesn’t hurt that some of these traditions are basically atheistic or at least have a different view of gods and power.

At some point for those who transition from organized religion to spirituality, there is a shift in how one views one relationship with God.  You’ve rejected any sort of scripture or holy book.  You’ve been sadly exposed to books like Mere Christianity and The Case for Christ by college evangelicals, and found the arguments presented completely lacking.  The arguments of atheism, on the other hand, are very compelling, down to a sharp emotional level.

I am going to break with my usual silence on personal beliefs and delve a bit into my own.  Because I think it might provide a useful glimpse of belief without faith, some fun with philosophy, and an idea of how spiritual beliefs can be both compatible with secular society and encouraging of independent thought.

After determining I no longer believed in the Torah (or the additional books), I found I still had faith in God.  I also had a firm belief that one should be moral, and wasn’t frazzled by the idea of finding what morality was using reason rather than faith.  What started in high school bloomed in college as I was exposed to mysticism.  This idea that the point of religious practice was to approach God.  And that is my belief, that through meditation one can come to know one’s self, and the intrinsic relationship to the divine we all share.  Never having believed in original sin, this might have been easier for me than some.  But the essential idea is that humanity is divine in nature.  I mix that in with a some tempered observation, and would hazard a completely secular person would suspect people of being selfish (not good or bad inherently, just selfish).  All the same, all of this practice and reading led me to a rather intriguing meme.  I’ll introduce it by very briefly outlining the crux of a debate in the philosophy of mind.

Science is all about verification via repetition.  “Can you repeat my experiment, with the same variables, and get the same result?”.  In the philosophy of mind, two intelligent voices popped to the fore while I was in high school and college.  Daniel Dennet, and David Chalmers.  In Consciousness Explained (facetiously titled “Consciousness Explained Away” by some), Dennet argues that the personal experience of consciousness falls outside the realm of science.  It is never directly knowable by anyone other than the person experiencing it!  This is a compelling argument indeed, but I found myself gravitating more towards Chalmer’s take.  Essentially he argues (if I remember correctly) that consciousness is in the realm of science, and its experiences are repeatable.  In other words, if I do x y and z, and experience a, and you can do the precise same thing, then we have something of science at work.  This leads some, like the Dalai Lama, to consider Buddhist spirituality scientific in nature.  After all, meditation practice is about following prescribed steps to replicate desired results (even if those steps are as simple as turning off internal chatter and letting the mind relax).

From an epistemic viewpoint, none of this really gets us around the question of certainty.  I know I experience x, but do I ever know x is real?  To some extent one must allow for the validity of experience to avoid falling into solipsism (crafty philosophers may employ contextualism to achieve this).

So where does this leave me?  Barring an epistemic problem of significant proportions, my experiences in meditation align correctly with a belief system that suggests the existence of the divine.  The full nature of this divine principle is different than the conception of God I grew up with, but it feels deeply familiar to the way I always thought God should be.  And the only bit of faith I hold onto is the one that puts practicality ahead of absolute certainty.  I have faith that what we experience is real.  But that is a philosophical step nearly everyone on Earth takes instinctively, and so for all practical purposes I believe without faith.

What does this mean for how I interact with society, and how I view reality?  It means I am always open to new interpretations and evidence.  My beliefs are not set in stone.  They grow out of my experience and my ability to reason.  Perhaps meditation is all the cruel trick of neurology, and consciousness is nature’s greatest joke on itself.  Perhaps meditation is like a high level programming language, and the actual work of our meat machine is fundamentally different from the experiences it wraps itself in.  Then again, perhaps meditation does connect us to an essential truth in our nature and our relationship with each other.  I’m open minded, even if a bit hopeful for a particular conclusion.

So I am not inclined to blindly trust authority (Sara, Orcinus):

We’ve all come up against these people, and have been totally confounded with their “my leader can do no wrong” attitude. They believe outrageous lies, and forgive all manner of sins. Democratic strategists keep trying to run campaigns that will reach these people on the basis of evidence and fact — and are perplexed to find their attempts at education totally rebuffed. George Bush may have lied us into a war, wrecked our economy, saddled our great-grandchildren with debt, savaged the poor, and alienated the entire world; but he is Our Leader, and we will always take his word over anyone else’s. We do not accept you as a legitimate authority. We don’t care what you have to say, because you have no standing at all in our little world.

I watch, I listen, I think, and I reason.  If faith does find its way into my life I always sleep with one rational eye open.  Belief is to won by evidence, and the trust that is faith is to be handed out only in the most cautious and alert manner.

Which brings us back to Haught:

By the way, my point about how the atheists that Haught admires lived in a world where there were social pressures against atheism that have faded to a large extent makes this quote really creepy:

Yes, they did. And they thought it would take tremendous courage to be an atheist. Sartre himself said atheism is an extremely cruel affair. He was implying that most people wouldn’t be able to look it squarely in the face. And my own belief is they themselves didn’t either.

The longing for a time when atheism was scary is no joke. Haught’s trying to convince himself that atheists in the past were maybe a little more mealy-mouthed because they “knew” deep down in their colons that god is very pissy at the atheists, but I’d say that the more visceral understandings that people in the past had of church power and the way it could destroy—and their thorough understanding of the past penalties of death and torture for heresy—probably had a lot to do with it. It’s true that if you think long and hard about what would happen to heretics if the churches weren’t kept in check by secular society, it would put a little fear into your heart. I wouldn’t conflate that with fear of god, but more the fear of those who don’t like having their beliefs questioned. I bet if Haught wanted to find himself some modern atheists that express the proper levels of fear, he’d have some luck rooting around a theocratic nation like Iran.

That same fear and violence was turned against mystics.  Look at the Sufi matyrs, and how mysticism often hides within the auspices of larger religions.  St Teresa of Avila is an excellent example, who coated her experiences in the language of her host religion.  If she had lived today, would she have done so?

Today, that level of fear is drastically sharper when aimed at atheists, at least in the US.  One need only look at the criticism of the Golden Compass for reference.  We share a common goal:  moving beyond the stranglehold of fundamentalism on society.

In addition to the tension between reason and atheism vs faith and religion, there is another player.  Belief and Spirituality.  And this is where a lot of people are beginning to find themselves.  There are many people who still identify with their religion, and may even attend services, but who feel more inclined to limit the role of faith in their lives, while simultaneously expanding the role of belief.  And I think this is a profoundly hopeful thing.

I’d say religion is far more nihilistic than atheism. Atheists believe that humans are enough, that our lives are worth something by themselves and that we have the power and freedom to invest value in ourselves and others. Religious people think humans are fundamentally small and weak and have no ability to invest in themselves and others without making up a Sky Fairy to pass out those judgments. It’s clear that the latter view—that humans are inconsequential without a make believe third party to render value onto us—is by far the more nihilistic.

A mystic believes that humans are all connected and priceless.  That it is our birthright and our nature to recognize our own divinity.  Notice I say recognize.  Because one of the many things all mystical traditions share is the realization that we are already divine.  We have just to realize it.

Opposing Contraceptives: AIDS, Abortion and Murder

The Republicans puffed out their chests, George Bush grunted, and the Democrats whined and rolled around in his offal.

The Global Gag Rule remains in place (Ann, Feministing):

Citing Bush’s guaranteed veto, Democrats stripped out language repealing the Global Gag Rule from a spending bill recently passed by the House Appropriations Committee. We all know Bush hates women — especially poor women — and would have vetoed the bill, but it’s incredibly frustrating that Democrats preempted him.

This is a stunning defeat for world health. The Republicans feel itchy about providing funds to family planning clinics (they might be used for abortions!). So the compromise that died before it lived would have simply provided contraceptives directly:

The Senate is set to vote today on a bill that would provide contraceptives directly to international family planning clinics that have been denied funds under the Global Gag Rule. The bill, which passed the House in June, is a way to work around Republicans’ objection that U.S. international family-planning funds could be used for abortions. (Sen. Sam Brownback has threatened to tack on an amendment stripping out the provision on contraceptives.)

This is a direct trade: the failed abstinence only approach over the use of contraceptives. The impact is clear:

Too bad, because in addition to the many other excellent reasons to broaden contraceptive access in the developing world, new research shows birth control works better than antiretroviral drugs at curbing the spread of HIV in Africa.

But I suppose it’s futile to even point these things out. Bush cares way more about pushing the abstinence agenda than the fact that women are dying.

This makes me sick in the pit of my stomach. There is no, no reason to oppose contraceptives other than the religious conviction that sex is sinful in nature. We aren’t even talking morning after pills. Condoms. Who in their right mind opposes the use of condoms? And because Bush and the Republicans directly (and the Democrats indirectly) cater to the fundamentalists, more people will die. There will be more AIDS orphans. There will be be more economic instability. All because the whiny voice proclaiming sex vile is easier for our government to hear than the screams coming from Africa. Whatever you call the ideology that wrought this, you cannot call it pro life.