Thursday, November 30, 2006

Letter from the Iranian President

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, issued an open letter yesterday to the American People. Since I’m a member of the American People I figured I’d better read it because it might be important.

First I had to put aside my three reasons for distrusting Ahmadinejad. First, and foremost, he was a member of the Basij movement during the Iran-Iraq war. These are the lovely folks that sent children out as human mine sweepers with little plastic “keys to Paradise” around their necks. Second, he doesn’t have a problem with a Theocracy, and third he’s a religious Muslim, or at least he claims to be one.

Ahmadinejad addresses a number of areas but makes the mistake of putting the one he is least likely to get support for from the American People first. He starts by attacking the “Persistent aggressions by the Zionists.” While I sympathize with the Palestinian People, I also sympathize with the Israeli People. There is plenty of blame and suffering to go around in that conflict and I think it’s unjustified to put all the blame on the Israelis.

From then on however I found myself nodding in agreement more often than shaking my head. Some excerpts, with commentary.

“Since the commencement of the US military presence in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed or displaced. Terrorism in Iraq has grown exponentially.”

I don’t know about exponentially but it certainly has grown. The level of terror is beyond imagining and the country appears on the verge of full scale civil war which can only make it worse. I think the Iranians, as neighbors of Iraq, have every reason to be concerned.

“Although Saddam was overthrown and people are happy about his departure, the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people has persisted and has even been aggravated.”

And we don’t seem to be doing much to alleviate it. It appears to me that the administration is more concerned about making Halliburton stockholders rich than it is about the welfare of the Iraqi People. A welfare by the way, that the United States became responsible for, at least in part, when we sent the 3rd Infantry across the border.

“I consider it extremely unlikely that you, the American people, consent to the billions of dollars of annual expenditure from your treasury for this military misadventure.”

I’m certainly not happy about it. Unfortunately there are those, especially those making a bundle off the war, that are happy about it and they tend to have a lot more influence with this administration than peons like me.

“You have heard that the US administration is kidnapping its presumed opponents from across the globe and arbitrarily holding them without trial or any international supervision in horrendous prisons that it has established in various parts of the world. “

Yes, and I think it’s a disgrace.

“You have certainly heard the sad stories of the Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib prisons. The US administration attempts to justify them through its proclaimed ‘war on terror.’ But every one knows that such behavior, in fact, offends global public opinion, exacerbates resentment and thereby spreads terrorism, and tarnishes the US image and its credibility among nations. “

I can’t really find much fault with this assessment. The activities of the Bush administration HAVE helped to spread terrorism and have tarnished the reputation of the U.S. around the world. I’m certain that the verdict of history will be that this was the worst presidential administration ever and it ushered in a dark age in American history. A dark age which hopefully will end with the exit of Bush and his cronies on January 20, 2009. I say hopefully because I don’t think another Republican presidency will raise the veil any. We need a total housecleaning.

“The US administration’s illegal and immoral behavior is not even confined to outside its borders. You are witnessing daily that under the pretext of ‘the war on terror,’ civil liberties in the United States are being increasingly curtailed.”

As the myriad ACLU newsletters keep reminding me in increasingly shrill language. I now know how concerned Germans must have felt as the Nazis managed to use the legal political system to destroy that system. The Bush administration seems to feel that it is above the law and at liberty to flaunt the law whenever it feels like it and I’m flabbergasted that more people aren’t outraged about that.

“I have no doubt that the American people do not approve of this behavior and indeed deplore it.”

Some of us do. Unfortunately a fair number seem perfectly willing to wave goodbye to civil liberties in the United States as long as the President says “God” every two sentences and Gay Marriage remains illegal.

“We all condemn terrorism, because its victims are the innocent.

But, can terrorism be contained and eradicated through war, destruction and the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocents?”

Clearly war, destruction and the killing of innocents is simply going to fuel terrorism if people feel that it’s their only option for fighting back or defending themselves. But what’s the answer? You identify a non-solution but offer nothing in its place.

Unfortunately the letter then goes into another rant about Zionists including the resurrection of the tired old anti-Semitic charge about control “of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors.”

While the man raises some valid points, his unjustified ranting against “Zionists” plus his history (yes, I’m now bringing my prejudices into the analysis) leave me doubting the sincerity of the letter. I’m not convinced this is a man that should be trusted. That doesn’t change the truth in some of what he says, it just means I’m not all that certain I would want to be “good buddies” with the guy. I think I smell a rat.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Death Penalty Update

The current number of executions in the United States for 2006 stands at 52 with three more scheduled during December. That would bring the total to 55 down 5 from the 60 executions in 2005.

Of the 52 executions, 43 took place in the South, 6 were in the Midwest with 5 in the state of Ohio and 3 were in the West. The Northeast had no executions in 2006.

Fourteen states had at least one execution in 2006. Texas had the most with 24 followed by Ohio with 5. One of the three remaining scheduled executions is also in Ohio which would bring that states total to 6.

Texas already has 11 executions scheduled for 2007 including the execution of a female, Cathy Henderson, in April of 2007. The state of Tennessee, which has only had 2 executions, has 7 executions scheduled in 2007.

In other words, nothing much has changed. The South, with Texas leading the way, continues to be the region of the country where executions are the most common and the Northeast continues to be the region where they rarely occur. As a matter of fact, of the 4 executions that have occurred in the Northeast since 1976, all were of so-called volunteers, individuals that, for whatever reason, ceased appealing their death penalty sentence.

The New Jersey committee studying the death penalty was supposed to have issued its report by November 15, 2006 to the governor and legislature, but I haven’t seen anything to that effect so far. The hope is, of course, that the committee will recommend abolition. We shall see what we shall see.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Angels in America

I read something one time that theorized that there were multiple parallel dimensions of reality. The closer ones were very similar, perhaps with only minor differences, and that it was sometimes possible to exchange places with your alternate self in one of those closer dimensions. You can sometimes detect that this has happened by noticing a difference.

At least that’s the theory. More likely is that you haven’t switched dimensions but are merely suffering from a faulty memory. I mentioned this because of “Angels in America,” a six part mini-series that appeared on my HBO on Demand movie list and for which I have absolutely no memory. Yet it appears that the six part mini-series, based upon two three hours plays, should have been something that I recalled.

Looking it up on the web led to the revelation that not only were the plays critically acclaimed, winning a slew of drama critic circle awards as well as the Tony Award for Best Play, but the mini-series was the most watched made for cable movie of 2003 and won both the Golden Globe and the Emmy Awards.

So how the heck did I miss this? Yes, granted I was struggling through some personal problems at that time but it still strikes me as a tad strange that I have absolutely no memory of this program.

Anyway, I’ve managed to watch five of the six episodes and I’m not all that sure what to make of the whole thing. It’s sort of weird and funny about non-funny things. The fantasy sequences are really bizarre and on the verge of comical but there’s nothing comical about the situations that the characters find themselves in.

Some of the dialogue is absolutely stunning. In one fantasy sequence Mary-Louise Parker, who plays a Mormon, has this exchange with Justin Kirk, who plays a gay man with aids.

Parker: I'm a Mormon.
Kirk: I'm a homosexual.
Parker: Oh. In my church we don't believe in homosexuals.
Kirk: In my church we don't believe in Mormons.

But my favorite is Jeffrey Wright, who played Martin Luther King in “Boycott,” as the gay nurse Belize. He matches wits and insults with Al Pacino as a dying Roy Cohn, of the Rosenberg Trial fame, often with the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, played by Meryl Streep, looking on in bemusement. Like I said, it’s a very weird show made weirder by the fact that there are actors playing multiple roles. I thought there was something a little strange about the rabbi in one of the opening sequences only to find out later that “he” was being portrayed by Meryl Streep who has three roles.

I’m not sure if I’m enjoying this show as much as I’m exploring it.

Giants at Titans

Ouch. Every once in a while you get a game that it takes YEARS to recover from. This was one of those games. A blown 21 point lead in the first as the result of a series of errors any one of which, if it hadn’t been made, might have salvaged the 24-21 loss.

The first error was the lob pass call on a second and four early in the fourth quarter. The second mistake was Plaxico Burress giving up on that pass which resulted in an interception. The third mistake was the personal foul on the 4th and 7. Without the flag the Giants would have taken over on downs with the score still 21-0. The fourth was, of course, Kawanuka letting Young go when he appeared to have him wrapped up on the 4th and 10 with less than 2 minutes left.

I don’t blame the rookie though because I know precisely what happened. He was afraid of getting called for roughing the quarterback so he made the mistake of releasing his grip prior to the whistle.

I blame Coughlin. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way this team is playing and I can only blame the coaching for that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Imams Get Kicked off of Plane

Well you knew it had to happen eventually and it did yesterday. Six Islamic Imams, returning from a conference in Minneapolis to Phoenix, were asked to get off a US Airways flight due to “suspicious behavior.”

Apparently what triggered the incident was three members of the group praying in the terminal. Yes, I think I would have been more than a little suspicious if I saw three Muslims praying just before getting on board an aircraft especially if the other three in the group weren’t praying.

To make matters worse, the six were seated in different parts of the aircraft. Yup, that would just about clinch it for me.

Guys, I’m sorry if you have been inconvenienced or insulted but better safe than sorry. Get used to the idea because it’s probably going to get worse. If you don’t like it, feel free to move to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

Boy, I sound like a gun totin’ Red Stater don’t I? The Dukes of Hazzard got nothin’ on me does they? I openly admit to this hypocritical chink in my liberalism. I find Islam to be the worst of the religions, both in terms of doctrine and the culture that has grown up around it, and don’t find myself feeling particularly tolerant towards it. The fact that its version of a religious fruitcake keeps threatening to explode a dirty nuke in my backyard hasn’t helped any either.

One of the Imams involved expressed frustration that, despite extensive efforts by Muslim leaders, many Americans know so little about Islam. "If up to now they don't know about prayers, this is a real problem," he said.

Not for me its not. I couldn’t care less. Of course it might be for you if every time you decide to pray they chuck you off an airplane. Like I said before, have you given any thought to relocating to a more sympathetic country like Afghanistan maybe? If not, then have you given any thought to chucking the philosophy of hatred and death that you’ve adopted?

What do You Mean IF you’re Wrong?

My question is a reaction to an opinion piece written by Oliver "Buzz" Thomas, a Baptist Minister with an upcoming book entitled, “10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs the Job).”

The opinion piece is entitled “When Religion Loses its Credibility” and bemoans the danger inherent in religion digging in its heels about homosexuality being a choice. The scientific evidence is mounting up that it’s determined at birth, by any number of genetic and physical factors, and is about as much a choice as being left handed or having blue eyes. Buzz is concerned that religion will lose its “moral authority” once proven wrong.

I have a number of observations about this piece. First of all, religion has no moral authority. At least it doesn’t have any in this country at the moment. It carries some weight for those who adhere to its dogma, but that’s voluntary. It has no moral authority because it no longer has any means of enforcing its definition of morality upon those of us that find it laughable. Religion lost it's authority when the 1st Amendment was ratified and a Constitutional expert like Thomas should know that.

Second, I doubt that science proving that homosexuality is not a choice will have any impact upon religion whatsoever. The right wing evangelical fruitcakes will simply ignore the evidence as they ignore the evidence about evolution. The so called liberals will probably start telling us how instrumental religion was in getting homosexuals, who are after all God’s children, accepted. Both will be lies, but lying is what religion does best isn’t it?

As for Thomas, I looked him up and he’s a Baptist Minister that belongs to the ACLU and has an abiding faith in the first amendment and the separation of church and state. I can’t understand how someone with his credentials swallows the whole Christianity thing. On the other hand, does he swallow it or does he just recognize a good gig when he sees it?

My last observation is a question. I wonder what the 10 things are? I bet I could come up with 10. Oh boy, my own 10 things list.

Alencon’s “10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs the Job).”

#10 – You really don’t have to drag your butt out of bed to go to church every Sunday.
#9 – All of your “Christmas Traditions” are pagan in origin.
#8 – You should really keep your donations to the church to feed your own family and fix up your own house. If Jesus could feed 4,000 people on a few loaves and fishes, why can’t he provide food and shelter for those who bring his word to the masses?
#7 – Men really did evolve from lower order animals.
#6 – Homosexuality isn’t a choice.
#5 – Jesus would be horrified to see what Christianity has done to his teachings
#4 – The bible IS full of errors, contradictions and absurdities.
#3 – Revelations is total hogwash.
#2 – The bible is NOT the word of God
#1 – You’re NOT going to heaven when you die.

Giants at Jaguars

God I hate Monday night games, especially those as ugly as last night’s. With seven defensive starters, plus Amani Toomer, sidelined with injuries, it could be a very long last few games.

If last night is any indication of what’s to come, maybe I’ll take up watching hockey. The final, very ugly, score was Jaguars 26 and Giants 10.

Elsewhere, the Eagles lost McNabb for the season and the Cowboys handed Indianapolis its first loss as Tony Romo begins to take on the appearance of a mobile John Elway. God I’m so depressed over the idea of Dallas winning the NFC East. Maybe Ronde can return three interceptions for touchdowns Thursday because that’s about the only way I can see Tampa Bay beating Dallas on Thanksgiving.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Jesus Doll for Christmas?

The Marine Reserve Toys for Tots program initially turned down an offer of 4,000 talking Jesus dolls from the manufacturer.

I understand the Marines’ logic since the toys could go to any needy child but it’s still hard to miss the irony of a decision that says that dolls of Jesus aren’t appropriate gifts at Christmas.

At least that was the initial decision. Now the Marines have decided to accept the 4,000 dolls and claim they have located appropriate places to donate them.

Well, that may be, but the fact that the toys needed special treatment sort of underscores the fact that maybe they weren’t a good idea to begin with doesn’t it? Now before everyone starts pointing out that Christmas is all about Jesus, allow me to point out that I covered that one last year here “Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?”

What most of us associate with Christmas, including the giving of gifts, is actually pagan in origin and was simply adapted by the early church for the new religion. That being the case, I don’t have a hard time associating the Toys for Tots program with the general holiday season rather than looking upon it as a Christmas specific thing.

I am uncomfortable whenever an agency associated with the government does anything that can be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religion or religion in general. If its Jesus dolls this year, what is it next year, video tapes of bible stories?

Yes this is the old slippery slope argument and I know full well that it is pure logical fallacy. Ignoring the slippery slope for the moment, there is still the concern that even the hint of government endorsement leads to two classes of citizens. There are the fully enfranchised citizens that are members of the endorsed group, and the second class citizens, that aren’t members of the endorsed group.

This was the division created by the Jim Crow laws in the past. This is the division created by Defense of Marriage Acts in the present. This is the division that too many evangelical Christian organizations advocate in defiance of the American tradition of the separation of church and state and the American principle of equal protection under the law.

Still, with that being said, I find it hard to justify not giving a toy to a child especially around Christmas.

I was on the company’s web site and they have five biblical dolls. For $20 you can choose from Jesus, Mary, Moses, David or Esther. The pitch is pure evangelical Protestant right down to Jesus mouthing John 3:3, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

So, according to the Jesus doll, if you’re not a “Born Again Christian” you’re going to hell. Will Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Greek Orthodox please form an orderly line by the down escalator? Non-Christians, please wait until the heretics are serviced.

I find it especially amusing that that the entire “Born Again” idea comes from a conversation that could only have been held in Greek because the play on words only works in Greek and not Aramaic, Hebrew or English. While it’s quite possible that Nicodemus spoke Greek, and not out of the realm of the reasonable that Jesus spoke Greek, it’s rather unlikely they would be talking privately in that language rather than Aramaic. In other words, I doubt that the conversation ever took place.

Anyway, I hope the kids enjoy the dolls.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Russ Isn’t Going to Run

I got an e-mail yesterday from Russ Feingold saying that he has decided to remain the junior Senator from Wisconsin and will not run for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination.

Shucks. Feingold struck me as a honest competent guy that would make a fine President. Oh well, maybe some other time. He’s still pretty young.

So who the heck does that leave me with? Rudi, Hillary, John Kerry or John McCain? Of course there’s always Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa, but I know absolutely nothing about him.

I didn’t vote for Kerry the last time around as much as I voted against Bush so he doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm. Besides, John will be working on getting his foot out of his mouth for years after that stuck in Iraq crack.

I lost my respect for McCain when he suddenly supported the teaching of Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution. If someone is willing to trade his integrity for the nomination, how can I have any confidence that he’ll do the right thing once he’s in the Oval Office?

That leaves Rudi and Hillary. I’d have to go with Rudi at the moment.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bears at Giants

My God what a depressing game. First of all I wasn’t all that thrilled at getting Flex Timed and then there was the rain, which really doesn’t bother me because I’m under the overhang in the lower deck, and then, and then, there was that absurd performance.

The game pivoted on two plays. The first was a third and 22 that the Bears had on their own 20 with 1:30 in the first half. Instead of having to punt they managed a draw play to pick up the first down. A few seconds later we got to half with the Giants only ahead 13-10 rather than 13-3. The funny thing is, the half would have run out if Coughlin hadn’t called time-out.

The second play was, of course, the botched field goal that was run back for a touchdown in the second half. There were 75,000 people yelling “NO, not a 51 yarder in the rain with a shaky kicker,” but Coughlin made the call and it turned into a complete disaster.

Bah. Final score Bears 38 and Giants 20.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lieberman in Control?

With both the Montana and Virginia senate races now going to Democrats we have a rather interesting situation of the Senate being composed or 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats and two Independents, Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Joe Lieberman from Connecticut.

Both Sanders and Lieberman say they will vote with the Democrats for organizational purposes which is why the Democrats have been declared to be in control of the Senate. Sanders is so far left that I think his head would explode if he ever even considered siding with the Republicans on anything but Lieberman is a whole different story.

After being beaten in the Democratic Primary and mounting a successful re-election campaign as an Independent, Lieberman owes nothing to anybody (or should it be nothing to everybody?) and can pretty much write his own ticket. Watch for Joe to do some maneuvering and horse trading over the next two years.

In the meantime Rumsfeld has "resigned." All I can say about that is it's about time. Now if we can only convince the other two spokes on the Axis of Evil, Bush and Cheney, to resign, we might be able to make some real progress toward entering the 21st century.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election 2006

Throw the bums out! That’s more or less what the voters did yesterday in what can only be interpreted as a repudiation of the Bush administration and the constant stream of scandals afflicting the Republican Party.

At last count the Democrats had gained 27 seats in the House. That will give them control of the House for the first time since 1994 and Nancy Pelosi stands ready to be first female Speaker and third in line for the presidency. The Democrats gained 4 seats in the Senate. Two seats, in Virginia and Montana, are still undecided. If both go to the Democrats then they will effectively control the Senate as well.

Closer to home Bob Menendez easily beat Tom Kean Jr. for the New Jersey Senate seat by something like 10 points. Junior will be back however and probably has a run for governor in his future. I don’t have a problem with Junior, and his Dad is a good guy, but I still voted for Menendez.

In other senate races I was interested in, the people of Florida soundly rejected Katherine Harris and, in Connecticut, Joe Lieberman, despite losing the Democratic primary, held on to his Senate seat. Good for the people of Florida but I'm not sure the folks in Connecticut made the right decision. Despite the fact that Lieberman says he will support the Democrats he strikes me as way too tolerate of the Bush Administration's policies.

Now let’s move on to some other stuff. Yes, seven states approved amendments banning gay marriage but by much smaller margins than in the past and, wonder of wonders, Arizona became the first state to defeat such a measure.

The extreme abortion ban, passed overwhelmingly by the legislature in South Dakota, was equally overwhelmingly rejected by the voters 55-45. In Missouri an initiative supporting stem cell research passed by a 51-49 margin.

I read these results as a repudiation of the extreme conservative position being pushed by the lunatic fringe in the Republican Party. By being loud and visible they’ve apparently managed to make it look like the country has abandoned its liberal roots. But this isn’t at all true. Like I’ve said many times, the average American is fair minded, ignorant as hell but fair minded. Right wing demagogues try to take advantage of that ignorance by establishing a climate of fear when there’s nothing to be afraid of. Once that ignorance is eliminated by education or knowledge the climate of fear, that the extreme right wing depends upon, evaporates.

Around the world people viewed the election results with a sigh of relief. Some sample quotes reported by the AP.

"’Of course, the citizens of the United States are humans with a conscience. It's a reprisal vote against the war in Iraq, against the corruption’ within the Bush administration, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said. ‘All this fills us with optimism.’”

You have to admit that the man has a way with words. I agree Hugo, I’m more optimistic that the world won’t go up in a big fireball today than I was last week.

“In an extraordinary joint statement, more than 200 Socialist members of the European Parliament hailed the American election results as "the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world.’”

We still have a long way to go though. The Bush Administration hasn’t been shy about doing whatever it wants in defiance of the law, what makes us think it will be shy about doing whatever it wants in defiance of Congress?

We still have to get rid the #1 Bum and replacing him with some equally moronic right winger in 2008 will just put us back where we started. Hillary is starting to look better and better but I’m still holding out for Russ Feingold. Although Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, was on the Bill Maher show a while back and he struck me as a very competent guy who might make a darn good president if he decided to run.

“One Frenchman, teacher Jean-Pierre Charpemtrat, 53, said it was about time U.S. voters figured out what much of the rest of the world already knew.”

Hey, let’s remember that more than half of us voted against Bush in 2000 and almost as many voted against him in 2004. Let's just say that it was about time more of the electorate figured it out.

“In Copenhagen, Denmark, 35-year-old Jens Langfeldt said he did not know much about the midterm elections but was opposed to Bush's values. He referred to the president as ‘that cowboy.’”

LOL! I like that, “that cowboy!” That is absolutely classic! Too bad it’s an insult to self-respecting cowboys everywhere.

“One opposition lawmaker (in Pakistan), Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, said he welcomed the election result but hoped for more. Bush ‘deserves to be removed, put on trial and given a Saddam-like death sentence,’ he said.”

That might be a little extreme, then again, on the other hand, maybe not. Just make sure you get Cheney at the same time Hafiz. We certainly don’t want to trade in Bush for Cheney.

Now let’s just hope that the Democrats don’t screw up so badly in the next two years that not only do the Republicans regain the House but keep the White House as well.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Texans and Giants

Well that was really ugly. Actually it was beyond ugly; it was downright disgraceful. Good thing it was just a game.

You have to win the ugly ones though and the Giants managed 14-10 but I wouldn’t write home about this one. Was everyone, except Tiki, out drinking the night before and hung over? Talk about playing down to an opponent.

Next week I get the “benefit” of flex scheduling as the Bears game gets shifted to Sunday night. I’m more than a little miffed about that. The game doesn’t start until 8:15. That means, unless we get blown out, not heading for home until after midnight. These people do understand that some of us work for a living don’t they?

Elsewhere the Bears turned the ball over 6 times and got butted by the Dolphins 31-13. The least they could have done was saved some of those turnovers for next Sunday. That loss leaves the Colts, at 8-0, as the last unbeaten team.

The weirdest game appears to have been played in Washington where three potential game winning field goals occurred in under a minute of play. First the Redskins missed, then the Cowboys got one blocked and then the Redskins put it away 22-19. That win sort of resuscitates the Redskins who would have been on the edge of elimination with another division loss. The Eagles looked the best of all the NFC East teams. They had a Bye week.

So half the season is over and how do things look? I know you’re just waiting for me to look like a complete idiot by getting everything wrong again aren’t you? Last year I did worse than someone could do by reading tea leaves or flipping coins but that’s what makes it fun.

AFC East
New England wins the division. No one else makes the playoffs.

AFC North
Baltimore wins the division. Cincinnati grabs a Wild Card berth.

AFC South
Indianapolis wins the division. Jacksonville gets a Wild Card spot.

AFC West
San Diego wins the division and both Denver and Kansas City get eeked out of a playoff position.

NFC East
Philadelphia wins the division and Dallas manages a Wild Card slot. My poor Giants fall victim to mounting injuries and an impossible schedule and miss the playoffs this year.

NFC North
Chicago wins the division. No one else makes the playoffs.

NFC South
Atlanta roars back in the second half of the season to win the division. New Orleans manages a Wild Card slot.

NFC West
Seattle wins the division. No one else makes the playoffs.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Biblical Counseling?

I am constantly amazed at the depth of my ignorance related to the general irrationalness of American society. I keep running into things where my immediate reaction is “you have got to be kidding me!”

This time around it was a passing reference on the game show “Wheel of Fortune” which I will confess I sometimes watch while wolfing down dinner. By way of introducing herself a contestant said that she was pursuing a degree in “Biblical Counseling.” I looked at my wife and asked “what the hell is biblical counseling?” But she didn’t know either. So I fired up my trusty PC and looked it up on the web.

It appears to be psychological counseling encumbered by biblical correctness and, as far as I can tell, looks very, very, dangerous. Essentially these people toss out all of modern psychology and psychiatry where it conflicts with biblical interpretation.

Allow me to quote from the covenant of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC), an organization that certifies biblical counselors.

“We deny that secular theories and practices are manifestations of General Revelation or Common Grace. We affirm that they are, in fact, attempts to substitute the “discoveries” of rebellious human thought for the truths revealed in Scripture, and are, therefore, in competition with a proper interpretation of General Revelation and with biblical counseling. They cannot be integrated with the Faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

I don’t know much about psychology but I think I would hesitate tossing out Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner and Carl Rogers wholesale. The word “Nouthetic,” by the way, comes from the Greek verb “noutheteo” often used by Paul and interpreted as either to admonish, to correct or to instruct.

I found some of the justifications for tossing out modern psychology illuminating. So here are some quotes from a page on “Biblical Counseling.”

“Conventional psychiatry believes that mental illness exists.”

Yeah, are you saying that it doesn’t? Actually, that’s precisely what they seem to be saying.

“Most problems stem from a faulty relationship with God.”

Really? So does that mean that you can predict the existence or absence of mental problems based upon someone’s relationship with God? How does one determine what someone’s relationship with God happens to be? Is there a database of God’s relationships that I’ve overlooked?

“Man is not a higher form of animal but rather a creation of God.”

Oh well, so much for the sciences of biology, paleontology, zoology, astronomy, cosmology and geology.

“According to the Scriptures man is responsible for his behavior.”

In general this is accurate as long as one is competent to understand the potential consequences of that behavior and the difference between right and wrong. Biblical counseling however appears to accept this as an unconditional statement. The last I looked, that wasn’t the accepted medical opinion.

“Mankind at the core is sinful, inherently evil.”

This is total bullfeathers. Mankind is nothing at the core other than an advanced form of animal bred by natural selection to have strong survival and reproductive instincts. The instincts are good; the available paths one may follow to satisfy those instincts are labeled by society as either good or evil. These definitions are enforced by sanctions that are essentially the behavior modification strategy talked about by Skinner.

Then we go into what are called “presuppositions” critical to biblical counseling. This is what they’re calling them and not me so first let’s consider the definition of “presupposition” which is “to believe that a particular thing is true before there is any evidence of it.”

This means that these people are counseling mentally disturbed individuals based upon axioms that have absolutely no evidence of being correct. Freud and Skinner may have been wrong but at least their theories had some basis in evidence and experimentation. If you don’t consider this dangerous I’d like to know why?

“The Bible is the inspired, inherent Word of God, the final authority regarding faith and practice (II Timothy 3:16,17). It thoroughly equips for living.”

Let’s start with the fact that the authorship of II Timothy, one of the three pastorals, is open to debate. While traditions, and most conservative Christians, firmly attribute the authorship of the letter to Paul, critical scholarship places the authorship in doubt.

Then let’s consider what the quote actually says.

II Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

I don’t see the conclusion following from this quote. The passage is simply saying that scripture is useful for moral instruction and even I wouldn’t debate that. Note that “useful” does not in any way imply complete or “final authority” regarding practice. Nor does the passage in any way imply that scripture “thoroughly equips for living.” This is another example of heroic eisegesis forcing the text to say what one wants it to say.

“Man's basic problem is a sin problem (Romans 1, Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 53:6, Psalm 51)”

No man’s basic problem is not a sin problem. That has got to be the single stupidest idea in all of Christianity. The concept of “sin” has undoubtedly caused more grief for mankind than all other causes put together. What defines sin anyway? Paul said that sin was defined by the law but righteousness was defined by faith and grace rather than simple obedience to the law. In other words, if you broke the law you sinned, but if you obeyed the law you got absolutely nothing unless you also had faith.

Paul, in Romans, spins a complex, at times downright illucid, tapestry trying to explain the relationship of sin, the law and faith. Paul does take the position that man is by nature corrupt. Of course Paul also takes the position that sexual relations are a bad thing and that marriage should only be for those that can’t control themselves. That sort of leaves any and all of Paul’s opinions more than a little suspect.

As for Jeremiah, Isaiah and Psalm 51, we have more heroic eisegesis. Psalm 51 is David’s lament over committing adultery with Bathsheba and addresses his own personal corruption. It has absolutely nothing to do with mankind in general.

Isaiah 53:6 is in the middle of the Suffering Servant passages and simply laments that all of the people have turned away from God and as a result God has laid upon the Suffering Servant of Israel punishment for the unfaithfulness of the people. Specifically this probably refers to the siege of Jerusalem and capture of King Manassah by the Babylonians.

Isaiah 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Jeremiah 17 is a lament, and a threat, because the people of Judah have turned away from God and established altars to false gods. This is a specific, and not a general, indictment about acts that are about to be rectified by King Josiah so, again, I don’t see this as leading to the supposed conclusion.

“Man was created for God's pleasure, as a morally responsible being.”

You mean I’m a toy? Gee whiz, imagine that? If God exists, and is responsible for the creation of the universe, then I am indebted to him for the gift of life. But I am not obligated to exist merely for his amusement nor do I think that would be his purpose. Again I find the pettiness of the deity assumed by fundamentalist Christianity absolutely appalling. If I were God I’d be terribly insulted, or, perhaps more likely, highly amused.

I find the entire concept of people attempting to treat folks in mental distress based upon biblical presuppositions while disregarding all of modern psychology and psychiatry absolutely horrifying. This strikes me as the psychological equivalent of faith healing. The fact that these people actually believe in this approach doesn’t excuse the harm that they may be doing. A faith healer merely betrays the individual he claims to heal. It’s unlikely that person’s infirmity is going to endanger someone else. This however is a whole different kettle of fish. Someone with mental problems may very well be a danger to people other than himself.

Hopefully I’m over reacting here, but I’m really afraid that I’m not.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

God in America

I’m a member of the Counsel for Secular Humanism. The last newsletter I received from the counsel was advertising a debate schedule for November 2 in Chicago on “whether believing in the existence of a god affects the nation in any moral, social or political sense. “

The main participants will be Edwin Kagin, the legal director of American Atheists, and William Lane Craig. I’m familiar with William Lane Craig and I suspect that Kagin is about to get his clock cleaned. You see Kagin probably expects an honest exchange and I'm not all that sure that Craig will let himself be shackled by little things like truth and honesty.

I remember one lecture by Craig, where he reeled off the handful of documents providing possible historical evidence that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed, and then declared that all historians accepted them as incontrovertible proof that Jesus of Nazareth lived, taught and died in Palestine in the first century. This was a statement which I knew to be untrue and which I was pretty sure Craig knew was untrue as well. If Craig didn't simply mispeak, then it was a lie that he was hoping his audience would accept as fact.

This is the Eusebius approach to theology and evangelicalism which believes that lying for the benefit of the faith is ok. In other words, the end justifies the means. This only works if the flock never learns, or never accepts, that you lied to them. With modern communications, more, and more, religion has to rely on the latter to keep the faithful in line. It’s really too bad that humans are so good at self delusion. If they weren’t, religion would be an endangered species. But would that be a good thing?

That gets us back to the original question; does believing in God affect the nation in any moral, social or political sense? I don’t see how anyone in his right mind could answer that question in the negative. Of course it affects the country morally, socially and politically.

The easiest one is socially. The local church is still a focus of social activities in many places and there is nothing wrong with this. Humans are social animals and contact with other humans is something that most people need and relish. Of course a secular social club would work just as well, but sometimes you just can’t fight tradition. Are the social activities used to foster church dogma? Maybe, but I doubt that’s the objective. In other words I don’t think there are ulterior motives here.

As for politically, DUH, do you think that we would be fighting as much over things like abortion access, stem cell research and gay marriage if there wasn’t a belief in God? I’ll grant you that one can believe in God without getting all wrapped up in religion, and the claims of religion to speak for God, but that’s usually not the case. Most people equate their religion with God. I would say that right about now the belief in God, and religion, is one of the driving factors in the political spectrum of the United States.

That brings us to morally. The faithful would argue that it is morality that defines the political position. The faithful would say that they take the political positions they take because they’re concerned about “moral values.” I’ll concede that, but I want to talk about something else, I want to talk about the question of whether the removal of the belief in God would affect the moral behavior of the country.

Unfortunately I have to say yes, I believe that it would. I’m well aware that there is no current difference in the morality of religious folks and secular folks; as a matter of fact some surveys indicate that secular individuals are MORE moral and ethical than religious people. However I’m also aware that the current pool of secular individuals represents the highest strata of education and intelligence in the population.

Most of the intelligent and educated are people who would probably adhere to the philosophy of Diogenes and Plato that virtue is its own reward. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule but it clearly applies in general. But what about the lower portion of the bell curve? I don’t think it’s unfair to say that, even today, most crime is associated with that portion of the population that has the lowest intelligence and the least education. Much of the reason for this is economic rather than moral philosophy but the overwhelming majority of people that are economically deprived (that’s a euphemism for poor) are also morally beyond reproach. I’m willing to bet that most of them are strong people of faith too. If you removed their faith, would they still be moral?

Seneca the Younger said “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” Napoleon observed that “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.” Both are implying that religion helps hold the lower orders in check and therefore provides a benefit to society. If one removed the belief in the authority of God and the fear of punishment after death what would happen? I’m not sure that I can answer that question completely but I suspect that it would remove the constraints that are currently holding a portion of the population in check.

One more quote, this one from Polybius.

"Since the masses of the people are inconstant, full of unruly desires, passionate, and reckless of consequences, they must be filled with fears to keep them in order. The ancients did well, therefore, to invent gods, and the belief in punishment after death."

It’s rather a depressing thought that something as irrational as religion may have a value to society that we can’t do without isn’t it?