Archive for September 19th, 2005

Reason #705 Why Religious Zealotry Is Unhealthy

From an NYT Magazine article by an ex-evangelical revisiting his youth on the occasion of a Billy Graham revival tour:

The caricature of American evangelicals as incurious and indifferent to learning is false. Visit any Christian bookstore and you will see that they are gluttons for learning – of a certain kind. They belong to Bible-study groups; they buy works of scriptural interpretation; they sit through tedious courses on cassette, CD or DVD; they take notes during sermons and highlight passages in their Bibles. If anything, it is their thirst for knowledge that undoes them. Like so many Americans, they know little about history, science, secular literature or, unless they are immigrants, foreign cultures. Yet their thirst for answers to the most urgent moral and existential questions is overwhelming. So they grab for the only glass in the room: God’s revealed Word.

A half-century ago, an American Christian seeking assistance could have turned to the popularizing works of serious religious thinkers like Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, John Courtney Murray, Thomas Merton, Jacques Maritain and even Martin Buber and Will Herberg. Those writers were steeped in philosophy and the theological traditions of their faiths, which they brought to bear on the vital spiritual concerns of ordinary believers
– ethics, death, prayer, doubt and despair. But intellectual figures like these have disappeared from the American landscape and have been replaced by half-educated evangelical gurus who either publish vacant, cheery self-help books or are politically motivated. If an evangelical wants to satisfy his taste for truth today, it’s strictly self-service.

And I can see now how this state of affairs breeds a narrow fanaticism.
Until age 14, my own reading was pretty much limited to comic books, Mad Magazine, histories of the World Wars and the occasional Hardy Boys mystery. Then I discovered the strange new world of the Bible. That discovery might have led me to other books, but there was no one to guide me onto that path. So the Bible became my only portal into the realm of ideas – ideas about morality, justice, cosmology, psychology, eschatology, mortality. The Bible posed all the important questions, questions that were vaguely forming in my adolescent mind, but that now took on shape and contour. And, of course, it answered those questions.

I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to have my literary and intellectual horizon narrowed to encompass a single, solitary book, much less a two-thousand-year-old one from a completely different world. It would be like living in a coffin designed for an alien.

He also has some interesting reminiscences of his prayer group, and it provides some fascinating insight into the comfort and ecstasy of the religious experience. I still want no part of it, though.

1 comment September 19th, 2005 at 06:56pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Religion

How Bill Clinton Sabotaged The Democrats

Talking Human Former President Bill Clinton has begun cropping up in the news again lately, alternately defending and trashing President Bush’s job performance, and sparking renewed debate in the blogosphere (or at least in the Eschaton comments) about whether he was a good or a bad president.

I personally thought he was a pretty good president, even if he was a little too centrist and corporate. He was articulate and scary smart, had some degree of genuine compassion for the little guy, and he certainly cared about his legacy. He was far more fiscally and environmentally responsible than most Republicans, and presided over an economic boom and a budget surplus. On the other hand, he never really lived up to his promise, and he did some really stupid things: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the botched healthcare fiasco, some fundraising indiscretions, schtupping an intern, and a flurry of dodgy pardons at the end of his term.

But his foolishness and folly is not what damaged his party – it was his brilliance and savvy that doomed the Democrats to irrelevancy. Clinton was such a skillful and charismatic campaigner that he won two presidential elections while hampered by a centrist, DLC platform and a weak, out-of-touch Democratic political machine. Unfortunately, the Democratic establishment drew the wrong conclusion and reasoned that Clinton had won because of that triangulation and campaign infrastructure. They consequently tried to repeat the same formula in 2000 and 2004, with candidates who were unable to connect with voters or articulate a clear, forceful message. To date, they evince neither inclination nor aptitude to find or cultivate a new generation of fiery, charismatic candidates; indeed, their first instinct is to shove such boatrockers to the side in favor of the more staid, establishment candidates who bore voters to tears. Hopefully Howard Dean’s ascension to DNC Chair and Paul Hackett’s near-upset in Ohio will lead to some changes, but as always, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Note: I should fess up that the idea of Clinton winning despite Democratic ineptitude stems from an NYT op-ed contributor whose name I have lost in the mists of time, who argued that the Republicans had built a solid, multi-tiered pyramidal support structure that can (and did) elect pretty much any idiot to the office of president, whereas the Democrats have to cross their fingers and pray for a home-run candidate. If anyone can point me to that column, I will be happy to cite it – I think it was one of the many 2004 post-mortems, or maybe even older.

2 comments September 19th, 2005 at 06:07pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Clinton,Democrats,Elections,Favorites,Politics

Avast, Ye Scurvy Lubbers!

D’yahhrrr, me hearties! ‘Tis Talk Like A Pirate Day, and ye’d all better speak properly, else you’ll get a taste of me lash, or get me boot up yer poop deck!

1 comment September 19th, 2005 at 11:31am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness

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