Saturday, December 27, 2008

Seasons Greetings from the Cultural and Commercial One-Party State!!

(In which I determine that Christopher Hitchens' hates Christmas solely on the basis that the newspapers print more crap in December, including his own.)

Christopher Hitchens hates Christmas. What a shock. Let's find out why . . .
Isn't Christmas a moral and aesthetic nightmare[?]

A moral nightmare? I'll reserve judgment on that. But I suspect that the aesthetic nightmare is a substantial part of it. [LATER: Having read the piece, he makes no case for Christmas/Christianity as a moral nightmare, merely an irrelvancy. He does go on about the aesthetics of it. Thank goodness for the cultural elite.] Those plastic heat-molded nativities have given rise to the unabashedly tacky ten-foot tall inflatable penguin snowglobes on every other lawn down the street. Oh yes, those are an aesthetic nightmare, along with the ugly criss-cross of wires across roofs and lawns you see in the afternoon when you drive down our street, with odd sun-bleached creche trotted out by the less fortunate (those without Costco memberships). It's hideous, even. Luckily the sun isn't up long enough most days to get the full ugly effect. But the nights, the nights! The whole street blazes.

The core objection, which I restate every December at about this time, is that for almost a whole month, the United States—a country constitutionally based on a separation between church and state—turns itself into the cultural and commercial equivalent of a one-party state.

Actually, the way I read it, the Constitution in both intent and as enacted was meant to ensure the full freedom to celebrate religion without restriction by the government. Presumably, the free exercise clause would extent to celebrating in both the cultural and commercial realms. The US was never meant by the vast majority of the framers to be a secular nation, the Constitution doesn't (and shouldn't) protect you from the free exercise of others' religion. People were simply meant to follow their religion without the dictates of the state. So the state doesn't get to decide that things are "too Christian" and prohibit the practice. It's not the state's fault that most of the roots of our culture are firmly Christian. God love the Constitution for it.

Hitch goes on to whine about "Dear Leader" propaganda (although I'm guessing he sees a bit more Santa than Jesus). But first he talks about seeing decorations in "train stations and airports" and then "to a more private place, such as a doctor's office or a store or a restaurant." All, though, are private property (if the first two aren't, they should be). So the Constitution isn't really something we're talking about anymore. The Constitution respects the rights of private actors to celebrate and take part in the celebration. Why would you object to the fact that so many private actors happen to agree! Unless you can tell me what your substantive objection is to the holiday observances, I call BS on your process argument.

He goes on to make the universal conservative fallback argument - "think of the children!!" (gasp/chest clutch).
you cannot bar your own private door to the hectoring, incessant noise,
Um, what is he talking about here?
but must have it literally brought home to you by your offspring.
Is he talking about the mention of Christmas in the public schools? At least that would tie his non sequitur about the Constitution into the piece. But of course, the most conservative and more observant Christians would probably tend to favor privatization of the school system. I wonder, though, how much the fact that government is so heavily involved in the nation's schools operates to promote, rather than dampen, widespread religious impulses and practices. I was fortunate enough to go to a private Catholic high school where we got to sing the religious carols in the liturgical choir instead of the Frosty/Rudolph pap. Maybe infusing more religion into the celebration would help to alleviate the aesthetic objection to December's decor. But if we're talking about indoctrinating the offspring, I don't think you can make the argument that it's the fault of the public school system for the celebration without recognizing that the existence of public schools may be suppressing religious indoctrination, which seems to be a more serious affront to the spirit of the Constitution's protection of religion (although admittedly not a violation of its letter).
Time that is supposed to be devoted to education is devoted instead to the celebration of mythical events.
Most of the kids around here are on month-long winter break. Should the kids not get vacations? At any rate, no celebration of mythology should be permitted. No wonder here - stamp that out. What poor beasts would Hitchens raise, I wonder. And Hitch? You're not going to win many people over by claiming that what they believe to be fact is mere myth. You may not believe that to be true, but guess what. We can agree to disagree. Why? The great United States doesn't impose one belief system on us all.

Then he whines for awhile about Christmas kitch in the media. Eh. The newspapers print garbage all year long. Literally. The unsolicited local rag is clogging up the recycling bin, still in its wrapper.
Imagine that conclusive archaeological and textual evidence emerged to prove that the whole story of the birth, life, and death of Jesus of Nazareth was either a delusion or a fabrication?
And then, after that, suppose we imagine that man walked the Earth with the Satan-lizards, who died in Noah's flood because they didn't fit on the big boat, and that there is a grand conspiracy to forge australopithicene remnants to fling into the Great Rift Valley when you secularists are all looking to other way. Wait, I can't do that. The vast weight of evidence is against that position. As does the vast weight of extant evidence exist on the side of the actual life and death of a person named Jesus of Nazareth. As for the divinity of Christ, the vast weight of evidence I've seen is on the side of the Church as well. Jesus told us what we are for and how we should live. I see the collective efforts of humanity to adhere to his message and what happens when they adhere to the message or deviate from it. I don't believe a mere mortal could have given such a perfect set of instructions, irregardless of how imperfectly we all follow them. That builds up credibility with me. As others have noted, Jesus claimed to be God. Therefore, he is either God, or he is a liar, or he is insane. I believe he is the former for a number of reasons. But I also believe his teachings on the meaning and purpose of humanity are too perfect for him to be either of the latter.
Serious Christians, of the sort I have been debating lately, would have no choice but to consider such news as absolutely calamitous.
Certainly, but what an argument to make! Imagine that every believer in history was either a liar or misguided. Imagine that all the evidence you've ever relied on was either a fabrication or delusion. Imagine you've been living in a Matrix-like fantasy programmed along the internal logic of Christian teaching, when the real world outside the mainframe follows no such moral logic. In short, imagine that you lack the capacity for reason. Then try to debate the point, and you will lose! Well, yes. But I am unsure of what that exercise proves.

Then, a bold claim:
If monotheism . . . were to be utterly and finally discredited, we would be exactly where we are now.
Most Christians will tell you that the monotheism part is more incidental to the central message of Christianity, which is the essential goodness of God's creation. It's not self-evident that we would be where we are culturally or morally if we were to discredit the idea that existence is good.
All the agonizing questions that we face, from the idea of the good life and our duties to each other to the concept of justice and the enigma of existence itself, would be just as difficult and also just as fascinating.
Would they really? If you posit the nonexistence of any benevolent creator god, then you must be open to the question that mankind was not created. You admit the possibility that creation is not good. That man is not good. It seems to me that that would make the "agonizing questions" all the more difficult. It's not going to help us actually determine what our duties are to each other if we must first stop and debate whether we are, as a threshhold matter, worth anything at all. .
If the totalitarians cannot bear to abandon their adoration of their various Dear Leaders, can they not at least arrange to hold their ceremonies in private?
During the homily at midnight mass on Christmas eve/morning, the priest bade us to give thanks for our freedom. I do. I am very thankful that the Constitution protects me from people like Christopher Hitchens, who would have me celebrate the goodness of mankind and the hope for salvation in private, in secret, in the dark.

Pardon me?

(In which sweeping generalizations about character cause me to make a political prediction)

Megan McCardle writes:

Can we hold off excusing Clinton's egregious pardons on the grounds of Bush's pardoning all of his subordinates for horrible crimes until Bush, y'know, actually pardons some subordinates for horrible crimes?
Which leads me to wonder if perhaps she misread the post in question. But sure enough:
I wonder if the media will point out the comparative significance of the use (and abuse) of the power of the pardon in the context of Holder's hearings and the pardons that Bush will inevitably hand down to his inner circle.

I think the likelihood of Bush pardoning his inner circle is exceedingly low for a number of reasons: Bush's idealism and optimism, Obama's thoughtful rationality, and because it will create a wedge between Obama and the far left.

Bush seems to be a pretty principled guy - he decides what the right thing is then, everything else be damned, he goes for it. It's not conservative principle, and I disagree with what he's decided are the "right" things to pursue, but I have no doubt that he sincerely believes he's doing the right thing. (The extreme range of disagreement on this point is the most obvious dividing line between the mainstream Democrats and far-left netroots). But pardoning his inner circle will seem like an admission by Bush that he knows his administration has been in the wrong morally and legally (instead of just politically) throughout. That Bush would "inevitably" issue pardons would make sense for leftists whose worldview envisions Bush and Cheney as cynical cigar-toting fatcats laughing as they waterboard their subordinates. It doesn't seem that inevitable to those who think that Bush sincerely believes that he's doing the right thing, however misguided he seems to be at times. And I don't think Bush would want to give satisfaction or credence to those who've screamed the whole time that he's been acting with criminal intent.

Bush also seems to be an idealist and an optimist (see, "We'll be greeted as liberators"). I don't think he actually thinks that there will actually be any criminal prosecutions of members of his administration. I think he's expecting Obama not to play politics on this one. Obama, for all his shortcomings, is a pretty thoughtful guy. He's also a lawyer and law professor. I'm certain that he's spent huge portions of his adult life thinking about the theory of government: why it exists, what it should do, how it can be improved. Not just the policy, but the very nature and purpose, and how the structure of government itself helps to facilitate or impede its effects. And he's got to know, as Bush does, that the strength of the United States is its flexibility. Left-leaning "Living Constitutionalists" like Obama probably have an easier time wrapping their minds around the idea that the people should always be able to have a say to change the effects and the structure of government. After all, the Constitution, they tell us, is not a suicide pact. Obama knows better than to try to enact his agenda and then set it in stone. For one thing, he won't be able to accomplish everything he wants to and will need room for future "progress." The single greatest feature of the United States government is the free election. There is no flexibility in government without an orderly transition of power. There's no more need for the guillotine and attendant rivers of blood in the streets when you can vote a revolution every four years. But you're going to lose the "orderly" part of the transition when you raise the stakes of losing for the deposed party. Even though politicians are generally crooks, the increasing tendency to criminalize political conduct is concerning. Jailing your political opponents when they fall out of power is for banana republics. The United States is or ought to be better than that. It's a half-step removed from killing the sons of the conquered king. It's tribal. It's animalistic. It's an impulse we should resist. I think Obama will. I'm positive that it's something he's thought about quite a bit. And Obama hasn't ever, as far as I've been able to tell, made any representations about wanting to prosecute Bush officials. I don't know why Bush would expect him to. Without prosecution, there is no need for a pardon.

Finally, and this may be the most significant, refusing to pardon administration officials will cause Obama to stay closer to the political center and not to stray to the far left. Obama's already started to indicate that he's not going to marginalize the right. (See, Rick Warren). The far-leftists are screaming for the heads of Dick Cheney and John Yoo. I don't think Obama will want to prosecute for the reasons above and because I don't think he wants to get mired in the muck of the last eight years. Why would the "Change" president want to spend his political capital on fruitless prosecutions when he's got an extremely ambitious domestic agenda to enact? But by letting the far left scream about prosecutions, as I've no doubt they'll continue to do, Bush can help drive a wedge between Obama and the far left. Risky? Maybe, but it's not like Obama actually owes anything to the far left. Their support has been so enthusiastic and so unconditional that he hasn't had to make any promises or concessions for their support. If Bush takes the prosecutions off the table by issuing pardons, maybe he'll pave the way for a less fraught relationship between Obama and the leftists. Let them keep screaming for something they'll never get, and the far left will only marginalize itself.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Gays = blacks" is a bad political analogy.

(In which the Rick Warren outcry proves that pro-gay marriage forces really are engaged in a culture war against Christians.)

Let me get this straight: No one who isn't gay can oppose gay marriage because it's not going to affect your marriage. Ergo - it's not going to affect you at all.

Your concerns about the social, political, and governmental effects of such a profound legal shift are unfounded, because your slippery slope arguments are paranoid and after all, gays don't want to impose anything on you, they just want to be left in peace to quietly enjoy the rights that they have.

So you don't need to worry that people like Andrew Sullivan declare war on the "Christianists" and Mormons and the violent Prop-8 protestors because you started it, and they're going to back right off when they get what they want. You're not supposed to care that state bar organizations are considering requiring all new attorneys to swear fealty to the idea of gay behavoir as morally neutral as a condition of practicing law in the state. And you're not supposed to worry about the lefty outrage at Rick Warren's participation in the Obama inauguration, even though he's just there to say a prayer.

Except: Shouldn't we worry about that? Shouldn't we worry that political activists are trying to drum believers out of any participation in public life?

I support civil unions, but not marriage. It's a hard position, because all someone needs to do is throw out the phrase "Separate But Equal" to end the argument. We all know about "Separate But Equal" is evil. No more discussion. And I can certainly see the appeal in trying to analogize the gay-marriage activists of today with civil rights-era crusaders of the past. We can look back and identify in stark moral terms that one side of that issue was good, and the other was evil.

But that analogy backfires. There is no place anywhere near the mainstream of modern society for members of the KKK. Gay-marriage activists, when appealing to that argument, relegate most traditional Christians to the status of Klansmen. They are saying if this is your belief, then get out of society. We don't want you anywhere close to society. And if you give your kid some wackadoo name, we won't put "Happy Birthday, Jesus" on his birthday cake either.

Besides, if anything, the Christians will identify with the persecuted minority in the analogy anyway. The gay marriage activists act as though religious belief is something that can or should be changed. Strong believers might say that that religious belief is more like having a different skin color. It's not something you can change.

If it's just civil rights that gays are after (ie: "the 147billion government benefits conferred by marriage" that we're always hearing about), then perhaps the gay rights movement would be better served by finding a way to attain the rights themselves in a way that allows others to recognize and respect their rights without having to actually change their minds about the morality.

A good way to do that would be to push for marriage equivalent unions that the government labels as something other than "marriage," which has a distinct doctrinal meaning and special significance within many of the Christian faith.