A Falun Dafa protest parade

Reporting from San Francisco, on the 15th anniversary of the Chinese crackdown…

The procession began with a marching band, but this was the only component it had in common with a typical American celebratory parade. This was a much more serious affair. For though it superficially looked like a parade, it was actually a protest against the People’s Republic of China and that country’s persecution of practitioners the Falun Dafa spiritual discipline.

The marching band behind this large identifying banner led the procession, which contained hundreds of people.

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Mark Jackson needs self-awareness counseling

Fired Golden State head coach preaches the virtues of paying your dues, even though he never paid any himself.

Mark Jackson, until recently coach of the Golden State Warriors, was fired for clashing with, well, just about everyone in Golden State who wasn’t as evangelically zealous as himself.

That included one of his bosses, board member Jerry West, a highly rated former assistant who’s now a head coach, Michael Malone, and two of his assistants this past season, Brian “White Mamba” Scalabrine and Darren Erman. Jackson tried to fire Scalabrine in front of the team and did fire Erman, who promptly was hired by the Celtics. In a recent radio interview, Jackson makes it clear why Scalabrine and Erman simply had to go: They weren’t willing to pay their dues. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsMatter

Words Matter: Industrial climate disruption is not a religion

CATEGORY: ReligionWeekFor other posts in the Words Matter series, please click here

religion
a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices (source)

Some people falsely allege that industrial climate disruption is a religion. This allegation is blatantly flawed, as is the related allegation that industrial climate disruption is a cult. But that doesn’t prevent deniers of industrial climate disruption from making the false allegation in an attempt to render the underlying science moot.

As shown in the definition above, a religion is a set of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices, with the key word being “religious.” Religion requires the worship of some greater power or divinity. Scientific disciplines do not. In general, religion concerns itself with faith and adherence to established doctrine whether or not the doctrine make sense. Science, on the other hand, concerns itself with what is observable, what can be explained using logic and mathematics, and what can be tested with experiments or future observations.

Industrial climate disruption does not postulate any particular greater power or divinity. This fact alone disproves the claim that climate disruption is a religion. But for the sake of argument, what greater power or divinity could possibly be invoked by industrial climate disruption? The measured infrared properties of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane make poor deities, seeing as they’re not imbued with any intelligence. Climate models also make poor greater powers since they are merely simulations based on fundamental physics that respond blindly to their inputs. And the various fundamental laws of physics used in climate models are as unintelligent as a molecule of carbon dioxide is.

The only way to make industrial climate disruption into a religion is to redefine the entirety of science itself as a religion. And at that point we might as well say that the Babel Fish is the proof of the non-existence of God, prove that black is white, and avoid zebra crosswalks thereafter (ref.).

And for those industrial climate disruption deniers who go even further and call industrial climate disruption a “cult,” cults are a subset of religions. Specifically, a cult is “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious” (source). If industrial climate disruption can’t be a religion, than it can’t be a cult either.

So why do deniers of industrial climate disruption make a blatantly flawed allegation? Some truly are ignorant of the differences between religion and science. Some may be so opposed to policies they fear will result from accepting industrial climate disruption as real that they have unconsciously chosen to ignore the blatant flaw. But the rest know that the allegation is false, but they allege it anyway in an attempt to discredit industrial climate disruption as a whole.

Since the Renaissance, science has earned a privileged place in human culture. Individuals and organizations make decisions every day based on what the best available science tells them will happen. For example, scientists knew that Mount Saint Helens was going to erupt weeks before it ultimately did – the evacuations ordered by the Governor of Washington as a result of the work of geologists monitoring the volcano saved thousands of lives. Given the privileged place science holds, if the science underlying industrial climate disruption is accepted, then naturally individuals and organizations will start changing how the interact with each other and with the world as a result. Those changes would naturally create winners and losers, and many of the people and businesses on top today would sustain massive losses in the process.

If successful, branding industrial climate disruption as a religion is a shortcut. Instead of having to challenge the expertise of each and every climate scientist one by one, they can all be tarnished as “high priests.” Instead of having to demonstrate errors in thousands of peer-reviewed studies, all the studies can be dismissed as mere holy writ. And instead of having to disprove multiple well-established scientific laws and independent lines of evidence that all demonstrate the reality of industrial climate disruption, all that information can be conveniently swept under the rug with rhetoric

If industrial climate disruption can be branded as a religion, then it can essentially be ignored. The individuals and organizations (both businesses and governments) who stand to lose the most can dismiss industrial climate disruption by saying “We don’t have to change to satisfy the religious beliefs of Jews, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, or pagans, so we don’t need to change to satisfy climate disruption either.” Governments of countries where separation of church and state is codified can go even further, claiming that creating policies to address industrial climate disruption would be in breach of that very separation.

Industrial climate disruption has no greater power or deity and thus cannot be a religion. But that won’t stop deniers from misusing “religion” in an attempt to discredit industrial climate disruption.

Words matter – and sometimes they’re misused on purpose.

CATEGORY: PoliticsReligion

The devil is in the details: WHICH Christianity are we making the official state religion, exactly?

CATEGORY: PoliticsReligionLegislators in North Carolina recently introduced a bill to make Christianity the official state religion. That bill has now been turfed, but we can probably expect similar moves in the future.

An Omnibus Poll, sponsored by YouGov.com and the Huffington Post, reveals just how far from the nation’s roots we have traveled on the subject of separating church and state and retaining the nation’s neutrality when it comes to how Americans chose to practice their respective religions.

According to the survey, 34 percent of Americans would favor making Christianity their official state religion while less than half (47 percent) oppose the concept. Thirty-two percent of those polled indicated that they would also favor a constitutional amendment that would make Christianity the official religion of the United States with just over half (52 percent) opposing the notion.

Leaving aside for a second the abject failure of millions of Americans to grasp the most basic precepts of their Constitution, this poll actually provides more questions than answers. Lots more. And in truth, these are questions with roots that are hundreds of years old.

If you’ve visited America anytime during the past couple of centuries, you realize that the nation has something of a church and state problem. You can argue the details all you like, but the bottom line is that the Framers of the Constitution set the stage for controversy by being too damned vague. I mean, “separation of Church and State” – what the hell does that really mean, anyway? We have these problems before us today because Jefferson, Madison and Co. didn’t have the basic good sense to insist on specificity, which is odd, given that all the Founding Fathers were pretty clearly fundamentalists. As, one assumes, were the Founding Mothers. They just toss terms like “God” and “Church” and “separation” around like we all know what they mean, when clearly we don’t.

So here’s what we have to do. Let’s forget separation of Church and State and accept that we are One Nation Under God, In God We damned sure Do Trust, and that we are a Christian Nation® (this part is crucial). Let’s get past all that soulless secular humanism and By God establish a state religion. Better yet, let’s charge Congress with the job, since so many of the members of that august body have thought long and hard on the subject already.

Here’s how it works. The U.S. will adopt as our national religion that which Congress can agree on sufficiently to pass by a two-thirds majority, and by this I mean they must pass each plank of the resolution by that margin. Understand, “God” is way too vague, and you can’t very well build a moral society around vagaries. We have to insist that Congress agree on what God is and how He (She) should be worshiped.

For instance, we’ll need Congress to decide whether the Bible is intended as a metaphorical guide or as literal, journalistic fact. Was Mary literally a virgin? Did Abraham literally live 900 years? Did Moses literally tie his ass to a tree and walk 40 miles? These are not small issues, and if they are not settled by legislative fiat we risk another millennium of sectarian strife.

Other issues we’ll need Congress to rule on:

  • Should baptism be by sprinkling as an infant or by immersion once one is born again? And, how quickly can we set in place an emergency re-baptism program for all those people that had it done wrong the first time?
  • Is God a man, a woman, both, or neither?
  • What race is God? This will be important when we do physical and artistic representations of Him/Her/It.
  • What about those places where the Bible appears to contradict itself, as in Genesis 1 & 2? Are we to take these as tests by God, or error by monks, or what? Confusion in one’s prime legal texts can lead to all sorts of mischief, as I think is more than evident from the fact that we’re even having this little chat to start with.
  • We’ll need a plan to transfer power from the President to Jesus when He makes his triumphant return to Earth after the Rapture.
  • We’ll also need a policy of engagement for Armageddon. When do we launch the nukes, and at whom? Once we know who’s on God’s side and who’s on the side of Satan, shouldn’t we just go ahead and launch a pre-emptive strike?
  • How old is that darned Earth, anyway? I mean, it’s important to know what to tell kids about dinosaurs if the world is only 6000 years old.
  • What the hell do we do about those damned Jews, who have made clear that they aren’t on board with Jesus as the Son of God? Do we wait and let Jesus deal with them himself or should we set about making them either believe what we believe or leave?
  • And don’t even get me started on Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, and other varieties of Satanist. If we’re truly a Christian land, is it right that their blasphemy should be tolerated, and worse, that they should be able to benefit from social programs paid for by Right-thinking Christians?
  • Should the Office of Homeland Godliness be a Cabinet-level appointment reporting to the President? Should the President be the de jure head of the Church? Should it be a separate branch of government insulated from the meddling influence of future secular legislators, and especially from Satanic minions on the Supreme Court? Or, for that matter, should we rework the government and Constitution so that we replace the democracy with a Christian theocracy?
  • What should our foreign policy toward non-Christian nations be like? Some of them are Godless, but strategically important (Britain, Canada, anybody with oil, etc.) Should a nation’s relationship with God be a consideration in conferring most-favored-nation status?
  • There’s also the woman problem. Are they to be submissive to their husbands, as dictated by some, or are they to be accepted as full partners in God’s Church of America? Can they be ministers, for example? And while we’re on the subject of troublesome sorts, is the Church going to take the “accepting” stance toward gays or are they all going to hell? If the latter, should we get them on their way or let God deal with them in His own good time?
  • Finally, what about the athletics programs? Back in the ’80s in Wilmington, NC, there was a huge hullaballoo over – of all things – softball. The local Mormon church signed up for the city-run league, causing the other churches to pitch a galloping hissy fit. Said one spokesman, “we do not feel we can extend the hand of Christian fellowship to people who do not worship the same god we do.” The Mormons stood their ground, those who worshiped a different god from the Mormons stood theirs, and the city was forced to cancel the whole damned league. But that was over 20 years ago – we’re past all that now, right? Nuh-uh. The same kind of conflict broke out again last year in Pennsylvania.

Give me another hour or two and I’ll come up with more questions, but you get the idea. The success of a faith-based government hinges on getting these issues settled and chiseled into stone sooner rather than later. If Congress leaves wiggle room and unanswered questions we’ll be at each other’s throats until the Second Coming, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the Framers intended.

_____

An earlier iteration of this post originally appeared on January 20, 2010.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

Gay marriage is a matter of church and state

It’s unlikely that the Supreme Court will side with common human decency and allow homosexuals to marry. My colleague is correct that we have more important issues to deal with and that support for the right to marry is growing, or perhaps more precisely opposition to it is also dying. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is likely to trail popular opinion, and this Supreme Court seems less likely to rule based on the constitution and law than on personal opinion and religious dogma. Ms. Palombo is also correct that it shouldn’t even be an issue, but that’s not because of its relative importance on our to-do list.

My understanding is that We the People have freedom of religion in order to protect us from the establishment of a state religion likely to persecute citizens who don’t hold the same faith. Establishing marriage as between a man and a woman is effectively making laws based on religious belief, and the “defenders” of marriage invariably end up at a Christian basis for their argument that stems from a Christian understanding of marriage. (To be fair, Jews and Muslims generally agree with this but since they’re siblings that’s no surprise.) It doesn’t matter if every religion agrees with the concept of marriage. This is a clear issue of the separation of church and state. We’d be lucky if the Justices are strict enough constitutionalists to recognize it as such and rule appropriately. If they don’t, then it’s clear that there’s less regard than lip service for our founding document.

Marriage is simply a state issued contract. It essentially combines two people into one under the law to include such holy issues as finances, taxes, inheritance, and privileging spousal conversation in criminal trials. We get confused about what marriage really is because somewhere along the line we were stupid enough to invest churches with state legal power. Your pastor, priest, rabbi, or whatever doesn’t marry you for legal purposes so much as act as an official witness and file the paperwork. Pretty much anyone can do that. I can and have. I’ve never even been baptized much less become a judge or captain of a ship.

The solution to this issue is simple. Properly separate church and state. Remove state contract powers from the clutches of churches. Homosexuals and those of us who don’t give a rat’s ass about God’s approval will get married by the state and gain the rights and privileges that come from the contract. The religious among us can choose to be married in front of God and also through the state or forgo the state part depending on how they feel about rendering unto Caesar.

The benefit to Christians in this solution is that they can skip the state part and then cry about being persecuted. Nothing makes a Christian happier than being persecuted except maybe persecuting others.

CATEGORY: PersonalNarrative

Storyline: Prologue

First in a series

I’m forty-thousand feet above the Rocky Mountains. Denver is some ninety miles to my left and a long way down. I’ve lost the sun beyond the curve of the earth, but the light it still throws is as bright orange as the glow from inside a smelting pit. Molten sunshine has been poured along the horizon. Somewhere in the direction of the glow is San Diego, although I won’t arrive until well after dark.

I’m heading to Point Loma Nazarene University, a place I’ve never been, to attend a writing conference of sorts. “Storyline” is life-planning process developed by memoirist Donald Miller built on the premise that our lives are like stories: if we employ the techniques screenwriters and novelists use when they’re planning stories, we can have greater clarity in our own.

Storyline-cover“Storyline will help you live a better story and, as such, experience a meaningful life,” Miller writes. “It’s about creating a great overall human experience.”

In all the writing classes I teach, my basic premise is “Tell good stories.” Whether it’s a news story, a feature, a press release, an ad, a piece of fiction, a play, a memoir, a piece of history—we’re telling stories. Even an essay is the story of an idea.

So, as a writer, Storyline caught my interest as something that might give me a few more tools to put in my pedagogical toolbox. It’s a safe assumption that I’ll learn a new activity or gain a new insight that I can then use in my teaching.

But that’s only part of it.

I could use a little life-planning right now, to be honest. Since successfully defending my Ph.D. back in November, I’ve felt a bit adrift.

I knew part of my deep restlessness came from the post-high crash that always comes after finishing a major project. Part of it was the need to decompress after the intensity of cramming four years of doctoral work into two. Part of it sprang from the realization that I now had a shitload of free time and had no idea what the hell I going to do with it.

The soundtrack playing beneath all that has been some dirgy shoegaze score—the result of a breakup back in September with a girl I thought I was going to marry. Tough to think you have that part of life figured out only to discover, overnight, unkindly, that you don’t. That’s been a hard tune to shake, like an earworm from hell but burrowed in my heart.

In the wake of all that change, I figured I needed to just chill a little and the next phase of life would reveal itself to me. I had the holidays to get through, and my Africa trip, and a new semester to start. I had several books under contract that I needed to wrap up. Certainly there was stuff to do to keep me busy while life reordered itself.

But so far: nada. If anything, I’ve become even more restless.

“If a character doesn’t know what they want,” Miller says, “the story gets muddled. The same is true in life.” That might describe me just about exactly.

Enter: Storyline.

I’d been getting notices about the Storyline conference for weeks because I follow Donald Miller’s blog, but it didn’t seriously catch my eye until late January. The book, however, has been on my radar screen for months. Well, more accurately, it’s been on my coffee table for months.

BlueLikeJazz-coverI first started reading Miller two summers ago. Ironically, it was Claire, the girl who broke my heart, who introduced me to Miller’s work. She bought me a copy of Blue Like Jazz, which I gobbled up in a couple quiet afternoons. As summer wore on, Claire read Miller’s A Thousand Miles in a Million Years to me whenever we drove somewhere in the car; she recorded her own audiobook version of it as a gift at summer’s end. I tried to re-listen to it before coming to the Storyline conference but couldn’t.

This past summer, I picked up a couple of Miller’s other books, including Storyline. Much to my surprise, what arrived was not another clever memoir about the search for meaning but a workbook I didn’t have time to do because of my dissertation.

Now, it seems, the time has come.

But because I never seem content to do anything the easy way, I’m going to do Storyline but also write about the process as I go through it. A kind of meta-writing project—writing about the writing—similar to my National Novel Writing Month project a couple years ago when I wrote a novel and also wrote about writing a novel. I’m going to do Storyline and write about doing Storyline.

I’ve also recruited a couple friends to go through the process with me, too. Feeny, a married woman in her late twenties, lives near Toronto and works as a Starbucks barista. Money is a single guy around thirty who works for a newspaper not too far from me. They’ve agreed to let me pick their brains as we go and pass along their experiences.

“Sit ‘palms up,’” Miller’s book advises. “Accept that which helps you and softly reject what isn’t helpful.”

This is particularly important advice, I think, because Storyline is a faith-based process. “Our story is a subplot on God’s story,” Miller writes. “When we live our lives as though we are the star of the show, nobody likes our story. Nobody learns from it or is inspired by it or thinks it’s beautiful.”

I’m somewhat skeptical of this. I am a deeply spiritual person, but that aspect of my life is deeply personal. (I’ll write more about that later in the series.) To tackle something faith-based in such a public way, and for this particular audience at S&R, has the potential for awkwardness. However, Miller’s work bills itself as “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality,” and he frequently references non-Christian religious thinkers.

“I doubt all those who go through Storyline believe in God,” Miller admits, “but we encourage you, perhaps in the tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous, to simply understand it makes no sense to believe the universe is all about you.”

That’s something I can buy into, and hopefully it’ll be an “in” for most readers, too.

So here I am, over the Rocky Mountains, starting my Storyline journey on literally a wing and a prayer. I have a short layover in Sin City and then it’ll be on to San Diego. Day one of the Storyline conference awaits.

“Palms up.”

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology

Has NASA discovered life on Mars? If so, what are the implications?

Something is up with the Curiosity rover mission. Except nobody will tell us what it is. But they’re sure acting like it’s a big deal.

It seems NASA and the Curiosity rover have found something exciting and nerd-tastic on Mars, but the space agency’s scientists are holding back for now, despite how painful it appears to be for them.

NPR science correspondent Joe Palca happened to be in the room recently when John Grotzinger, lead scientist for the Curiosity mission at NASA, started receiving data on his computer from the rover’s on-board chemistry lab, also known as SAM (sample analysis at Mars). SAM and NASA scientists on Earth have been busy analyzing a sample of Martian soil of late, and apparently the dirt from the Red Planet has a secret to tell.

“This data is going to be one for the history books, it’s looking really good,” Grotzinger said in the story that aired yesterday.

And that’s about all he said.

Grotzinger and NASA have remained mum on what exactly Curiosity may have found in the Martian soil, saying it could be several more weeks until they’re able to verify the data. The scientists need to make sure whatever earth-shattering find they have isn’t an error or perhaps some kind of stowaway molecule or whatever it may be that hitched one really long ride from Earth.

Hmmm. So the reporter turned to another source in search of some informed speculation.

Lewis Dartnell is a leading astrobiologist at The Centre For Planetary Sciences at UCL/Birkbeck in London. He makes it clear that with so little to go on, no one outside of NASA can know what the agency thinks it has, but, he says, “the SAM instrument is designed to detect organic molecules on Mars, so the smart money is on an announcement along those lines.”

That’s right, the smart money is on what we all were already thinking — LIFE ON MARS.

Wow. That would be one of the four or five biggest discoveries in human history, wouldn’t it? Or not. The agency has now trotted out a spokesman to hose the rumors down with cold water.

“John was delighted about the quality and range of information coming in from SAM during the day a reporter happened to be sitting in John’s office last week. He has been similarly delighted by results at other points during the mission so far,” spokesman Guy Webster told AFP.

“The scientists want to gain confidence in the findings before taking them outside of the science team. As for history books, the whole mission is for the history books,” Webster said.

So, what can we conclude from these mysterious events? For starters, let’s note that the spokesman with the cold water did not say the speculation was incorrect. He did not deny that Curiosity has found evidence of life on Mars (or, for that matter, actual life on Mars). This is perhaps significant. For sure, I know carefully crafted PR-speak when I see it (having carefully crafted a good bit of it throughout the course of my career), and this is official language that’s scrupulously saying not a damned thing. The whole “it’s all historic!” line is pure misdirection. In other words, the PR statement has made me more suspicious, not less.

Why the secrecy, though? There are a number of possible explanations. For one thing, this is science, and science is about gathering, analyzing and verifying evidence. The timetables this process employs are completely at odds with those preferred by ratings-mad media agencies on a 24/7 “news” cycle. They’re not trying to generate sensational headlines – on the contrary. Until they know precisely what they’re dealing with they’d rather generate no headlines at all, and I’m willing to wager that Dr. Grotzinger has been on the business end of a stern talking-to today for reacting that way in front of a reporter.

Another possibility is that they have uncovered a landmark moment in human history. If so, it so radically alters what we know about the universe and our place in it that official acknowledgement of the discovery requires deep consideration.

Let’s speculate a bit. Say that Curiosity has, in fact, discovered life on Mars. What does it mean? The dominant assumption throughout most of history, driven primarily by religious exceptionalists, was that Earth is home to the only life in the universe. More recently we’ve discovered that the portions of the universe that we can detect, observe and examine contain several Earth-like planets that could theoretically support life. These analyses employ narrow definitions and, obviously, we cannot yet study more than the smallest fraction of the universe. Basic probability suggests that it’s unlikely we’re alone.

Still, it is one thing to speculate that life might exist, or even that it probably exists, and another entirely to have evidence of extra-terrestrial life.

So if NASA has, in fact, discovered life on Mars, it turns our assumptions upside down. Instead of viewing life as something unspeakably rare, if not utterly unique to Earth, we overnight have to assume that life isn’t rare at all – it’s common as dirt. Instead of life being too complex to evolve more than once, it becomes something that evolves as a matter of routine. Put another way, at that stage we will have evidence that life exists on two-thirds of the worlds that we have knowledge of. Never mind what are the odds of life elsewhere in the universe – if it evolved on two planets that are side-by-side, what are the odds that they’re the only two? If you’ll pardon the expression, the chances would be astronomical.

For the moment, we have no idea what’s going on at NASA right now. We do know that there have been other bits of evidence suggesting that the conditions for life may have once existed on Mars, and we know what SAM was designed to look for. It’s therefore not unreasonable to speculate a bit in the spirit of the joy of discovery.

If Curiosity has uncovered extraterrestrial life, I personally cannot wait for the official announcement and the uproar to follow. It might do us arrogant humans good to learn that we have neighbors, even if they’re microscopic ones.

Image Credit: NASA

The most important lesson we should all learn from the 2012 election

“You idiot! Get back in there at once and sell, sell!”

As we set about the process of compiling and canonizing the 2012 election post-mortem, one thing we keep hearing over and over is how utterly stunned the Romney camp was at their loss. Republicans across the board apparently expected victory – the conservative punditry seemed certain of it – and now we’re hearing that Romney himself was “shellshocked” by the result.

Mitt Romney went into Election Night expecting a victory and was “shellshocked” when he finally realized he had lost, CBS News reported.

Despite early signs of a stronger-than-expected turnout for President Obama, it wasn’t until the crucial state of Ohio was called for the president that Romney began to face the likelihood of defeat.

Even then, he and his team had trouble processing the news, senior advisers told CBS News.

“We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory,” one adviser said. “I don’t think there was one person who saw this coming.”

Well, Nate Silver saw it coming. His projections called the final outcome almost down to the precinct, and it’s not like he doesn’t have a track record.

Silver’s final 2008 presidential election forecast accurately predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia (missing only the prediction for Indiana). As his model predicted, the races in Missouri and North Carolina were particularly close. He also correctly predicted the winners of every U.S. Senate race.

It wasn’t just Silver. Almost all the polls showed Obama with at least a slight lead in the battleground states, and if we can believe CNN’s election night insiders, Mitt’s own tracking showed him five points adrift in Ohio as late as Sunday (which explains why he set up camp there when many expected him to focus his energies elsewhere).

In other words, all the data, all the nonpartisan analysis, all the evidence, made clear that Romney’s chances were slim. It’s understandable that he and his people would be disappointed, and mightily so. But surprised? How does that happen?

In a nutshell, the GOP blindsided themselves. The reason should be obvious to anyone who has paid any attention at all to American politics in recent years: an overabundance of blind faith. I don’t mean this in a religious sense (although the political and socio-scientific manifestations of the phenomenon issue from strong religious antecedents). Instead, I’m referring to the broad, swelling inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish between belief and knowledge.

As noted, nearly all the polls showed Romney in trouble. Most broke out their results in ways that clearly suggested why he was in trouble. The rational response to such information is to take it onboard, adapt and adjust. But that’s not what the GOP did. Instead, they dismissed the data that didn’t align with their beliefs. They went so far as to “unskew” the polls because they were clearly biased in favor of Mr. Obama. How do we know they were biased? Because they favored Mr. Obama. UnskewedPolls.com performed some ideological/mathematical hijinks and produced “corrected” polls that demonstrated how Mr. Romney was actually leading. By a lot.

The resulting projected electoral map was positively Reaganesque.

You might argue that the rational response isn’t to adapt and adjust if there is actually reason to believe that all the polls are, in fact, skewed. This objection is fair, so long as your reasons for doing so are driven by factual concerns instead of ideological ones. I think it’s more than clear, by now, that GOP faith in a Romney win was driven by belief instead of knowledge isn’t it?

The upshot is what we saw Tuesday night and in the days following: shock, dismay, confusion. Romney and his people (here I’ll include the GOP’s media relations arm, FOX News) didn’t see the obvious coming and some were melting down as reality began to assert its ugly presence in ways that even Megyn Kelly couldn’t ignore. Sure, Karl Rove had an excuse for going all Randolph Duke on the set. He’d just spent $600M of rich folks’ money and had a pack of nabs to show for it, an outcome with dire implications for his future career prospects. Of course he was losing it – he was seeing his political life pass before his eyes as the Ohio totals ticked in. Again, though, this was a live, nationally televised case study in self-delusion: it isn’t true because sweet Jesus it just can’t be.

I keep using these terms “knowledge” and “belief.” I suspect that many people across the country might initially grapple with the difference (in fact, I know this to be the case). So let me define these terms, at least operationally, for the benefit of those who don’t understand the distinction.

  • Knowledge is a process whereby conclusions derive from information and reasoning.
  • Belief is a process whereby preconceptions govern the pursuit of information.

In other words, with knowledge, you learn all you can in as rigorous and intellectually honest a fashion as possible, then you figure out what it means. With belief, the conclusions are given from the outset and data is selected and discarded according to whether or not it supports the point you’re trying to make.

Accepting facts that run counter to what we believe, and what we want to believe, and even what we desperately need to believe, can be hard. I understand the difficulty as well as anyone. I personally now believe pretty much the opposite of nearly every important thing I believed as a young man, and I have frequently noted how many times my beliefs changed because I was proven wrong by the very smart people with whom I insisted on surrounding myself. I’ve always been a fan of the famous John Maynard Keynes quote: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

As hard as it is to investigate contrary information and opinions, though, it’s imperative that we do so. With gusto. The Republican Party had all the evidence there before them throughout the entire campaign. There is precious little that we know now that we didn’t know a month ago. Their decision to pretend it was all skewed led to what? They lost the White House (in a race that was surely theirs for the taking). They lost ground in the Senate. Thanks to gerrymandering they still control the House, but their candidates nationwide received fewer votes than their Democratic opponents. Gay marriage initiatives passed in a couple of states. Gays and lesbians were elected to Congress.

All because the Republican Party privileged belief over knowledge.

Plenty of debate is already under way within the Republican Party as to what the results means and what might be done about it. Some conservative analysts are paying heed to the knowledge they have gained. Others, not so much.

And over at UnskewedPolls, well, see for yourself:

*sigh*

The GOP 2012 experience holds important lessons for us all as we move forward. The world in which we live, the nation in which we live, the neighborhoods and communities and cities in which we live are what they are, not what we wish them to be. For instance:

  • Some among us might wish that we lived in a uniformly white, Christian, heterosexual, nuclear family culture. We don’t. Whatever policies we seek to implement are doomed to failure unless we acknowledge our new multicultural reality.
  • Some of us believe that there is no such thing as climate disruption. There are Nate Silvers and Karl Roves in the natural science world, too. Our future and the future of generations not yet born depend on whether we’re smart enough to know to which of them we need to listen.
  • Many of us believe that cutting taxes on our wealthiest citizens creates opportunity and shared prosperity for everyone. All data on the subject shows this to be pure ideology – the precise opposite is true and the refusal to pay attention to the basic facts of economic history have grave implications for us all.
  • Dollar for dollar, the US pays three times more for health care than any other industrialized nation and by any measure we generate significantly worse outcomes. You might believe that only those who can pay outrageous prices deserve to be healthy, but the actual number of people who agree with you is diminishing rapidly.
  • The president was born in Hawai’i. If you insist that all proof is forged (it has to be, because it doesn’t conform with your beliefs), you will find that you’re damaging the credibility of other positions you hold. Also, people won’t sit next to you on the bus.
  • We are not a theocracy. A growing majority of voters are rejecting candidates whose views on how America should be governed more resemble the 1st century than the 21st. The coalition includes every facet of the electorate, but is especially pronounced among segments that are increasing in numbers.

The things are not beliefs, they are facts supported by every scrap of credible evidence that we have. The existence of facts doesn’t automatically suggest what the best policies might look like, but the refusal to acknowledge them assures disaster.

All of us – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Green and none of the above – would do well to learn from the GOP’s hard 2012 lesson.

The God Test

Suppose the following:

  • Later today, an organization dedicated to studying science and religion announces it has devised a “God Test.” This process will conclusively reveal whether or not there is a god (or gods). Further, it will discern the nature of god, if one (or more) exists. Does it desire/require obeisance/worship? Of what specific sort? Or is it a distant superior being that doesn’t really concern itself with humans and human affairs?
  • Global religious, political, social, academic and scientific leaders review this test and universally agree that yes, it will in fact do exactly what its developers claim. Despite their many differences, they all agree that once the God Test is run, we will all know, without ambiguity, what there is to know about god. Continue reading

North Carolina's Amendment One and America's youth: more on winning the battle and losing the war

Rachel Held Evans nails it:

When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. (The next most common negative images? : “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”)

My generation is tired of the culture wars.  Continue reading

Can we be a little more careful how we abuse the word "science"?

Every once in awhile we will, for a variety of reasons, pick out a word that has positive connotations and proceed to flog that motherfucker to death. Like “engineer.” Engineer is a word with a meaning. From the Oxford:

Pronunciation:/ɛndʒɪˈnɪə/
noun

  1. person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures. - a person qualified in a branch of engineering, especially as a professional: an aeronautical engineer Continue reading

Imagine there's no boycotts: that sounds like Communism to me

Following up on yesterday’s post about how unfair it is when progressives fight fire with fire

One of the architects of the modern conservative boycott movement back in the day was the now-deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the “Moral Majority.” His strategy was simple. Identify those television and radio stations whose programming “promoted” a “liberal agenda” or “secular humanist” values, then leverage the purchasing power of the congregation to bully offenders into changing their programming. Sadly, this brand of thuggery (remember, this is generally the same crowd screeching right now about how “liberals” are “censoring” the “free speech rights” of the richest, most successful, most widely heard man in political talk radio) proved effective enough that it has now become a go-to weapon in the arsenals of interest groups across the partisan spectrum. Continue reading

What the Bible REALLY says about homosexuality: the four commandments (for Christian gentiles)

Four CommandmentsCaveat emptor: you may find what follows heretical.

As you are likely aware, there is (and has long been) a strident outcry from certain quarters in Christianity against homosexuality as a behavior and, in the worst cases, against homosexual men and women (pick/choose/mix liberally, as you will) themselves. To my chagrin, the religious voices from those quarters make a great many references to the Old Testament of their holy book and generally opt to leave out references to the New Testament. When they do choose to include the New Testament as part of their attack ideology, they keep flipping right past the Gospels, right past Acts, and on to Paul. That’s interesting to me, because as I understand the Bible, Paul wasn’t the one born of Mary. Continue reading

Nota Bene #123: Behold the Chickenosaurus

“There ought to be limits to freedom.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #122: OWStanding

“When I lie on the beach there naked, which I do sometimes, and I feel the wind coming over me and I see the stars up above and I am looking into this very deep, indescribable night, it is something that escapes my vocabulary to describe. Then I think: ‘God, I have no importance. Whatever I do or don’t do, or what anybody does, is not more important than the grains of sand that I am lying on, or the coconut that I am using for my pillow.’” Who said it? Continue reading

Rand and objectivism: Are rationality and consistency the hallmarks of good philosophy?

by Matthew Record

“I think a major reason why intellectuals tend to move towards collectivism is that the collectivist answer is a simple one. If there’s something wrong, pass a law and do something about it.” — Milton Friedman

Objectivism is the philosophy developed and espoused over time by Ayn Rand in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and fleshed out through a series of newsletters and lectures in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.Rand, Leonard Peikoff and others in her braintrust offer a tantalizingly simple modality for understanding political systems, sociology and indeed, the epistemological nature of mankind’s mind. Quietly but with a presence that announces itself more and more forcefully each year, we are living the heyday of Rand’s intellectual influence. Objectivism has come to the fore throughout the conservative movement since the ’80s in general and through the recent rise of Libertarianism as a political economic force, in particular.  Continue reading

Nota Bene #120: Crazy Ivan

“If you can make a woman laugh, you’re seeing the most beautiful thing on God’s earth.” Who said it? Continue reading

Sunday Video Roundup: a 9/11 special

Today, if we choose to listen, we’ll hear a great deal about America, about the last decade, about the lessons we’ve learned. Football will be played. Flags will be waved. Tears will be shed.

And tomorrow we’ll be exactly what we were yesterday, only moreso. Maybe today is a bad time for critiques. Or maybe it’s the perfect time. Hard to say. But if you find a few minutes today and need a breather, here are some innocent distractions for you.

First, it’s true – we’re all living in Amerika.

Continue reading