Saturday, July 16, 2005

So What *Is* a Liberal, Anyway?

For years now, since Reagan got elected, we've been hearing rants from the Right on the evilness of Liberals. Listen to Limbaugh or his ilk, and you'll get the idea that Liberals are all a mixture of Jimmy Hoffa, Jessie Jackson, Noam Chomsky, and Hubert Humphrey. You'll note that these are completely incompatible. To the Right, "Liberal" is just a "hate word" — its only real meaning is "I don't like it". Just the thing for a two-minute hate, but no good for a real discussion.

So what are we really talking about here? Well, let's see what one of the more famous American Liberals had to say about it:

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

But first, I would like to say what I understand the word "Liberal" to mean and explain in the process why I consider myself to be a "Liberal," and what it means in the presidential election of 1960.

In short, having set forth my view -- I hope for all time -- two nights ago in Houston, on the proper relationship between church and state, I want to take the opportunity to set forth my views on the proper relationship between the state and the citizen. This is my political credo:

I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. It is, I believe, the faith in our fellow citizens as individuals and as people that lies at the heart of the liberal faith. For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man's ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves.

I believe also in the United States of America, in the promise that it contains and has contained throughout our history of producing a society so abundant and creative and so free and responsible that it cannot only fulfill the aspirations of its citizens, but serve equally well as a beacon for all mankind. I do not believe in a superstate. I see no magic in tax dollars which are sent to Washington and then returned. I abhor the waste and incompetence of large-scale federal bureaucracies in this administration as well as in others. I do not favor state compulsion when voluntary individual effort can do the job and do it well. But I believe in a government which acts, which exercises its full powers and full responsibilities. Government is an art and a precious obligation; and when it has a job to do, I believe it should do it. And this requires not only great ends but that we propose concrete means of achieving them.

Our responsibility is not discharged by announcement of virtuous ends. Our responsibility is to achieve these objectives with social invention, with political skill, and executive vigor. I believe for these reasons that liberalism is our best and only hope in the world today. For the liberal society is a free society, and it is at the same time and for that reason a strong society. Its strength is drawn from the will of free people committed to great ends and peacefully striving to meet them. Only liberalism, in short, can repair our national power, restore our national purpose, and liberate our national energies. And the only basic issue in the 1960 campaign is whether our government will fall in a conservative rut and die there, or whether we will move ahead in the liberal spirit of daring, of breaking new ground, of doing in our generation what Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Adlai Stevenson did in their time of influence and responsibility.

Our liberalism has its roots in our diverse origins. Most of us are descended from that segment of the American population which was once called an immigrant minority. Today, along with our children and grandchildren, we do not feel minor. We feel proud of our origins and we are not second to any group in our sense of national purpose. For many years New York represented the new frontier to all those who came from the ends of the earth to find new opportunity and new freedom, generations of men and women who fled from the despotism of the czars, the horrors of the Nazis, the tyranny of hunger, who came here to the new frontier in the State of New York. These men and women, a living cross section of American history, indeed, a cross section of the entire world's history of pain and hope, made of this city not only a new world of opportunity, but a new world of the spirit as well.

Tonight we salute Governor and Senator Herbert Lehman as a symbol of that spirit, and as a reminder that the fight for full constitutional rights for all Americans is a fight that must be carried on in 1961.

Many of these same immigrant families produced the pioneers and builders of the American labor movement. They are the men who sweated in our shops, who struggled to create a union, and who were driven by longing for education for their children and for the children's development. They went to night schools; they built their own future, their union's future, and their country's future, brick by brick, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, and now in their children's time, suburb by suburb.

Tonight we salute George Meany as a symbol of that struggle and as a reminder that the fight to eliminate poverty and human exploitation is a fight that goes on in our day. But in 1960 the cause of liberalism cannot content itself with carrying on the fight for human justice and economic liberalism here at home. For here and around the world the fear of war hangs over us every morning and every night. It lies, expressed or silent, in the minds of every American. We cannot banish it by repeating that we are economically first or that we are militarily first, for saying so doesn't make it so. More will be needed than goodwill missions or talking back to Soviet politicians or increasing the tempo of the arms race. More will be needed than good intentions, for we know where that paving leads.

In Winston Churchill's words, "We cannot escape our dangers by recoiling from them. We dare not pretend such dangers do not exist."

And tonight we salute Adlai Stevenson as an eloquent spokesman for the effort to achieve an intelligent foreign policy. Our opponents would like the people to believe that in a time of danger it would be hazardous to change the administration that has brought us to this time of danger. I think it would be hazardous not to change. I think it would be hazardous to continue four more years of stagnation and indifference here at home and abroad, of starving the underpinnings of our national power, including not only our defense but our image abroad as a friend.

This is an important election -- in many ways as important as any this century -- and I think that the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party here in New York, and those who believe in progress all over the United States, should be associated with us in this great effort.

The reason that Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Adlai Stevenson had influence abroad, and the United States in their time had it, was because they moved this country here at home, because they stood for something here in the United States, for expanding the benefits of our society to our own people, and the people around the world looked to us as a symbol of hope.

I think it is our task to re-create the same atmosphere in our own time. Our national elections have often proved to be the turning point in the course of our country. I am proposing that 1960 be another turning point in the history of the great Republic.

Some pundits are saying it's 1928 all over again. I say it's 1932 all over again. I say this is the great opportunity that we will have in our time to move our people and this country and the people of the free world beyond the new frontiers of the 1960s.

— Sen. John F. Kennedy, acceptance of the New York Liberal Party Nomination, September 14, 1960.

Now when right-wingers talk about how bad liberals are, just ask them exactly what part of this they disagree with.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Clinical Insanity

There's a common theme in SF, where the human race evolves into Something Better; some type of Group Mind, where everyone's talents contribute to the Common Good. Naturally, the something tends to be some variation of the author's prejudices as to social and religious philosophy. I've had a theory for some time that this has already happened -- our larger institutions (corporate and governmental, and, in the case of the Catholic Church at least, religious) are behaving less like collections of individuals and more like independent entities. It seems like these organizations have their own agendas and proceed on their way, despite anything the people in them do to change it. These agendas do not seem to benefit the people that come up with them, nor the people who have to implement them. Individuals have no more effect on them than your body (or even brain) cells have on you.

This old idea came back the other day, thinking about the Democratic Party and its current woes. (The trigger was a post by twistedchick, who is far more knowledgeble on matters political than I am. Basically, the DCCC phone bank people were so rude that she ended up writing a nasty letter to the Democratic Powers that Be. Their behaviour was so out of line that some of the commenters on this post speculated that this was actually a Republican disinformation operation. Editorial comment — they're not that smart)

Thinking about the Democratic Party as a Higher Being, it looks like it's clinically insane. So, in a completely different way, is the Republican party.

The Republicans are easy. They are allow no criticism, insist on winning every tiny little battle (think of their renaming Washington National Airport to Reagan National Airport, ticking off just about everybody in the area just to prove they could do it.). Anything that doesn't go exactly their way is a Conspiracy; fact that they have absolute control of two of the three branches of the US Government and are working on the third. They whine about a hostile media; choosing to forget the way the media treated past Administrations.

Paranoid schizophrenia. Could serve as a textbook example. Heavy dissociation from reality.

The Dems are just about the opposite. Since FDR, they've been the banner carriers for the so- called Progressive Agenda, which says, roughly, that proper Government action can really improve the life of the average person. Now, this was just fine until about the mid 1970s. Progressivism was the order of the day. Richard Nixon (may he rot in a Fundie Hell) was more liberal than any serious Presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter or perhaps Walter Mondale.

But things have gone downhill. Reagan got elected, more out of disgust with Carter's ineptitude than approval of Reagan's policies. Since 1994, they've been going downhill at a pretty steady rate, to the point that in 2004, they lost the Presidency to an obvious moron and lost every Senate race that was competitive. What are the doing about it? Focus groups. Run to the Center. Bland Establishment don't rock the boat candidates. Response to outrageous actions like the mass disenfranchisement of poor black voters in Florida (2000 and 2004) and Ohio (2004) seems to be to sit back, contemplate their collective navel, and worry what am I doing wrong? Repeat the same formula that has failed for the last 12 years.

Clinical depression. Again, a textbook example. With a bit of obsessive- compulsive disorder thrown in.

So what to do about it? Neither the sensible Republicans (McCain) nor the fire- breathing Democrats (Dean) seem to have any effect at all on their respective parties.

What's lithium or Prozac for a political party? Neither will fit on the couch ....

Monday, April 25, 2005

"Call Us Nutty"

It seems that BushCo doesn't want people representing it who might have donated money to Kerry. Now, I have done a fair amount of work with international standards organizations (mostly the IEEE and ISO, with a few excursions to ANSI and a few other minor groups), so I have some insight into what's going on here.

I just had a look at the "standards committee" in question, the Inter- American Telecommunication Commission. It's an intergovernment organization under the auspices of the OAS. In other words, it's a committee where representatives of various governments get together to thrash things out on a high level.

Usually, organizations like this start with the "local" standards and then thrash our differences. The technical content is minimal. The technical stuff gets thrashed out on the lower levels, where the qualification for admission is the ability to show up and pay the (quite modest) conference fees.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy is correct when he says that "We wanted people who would represent the Administration positively". This is a government operation, after all. However, saying "and--call us nutty--it seemed like those who wanted to kick this Administration out of town last November would have some difficulty doing that" is absolutely outrageous.

What we're dealing with is called professionalism — doing the best job you're capable of despite your own feelings on the matter. Saying that someone is incapable of representing the policies of the Government if he disagrees with those policies is saying that he is incapable of fulfilling his responsibilities as a professional. Doctors treat people they don't like. Lawyers represent murderers. Teachers teach brats. Cops enforce laws they disagree with.

And some of the people that BushCo bounced from the delegation had been US representatives for years. Pros.

The Bush administration judges everybody else by their own standards.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

I Feel a Draft

I've been saying for a long time now that, if Georgie Bush was re- elected, we'd have a draft by May 2005. My assumptions that led to this were:

  • The war in Iraq would continue to be a quagmire
  • The Neocons running our foreign policy really, really want to invade more countries.
  • Our “allies” wouldn't supply us with cannon foddertroops.
  • Military recruitment and retention would not keep up with demand.

Well, how are we doing? Quagmire? Check. Sabre rattling? Check. Allies? Check. Recruitment? Check.

Now, I've heard any number of arguments that a draft won't work because it takes too long to turn out a modern infantryman. This is true, but in Iraq, we don't need prime combat troops, we need occupation troops and logistical support. Six weeks of basic should do it ....

Of course, BushCo are as butt- ignorant of the realities of running an army as they are of everything else. This will turn Iraq into an even bigger disaster, as nervous, poorly trained troops shoot more civilians and get blown up by more roadside bombs.

And if you think that a draft is impossible, well, so is trashing Social Security. Doesn't seem to be stopping BushCo from trying.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Reductio ad Absurdum

One way of doing a mathematical proof is to assume the opposite of what you're trying to prove. If you can show that it leads to a logical contradiction, then you've proven the original statement. If you can't show a contradiction, then the statement is false. It's called reductio ad absurdum; reduce to an absurdity.

This isn't done much in political argument. Usually, you try to show that some action will lead to Horrible Consequences. However, you could show that doing the exact opposite of the action will not result in HC.

What brought this up was the suggestion of replacing the income tax with a "consumption tax", ie a national sales tax. Its proponents say that we could replace the income tax with a sales tax of 20% - 24%. The numbers are bogus, of course; the "real" numbers range from 45% - 100%, depending on assumptions. The claimed advantage is that it would shift money from consumption to investment. Now, this seems odd to me; on one hand, you have to sell what you produce, and on the other hand, there's no shortage of investment capital floating around.

The big disadvantage, of course, is that if you're poor, you're going to spend all your money and invest very little if any. If you're rich, you're going to invest a lot and pay a much lower percentage of your income in tax. That's why sales taxes are the prime example of "regressive taxation"; taxes that hit the poor hardest.

The proponents of the "consumption tax" say no problem, we'll just give a tax rebate to poor people. This has two gaping holes: (1) you have an enormous job in keeping track of what everybody earns and (2) poor people don't have any financial reserves (duh!). Saying "you'll get the money back next April" doesn't help a bit right now.

OK, it's not a good idea. But now let's try reductio. Let's exempt consumption from taxes and tax only investments. What happens now?

Well, poor people don't pay any tax. Rich people pay a one- time tax on money they invest; if they take it out and spend it, they don't pay tax. It'll stimulate the economy; people will buy more stuff. Instead of every retail establishment in the country keeping track of the tax, it'll be collected by banks, stockbrokers, and so forth, who have to do a boatload of paperwork anyway. Interest? Capital gains? Details, details (:-).

The point is, not only is it not absurd, it actually looks better than the original idea! Poor pay low taxes, check. Rich pay higher taxes, check. Stimulates consumption, check. Easy to collect, check. Minimum paperwork, check. No funky rebates, check. "Supply side stimulus"? No, but I haven't seen a real economist who believes in "supply side economics" anyway.

Or, we could compromise. Ignore both and just tax income.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Question for Alan Keyes

And any other folks of the Neocon/Religious Right persuasion who have gay kids:

What did you do to your kids when they were growing up to make them choose a gay lifestyle?

This ties in with the whole “framing the debate” meme that's been going around. The Neocon/RR types have been framing the arguments so that they will control the debate; questions like this make them drink their own Kool-Aid.

Friday, February 18, 2005


I can't really say anything about the Gannon/Guckert proto- scandal that hasn't been said elsewhere. Americablog is the leader in digging out information; go there. They've got the pictures. If you want a summary and links to other sources, twistedchick has been all over it. There are a couple of items, though:

  1. The Websites that Americablog dug up quote Gannon's rate as an escort at $200 per hour or $1200 for the weekend. I'm certainly not an expert on the subject, but that seems awfully low to me. Not only is he a hooker, he's a cheap hooker.

  2. I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd really like to see a list of Gannon's clients. Friendly recommendation to Gannon: stay out of dark alleys and small airplanes. Check what happened to Craig Spence in a gay prostitution scandal in the previous Bush administration.

  3. Anybody remember the Profumo affair? Basically, in 1963, Britan's Secretary of State for War John Profumo had an “affair” with a woman named Christine Keeler. Turns out she also having an “affair” with Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet attaché. I get the feeling that “having an affair with” is a euphamism for “was a client of”.

It'll be interesting to see where this goes, if anywhere. In the meantime, to the Fundies who support the Bush administration because of their “family values” (ie, gay bashing), remember, those rules are for you. Not for them.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


The Administration push for Social Security “privatization” is obviously a scam — since when is the Administration interested in something that will only be a problem long after Georgie is out of office? Global warming? Nope. Energy independence? Nope. Global competitiveness? Nope. Water shortages? Nope. Health care? Nope. Long- term structural deficits? Nope.

But what kind of a scam? Everybody who actually looks at the numbers seems to agree that it's a horrible idea; Brad DeLong (who has economic credentials out the wazoo) has been particularly energetic in tracking this piece of idiocy.

Well, the obvious answer is that they're paying off their Wall Street supporters and propping up the stock market. All those accounts will buy stocks and bonds, which will drive up stock and bond prices. They'll need to be managed, which means management fees. Big return on investment for Wall Street's campaign contributions. As with all “privatization” schemes, it “privatizes” only the profits for the Administration's friends, leaving the risks for the rest of us to deal with.

But there's another barb in this hook, and it also ties in with “personal medical accounts”, another little “privatization” oddity being pushed by the Bush administration.

One of the many potential train wrecks in our current economy is the consumer debt level. Far too many people are carrying far too much debt, especially unsecured credit card debt. American bankruptcy laws are by far the most liberal in the world, and the credit card companies are terrified of a wave of personal bankruptcies. They've been worried about this for a good number of years now.

Problem is, if a bank makes an unsecured loan (like on a credit card) and the person getting the loan goes bankrupt, the bank is simply out of luck. The creditors divvy up the assets as far as they will go, but they're not going to come anywhere near to covering the debts. Enough people declare bankruptcy and the banks are in Real Trouble. Doesn't seem to slow 'em down sending out “you have already been approved” credit card offers, though.

Now, there is a movement to tighten up bankruptcy laws. Personal bankruptcy is being portrayed as a way of simply writing off one's debt and starting over, with essentially no penalty. It ain't. It's a process that nobody in their right mind would go through voluntarily, but that's not the spin. I've even seen suggestions of bringing back debtors' prison. I dunno how serious they were; debtors' prison seems to be an ideal way of guaranteeing that you'll never get your money back.

Bush's “ownership society” generates a bunch of new “assets” that can be attached by creditors. Declare bankruptcy or lose a lawsuit, and not only are your savings gone, so are your future Social Security and medical benefits.

Now, Social Security is supposed to provide a minimum level of support. If somebody has their “assets” confiscated as the result of a bankruptcy or lawsuit, they no longer have that minimum level of support. So what are we going to do? Let them starve in the streets? (I get the impression from some of the more radical Neocons that that's exactly what they want to do.)

BushCo looks to be willing to spend a lot of political capital on this one. Best to pay off your credit cards now .... But that's good advice in general.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Literal Meaning of Genesis

I wandered into a discussion of “creationism” on Steve Gilliard's blog a while back. Now, as I can vouch for experience, it's impossible to argue with a Creationist. Their attitude is “I am right and you are wrong. My devastatingly clever responses demolish your feeble arguments”. They'll just keep repeating their nonsensical arguments and ignore anything you say.

It seems that this isn't a new problem. It's old enough that one of the heaviest hitters in the history of Christianity got bit by it, and wrote the definitive refutation:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

— St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim (The Literal Meaning of Genesis)

Or to summarize in less flowery language, “Shut the bleep up about stuff you know nothing about. You not only look like a jerk, you make the rest of us look like jerks, too”.

Coupla random comments:

  • This has no relationship to Satanism, as described in the previous post. Creationism isn't Satanic, it's just dumb.

  • The current euphemism for Creationism is “intelligent design”. This seems to be the basic Deist argument: God wound up the Universe like the ultimate Marvelous Toy, set it running, and then went away. This, unfortunately, does not provide that most fundamental function of any religion, which is how to get people to contribute to the church building fund.

  • One of the first things on my road to getting run out of the Southern Baptist Church was a little pamphlet called Roadblocks to Evolution. The Powers that Be handed it out with great pomp and ceremony as the thing that would crush this “evolution” nonsense once and for all; I handed it back with the errors highlighted. They weren't pleased. The arguments weren't just wrong, they were ridiculous.

  • The folks I've met who preach the gospel of Creationism seem less concerned about being related to Koko the gorilla (who seems rather sweet) than they are with being related to other Homo sapiens sapiens whose ancestors left Africa later than theirs did.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Satanism is Alive and Well

No, not Satan. The big guy with the batwings and hairy legs is a figment of the Fundie imagination. Fundies who talk about Satan tend not to get this monotheism business — one god. One. Not a good- guy god and a bad- guy god. Not one for Us and one for Them. Not one Big Guy and a Little Guy who got too big for his halo. One.

A note: I am using the term “Fundie” here to refer to a specific type of pseudo- Christian. It's not synonomous with “Fundamentalist” at all. See the Note on Terminology for details.

Now, the whole point of theology is trying to figure out what this God character has in mind. You can ask all the questions you want; the answers you get will usually be ambiguously phrased, contradictory, and not what you wanted to hear. (Ever deal with the Internal Revenue Service? Same thing.) In Christianity, the Bible (and especially the New Testament) is the equivalent of the instructions for the 1040 Long Form. Some of it is crystal clear, some of it is obscure, and some just makes you say “Hunh???”. All of it is there for a reason.

Now, a lot of the Bible is perfectly clear. Help the poor and the weak. Don't kill people or steal. Don't get too big for your sandals. Watch out for false prophets. Even more becomes clear if you know something about the historical periods in which the various parts were written.

Now, where does Satanism come into this? It has nothing to do with the Church of Satan, the Temple of Set or any of the other New Age chain- yankers who call themselves Satanists. I've found them to be a mixture of sexually frustrated adolescents and middle aged Goth wanabees. Their “theology” is the equivalent of putting a paper bag of dogshit on your doorstep, lighting it on fire, ringing your doorbell, and running away. Boring.

Real Satanism is nothing more or less than an inversion of Christianity. Take the obvious sense of the Bible and turn it around. Note that this isn't just denying the Bible (like an atheist might), it's inverting it.

As an example, let's take one of the clearer passages in the New Testament:

And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar's. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.

— Mark 12:13-17 (KJV)

Now, this is pretty darn obvious. Pay your taxes. Worship God. Don't get the two mixed up. It's also pretty important — it's repeated in Matthew and Luke, essentially unchanged.

So what would the corresponding Satanic version be? Obviously, worship Caesar and pay taxes to God.

Now, let's take a little look at the current situation. “Faith- Based Initiatives” take tax dollars and give them to religious organizations. (I've been amused watching them squirm, trying to come up with a way of denying funds to Muslim organizations. I can't wait until the Scientologists try to get in on the party.) On the other hand, look at the attitude a lot of churches have toward George W. Bush. The veneration that he's getting from the Fundie churches is starting to look a whole lot like idolatry to me. You might also notice that there's a big dose of “I shouldn't have to pay taxes” in there, too.

Fred Clark of Slacktivist does a similar “deconstruction” of the Fundie attacks on the UN; “Blessed are the peacemakers” doesn't apply in their view. This is a part of Fred's page- by- page analysis of “Left Behind”, the bestselling Fundie action- adventure series. LB might well serve as a textbook of “inverted Christianity” aka Satanism.

How do they get away with it? Well, your friendly average churchgoer is not into theology. He'll go with what the preacher says his religion is. Fundie preachers have a really good line of why they ignore perfectly obvious New Testament passages and elevate minor, out of context (both textually and historically) Old Testament passages to the status of Critical Doctrine. It's another inversion; figure out what you want to do and then look for Bible passages to justify it. Some go even further, depending on arcane symbolic interpretations of otherwise unremarkable passages.

One of the major strengths of Christianity is that it isn't a “mystery cult” like most of the other religions floating around when it got started. There is no “secret doctrine” available only to initiates; there are no “secret scriptures” to tell initiates what Jesus “really” had in mind. Everything's right out in the open.

Unfortunately, this is not comfortable for a certain type of priest. So we get elaborate justifications of bizarre doctrines that make sense only in the context of a sadistic God that tries His best to trap people into Hell, by having a “real” doctrine that directly contradicts the “public” doctrine.

I got started on this from a long essay by Brad Hicks called “Christians in the Hands of an Angry God” in five parts; Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. His take is that in 1964, at the Republican Convention, the Republican Anti-Communist Caucus had two core beliefs:

  1. The most important thing in the world for the United States was the defeat of world Communism
  2. The only force in the United States capable of defeating Communism was the Republican Party.

Therefore, the only way to defeat Communism was for the Republican party to become the majority party in American politics. To get to this point, the Anti-Communist caucus enlisted some heavy- duty Fundamentalist theologans to convince Christians that the Republican party platform was really the “true” meaning of the Bible. They've been working on this ever since. And now they've won.

If Brad's story is true (and I'm not questioning his sources), there's an amusing coda. World Communism is dead and gone, defeated by the Truman Doctrine of stopping its expansion and waiting for it to collapse from its own contradictions. There are only four governments left in the world that are officially Communist, and Cuba and North Korea are classic “cult of personality” dictatorships. Both of them are on the verge of starvation. Vietnam is trying to get into the commercial world, with some success. The last one is China. And who do the Republicans dearly love to do business with? Right the first time. “Destroy Communism, unless we can make money by not destroying it ....”

My own take is considerably more cynical. The Satanic doctrine promises that Christianity is easy. No changes needed in lifestyle or attitudes. Just call the toll-free number on the bottom of your screen, and have your credit card ready. Operators are standing by. No need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or visit the sick or imprisoned, just slap a “Bush/Cheney '04” sticker on your car. This is exactly Bonhoeffer's “cheap grace”:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion, without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

And we all know how much Americans love cheap stuff ....

As to the connection with the Republican Party, I see it as exactly backwards from Brad's view. The Fundies I've met loathe blacks, with the depth and intensity that you normally associate with pre-WWII Central Europeans and Jews. About 1964, it started becoming obvious that the Democratic Party was taking this “civil rights” business seriously. The Fundies couldn't stay with the Democrats and keep their racism, so they jumped ship. Since then, Fundies have been the core of the Republican Party. For forty years now, they've stuffed envelopes, made phone calls, put up posters, and done all the other campaign scutwork for the Republican Party.

And now it's payback time.

A Note on Terminology

I use the term “Fundie” to describe the right- wing Fundamentalist- Literalist- Millenialist Protestants who can't seem to figure out that Jesus might just possibly have meant what he said. This is distinct from Fundamentalism, which is a doctrine that came out of a series of conferences in Buffalo, NY (called the Niagara Conferences) in the late nineteenth century. These conferences eventually came out with a series of pamphlets called “The Fundamentals”, which attempted to come up with a series of doctrines that everybody could agree with. They came up with a series of fourteen “fundamentals”. While they are considered rather conservative, they are not ridiculous by any means. (It turns out to be amazingly difficult to find out what they really are. Seems there are some serious differences of opinion among those who call themselves Fundamentalists.)

All Fundies are Fundamentalists. Not all Fundamentalists are Fundies. And all Fundies that I've met are, by the definition in this essay, Satanists. They believe that God will Rapture them away from trouble, that charity is harmful, that God wants them to buttonhole people on the street, that the best prayers are loud, long, and public, that certain people are “unclean” and must be kept out of churches, that George W. Bush is inerrant and without sin. All of these are specifically contradicted by the Bible.

Some Resources

The Preacher is a prime example of an old- fashioned Christian preacher. No inversions here; just some of the best stories on the Web.

Kit, of Kit's Concatenation, keeps track of the rather nasty relationship between the Fundies and the Feds.

Sojourners Magazine provides an alternative to what passes as Christianity in the mainstream press. They've been around for quite a while; it's surprising (or maybe not) that they're not better known.

The Revealer is a daily review of religion in the press.

I've already mentioned Fred Clark of Slacktivist. His takedowns of Left Behind are funny but theologically accurate.

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