Keeping the Faith

Considering the religion of our next president.

Jacob Weisberg’s assertion that the strangeness of Mormon beliefs should and will give the American electorate pause in considering Mitt Romney’s 2008 candidacy for president revealed the familiar fault lines of religion and politics.

CalLawyer thinks we should take all claims of religious belief by politicians with a grain of salt: “Sure, most politicians and public figures claim to believe in their religion. But this is a charade, and an extremely elaborate one.”

On the question of true believers, Bionerd emphasizes the human mind’s ability to perform intellectual compartmentalization:

Folks who think that those who hold irrational beliefs shouldn’t be trusted with jobs, like President, that require complex rational thought underestimate the extent to which people are capable of compartmentalizing irrational belief so it doesn’t interfere with their ability to interact with the world in a completely rational manner or to solve complex real world problems.

Weisberg is wrong to assume that someone who truly believes absurd things like virgin births, angelic visitations, partings of seas, and other “transparent frauds” is necessarily dogmatic or irrational in contexts outside of personal religious observance, or that such a person fails to think for himself or see the world as it really is. Most believers who’ve given it much thought will concede that what they believe doesn’t have much rational basis. But they choose to believe anyways because it helps them make sense of the world, gives them a sense of purpose, provides a foundation for family strength, or any other number of personal reasons.

For AspiringSkeptic here, Weisberg’s piece is less of a dig at Mormonism than it is an effort to determine whether Romney “is the type of man like G.W. Bush who may put faith and ‘gut feeling’ before logic, science, and reason.”

Azathoth is the first to characterize most religions as kooky but doesn’t think we should single out Mormonism: “It is easy to find open holes in any religion, picking on one and pretending the others are OK is not honest or fair.” Similarly, viqtohr criticizes Weisberg’s scrutiny of Mormonism as “totally arbitrary,” given that all religions are irrational to some degree:

The only thing that the passage of time does to religious myths is give them an air of respectability. The more ridiculous tenets of Mormonism only feel more absurd to us than Biblical stories because they allegedly happened so recently. In religious services, the preacher doesn’t focus on the strange idiosyncrasies of dogma, but on how to live a “holy” life and find true happiness. That’s what religion is actually about.

The candidate’s willingness to separate politics and religion is really what’s important, writesBaba: “The question isn’t whether or not a candidate is a believer in this or that religion (or none). It’s whether or not he/she will try to impose his/her beliefs on the rest of us.” For donq, the religious test for office should take a more comprehensive view of the individual candidate’s background and accomplishments:

Romney is not the first candidate with unique religious beliefs. Eisenhower grew up in the church that was the forerunner to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nixon was a Quaker. Barack Obama has a background in the Muslim faith.Religion has always been a way of explaining an endermatic universe. We should not choose our national leader based on adherence to a more ancient and venerated irrationality than her opponent. The only rational religious question for a national leader is “does the person’s belief interfere or assist the candidate.” As Jesus said “by there fruits ye shall know them.” Let’s judge Romney and all other candidates on their life and what they have done. Romney is intelligent. First in his class out of Harvard. His life’s work has involved turning around struggling companies. He did a great job with the winter Olympics and as a Governor. I am sure not every one agrees with these points. But that is what we should be talking about.

Contribute your ideas in The Big Idea. AC 7:32am PT

For a certain kind of character, nothing brings out the surly quite like the Christmas season’s mandatory merriment. And what technology nurses anti-social behavior better than the Internet? Thus, Scrooges and the Fray make as natural a Christmas concoction as egg and nog. It’s risen to the level of an institution—Best of the Fray holds an annual Humbuggery Convention for airing your dirty Christmas stockings.

But for those who want to get an early start to their Christmas ranting, switters has started a great thread on that endangered American institution—the Christmas office party:

God but I hate office Christmas parties. Lame, lame, lame. Mine was last night. I didn’t go, of course. But that certainly wasn’t going to stop people from harassing me. First I get a call from a young friend I haven’t talked to in months because of the fallout. Then I get a call from “the one that got away” who’s there for whatever reason.

“Why aren’t you at the party?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I guess it’s because I have to spend all day with those retards, and I’m not exactly inclined to give up a hard-earned evening away from them. Call me selfish, but watching my coworkers get plowed knee-walking drunk while fighting over a Craftsman tool set during Dirty Santa isn’t really my idea of having a good time celebrating the birth of a dude who’s ultimately going to off himself via his virgin-birthed son. Bye.” [click]

Office Christmas parties are inherently flawed, as The Office’s Christmas episode brilliantly pointed out last week. Did you see it? That’s the most awkward 1 hour of television I’ve seen in years. The last time I was that uncomfortable watching a show, the whole family sat down to enjoy Buddy Hackett live on HBO in 1982. Who knew The Love Bug veteran had a mouth on him? If I’m not mistaken, mom remarked, “Why don’t you just drag a garbage can into the living room and watch it?” Ouch.

Anyways, office Christmas parties are doomed from the start. Why? Well…

It’s the one night of the year in the south when teetotalers (closet drinkers) and hardcore drinkers (closet Baptists) finally meet. It’s hard to describe. It’s sort of like a combination of The Days Of Wine And Roses and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. “Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingling too…”

It’s the one night of the year when the south reverts to Montgomery, Alabama circa 1845, complete with black servants wearing white and white people wearing down black servants.

It’s the one night of the year when employees try to eat and drink their yearly salary in food and adult beverages in an effort to get back at “the man”. Inevitably that ends with a headache and beaucoup resentment.

It’s the one night of the year when spouses and significant others get to see their spouses and significant others get a little tipsy and hit on the chesty receptionist. Again.

Last year I heard someone giving advice on NPR’s Sound Money about how to handle the office Christmas party, which was, essentially, to cover the room in a circle, saying hello to everyone, chatting briefly, limiting oneself to 2 drinks maximum, staying only as long as it takes to visit with each person in attendance.

That’s insane. 2 drinks? Call me old fashioned, but 2 drinks is the alcoholic equivalent of foreplay without the actual sex part. Blueball Fest 2006. And if I had to chat with everyone in the room, I’m going to need to do a couple lines in the men’s room. Because talking to some of these people is like being paired with a midget in the 3-legged race at the church picnic. Someone’s gonna get his feelings hurt.

In past gatherings, I’ve usually had the unfortunate luck of getting trapped in a corner with some divorced, under-sexed ad exec lady who for Christmas really needs to get a T-shirt that says “I [heart] self-medication” and who wants to talk about work.

“Great party.”
“I thought that project turned out great.”
“Uh… Which one?”
“The one with the little kids and the guy in the wheelchair.”
“Yeah, I didn’t work on that one.”
“Oh. Right. Did you know I haven’t had sex in 5 years?”
“Is that more Krab dip!? Excuse me. I love that stuff…”

Then there’s the unavoidable play-by-play the next day.

“Oh man. You should’ve been there. Steve’s wife broke a bottle over her head, squeezed Heather’s ass, and then threw up all over the boss’s daughter! It was awesome!”
“Yeah, sorry I missed that. Although that would explain why Steve’s secretly gay, wouldn’t it?”

And let’s not forget the half-dozen or so 45-minutes-late-to-work Walks Of Shame past the front desk. Sweet.

You know, Christmas is bad enough as it is. The last thing I need to ram that point home is a bunch of hypocrites pretending not to loathe each other for 3 hours. And that’s just the married couples.

Happy Holidays!
Happy Holidays!
Let the merry bells keep ringing.
Happy Holidays to you!


Would you like to get some seasonal grievances off your chest? Join the commiseration in Best of the FrayGA1:20pm PST

Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006

Writing in Jurisprudence, Kenji Yoshino laments the demise of a recent proposal by the New York City Board of Health to give people more freedom to change the sex on their birth certificate. HopefulCynic extends a heartfelt thanks to Yoshino for

succinctly making the case that self-determination of gender is an important and insufficiently recognized right, is not purely biological, faces important logistical problems, and is better dealt with by facing these problems directly than papering over them or ignoring them.

Pious progressivism without due diligence is indeed problematic, and needless. As the author points out, the problems outlined can and could have been worked out given adequate forethought.

But many doubts persist, most notably among self-identified gay Fraysters, about the wisdom of supporting such a radical position. Complaining of an inclusiveness within the gay community that has gone overboard, emry for his part cringes

every time I hear the (ever expanding) queer alphabet: LGBT, I keep hearing that Sesame Street song “one of these is not like the others, one of these doesn’t belong”. There is a huuuge difference between sexual orientation (what sex are you attracted to), sexual identity (what gender you “think” you are), and sexual expression (what gender you choose to look/act/dress like).

Brian-1 worries that the birth-certificate policy would put us on the path toward a dangerous “relativism ultimately lead[ing] to an unstable and fractured culture.” eg4109, while “crazy liberal on most social issues,” also professes having

a very hard time buying the argument that anyone should be able to change their birth certificate after going to a shrink for two years. If the pro-transgender argument elicits an uncomfortable reaction from me, then I can only imagine how quickly it’s dismissed by the majority in this country who think regular old gay people should either crawl back under a rock or die…

I don’t have a problem with changing the birth certificate after surgery (even though the idea makes me cringe a bit), but doing it with a mere doctor’s note just seems like way too much of an abstract approach to such a concrete issue.

Joe_JP steps in to defend against the mischaracterization of transgenderism as a cavalier choice:

As to transsexuals, it is not just a matter of “feeling.” The proposals, for instance, required one to live as the designated sex for a set period, and be found to be psychologically of that sex as well. One could not just one day say “I feel pretty, let me change the ‘M’ to a ‘F’” If one lives as a sex, yes, it might make sense that their id so designate.

And, biological sex is a matter of various criteria. The blunt use of genitalia is a rather messy way to decide thing in various cases. This is shown by those who have some cosmetic sex characteristics at birth, their parents decide to “set” their sex at that, but later the person is mentally of another sex.

New frontier in the fight for equality or a case of identity politics gone awry? Share your thoughts in Jurisprudence. AC6:50pm PST

Thursday, Dec. 7, 2006

In his recent piece, Michael Kinsley criticizes the Bush daughters for their lack of moral seriousness and public silence on the Iraq war, citing their status as “independent moral agents.” Fraysters disagreed sharply whether and how much scrutiny should be applied to presidents’ children for the policies of their fathers.

For some, the hedonistic ways of the Bush twins are hardly legitimate grounds for indictment: Newsflash: 20-somethings like to party! quips RoboTombo, asking “in what moral universe are the sins of the father visited upon the children?” The daughters have the right to abstain from politics, arguesFritz_Gerlich, as “an American’s most precious freedom is the freedom to be non-political…if they want to remain airheads till they die, that’s their right. It won’t make them guilty of anything Britney Spears isn’t guilty for.” Kija similarly implores us to leave the twins alone:

They didn’t choose to be presidential daughters - it was thrust upon them. They are not responsible for their father’s infatuation with war and death. They are not responsible for his incompetence.

Politician’s kids should be left out of the discussion unless they choose to involve themselves. It would be lovely to see them marching in an anti-war march, but that’s got to be their choice. 

Pandyora criticizes Kinsley’s “bad moral philosophy“:

To choose not to serve does not prohibit any citizen from supporting or opposing a war, let alone prohibit them from voicing (or not voicing in the case of the Bush twins) their support or opposition.

Conversely, military service does not entitle one to greater moral clarity. Some percentage of military personnel presumably enjoy to party, while some percentage of military personnel probably opposed the war. Military service does not make their partying any less frivolous or their opposition any more justified.

In no uncertain terms, DavidFlores begs to differ:

Bullshit: when our nation is at war, and arguably the ultimate cause of 1/2 a million deaths over-seas, being “non-political” is a morally repugnant stance. If your country is killing people, then as one who benefits from your country’s government, economy, miltary and other institutions, you have a moral duty to take a stance on the killing. It is the status quo that benefits from an ignorant and apathetic body-politic, and thus the powerful who promote ignorance and apathy among our citizenry.

Citing the long tradition of presidents’ children who have served in the military or otherwise contributed to the war effort of their times, ARChitect expresses similar distaste for apathy in the face of human casualties:

I was taught to have nothing but contempt for neutrality when people are dying. I don’t blame the girls for not pitching into Dad’s stupidity–but I do blame them for not taking a stand one way or another. Who gave them the free pass?

I’m reminded of all the times we’re told we are a “nation at war.” Bullshit. What war? No draft, no rationing, tax cuts–and government officials who won’t lead the way, and whose kids obviously don’t even believe enough to play a part themselves.

But in practice, whether or not the children of presidents serve in the military is a false litmus test of mor(t)al commitment, points outscout29c: “anybody who knows anything about the military knows that even if the Bush twins had been super gung ho, they would have never been allowed in harms way. No son or daughter of a senator is allowed in danger unless they try and push and force their way into it. The military doesn’t want the responsibility of losing a politician’s offspring.”

As Dallas75 sees it, given the Bush daughters’ position of privilege, some minimal engagement in politics is a more than appropriate demand to make of them:

The Bush twins, for the rest of their lives, will enjoy direct economic and social benefits because their father and grandfather were Presidents. Therefore, it’s not too much to ask for them to take the war seriously and to make some sacrifice, even just a symbolic sacrifice, that recognizes the war. Maybe they oppose the war - that’s fine - make a sacrifice that says so.
Join the Peace Corp, start a non-profit, volunteer with the Red Cross, anything at all. But the twins should at least acknowledge the personal debt they owe the military families fighting daddy’s war.

Since there are two of them, couldn’t one come out in support and the other in opposition? The polemic continues to flare in Readme, producing one of the better Fray turnouts in recent weeks. Thanks to all who have been visiting since Passport problems were resolved. We’re glad to have you back! AC5:53pm PST

Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006

Confronting what she sees as a long-standing taboo in mainstream political discourse, Diane McWhorter argues that the comparison of the Bush administration’s methods and actions to those of Hitler’s Nazi regime—routinely discredited as either  the extreme, inflammatory rhetoric of fringe leftists or as disrespectful of the uniqueness of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust—is in fact historically instructive and apropos.

This sparked a firestorm of controversy in the Fray, to the point that the incendiary tone of discussion became the subject of this post by achilleselbow lamenting the “constant narrowing of the public debate to a set of bumper sticker slogans and talking points … But due to poor education, the dumbing down of media, or just plain laziness and anti-intellectualism, people have lost virtually any ability to follow a logical argument.” Similarly, MsRawksy calls use of Nazi analogies shameful and “counter productive in debating.”

Fingerpuppet astutely describes the facile (and ultimately dangerous) sense of moral superiority that we feel when the N-word is invoked too liberally:

Part of the problem with this taboo against using the Nazis as a basis of comparison is that in doing so, we’ve essentially dehumanized them. Everyone can feel so smugly superior to those mid-century German monsters that we automatically assume that none of us is prone to the same foibles and moral weakness. In treating the Nazis as such a special case, we’ve largely inoculated ourselves from taking this history lesson sincerely to heart. Nazism is not a quantum leap beyond our own humanity. It’s made up of all the petty impulses of ordinary people, from every-day racism to the semantic contortions of State Department bureaucrats who turn their backs on wholesale slaughter when they refuse to utter the word “Genocide.” Nazism just happened to be a sort of perfect storm of all of these smaller elements. We should all be aware of how venturing out on to the slippery slopes of fascism, even rhetorically or incrementally, puts us at least partially in league with butchers and tyrants throughout history.

While attacking McWhorter’s criticism of the Bush administration as “a mere scorecard, a laundry list of perceived similarities (and exaggerated ones at that),” Tennjed acknowledges the power of such comparisons for both ends of the political spectrum:

There is NO taboo against using the word “Nazi” or referring to Hitler. Conservatives do it all the time when they talk about the dangers of appeasement or compare their opponents to Neville Chamberlain. Hitler is fair game for discussion. The problem is not merely using Hitler’s name, but using Hitler’s name in a way that is intellectually and morally unserious.

For his part, Rrhain finds all the parallels he needs in American history itself, without recourse to Nazi Germany:

isn’t our own history sufficient to show how horrendous the actions of the current administration are? Do we really need to bring up Nazi Germany when referring to the declaring of US citizens to be “enemy combatants” when our own history of doing that to the Japanese during WWII is just as good an example if not better? Do we really need to reach for the Nazi card when trying to talk about the suspension of habeas corpus and expansion of executive authority when our own history of Lincoln suspending it and being slapped down by the Supreme Court over it is good enough? Why not simply point out the many things that Bush has done and compare them to our own Declaration of Independence?

Now I realize that we have morphed into a society that hyperbolizes everything. The only way to get any attention paid to a story is to use as breathless and apocalypse-invoking language as possible. But that is mostly a declaration of the laziness of the writer. The problem with declaring everything to be the worst thing in the world is that it leaves you nowhere to go.

Except perhaps to the Politics Fray for more debate … and coincidentally, an op-ed piece published in today’s Los Angeles Times calls for lifting the censorship ban on the original N-Word. AC1:30pm

Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006

I’ve come out of this holiday weekend giving thanks for the return of divided government. If nothing else, the coming Democratic Congress has given back a stake in politics to the half of this country who have spent the last four years as helpless observers of national policy. The quality of political forecasting has risen dramatically in the Fray, as both sides of the debates give voice to a newfound sense of excitement and dread.

Responding to Jacob Weisberg’s obituary for the conservative era, Jack_Cerf divines a coming fusion of yesterday’s “wings”:

The alternative Weisberg doesn’t see is a combination of cultural conservatism, economic protectionism, and blood and soil nationalism. Pat Buchanan has been arguing for years that if we want to go back to traditional gender roles, where Dad was the breadwinner-patriarch and Mom made the home, we had to go back to an economy when an honest, hardworking Dad could support a stay at home Mom and kids.

The Buchananist coalition is in favor of traditionalist moral values and protection against cheap alien labor abroad and at home: pro-church, pro-tariff, pro-union and anti-immigrant, looking to the government for protection against the boss, the global labor market, Hollywood and Hip Hop. It has the potential to unite much of the Christian Right with a white working class fearful of declining living standards and those African-Americans angry that yet another group of immigrants seems to be passing them by.

Frankly, I think this is Ghost Dance politics, and that the Buchananites can no more return to an imagined 1950s that is gone beyond recall than the Sioux could dance the buffalo back in 1890s. I also think the attempt would command a lot of support and would tend to isolate both the Country Club Republicans who want free trade and cheap labor and the Mandarin Democrats who want free trade and a culture where mere whiteness and maleness have no privilege.

On the Internet, the topic of money tends to bring out some unusual points of view. But revrick makes a compelling argument that monetary policy will gain salience in the years ahead:

The Republicans have become the party of tax cuts and deficits don’t matter and as a result are heedless of the grave damage they will inflict on future generations. The Democrats, on the other hand, are preaching, however timidly, the understanding that we just cannot continue to pile debt upon debt and dump it all on our grandchildren’s shoulders.

The Democrats are saying that we have a moral responsibility to our children and children’s children to act with some measure of fiscal temperance. To cite Aesop’s fable, the Democrats are looking more and more like the ants and the Republicans have become grasshoppers, peddling wild-eyed, radical whack-a-doodle economic theories.

In some respects, the Democrats are returning to their Jacksonian roots pushing a hard money policy, based on the understanding that when the crash comes, it’s always those at the bottom who suffer the worst.

Mycenea projects “a restoration of the Romney Republicans: strong economy, strong defense, fiscal conservatism, and the devil take the rest. It will be a long time before anyone utters the words ‘family values.’” San lays out the case for the opposite future:

To be conservative means not to want to change. The old ways are good, and the new ways are only new, not better. To pursue many new paths is to waste money on things you cannot be certain about. […]

Conservatives don’t believe in government without a say. Government is the legal enforcement of social customs. Marriage bonds families to stop bastardization to promote society, and the law helps keep marriages together and infedelity down.

The fact that so many states put forth anti-gay marriage amendments proves that Conservatism isn’t dead. It means that people don’t want to change society, and that society has customs and rules to help promote a better America, not a worse. […]

Catorce predicts we’re entering the age of the “Global Realist”:

Ariel Sharon might be the best example of this. Israel finally realized that it simply did not have a peace partner amongst the Palestinians and couldn’t govern them. So it withdrew from Gaza and set in motion withdrawals from the West Bank. Very non-ideological. And it built a very effective wall. Very realist – attacks have plummeted. Wonder why Bush thinks a wall is a good idea on immigration?

In a well-written response to Fred Kaplan’s search for statecraft, MikeX sees the next two years through a lens, darkly:

Bush still has two years in office to implement a half-assed immigration policy, turn the world’s only agricultural superpower into a wasteland of ethanol crops and stand idly by while an earthquake levels Los Angeles, all without setting foot outside Crawford.

Democratic partisans seem to be more interested in their party’s immediate future, weighing in on John Dickerson’s analysis of the Dean-Carville dispute. If the Fray’s an indicator, Dean is definitely getting credit among the rank and file for the Democratic pickup. randall observes that Democratic gains were far wider than the congressional elections indicate:

The good news even extended to the county level in many states. This success had nothing to do with Schumer or Emanuel and everything to do with Dean. It is important to remember that these county and state officials will have significant roles to play in presidential politics at the state level and, if the DNC is smart enough to keep following Dean, they can keep control through the critical redistricting efforts. There is enough good news for Democrats to spread around the glory for a while.

Sophie believes Dean and the Democrats have a rosy future ahead:

Dean delivered when the media, pre-election day results, showed a smiling Rove and were tepidly predicting a house only win by the Democrats. Carville wasted no time, much the same as the Republicans, recasting a stunning victory into something less than it could have been. Jealousy must have got the better of him.

Carville should recognize the Democrats struggled from 1994 until this election cycle with the old paradigms of campaigning, mostly his. While it could be argued Dean could have done better, no one before him managed it any better, and actually did worse.

Dean is a smart guy. He’ll read the results and adjust for 2008. The democrats would be monumentally stupid to even consider removing him from the job. It looks like he may have found his place in politics and for the party, that is good.

Personally, I’m too myopic to guess what happens next. But, given the tedious tragedy of staying the course, the New Uncertainty strikes me as an incontrovertibly good thing.

Do you have an idea of what’s coming next for America? All visions and prophecies are welcome in The Big Idea FrayGA2:40am PT