Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Many years ago, when my kids were little, we visited my parents in California for Christmas. When we went to mass, my mother complained about how hard it was to find a pew because of all the people who only showed up on Christmas. I did not tell her that I was one of those people. Ever since then, I have attended the earliest available mass on Christmas morning. It is easy to find a seat and the priest doesn't use his sermon as an opportunity to reach those Catholics that he knows he won't see again for another year. Everybody is happy to see anybody who shows up. That is the reason for the season for me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Does the Resurrection Make Sense of the Facts?

I ran across the following statement at Victor Reppert's dangerous idea blog:
If you don't believe in the Resurrection, then I think there are a bunch of inconvenient facts out there that are hard to make sense of.

Reppert doesn't list the "inconvenient" facts in this particular post, but I would guess that they are the usual facts cited by Christian apologists, e.g., the story of the women finding the empty tomb, the apostles belief that Jesus had appeared to them, the conversion of Paul, the willingness of the apostles to die for their beliefs, the rapid spread of Christianity.

Assuming arguendo that these are really facts, it is hard to make sense of them to the extent that they violate the normal patterns of cause and effect that we observe in the world around us.  For example, people normally don't invent stories for propaganda purposes if the stories don't advance their agenda.  Therefore, we should expect the evangelists to invent the story of women finding the empty tomb because making women the primary witnesses would have undercut the story in first century Jewish culture.  It is hard to make sense of the appearance stories because Jesus appeared to multiple individuals at the same time and people don't normally share hallucinations.  It is hard to make sense of the willingness of the apostles to die for their beliefs because people normally are not willing to die for something that they know not to have happened.  In every instance, the reason that it is hard to make sense of these stories is because things happen in them that don't follow the usual patterns. 

The resurrection of course does not follow the usual pattern either and most Christian apologists acknowledge this, however, they insist that we must not dismiss the possibility of a supernatural being who can interfere with those natural patterns of cause and effect that we observe. Once we allow for this possibility, the Christian apologist insists that the resurrection makes sense of all the "inconvenient" facts.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that if we allow for the possibility of supernatural interference with the laws of nature that we observe, then we no longer have any basis to say any ancient story is any harder to make sense of then any other ancient story.  If we don't think that the patterns we observe act consistently at all times and places, then there is nothing that doesn't make sense in a story that undercuts a storyteller's agenda, in shared hallucinations, or in people willing to die for a lie.  We can say that every story makes sense, or perhaps, that the notion of making sense becomes moot. 

Christian apologists demand that every possible explanation for the gospel stories be evaluated according to the normal patterns of cause and effect that we observe in the world.  That is, every possible explanation but one.  They insist that we ignore those patterns when we evaluate the possiblity that Jesus really rose from the dead.  I don't see how this makes sense of anything.

Friday, December 17, 2010

FCIC Republicans "We Can't Handle the Truth"

The Republicans members on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission have decided that they can't be bothered with actually figuring out why the global financial system nearly collapsed in 2008 if they might have to acknowledge that the incentives of the free markets might actually lead to perverse results upon occasion.   Instead they have decided to stick with blaming the government and liberals for everything that goes wrong anywhere in the world.  In this case, the Republican members of the FCIC have issued their own report on the financial crisis that absolves Wall Street and places the blame for the housing bubble on the Community Redevelopment Act, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

The word "deregulation" is not found in the Republican report.  There is no mention of the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000 which prevented the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from undertaking any regulation of over-the-counter derivatives like credit default swaps. There is no mention of the SEC's decision in 2004 to exempt Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley from net capitalization rules permitting them to increase their leverage rations to previously unknown levels. There is no mention of the repeal of Glass Steagall. There is no the hands-off philosophy that guided the Federal Reserve Board under the chairmanship of Alan Greenspan.

For a nice summary of the issues to which the Republicans closed their eyes in an "exercise in willful ignorance," see 10 Questions for GOP Members of Financial Crisis Inquiry by Barry Ritholtz at  The Big Picture.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Franken on the Tax Compromise

If this is the prelude of a permanent extension of the Bush tax breaks for the super-wealthy, we're in big trouble. We'll lose our ability to make the investments we need to grow our way out of long-term budget deficits: education, infrastructure, and research and development. And I am taking the president at his word that he will fight harder to put an end to these wasteful tax breaks in 2012 than he did in 2010.

Al Franken on his decision to vote for Obama's tax compromise.

I think that Franken's heart is in the right place and he seems like a smart guy, but I don't think that there is any "if" about it. Moreover, I cannot imagine any reason why Obama would fight harder in 2012 than he fought in 2010.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Congressman is a Twit

On December 6, Illinois Congressman Peter Roskam, along with Michelle Bachmann and other members of The Congressional Prayer Caucus sent a critical letter to President Obama. The problem? Obama doesn't refer to "God" often enough.
[D]uring three separate events this fall, you mentioned that we have inalienable rights, but consistently failed to mention the source of our rights. The Declaration of Independence definitively recognizes God, our Creator, as the source of our rights. Omitting the word 'Creator' once was a mistake; but twice establishes a pattern.
According to the Prayer Caucus, Obama is "doing a disservice to the people [he] represent[s]" and is "casting aside an integral part of society.

I suppose this means that the Framers of the Constitution also did a disservice to the American people since they didn't mention "God" or "the Creator" even once. I wonder what this gaggle of twits would say if Obama started making references to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," which is after all, where the Declaration of Independence grounds those "unalienable rights." No doubt they would howl like banshees.

The Caucus was particularly upset that Obama referred to "e pluribus unum" as our national motto. No matter that "e pluribus unum" is in fact a motto and it appears on the Seal of the United States that was adopted by Act of Congress in 1782. Apparently, we can throw out the will and sentiment of the Founding Fathers in favor of a Congress filled with reactionary Republicans that declared "In God We Trust" to be our national motto in 1956.

Of course the Caucus was eager to appeal to the Founders when they could quote mine something useful.
John Adams said, "It is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand." If Adams was right, by making these kinds of statements, you are removing one of the cornerstones of our secure freedom. We unravel the tapestry of freedom that birthed America.
That's right! By citing a motto that served the country perfectly well for 174 years, Obama is unraveling "the tapestry of freedom."

It is always interesting to track down the source of the Religious Right's favorite quotes. One might think that the Adams quote comes from his Inauguration Address or a speech to Congress. In fact it comes from a personal letter to his cousin Zabdiel Adams who was a minister and the context is quite interesting.
Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue; and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies. You cannot, therefore, be more pleasantly or usefully employed than in the way of your profession, pulling down the strong-holds of Satan. (emphasis added)
So it is Obama's failure to heed a letter in which Adams was buttering up his cousin that is going to destroy our country.

The Caucus claims that in his statements, Obama "does not accurately reflect America and serves to undercut an important part of of our history."   An ironic accusation from group that is throwing American history down the memory hole as fast as it can.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tax Cuts and the War on Christmas

The annual distraction has begun: conservatives screaming about the War on Christmas. Anything to distract the base from the fact that the Republican who campaigned as deficit hawks have extended the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Gretch Who Saved the War on Christmas
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorThe Daily Show on Facebook