Friday, May 27, 2005

Is Theism Dead?

As some of you know from reading this blog, I've been pondering religious issues for some time, both as they directly relate to politics as well as for their own merit. I grew up in the fundamentalist, evangelical, biblical literalism tradition of the Christian church. While I continue to think that the church has something to offer through its community and its revelation of the Jesus story, I've been increasingly disenchanted with the church's regressive views on human development. And I've come to believe that the concept of Biblical literalism has its own set of problems, even irrespective of its sometimes ghastly implications for how we treat people that don't share our nationality or our system of beliefs. So I think it's fair to say I've been sorting through what psychologists refer to as "dissonance" when it comes to reconciling my more modern views of society with many of the primitive and exclusive dimensions of church life.

In the last week I picked up a book by John Shelby Spong, a retired Epicospalean Bishop, on the Sins of Scripture. I ended up racing through that book and bought three more of his books a few days later. Needless to say I've found his commentary highly enlightening and refreshing.

The basic gist of his conclusions is that the Bible is not the Word of God, but is rather a historical epic or series of epic stories that have been merged together out of a common tribal heritage. The personal, intervening God of these writings was once afforded responsiblity for natural disasters, described as supporting the nation's foreign policy and acting to rout and destroy its enemies, attributed as the source of wisdom underlying the tribe's religious practices and social system of hierarchy, and generally treated as if He was aligned with the interests and purposes of the tribe in its struggles against other nations and peoples.

Spong says many of these assumptions have been demonstrated to be unfounded by the growth and improvement of scientific and social scholarship and discoveries associated with the modern era, dating generally to the 1500's when many new findings in astronomy, geography and psychology began to be emerge.

So, no longer can we really give any serious credence to tales of God planting a rainbow in the sky, manna falling from "heaven", and God's reported support for any one nation or body of people at the expense of another. These assumptions derived from primitive views of the world that attributed personal motives and qualities to natural forces, and which were based largely on the need for security.

This need for security in a vulnerable world led in turn to the creation of a father-like deity that handed out promises and threats, rewards and punishments, and could otherwise be placated, appeased and flattered by people in need of protection and life meaning, through the means of animal and ultimately human sacrifices and by means of liturgical services (worship) in which songs of praise were sung and prayers of gratitude were offered to this being.

As the tools of modern science have made this God less relevant and in the language of some, unemployed and idle now that He doesn't have much to do, the prominence of God, especially in the western world, has declined. Old creeds, doctrines, and cliches no longer maintain the same potent meaning once attached to them.

Perhaps most significant of the casualties involved in the retreat of theism is the assumption that life was once perfect before The Fall, after which Atonement was needed for us to restore our connection with God and our once state of perfection. Hence emerged the concepts of sin, punishment, and the need for a bleeding, dying, but eventually resurrected savior. It was said that God and his angels in heaven recorded our every thought, word, and deed. The outcome, for those who submit to this savior and accept this atonement is an eternal life in heaven with God. Those who refused this atonement and this belief, or were found wanting in the books of heaven, would be sent to Hell, to burn to death or to burn eternally (The Catholic church and much of the conservative evangelical world favors the view that "sinners" will burn forever while a few denominations hold that this punishment is to last only as long as is necessary to kill the person).

This belief system carries with it several significant implications for life here on earth. For one it generates a mind set of aiming for rewards and avoiding punishments. While most Protestant denominations hold that our "works" do not gain us heaven, obedience is still treated as essential to gain entrance to the promised land. Evangelicalism varies in its understanding of the cause and effect relationship between behavior and reward, in some cases differing only in emphasis. But the most common and acceptable view to emerge has been that our obedience that assures salvation is a "result" of our being saved, grateful as we become for Jesus dying for our sins and accepting His "new birth" into our lives that we change, become more and more like him, and thus put ourselves in the deserving category. At its best, such a system would seem to help ensure good behavior to others and a stable society. But all of this of course also lends itself to varying forms of severe psychosis and neurosis. For one, it puts a lot of pressure on a person to ensure that others are "saved". At the same time, it generates a heavily self centered, and robotic approach to life where one endeavors to conduct oneself in the proper manner so as to gain God's favor and eternal reward. It also generates an exclusive mind set where only those who believe, act, and indentify themselves with the believer's God or denomination will be saved.

In short, the Christian notions of life and salvation embody many problematic and child like attitudes of dependence, and behavior driven by fear of punishment or desire for favor and reward. Combined with a methodological emphasis that discourages serious intellectual inquiry, challenge, and change, the church's beliefs are gradually being eclipsed by a world that no longer needs the control of institutions and that can no longer accommodate creeds based on outmoded assumptions about people and how the world works. The result is a church that is both dying as well as becoming less biblical and more politically vindicative as it seeks to maintain its relevance in a changing world.

So, the question to ask is, does the church and the bible still have any importance? Does the emporer still have any clothes?

I believe the answer to these questions is affirmative, but the Christian church will need to change its fundamental assumptions, beliefs, and power goals to accommodate a spiritually searching and developing world. Ancient calls for tribal distinctions and exclusions, and the repression of women and gays will have to go. The church will need to be less condescending to a world and people it doesn't understand. It will need to let go of the illusion that life is about "getting into" the kingdom so that it can better work with others towards making a better, more inclusive and peaceful present.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Good News, Bad News

The Bad: Ezra Klein and Kos have noticed the electoral college projections showing blue states losing EVs to the red states in the future and Ezra worries the party could become obsolete.

The Good or at least optimistic: Judis and Teixeira think increases in the non-white population and, perhaps paradoxically, the increase in education levels combined with a new emerging technical professional class suggest better times for Democrats in the future.

More good: The Democrats came surprisingly close in 2004, at least at the presidential level. Bush's winning margin was the smallest of any previous incumbent who won re-election.

More bad: Democrats have typically won large majorities of the Black and Jewish vote, but this means that (1) there's nowhere to go but down with these groups, especially to the extent that religion and foreign policy increase in importance for these groups respectively and (2) If Democrats are maxed out on the Black vote, it's hard to see how either group helps in any states where Democrats are currently doing poorly. If Democrats are getting upwards of 85-90% of the black vote in the south and still losing, Democrats will need to expand their base of support in those states to win. Although the poor southern states would seem an ideal laboratory for trying out new, populist sounding themes, such as those recommended by John McGowan, or a "reform" agenda, such as that suggested by Ruy Teixeira, these issues haven't typically galvanized lots of support in past campaigns. In addition, it's hard to see what the Democrats' mobilizing issues are or could be. The Repubs got religion, which with its high emotional content, and base of anger-fear driven pew dwellers, can usually be whipped into a frenzy over just about anything, like a filibuster battle. The war? Arguments about past decisions, especially when so many Democratic officials supported the war, or at least acquienced to it, aren't probably going to help at this stage, unless things continue on their too long, or the situation there dramatically deteriorates, or unless there was a friendly media or a charasmatic candidate that could exploit it.

And, as I've argued previously, the primary threat facing the republic is the emergence of radical fundamentalism, personified by James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and televangelists such as D. James Kennedy and Rod Parsley. But challenging it presents Democrats with the difficult choice of constructing a nuanced argument that criticizes the leaders but not the followers, a task of some difficulty in a world that doesn't appreciate or do nuance and that isn't likely to win many friends or influence many people.

The best thing Democrats will have going in 2008 is incumbency: The Republicans'. Voters will be willing to hear appeals for change or at least balance. And to have a president named something other than Bush. Or Clinton. That, and the fact Democrats are not faced with the need, as they were in 1988, of having to build on their one state success of 1984. They have a larger pool of states to build on.

Beyond that, Democrats are not going to gain a lot of ground until there is a crisis. The last crisis on 9-11 skewed the balance of power the other way.

The next crises are likely to be either economic or foreign policy related (if Republicans continue to overreach by invading/bombing Iran or the other remaining axis of evil member), or until a coup by the religious right results in laws requiring church attendance on Sundays.

Until then, enjoy our Free America while it lasts.

Fox Announces Bash Jesus Day

With Democrats out of power, Bill Moyers and Dan Rather retired, Bill Maher relegated to HBO, and nightly cable tv news shows all hosted by Republican party officials and former officeholders, Fox producers search for a new target for their abuse, a new liberal whipping boy and find it in a Jesus of Nazareth, a village outside of Jerusalem.

Fox and Bush Friends

Join the perky hosts around the sofa as they bash Jesus for forgiving the woman caught in adultery (John 8) and for refusing to answer the pharisees' totally reasonable and just questions. Isn't forgiveness in this case morally relativistic? Isn't Jesus soft on crime?

Dayside with Linda Vester

Is Jesus anti-family and hostile to women who choose to be homemakers? We'll ask our fair and balanced guests, Phylis Schafly of the Eagle Forum, a representative of the Independent Woman's Forum, and spokesperson of the group, Concerned Women for America if Jesus was right to praise lazy Mary and criticize faithful Martha (Luke 10).

Your World with Neil Cavuto

Did Jesus really say that someone who worked one hour could get paid as much as someone who worked a whole day (Matthew 20)? Did Jesus really say that it was hard for rich men to get into heaven (Luke 18; Mark 10)? Why did Jesus just give food to the crowd that followed him (Matthew 14; Luke 9)? Why didn't he make them go and buy it? Did he think this was Food Stamps? Why did Jesus talk about debts being forgiven (Matthew 18; Luke 7)? And are the poor really "blessed" (Luke 6)? We'll explore these and other terribly liberal, anti-capitalist "parables of Jesus" with our round table of experts.

Studio B with Shephard Smith

Did the eldest son in Jesus' parable of the Prodical Son (Luke 15) get a raw deal? What punishment do you think the younger son should get, now that he blew all his dad's money? And what do you think the impact of this story is for family values? We'll be joined by family advocates and Bible experts Oliver North, Pat Sajak and Bill Kristol of Fox News to respond and to take your calls and emails. If you think the parable of the Prodical Son stinks, send us an email and we'll show it on the air.

The Big Story with John Gibson

Why the Beautitudes, especially the one about peacemakers (Matthew 5), are another example demonstrating the anti-American, anti-military bias so prevalent in society today. We'll uncover the truth about how Jesus is just another America-basher, which is, by the way, not only the most common past time, but which also, by the way, just so happens to be the subject of a book of mine.

Ordinary Report with Brit Hume

Is Jesus biased against Republicans? Why did he choose fisherman and tax collectors to be his disciples? We'll ask our guests, Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center, Bernie Goldman formerly of CBS News, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The Beltway Boys with Morton Krondake and Fred Barnes

We'll debate just how bad was Jesus' command to render unto Ceasar (Luke 20). Mort will take the "just, really, really bad" position, while Barnes will take the "ultra bad, really, really, really, baddy bad" position.

Hannity and Hannity

We'll interview church leaders who allege that Jesus broke the law by healing on the Sabbath, contaminated himself by touching lepers, and degraded himself by dining with sinners, IRS employees and Democrats (Mark 2; Luke 5).

After Hours with Cal Thomas

How exhortions to "love our enemies" (Matthew 5; Luke 6) is destroying the moral fabric of society. I'll be joined in my studio by James Dobson of Focus on Everybody's Family, Tony Perkins of the Researching your Family Council, and Richard Land, formerly the head of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Taking the Bible Seriously

In laying out some of the issues involved with "Biblical literalism", I am first off, trying to sort things out for myself. As a Christian and as a modernist I often find myself having my feet in both worlds. On the one hand, it's curious to me why most modernists (a description I think applies to most lefty activists, bloggers, and academics) don't seem more interested in the Bible, or at least in the questions of how we got here, why we're here, and where we're going. If modernism and the intellectual tradition are concerned about pursuing truth, it would seem to me that the Bible would be at least one source I'd be interested in. And as a modernist and intellectual (in the sense that I believe intellectualism is a positive and valid attribute for a society to have--not that I am intellectually brilliant), I approach the Bible at least partially from this perspective. So, I wonder why more modernists don't take the Bible seriously. I believe there are some who do. But the tendency seems to be to dismiss it alltogether. This is unfortunate as I don't think ignorance works whether one is a conservative or liberal. It inhibits a broader range of discussion that I think could be very fruitful and illuminating.

On the other hand. On the other hand, as I have argued previously, the Christian community has not been the most forward looking, humanity embracing project over the past centuries. Undoubtedly, this social-political track record has not put the church in good stead to be taken seriously by "non-believers". But of perhaps even more consequence, is the paradox that the "faith" community has itself not really taken the Bible seriously.

What do I mean by that? That's a pretty serious charge to make against a community that claims the Bible as its guide.

What I mean is that the church through the years has been inclined to approach the Bible from the perspective that the truth is already known, that this truth is defined by the particular denomination one is a part of, that this church's purpose is to lead others into its own understanding of scripture, and that this understanding of scripture is necessary for salvation. That is, my church, our church, is the sole possessor of truth. This is a somewhat simplistic summary, but I think it holds in most cases. To the extent that this is the church's posture, the Bible can't be studied in any meaningful manner, since the conclusions one is expected to derive from such a study are those that already fit the church's set of creeds and doctrines. In this sense, Protestant denominations are very much like the Roman Catholic church they claim to be protesting. Both systems proclaim themselves as the diviners of Biblical and world truth. The laity and outsiders can read the Bible, or make certain deductions about life from other sources, but ultimately, only the church through its ministers and officials can define church doctrine, and with it, characterize the nature of God.

The argument takes an even more illogical, circular nature when it comes to evangelism. Christians in the pews, and "non-Christian" believers are told (explicitly or implicitly) that the Bible is to be approached with reverance, in an open minded manner, with a willing spirit. Only then can the Bible's seemingly contradictory statements or other "oddities" be understood. A popular Christian quotation is from the writings of the apostle Paul which says that in words to the effect that "spiritual things are spiritually discerned". Only if you are Christian, or willing to be Christian can you understand the Bible and Christianity. But surely this approach and attitude could be asked of any belief system, whether it be Mormonism, Roman Catholocism, Marxism, or Darwinism. Such an approach it seems to me uses the Bible more as propaganda than as learning instrument.

What's the alternative? Bishop Spong, who I cited in previous posts, has come to the conclusion after a long career of study that Christianity as currently constituted is based on an erroneous understanding of the Bible and that a new approach, which negates much of the doctrine we as Christians have held dear for centuries, is needed.

I'm not there yet. But I do think Christians should reconsider the Bible and begin to ask some of the questions I have been posing. We should be willing to go beyond doctrine and creeds to embrace a different approach to the study of the Bible. This new approach I contend shouldn't approach the scriptures with "reverance" any more than one would approach any other historical writing. Nor should the study of the Bible be done to provide security for any particular denomination. For the Bible to be taken seriously means to say that the Bible should stand or fall on its own accord, not on the basis of a handicapped score system that a priori provides it with greater validity than other sources or systems of belief.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Biblical Literalism, Take Two

Although I promised to address the issue of biblical literalism and its ramifications for children, women, homosexuality, and slavery, I think it's important to mention one other element about Christianity and the Bible. That element is that questions about how the Bible was assembled, whether its seemingly varying and out of time contentions about mankind and society are reasonable, and whether its tales of miracles really happened are not part of the process in the church community. For "people of faith", it is assumed that Biblical events, conversations, teachings and examples occured exactly as written about in the scriptures and no one questions that. That the God of this Bible is "just" is also unquestioned, at least publically. That these extremely vital issues are presumed to be beyond the realm of discussion and debate makes for a relatively united, if unfortunately susceptible audience, and carries with it certain implications for the investigation of Truth. I wrote about the most extreme form of this unquestioning an unsearching for truth in a previous post about Bob Jones University.

And I think it's fair to say that there is little difference between most Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic church hierarchy on this point. Evangelical Protestants reject the authority of the Pope, but not church authority in general. Of course, if one is unhappy with the Biblical interpretations and pronouncements of a particular church or denomination, than one is free to leave I suppose. But there is little space for debate, which may be part of the explanation for the multitude of denominations. And furthermore, one's salvation is supposed to be at stake.

Now, in my previous post I suggested that while the scientific arguments against Biblical literalism were interesting but not necessarily persuasive, I do think Biblical literalism has faired less well in terms of perhaps the most important area of life, and that is its moral pronouncements and its social prohibitions.

Some of these problem areas are familiar to non-Christians, even if most churches tend to dismiss or excuse them.

Let's consider the role of women. A supreme court ruling in the late 1800's judged against a woman's demand for the right to practice law. This court's ruling, included in Spong's Sins, includes the majority decision that the woman did not have the right to practice law (although educated for it) because of Biblical admonitions about the role of women in public life. And there is no doubt that at least some portions of scripture call for female submission to the male, in the home, the church, and presumably, in the community. On this issue, the secular world eventually turned against the church and acted to provide greater rights and opportunities for women. Spong contends that the church also opposed the right to vote for women (finally extended via Constitutional Amendment in 1920). Undoubtedly this is true for at least some church leaders and denominations. A more empirical study would be interesting. But in any event, the overwhelming evidence is that the church, and political leaders who justified their conclusions on the Bible, have been behind the rest of society when it came to improving the lives and rights of women.

The same could be said for slavery. While support for the institution of slavery was no doubt based more on economic necessity than on Biblical standing, a large portion of the Bible believing community supported slavery, while many more secular groups and leaders in society opposed it. The debate and conflict over segregation a century later similarly pitted mostly secular leaders and students against an entrenched and privileged religious superstructure, and at least for many whites in the south, the struggle to maintain power through segregation was framed in religious terms and relied on the Bible for spotty, if not authoritative support. So again, the political and social beliefs of the church, and political leaders using the Bible for authority, have been found wanting in the passage of time, as their ideas and claims came to be seen as illogical and inhumane.

Which brings us to sex, and homosexuality in particular. The church that calls for opposition to homosexuality and gay persons, does so on the basis of Biblical passages. The same Church and the same Bible that was once used to justify repression of women, and to support the institution of slavery, is now being used as a means for repressing gay people. Based on its past, the church and the Bible it uses for support, doesn't have the most credible of track records.

At this point it is worth noting that two of the main verses used by religious fundamentalists come from the book of Leviticus, which also includes a number of stringent requirements and punishments related to such requirements, for a variety of other conditions and behaviors, including what can and can't be eaten. Naturally, those who use this book to oppose homosexuality are probably unaware of what is in the rest of the book, and even less interested in following it should they be pointed out.

Other sexual matters include the practice of circumcision. Spong suggests that the practice of circumcision may have its roots (no pun intended) in the fact that women bled during menstruation and men wanted to replicate this condition they saw in women. Because blood was very important in those days (and in ours) there was a great deal of mystery around the fact that while women bled from the genitals they did not die. Spong argues that because men feared women, or at least this aspect of womanhood, they feared that in bleeding but not dying, women possessed a power not available to them. To compensate, men established the ritual of circumcision. This allowed them the opportunity to bleed from the genitals and not die (remember, circumcision was originally practiced on adolescent males, not newborns, as is the practice now). While this may be conjecture, it says something about the fact that the necessity for circumcision, at least in the Old Testament, goes relatively unchallenged by most Bible believers. Because the Bible suggests the act was given by God as a means to separate His people, most Bible believers take it at that. Although the apostolic church later rescinded this requirement for new gentile converts, the role of circumcision in the religious community has declined in importance. But its origins are left largely uninvestigated. And Biblical literalists should remember that the issue of circumcision was determined by God to be of such importance, that the Bible says that God set out to kill Moses when Moses was on his way to Egypt to deliver Israel from slavery, because Moses had not conducted this ritual on his sons. (this after God had given Moses the command and the promise of His protection to go to Egypt to begin with).

On matters of sex, gender roles, and slavery, the statements of the Bible have not been shining examples of enlightenment and have not faired well over time.

So then, how do we address this matter of Biblical literalism and inerrancy? That will be the subject for future posts.

What is Biblical Literalism?

The Senator had been after me for at least a week to get him a copy of James Wolcott's Attack Poodles, which I did, and along the way I picked up Bishop John Shelby Spong's The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love.

Spong, a retired Episcopalian Bishop of Newark, NJ (he's originally from NC), is notorious or heroic, depending on your perspective, as a religious who believes the Bible is essentially a historic epic, a compilation of narratives, myths, and strands of wisdom, but that which is nevertheless, infected by the primitive thoughts of its eras. The Bible is not, he says, the so-called Word of God. For those of us raised in the literalist, fundamentalist tradition, Spong's arguments are surprising. And in many cases illuminating.

Now, I should probably point out that there are very few individuals or orders that take the Bible absolutely literally. Most who claim to do so really have no knowledge, let alone intention, of returning to a strict constructivist understanding and implementation of the various laws demanded by books such as Levicticus, or think people picking up sticks on the Sabbath should be executed (Numbers), or think the slavery stipulations of Exodus are reputable. Most of this contingent seems unaware of the teachings of Jesus as well, but that's for another day.

In Sins, Spong challenges the conventional fundamentalist use of Biblical passages relating to the environment, women, homosexuality, children, and Jews. Unlike many religious liberals, Spong doesn't merely allege that the fundamentalist right has misinterpreted these verses or misapplied them, he alleges they shouldn't be used at all as guidelines for living because they arose from the beliefs and values of the people of the time and shouldn't be understood as divine authorizations.

His arguments are clear although fairly thorough so I won't replicate them here. Read the book.

But I do want to begin a dialogue or at least a monologue about the Bible, how we should understand it, and whether with the advance of civilization since antiquity, its moral positions continue to be valid.

While the Bible as Myth argument has its own challenges, I'll choose today to focus on the problems associated with the literalist view.

The first set of problems concerns those statements or actions from the Bible that are either illogical or highly questionable if not detestable. I would include in the illogical subcategory those various prohibitions, such as those against homosexuality, as well as the various rules related to cleanliness and uncleanliness, some of which specifically related to women, during their times of menstruation and after giving birth. The highly questionable or detestable incidents involve those where God is recorded as having killed the sons of Judah (Genesis), the killing of 70,000 Jews because of David's sin of numbering the people, Elijah calls down fire on messengers from the king, etc.

A somewhat related problem concerns those cases in which past Biblical injunctions have been proven faulty or undesireable. Assumptions about the earth as the center of the universe (which Galileo challenged, and was threated with excommunication or worse if he didn't recant, which he did) represented in part by Joshua's commanding the sun to "stand still" so as to preserve daylight needed to rout the enemy. As we understand now, the sun doesn't "stand still" for us. We move around it. For Spong, verses like this are a real issue, demonstrating the Bible's lack of credibility. I'm not sure this is the case. As one biblical commentary put it (an apologetic defense, obviously), this could be thought of as merely a figure of speech, such as when we say things like, the sun rises, or the sun sets. Neither of those comments are literally accurate, but just ways of expressing what we see. But in any event, the Catholic church of a couple hundred years ago used the Joshua passage as indicating Galileo's fault. Galileo was eventually proven correct, and the Roman Catholic church got around to apologizing in 1991.

For Spong, later scientific discoveries, such as those by Newton, Einstein and Darwin, challenged conventional views derived from a literal reading of scripture, and provide additional evidence that the Bible should not be interpreted literally, particularly in the case of miracles and other tricks. Again, I'm not sure that the discoveries that the bodies of earth operated according to fixed principles is an argument against miracles. If God is outside of time and space, and omniscient, than He or She can control the forces of nature (even making the "sun stand still").

But if the case against biblical literalism and infallibility on the basis of natural discoveries is less than totally convincing, the problems stemming from Biblical statements regarding sex, women, children, and slavery deserve greater inquiry. It is to this that I will turn in a further post.

Filibuster Compromise--The Final Cut

Basically I see this as a short term win for Democrats: They were going to lose the procedural vote implementing the nuclear option; consequently, all seven of the feudalists judges would likely have been confirmed. Now that number is down to three.

The long term image is different. Forcing the nuclear option now would have opened Republicans up to charges of overreach and recklessness and at the same time, ensured that any Democratically controlled government in the future will not be inclined to give minority Republicans any leeway. If, however, the Republicans forestall the use of the nuclear option for a later date, say when a controversial supreme court pick is made, it may appear to be a more reasoned, one time only decision. Democrats could respond as they have already that Republicans filibustered an LBJ judical pick in 68, but the Republicans may ultimately get the better of the argument when the dispute is over one supreme court nomination.

Ultimately, the Democrats are in a tough position because they keep losing elections. While the reelection of W was not surprising, the changes in the House are partly from redistricting, which in itself is a reflection of declining power at the state level, and the 2004 Senate losses were near catastrophic.

Which leads us back to the prospects for a Democratic realignment. I may be overly pessimistic, but I don't think strategies such as "reframing" (associated with George Lakoff) or emphasizing a new "reform" agenda (associated with Ruy Teixeira at Donkey Rising) are likely going to sway many folk. While I prefer a libertarian appeal, aimed at the abuses and civil liberties violating ambitions of the religious fundamentalists, I'm afraid the next Democratic realignment will come in the aftermath of a large economic or political shock, as it did during the depression. Then the party will be left with the need to pick up the pieces. And if the next crisis is a religious one, where dominionists attempt to implement or in fact are successful in passing at least a portion of their reconstructionist agenda than the scale of the crisis will make a democratic realignment tough indeed. At least an economic collapse would provide an incentive for new policies. A religious crisis may not as easily lend itself to an outright collapse of government, making political and policy change more difficult to achieve.

More about this in further posts.

Winning and Losing

After a day of R and R yesterday, the Senator woke up this morning to find that a compromise had been reached over the president's judicial nominees and the nuclear option. What do we make of this?

Over at the CarpetbaggerReport, they are saying the interpretation depends on what we think the outcome would have been had the nuclear option been voted on. As this blog indicated some days ago, we believe the nuclear option would have been exercised, and the filibuster voted down and out. Advantage: Democrats.

But there's another point, isn't there? It's about what the outcome would have been had the nuclear option been voted on and either supported or rejected. Ezra Klein thinks progressives would have ultimately been hurt by the aftermath, being branded as obstructionists by either maintaining the filibuster of the nominees (if the nuclear option was voted down), or by grounding Senate work to a halt (as promised should the nuclear option been voted up). Since the ultimate goal, according to Ezra, was to preserve the filibuster for future Supreme Court picks, advantage Democrats.

Finally, assuming the nuclear option passes, Democrats are likely stuck with seven bad judges instead of just three. Assuming the option would fail, then Democrats get three bad judges instead of zero. There's a game theory conclusion here somewhere, where zero is the preferred result, seven is the least desired result, and three or four is the compromise. While this would normally be a break even result, the assumption that the option would pass means Dems would have been stuck with seven instead of three, their possible result. Advantage Democrats.

James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Free Republic posters ticked off--priceless.

A final further arguments goes to the effect of having these three put on their respective circuit court of appeals and the change in the balance of power they would cause. The confirmation of Owens and Prior wouldn't necessarily worsen their courts, but the confirmation of Brown would.

Cross your fingers that Brown is voted down.