Thursday, December 22, 2005

Today in Iraq, Version 19.4

Sunnis, Secular Shiites Threaten Boycott

Not everybody's happy with the recent election. Maybe instead of purple fingers they needed state photo ID's in the poorer areas to make sure there was no "voter fraud", like they've been trying to enforce in Georgia, U.S.

Anyway, down further in the piece we read this:

A representative for former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi described the Dec. 15 vote as "fraudulent" and the elected lawmakers "illegitimate."


Allawi representative Ibrahim al-Janabi took the accusations one step forward and described the Dec. 15 elections in all of Iraq's 18 provinces as "fraudulent."

"These elections are fraudulent, they are fraudulent, and the next parliament is illegitimate. We reject all this process," al-Janabi told a news conference.

Can someone help me out here? Wasn't Allawi once "our guy" in Baghdad? Didn't the Republicans criticize John Kerry for criticizing "Prime Minister" Allawi when he came here in 2004 to make a campaign speech, er, foreign policy speech, for Bush? Now Allawi's outside looking in and not liking what he sees.

First Chalabi. Now Allawi. Can't we keep our democratically elected dictators in line?

Time for a Comparative Religions Elective in High School?

You know I've heard variations of this idea for some time now:

A new and wiser school board is planning to do just that by removing intelligent design from the science curriculum and perhaps placing it in an elective course on comparative religion. That would be a more appropriate venue to learn about what the judge deemed "a religious view, a mere relabeling of creationism and not a scientific theory."

For most of the time I've been hearing this idea, I have thought it a mistake, just another back-door opportunity for fundamentalists to force religion back into the school and onto the populace whether they want it or not. Sure, the class is "elective", but imagine the liberties school boards across the south and midwest could do with that little fiction. Before long, an "elective" and "comparative" religion class becomes a mandatory class on fundamentalist dogma run by some Focus on the Family offshoot. And then were back to the same problem of where maybe in one community, one or two families don't want their kids subjected to this, the families are ostracized, blanketed with religious hate mail for being atheistic commies because they object to religious indoctrinization, and so on.

Hey, if you want your kid to learn about religion, send him or her to church, and go your self so you can learn about it, too.

But now I'm reconsidering.

Why? Because you really don't learn religion in church. What you learn in church is how to do church according to that religion; you don't learn anything about religion in general. And you only learn those parts of the bible that fit your church's orthodoxy. To the extent you learn about any one else's religion, it's likely to be a highly inflammable, polemic version that provides little if any true description of that religion, not to mention any logic or analysis.

So maybe it's time to ensure that our children learn about everyone's religion, and learn it in an objective, even-handed, "fair and balanced" manner.

How would this work? Well, I don't know how fixed the rules for such an elective course could be, but why not make it that if you want to offer such a thing, you have to have a traditional catholic come in to teach about traditional catholicism, you have an evangelical come in to teach about evangelicalism, a Methodist to teach about Methodism, a Mormon to teach about Mormonism, a Jewish person to teach about Judaism, a Muslim to teach about Islam, and so on. I think you get the idea. That way, everyone's views get presented by an expert in that religion (instead of having, say, a protestant teach about catholicism).

Would this fly? I doubt it. There'd be an uproar about every aspect of the course, no doubt, in just about every community. Complaints that no matter how well qualified, the presenter on Catholicism wasn't Catholic enough, the Methodist not Methodist enough, the Evangelical not evangelical enough, etc. When the evangelicals presented the catholic kids would get to hear their leader referred to as the anti-christ, and their church as paganistic. The evangelical kids would get to hear how their church is committing heresy because they don't submit to the Pope, and so on.

Lots of fun for the whole family. But if evangelicals want to get religion in the schools, this is what they should know they are getting into. It's all or nothing. Evangelicals typically like things that are all or nothing, so maybe this would appeal to them. But my guess is most evangelicals and orthodox Catholics, Mormons, Adventists won't want religion in the schools under these terms. They want their ideas presented and their ideas alone. Which is precisely the problem.

But I'm open to the idea. It could do a lot to broaden everyone's horizon's, hold up each denomination's claims to greater scrutiny, make us all better informed, and maybe make us all a little more tolerant.

If we don't kill each other in the process.

I don' think I can read the newspapers or the Internets anymore

First this.

Then this.

Shorter Robert Novak

When liberals whine about the Constitutional right to privacy they're being stupid weenie-heads, but when conservatives stand for the Constitutional right to privacy they're being heroic.

President Caught Spreading Urban Legends

Remember last week when the president said the NY Times story about the NSA wiretaps was a threat to national security because it caused Osama bin Forgotten to stop using his cell?

Well, um, now it's been confirmed that the president was full of hooey:

Monday, December 19, 2005

Can Someone Page the "Culture of Life"?

From the archives of EWTN, the conservative catholic cable television network. It's long, it's from 2002, but I think you'll get the drift. Dr. Carroll is the Catholic answer man here, followed at the end by another catholic apologist, Matthew Bunson. The questioner's comments I've left in regular type, the catholic authority's response in italics.


Burning at the stake -- a different perspective

Question from Don on 05-13-2002:

Dr. Carroll,

In considering the treatment of relapsed heretics (most, but not all, heretics were given the chance to recant before being burned alive), it is obviously important to consider the underlining beliefs motivating such behavior on the part of the Catholic secular and religious authorities.
To those watching someone being burned alive, as well as to the person being executed, it is clear that such a death was a vivid depicture of people's beliefs regarding Hell. In Saint Joan of Arc's Trial of Condemnation, Hell is not referred to as "hell" but as the "eternal fire". The same terminology was later used at the Council of Florence, and is also present in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph #1036).

Does it seem logical that heretics were burned alive, with their mental faculties intact, to give them one last chance to repent before being sent into the "eternal fire"? Could it be that burning an individual at the stake was seen as a merciful death, as a means of giving that person one last chance to save his or her soul before final damnation??? I have read that "burning at the stake was believed by some medieval authorities and scholars to liberate the sinner from his or her formerly damned state and offer some hope of salvation to the now 'cleansed' soul".

The unchanging teaching of the Church is that Hell is the "the unquenchable fire" (#1034) and that it is eternal (#1035). Until the 20th-century, heresy was viewed as a terrible sin, something that the Apostle Paul condemns as damnable (#817), stating in Galatians 1:6-9,
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." Some translations have "eternally condemned" or "anathema" instead of "accursed".

Given such an admonition, what should one have expected of the medieval Church? If heretics were (and are) on a "highway to Hell", does it make sense to mercifully kill a relapsed heretic, so that he or she can "peacefully" pass into the "furnace of fire" (#1034)?

In our time, we have religious freedom, a gift from the deists of the Enlightenment. This is a good thing!! We need religious tolerance. One only need look at the events of September 11 to see that!! Tolerance is good and wonderful! Without it, we would probably be fighting numerous religious and ethnic wars, which would cost millions of lives.

In the end, though, our deep religious tolerance may not be a good thing. In giving people the absolute freedom to decide what they do or do not believe, we may have given them the freedom to "think and feel" their way straight into Hell, forever. In our age of complete relativism where there are no absolute truths, the Church has to operate the best she can, and this means a certain level of conformity to the prevailing social norms -- in this case, religious tolerance and ecumenicalism.

The world of medieval Catholic Europe operated under a set of much different circumstances. They did what they felt was right in the eyes of God. They were not "sinners" and did not necessarily use "poor judgment". Ultimately, Christ will judge all people, including those of the Inquisition. Catholics should not feel "embarrassed" by that outcome. I am not.

This is not to say that burning people alive was justified, even if the individual in question was a genuine heretic who repeatedly refused to recant. I guess that any judgment would need to be made on an individual case. We will all die someday, and I fully and firmly believe that God will judge everyone to ultimately spend eternity in either Heaven or Hell. From the perspective of an obstinate heretic who was taken to the scaffold to be executed but who recanted before dying, the Inquisition may have ultimately been a “good” thing, assuming, of course, that the person went to Heaven who would have otherwise gone to Hell, except for the “grace” of the Inquisition. Of course, only God knows for sure.

If you think that the Inquisition was evil or misguided, just consider the state of those countries today where the Inquisitions were the most active – Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Nearly everyone in those countries is Catholic, and consequently, all three of those nations have the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.

Over the course of six hundred years, the Catholic Inquisitions sent between forty to sixty thousand individuals to the scaffold to be burned by the secular authorities. This is less than half the number of abortions done in the United States every month.



Answer by Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D on 05-15-2002:
Well stated. - Dr. Carroll



Question from Jared on 05-13-2002:

Dr. Carroll, in response to the post by Michael Edwards-Ronning on 5-11-02: I think that the popes during that time felt that the killing of heretics was just. To figure, wouldn't it be a lot better for the general population if a few mainstream heretics were killed, so that the whole population was not "infected" by the heresies of the few? What I am trying to say is that it wasn't a terrible idea. Kill a few heretics to save the eternal souls of the population. That may seem harsh, but that is the basis of my assumption. Thanks.

Answer by Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D on 05-15-2002:
Well stated. I agree with you. - Dr. Carroll


Heresey and Burning

Question from David Betts on 05-14-2002:

Dr. Carroll,

The Papal Bull, 'Exsurge Domine,' of Jun 15, 1520, condemned the errors of Martin Luther and his followers. In the translation of this Bull that I have read, Pope Leo X repudiates the following Protestant teaching: #33. That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.

This proclamation by Pope Leo X proves the Catholic Church taught that the burning of heretics was acceptable to God. Responsibility for this practice cannot be shifted to the civil authorities, as has been suggested.

You have termed the Reformation a 'Revolt,' which it may have been, but I ask you, what sort of Christian would blindly obey such twisted doctrine ?


David Betts

Answer by Dr. William Carroll on 05-18-2002:
Traditionally, burning at the stake had always been the penalty for heresy because, as previous posters have pointed out, heresy was believed to consign souls to hellfire. That is why this practice was followed. - Dr. Carroll


Re: Burning heretics at the stake

Question from Leslie Tate on 05-17-2002:

I have read with increasing horror the recent posts condoning the burning of heretics at the stake. It seems that the conservative branch of the Church feels that the Crusades, the Inquisition, et. al. were completely justified. The Church is NEVER wrong, and if you EVER question what went on in those years, I suppose you are branded a what, a heretic?? I do know in my historical studies that, without a doubt, there were many corrupt practices taking place in the Church, and that some of the so-called heretics were really just good people trying to make some changes (such as letting the bible be translated into the language of the people, to be read by the people). Would not these people who state that it was the right of the Church to burn heretics say that modern day "heretics" (Billy Graham, perhaps?) be equally condemned because they are Protestant? I cannot believe that ANYONE who professes to be a Christian would ever condone the torture and burning of heretics. I am losing my faith in the Church if this is the case.

Answer by Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D on 05-20-2002:
Heretics are revolutionaries against the Church, and if they are given a free hand can and will imperil the salvation of millions and begin the upheaval of society. Ask anyone who knew the Communist revolution in Russia or Cuba what horrors revolution brings. - Dr. Carroll


Heretics and Burning

Question from David Betts on 05-20-2002:

Dr. Carroll,

I have stated before my respect for your work on this forum, and sincerely repeat it now. You defend doggedly and with expert knowledge the truths of the Catholic faith.

I join with all those who believe that no justification for burning heretics can be found in the character and teachings of Jesus Christ. The defense of staking that one poster advanced at your forum --that it offers the terrified heretic one final, merciful chance to repent before being cast into hell—will not stand. That man on the stake was robbed forever, at the Pope’s orders, of any chance for the heartfelt repentance that alone pleases God. No confession of grave sin extracted from a man twisting in agony could possibly bring satisfaction to Jesus Christ. We do not need to consult the magisterium of the Catholic Church to know that this is so. Nor is there any possibility that such a gruesome spectacle could elevate public morality or restore men to a right relationship with God. The Popes who approved this horrendous punishment dishonored God far more than the heretics, and fueled the Reformation.

You speak solemnly of the responsibility of central authorities (as in Russia, Cuba, the U.S. government in 1861, the Bishop of Rome throughout history) to resist revolutionaries, drawing an analogy between dangerous political rebels and heretics. But order and discipline are not always worthy of admiration. Life in Russia under the Czars had little to recommend it. Would you have wanted to be a serf? Concerning Cuba, would you deny that the government of that island was corrupt to the core in the years before Castro? Arguably, it still is, but there were powerful reasons for the uprising that took place there. It is not in praise of Lenin and Marx that men in free countries can still reject the rule of the Czars and the sleek hoodlums who once ran Cuba with an iron fist. Common people have a right to fight tyranny. Do you not see that a Pope who passes beyond his supreme authority to identify and excommunicate heretics, into the realm of BURNING THEM ALIVE, has departed from Christ and taken on the mantle of a tyrant?

Answer by Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D on 05-23-2002:
I do not advocate a return to burning at the stake, and I agree that this penalty should not have been imposed. But revolution is the greatest human evil in history, a veritable feast for Satan. I have a book on this subject which gives plenty of examples: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE COMMUNIST REVOLUTION, which you may obtain from Christendom Press in Front Royal, Virginia by calling toll-free 1-800-698-6649, or at your local library by inter-library loan. If you read this, as I hope you will, please read my account of what happened to Armando Valladares in Castro's Cuba, as unforgettably described in his great book AGAINST ALL HOPE. Anything is better than that! - Dr. Carroll


Burning of Heretics

Question from Shawn Madden on 05-21-2002:

This is very interesting Dr. Carroll. Your post to Leslie Tate on 5-20 is, at the very least, an apologetic for the burning of heretics in the past, and at the worst, a call to burn present day heretics. I note her mentioning of a present day heretic, Billy Graham, and your lack of any kind of distinction between present circumstances and the past. In fact, it seems that you are using the communist movements in China as an example of why the burning of heretics today would be justified.

I find your response disturbing in the extreme. Folks can say what they wish on EWTN's site about Catholic bashing by protestants but I have yet to read of a protestant justifying or calling for the burning of Catholics.

Some extreme posititions advocating the Catholic past I can see and understand but to dismiss so easily the burning of heretics is, in my mind, unconscionable. I don't think that even the Feenyites go that far.

Shawn Madden

Answer by Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D on 05-23-2002:
In a recent post I tried to clarify my position on this issue. I certainly do not advocate the restoration of the butning of heretics, because in the present climate of opinion it would hurt the Church, and I do not think it should have been done in the past, because we should not deliberately inflict such great pain, nor deprive the heretic of the oppotunity to repent. But I do understand why it was done in the past, for the reasons that several posters have stated. Billy Graham would have been seen as a heretic in the past, and he is in fact a heretic now, though he does love Christ and has done much good. - Dr. Carroll



Question from Gregory Dulmes on 09-08-2002:

Why are we always apologizing for the inquisitions? Why should Catholics feel bad that Exsurge Domine condemned Luther for the error stating that the burning of heretics was against the will of the Spirit? I tire of self-righteous critics denouncing the Church on this. Let me attempt a defence:
1) Temporal rulers and states have the legitimate authority to administer capital punishment.
2) At the time of the inquisitions, the states involved were explicitly, formally, officially *Catholic* entities. Kings and emperors were crowned in religious ceremonies. Because the Church rebuilt Europe, these kingdoms derived their authority from the Church.
3) A heretic was both a proliferator of doctrinal error *and a social revolutionary*. To be a heretic meant one was dedicated to overthrowing both the Church and the temporal order, i.e., fomenting revolution.
4) The Church executed no one. The Church's main role was to determine if the accused was actually a heretic or not. He or she was then turned over to the state - sometimes. The state's official punishment for heresy was usually a death sentence.

Hence, since a heretic was both a false teacher and a social revolutionary, he threatened to unleash chaos in society. I have no doubt that, given the rulers of the time (rulers *God* allowed to be) that the will of the Spirit was to give the heretic his just deserts (i.e., *justice*), meaning death at the stake. This does not make God or the Catholic Church cruel or sadistic. Any one who thinks this is cruel can simply review the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when heresy triumphed. The tragedy in lives and souls lost speaks for itself.

Lastly, the inquisitions were not only not bad, but were good. Why? Because they were an advancement over the mob violence and vigilante justice that proceeded them. Everything was usually by the book, carried out by the due 'controlling legal authorities'. If a man was executed, you can at least be sure that the accusations against him were true.

Where am I wrong in this?

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 09-08-2002:
Thank you for your views. They are shared by a great many people who object to the seemingly endless number of apologies demanded from the Church.


Remember this the next time you hear anything about the Culture of Life.

Helping the Enemy?

From Bush's "press conference":

'It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy', he said at the White House event.

What? Helping the enemy? Um, how? Does anyone think the "terrorists" aren't mindful that emails and cell-phone calls can be monitored? Do they think electronic and wire contacts are secure? Are we to believe that Osama bin Forgotten, from his cave in Afghanistan or pad in Islamasbad, after reading the NY Times article suddenly got panicked that all those emails he's been soliciting from the U.S. have been read and that now, that he knows this, that he'll put the grand email plan on hold?

When this administration passes on, it will be most known for its many undocumented claims, from manipulated "intelligence", "...welcomed as liberators" and "mushroom clouds" to broad sweeping generalizations like press reports on our government's actions "helping the enemy". Where's the evidence for this?

There's none, but the right wing hate machine, now that Bush's approval ratings have shot up to 40, are feeling their oats. I caught part of a radio show this morning where the hosts were slobbering about the need to find, persecute and murder the NYT leakers. The right wing is lost without the all important enemy within. And there's "no evidence" evidence that will trouble them.

The End of Faith?

I know I'm late to the party and that Sam Harris's book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and Reason (sic) came out so long ago it's now in paperback, but I just happened upon C-Span's book program yesterday and caught most of his remarks from November. He was pretty compelling, causing me to stay tuned from 1:15 to 2:03 yesterday when I could have been watching the Colts finish a dismal first half.

His basic argument is that the connection between terrorism and religion is straight-forward and "rational" for people of faith who rely on the texts of their "books" for inspiration and direction. Conservatives will salute his conclusion that the West is at war with Islamic fundamentalism, and that the 9-11 terrorists were well-educated, upwardly mobile, and not driven primarily by economic frustration or the Palestinian conflict. So no Robert Pape arguments here.

But conservatives won't like what he says after that.

What he says after this is that "faith" has gotten an ill-advised pass at both the interpersonal as well as broader social level, that when someone says they hold something to be true because of their religious faith that most people don't challenge them on it, because to do so would be to commit the most offensive social taboo--don't mess with people's religious faith.

Harris also argues that contrary to what most people, and even many scientists say, faith and science are not opposite or distinct enterprises, and that both seek the same thing--to understand the world. The problem is, according to Harris, Religion does so without evidence. Or at least without good evidence.

One example he gives is that of a person who says he believes that there is a refrigerator full of diamonds buried beneath his backyard. The person may dig out there once a week with his family, rejoice in the idea that his backyard contains this refrigerator full of diamonds, but of course, not actually come up with these diamonds at any point. Nonetheless, Harris argues this is the equivalent of most religious people's evidence of their faith but that these people may say things such as (paraphrasing), "well, yes it's true I don't have the diamonds right now, but I get a lot out of digging around in the backyard there so my vision of the refrigerator full of diamonds is really a good thing..."

The problem with this kind of thinking, Harris says, is that the social taboo says we can't challenge them on it, that resorting to the statement that one believes there's a refrigerator beneath my backyard "because of my faith" is a conversation stopper. There's no evidence presented, just faith. When there's no conversation about faith, reason isn't allowed to come into play, and consequently, you get situations of where 19 Muslim guys think they're going to get 72 virgins in paradise if they fly airplanes into buildings.

Harris goes on to refute the claim that religion is needed for morality purposes, reciting statistics of how religiously conservative countries and regions rank lower on the scales of social and economic well-being (teenage birth rates in the south, for example).

And while Harris is supportive of conservative claims about the inherent violence of the Koran and Islam, Harris also takes the next logical step and looking at passages in the Christian Bible, concludes the Christian religion is as beset with these problems, backward notions of modernity and humanity, as Islam.

If the Bible is our "best book" as Harris claims many in the West believe, than the abolitionists were on the wrong side of the slavery debate, the slaveholders of the south were right, because the Bible doesn't condemn slavery, and in fact, gives instructions for its administration. Harris goes on to point out the considerable ugliness and violence of the Old Testament stories, where people are killed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, talking back to parents, for becoming pregnant outside of marriage, and for basically not believing and worshipping as the Israelites. He specifically points to the book of Leviticus as being particularly irrelevant to any notion of a just and humane society.

But Harris doesn't reserve his criticisms for religious conservatives. Although he concedes the beliefs of religious moderates are preferrable for non-believers as they are less likely to want them to impose their beliefs on others, especially through violence, he contends religious moderates have enabled religious conservatives by keeping the taboo against questioning faith in place, and in that in their arguments, religious moderates are less credible logically and theologically. At least the conservatives, Harris says, can point to some evidence, poor as it is, from the texts they revere. Moderates are often left trying to explain away their texts.

As a religious moderate, I have struggled with everything Harris points out here.

First, the "bad Bible". Many of these stories are indeed very troubling, if one is interested in a just and humane society, not to mention, a belief in a merciful diety. I italicize these assumptions because it must be kept in mind that for many people, a repressive society and a vengeful god are desirable. This is one explanation for these stories. That is, God was meeting the people where they were, that He didn't attempt to correct everything at once, and that many of these stories, we should acknowledge, don't come with moral judgments. They are stories, not theological instructions.

There is some basis for this argument. I think the issue of bigamy is a case in point. God doesn't expressly authorize it, and the Genesis account of Laban, who was the first recorded man to take a second wife, is included in the account of how gradually the people after Adam's sin slipped away from God's ideal. Furthermore, in the New Testament writings of Paul, we see evidence that the Old Testament law was in fact given to the people because they were ignorant, to instruct them, to be an instrument leading them to God.

But there are nonetheless issues that still don't add up. For one thing, it seems odd that in the Exodus account, slavery would get a pass from God, but "breaking the Sabbath" is punished severely. If the slaves coming from Egypt are ignorant of the basics of a just society and aren't at the point of not recognizing the ills of slavery, that's one thing. But if God can overlook slavery and brutal, wanton violence against one's enemies (see the accounts in the book of Numbers) based on the people's ignorance, than why would He expect the people to be any better prepared to strictly observe a day of worship/rest.

Perhaps a far more troubling issue is that some of the most troubling passages are those in which the Bible writer is putting words into God's mouth. So the problem isn't what the people of Israel were doing, as it is what God is on record as actually having said. For instance, in Leviticus 12 God is on record as saying that a woman who bares a boy-child is to be "unclean" for 33 days, but if she bares a girl, is to be unclean for 66 days. What's this about? Is there any reason for such a command? Why does child-birth make a woman unclean, and why are the unclean rules different for boys and girls? A modernist might conclude that such passages reflect superstitition and patriarchy, not inspired words from a creator God.

And there are other passages claiming God closes women's womb so that they can't become pregnant, closes the mind of Pharoah so he'll do wrong, "kills" the sons of Judah (Genesis 38) for not marrying their brother's widow, etc.

What can we say about these stories and words of God? I'm not going to pretend I know the answer, but it seems to me that there's a pattern in the Old Testament, and throughout history as a matter of fact, that people have always tended to assume that God is behind sickness, death, natural disasters, plagues, etc. That everything has a divine cause. The findings of science have offset this somewhat. We know of course that hurricanes tend to effect places that lie beside bodies of water (so Hurricane Katrina would not necessarily be a punishment of New Orleans) and that tornadoes tend to affect states in the mid west, etc. We know the causes of many diseases, and how earthquakes are caused. Even Jesus himself in the New Testament had to correct his disciples for thinking that a man born blind was born so because of his or his parent's sin. So the linkage between events and the divine "invisible hand" has a long history. Could it be the bible writers were assuming God's intervention in events, that whatever bad happened to the people, that God was somehow behind it, even if He wasn't? I think so.

So what does that tell us about the nature of inspiration, the value of the Bible, and the options for religious moderates who want to embrace the positive progressions of modernity while maintaining a belief in the supernatural and divine, and the hope of an afterlife, void of pain and death?

I admit I still struggle with it, and I believe that Harris is in a sense right about how religious moderates are at least partially at fault for enabling religious conservatives to wall off faith from honest discussions. I'll try to do better.

But as a rationalist, humanist, and Christian, trained in both the religious and empirical sciences, I recognize that knowledge is in many ways subjective and uncertain, there are many relatives and few if any absolutes, but this uncertainty encourages rather than discourages me.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Cowboys 7
Skins 35

Wow, that was fun, wasn't it? The lopsided victory gave the Redskins their first season sweep of Dallas since 1995. The win lifts them to 8-6, ties them for second in the East with the 'Boys (actually puts them ahead since they win the tie-breaker), and if Atlanta goes on to lose tonight (they're presently trailing Da Bears 6-3), makes them the sixth and last playoff team from the NFC. Just about everything that could go right, went right today. They sacked Bledsoe 7 times, generated several turnovers, and for the most part, stopped the run, and ran the ball effectively themselves. Dallas got most of the penalties, and Brunell made several great throws to Moss, or rather, Moss made several great catches.

Once again, we were treated to a doomsday prediction by former Skin, Mark May, on ESPN before the game, predicting Dallas would win easily, with Bledsoe picking the Carlos Rogers-less secondary apart. But that didn't happen. The Skins played their best defensive game of the season. Their points were aided greatly by the turnovers and a short playing field, but still, they excecuted when and where they needed to. Bring on the Giants.

Chargers 26
Colts 17

As I was beginning to put my faith in these Colts and Manning, I was disappointed they lost, but figured it was going to happen this week or next. So yes the Colts are not invulnerable. Cincinnati and a resurgent New England look like their main rivals for the AFC title. Maybe Denver, too.

Niners 9
Jags 10

Just who or what is this Jacksonville team? Can't figure them out. The Niners are pretty much playing for the Reggie Bush Bowl, they were in Jacksonville, and still, the Jags couldn't put them away. I don't see them going far in the playoffs.

Arizona 19
Houston 30

The other contestant in the Reggie Bush Bowl, Houston, played to win today, setting up a season finale between themselves and the Niners for the rights to next year's first round pick. I suspect the Niners would go for Reggie Bush, but the Texans are another story. They may want to trade down to get more picks to fill more needs.

Steelers 18
Vikings 3

Minnesota was going for their seventh straight but couldn't pull it off against an angry Steelers team, still licking its wounds from last week's loss to Cincy. Despite the win, the Steelers finish behind the Bengals in the AFC North.

Bengals 41
Lions 17

The Bengals, meanwhile, win their first division crown since 1990. Hey, may be that Marvin Lewis can coach. And finally, after all their first round draft pick busts, they got one that looks like he's going to stick--Carson Palmer.

If you didn't watch any of the Saturday games, you didn't miss much. The middle game, between the Giants and the Chiefs was the only mildly interesting one.

As you can probably gather, I've taken a sabbatical from political commentary. Not much new is happening, what is happening seems to be the recycling of the same kind of events (another election in Iraq, President gives a speech, Democrats struggling to present a message, blah blah blah).

I am, however, doing a lot of reading, much of it in the realm of religion from which I can't seem to extract myself. Maybe I'll have some things to say about all of that later. But for now, much peace, much love.