Friday, October 27, 2006

Rush and Fox

I get where Shakes Sis and Ezra are coming from here, but let's be thankful it is only a game to people like Rush and O'Reilly. Lord help us should these crazies ever come to think they have a tangible stake in any of this and decide to make it personal.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sam Harris in the Wash Post

An interesting article in the Washington Post Style section about Sam Harris, the author of 2004's The End of Faith and the recent bestseller, Letter to a Christian Nation.

One of Harris's points of discussion is that, taken literally, much of what constitutes the holy books of Judiasm, Christianity and Islam is at best absurd, and at worst, hateful and destructive.

But the counter-authors and scholars the Post lined up for its article basically poo-pah this concern of Harris (and other critics of fundamentalist religion):

Others say that he has taken these "Old Books" at their literal word, instead of studying the way that the faithful actually engage the scriptures.


It's also wrong for Harris to assume that Christians consider the Bible the direct word of God, Volf says. Most don't, so combing the scriptures for the fingerprints of fallible authors, and then declaring victory once you find them, is silly.

"Most Christians believe that while the Bible was inspired by God, it is not free-floating, megaphone pronouncements out of nowhere by God. It was given through the medium of a culturally situated people, with the limitations of their knowledge at the time. And it's our task to ask, 'What does this mean to me today?' "


He has confused the outermost for the core. And ironically, Aslan notes, Harris is making the same mistake as fundamentalists, by taking the scripture at its literal word.

So, many of the authors the Post lined up to counter Harris all conveniently manage to argue that not only do they not take the Bible or Koran literally, but neither do most Christians. So, according to these spokespersons of theism, Harris is creating and complaining about a straw-man.

Except he isn't. Christian and Muslim scholars may not take the texts they study completely literally, but it's highly likely that the Christians in the pew and Muslims on the prayer mat do. They have to. If they want to be assured of eternal salvation, and that they are on the right path (and that everyone else, by extension, is on the wrong one), than the literalness of the passages that promise the believer this assurance have to be accepted literally, at face value.

Christian and Muslim scholars who dismiss concerns about biblical literalness from opponents of religion are really not reflective of the religious adherents who fill the thousands of churches across America every week and who collectively affect public policy via the voting booth and public opinion poll.

Religious scholars would be of more use if they recognized the disconnect between their world and the worlds of the typical believer and their agnostic neighbors. But it's disingenuous to claim that most Christians don't take the bible literally, because, most, if not all, faithful Christians do. And this is Harris's claim and concern.

And the Post writer would have performed a more valuable service had he included the views of biblical literalists in his piece.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Conservatives Lament the Failures and Excesses of Conservatism

Andrew Sullivan has a new book out. To give him some credit, Sullivan is one of the few conservatives who has at least partially come to his senses in recognizing the catastrophes his chosen administration has foistered through Katrina and Iraq.

But in the book he apparently* reasons that this conservative administration has failed because it has failed to be guided by conservative principles.

Sullivan may be right in arguing that there is a genuine conservatism that this conservative administration has ignored and thus degraded.

But I have a hard time believing that Sullivan and many newly aware conservatives are just now recognizing the influence of authoritarian Christianism in their midst and of the rise of authoritarianism within conservatism more broadly.

The Republican Party's conservative base has amply been on display for the better part of the last four decades, it's authoritarian impulses plain for all to see, celebrated even. What has Sullivan been thinking the Republican Party was doing as it nominated anti-right-to-privacy judges, called for criminalizing abortion, and demanded a re-assertion of religion in public life? What does Sullivan think the gravitation towards the Republican Party by every authoritarian religious leader since the 1960's means? What did he think the intentions of Dobson, Falwell and Robertson were? Did he mis-underestimate their influence or did he not recognize their influence? Did he think they weren't serious?

And what of Sullivan's Catholicism? It's hard to come to any other logical conclusion that conservative Christianity is authoritarian in nature, given its demand that its institutions, holy book and papal leader be regarded as infallible, completely authoritative and unquestionable.

In any event, maybe Sullivan can construct a competent, more benign version of conservatism that hasn't ever existed. Sullivan seems to want a return to Reagan-Thatcherism but their import for governance wasn't any less draconian than than what their current day, reigning descendants are pushing now. Human rights and civil liberties were as equally outcasts then as now.

Anyway, welcome to our world, Andrew.

*I'm on a no-hard-back book kick so probably won't actually read this book until it comes out in paper back--book reviews will have to suffice.

Redskins and Cowboys Have QB Problems (among other issues)

Although this article is about the Dallas Cowboys, exchange the words Bill Parcels, Drew Bledsoe and Tony Romo for Joe Gibbs, Mark Brunell and Jason Campbell and it could stand word for word for the Washington Redskins situation. The identical attitudes towards "experienced" and rookie quarterbacks by Parcels and Gibbs stand out in particular.

The Redskins are 2-5. Can anyone imagine a scenario in which the team would be any worse off had Jason Campbell started these first seven games?

This isn't to completely knock Brunell, because as I've written previously, the team is ridden with a host of other problems that merely switching QB's won't solve. And Brunell's stats at this point are not much better or worse than they were last year.

But as Celizec notes about Tony Romo, Campbell would have made some mistakes, but he'd be a better QB in week 8 than in week 1, and the franchise would be further along than it is now.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Redskin Rants and the Election

I haven't written much recently about the upcoming election. I just think that until the votes are tallied, we can't know what the lay of the land will be next year. For what's it's worth, I'm not not overly optimistic that the Dems will take either house. I've also found the strange descent of the Ned Lamont campaign in Connecticut puzzling and disappointing. Any answers? Jane Hamsher? Why is Ned Lamont down by as much as 17 points in some polls? How has Lieberman maintained any kind of organization, with much of his senior staff either quitting or getting fired after the primary, and the state's, as well as the national Democratic party structure lining up behind Lamont? Oh yeah, maybe that's why. But in this year, when the Dems should have some semblence of good will, it's hard to figure. Maybe it's still name recognition after all of this.

Anyway, here's what really pissed me off about the Redskins yesterday. Down 10-7 right before the half, Antwan Randle El runs back a punt for a touchdown. Redskins up 14-10. Except one of the jubilant Skins got flagged for excessive celebration after the score. 15 yard penalty, assessed at the kickoff. I didn't see what player exactly got flagged or even what the penalty was in reference to, so maybe the call was ticky-tac as many of these calls are. But here's the problem. Redskins, you're 2-4, on the road, and playing an undefeated team. An excessive celebration in this situation is the kind of thing where you want to avoid even the appearance of wrong-doing. Act like you've been there before. You score, you hand the ball to the referee, and get outta the end zone. All of you. Once again, you're 2-4. Can we show some seriousness out there, please? Beat somebody. Then maybe you can celebrate.

Of course once the 15-yarder was tacked on, the Redskins managed to be caught offsides on the first kick-off attempt. Another five yards. Then somehow, the Skins kicker got upset and, wait for it, took. off. his. helmet. That's another 15 yards. The taking off the helmet thing is a no-brainer. There's no debate. You take the helmet off, you get 15 yards. Even the late Johnny Cochran couldn't have gotten anyone off of that charge. So the skins ended up kicking off from their own 5 yard line. The five yard line. Ever see anything remotely like that before?

Fortunately, the Skins managed to hold the Colts to 3 points, so that series of events wasn't numerically significant.

But it was nonetheless highly symbolic and representative of the team's attitude and lack of discipline this year. Whatever range of talent might now be on the team thanks to another off-season spending binge (and the original punt return courtesy of Randal El was a demonstrated result of that binge), the team just isn't displaying any sense of a commitment to winning. They seem more intent on getting themselves the ball or showing up on ESPN sportscenter highlight film. And for that, I blame the coaching. I'm hesitant to blame Joe, but the responsibility for this stuff begins and ends with him. Whether it's a problem with his assistants or not I don't know. But he has to set the tone.

As the fellas on 980 were saying this morning, it isn't like the Redskins players are from a completely different generation than the players on the Patriots or any other team. So this isn't just a generation thing.

Beyond that, yesterday was the same odd mix of dump off passes and lateral running plays. Very weird in that in the Colts they were facing for the second straight week a team regarded as weak against the run, particularly up the middle. And yet the team didn't seem interested in trying to exploit that seeming advantage.

At least T.J. Duckett got on the field for one play at the end of the game.

But another week or two of this stuff--and Dallas, Philadelphia and a revived Tampa Bay squad are on the schedule after the bye--and the calls for inserting Todd Collins or Jason Campbell will be deafening. The Fox broadcasters--Troy Aikman among them yesterday--pointed out that Campbell had four offensive co-ordinators in college and has had three as a pro, so the reluctance to play him has some valid foundation. But if for no other reason, a qb or who might be able to go long would add a dimension to this team that everyone and their grandmother now knows it lacks, which results in defenses stacking the line, and the running game getting stuffed, creating a circular process of offensive ineptitude.