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The weighty voices of the GOP evangelical propaganda wing have activated following the awful soaking that Houston received. The wagging fingers of TV evangelists were not far behind to remind us of the looming existential threat.

We’ve witnessed a burlesque of  righteous-sounding preachers leaning in from the video pulpit and warning, solemnly and in no uncertain terms, that hurricane Harvey is only the latest in a series of calamities to befall our nation. Our corrupt society is wallowing in a fetid pit of sin and depravity. The storms were heaven sent they intone, to show Who is actually in charge.

It’s all so very clear to these folks. The root cause of the mass murder at Sandy Hook and hurricanes Katrina, and now Harvey is the grievous sin of omission. For what? For failing to put an end to abortion and gay marriage. They’ve been connecting the dots and these dots lead to perdition. An existential threat is on the move. It’s Old Nick up to no good.

The conservative fear machine has kicked into full ruckus configuration. They deploy their weapons of incitement via their heavy presence on AM radio and cable TV. For elections and in the face of national debate, these evangelical conservatives know that they can dependably frighten just enough people to swerve the Republican hive mind. Who are these pliable voters? I think more than a few of them are people who for one reason or another did not take advantage of the education opportunities decades ago and now find themselves near the terminus of a life of toil.

Conveniently for those right of center, the Democratic Party is comatose and strapped into an iron lung, wheezing away the years in an undisclosed location.

9/10/17, Addendum.  In case I was not clear, it’s my observation that conservative protestant evangelical organizations have become a menace to American civilization. It seems to me that the election of Trump and the support bestowed upon him by conservative Christian groups, many of whom can be found out in the open on his evangelical advisory board, has opened the door to opaque theocratic influence on the large scale conduct of American government.

It’s axiomatic that people have an inherent right to worship as they please. So imagine the nightmare of trying to control what people believe when religion is folded into the curriculum of the public schools. What a tragic misunderstanding of human nature it would be to attempt to impose religious doctrine upon students. Parents would have none of it. But, a private school may have much more flexibility to teach a particular sect of religious belief. Is it  a coincidence that privatizing schools is favored by many religious organizations?

Finally, there is the matter of magisteria. Steven J. Gould wrote about religion and science as being non-overlapping magisteria. A magisterium is defined as a “a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution”. A magisterium may or may not recognize an external system of laws, facts, or values. Gould maintained that science and religion were non-overlapping magisteria in the sense that the tools of science were of no use in solving religious questions.

The secular world can be thought of that which describes what is human made and of human concern. It can also be thought of as that which is independent of religion. It is not atheistic or better or worse in any way. In chemistry we might say that the secular is orthogonal or perpendicular the religious. A bolt, an integrated circuit, or a tractor would be in the domain of the secular. So would the National Electrical Code, city ordinances, and state and federal law. All of these items are contrivances made by people for purposes living a better or safer life. Added to these items would be mathematics, the sciences and engineering. That which is measureable like the Volt or the kilogram have no defining attribute which traces back to religious definition.

It has been said that the purpose of government is to protect ourselves from each other. I would extend that to include the general domain of the secular. Having secular government means that subjective interpretations of religious matters must be secondary. This is owing to the reality that there are many religious beliefs in the world and the question of whose religion will prevail in an action involving the public will rapidly become intractable due to disparate beliefs. The secular world has elements of logic, measurement and guidelines for evidence or objective observation. All of these examples could be contained within a secular magisterium.

Public schools have long been the institutions where secular matters were introduced and learned. Government at all levels has been steadfastly kept within the secular domain. There was and remains to be a need for government to manage the secular details of a thriving civilization. The religious magisterium has a heavy reliance on beliefs which is a subjective matter subject to interpretation. A democracy requires a goodly amount of objectivity and evidence.

The notion of non-overlapping magisteria raises an interesting question. What if elements in one magisterium want control of elements in another magisterium? To have elements of a subjective domain in control of elements in the objective domain is to introduce chaos in both. Since neither side has the tools to operate in the other we have to conclude that this circumstance makes no sense for either domains.


The portentous return of American protestant evangelical politics on the coattails of the Trump win has certainly been startling to me at least. As if to underscore this return is the announcement that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will take on the case No. 16-111 Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al., v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al. Petitioners.

According to the petition for a Writ of Certiorari, at issue is the following:

Whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel Phillips to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment

I for one sympathize with both parties. I would like to think that as a business man I had some control in the business arrangements I enter into. On the other hand, it seems quite reasonable that an order for a wedding cake should not be complicated by the theology of the baker. I gather that the sign over the door did not say “Bakery for Observant Christians Only”.

Having been in sales, I know there are a hundred ways to purposely kill a sale without it descending into a fight or bad feelings. A sky high price, a ridiculously long delivery time, kitchen remodeling, a diseased baker, etc. Ok, so it is a lie. It happens.

From my purchasing experience I know it is possible for a careful buyer to disclose as little information as possible so as not to cue a vendor to raise the price or decline to make an offer. The couple in question could have discretely asked for a cake without giving away their relationship or could have sent in a proxy. The figurine of a gay couple on top of the cake could have been purchased separately and set in place at a different location. Alternatively, the gay couple could have simply found another baker willing to do the job, say in Boulder to the north.

Yes, yes, yes. I know. Neither side should have to use subterfuge to complete this simple transaction. And neither side, in principle, should have to fear the consequences of their core values. But for crying out loud, this is Colorado Springs. A more conservative Christian enclave would be hard to find. The city is full of conservative retired military and a number of fundamentalist Christianist organization headquarters like Focus on the Family among others. But what are you going to do? Fight to the death everyone you find disagreeable? Does everything have to be consecrated to God? Crimony! Can’t there be secular activities like putting a lug nut on a bolt or buying baked goods?

If SCOTUS rules against Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage, then they will have set back the cause of LGBTQ rights, possibly for generations. Likewise, a ruling for the respondent might do similar damage for the conservative cause. Both sides could live with some ambiguity in this matter.

The notion that baking a cake for a gay couple somehow validates LGBTQ values seems to be a bit of a stretch. It seems to me that a conception of a God who would see the act of baking this cake with so negative a view as to impose an existential threat to the baker’s eternal salvation is to conjure up a very strange picture of the deity. If a human were to wield this kind of existential threat to the baker, that human might be regarded as psychopathic.

In my view, American evangelical Christianists have constructed a model of God in the image of a very cranky, peevish male human. A God who set the galaxies spinning, ignited our sun, breathed life into inanimate earth, and accounts for every flea riding the tail feathers of every bird would certainly have the insight and fatherly patience to see this gay Wedding Cake matter as a tempest in a teapot. Yes? Maybe? But perhaps that is me constructing God in the image of a mensch.

I like that- God as a mensch.




If you knew me personally, you’d know that as a reductionist my profile can be reduced to that of a liberal atheist scientist with marginally good manners. I broke the shackles of magical thinking in high school after reading a few books by Bertrand Russell and Carl Sagan. Though I have not been the same since, I have come to sympathize a bit with Quakers and their predilection for peace.

My religious upbringing was quite ordinary for a young Iowegian lad in the 1960’s. Confirmation in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in 8th grade followed by a short stint as a reluctant acolyte. The church seemed firmly footed in bedrock as an institution and adept at indoctrinating the young. In catechism studies I tried to understand the authoritarian system that is outlined by Martin Luther and the strange collection of narratives that make up the King James Bible.

There were abstractions that didn’t make sense then and are still a mystery to me today. The concept of the Holy Trinity always seemed suspiciously anthropomorphic. Then there is the crucifixion as a kind of “ghostly sorting mechanism” for salvation. It stands out against the backdrop of natural phenomena like physics and biology- mechanistic systems which seem to suffice for everything else. Finally, there is God’s seemingly endless requirement for worship and admiration which has always struck me as a vanity unnecessary for a supreme being. The whole scheme reeks of iron-age anthropology.

I remember the day it happened. I was praying for something or other. Trying to have a little spiritual time with the Big Guy. It finally dawned on me that I was talking to myself and in doing so, wishing for some particular outcome to happen. All those years. Praying and wishing were indistinguishable. I’ll admit, I was never one to volunteer a lot of praise to God. Heaping praise on a deity seemed patronizing and wholly unnecessary. Surely if God could elicit wrath, then he’d certainly pick up on being flattered.

Well, in the end, so what? Another tedious atheist commits apostasy. Like most people in US culture, my moral basis was built on what has been described as Judeo-Christian morals or ethics. It’s hard to avoid. But just as the earth does not rest on a foundation, I am not limited to sensibilities derived only by the sons of Abraham in a far earlier age. My culture and my brain tell me that theft, murder, and the other spiritual crimes (sins) are bad for the common good. That respect for others has a pleasurable and sensible aspect that threats of eternal damnation do not improve on.

The reductionist in me can’t resist the following assertion. Deistic religion reduces to cosmology. In the end, a religion offers a theory of the universe. It is a kind of physics that defines relationships between the prime mover and his (?) bipedal subjects imbued with mystical sensitivities. It claims to define the outcome of the disposition of a soul, whatever that may be.  I don’t even believe in the existence of the mind, much less a soul.  As a form of physics, religion lacks means by which theories can be tested. Quantitation of a spiritual element is an idea that has yet to see practice. It seems to lack predictive capability to estimate an outcome that can be validated. It is definitely not a science. It is not about matter or energy. It is about how to conduct ones life against a backdrop of divine authority and within a box of behaviors.

But our brains seem to be constructed in a manner such that religious/spiritual notions are nearly irresistible. Billions of people have claimed to feel its draw and testify to its merits. The projection of anthropomorphic imagery in myth is common in diverse cultures.  The Abrahamic religions congealed from cultures that were apparently unaware of the concept of zero. Where heaven is death with a plus sign, hell is death with a negative sign. To an atheist death is just zero. It has no sign or magnitude. It is unconsciousness and devoid of the awareness of pain or pleasure. Zero sensory processing. It is neither exaltation nor agony. Just zero. Entropy prevails. Such an outlook is hardly appealing enough to gather followers. It is grim and without hope of graduation to eternal bliss.  The take home lesson is to live in the moment, not the future.

Who am I to argue with millennia of religious thought? I don’t know. All I can say is that even as a cancer patient, I remain refractory to the pull of religious and mystical thinking. So it was and so it is.

Post script.

Divinity students! Relax. I’m no threat to your faith. My conclusions on this life of ours offers no ceremony and precious little fellowship. I can say that I’ve had an eye-full of the clockwork of this universe. Adherence to evangelical doctrines could not have provided the amazing insights. And for that I have no regrets.

It seems to me that the character(s) who produced the YouTube video that has caused so much religious fulmination in the sandy parts of the world ought to be parachuted into Cairo to answer for their actions. Surely they can give the best explanation of what their movie represents.

Another thing has occured to me. Perhaps we should make a minor adjustment to the Drake Equation which describes the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible. The equation can be found at this link.  The L factor defines the length of time a civilization releases detectable [radio] signals into space. Given the self destructive behaviours of beings capable of generating radio signals on at least one planet, maybe it is time to define L*.

L* = L(1 – P*/P) where P = average number of intelligent inhabitants of a planet and P* = average number of intelligent inhabitants willing to die/kill for their magical or political beliefs.

Perhaps the reader has a better modification.  Here is the Drake equation copied straight from Wikipedia:

N = R^{\ast} \cdot f_p \cdot n_e \cdot f_{\ell} \cdot f_i \cdot f_c \cdot L


N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible;


R* = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
f = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

So it turns out that I am the family atheist and liberal. The social awkwardness and philosophical incompatibility of this condition was evident the other day in a discussion with a family member that diverged into a shouting match. In fact the immiscibilityof my liberal atheist proclivity with my family’s generally Christian conservative foundation has severed ties with a few family members outright and distanced others. My father, deceased nearly a decade ago, never reconciled with his son’s atheism. In his view, it was a choice inevitably resulting in existential tragedy and damnation into the darkest recesses of infinity.

My wife is a Methodist and our kid is being raised under that umbrella. I have taken the position that I will not indoctrinate my child in the analytical consequences of atheism. Rather, the adoption of a philosophical position on existence is a self-guided adventure everyone is entitled to. Whether one is lead deep into the doctrines of the Abrahamic religions, eastern philosophy, or the uncertain swamp of agnosticism, it is the right of all people to come to their own conclusion on the matter of ones place in the cosmos.

I claim that this is a right.  But many otherwise liberty-loving people disagree.  They view indoctrination into the religious fold as a kind of rescue. It is a dash across the finish line that must to happen well before death to ensure that the soul is channeled into the chute leading to paradise.  Once in this enviable condition, the ethereal community of souls can eternally heap praise upon the diety directly rather than across that impenetrable supernatural discontinuity that is resistant to all but the force of prayer. Or so goes the core theory of the Abrahamic religions as I understand them.

To many religious followers, the very fact that their religion is ancient seems to validate the accuracy and veracity of their ideas. The mere continuity of these doctines seems to confer some hopeful message about the vital truth of the doctine.

But I would counter that what continues over time is not the cosmic accuracy of the idea, but rather the psychological consequences of brain physiology.  Architectural features of the brain and the behavior of neurons therein have produced self-awareness. The self-aware brain enables much possibility for an organism.  An effect of our self-awareness is that we come to experience time.

But the very familiarity of self-awareness of the human brain might lead it to assume or calculate that self-awareness is a common condition in the external world. It seems to easily conclude that the apparent organization of the world was conducted by a central organizing influence- a diety. Moreover, it is not unreasonable for the self-aware brain to assume that it’s own self-awareness is part of a continuum of awareness or consciousness. The notion that self-awareness might extinguish would be inconceivable.

I think what the ancient religious texts and doctrines convey is a kind of familiarity. It is a shared experience of mystery, uncertainty, and fear through the common experience of consciousness. The brains of our ancestors communicated through the agency of language their chronicles of hope and fear to our brains which share the the same strengths and weaknesses.  It is this commonality that rings the bell of truth in our self-awareness. It reinforces the mystical experience as a physiological experience because it is fundamentally that.

What is inevitable about our self-awareness is extrapolation. Religion soon mutates from a personal mystical experience to a theory of physics and politics. This is what I cannot accept- Religion as a political template or as a ToE  (Theory of Everything).

Many people come to value alignment to doctrine as a higher calling than the application of love and charity to their fellows who have lost their way or have experienced bad luck or tragedy. I would offer to the reader that what makes a person liberal is the priority choice of people over the politcal doctrine of social Darwinism.

We in the USA have confused economic theory with reality. Economics and business are a subset of sociology. The alleged congruence of economics to morality or metaphysics is a political theory some people have asserted because it serves their purpose in the allocation of wealth.  It’s a part of their ToE. And I’m here to say that some of us can see what they’re doing.

Below is a comment that I left on the Volokh Conspiracy some time ago. Rather than squander perfectly good ramblings there, I have reproduced it here and attached a link.  Th’ Gaussling

Broadly, we have two kinds of marriage in the USA. One is before a god and the other is before the state. Marriage before a god is a supernatural arrangement that is beyond the scope of this letter.

It would seem that the states compelling interest in marriage is mostly confined to the disposition of debts, assets, and minor children during the marriage and in the event the marriage fails. Married partners have an obligation to the welfare of minor children born to them or adopted. Married partners also have a status that allows for decision-making in critical care situations. It seems to be a kind of partnership whereupon responsibility for the secular aspects of married life are defined. After all, the state is called in to make decisions as to the disposition of civil matters in the event of a divorce. Surely the state can clearly define certain basic responsibilities and privileges in advance.

The moral/spiritual aspects of marriage “can” be interpreted as being perpendicular or orthogonal (like the x and y axes in a graph) to the legal dimension of property rights and other secular aspects of married partners. The state is without supernatural powers, thankfully, so it is inherently impotent in the spiritual dimension. If that is the case, and in the absence of a uniform interpretation of supernatural governance, it should be silent on spiritual matters.

The state should have no interest in how married partners conduct their lawful affairs beyond the normal confines of civil and criminal law.

A code defining the responsibilities of married partners in a variety of configurations could be modeled easily. If you accept the premise that secular marriage is confined to the mundane matters that are already contestable in a court, then it is a simple matter to imagine same sex or plural marriages under the same constraints. What is the compelling interest of the state in barring same sex partners from having automatic authority in giving comfort to a dying partner? We already have codes regulating many other kinds of complex relationships between people- corporations, partnerships, LLC’s, government, etc. Minimally, the state should entertain the prospect of recognizing limited entry of some new definitions of marriage to adult parties wanting to be responsible members of society with the rights and responsibilities thereto appertaining.

In private moments, when I’m not thinking about some chemistry-related train of thought, I often wander to the intellectual bog of religion.  Especially on Sunday, when friends and family are sitting in church and I’m elsewhere.

I try not to write about it too often. It takes a lot of psychic energy to defend an unpopular point of view in public.  I awaken every day with just so many kcals of enthusiasm and am increasingly unwilling to spend it extravagantly in arguments about religion.

One of the surefire ways to rile people into a vein-bursting, mouth-foaming frenzy in this country is to criticize a particular religion or the religious enterprise in general. This sensitivity relates to the nature of the concept of Sacred.  There are several variations on the definition of the word sacred, but the concept in common usage seems to include “to set apart for veneration” or “worthy of respect”.  A corollary is that sacred concepts are to be treated devotionally and are not to be subjected to scrutiny.

Sacred or not, we are starting to see some open analysis of Christian doctrine and are beginning to ask reasonable questions as to the accuracy or validity of the doctrine guiding the religious right. Consider the following analysis from Terri Murray posted at the Yurica Report-

If liberals are more sympathetic to secular humanism than to Christian doctrine it is because Christian Scripture is ambivalent in its view of human nature, and second, because Christian doctrine has over-emphasized Paul’s pessimistic construction of human nature. The latter makes nonsense of moral responsibility, because it posits a deterministic model of human nature that is inconsistent with human experience, moral exhortation and human reason. Jesus’ system of morality, which most liberals greatly admire, conflicts with the misanthropy expressed in Pauline doctrine. Jesus’ ethical teachings are more consistent with the values of enlightenment humanism than with biblical theocracy, which Jesus spent his rabbinical career assailing.

‘Christianity’ is an abstract concept badly in need of analysis and definition. The authoritarian Christian right have assumed, with little argument, that Pauline doctrine is more essential to ‘Christianity’ than the teachings and traditions about Jesus, where they conflict. And conflict they do.

To outline how and where Pauline doctrine is incompatible with the “American worldview” it is important to clarify my terms first. For the purposes of this essay a ‘Christian worldview’ is defined as the Pauline doctrine of salvation, according to which all of humankind are rendered ‘sinners’ by virtue of the past transgressions of our progenitors Adam and Eve, or by virtue of an intrinsic defect in human nature. This same Pauline doctrine also makes it a matter of Christian orthodoxy that Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf atoned for man’s sin and offered each of us redeeming salvation by means of the profession of the Christian faith and obedience to its rules. ‘Christianity’ in this context does not refer to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth but to the Pauline teachings about the significance of his death and resurrection for the salvation of mankind.

As Murray suggests, the strident orthodoxy of the protestant religious right in America is based in large part on a particular slant of interpretation on the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. But rather than anchoring doctrine to his words and deeds, the American evangelical focus is on the special effects of the supernatural transition to the spirit world- part of what Murray calls the Pauline Doctrine. 

I have always been quite uneasy with many aspects of the Christian doctrine.  While I have been able to extract useful concepts by partitioning the doctrine into a) moral philosophy with historical details, b) crime and punishment, and c) an iron age form of cosmology, I have always been uneasy with the necessity of an anthropomorphic deity.  In other words, does the existence of a supernatural being actually solve the problem of how the universe works? Does God use physics, or did he have a backstage pass to do as he pleased?

What makes the universe a workable place is the fact that not everything is possible. There are boundary conditions. Objects and events in the universe exist within constraints. Not everything can happen.  God must have known this and in fact, had to have been the installer of this attribute. As Einstein would have asked, did he have any choice in the the way the universe was constructed?

In the Christian tradition, God lets loose with an occasional miracle. We know by inspection that God uses physics in the everyday conduct of things, but when “miracles” happen, are they quantifiable? Is it possible to have one miracle be twice as big as another? If you divide the number of miracles by the volume in which they occur, you come up with a miracle density. What is the average miracle density of the universe? Is God restricted by the rule that you can’t divide a number by zero?  Hmmm. Maybe He relies on this fact?

Why do we consent to adherence to an ancient religion that is constructed on iron age notions of social order, justice, and the supernatural when we have a modern understanding of democracy, history, and physics that suggests an altogether different organization to the universe?

Religious adherents will guffaw and correct my comments with an assertion that our human concepts of God are too inadequate to subject the diety to such simple analysis. Well, God holds us to standards relating to faith, love, and sin that are assumed to be within our understanding- our sins certainly get the dieties attention. Our mortal souls hang by a thread, based on our thoughts and actions relating to our knowledge of His divine plan. Why would the rest of it be so incomprehensible? Why the disconnect?

Today, the blowtorch of religious conservatism on the public stage has abated temorarily while adherents re-group. No doubt, they will be organized for the upcoming general election in the fall of 2008. I think this time around they need to be questioned a little more closely as to the basis of their doctrines.

It’s Sunday and the airwaves are positively crackling with overmodulated, firebreathin’ preacher-men poundin’ the pul-pits and spreadin’ the good word. AM radio in particular is an interesting place to dial in some of the more colorful characters preachin’, witnessin’, and evangelizin’ the Gospel. 

Around these parts we have an AM station that specializes in the Messianic message that broadcasts on a low power transmitter over what they call the American Freedom Network.

Between phone-linked sermons (homilies for the survivalist, really) you’ll hear infomercials hawking colloidal silver cure-alls, dubious gold investments, nutriceuticals, and other market flotsam. For a time there was a fellow who was reading off seismic data and coordinates for earthquake enthusiasts. It appeals to that quiet voice in the back of your consciousness that urges you to move into a small cabin and become a hermit. I’m afraid that one day while driving I’ll have a deer crash through my windshield because I was distracted by this stuff.

When I hear these people talking about getting religion back into the public arena, or “bringing God back” into public life, I’m mystified.  Many of the religious talking heads are striking back at the recent popularity of skeptics like Dawkins, Shermer, or Harris. These fellows have made a cogent and thoughtful appeal to the use of analysis and reason. I doubt there are more atheists per capita today than before. But it is evident that atheists and agnostics are a bit more vocal in public today.

Despite their popularity, they represent a minority view of the physical reality of religious concepts.  Their ideas will certainly never catch hold in the USA as a majority view because our very brain architecture predisposes us to adopt a belief in the supernatural. Only a few people seem to be able to break away from this notion. They (we) will always be in a minority.

But I can’t help but conclude that when the call is made to “bring religion back” to public discourse, the intent of those making the call is perhaps not what the rest of us might conclude from their words.

Bringing back religion to the public arena is not meant to imply that we will openly examine religion. It is not a call for analysis. It is a call for devotion.  In my experience, the evangelical elite tend not to examine their belief system scientifically or analytically. Rather, they tend to approach it devotionally. This is the big difference between those who dwell under the religious magisterium and those who do not.

The call for public implementation of American-style religiosity through the framework of the public commons of the government does not simply mean that we would suddenly be free to pray in the post office. We already have that. You can stand in the post office and make a silent prayer anytime and anywhere you want. I have prayed to any supernatural being who would listen that my tax return would arrive on time. There is no consequence for uttering a tackful plea to the prime mover. Only the most clumsy, clueless authority would attempt to subdue an individual who was quietly praying.  Of course, if one were to handle serpents or chant in tongues, the constable may be summoned to quiet the commotion of those frightened by the spectacle.

What I think the evangelical impresarios really want is to hold services in the pubic commons. They want to make a show of their humility. They want expressions of devotion and ultimately alignment to their way of thinking. They want to see a universal protestant Jesus haunting that pervades every aspect of our lives. Preferably with a Southern Baptist twang.

Rendering the commons religious in some way is only a blueprint for social upheaval. It is worth recalling that the Puritans did not come to the new world for freedom of religion. They came for freedom from other peoples religion.

What could people mean when they suggest that we govern according to Gods law? If this picture looks like Deuteronomy, I’m moving to Canada.  What does Gods law say about the uniform building code or municipal zoning or the transport of hazardous goods or ten thousand other ordinances and statutes that have the most real impact on our lives?

I’m pretty sure that the bible is silent on most of the code that affects our daily lives. But you can bet that people will line up to tell us what the Almighty has to say about it.

Our very own representative TomTancredo (R-CO) has outlined conditions under which he would retaliate against the Muslim shrines of Mecca and Medina. A terrorist nuclear explosion in the US would be grounds for President Tancredo to authorize release of nuclear weapons against these two Holy Sites.

Now, it stands to reason that if a nuclear explosion occurs in the US, the president has to do something. According to, Tancredo said

“If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina,” the GOP presidential candidate said. “That is the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they would otherwise do. If I am wrong fine, tell me, and I would be happy to do something else. But you had better find a deterrent or you will find an attack. There is no other way around it. There have to be negative consequences for the actions they take. That’s the most negative I can think of.”  

To Tancredo’s credit he did come up with an actual idea – on his own – that if we get nuked by terrorists, we should do something.  The problem with his solution of nuking Muslim shrines is that it would be a localized attack on a delocalized problem. Muslim antipathy towards the US is a political viewpoint; it is a philosophy that justifies their indulgence in one of mankinds most sensuous of opiate pleasures. 

That pleasure is the near universal impulse to throw oneself down prostrate and grovel before the deity.  Muslims of a certain bent (not all of them, mind you) have refined the notion of extreme groveling through the use of explosives. They enthusiastically celebrate this peculiar form of reverence with the pious formalism of martyrdom. For millions of young angry men with no viable economic future, it has an irresistable appeal.

Ascetic leaders like bin Laden are not motivated by the physical plane. Bin Laden is very much a charismatic hero figure who has cast off attachment to the material world. This is a kind of archetype. To the satisfaction of his followers, he lives in caves and walks the covetless path. Bin Laden’s goal is an Islamic Caliphate. A nuclear retalliation against any Muslim state, much less a shrine, will polarize many millions to bin Laden’s cause of Muslim hegemony for centuries to come.   

There is some need deep within the human brain to assume an inferior posture before the deity. It cuts across all societies and religions.  It is seems somehow discordant that the diety who set the spin of galaxies and the organization of DNA in motion curiously requires that humans proclaim their regret for those very attributes that make them simply human.  It is a most peculiar and, I think, biological, proclivity.

It seems to me that the optimal response to an Islamic terrorist nuclear attack on the US can only be this- No nuclear response in kind.  We absorb it and we express our regret that this heinous act was perpetrated on us.  It would be our nuclear restraint that would cause the terrorist movement to stand out before the world as the focus of savagery.

Realistically, could a US president actually do this? It seems doubtful.  The pressure on a sitting president to release a nuclear weapon in response to nuclear attack at home would be enormous.  Our restraint and the cessation of one-sided middle eastern policies would do more to undermine bin Laden and his kind than any fancy weapons system or occupation force. It would be the one weapon that they could not counter.  Consider the examples of Christ, Ghandi, and King.

The extinction of Muslim extremism must come from internal collapse. Muslims themselves must conclude that vile and murderous behaviour is unacceptable and that the religious justification for murder is a misread of their covenant with the deity.  

Extremists amplify their effect with chemical energy- they use explosives.  A small number of terrorists become Robin Hood characters and receive encouragement and recruits from their more passive background of countrymen. You can’t destroy this with airpower and mobile infantry. 

A nuclear retalliation by the US would vitrify a few sandy locations, but it would also politically unify Muslims behind the extremist cause, irrespective of the damage done to the US in the first place. We cannot win by nuclear retalliation. We only facilitate further use of nuclear force.  The concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is not valid in the conflict with suicidal terrorists. MAD is a doctrine that is only valid between nation states with armies and the desire to survive.

All of this is not to say that we wouldn’t be pursuing the perpetrators.  But nuclear demolition of Mecca would be counterproductive. Terrorism is a kind of franchise operation.  How do you nuke the 50 or 5000 scattered, clandestine operatives who did the deed? It’s a bug hunt. The destruction of Mecca would only validate core suspicions about us- that we are metaphysically corrupt and maybe bin Laden was right.

A state can’t successfully wage a military shooting war against an idea promulgated by clandestine operators with little to lose. But police investigation over 20 years in concert with intelligent and fair international policies could render the bin Laden characters obsolete. 

There is serious op-ed talk mulling the return of the insectide DDT, particularly for malaria-infected parts of the world.  What is even more interesting is that this idea has caught on in the ultra-conservative media market and has become the liberal-bashing topic du jour of media darlings like Rush Limbaugh.  Since I don’t waste perfectly good heartbeats listening to that swaggering gas bag, I have missed this “discussion”.  Suddenly, Rush is concerned about the poor and destitute in Africa. 

What has escaped discussion is the possibility that modern methods of high throughput experimentation might find permutations of the DDT “pharmacophore” that would afford something with higher activity and shorter environmental half life.  Who knows, may be this has already been done?  Maybe there is a sample of a DDT analog sitting on a shelf somewhere that has less aptitude for bioconcentration and a greater aptitude for photo or hydrolytic degradation.  Then there is the potential for substantial wealth generation for Limbaugh’s wingnut paymasters.

DDT was clearly effective in suppressing mosquito-born illness for quite a long time.  Surely there are labile analogs that are effective but less objectionable? 


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