The failed hyperbole of the past eight years (column version)

Editorial Page Editor
QUICK, WHO said this?

    “Americans have watched in horror as President Bush has trampled on the Bill of Rights and the balance of power.”

    I’ll give you some hints:

A. Oliver Stone
C. An overexcited intern at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee
D. The New York Times

    The answer is “D.” Yes, I’m sorry to say that overwrought purple prose was the lead sentence last week in the lead Sunday editorial of the paper I was so recently congratulating for having the good sense to back the Columbia Free Trade Agreement. (And they made so much sense that day.)
    Editorial writers — particularly at one of the best papers in the country — are supposed to use words with care and discrimination. Some say I occasionally fail to do that. For instance, some say I was mean, nasty and ugly to Gov. Mark Sanford in my column last week. Go read the letter to the editor from the governor’s press aide that ran in Wednesday’s paper (as always, you will find links to that, and the NYT piece, and any other linkable item mentioned in this column, in the Web version on my blog — and the address for that is below). An excerpt:

    This editorial page was once respected as a voice for good government. Now, thanks to Brad’s childish screeds, fewer and fewer people are reading.

    And yet… I challenge you go find anything that I said in that column that comes anywhere near the unsupported, gross hyperbole of “watched in horror” or “trampled on the Bill of Rights.”
    So does President W. get all excited and whip off a letter to protest to the NYT? I doubt it. Nah, he just spends the week working with Barack Obama as though he were already in office, as though they were co-presidents — which, by the way, is exactly what he should be doing, in this extraordinary economic crisis. (I wonder: If this period of cooperation between the president and president-to-be does not lead to economic miracles, will someone look back on the interregnum in January and denounce “the failed policies of the past eight weeks?”)
    Democrats are thrilled that at long last, Bush will no longer be in office. Me, too. He can’t leave soon enough. But I’m even more thrilled that after January, I won’t have to listen to any more semi-deranged yammering about the guy. You know that I never liked him — he’s the guy who did in my guy (remember John McCain?) in the 2000 S.C. primary. But I have never, ever understood why some hate him so much. The Bush haters can’t simply say, “I disagree with Mr. Bush and here’s why.” They have to go way beyond reason in condemning him absolutely in terms that render him utterly illegitimate.
    Get a grip, people. It’ll be over soon.
    Oh, and for those of you who will say, “But the Times went on to support its statement” — no, it didn’t. Sorry, folks, but his playing fast and loose with federal law regarding wiretapping, to cite one example given, just doesn’t amount to “trampling on the Bill of Rights.” He should have worked from the start to change the law rather than skirting it (as our own Lindsey Graham and others urged), but he did nothing to instill “horror” in a rational person. You “watch in horror” as a gang of thugs rape and murder an old lady — you merely disagree with something so bloodless as monitoring telecommunications without proper authorization.
    Not following me? OK, here are some more things one might “watch with horror:” The My Lai massacre. The butchery in Rwanda in the 1990s. Gang-rape and mutilation of women in Darfur. The Hindenburg disaster. The Twin Towers falling on 9/11. The Japanese reducing Pearl Harbor to a smoking ruin. Men, women and children being herded into the Nazi death camps. The Bataan Death March.
    Get the idea? To apply those words, “watched with horror” to, for example, “the unnecessary invasions of privacy embedded in the Patriot Act” (you know, a law passed by Congress, which Congress can change at any time) as the Times did is to suck all of the meaning out of those words. Once you use those words to describe imprisoning terrorists (real or imagined) at Guantanamo (the main sin listed in the editorial), they no longer have force. If you watch that “with horror,” what words do you use to describe the fire-bombing of Dresden?
    People should not fling words about so carelessly. As a professional flinger of words, I know.
    Now I’ll fling a few more for you Democrats who are watching with horror as I “defend” the outgoing president (when what I’m really doing is defending the language): Folks, settle down. I get it; you don’t like the guy. You like Barack Obama. Well, so do I (he was, after all, my second choice for president). I expect that I, too, will prefer an Obama administration to the past eight years. He’s off to a good start.
    But before we say goodbye to this era, let’s resolve in the future to do what Sen. Obama does so well — speak with sanity and moderation, and mean what we say.

Read the Times piece and more at .

45 thoughts on “The failed hyperbole of the past eight years (column version)

  1. RM

    Unfortunately, the discourse in this state and nation doesn’t seem befitting.
    But we’re all guilty. For the political parties, the candidates, the bloggers, discouse seems to consist of saying bad things about people you disagree with. The State’s editorial board is one of the worst cases, in my opinion. I remember I almost fell out of my chair when Cindy Scoppe derisively referred to Sanford supporters as his “fawning groupies.”
    ALL sides should strive to keep the debate on a higher plane.

  2. David

    “…one of the best papers in the country…” – Brad Warthen speaking of the New York Times.
    How does a man get to the point in his thinking that he can believe and say such a thing? As stunning and unbelievable as it is, this kind of myopia and flawed thinking on the part of Editors is to a large extent the reason for the inexorable slide of print journalism into oblivion.
    If a newspaper editor in Columbia South Carolina cannot recognize what a sick joke the NYT has become, then he and his own newspaper deserve exactly the same fate that has befallen the NYT.
    McClatchys’ declining profitability has made the news recently. Wonder when we’ll see the sell off of plant and equipment on Shop Road?

  3. david

    By the way RM, thanks for pointing out yet again the pettiness and vituperation engaged in by the editorial staff of The State in general and Scoppe in particular. These people do this kind of name-calling routinely about anyone that they either disagree with or simply dislike for some reason or other. This schoolyard tactic, worthy of eight year olds and not adult newspaper editors, was used (and still is) incessantly during Jim Rexs’ campaign whenever they spoke of the good people who believe in and support school choice in South Carolina.
    Typical. Sickening, but typical. Scoppe won’t change, but her scummy, low rent tactics should be pointed out every time she resorts to them.

  4. Karen McLeod

    Ya’ know, the real “horror” if you will, is that those of us who considered that the administration was eroding the Bill of Rights, etc. did nothing but yammer amongst ourselves. We did not do the organization necessary to bring this behavior to a screeching stop earlier. The best you can say is that the democratic party got organized enough to effect a large party change in Washington. But I suspect that action, legal, constitutional action could have been taken earlier had people who felt that way been willing to work together to make it happen.

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    I must disagree that eroding the Bill of Rights and unbalancing the balance of powers is not worthy of “horror.” The dramatic events, TV newsworthy though they might be, and shocking and sad for those whose see them or whose loved ones are participants in them, are just that: dramatic events. If my loved dies in a car wreck, or of a cerebral hemorrhage, I am just as shocked and horrified as if he dies in a world news event, yet the world goes on in either case, more or less unchanged.
    On the other hand, if and when we embark on the slippery slope of erosion of the Bill of Rights that are the bedrock of our democracy, of what makes this country great, we risk following in the history-changing footsteps of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or so many other totalitarian regimes. That, despite his many many faults, George Bush is such a downright decent guy deep down worked to our benefit and is so much in evidence now as he shows so much grace working with Obama. Had he been a megalomaniac like, perhaps, my party’s most recent President, perhaps we might not have had such a sunny outcome.
    I wish we pledged allegiance not to the flag, a rectangle of fabric, or to the republic for which it stands, but rather to the Constitution that makes our nation the greatest that ever has been.

  6. H

    The use of hyperbole is ancient–the point is to get your attention. But I did wAtch in horror as President known as Monkey Boy among My Friends trampled on the Constitution. And with SC’s Bush scallywags in control who could I ask to make him stop? So I did the only thing I could. I voted for Obama. Jan 20 should be a world holiday in my opinion.

  7. david

    Bush was and is a huge disappointment. That is undeniable.
    But the screwin’ we got in the last eight years ain’t NUTHIN like the screwin’ we’re about to get. January 20th will mark the inauguration of a man and a regime whose disdain for the constitution and the rule of law will make Jefferson look like an anarchist.
    Just sayin. David

  8. Lee Muller

    Does Attorney Fenner realize that Barack Obama has repeatedly stated his view that our Constitution is irrelevant when it stands in the way of his agenda?
    Has she not read his criteria for appointing federal judges?
    Socialists like Obama and other internationalists in the Democratic Party care nothing about the Constitution. Just look at their attempts to deny the means of self-defense to honest Americans, and their votes for spending which is not explicitly authorized in the Constitution. Many of them, like Obama, scoff at notion of Constitutional restraint.
    Just look at the recent lawsuit over Obama’s not being a natural-born citizen. Obama refuses to produce a birth certificate. The State of Hawaii refuses to produce a birth certificate. A federal judge stalls until the eve of the election, before ruling that no one has standing to bring such a lawsuit.
    Hillary Clinton is likewise disqualified from being confirmed as Secretary of State, but Obama doesn’t care, the Senate scoffs at the law, and phony legal scholars again say no citizen has a right to demand enforcement of the law.

  9. bud

    Is it true that The State has outsourced some of it’s departments to the Phillipines? Perhaps we can rename The State to The State of Denial as in they’re denying they serve the interests of the people of South Carolina.

  10. Brad Warthen

    How can you watch someone you call “Monkey Boy” with horror? That seems inconsistent.
    “Snake Man” I could watch with horror. “Dragon Man” would be another. “Demon Man” would be fully capable of prompting such an emotion. But “Monkey Boy?” I don’t think so.

  11. CM

    The man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves.

  12. Brad Warthen

    Hmmm. I didn’t quite follow that.
    But in answer to bud’s question, The State contracts with an Illinois-based company, which employs ad designers in the Philippines, and has done so for about a year. Maybe that’s what you’ve heard about.

  13. Dino

    Brad, your point on NYT hyperbole is well taken. I just read their “Bush has trampled” editorial.
    The first two paragraphs betray NYT’s theory that “The list of abuses … is long”:
    (#1) warrantless eavesdropping on Americans [a few lawyers with Arab clients and enablers of Islamic jihads perhaps, but if more than a handful of regular U.S. citizens or journalists have been much inconvenienced news reporting has been remiss]; (#2) executive orders “undermining powers of Congress” [a patently subjective conclusion regarding the uncontested right to issue executive orders in the first place]; (#3) “unnecessary” invasions of privacy [another subjective conclusion; do we err on the side of caution, or the side of luxury? The latter seems the equivalent of unisex toilets – legal in NYC restaurants when I lived there.]; (#4) F.B.I. investigative guidelines “straight out of J. Edgar Hoover’s playbook” [Hoover seems a bit irrelevant to clear and present dangers threatened by radical Islamist terror leaders]; (#5) a drowning economy [bipartisan issue]; (#6) regulatory sanity [bipartisan issue]; and (#7)”unnecessary” war in Iraq [inconveniently bipartisan issue].
    Ninety percent of the editortial, the final 18 paragraphs, concern only one issue (#8) alternative disposition of the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. Suggested redresses would employ U.S. courts, judges, prosecutors, and plaintiffs’ attorneys [lawyers all] in significantly higher numbers and at egregiously greater rates of pay than afforded by military tribunals, whom, by the way, would still be paid their relatively generous, JAG salaries.
    In conclusion, the “long list of abuses” cited by NYT is really short — 8 items at most. Had not subjective biases and partisan political abandon been availed, the list would be reduced to only two (2) items. One must wonder why Bush-enhanced climate change has been omitted.
    To be fair to NYT, their use of disparaging adjectives / adverbs is indeed longer: outlaw, heinous, disastrous, minor, credible, rejected, abusive, unlawful, transparent, guilty, tortured, sensitive, wafer-thin, duly, indefinite, allegedly, ethically, kangaroo, unusable, truly dangerous, incompetent, lawless, (less than) satisfying, to mention the obvious.

  14. bud

    It’s official. The second Bush recession is underway. When was the last time a president could boast of two recessions during his time in office. Mr. President, you’re doing a heckuva job. This from the USA Today:
    Recession is official, economists say
    By Barbara Hagenbaugh, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON — It’s official: The USA is in a recession that started in December 2007.

  15. GF

    Brad, would it have been better suited if the NYT editorial had read:
    “Americans have lived in fear since President Bush trampled on the Bill of Rights and the balance of power.” ?
    Other than a slight difference in semantics, “living in fear” and “watching in horror” meaningfully equate the same feeling of intense aversion, to a series of questionable policy decisions taken by President Bush, which in some people runs deeply. Your citing of historical events that were, in their time, tragically horrible, fails to exemplify the subjective meaning the word, horror, implies. Did not people, who had invested their entire life’s savings, feel fear, when the stock market dropped recently, and their investments, essentially disappeared? Wouldn’t that experience be typified as a horror? In 1929, after The Crash, some investors committed suicide because their financial situation had become too horrifying to live with.
    Are changes to the U.S. Constitution (the guarantor of our freedoms), or its outright dismissal (in some instances) any less fearsome to the American people, simply because it doesn’t involve loss of life? I would think any U.S. President and Congress whom would cause our rights and liberties to be abrogated under the guise of national security are going to incite some measure of horror in the general populace.
    I know I’m just picking, but sometimes, the subject matter is worth less than the effort it takes to write it.

  16. Brad Warthen

    Of course, I was just picking, too — but I was serious. I hate to see the language demeaned that way. I love words. If I hadn’t been a journalist, I might have been a philologist. Or an etymologist. In fact, in fact, if I saw a sign today saying “Wanted: Philologist. No Advanced Degree required,” and the pay and bennies were OK, I might jump at it.
    But beyond that, the awful thing is that, given the chance to reconsider, the Times would probably do the same thing again, and that’s what worries me. I think they really MEANT the reference to “horror,” and that speaks less to careless use of a word and more to a failure to think critically — and it’s a failure that manifests itself in a hyperbolic, nondiscriminative political culture. I worry that the editors at the NYT really might not see the difference between the Holocaust at the Bush administration, because they’ve bought into the whole “if MY party isn’t in power, it’s the worst thing that ever happened in the history of the world” mentality that has been tearing this nation apart.
    Things started getting really bad in late 1992, when Republicans started putting “Don’t Blame Me; I Voted for Bush” bumper stickers on their cars, and things devolved to the point at which one of the best papers in the country could say “watched with horror” about the past 8 years and actually mean it.
    And it IS one of the best papers in the country, along with the WSJ. It’s not just reputation; they do a good job overall, and are sometimes quite impressive. Unfortunately, the editorial boards of those two wonderful, readable papers have become caricatures of themselves in recent years — with the WSJ speaking for the Mark Sanford wing of the GOP, and the NYT increasingly sounding as though its positions were decided upon at a meeting of the College Democrats. When it comes to editorial, I prefer to look at the Chicago Tribune or the Washington Post — but I see the two NY papers more often.

  17. Lee Muller

    There have still not been two consecutive quarters of economic decline, which has been the standard definition of a recession, like the one Clinton left us in 2000.
    The NBER changed its definition to declare a recession starting in 2007, when economic growth was still +4.0 percent. Their credibility is slipping.
    The NBER, composed right now of mostly Democrats, is trying to help the press in pinning this recession on President Bush, rather than on Obama. But this recession, when it arrives in 2009, is the creation of Bill Clinton and Democrats who created the mortgage frauds, and the Marxist rhetoric of Obama.

  18. Rich

    Dear Brad,
    In the history of our republic, the “if my party isn’t in power. . .” chicken-little mentality goes all the way back to the presidential election of 1800 in which Adams lost to Jefferson in a bitterly contested race. Jefferson came in on a stridently anti-Federalist, agrarian platform in which merchants and financiers were the bogeymen and the yeoman farmers the great heros. Actually, as I told my social studies class today at Ridge View, Jefferson’s perspective changed considerably when he took office.
    How, he wondered, do we keep all the benefits of the Hamiltonian financial system–which, BTW, laid the basis for the emergence of world capitalism from paternalistic mercantilism to the system based on banking and credit we have today (what we are pleased to call “financial services”)–how do we keep these benefits if the Federalist economic edifice were to be changed to favor an agrarian, land-based rural republican Arcadia as Jefferson imagined America should be.
    Of course, Jefferson did his work and lived his life prior to the industrial revolution. So he can be excused for not seeing that America would shortly turn in that direction as our own domestic producer goods increasingly began to feed the new factories of the North. Financial capitalism based in sound banking, credit, taxation, and monetary policies would become the vehicle by which the rural South increasingly produced more and more foodstuffs, wood, and king cotton while the North prospered with its river-driven mills.
    Jefferson had the foresight not to sacrifice the financial system to the dogmas of his party. Instead, he co-opted the Federalists and under his administration America was doubled in size through the Louisiana Purchase, the opening of the Mississippi and the use of the port at New Orleans.
    Jefferson believed that a strong state could protect property, the merchant class, high finance, the farmers and insure the ever-increasing prosperity of all.
    His party, the Democratic-Republican Party (loosely ancestral to the Democracy of Jackson and the Democrats today) still retained its emphasis upon the yeoman farmer, independent tradesman, or small business owner as the basis of the economy while protecting the benefits provided by the Hamiltonian financial system–benefits that one can only see if you take the long view of the person who must ultimately occupy the presidency.
    The rhetoric, however, has always been shrill; that’s by no means recent. Indeed, it was far less civil in the 19th century than it would become in the 20th, or even today. The reality has always been that the framers created a system of checks and balances that effectively prevents even a party occupying the White House and holding majorities in the House and the Senate from exercising hegemonic power.
    Obama, I believe, understands this. Yes, his administration will definitely tilt to the left, just as a McCain administration would have tilted to the right. Abortion will remain legal, gays will get greater civil rights, so-called intelligent design will not be taught in schools, and there will be stem-cell research and a reduction in military spending.
    But there will be no statues erected in honor of Lenin; Islam will not become the state religion; the government will not confiscate all your property through ruinous taxation, and the Democracy will not abolish the descendants of the Hamiltonian federalists, the current Republican Party.
    Would that the Republicans were indeed to recover their intellectual roots and, as I have said many times on this blog, put aside the fundamentalist nonsense preached to the base and become, once again, the party of federalism, Hamiltonian economics, civil liberties, compact government, realpolitik, and free labor.
    This isn’t going to happen as long as the party is in the thralldom of the likes of Sarah Palin and her no-nothing ilk.
    Vigorous debate between the party ideologues is a good thing. But once a government is elected, we should follow Jefferson’s example, and hold fast to that which is good, i.e., that which works, in the programs of both parties so that our Democratic Republic might once again recover, prosper once again, and resume its role as the leader of the free world.

  19. Bart

    bud, wasn’t the first recession under Bush the one he inherited from Clinton? Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t that the reason for the tax cuts that Obama will surely not continue in 2010? I will be one of the first to admit that Bush has been anything but stellar on some issues but to blame him for a recession were in when he took office is streaching it a little don’t you think?
    And, if you will consider history, any president serving a second term will have a recession tacked on his administration at some point.
    This one is different to be sure but it has been coming for a very long time and all of the events converging into a perfect storm couldn’t have been timed any better for Obama. Yet, history as always will give credit to Bush since it did occur under his watch.
    I watched not with horror but genuine concern for several years at the impending correction in the real estate segment of our economy. The price of housing went up at an inordinate rate when one considered the actual structure after completion and the imbalance in market value vs cost. When the subprime market exploded and people who were making $20K were living in $150K homes, something was clearly wrong. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out either.
    If you are going to blame Bush, then be fair if you can. He did try to get some regulatory action initiated to control the lending practices and provide oversight for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2003. McCain tried to get something done in 2006 but on both occasions, Democrats stopped it. And don’t try to say that Bush had a majority in congress to work with. He didn’t have enough support in committee to get it to the floor. When the committee was in session, Democrats demonized any attempt as racism or portrayed any proposed action as not caring about the poor and underpriviliged.
    What can we say now? After we come out of this recession, unless the government sets up another give away program, you can bet the banks and lending instituions will go back to the earlier days when you had to have at least 20% for conventional or 10% for FHA, hold a steady job and your house payments not exceed one third of your income.

  20. Herb Brasher

    Would that the Republicans were indeed to recover their intellectual roots and, as I have said many times on this blog, put aside the fundamentalist nonsense preached to the base . . . .

    So the answer is the final solution to the evangelical question (since I imagine from other things that Rich has written, that “fundamentalist” basically refers to evangelical Christians in general)?
    Well, I doubt that we will all be lined up in front of a firing squad anytime soon, but it is disconcerting to be named the scapegoat for the nation’s ills. Seems like we have come a long way since the Puritans, and other evangelicals founded a large portion of this country–I suppose the restrictions of morality that these folks brought to our society are now strangling its development? I hardly think so. Rather, as Chuck Colson recently pointed out, a major part of our current economic crisis has been caused by greed, which is the direct result of moral relativism–not caused by evangelicals.
    A note to Rich (and to his namesake, I suspect, Richard Dawkins): We are not only represented by folks like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, but also by others like Rick Warren, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo–to name but a few. And if you study history, you will find that nearly every major philanthropic work in this country, or even abroad, has evangelicals at its roots, whether it is the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, or even the YMCA (which in many countries is still solidly evangelical, as it is in Germany–the head of the YMCA, Ulrich Parzany–SPD or socialist party member– became the evangelist heir to Billy Graham). As Nicolas Kristof discovered when touring Africa, many of those who work consistently for the good of the people, combating AIDS, etc., are evangelicals.
    So fear not, Rich. We are still here, and we probably won’t be going away for awhile.

  21. Lee Muller

    Modern representative governments are the result of Christian theology put to action.
    The history of reactionary movements like socialism is a history of atheistic ignorance and intolerance for any religion, any moral or ethical codes apart from those dictated by secular rulers.

  22. Doug Ross

    Here’s our President expounding yesterday on his biggest regret:
    “I don’t know — the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that’s not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess. ”
    Ugh… deflecting all responsibility and not a moment of introspection or remorse about thousands of deaths (many of them innocent) as a direct result of his actions.
    I’m reminded of Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now:
    Kurtz: [voiceover]
    “You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment. Because it’s judgment that defeats us. The horror… the horror… ”

  23. Rich

    Isn’t it ironic that Rick Warren would give an international peace prize invented by his pompous ministry to President Bush, a man who took us into an elective war in Iraq?

  24. Lee Muller

    The US invasion of Iraq made it a much more peaceful country.
    * Saddam Hussein had murdered over 250,000 people since 1992.
    * Saddam Hussein and the Europeans he was bribing, had starved 2,000,000 Iraqis to death while stealing the UN Oil-for-Food money.
    * Saddam Hussein was financing suicide bombers and paying their families.
    * Iraq was harboring Al Qaeda and training them at two camps, which had complete trains, busses and airliners for hijacking practice.
    * Iraq was developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
    * Libya had several nuclear bombs, which they immediately surrendered after the US crushed Iraq.

  25. Herb Brasher

    Isn’t it ironic that Rick Warren would give an international peace prize invented by his pompous ministry to President Bush, a man who took us into an elective war in Iraq?

    . . . the direct result of moral relativism–not caused by evangelicals.
    Notice I didn’t say that evangelicals, and presidents who claim to be such, haven’t been seduced by moral relativism themselves. I just don’t believe we’re the cause.

  26. Lee Muller

    Herb, what you are confronting is the smear of Western civilization that Christians are conducting a “new crusade” against Islamic nations.
    Westerners who buy into those sorts of lies try to dissociate themselves from the Christians, Jews, Anglos, Germans and others whom they have been taught to be always wrong and always acting with evil intent towards the rest of the innocent world; Muslim, Hindu, pagan or whatever.

  27. Herb Brasher

    To give a more learned answer to Rich’s unfounded accusations against evangelical voters, the National Review brought this very fine article entitled Scapgoating the Social Right, which puts us right back into the mainstream of the country, where we belong.
    If anyone is out of sync with the general tenor of American values, it is the ultra-left, including anti-religionists like the pseudo-scientist Mr. Dawkins and his American disciples.

  28. Rich

    As for the idea that the left is out of sync with this country’s values, the most recent election could not be construed as evidence to support that thesis.
    But, that’s okay, because the beliefs of the social right aren’t based on evidence, but rather on faith that they know the mind of God on social issues.
    Let’s remember that the Founders were secularists who did not mention God anywhere in the Constitution and specifically forbade a religious test for office as well as mandating church-state separation in the first amendment.
    Religion is something best kept to oneself.

  29. Herb Brasher

    Glad you read selectively, Rich, at least that shows intelligence. I’m the head of a Christian non-profit; our constitution really doesn’t say very much of a religious nature, because it sets up the framework of rules under which we operate from day to day. You have to go to other documents for a lot of ultimate thrust of the organization and its implications. Legal documents aren’t generally the heart of any organization.
    You’ve surely noticed that the Declaration of Independence has the telling words, “endowed by their Creator . . .” –which ought to tell you something. I can understand that you want to get away from the basics of fanaticism, which can too easily take hold of any religion or governing philosophy, but you ought to carefully examine the results of what your own philosophy is based on.
    I would personally contend that you may be just as fanatically unreasonable, because you seem to have bought into a closed system “scientific” world view, which in our day should be very surprising for any honest scientist. There are too many rumors of alternate universes and higher dimensions–too many things that science cannot answer. As Jesus said of the materialistic, anti-supernatural Sadduccees, “you greatly err . . . .”
    As to the Founding Fathers, you would not be very much at home with them; I doubt that any of them, even Thomas Paine, would have been at home with your views, and I doubt very much that they intended, by the separation of church and state, for the churches to be muzzled, as you seem to advocate. Muzzle the churches, and others will fill the gaps, but you may not like the result.

  30. Rich

    Tom Paine was an avowed atheist. He wrote the “Age of Reason” which you might want to look at. The Founders were largely Enlightenment secularists who were, in many ways, far ahead of the country as a whole. The Constitution is a revolutionary document for its time and the Declaration speaks of a deist conception of God in a time before we understood evolution (a fact, not an hypothesis).
    You need to read more. Sorry if that sounds patronizing coming from an academic immersed in books.

  31. Lee Muller

    Some of the Founding Fathers were Deists. Many were devout members of the Church of England, Lutherans, Presbyterians or Calvinists. The top echelons who planned and ran the Revolution were Freemasons.
    Those ignorant of history and philosophy, like Poor Rich, can start by making a list of each Founder and their religious beliefs.
    What you need to worry more about is the mixed soup of Islam, Christianity, Black Liberation Theology, anti-Zionism and secular Marxism which compromise the confused world view of the Obamas.
    Obamas confusion and his mixed message plays well to many Americans with a similar misunderstanding of Christianity and other religions.

  32. Herb Brasher

    Rich, I don’t want to elongate a conversation that I don’t think you’re all that interested in, but to maybe close it off, I’d suggest that all of us need to be life-long learners and keep reading. My point with Thomas Paine was that even he was not the radical anti-religionist that you seem to think he was, atheist though he may have been. Even Paine’s and Dawkins’ sympathizers acknowledge that much. Though I don’t subscribe to this person’s views, it still makes my point:

    Unlike Professor Dawkins, Thomas Paine loved the gentle teachings accredited to Jesus and other philosophers who taught survival after death — that we are all personably responsible and liable for our actions during our short stay on planet earth —
    “As you sow, so you will reap.”
    Paine was hopeful of an afterlife. A great many of Thomas Paine’s wildest dreams have come true because he was fighting with right on his side, a very powerful ally. At the beginning of the 21st century we no longer have to just rely on hope regarding an afterlife, because we now have the crushing scientific proof that we all survive death and are immediately reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us. Understandably this scientific proof has really upset the powerful religious establishment who will lose their monopoly on the vast life after death industry when millions find out that we all go into the next world without any help from the priests whatsoever. Now we can understand why the Pope said to Professor Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University:
    “I do not care what you do in science, just as long as you do not encroach on my subject — life after death.”
    The scientific establishment across every discipline, including psychology and philosophy, will also be exposed because they all teach that death is the end of everything — that the mind and brain are the same. The pseudo-scientists have joined forces with the priests in a last ditch, desperate attempt to block the scientific case for survival after death from even coming to the attention of the public — that the mind and brain are separate.

    But keep reading, Rich, as I plan to as well. I’d suggest some evangelicals as well, like historians Nathan Hatch (president of Wake Forest U.) and Mark Noll, who have a balanced view of religion’s influence on America’s founding fathers. They were not all deists, I’m sorry to tell you–on that particular point, Lee is right.
    But the main point is that anyone with an over-riding philosophy of life that focuses her/his life and leads it into positive works and values, is generally not going to shut up about it. Sorry, but evangelicals are not going to be able to shut up, either. (Come to think of it, neither have you, as you seem to be very adamant that everyone know your view about religion, and keep to it.) It’s the very nature of our relationship to Christ that demands we share it, in fact, we’ve been told to do it. It doesn’t need to be jammed down anybody’s throat, and if that has been done to you, well I apologize on behalf of whomever. But if we keep quiet, Jesus said that “the rocks are going to cry out.” You may prefer hearing it from the rocks, I don’t know, but we’re not going to shut up about God. Sorry.
    And by the way—evolution really has nothing necessarily to do with religion. There have been plenty, and still are, of those who are convinced of evolutionary theory who are committed Christians and believers.

  33. Rich

    Religion is pure opinion without evidence. That’s why it is best kept out of public policy debates of any kind. Since it is, by definition, not based on empirical evidence, nothing can be asserted definitively based upon it. You could believe in Jesus, someone else in Allah, and another in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s all the same and should be inconsequential when dealing with matters of state.
    The Founders wisely made no mention of God in the Constitution.

  34. Lee Muller

    The Constitution specifically guarantees freedom of religion, which means the worship of God.
    I consider most of Environmentalism to be a pagan religion, acting on faith contrary to empirical evidence, and I wish to expunge such notions from public policy debates.

  35. Herb Brasher

    “‘Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall in now wise enter into the Kingdom of heaven.’ Our true state as children of God can only be rediscovered through repentance, through ultimate honesty.”
    “Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us.”
    “Man is summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world. He must therefore really live in the godless world without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other . . . that is repentance: not in the first place thinking about one’s own needs, problems, sins and fears, but allowing oneself to be caught up into the way of Jesus Christ.”
    “We throw ourselves completely into the arms of God taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world–watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith, that is repentance; and that is how one becomes a human and a Christian.”
    ” How great a power there is in a hope based on certainty, and how invincible a life with such a hope is! ‘Christ our hope’–this Pauline formula is the strength of our lives.”
    “Come now thou greatest of feasts on the journey to freedom eternal; death, cast aside all the burdensome chains, and demolish the walls of our temporal body, the walls of our souls that are blinded, so that at last we may see that which here remains hidden. Freedom how long we have sought thee in discipline, action and suffering; dying we now may behold thee revealed in the Lord.”

    Quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, shortly before he was hung by the Nazis in Flossenbürg.

    “He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom his God was real, and ever close to him”

    Payne Best, describing Bonhoeffer from his experience with him in adjacent prison cell.
    How sad it is when people live in the self-imposed poverty of denial of God and the supernatural–and how poor our world would be if everyone were to live that way. Thank God there are some who have the courage to be different. I would very much like to be just a little bit like them.

  36. Rich

    The existence of a God who created everything is essentially an empirical proposition. Who is this deity? what are his powers? how do those powers operate? what knowledge, skills, and design does he bring to bear in his production, if, indeed, the universe is a product and not just an event?
    To say that a god created everything is to have all of your explanatory work cut out for you. Then there is is the question of which deity did the deed and whose sacred book reveals his word. Religion, as you can see, poses more questions than it answers.
    Do not tell me that I need to see through the eyes of faith. There is a black hole at the center of our galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy is headed straight for us. Scientific explanations are in order here.
    Everything Herb quotes above is mere literature. I am a rationalist and I demand empirically based explanations, both in the physical and the human sciences.

  37. Herb Brasher

    Who is this deity? what are his powers? how do those powers operate? what knowledge, skills, and design does he bring to bear in his production, if, indeed, the universe is a product and not just an event?

    The answers to those questions are what “revelation” is all about. “Event,” indeed–not just a production, but an event in an intentional story that is meant to be unfolded, and in which mankind is meant to be intentionally involved.
    But I will never find out the meaning of any event by just staring at the event, or listing the facts, will I? Someone or something has to put it together for me. Whatever that “meta-narrative” is–everyone has adopted one, by faith. Rich has adopted his by faith, and without knowing a whole lot about his position (impossible from a few posts on a blog), it seems to be eternal evolution of some kind. The explanation of that “faith” would doubtless be some kind of “literature,” something that Rich abhors, supposedly. But no one lives without faith, and faith has an empirical object that can be explained in some way.
    Are there alternative and conflicting explanations of the Deity, who He is, and what He has done and is doing? Absolutely. In Hinduism, (history and the cosmos itself) is circular; Carl Sagan bought into that world view, so has Elton John and a host of other people. It is convenient, for one thing, for ultimately there is no accountability to a personal God, only to myself and my own development. In Islam, history is linear, but God is ultimately the unknowable, and one might add, capricious, Allah.
    In Truth, God is Grace–who has placed us here for a brief while, in order that we might look for Him, if we want to. The evidence is empirical and historical: Jesus existed, and the grave was empty. The very existence of the church, despite overwhelming resistance of evil, is proof of that. But coming to the truth demands repentance, openness, and accountability, all of which we resist, tooth and nail. But the promise is still open: He waits for us to search, and He will not break the door down, that is the very nature of the Incarnation that displays what one has called “the modesty of God.”
    Of course there are many who do not believe in Christ, usually because they have never heard of Him (a responsibility of the church to make sure they do), or because of the accountability issue: I would rather be the master of my own fate, and the captain of my own soul. That is a choice I am free to make, but playing god in my own life is a huge responsibility, and one that we were never meant to bear on our own.

  38. Rich

    The kind of irrational religious rhetoric you employ is the very reason why the Founders separated church and state. There is a fundamental and implicit recognition that we cannot know religious “truth” the same way we can know things empirically. Each religious tradition makes its own truth claims on faith and as such stand on essentially the same ground, i.e., there is no means of rational verification of their claims. How do we decide between Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity? And if we decide for Christianity, which denomination possesses “the truth”? How do we know that their interpretation of Scripture and the entire tradition is the correct one?
    We cannot, because religion makes non-rational claims. When those claims, however, become the basis of public policy decisions on abortion, gays, evolution, stem-cell research, or the content of instruction in the schools, then they must be assessed with the same critical eye that we would use for any purely secular public policy debate, e.g., whether or not to bail out Detroit (I am against; let them go into Chapter 11).
    Since religions make conflicting and irreconcilable claims and since any deviation from their sacred tenets can be considered heresy, it’s best just to keep religion separate from the state.
    The Founders wisely failed to mention God in the Constitution. Jefferson only used the idea of a deistic Creator in the Declaration as a means of answering the divine-right arguments of royalty to control the colonies. No, God did not give you the right to oppress me; “he”, i.e., nature, gave me the “right” to live unmolested. That right derives from the absence of YOUR right to do what you want to me on the basis of my beliefs.
    In the 18th century, social compact theory was all the rage, and that’s why we have a constitution–the first written one in the world–to establish a government theoretically of the the people, by the people, and for the people. Since there is no foundation to the arguments of royalty and since men must govern themselves in order to survive, the moral basis of government must be utilitarian. Hence a constitution and positive law derived through the deliberations of the people’s representatives.
    Don’t tell me that we need the personal preferences of an almighty deity from which to derive morality. Morality is situational and flexible, but it can be distilled into a series of socially acceptable fundamental, secular principles upon which to base common and statutory law–the positive enactments of the state. The most basic and elementary principle is the survival and prosperity of the species on this planet. If we accept this as a positive good toward which we should strive in order to avoid the consequences of chaos and lawlessness, then we will form government to pursue this good–what the 18th-century philosophes called “happiness.”
    Thus morality and government can be grounded in the felt needs and aspirations of the species in the absence of any divine enactments. Morality is not the product of a divine mind and its inscrutable preferences–i.e., authority–but rather a reasoned analysis of the situation of the species and what it’s members must do to survive.
    The Founders wisely saw that religion, if the state was to be free and prosper, had to be kept safely separate from the state. Also, for scholarship and science to prosper and thrive, learning must not be shackled to irrational, unquestionable metaphysical doctrines derived from faith. Scholarship isn’t about “faith” in the religious sense of the word, but about the world as it presents itself to our senses.
    America was much less religious in the 18th century than it is now. We need to go back to our skeptical, Enlightenment roots and leave religious superstition, along with Marxism, on the ash-heap of history.
    Our survival is at stake. Religion impelled the attackers of 911 and it motivates the followers of John Hagee and other religious rightists in this country who fervently hope for the day when the Third Temple will be built in Jerusalem and the end of days hastens upon us to spew forth rivers of religious hate, blood, devastation, and general Armageddon.
    January 20, 2009, cannot come too soon.

  39. Herb Brasher

    Some interesting presuppositions here. I’ll just make some quotes from Rich’s material, and attempt to crystallize out the presuppositions:

    Each religious tradition makes its own truth claims on faith and as such stand on essentially the same ground, i.e., there is no means of rational verification of their claims.

    Or in other words, because religions disagree with one another, they are all false, or at the very best irrational. Not so. Each one can, and should, be evaluated on the basis of its claims. I can just as much evaluate the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus as I can the existence of Benjamin Franklin.

    And if we decide for Christianity, which denomination possesses “the truth”? How do we know that their interpretation of Scripture and the entire tradition is the correct one?

    Assumption No. 2: All aspects of a “meta-narrative,” or explanation and purpose for human existence, have to be perfectly worked out and agreed upon. There is no such things as agreeing on the broad strokes, but disagreeing on peripherals or inconsequentials. One disagreement, and one throws out the whole explanation.
    In other words, I’m willing to cut my own philosophy some slack, but not yours.

    We cannot, because religion makes non-rational claims. When those claims, however, become the basis of public policy decisions on abortion, gays, evolution, stem-cell research, or the content of instruction in the schools, then they must be assessed with the same critical eye that we would use for any purely secular public policy debate . . . .

    Assumption no. 3: All philosophies of existence and purpose are wrong (except Rich’s), and must not be allowed to influence public policy. In fact all religions must be muzzled. (See below)
    Strange, that one. I wonder what influenced William Wilberforce to work against slavery–oh, it must have been his conviction of the good of the survival of the species. Never mind that Wilberforce was a convinced Christian, that had nothing to do with it . . . .

    The most basic and elementary principle is the survival and prosperity of the species on this planet. If we accept this as a positive good toward which we should strive in order to avoid the consequences of chaos and lawlessness, then we will form government to pursue this good–what the 18th-century philosophies called “happiness.”

    Assumption no. 4: Our governing philosophy is good as long as it insures the survival and prosperity of the species on this planet. Corollary: religion had nothing to do with the work of the anti-slavery forces to work towards the survival of the whole species on this planet. I guess they should have kept the anti-slavery forces locked up in a prison cell somewhere, from Wilberforce to Martin Luther King. None of them should have a voice in the public square, because most all of them were religiously motivated.
    Obviously over-simplified and thus not true. Rich wants to take away the very motivation of many to speak in the public square, and still have the good results.

    America was much less religious in the 18th century than it is now.

    Assumption No. 5: This one is plain enough, already spelled out. And of course it must be true, because Rich says so. No reasons or given, no empirical evidence for the statement, or where the measurement comes from, or on what basis it is made. Rich says so, and that’s enough. (And you thought the pope was authoritarian?)

    Our survival is at stake: Religion impelled the attackers of 911 and it motivates the followers of John Hagee and other religious rightists in this country who fervently hope for the day when the Third Temple will be built in Jerusalem and the end of days . . .

    Assumption No. 6: All religious people are fanatics, and the first corollary of that: society’s ills can only be healed when we get rid of all religious motivation for speaking in the public square, or influencing public policy.
    This one is a bit scary. Presumably religion is contrary to the very survival of mankind. Stamp it out. Final solution to the “fundamentalist” question? All religious people get tarred and feathered with the same brush.

    January 20, 2009, cannot come too soon.

    Assumption No. 7: Ah, I knew it, Bush is to blame, of course. If only Rich had said this in the beginning, we could have avoided the whole discussion.

  40. Lee Muller

    Rich says, “I am a rationalist”, then says he must see empirical evidence for everything.
    A Rationalist believes that there is an existence or reality independent of one’s person experience.
    An Empricist only accepts experience as evidence of the real world.
    Which is it for you, Rich?
    A lot of theologians have been Rationalists.
    And Empiricism only concerns the physical world withing one’s personal experience. That leaves a lot of the world, natural and supernatural, outside your ability to contemplate, much less reject as non-existant.

  41. Rich

    It’s true that rationalists as opposed to strict empiricists accept the existence of a priori knowledge and believe in the existence of analytic truths. But I use “rationalist” in the broader sense of one who demands reason and evidence as conditions for assenting to a particular proposition.
    You’re not going to win.

  42. Herb Brasher

    I don’t suppose that anyone is actually reading this thread anymore, but for the purpose of solidifying thoughts in my own mind, I want to thank Rich for helping me to see that some of his assessment of religion is true. I ran across the following passage in Marilynn Robinson’s novel, Gilead:

    But people of any degree of religious sensitivity are always vulnerable to the accusation that their consciousness or their understanding does not attain to the highest standards of the faith, because that is always true of everyone. St. Paul is eloquent on this subject. But if the awkwardness and falseness and failure of religion are interpreted to mean there is no core of truth in it—and the witness of Scripture from end to end discourages this view—then people are disabled from trusting their thoughts, their expressions of belief, and their understanding, and even from believing in the essential dignity of their and their neighbors’ endlessly flawed experience of belief. It seems that the spirit of religious self-righteousness this article deplores is precisely the spirit in which it is written. Of course he’s right about many things, one of them being the destructive potency of religious self-righteousness. [Italics mine]

    My agreement with Rich is that much of religion, and particularly religious self-righteousness, is destructive, as also the Apostle Paul (mentioned above) pointed out in several different places, for example in Philippians 3. My primary beef with Rich’s position is 1) his artificial definition of religion as outside of the realm of empirical proof, and 2) his refusal to recognize that his own philosophy (meta-narrative, religion, or whatever one wants to call it) of life is on the same plane as everyone else’s, and he accepts it by faith, as much as everyone else does. I’m convinced that my faith is place in a much more reliable, historically verifiable object, the resurrection of Jesus Christ (upon which the rest of His life and claims ultimately stands or falls), than Rich’s evident closed-system, pseudo-scientific, eternally-materialistic world view.
    The point is, Christ—the Christ of the New Testament—is not the same as religion, and liberates without enslaving. That men have made a religion out of Christ, called Christendom, that again is guilty of the same self-righteousness, is a point well-taken, but it does not deny the truth of the original. in point of fact the Christ of the New Testament (or the faith that many in the 18th century had in Him, however imperfectly) influenced even our American form of government with the result that the mixture of Scottish common-sense philosophy and philosophical hedonism, with a dose of the Roman legal system and a smattering of Greek political thought thrown in, became a unique experiment in world-history.


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