Saturday, March 17, 2012

Paul Kurtz: An Appreciation

Paul Kurtz, philosopher and founder of the Center for Inquiry, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly "CSICOP"), and the Council for Secular Humanism, is a living monument of the skeptical and humanist movements. He also founded Prometheus Books (whose philosophical and skeptical titles occupy my bookshelf).

Two years ago, however, Kurtz resigned from the boards of the Center for Inquiry and related organizations that he founded, partly in protest against the direction they'd taken toward embracing the "new atheism" at the expense of other more positive secularist goals. He simultaneously founded a new organization which he dubbed Neo-Humanist, the Institute for Science and Human Values. From his open resignation letter:

Unfortunately, the major emphasis of the Center had been on criticism of religious and paranormal claims--that is surely a key part of the agenda. But this has led to the neglect of another essential part of the vision that first inspired the creation of the Center for Inquiry; and that is the application of science and reason to ethical questions. The key question is whether secularists are able to develop secular ethical values that instill meaning and provide some basis for moral integrity.

Here is a two-hour program from the early 1980s of vintage Prof. Kurtz as he calmly debates Christian apologist and brow-beater Norman Geisler on what looked like an inadvertently interesting Christian talk show hosted by one flaxen-haired John Ankerberg. It's an overtly biased "debate." The supposed moderator and host, Ankerberg, transparently and repeatedly sides with and makes arguments for Geisler, but he at least gives Kurtz the floor on many occasions to articulate a coherent humanism:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Glenn Beck Vs. Democratic Socialism

Glenn Beck, you're no William F. Buckley, Jr. But to your credit, you had an actual socialist from the Democratic Socialists of America on your show. That is pretty much unheard of nowadays:

His "gotcha" moment with the no-one-forced-me-to-share-my-M&M's analogue for the virtues of capitalism fell flat, like so many of his responses in this clip, or on his show generally (judging from my relatively few, random tunings-in back when he was on FOX). What weird shtick.

But the best moment here, which is absolutely worth watching, is when DSA President Frank Llewellyn says that of all four people on both 2008 presidential tickets, Sarah Palin was the most socialist. Beck is dumbstruck. Llewellyn continues and explains that it's because Palin taxed the oil companies for their pipelines in Alaska, and then redistributed the money as a dividend to all Alaskan citizens. It's similar to what Hugo Chavez does down in Venezuela, he says.

Beck's response? A tortured expression. Cut to commercial. End.

They Think They're Socialists

This explains why I thought of Michael Harrington today:

Harrington founded the Democratic Socialists of America, who must be getting a bump in their Internet traffic and membership inquiries from the publicity this Daily Show bit has provided. The Socialist Organizer bloke who says "they [the DSA] think they're socialists" and "they represent the 1%" is only dreaming that the Democratic Party would give the DSA any attention whatsoever. Not even FDR or LBJ would have dared to associate themselves with socialists. Only atheists are probably more anathema to the image the Democratic Party wants to project.

Incidentally, almost immediately after posting my previous post about Michael Harrington today, I stopped by my local co-op and browsed the magazine rack. There, in the most recent issue of Dissent, happened to be a piece by Maurice Isserman marking 2012 as the 50th anniversary of Harrington's The Other America:
THE VOICE Harrington adopted throughout The Other America was calm and reasonable, but also idealistic and impassioned. Unlike many left-wing pamphleteers, he had the ability to convey moral seriousness without lapsing into moralism. There is no hint in his writing of the sanctimonious bullying of the better-off that pervaded so much of the radical style to come later in the decade. His tone suggested that the reader was a reasonable person, just like the author, and reasonable people, once apprised of the plight of the Other America, would agree on the need to find solutions. The enemies he identified in the book tended to be distanced abstractions like “social blindness” or “the vocabulary of not caring” rather than identifiable individuals or political groups. [more]

Michael Harrington on Poverty

This post is a call for two things: (1) Reinvigorate the influence of Michael Harrington's ideas on the federal government, which has drastically waned since the days of LBJ, and (2) post more of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s Firing Line program on YouTube. The first two minutes or so of this lamentably short video clip consist of Buckley making jabs at what he clearly believes is the hypocrisy of any lefty or liberal being concerned about, or having once taken a vow of, poverty. No matter, Harrington's definition, adjusting for inflation, distills into this: If you have to make a choice between necessities (not luxuries) for yourself or your family, say between nutricious food and adequate housing, or between adequate housing and adequate health care, etc., then guess what? You're living in poverty.

Michael Harrington's The Other America.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

God Hates Reason

Excited atheists wait for Pastor Phelps
to come with his carefully crafted signs.
Later this month, my fellow freethinkers have a chance to gather together at the Reason Rally, which bills itself as "the largest secular event in world history." Maybe so, but wasn't the Russian Revolution pretty big? Anyway, not everyone there will be of the secular persuasion, or even of the lucid persuasion:

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church were invited to the Reason Rally by Jim Klawon, Deputy Vice President of Administration of the National Atheist Party, via a letter sent to Pastor Fred Phelps. After receiving this letter, Megan Phelps-Roper, on Twitter, wrote, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” Ps14:1 Here's lookin' at you, @ReasonRally!Your [unwarranted] pride is your destruction. Dear @ReasonRally: How gracious of you! We accept your invitation & will picket your parade of fools 3/24. Love,WBC.” [more]

The "Love, WBC" line just kills me.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Secular Vote

President Obama is a Christian, but he should have a lock on the secular vote. Here's a scorecard of Obama and the past and current Republican candidates regarding their relative secular values:

Source: Secular Coalition for America (

Noteworthy here is that Mitt Romney scores an "A" in the "God, Faith & Governance" category. The Secular Coalition for America describes that category as having to do with how much a candidate attributes their political motivations to a deity or supernatural entity. Romney apparently told Piers Morgan in June 2011 the following:

I separate quite distinctly matters of personal faith from the leadership one has in a political sense. […] You don’t begin to apply the doctrines of a religion to the responsibilities for guiding a nation or guiding a state. […] I’m not a spokesman for my church, and one thing I am not going to do in running for president is become a spokesman for my church or apply a religious test which is simply forbidden by the Constitution. I’m not going there. [more]

Credit where credit is due: Three cheers for the man I have previously dismissed as a greedy sleaze! Obama, on the other hand, says he prays "all the time," precisely because he has "a lot of stuff" on his plate. So, he gets a "C" in that category. Overall, however, Obama has the best average score of all of them, except maybe Huntsman.

An instructive side note: Two years ago, when Obama felt it necessary to "spontaneously" talk about his faith at a backyard meet-and-greet, I had serious doubts about the orthodoxy of his Christian proclamations. He talked about following the "precepts of Jesus Christ," a position I actually think is quite laudable. I wish more Christians did follow the "precepts" and not the accretions of dogma that have confused the original, basic message of "love thy neighbor" that Jesus preached.

The Secular Coalition for America, by the way, is a lobby group for humanists, atheists, and agnostics, or what Republicans erroneously believe is the base of Democratic Party, along with gays and communists.

Blogging May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Add this to the first-world problems meme ("white whines"): Andrew Sullivan reflects on the death of Andrew Breitbart and how it was the "brutal, unending culture war" in the media that is ultimately responsible for doing him in ("Breitbart - And Us." The Daily Dish, March 1, 2012). Lest we forget, and apparently Sullivan has, Breitbart's participation in that culture war was entirely of his own volition. In fact, Breitbart stoked the flames of that culture war at every turn.

Nonetheless, Sullivan sees him as perhaps the country's "first new-media culture-war fatality." You see, it is the "physical, emotional, and spiritual toll" of blogging and being a news junkie that led to Breitbart's untimely death last week:

Human beings were not created for that kind of constant unending stress, and the one thing you can say about Andrew [Breitbart] is that he had fewer boundaries than others. He took it all so seriously, almost manically, in the end. The fight was everything. He felt. His anger was not feigned. He wanted to bleed and show the world the wounds. He wanted to scream. And he often did. [more]

Unending stress? Of what? Being a reactionary attack dog for the Right? I can think of many, many other more stressful "lifestyles" people have thrust upon them in the world today, such as starvation, suffering from AIDS in Africa, being tortured in Syria, kidnapped in Colombia, living under state control in North Korea, or living under a failed state in Somalia. Now that's "constant unending stress." Or how about just living in poverty in the United States? Or how about just being Shirley Sherrod and watching Andrew Breitbart unfairly and untruthfully torpedo your reputation publicly?

Sullivan needs some deep perspective. I can't weep for him blogging at 9:30 at night (his example), or for Breitbart being a polemicist, which is a charitable way of describing what Breitbart was. I didn't feel giddy like so many fellow progressives and liberals when Breitbart died. In fact, I found the giddiness disturbing. There are worse villains in this world than a deceitful blowhard like Breitbart. But to go to the other end and describe him as a casualty of a relentless schedule of blogging, arguing in bars, and jetsetting around the country to make vicious tirades at union organizers and Occupy folks? No way.