Saturday, July 30, 2005

Freud's Absurdity

Sigmund Freud, writing about religion in The Future of an Illusion, asked, "Am I to believe in every absurdity? If not, why this one in particular?"

Even though he was talking about belief in God his question has resonance beyond its implicit criticism of theism. Consider, for instance, just a few of the absurdities that an atheist, like Freud, often chooses to believe:

He often chooses to believe that there are moral values that somehow transcend human subjectivity even though there's no basis for believing such things exist in a world without God. Unless there is a God the only morality that makes any sense is one based upon "might makes right."

He often chooses to believe that his daily existence has some meaning when in fact an eternal death nullifies all meaning and significance in life. Life can only have genuine meaning if physical death is not the end of one's existence.

He often chooses to believe that consciousness can arise out of brute material substance, as if a test tube full of the appropriate chemicals could produce a hope or a wish. There is no materialist explanation for human consciousness. It is a mystery. Why then is it less absurd to believe it somehow arises out of matter than to believe it somehow arises out of the mind of a Creator?

He often chooses to believe that even though everything in his philosophy tells him that we are just lumps of mud and blood, nevertheless we have dignity. On the contrary, human beings have no inherent dignity. Whatever dignity we possess is simply what we and others choose to confer upon ourselves.

He often chooses to believe that human rights somehow exist apart from the whims of the people in the state who wield power. He believes this even though any rights that the state chooses to grant its citizens are purely arbitrary and grounded in nothing more than human sentiment. We only have real rights to the extent they are granted to us by a transcendent moral authority.

He often chooses to believe that though this universe in which we live is so incredibly and exquisitely fine-tuned for life it is nevertheless just an accident of chance. He seeks to evade the powerful testimony of the universe's amazing physico-chemical properties by speculating that there are a near infinite number of worlds and that therefore at least one must have the astonishing collocation of properties, laws, and forces that this one has. He believes this despite the complete absence of any evidence for any world (universe) other than this one.

He often chooses to believe that the origin of life, the emergence of whole libraries of information contained within the walls of a microscopic cell, was a result of blind, unguided processes, as if feeding magnetic scrabble letters into a blender could eventually churn out the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Like consciousness, the origin of life is a complete mystery.

The Christian theist believes that the universe is not an incomprehensible coincidence, that consciousness is not an emergent property of matter, that life has meaning, human beings have worth, and morality and human rights are warranted because all these things are created by and/or grounded in an intelligent, personal God.

So we may ask Freud why it is more absurd to believe that there is an intelligent Creator than it is to believe that meaning, morality, the cosmos and life, human dignity and rights, all exist apart from any apparent or plausible ground or explanation for them. The fact is, it is the atheist who, in the light of what we know about the world today, must embrace absurdity.

Political Brilliance

Dick Morris thinks Bush is a political genius:

Who says President Bush isn't brilliant? His maneuver in appointing Judge John Roberts has completely throttled the Democrats in the highest-stakes game of his second term.

The key is that Bush has used the Democrats' opposition to his district and circuit-court judicial appointments against them and made it a ratification of the Roberts candidacy. Simply put, by choosing a judge whom the Democrats confirmed unanimously when he was nominated for the D.C. Circuit Court - and whom they did not filibuster - Bush has made the Democrats impotent.

The Democrats thought they were preparing for the Supreme Court battle when they hit on their strategy of filibustering Bush's judicial nominations. They saw these battles as spring training to get them in shape for the real fight that would come when Bush made his Supreme Court nomination.

Instead, their strategy has backfired massively. By lending such a high profile to their opposition to Bush's lower-court appointments, the Democrats have effectively denied themselves the ability to filibuster anyone of whom they have approved in the past.

When the Democrats singled out certain of Bush's appointees to the courts for filibusters and strident opposition, they, in effect, gave their seal of approval to those whom they did not filibuster. Their silence is like the classic case in Sherlock Holmes of the dog that didn't bark.

And when the Democratic Senators agreed to a voice vote on Roberts, in effect confirming him unanimously, their seal of approval was made even more explicit. Now, having voted for Roberts and having not filibustered his nomination, the Democrats cannot come back and suddenly discover reasons to oppose him.

Obviously, if Roberts says the wrong things at his confirmation hearings or abandons the wise strategy laid out by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in refusing to spell out her likely decisions on cases that will come before the court, then all bets are off. But if Roberts handles himself well and avoids explicitly committing himself on Roe v. Wade and other issues, Bush has succeeded in putting him over and dodging the bullet that seemed to be marked for him when Sandra Day O'Connor resigned.

Has Bush fooled the left or the right? Will Roberts be the reliable pro-life vote that the Christian right hopes, or will he be the judicial conservative, respectful of precedent - including Roe - that the left hopes? We won't know until after he takes his seat and casts his vote. But Bush has threaded his way through a minefield in selecting the most conservative judge who has already received recent Senate approval - and garnered a unanimous Democratic vote.

It is very interesting to see how Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) will vote on the Roberts nomination. Should she back him, she will be defying her core constituency - the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America. For now, her vote for Roberts might win her points in moving to the center. But if Roberts votes against Roe, Hillary will have a very hard time explaining her support for him, especially if Sens. John Kerry (Mass.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Joe Biden (Del.) - her potential Democratic rivals in 2008 - vote against his confirmation.

On the other hand, if Hillary joins what is likely to be a small minority of Democrats in opposing Roberts, she is belying her supposed move to the center and showing that, when the chips are down, she will tack to the left. In posing such a dilemma for Mrs. Clinton, Bush has again shown his capacity for deft political maneuver.

Bush can just follow the Roberts playbook as future Supreme Court vacancies come up. Just appoint the most conservative available jurist whom the Democrats did not filibuster and he can escape political damage while appeasing his hard-right followers.

Bush is brilliant. There is no other way to read it.

Well, maybe. Now if we could only get him to say nu-clee-ar instead of nu-cu-lar.