Thursday, September 22, 2005


Go here to play Panda-monium, a game in which Darwinian pandas attack the redoubts of the Discovery Institute with some of their favorite cliches. The player scores points for every panda shot out of the sky. Great fun.

Longing For a Lost Past

Mark Lilla writes winsomely in the New York Times Magazine about his journey from faith to skepticism. It is in some ways, whether he intended it or not, a very sad story, filled with a sense of loss and nostalgia. His criticisms of the faith he left behind are respectful, gentle and usually accurate, as though he were writing about a marriage which gave him many fond memories but which just didn't work out.

I did find one riff more than a little difficult to accept, however. He writes:

Visit any Christian bookstore and you will see that they [Christians] are gluttons for learning - of a certain kind. They belong to Bible-study groups; they buy works of scriptural interpretation; they sit through tedious courses on cassette, CD or DVD; they take notes during sermons and highlight passages in their Bibles. If anything, it is their thirst for knowledge that undoes them. Like so many Americans, they know little about history, science, secular literature or, unless they are immigrants, foreign cultures. Yet their thirst for answers to the most urgent moral and existential questions is overwhelming. So they grab for the only glass in the room: God's revealed Word.

A half-century ago, an American Christian seeking assistance could have turned to the popularizing works of serious religious thinkers like Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, John Courtney Murray, Thomas Merton, Jacques Maritain and even Martin Buber and Will Herberg. Those writers were steeped in philosophy and the theological traditions of their faiths, which they brought to bear on the vital spiritual concerns of ordinary believers - ethics, death, prayer, doubt and despair. But intellectual figures like these have disappeared from the American landscape and have been replaced by half-educated evangelical gurus who either publish vacant, cheery self-help books or are politically motivated. If an evangelical wants to satisfy his taste for truth today, it's strictly self-service.

This claim belies a profound lack of familiarity with the astonishing amount of work being done by Christians who write serious books for audiences of both professionals and laity. Just a few of the dozens of names which come to mind are William Lane Craig, Richard Swinburne, J.P. Moreland, Alvin Plantinga, Mark Noll, George Marsden, William Dembski, William Alston, Jay Budzisewski, N.T. Wright, Stephen Barr, Del Ratzsch, and many, many other Christian philosophers, historians, scientists, theologians and intellectuals of all stripes.

Mr. Lilla might reply that these are not all Americans nor are they "evangelicals", but neither were many of the men on his list "evangelicals" in the contemporary sense of the term. Nor were they all Americans. To call these writers, and the dozens of others who deserve to be on the list, "half-educated evangelical gurus who either publish vacant, cheery self-help books or are politically motivated" is so far at variance with the truth as to be bizarre.

Mr. Lilla closes his otherwise artfully written essay with an interesting question: Why do religious skeptics like himself feel the need to prosyletize? Why do they care? A Christian might seek to convert a complete stranger because he believes that that person's eternal soul is at risk and because he believes he's carrying out a divine mandate by sharing the gospel with him, but an atheist believes neither of these things. Lilla admits that he has no good answer to the question:

But the curious thing about skepticism is that its adherents, ancient and modern, have so often been proselytizers. In reading them, I've often wanted to ask, "Why do you care?" Their skepticism offers no good answer to that question. And I don't have one for myself.

At the risk of committing the sin of bad psychology, I wonder if part of the answer to his question doesn't lie in the fact that when others believe what we believe it reinforces and reaffirms the rightness of our beliefs. Both believers and skeptics, if they are thoughtful, live with a deep-down existential angst, a dread, a doubt. It might be that we are wrong, and it is a comfort when other people are persuaded to join us in our belief or our skepticism. For some it might almost be a relief. The angst must be particularly acute for a man who is keenly aware, because of his youthful background in the faith, that he is placing his eternal destiny on the line in his choice of commitments and that, should he be wrong, his loss could be immeasurable.

I should note a comment by Douglas LeBlanc at who wonders how long it will be before the Times prints an article written by someone who makes the journey from skepticism to faith. There are lots of such stories out there, of course, but we won't be going on a fast waiting for the Times to tell us about them.

Anyway, read Lilla's essay. It's long, but it's quite good.

Political Scorecard

A left-wing website, Progressive Punch, has ranked all members of the Senate and House according to a rating which gives the member a score of 100% if they have a perfect liberal voting record. The more conservative the member is the closer is their score to zero.

I don't know whether their ranking system is reliable, but one interesting result they show is this: There is not a single Democrat in the House or Senate who scores under 50% (except Ben Nelson who scores 49.4%) and not a single Republican who scores over it. That's a pretty stark division. I wonder if a similar polarization would have been the case twenty five years ago.

It's also interesting to note that four Senate Republicans are far more liberal than the rest of their caucus, although they're still well below the fifty percent mark. See if you can guess who they are before you check out the rankings here.


When Katrina devastated the Mississippi coast earlier this month Robert Kennedy, Jr. suggested that it was God's judgment on governor Haley Barbor for having once written a memo to George Bush critical of the Kyoto Treaty.

Now another category 4 storm heads toward Galveston. No doubt the good people along the Texas coast are pleading with governor Rick Perry to fire off a memo to Washington praising the Kyoto accords and urging the president to sign them before God punishes Bush by clobbering the poor Texans along the Gulf.

Even so, we tend to agree with the near-unanimous opinion of the nation's meteorologists that these storms have nothing to do with global warming. We think instead that those people are correct who assert that the weather is God's judgment on American decadence. We were told, for example, that Katrina was punishment for the vice that infests Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Unfortunately for this hypothesis, though, the hurricane destroyed almost everything in an area the size of Minnesota except the French Quarter - the heart of the city's decadence, but we're sure the denizens of this den of iniquity got the message all the same.

Now He appears to be sending hurricane Rita to pummel Galveston, perhaps as punishment for the sins of Las Vegas. Maybe, this is the Old Testament scapegoat principle at work, where innocent victims are made to pay the price for the sins of the wealthy.

In any event, those Las Vegans better be paying careful attention to what's happening to Galveston while they cavort in their night clubs this weekend. If they don't, the next hurricane might be aimed right at Mexico.

The Main Event

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters is typical among conservative bloggers in his assessment that Harry Reid's public decision to vote against John Roberts makes it a lot easier to nominate another Scalia/Thomas to replace O'Connor.

The reasoning goes like this:

If Reid can't cast a vote for John Roberts, one of the most uniquely and undeniably talented and qualified prospects for the Supreme Court at hand, then Reid and the Democrats who follow him will never cast a vote for any Republican nominee. Reid gives no incentive whatsoever to negotiate or to consult with the Democrats on selections in the future; no matter what happens or how well qualified the nominee, they will oppose him or her.

The favorite among the folks at is Michael Luttig, but Michael McConnell and Edith Jones are also popular.

Read the whole post at Captain's Quarters if the looming battle for the Supreme Court interests you. It's pretty good.