Thursday, March 23, 2006

Tarnished Witness

Everyone has been commenting on this already, but it bears mentioning that the statement put out by Christian Peacemaker Teams on the occasion of the rescue of their kidnapped brethren is at the very least, churlish. The statement refers to the rescue as a "release." It thanks the Iraqi people and Muslims around the world for their expressions of support. In it CPT renews their commitment to loving their enemies. But there is not a single word of gratitude to the men who worked so hard and risked their lives to rescue the victims from their captors and those who murdered the American Tom Fox.

The CPT people are able to affirm their love for their kidnappers and murderers, and that is admirable, but where is the love for those who delivered them from the evil they suffered? Where is the acknowledgement of their indebtedness? Or are some enemies just too far beyond the pale to merit being loved no matter how much they risked on behalf of the CPT members?

To be so hostile to the military that a word of thanks for the effort and risk of those young soldiers simply cannot be summoned evinces a coldness of heart that deeply tarnishes the luster of their Christian witness.

Update: Wretchard at Belmont Club holds little back in his assessment of the people at Christian Peacemaker Teams. It's hard to dispute the conclusions he draws about their thoughtlessness.

Further Update: Apparently CPT is feeling a lot of heat and has realized that they've made a substantial public relations blunder. They've issued an addendum tonight to their original statement.

A Meaningful Life

BeliefNet has an interview with Daniel Dennett, the Tuft's philosopher who has written a book titled Breaking the Spell, by which he means the spell that religion holds over people's lives.

BN: Your book implies that many people believe in God or at least believe in "belief" because they don't know how else to lead meaningful lives. How can you explain to someone how life can be meaningful without God?

DD: Well, by leading a meaningful life....Nobody wants to spend their life going around being the 'village atheist.' They're much more interested in just leading a good and normal life.

This is very unhelpful advice coming from a philosopher. One can lead a meaningful life by leading a meaningful life. Yessiree. Of course, the problem is if death is final then nothing we do is really meaningful in any ultimate sense. We're born, we live, we die, and nothing we do in the interim matters. Our lives are footprints in the sand at the edge of the surf. The next wave washes them away, and it's as if we'd never been there at all. I sometimes ask my students this question: How many can tell me anything at all about their great, great grandparents? In a class of thirty I'll sometimes have maybe two or three hands go up. The fact is that those people of three or four generations ago, their hopes, dreams, joys, and sufferings, their whole lives, are anonymous to us even though we are their descendents. Someday someone might ask our great, great grandchildren what they can say about their great, great grandparents - you and me - and they'll just shrug and shake their heads. It'll be as if we never lived at all. Eternal death quite simply renders all life pointless and absurd.

BN: Is it possible to be both religious and rational?

DD: That's what I'm trying to find out.

Well, maybe we can help: If God does not exist then we have no basis for believing that reason is a reliable guide to truth and therefore no basis for trusting it and no particular "reason" to live rationally. If there is no God then our reason has evolved to help us survive the exigencies of prehistoric life, but survival is only coincidentally related to truth about the world. Thus, reason evolved to assist our survival in a world which no longer exists, but it did not evolve as a means of facilitating the discovery of truth. Consequently, not only can one be both religious and rational, but the religious person, who sees reason as a gift from the Creator, has much firmer ground for valuing reason than does the atheist who sees it as a mere by-product of purposeless, non-rational processes.

We cite for Professor Dennett any of the members of the Society of Christian Philosophers as an example of the happy union between rationality and religion, and refer him in particular to Alvin Plantinga's book Warranted Christian Belief.

BN: Do you believe science and religion must be in conflict, or are they ever compatible?

DD: I think there is quite a conflict. I've never been persuaded by those self-appointed moderates in science who keep insisting there's no real conflict between science and religion if they keep to their proper bailiwicks. If you look at what the proper bailiwick for religion turns out to be, it's pretty darn narrow. If you think that religion is a path to any kind of factual truth, on any matter--like the creation of the biosphere, the age of the earth--if you think that religion has anything at all to say about that, or if you think that religion has anything to say about the truths of the stories in its own sacred texts, then you're just wrong.

Well, that settles that. Believers must abandon the field in the face of such powerful reasoning: Religion contains no factual truth, and if you think it does, you're wrong. No wonder atheists like Dennett call themselves "Brights."

The "Manly" Presidency

Ruth Marcus thinks the problem with the Bush administration is that it's too manly. She'd prefer that the Bushies get in touch with their feminine side:

But the manliness of the Bush White House has a darker side that has proved more curse than advantage. The prime example is the war in Iraq: the administration's assertion of the right to engage in preemptive and unilateral war; the resolute avoidance of debate about the "slam-dunk" intelligence on weapons of mass destruction; the determined lack of introspection or self-doubt about the course of the war; and the swaggering dismissal of dissenting views as the carping of those not on the team.

The administration's manliness doesn't stop at the water's edge. Pushing another round of tax cuts in 2003, Vice President Cheney sounded like a warrior claiming tribute after victory in battle: "We won the midterms. This is our due," Cheney reportedly said. After the 2004 election, Bush exuded the blustering self-assurance of a president who had political capital to spend -- or thought he did -- and wasn't going to think twice before plunking down the whole pile on Social Security.

Mansfieldian (A reference to Harvey Mansfield, the Harvard professor who wrote a book titled Manliness)_manliness is present as well in Bush's confident -- overconfident -- response to Hurricane Katrina (insert obligatory "Brownie" quote here). And the administration's claim of almost unfettered executive power is the ultimate in manliness: how manly to conclude that Congress gave the go-ahead to ignore a law without it ever saying so; how even manlier to argue that your inherent authority as commander in chief would permit you to brush aside those bothersome congressional gnats if they tried to stop eavesdropping without a warrant.

Mansfield writes that he wants to "convince skeptical readers -- above all, educated women" -- that "irrational manliness deserves to be endorsed by reason." Sorry, professor: You lose. What this country could use is a little less manliness -- and a little more of what you would describe as womanly qualities: restraint, introspection, a desire for consensus, maybe even a touch of self-doubt.

That's just what we need. Hamlet in the White House. The only reason pundits such as Ms Marcus want less "manly" men in government is so that the media can bully and henpeck them into doing their bidding. Bush holds the media and their opinions in condign contempt, making them feel, well, emasculated. These political eunuchs chafe at their irrelevancy in matters of policy formation and resent and envy the self-confidence and resolve of those responsible for their impotence. Dr. Freud might say that Ms Marcus and others in the media who hold views similar to hers suffer from a kind of political penis-envy.

Under the Tyrant's Heel

Jeff Jacoby has an excellent column in the Boston Globe titled The Humanitarian Case for the War. Here's the first half of it:

"I WONDERED at first whether the women were exaggerating." The writer is Pamela Bone, a noted Australian journalist and self-described "left-leaning, feminist, agnostic, environmentalist internationalist." She is writing about a group of female Iraqi emigrees whom she met in November 2000.

"They told me that in Iraq, the country they had fled, women were beheaded with swords and their heads nailed to the front doors of their houses, as a lesson to other women. The executed women had been dishonoring their country with their sexual crimes, and this behavior could not be tolerated, the then-Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, had said on national television. More than 200 women had been executed in this manner in the previous three weeks. . . . Because the claims seemed so extreme, I checked Amnesty International's country report. . . . Some of the women's 'sexual crimes' were having been raped by one of Saddam's sons. One of the women executed was a doctor who had complained of corruption in the government health department."

Bone's words appear in an essay she contributed to "A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq," a 2005 collection edited by Wellesley College sociologist Thomas Cushman. To read her essay this week, with the war entering its fourth year, is to be reminded of the abiding moral power of the liberal case for the war. While most of the left was always opposed to liberating Iraq, a small but honorable minority never lost sight of the vast humanitarian stakes: Defeating Saddam would mean ending one of the most unspeakable dictatorships of modern times. Wasn't that a goal anyone with progressive values should embrace?

That was why, "in February 2003, when asked to speak at a rally for peace, I politely declined," Bone writes. "But I added, less politely, that if there were to be a rally condemning the brutality Saddam Hussein was inflicting on his people . . . I would be glad to speak at it."

But condemning Saddam's brutality, let alone doing something to end it, was not a priority for most of the left. I remember asking Ted Kennedy during the run-up to the war why he and others in the antiwar camp seemed to have so little sympathy for the countless victims of Ba'athist tyranny. Even if they thought an invasion was unwise, couldn't they at least voice some solidarity with the innocent human beings writhing in Saddam's Iraqi hell?

Click on the link to read the senator's fatuous reply to Jacoby's question.

If Afghanistan and Iraq can make their liberation stick, the stories of hundreds of thousands of people like these Iraqi women will reverberate down through the caverns of history and future observers will look back at what America has done with admiration and awe. As for those who opposed freeing fifty million Afghans and Iraqis, they will be viewed with retrospective astonishment. How, historians of the future will wonder, could anyone who claimed to care about oppressed people prefer a course of action that would have left the Taliban and Saddam Hussein in power when they could have been removed? And how could those same people, people who claimed to be in solidarity with the downtrodden and the tyrannized of the third world, so hate the one man most responsible for relieving the misery of those whose faces were being ground under the heel of the tyrant's boot?

The answers those questions elicit will probably not be very flattering to the left.