Thursday, November 30, 2006

Not a Saint, Just a Parent

Here's a beautiful love story, the kind of love story our culture has an increasingly difficult time comprehending. I hope everyone reads it.

Setting the Record Straight

Why the recent outpouring of anti-theistic zeal and hostility? Richard Shweder suggests an answer in the New York Times:

A deeper and far more unsettling answer ... is that the popularity of the current counterattack on religion cloaks a renewed and intense anxiety within secular society that it is not the story of religion but rather the story of the Enlightenment that may be more illusory than real.

The Enlightenment story has its own version of Genesis, and the themes are well known: The world woke up from the slumber of the "dark ages," finally got in touch with the truth and became good about 300 years ago in Northern and Western Europe.

As people opened their eyes, religion (equated with ignorance and superstition) gave way to science (equated with fact and reason). Parochialism and tribal allegiances gave way to ecumenism, cosmopolitanism and individualism. Top-down command systems gave way to the separation of church from state, of politics from science. The story provides a blueprint for how to remake and better the world in the image and interests of the West's secular elites.

Unfortunately, as a theory of history, that story has had a predictive utility of approximately zero. At the turn of the millennium it was pretty hard not to notice that the 20th century was probably the worst one yet, and that the big causes of all the death and destruction had rather little to do with religion. Much to everyone's surprise, that great dance on the Berlin Wall back in 1989 turned out not to be the apotheosis of the Enlightenment.

Indeed, critics are fond of pointing to the Catholic Church's Inquisition as the paradigm of religious evil. Throughout the 500 years of the Inquisition, however, something like 6000 people were murdered. That comes to about twelve people per year. By contrast 110,000,000 people were murdered by officially atheistic communist governments in the 87 years from 1900 to 1987. This does not count those killed in wars instigated by communists nor does it count those murdered by other state atheisms like Naziism. In other words, there's no comparison between the crimes of atheism and the crimes of Christians.

Why has atheism amassed such a horrific record? The English political philosopher John Locke, whose influence on the founding fathers was such that Jefferson incorporated whole sentences from his writings into the Declaration of Independence, offers an answer that has been stressed frequently on Viewpoint:

John Locke, who was almost everyone's favorite political philosopher at the time of the founding of our nation, was a very tolerant man. In his 1689 "Letter Concerning Toleration," he advocated a policy of live and let live for believers in many faiths, even heretics. But he drew the line at atheists. He wrote: "Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all."

Atheists bristle at the suggestion that they cannot be trusted to keep promises, etc. but they shouldn't take umbrage. It's merely the logical consequence of their denial of a transcendent moral authority. There is no reason, given the truth of atheism, why anyone should keep a promise that becomes inconvenient and which can be discarded with impunity. Locke was correct. For the atheist integrity is nothing more than a subjective preference, if it is a preference at all, and as such it can be dispensed with whenever it suits one's self-interest.

As with promises, so with human lives. If it suits the state to murder its people then, unless there is a divine constraint, there is no constraint at all on those who have the power to realize their wish.

What They Can and Can't Do

Dick Morris explains at NewsMax (e-mailed report) why the Democrats' newly won majority in the House and the Senate will avail them nothing if they seek to pass left-wing legislation. Along the way he gives a quick lesson in how our national legislature works:

For all of the dire warnings and pre-election commotion about the impact of a Democratic majority in Congress, the fact is that - now that it is upon us - it can do little or nothing but harass the administration.

There is no real danger of any legislative action emerging from this Congress. Yes, the president has a veto the Democrats cannot override, but nothing will ever make it as far as the desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are just spinning their wheels.

In the Senate, there is no such thing as a majority. Ever since the elder Bush's administration, the filibuster has become routine. No longer reserved for civil-rights issues or for egregious legislation, it now is used to counter even motions for recess and adjournment. Members of the Senate are no longer subjected to the indignity of standing on their feet and reading a telephone book. Rather, the gentlemen's filibuster applies.

The majority leader phones the minority leader and asks if a filibuster is in effect. With his feet up on his desk, the Republican replies that it is and the Democrat, despite his majority, does not even think about bringing up his bill for consideration unless he has a good shot at the 60 votes required to shut off debate. In the Senate, 51 votes determine who gets the corner office, but to pass legislation, one needs 60.

In the House of Representatives, with its 435 members, the Republican Party needed a simple majority - 218 - to rule. The Democrats need considerably more. The normal rules of a mathematical majority do not take into account the fractious nature of the Democratic Party.

Where the Republican majority best resembled the Prussian Army - disciplined, unified and determined - the Democratic majority in the upcoming Congress is disunited, dispersed and divided into myriad caucuses and special interest groups. One could purchase the Republican majority wholesale by making a deal with the speaker and the majority leader. But to get the Democratic majority in line, one has to buy it retail - caucus by caucus.

First, one has to go to check with the Black Caucus - hat in hand - to see if one's bill has enough liberal giveaways to round up its forty or so votes. Thence to the Hispanic Caucus for a similar screening. Then, with one's legislation weighted down with liberal provisions added by these two groups, one has to sell it to the Democratic Leadership Council moderates and, even worse, to the Blue Dog Democrats - the out and out conservatives.

If you are fortunate enough to pass these contradictory litmus tests, you then have to go to the environmentalists, the labor people, and even the gays to see that your bill passes muster. Only then can you begin to hope for House passage.

The result of this labyrinth is that the relatively moderate bill you first sought to pass ends up like a Christmas tree, laden with ornaments added to appease each of the caucuses. Unrecognizable in its final form, it heads to House passage.

This road map will be familiar to all veterans of the Clinton White House of 1993 and 1994. The most recent administration that had to deal with a Democratic House, the shopping from caucus to caucus and the festooning of moderate legislation with all manner of amendments will seem dej� vu to all of the early Clintonites. When Clinton proposed an anti-crime bill with a federal death penalty, he needed to add pork projects in the inner city like midnight basketball to get it past the Democrats in the House.

Nancy Pelosi will face the same obstacle. By the time her legislation emerges from the lower chamber, it will bear little resemblance to what she had in mind, liberal as that might have been. As Clinton said, after he watched the mangling of his legislative program by the various caucuses in the House, "I didn't even recognize myself."

Once the highly amended liberal legislation emerges from the House, it will make easy fodder for a Senate filibuster. So left leaning that it stands no chance of attracting 60 votes, it will be dead-on-arrival.

So forget the nightmares about an amended Patriot Act or restrictions on wiretapping for homeland security. Don't worry about House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel's, D-N.Y., ravings about the draft or the rumors of a tax increase. It's not going to happen.

What is the Democratic majority good for? One thing and one thing only - to give their party control of the committees and the subpoena power that goes with it. The two House Democratic majority can only make noise and make trouble. It can't pass legislation.

What Morris doesn't mention, however, is the power the Senate Democrats have to block judicial nominees. The now unlikely prospect that we will get another Supreme Court jurist of the caliber of Roberts, Alito, Scalia, or Thomas may well be the most unfortunate consequence of the recent elections.