Friday, March 9, 2007

Astonishing Human Being

This young man is perhaps the most astonishing human being you will ever see. I started watching the documentary about him (at Telic Thoughts) and couldn't stop. It's 48 minutes long, but it only takes about five minutes to realize that you're watching something that is both incredible and spooky at the same time.

At the end of the film one man observes that he wonders what abilities are latent in the human mind that most of us cannot use. I wondered the same thing as I watched the video, and wondered, too, if perhaps we will ever be able to access those capacities.


Easy to Defend

Rick Pearcey offers a very clever analysis of the Ann Coulter contretemps in light of contemporary thinking and concludes that there's really nothing wrong with what she said. Pearcey is being satirical, of course, but there is a truth implicit in his essay that should be teased out.

The only people who have any basis for criticizing Coulter for her specific remark are Christian conservatives. There are several reasons for this, but let me focus on just one: If one believes, as liberals do, that there is nothing wrong with being gay then there's no reason to be upset that Coulter calls someone a "faggot"? Sure she meant to be insulting, which is kind of insulting all by itself, but the insult is akin to a secularist calling a conservative Christian a "fundie." The term is meant to be insulting since it connotes a certain lack of sophistication, but a lot of conservative Christians would be only mildly irritated by the epithet and a lot of them would simply laugh at the idea.

People who believe that homosexuality is a deviant lifestyle, however, see a much deeper insult in Coulter's words and are upset that one who speaks for conservatives and for Christians would engage in that sort of discourse. But, and this is the point, it is only those who see homosexuality as deviant who have reason to find her language offensive.

Meanwhile, compared to the vicious rhetorical felonies the left commits everyday (Remember Alec Baldwin saying that people should stone Henry Hyde to death, along with his entire family?) against the people they hate, which is about everybody to the right of George McGovern, Coulter's words, as bad as they were, are a misdemeanor.

As Pearcey observes, there are lots of others who have no reason to take umbrage in her words. Read his piece titled "Faggot" Easy to Defend.


St. Petersburg Declaration

A number of people whose heritage is Muslim but who may or may not themselves still be Muslim met recently in St. Petersburg to proclaim their intention to contend against the brutes and thugs who dominate the Islamic world on behalf of fundamental human rights. Here is the declaration that resulted from their convocation:

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.

We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.

We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called "Islamaphobia" in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.

We call on the governments of the world to:

- reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostacy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights;

- eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women; protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence;

- reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims;

- and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation.

We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy.

We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam, and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.

We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine;

To Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha'is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens;

And to nonbelievers: we defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent.

Before any of us is a member of the Umma, the Body of Christ, or the Chosen People, we are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must chose for themselves.

God bless those who signed off on this document, and may God protect them from those who will inevitably seek to kill them for their heresy.