Thursday, January 28, 2010

Caught Up in the Moment

MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the man who gets a thrill up his leg at the sound of President Obama's voice, can say more goofy things in five minutes than some people say in a lifetime. What, for example, did he mean last night when, in reference to the State of the Union speech, he confessed that for an hour he forgot that Barack Obama is black:

Isn't this the same sort of maladroit, liberal chatter about race that got Harry Reid in trouble, or is this something more sinister? What is Matthews implying? Is he saying that, boy, Obama was so good that for an hour there I thought I was listening to a white man?

My guess is that Matthews didn't intend anything particularly offensive. It was just Matthews being his normal racially obsequious self, but then I could be wrong. I just wonder what the reaction would have been had, say, Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck said what Matthews said.

UPDATE: It's been observed that many people continue to live their lives in the decade in which they came of age. At least that seems true of Chris Matthews as he tries to clarify his comment about President Obama:

Whatever. Is this what a case of "liberal guilt" sounds like?


The Blue Is Fading

James Carville once said of my home state that from a Democrat's perspective Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and everything in between is Alabama. In recent elections the metropolitan areas have indeed been sufficient to carry the state for the Democrats and turn Pennsylvania blue. If recent poll results are reliable, however, that may soon be changing:

Mr. Obama's job approval rating among state residents is at the lowest of his year-old presidency, and residents view him less favorably than ever, according to the Franklin & Marshall College poll co-sponsored by Times-Shamrock Newspapers and other media outlets.

The poll also shows U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter far ahead of his challenger for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak. Both badly trail Republican former Rep. Pat Toomey.

A month after Mr. Obama took office, the F&M poll showed 55 percent thought he was doing a good or excellent job and 36 percent said he was doing a fair or poor job. In the latest poll, that was down to 38 percent good or excellent and 61 percent fair or poor.

The way Pennsylvanians view the president personally also dimmed. In February, 56 percent had a favorable view and 23 percent an unfavorable view. In the latest poll, 44 percent each had favorable and unfavorable views. In October, it was 45 percent favorable, 39 percent unfavorable.

As for Mr. Specter, who switched from Republican to Democrat last April, the poll shows many Democrats have yet to warm up to him. Half said they don't know enough about either Mr. Specter or Mr. Sestak.

His other poll numbers are less encouraging.

But among 395 likely voters, Mr. Toomey led Mr. Specter 45 to 31 percent. Mr Toomey led Mr. Sestak by 41 to 19 percent. The pool of likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Six in 10 voters think it is time for a new senator.

I would not be at all surprised, should Senator Specter's numbers stagnate at these dismal levels, to see him join the growing list of Democratic retirees sometime prior to the November election.


The Odd Couple

That he might once again somehow advance science by flagellating Christianity, atheist Richard Dawkins seizes upon the negative reaction to Pat Robertson's intemperate remarks about the Haitians' alleged "pact with the devil" and how those long-suffering people are reaping the bitter fruits of that infernal bargain. Dawkins argues that Robertson's position that the earthquake is God's judgment upon Haiti accurately represents, or should accurately represent, that of the Church, and, in his characteristically charming, genteel way, he chides Christians for dissociating themselves from Robertson's remarks. It's rather amusing to see Dawkins actually defend Robertson against his fellow Christians, even if it's only a tactical ploy:

Loathsome as Robertson's views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable 'mystery', or who 'see God' in the help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti , or (most nauseating of all) who claim to see God 'suffering on the cross' in the ruins of Port-au-Prince, those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the centrepiece of their own theology. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here.

Where was God in Noah's flood? He was systematically drowning the entire world, animal as well as human, as punishment for 'sin'. Where was God when Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed with fire and brimstone? He was deliberately barbecuing the citizenry, lock stock and barrel, as punishment for 'sin'. Dear modern, enlightened, theologically sophisticated Christian, your entire religion is founded on an obsession with 'sin', with punishment and with atonement. Where do you find the effrontery to condemn Pat Robertson, you who have signed up to the obnoxious doctrine that the central purpose of Jesus' incarnation was to have himself tortured as a scapegoat for the 'sins' of all mankind, past, present and future, beginning with the 'sin' of Adam, who (as any modern theologian well knows) never even existed? To quote the President of one theological seminary, writing in these very pages:

"The earthquake in Haiti, like every other earthly disaster, reminds us that creation groans under the weight of sin and the judgment of God. This is true for every cell in our bodies, even as it is for the crust of the earth at every point on the globe."

You nice, middle-of-the-road theologians and clergymen, be-frocked and bleating in your pulpits, you disclaim Pat Robertson's suggestion that the Haitians are paying for a pact with the devil. But you worship a god-man who - as you tell your congregations even if you don't believe it yourself - 'cast out devils'. You even believe (or you don't disabuse your flock when they believe) that Jesus cured a madman by causing the 'devils' in him to fly into a herd of pigs and stampede them over a cliff. Charming story, well calculated to uplift and inspire the Sunday School and the Infant Bible Class. Pat Robertson may spout evil nonsense, but he is a mere amateur at that game. Just read your own Bible. Pat Robertson is true to it. But you?

Educated apologist, how dare you weep Christian tears, when your entire theology is one long celebration of suffering: suffering as payback for 'sin' - or suffering as 'atonement' for it? You may weep for Haiti where Pat Robertson does not, but at least, in his hick, sub-Palinesque ignorance, he holds up an honest mirror to the ugliness of Christian theology. You are nothing but a whited sepulchre.

Russ Douthat offers a theological response to Dawkins in the New York Times which I commend to you.

Meanwhile, I wonder why Professor Dawkins focusses his attack on the belief of some Christians that the earthquake was somehow a judgment on Haitian sin rather than wonder what it is about Christianity that motivates so many to sacrifice so much to bring succor to the Haitian people. Aside from government relief efforts, I suspect most of the work being done on the ground to relieve the suffering of these wretched people is being done by, and financed by, Christians. Maybe the American Humanist Society has medical and rescue teams on the ground that I haven't heard about. Maybe there are orphanages in Port-au-Prince run by the Sisters of Atheism that have been ministering to abandoned children and placing them with eager atheist families stateside. Maybe there are hundreds of atheists throughout rural Haiti running schools and medical facilities in the name of atheism, laboring, with the support of thousands of atheists in the U.S., to meet the day to day needs of the poorest people in the western hemisphere.

All this is possible, I suppose, but I doubt that it's happening. Atheists are too busy doing the much more important work of attacking Christians for believing that God gave Himself for us, and that we should therefore give ourselves for those He loves, to actually do much to help those people themselves.