Five Questions with Contratimes Bill Gnade

Welcome to another installment of 'Five Questions.' FQ aims to bring you interesting people straight to your blog. Opinions matter. Intelligent opinions make a difference.

Today's guest is Bill Gnade who blogs at Contratimes (link to his site under Blinks to the side of this page). I trust his thoughts will enlighten readers. Remember comments are encouraged. Enough of me and over to Bill.

1) Why do you blog?

I blog mainly for one reason. It is practice. I like to write, and I believe I am even meant to write. So blogging has been a medium through which I practice my craft and put ideas before an audience. Once I earned that audience, I was forced to discipline myself to at least meet some minimal expectations. People, after all, are stopping by: I can’t just offer them water from the faucet. I have to ensure that the pantry is well stocked, or that I at least have something baking in the oven.

2) How would you rationalize the blogging phenomena in society?

I am not sure I can rationalize the blogging phenomenon. I believe that for every blogger there is probably a unique reason for that blogger’s sense of calling. I know that I had no interest in starting a blog initially. My first step into blogging was a direct result of my wanting to comment on a particular essay I read somewhere online; but to leave a comment required enrollment in Blogger. I imagine there are not a few of us who started this whole thing by accident.

I think part of the phenomenon has to do with socio-economic standing: I can’t imagine that the abject poor, for instance, are blogging. There is a minimum requirement here, namely, access to a computer, the Internet, literacy. And one needs time. I can’t imagine that those who are most harried by life’s difficulties are at the forefront of the blogging phenomenon.

Related to this, I suspect, is the compulsion to participate. If the Internet is indeed the most democratic medium on the planet (and I do not believe it is, by the way), then people who understand the Internet want to participate; they want to have a voice. Some people present themselves or their work as a resource for intellectual or scientific inquiry; others are here to provoke or entertain or distract or inspire. Unfortunately, too many are here to harass and intimidate; their abusiveness is well known. So perhaps I am saying that if there is a phenomenon, it is the result of there being a fairly leisured class.

Perhaps we all blog for purely psychological reasons: we want to be heard, understood, affirmed. We want to belong. We want to thwart death, leaving an immortal trail of ourselves in cyberspace. Perhaps this all gives our lives meaning, meaning that comes in an instant.

3) In the realm of religion, are we witnessing a 'Great Awakening' in
America? If so, does this mean a radicalizing of America? If not, is
religion on the run so to speak?

This is a very difficult question to answer to nearly anyone’s satisfaction. Liberal secularists and religious leftists are certain that the religious right is poised to seize control of government and create a theocracy. I simply do not accept that interpretation, at least I do not accept it as a viable interpretation of Christian political zeal. By and large, conservative (or orthodox, traditional) Christians, no matter their political ambitions, are not believers in utopia. Their anti-utopian presuppositions do not permit a salvific or even beneficent state. Christian orthodoxy, which holds that each human being is broken, cannot permit the rather miraculous idea that a collection of politically driven individuals magically becomes whole; it just becomes a group of broken people. Utopia is a religious fiction to the Christian mind: conservative Christians are skeptics about earthly solutions to what they believe are often transcendent problems. Moreover, conservative Christians tend to urge their fellowman to rely on God – in a direct and personal way, steeped in freedom and personal responsibility – and not on the great state – or king – who will come and deliver us.

I do not see how any more radicalizing can occur in this country than what we see right now. Religion is not needed in the equation, but it does drive mighty wedges between people. There is hardly a great awakening afoot; but there is a great blindness. The single-biggest intellectual scam in this country is that the religious right is the only threat to the separation of church and state. What everyone seems blind to is that there is an aggressive and vociferous religious left in the states; it is THIS group that is utopian in its goals and is working to shape American policy to that end. Unitarians, Congregationalists, Quakers – these, and many others like them, are blatantly and baldly political. Their successes are due to their skill in demonizing the religious right, numbing critics to the very real fact that the religious left is storming the White House, the Congress, and the judiciary.

This might come as a surprise, but what you see in the blogosphere reflects life on the American street. People are stigmatized, demonized; they are banished and shunned. The practice of this is simply subtler than the ghettoizing we have seen in the past. I know Democrats who will not hire Republicans (if they can help it), and Republicans who will not do business with Democrats. I know of gossip that separates with as much force as an armband and tattoo. There are deep divisions here.

Disguising all of this is what I call political friendships. You know what they are: we like to pretend we are better people because we have a "gay" friend when we might oppose gay marriage; or that we have a "fundamentalist friend" when we ourselves oppose fundamentalism. But the fact is that I believe most of us have far deeper disagreements than we have courage to admit: we all have unique views of reality that are often irreconcilable one to the other. The two men who enjoy a civil tea and yet differ on abortion do not disagree on some triviality.

As for religion being on the run, I don’t think so.

4) Does theology have a place in the realm of political discourse and debate when it comes to forming public policy?

I do not know how religion can be removed from public and political discourse. I believe it to be an epistemological impossibility. There is no secular place that exists independent of faith. Faith is inherent in all knowledge. What we need to do is stop pretending that we can separate faith from everything else. It can’t be done. Thus, rather than shrinking away from religion, we need to face it head on. Rather than attempting to banish it, we need to look right at it; we need to hear it, understand it, digest it, analyze it and, when necessary, accept or reject its conclusions. The idea of a purely secular state is itself a religious idea, fraught with problems, born of faith.

But you asked about theology. Theology, in my view, is not about reading and accepting certain religious texts. Reading the Bible, and even explaining what it might mean, is not theology; it’s simply reading combined with literary criticism. Theology is the attempt to explain things like, if God created the universe, why did he do so? If God said that we should not commit adultery, the theologian looks for reasons – even purely scientific ones – why God might have said that. Theology is the effort to have God’s perspective on any given issue. And even if it is not possible, this idea informs us anyway, for it provides the basis for our noble ambition to have a total, detached, objective view of what is before us. We look for solutions the way God might look for them, by holding the largest possible view. But there is one key difference: God is not broken. Hence, we must filter our understanding through this screen: we are broken, and we often cannot and will not see that brokenness. Pretending there is no God, or that God is indifferent to our political lives, is foolish. And, similarly, if there is no God, then there is no being that sees reality objectively; nor is there any such vantage point. In other words, we are confined to our subjectivity. But there is no reason why we can’t nonetheless strive for the highest, noblest vantage point, even if there is no God. This may seem contradictory, and it may be. But I am in obscure territory here. I am trying to say that even a purely secular state can only gain from trying to have an omniscient, omni-benevolent CONCEPT that transcends humanity. (I grope about, like a fool.)

Let me take one example of religion in public policy. Let me take the debate over the distribution of condoms in schools and its place in sex education. The state surely has a vested interest in the reproductive behaviors of its members, and their health. But religious people who oppose birth control on religious grounds are demonstrably right when they propose abstinence as the best preventative against unwanted pregnancy, disease, and emotional turmoil. The simplicity of this is almost a priori definitive. One would be hard pressed to find evidence whatsoever that abstinence is dangerous. Similarly, one would be hard pressed to find any evidence that the moral precepts of the Ten Commandments could ever lead to sorrow if obeyed. Covetousness is a terrible evil, and yet we ignore warnings against it at every turn: economies are built on envy. You get the idea, and it is a plain one: ignoring the obvious strengths of religion purely to ensure that everything is secular is patently silly.

(It is perhaps ironic that Christians, who are often chided for their apparently bleak view that humans are sinners, are dismissed as overly optimistic when it comes to abstinence policies. Suddenly it is the secularists who turn dire with pessimism: Telling children to abstain is so much wishful thinking, for we all know people do not have the capacity to control themselves.)

5) Is there a liberal bias in your opinion?

I love this question because it accidentally asks the wrong thing. No, my opinion has no liberal bias in it.

OK. I couldn’t resist.

Yes, of course there is a liberal bias. There is also a conservative one. Oddly, there are many who think me ridiculously right wing, though the Amish might think me ridiculously liberal. It is my understanding that the Roman Catholic Church looked at conservative Protestantism as nonetheless liberal Christianity. So we must admit we are on shaky ground here.

But if we are talking about media bias, then, of course there is a liberal bias in the media, as there is a conservative one. But the most important question is which bias is more pervasive, more prevalent? Which bias controls information, or voter behavior, or history?

I can’t speak for Canada, or Britain, or Russia. I can only speak about America.

Here is a little thought experiment. Let’s pretend that we learn that someone has blown up the following news outlets, media forums, and headquarters: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, National Public Radio, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and Public Television, The Comedy Channel, Daily Kos, Mother Jones, The Utne Reader, Vanity Fair. What sort of suspect would you be looking for? Would you be looking for a left-winger, or a right-winger?

And what if these were blown up: The Wall Street Journal, FoxNews, The National Review, The Weekly Standard. Who would you look for? Would you look for a bunch of conservatives, or a crazy liberal?

Hopefully you get my point.

Here are a couple of random observations.

1. When John Kerry lost the presidential election in 2004, he did not blame CBS News (who clearly tried to elect him). He blamed FoxNews and talk radio. He did not blame The New York Times; he blamed Rush Limbaugh. He did not blame USA Today or NPR; he blamed Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. John Kerry blamed these things because these were the only outlets he could find that were not biased in his favor.

2. Most reporters in America are Democrats.

3. Considering that the first guest to your "Five Q’s" forum works for National Public Radio, I need to be circumspect in telling the following. I once worked a summer job with a young man (who summered in my hometown); he has gone on to report for NPR. During the 2000 election, this man covered a particular Democratic candidate from beginning to end. I found his reports to be excellent, interesting, engaging, though definitely not tipped against that candidate. In 2004, I expected to hear this reporter on the trail of John Kerry, but I did not. Curiously, on December 26, 2004, I ran into this man in a local café. He was having breakfast at the table next to me. We chatted a bit about things, particularly how we knew each other. Then, as he was about to leave, I said to him that I very much had expected to hear him reporting from the Kerry campaign. To which he replied, in full voice, for everyone in the café to hear: "I was in Ohio on election night. Unfortunately, things did not turn out as we had hoped."

An honest moment in American journalism voiced by an NPR reporter.

4. I am a close friend with an award-winning photojournalist. He is a Democrat. While working with me in my studio he admitted that he "always" makes Republican candidates look as bad as possible when he photographs them while covering a political event (he covers the New Hampshire presidential primaries). I myself have stood in the press pack and I have heard the commentary swirl around a Republican candidate, and I can tell you that it is damning. Just strain your eyes over the next 24 months as you look at political photography. Compare images of Bush right now with those of Barack Hussein Obama. Just watch as the photojournalism whirlwind begins: when a politician is in the good graces of the media, the pictures are always favorable, flattering. Always. And when the media turns on a politician well, just look at the pictures. You’ll see. (Of course, even if a politician is loved by the media, the media will not ignore a goofy or unusual image if it is, indeed, an interesting image. I am talking about images that make a politician look menacing, deceptive, angry, crazed, or stupid.)

5. I would encourage readers to read Journalistic Fraud by Bob Kohn. It is a decisive look at the bias of The New York Times. It is also a powerful read.

6. The Center for Media and Public Affairs reported in late October 2006 that media coverage of US mid-term elections was 77% favorable to Democrats and 88% unfavorable to Republicans. Even if we grant that this study is off by ten percentage points, the conclusions remain disturbing.

Conclusion: there is definitely a prevalent liberal bias in most TV programming, TV and print news, and yes, even in academia (in the United States). This bias controls more than liberals can ever admit. It is why so many liberals were dumbfounded by the outcomes of the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections: they could only point to the religious right, talk radio and FoxNews as the causes of their weak showings. Liberals control an enormous amount of the media; hence, they MUST BE dumbfounded when that control does not produce expected results.

Thank you, Bill.


  1. Dear Commentator,

    Egads, it might be crazy, but I feel compelled to comment on my own comments.

    It seems that I may have fallen into a contradiction. On the one hand, I have stated that I believe it is epistemologically impossible to separate faith from knowledge. And I will stick with that: I have shared elsewhere how I believe that faith is foundational to every person's Weltanschaaung (a great $10 word from my philosophy/theology days; from German: Welt> world + Anschaaung> perception) or worldview. Everyone is faithful.

    But then I seem to berate the involvement of the religious left in politics, which might imply that I believe in a faithless secularism built on reason. Of course, I do berate the religious left, but not because they are religious or even leftists. I merely berate them for propagating blindness and hypocrisy. If it is wrong for the religious right to blur church/state distinctions, then it is wrong for the religious left to do so as well.

    Also, I need to clarify that the NPR reporter to whom I referred in my comments was actually reporting on the election from Ohio the night of the 2004 elections. He was not merely in Ohio visiting. He was reporting for NPR; the "we" who were disappointed included his colleagues.

    Just a few clarifications.



  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Hi Bill. And hello, Commentator.

    Here goes:

    "Their anti-utopian presuppositions do not permit a salvific or even beneficent state. Christian orthodoxy, which holds that each human being is broken, cannot permit the rather miraculous idea that a collection of politically driven individuals magically becomes whole."

    We've obviously encountered very different kinds of Christians. In my experience, many, many Christians have quite statist, even totalitarian, views--for examples, I don't have to go very far, since some of them are members of my own family. I distinctly remember my own mother stating that she thought D.H. Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterly's Lover' should have stayed banned, and my grandfather has repeatedly stated that movies should be censored. Most of the Christians I grew up with took it for granted that the state has the right to put people in jail for smoking marijuana, and thought that the "blue laws" governing sexual acts between consenting adults should stay on the books. That these convictions are statist doesn't seem to dawn on most of these evangelicals. And really, these are very minor, mild examples compared to some of the horrifying bile I've heard in these circles. Most of these folks, in my experience, only tend to invoke anti-statist rhetoric when remonstrating against some liberal or socialist machination--most of them lack the courage and moral clarity to even condemn military drafts. In fact, William F. Buckley stuck up stalwartly for the draft, which makes one wonder exactly what "conservative" means, since it so seldom means keeping the government out of the most important areas of people's lives (though, to Buckley's credit, he has long favored the legalization of marijuana, and, I believe, all drugs).

    I also found that Christians (once again, I was reared mostly by evangelical fundies) tend to be a very conspiracy-theory oriented group--there is always passionate (and often wildly speculative) talk flying around about the liberal, secular media, and the "gay agenda" and what these apparently monolithic, perfectly unified and everpresent threats are up to. That many of the militant-atheist scenarios set forth solemnly in Bible study never come to pass is chalked up to prayer and vigilance on the part of the faithful.

    And I think you're giving people WAY too much credit, honestly. Surely you're aware that most people are spectacularly ignorant and incurious about what they themselves claim to believe--that is part of the reason for the abysmal vapidity of public debate in this country. The fact that there are myriad skeptical and shrewd ideas hard-wired into many belief systems has never prevented the people who claim to follow those systems from completely ignoring their own supposedly most cherished lessons. Ayn Rand, for example, really believed that her Objectivist philosophy was utterly immune to "True-Believerism"--and she was, of course, spectacularly and hilariously wrong, as anyone who's ever visited an Objectivist web site already knows.

    REAL skepticism is at least as rare as a four-leaf clover; and so is anything even approaching ideological consistency.

    "Conservative Christians are skeptics about earthly solutions to what they believe are often transcendent problems. Moreover, conservative Christians tend to urge their fellowman to rely on God – in a direct and personal way, steeped in freedom and personal responsibility – and not on the great state – or king – who will come and deliver us."

    First of all, I find that most Christians I run into (most Americans, for that matter) have no idea what conservativism IS, much less how it might apply to them. I've also seen Christian grief at the outcomes of elections run deeper than any lamentations on the part of my worldlier friends and aquaintences. My godless friends seem, with very few exceptions, to bounce back quicker from political disappointments, if they follow politics at all (and most of them really don't, not seriously).

    American evangelical Christianity also often tends to be intensely patriotic, more patriotic than the average set. It seems that more and more is given to Ceasar, whereas less and less is given to the more uncomfortably radical ideals set forth in the New Testament. Since I am not a Christian, this is not of major concern to me, except as an intellectual matter--because what it shows is serious intellectual decay, stagnation, and blindness.

    "The single-biggest intellectual scam in this country is that the religious right is the only threat to the separation of church and state. What everyone seems blind to is that there is an aggressive and vociferous religious left in the states; it is THIS group that is utopian in its goals and is working to shape American policy to that end. Unitarians, Congregationalists, Quakers – these, and many others like them, are blatantly and baldly political. Their successes are due to their skill in demonizing the religious right, numbing critics to the very real fact that the religious left is storming the White House, the Congress, and the judiciary."

    I'm not sure if this is the "single-biggest intellectual scam" of our time (there's a lot of competition, after all). But I agree with the rest of what you've said here, absolutely. In fact, I see some of these groups as a threat to my political liberty.

    The truth is, statist, totalitarian ideas (and realities) are running rampant in America: running rampant in the liberal media, in churches of all stripe, and in our schools. There is little relief for those few who take the more lofty sections of the Bill of Rights seriously. Most people don't see how serious and widespread this problem is, how deeply rooted it is in our history, or how complicit the majority of both Democrats and Republicans have always been whenever personal liberties are eroded. We have been left naked and shivering before our "representatives" whom most people are too sentimental to recognize for what they really are: Rulers. And they may be hired and stuck on ballots by a small number of elites, but every one of us is responsible for letting this happen; for most of us (and I am ashamed to say I am not innocent here) vote for the names we are given on our ballots, rather than reaching for other, better, neglected choices--because we, too, have been seduced by "power" the false sense of power that comes with seeing the slightly less sinister candidate triumph over someone we REALLY loathe.

    But I have recently come to a decision: from now on, whenever greeted with a menu written by the powers that be, I will write in my own ticket. I would rather be disenfranchised than compromised.

    By the way, 'commentator', this is a great questionaire, and I'd be happy to have a go at it myself, if you ever invite me. I'm tempted to cut & paste it into my own blog and have a public fling at it, as a matter of fact, but if I do that, I'll give you credit as the inventor.

    mighty guffaws,


  4. Oh, and I can't resist sharing this nugget:

    "The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic."

    --H.L. Mencken

  5. Bill, thanks for the clarification. Luke, I would most certainly love to invite you. I was taking notes and had questions I was going to post here so perfect timing. I'll ask them on the next segment of FQ. Best, The Commentator.

  6. Dear Luke,

    OK. So my guess was wrong. But I have a few thoughts in reply to your observations.

    First, it is always nearly impossible to challenge someone's experience. You have indeed experienced a particular brand of Christianity; in some ways, though, we have experienced the exact same brand.

    So, with that said, I believe you are confusing statist with utopian. I never said Christians (in this case, evangelical Christians) were not statists: I was saying they were not utopian. The heaven and earth are going to pass away; nothing shall last in the Christian eschaton. Hence, built into Christianity is an anti-this-world theocracy. They may be interested in the state, even bordering on being statist (in a few areas), but Christians are generally not totalitarian utopianists.

    Now, for a distinction, perhaps one made in vain. You have not at all explored the reasons why the Christian right is at all interested in political life. Nor have you explored why the religious left is similarly interested. The religious right supports certain laws in order to keep the state from being a medium for damning souls to hell; the religious left, however, wants to control behaviors and thoughts in this life because it wants to establish an earthly paradise. The former is concerned about how the state does or does not interfere with the destiny of the individual soul; the latter is concerned with whether the collective will ever become fully equal, fully perfect, fully realized in THIS life. One is concerned about the freedom to be saved or not saved; to worship God without fear of arrest, detention, stigma, banishment; to see its own sense of moral health passed from generation to generation; to ensure that life everlasting is secured over death everlasting. The other is concerned about ensuring that the politically correct is deified, codified and maintained; that speech and language conform to creating a world free of offense; where a person can be completely fulfilled in his relation to the state, performing his civic duty; where the collective defines the personal, ensuring bliss for all; where even your use of certain "offensive words" (like ones used in your recent posts at The New Times), are verboten. Conservative Christians want to keep people from sinning because they want to remind people that salvation is possible; leftists want to keep people from sinning because they want to grant salvation now. Conservative Christians resent moral license, and they do not want anyone to be damned; liberal Christians resent freedom, and want no one to be able to sin: they don't want you to say the wrong word, eat the wrong food, drive the wrong car, write the wrong blog, or embrace a traditional sexual more. Conservative Christians may want you to conform not so that you'd be healthy, only that you might find health. Liberal Christians believe that it is your duty to be healthy now, for the sake of the planet, the rain forest, the biosphere, your neighbor, or the ice fields in Banff. Conservative Christians encourage each of us to be loving to our neighbors, to do so freely; to give in freedom. Liberal Christians want to make it a law that you love your neighbors -- through the state: They want to tax you so that you might "give back", though not to God in some sort of tithe, but to the great state, the great god state, who will distribute wealth and health fairly, equitably, kindly. (This is why, at least traditionally, conservative Christians have preferred a SMALLER government.)

    As for your experience that conservative Christians take election losses FAR WORSE than your more worldly friends, I can say very little, except this: You've GOT to be kidding? Conservative Christians always talk of placing their hope in God; that God is their refuge, and that the state is no refuge at all; that God is in control, not their leaders. My experience utterly contradicts yours in this matter. This-worldly political activists are utterly devastated when they lose: one would have thought that the liberals in America were going to immolate themselves en masse after the 2000 election; even after the 2004 election. But the conservative Christian set in this country has been remarkably quiet and circumspect over the last few weeks: the Christians I know have hardly mentioned the outcomes of last month. One look at any Letters to the Editor page confirms this: the dire warnings, the prophecies of doom, continue to pour in from the left, not the right. In this region alone, where you live, such letters from the left outnumber the right an easy 10:1. Before, during, after: religious leftists are far more active, more vocal, and more visible, and visibly shaken, than their alleged conservative counterparts. Which side of the political spectrum is known for being shrill, for leading marches and protests and sit-ins, for inciting civil disobedience? The Christian right? Give me a break.

    Evangelicals are conspiracy-theorists, Luke? What is NOT conspiratorial about the gay-rights agenda? Are you saying there is no such agenda? Are you saying that there is no propagandizing by gay advocates? Egads, the facts stare us in the face! And how do you explain that Fahrenheit 9/11, a movie you and I laughed through from start to finish (almost), is NOT a conspiracy theory beloved by the left? Who but the left in this country believes that 9/11 was orchestrated by Bush? Who but the left in this country believes that the war in Iraq is just about oil, the Jews, or Halliburton? All of these are touted as viable theories, with nary a shred of evidence. And yet you believe that conservative Christians are merely theorizing about gay rights activism, or the abortion industry, or that God is being expunged in the public arena?

    You and I clearly attended very different Bible studies. Most conservative Christians are NOT concerned with militant atheism; they are concerned with false gods. They are concerned with false spirits, with idols. Moreover, even if they were concerned with militant atheism, you just dismiss the warnings that have indeed proven quite true: the marginalization -- and the attendant scoffing -- of religion in general in this country is indeed a consequence of ideology, most of it very bad ideology. You say the warnings came to naught. I say you are being utterly naive.

    As for patriotism and Christianity, you seem to suggest that these are bad things when combined. Is patriotism a bad thing per se? Are religion and patriotism in combination a bad thing? You should enlarge upon this more. And are you implying via a quiet contradisctinction, that religious leftists are less patriotic, or not patriotic at all; that they don't love their country? If so, do they gain your approval?

    More to say, later.


  7. Luke,

    I am back. I had to scoot out for a meeting with friends.

    I see that, in haste, I posted a very awkward phrase (Holy Cow! I have just had one of those moments when I could not spell a word: Awkward looks awkward!) When I wrote that "built into Christianity is an anti-this-world theocracy", the anti- is to modify both this-world and theocracy. In other words, built into Christianity is an anti-theocracy in this world: God is not interested in creating a government this side of creation.

    I can only speak anecdotally here (which is the case for most of us most of the time in the face of most matters), but it is a worthy story. My neighbors, whose house I can see from this window, are from Holland but are American citizens (the wife is a Dutch native). They are Democrats. They are bi-lingual (at least). They travel to Europe at least once a year. Recently, my Dutch-American friend told me that he'd much rather talk politics with conservatives: "I can't talk politics with my liberal friends. Conservatives have a much better understanding of free speech. My liberal friends do not understand the (U.S.) First Amendment nearly as well as they think they do. There are things they won't let me say, or even question." You seem to think that conservative Christians don't really get the Bill of Rights. I wonder if my neighbor would agree with you.

    But I ask you: Is my neighbor right?

    Who is actually the more censorious group, the conservative or the liberal? It is a worthy question, no? Which group, for instance, wants to criminalize certain language, calling it "hate speech"? Which group wants to prevent religious language from being voiced in public? Which group defends "artistic" desecrations of Jesus and Mary, and yet wants to suppress artistic desecrations of the prophet Muhammad? In your recent poems at your blog, you use the "c" word and the "n" word: which side of the political spectrum is more likely to flag your blog? The people at Blogger, which is owned by Google, who might censor your site or mine; are they conservatives or liberals (Al Gore is on the Google board)? As you probably know, there are Blogger websites devoted to pornography; as you also know, conservative Christians are indeed going to want to censor those sites that do indeed show the exploitation of real women. Conservatives do want to censor speech that is not really speech: it is enslavement and abuse and exploitation presented as speech. But if you were to merely examine the words of the pro-gay marriage proponents; if you were to challenge the mere words of feminist ideology; if you were to analyze the squeamishness about the "n" word or the fact that such an offensive word is freely voiced by many public African-Americans in this country; if you explored in a frank way any of these things, applying strict logic to mere propositions, you would be very easily banished as a hatemonger; as a vile homophobe, a racist, a chauvinist. By whom? The right? the left? The censors would not counter-analyze your arguments. They'd label you; dehumanize you. They'd stigmatize you with a label without presenting an argument (though they'd think they have indeed offered an argument). You know that it is not just a conservative Christian who might press that flag button in the upper left of your blog.

    There was a time in America that people reacted puritanically to news that some man left his wife. Now we don't even balk at news that a man has left his third wife for another man (who also left his wife and family). But we stop our ears that such behavior might be deemed immoral: "How DARE you say such a thing!?" The Bible says that in the last days people won't be allowed to even eat meat. That may be so much hog-wash, so to speak, but right now New York City is telling you that you can't eat restaurant food made with "trans-fats"; countless towns are banning cigarettes, even in private apartments; in Canada, certain religious language in pulpits is forbidden, or nearly so. PETA wants to keep you from eating meat, and PETA is hardly an evangelical outpost; while homeless advocates this week in San Francisco have called for the removal of air fresheners at bus stops that smell like fresh baked cookies merely because the homeless can't afford real cookies. This is the New Puritanism I have talked about with you; the New Umbrage; the New Moral High Ground. You think the Catholic Church has a lot of rules? Just watch the rules flow out of the liberalizers among us! Egads, there are people right now who think they are BETTER people because they drive hybrid cars, but they have not once -- NOT ONCE! -- personally investigated whether the actual manufacturing, delivery and disposal of these cars actually requires more (not less) total energy consumption, or whether such vehicles create their own kind of pollution. These are the people who believe in Al Gore's film about global warming, and then are blind to the fact that he unveiled his film at Cannes, the yacht festival of the world; the festival of the jet-setters (and Gore flies around the country telling us about the hazards of flying).

    Conservative Christian rules are designed to keep you from going to a future other-worldly hell: they serve as disciplines. But many of these new rules are designed to keep you from being free: You are not free to be fat, unhealthy, carnivorous, consumptive (the wrong kind). In other words, you are not free to turn this world -- your world -- into hell.

    You know all of this as well as I do. Let us at least agree to this: the left is no less interested in controlling speech and morality than is the right. The interesting question is to explore what inspires either side of the political spectrum.

    Anyhow, a few more hasty thoughts, jammed in with rather awkward constructions.



  8. Bill, ooo nelly. Good stuff. I have observed this also about liberals. And my cousins in Europe have expressed to me similar comments as your Dutch neighbours. All I can say is that while most people remain far more symathetic to liberalism they seem to be bringing into question whether liberal hardliners are pushing the agenda a litle too much. This may explain why conservatism is finding a voice or resonating with younger people. I'm not singling them out but I have noticed the irony of their intolerance. Liberals see life as 'what oughta be' and sometmes miscalulate 'what is' in the process. Conservatives for their part look at 'what is' and worry about 'what oughta be' later. Actually they seem to believe that the 'oughta be' part of the equation will work itself out. This is why, to me and this is just an observation, they interpret history differently. The question is who is using history properly? Speaking of perceptions, questions for anyone to answer. You mentioned Moore. I remember when he (and I hate to cite him) claimed that the Bush administration had created a '1984' type theocracy. This struck me as odd since to me it's the opposite. Modern liberalism is closer to the state seen in '1989.' Any takers on this one? And my 2nd question is this; We are speaking of people who know where they stand philosophically or ideologically. But what about the others? Specifically, is there such a thing as a silent majority?

  9. (I'm at work right now, which means I'll be intermittently interrupted by drunken people asking me to make them sandwiches, so I'll be leaving my response one little chunk at a time, if I get to finish it at all.) Off the top of my head, here goes:

    Do you believe most "conservatives" are against taxes? I believe that taxes should be voluntary, but one thing my Christian & liberal (that's what they call themselves, not how I identify them) friends have in common is that they've reacted in stunned incredulity when I've voiced that opinion. The consensus seems to be that serious people don't believe such things, and that I ought to grow up. When confronted by the immense evils made possible by taxes, they usually grimace & shrug.

    Do you think paying taxes should be voluntary? (these questions are directed to each of you, by the way, not just BG).

    Virtually every self-proclaimed Christian I have ever encountered is a dedicated utopian, who believes in the thousand year reign of Christ Jesus, in which the lion will lay down with the lamb (no meat-eating allowed there either, apparently) and everyone will either gleefully commit themselves to celibacy or realize that what they've really been craving all along is good ol' post-marital penis-vagina sex with the same person for the rest of that person's life. They also tend to believe that this is less flaky (!) and unrealistic (!) than the utopian conceptions of the less godly. That those who oppose this Christian utopia shall be punished with a terrible fury should not surprise us: that is the dark reality underlying EVERY utopia, whether that utopia be religious, Randian, socialist or liberal.

    Here's a slogan from my local libertarian paper: "Conservatives want the government to be your daddy. Liberals want it to be your mommy. Libertarians want it to treat you like an adult." I'm not sure that I'm a libertarian, and in my experience the "libertarians" often have plenty of thoughtless sacred cows of their own (and ludicrous utopias of their own, but perhaps I'm being overly cynical here), but I believe that their mockery of these two senile (and equally oppressive, in my view) juggernauts is, as they say, right on, brothah.

    If you've really read my blog, you already know that I believe that both the "conservative" and/or "Christian" and "liberal" conceptions of the ideal society are cold,ridiculous and utterly inhuman. And I can prove it.

    It's sandwich time. Back in a bit.

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  11. I just opened a huge green bucket of sliced pickles. They looked beautiful, and I stuffed a handful into my mouth and puckered solemnly for several minutes. This is one of the things that brings me true joy; seeing food, especially bright food, in massive amounts. I regularly cruise produce sections in order to bask in the glowing, colorful multitudes of gords, starfruits and other items. It is one of the finest pleasures I know.

    By the way, Commentator, thank you for your gracious invitation to grill me. I'm sure I'll enjoy it. Fill me in on the specifics & I'll get to work. Should I simply start filling out the same quiz that Bill did, & send it to you via e-mail?

    I'll start with a question: how exactly does one give money to god? Where's the donation box? (I know where it usually is: in the pocket of whoever happens to be PROMOTING tithing, whether that person be Eugene Robinson or Jerry Falwell, or the pastor on the corner of my block).

    Now to attempt to answer some wonderful questions from both of you. First:

    From Bill: "Is patriotism a bad thing per se?"


    I've already written a letter to my local paper on this subject. Here's part of what I said:

    "According to my dictionary (I did not write this dictionary, by the way), patriotism means "devotion to one's country". And devotion means "the state of being devoted, as to religious faith or duty; zeal; strong attachment or affection expressing itself in earnest service". There are no qualifiers here; patriotism is not "devotion to that which is good about one's country". It is just devotion. This means that if America should ever become as oppressive as Stalin's Russia, a patriot would be obligated to continue to praise and endorse America, as long as they consider patriotism a virtue.

    In other words, if there is any point at which you would turn against your own country, you are not a patriot. You are only a true patriot if your devotion is unconditional; otherwise, you are simply a person who respects the current state of your country; and this is not patriotism.

    Frighteningly enough, I believe that there are, indeed, many real patriots in this country."

    And from the 'commentator": "is there such a thing as a silent majority?"


    Majorities are always quite loud, they just don't make any sense.

    But there is a quiet, if not silent, minority, of thoughtful, gifted and funny people, mostly apolitical and irreligious, whose intellectual pursuits aren't limited to yelling at people on TV, or trying to zero on in on the most heinous "group" in this country. We hardly hear from those people at all. There is real beauty manifesting itself on the fringes of this culture all the time; but the cacophonous majority completely ignore it in favor the the much more important and pressing matters that arrive on their doorstep each morning in the form of the newspaper. Most Americans don't know anything about the most interesting parts of America, or Americans.
    Anyone who talks solemnly about the "gay agenda" or the "christian agenda" or the "right-wing agenda" or the "liberal agenda" is paranoid. There is no agenda; just a bunch of confused, defensive people scrambling for various levels of control, most of whom are not sure what it is they really want or need, under the guise of ideologies that they neither understand nor embody. That certain "groups"(most of whom are constantly at odds with each other and splitting off into new "groups") occasionally stick to a certain point for long enough to launch a successful propaganda piece in favor of gay sex, or being born again (and again and again and again), or eating nothing but seaweed for forty days and standing on one's head while staring at a snowy mountain, does not constitute a conspiracy, or an agenda. I don't think it is I who am being naive here. What all this talk about agendas is rooted in, is scapegoating.

    "Conservative Christians want to keep people from sinning because they want to remind people that salvation is possible; leftists want to keep people from sinning because they want to grant salvation now."

    To the extent that anyone in America fits these description, they are full of shit, and monstrously hypocritical. The things they crusade against are pet peeves, not dominant social problems; if their pet peeves occasionally line up with real social problems, it is almost always an accident. These lists of "sin" that have caught us all in a frenzied crossfire are far too long and exhaustive for any reasonable, confident person to take seriously.

    "The left is no less interested in controlling speech and morality than is the right. The interesting question is to explore what inspires either side of the political spectrum."

    I agree with this. But don't you, Bill, believe that the left is far, far worse? That's the (thunderous) impression that I've gotten from virtually everything you've ever written concerning politics & faith.

    What inspires both, I believe, is terror: a dim, primitive terror that someone, somewhere, might be experiencing something far better than anything their belief systems allow THEM to experience.

    But maybe if we're going to continue discussing these matters, we should get really specific, to avoid further generalizing.

    By the way, Bill, do you believe in the biblical vision of the "last days"?.

    I don't feel a need to wait for your response to say this: anyone who believes that PETA, or anyone else, may someday succeed in legally banning the consumption of meat from the entire globe, is SERIOUSLY paranoid, and more gullible than Al Gore's starry-eyed fanclub.


  12. Luke,

    Working backwards, in haste, a bit late.

    I disagree with you: there is nothing whatsoever that you can point to that suggests PETA's sentiments will not become wildly popular. I am sure there were men not 50 years ago, men in their mid-twenties, who were adamant that gay marriage would NEVER happen, or that even group marriage could not be countenanced (group marriage is, by the way, seriously on the table). History is replete with things that "could never happen."

    Do I believe in the Biblical vision of the last days? There is no "Biblical" vision, really, Luke. If there was, Christians would be able to agree about it. As it stands, Christians are crazily divided about eschatology. It is one of the most divisive and argued aspects of Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity, and then only conservative Protestant Christianity. But the Catholic Church has a take on it: There is very powerful Catholic teaching that suggests the millennium -- that time when the Church would be at its zenith and Christ would rule -- has already passed in the demise of the Holy Roman Empire. THAT sort of idea is hardly compatible with most Protestant eschatology.

    But there is one thing that seems seamlessly real in Christian eschatology: the mark of the beast. I don't see how that is not an extremely compelling prophecy. We are moments away from such a mark, don't you think? Terrorism, fraud, identity: these are what we are facing. "Identity theft" is a mind blower, if you give it more than a passing thought. Last night I heard a report that North Korea has been counterfeiting American currency to finance much of its nuclear program; and that it is defrauding insurance companies in the West for millions of dollars (by filing false claims). Apparently the FBI can listen to us through our cell phones even when they are turned OFF, or so it was reported last night: and surely the FBI is not the only ones who know this. How do you stop all that? How do you stop counterfeiting by foreign governments, or identity theft, fraud, and terrorist penetration into an open country? I recall ten years ago seeing Israeli police carrying portable scanners so they could scan NUMBERS on tags worn by Palestinians crossing certain checkpoints. I recall a Smithsonian article where Denmark or Belgium experimented with a traffic grid that identified not only every car, but every violation any particular car made as it traveled to and fro. I am already a number in countless ways: my blog name is a number, as is my very name (all ones and zeroes). Everything before you is numeric right now. These are not mere words, you know.

    So there is nothing paranoid (your word) about fearing a gulag, a gulag not merely of the body, but also of the mind. You speak to this all of the time. You know it is real, and, I believe, you know it is happening. Whether this means we are in the last days is moot; we can argue till we are blue in the face. We can only know if we are in the last days when there is, indeed, a last day. But there is, in one sense, no harm in believing we are: such a fear keeps a man on the lookout for traps and snares that limit his freedom.

    (Have you ever seen a three-dimensional model showing the number of satellites coursing over the earth, serving as night watchmen, as guardian angels? This diagram, I believe, shows satellite coverage and space debris [old satellites, etc.]; and this diagram here is also interesting (click on the Quick Time button for fun). My point in all of this is merely to bolster my thesis that we could be moments away from beastly marks: our freedom might already be illusory.)

    Premature speculation, I know!



  13. Patriotism is better than nationalism. As for terrorism - nihilism seeks the bomb and this may only be a matter of time. Not to sound paranoid - every indication from reputable sources point to this sad fact. While people get caught up in how the President speaks and all sorts of other partisan loss leaders, the enemy plots.

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  15. I agree with much of what you've said here, actually. But I have found it necessary to drink three glasses of wine in order to continue this conversation. Why? I think it's because I'm exhausted by the lack of specifics in this conversation--and we all share the blame for that, I think, though perhaps I am most guilty, since I am the one bitching about it.

    You're right that I speak to these concerns. Did you read my lengthy article on Real ID? I'll be re-posting it soon.

    I did not say that PETA could not become wildly popular. With all the (very real, and very sad) news about mercury-tainted fish, bio-engineered cattle, livestock on all sorts of weird drugs, etc, a widespread health crisis brought on through the spreading of some primarily meat-carried ailment could boost their credibility and power sky-high overnight, as well as that of similar vegetarian groups.

    All I have said is that the idea of a world-wide ban on meat is ludicrously far-fetched. I honestly think the marriage issue is a terrible comparison; there have been many age-old societies that considered gay companionship, and sex, perfectly healthy and normal, far more than we tend to. A person aware of history could have projected gay marriage fifty years ago (and perhaps some did) but I doubt that anyone other than maybe Philip K. Dick (who is brilliant, and often right, actually, but like most sci-fi authors sometimes chooses flamboyant ways to express the threat of a world-wide gulag), and, apparently, the writers of certain parts of the Bible, who lived in a time when "global" wasn't even a word) would have dreamed up a world in which the entire globe is banned from eating meat. Can you imagine the effort, the complication involved in accomplishing this? I'll go this far, though--I can imagine it. I just won't say that it's likely. Yes, I know that Hindus don't seem to eat a lot of meat, but what's the likelihood of them, or any vegetarians, dominating the globe and forcing us under their rule?

    I'm aware of the Catholic belief that the apocalypse already happened. But are you a Catholic now, and do you share this belief? I am totally in the dark as to the specifics of this belief--when did the apocalypse happen? I want to know.

    I really want to tackle this, though:

    "my Dutch-American friend told me that he'd much rather talk politics with conservatives: "I can't talk politics with my liberal friends. Conservatives have a much better understanding of free speech. My liberal friends do not understand the (U.S.) First Amendment nearly as well as they think they do. There are things they won't let me say, or even question." You seem to think that conservative Christians don't really get the Bill of Rights. I wonder if my neighbor would agree with you.

    But I ask you: Is my neighbor right? "

    This may sound odd: my first instinct is to say yes. But I think this response is superficial, on my part, and stems from resentment, reactionary reentment. I have not the slightest sympathy with the kind of "liberalism" you are talking about, and I have been greeted with serious discomfort by people with what you consider "liberal" views. I have been shunned, I have been--hell, even, perhaps, hated!--for my puncturing of liberal sacred cow udders. But in my admittedly limited experience, I have not found "liberal-leaning" people any more or less oppressive than their "conservative" counterparts. Let's face it, most people, regardless of their "political affiliation", are rife with boring, paralyzing, mind-numbing cliches, and horrified when anybody challenges those cliches.

    But on further examination, this is what I take from your comment, as well as others you've made here: liberals have a lesser understanding of civil liberties as set forth in the Bill of Rights--except for when they don't. Conservatives have a better understanding of these issues--except for when they don't.

    What are we talking about, when we talk about liberals and conservatives? You watch TV, and I don't, which is, I believe, why you take these categories more seriously than I do. G.K. Chesterton was a "Liberal" in England over half a century ago--but that would hardly make him a liberal here and now, correct? He would have very little in common with the American "liberals".

    I believe that all this talk of "liberals" and "conservatives" is a sign of intellectual and cultural weakness--it illuminates a primitive tribal tendency on the part of human beings, a desire to fit in somewhere, to have a constituency, a group of supporters--in short, a gang. Are you sticking up for your gang? Or are you sticking up for the truth? THAT'S the question we should be asking.

    Perhaps I should reveal something personal in order to make this discussion more lucid: I have very few friends, and I spend much of my time alone. The friends I do have tend to be misfits, which means that they have views that don't neatly fit into any currently popular category. Neither do mine.

    Let's start over. The words "liberal" and "conservative" will mean very different things in public speech in less than a decade from now than they currently do. But what principles may remain? What will those principles consist of?


  16. Commentator: you have stated that patriotism is better than nationalism. Nationalism is an ideology that holds that a nation is the fundamental unit for human social life, and takes precedence over any other social and political principles. How different is this from patriotism, and how is patriotism better?

  17. Luke,

    There is much to say here, of course, and I will surely say it.

    The terms liberal and conservative are mere shorthand. They are used to expedite communication. They need not always be explained. And they are not completely absolute, nor are they static. They are dynamic and nuanced; they cannot be applied to all members of a set.

    But if we are to get into the position of needing to define terms every time we start discussing matters -- constantly announcing that we mean a word with a certain slightly different shade of intension -- then we will not get a thing done. What does Luke mean by "Christian," or "sacred cows" or "taxes" or "voluntary?" You get the picture: even if we have but a vague sense of what liberal and conservative mean, we can communicate something in that vagueness, no? I mentioned in my responses to The Commentator in the original post that I was groping about in darkness after things; we are working towards understanding our terms, don't you think?

    I have stated a couple of things here -- and at my blog -- that attempt to define lines of demarcation between most conservatives and most liberals. Conservatives have traditionally held to a smaller government model, for instance, believing that the individual on the local level is best fitted to control his or her life. Liberals, traditionally, tend to think that the state can manage such details more justly, more efficiently (perhaps), and more fairly. Conservatives tend to believe in looking back, in preserving and conserving traditions, certain status quo, certain time-proven principles. Liberals tend to be progressive, forward looking; full of promise, certain that humans in committee can solve great problems. Conservatives, I believe, fundamentally do not believe in committees: if you want to get something done, then do it yourself. What truly great work of art was ever done by committee? What great work of architecture? You know the story, Luke, and it is all Ayn Rand: mediocrity forms committees, genius loathes them.

    Conservatives by and large believe, or so I think, that meaning and purpose in life transcends them, transcends life; that our ultimate aspirations are not to be fulfilled in anything earthly (and this need not be in heaven, but in a supra-moral realm of quasi-Platonic ideals, at the very least). Liberals, by and large, are traditionally more existentialist: YOU decide what is meaningful, true, purposive. Conservatives believe essence precedes existential meaning, e.g., since you are created in God's image, meaning comes from that fact. Liberals tend toward placing existential meaning before essence: You make yourself what you want to be: you create your essence, doing whatever you deem necessary to fulfill that goal.

    These are just a few of the differences between many liberals and many conservatives. And even these differences may be glossed over, or modified, or even shared. But the concepts, the intensions of the ideas I've described, do mark mutually exclusive IDEAS; but no group can ever be found that fully adheres to those ideas.

    Now, if you want to get even more specific, then I will be glad to follow you.

    You mention that you know that Catholics believe that the apocalypse has already occurred. I said no such thing, and it is not something Catholics believe. I said that they believe that the millennial reign has passed with the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. This is hardly a reference to apocalypse, which, by the way, is simply the word for "revelation." But the END has not occurred per Catholic eschatology: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. That is essential Catholicism in a nutshell.

    What is patriotism but love for one's fellow countrymen (which is what the Latin word, patriota, implied)? Is it wrong for me to love my fellow countrymen? Is it wrong for me, at least, to view myself as a fellow countrymen? The idea of patriotism need not be love of some abstraction, theory, or ideal: it can be rooted in practicality. I may love the way I eat my Cream of Wheat, but it may not be ideal. I may love my little neighborhood, but it need not be the best or greatest neighborhood. NATIONALISM implies that I do believe my neighborhood, or my little town, or my little country, is the ONLY great neighborhood, township or country in the world. Egads, I know that there are Americans who are nationalists, but I don't know many of them. I do know a lot of patriots, people who have travelled extensively and appreciate the great things other countries do and yet prefer America. And there is a lot that this country does indeed possess that is meritorious and wonderful. While the percentage of total government wealth that the US dispenses in direct foreign aid is considered by some to be stingy, Americans, rich and poor, privately give more personal monies to foreigners than any other country (and by a lot). America does indeed provide very commendable healthcare to most of its citizens, which, though imperfect, might be better than giving mediocre health care to all its citizens. This country is great at creating jobs and opportunities; it generates wealth like few other places. And this without the state controlling everything.

    There is no doubt in my mind, Luke, that you could not do what you do every day in your little town if you were living in nearly any other country. Many countries on this planet would not even permit you NOT to be patriotic. You dismiss patriotism because this country gives you the luxury to do so. I love America, because, in part, I am called to love my neighbor. But I also love England, Canada, Spain, and Thailand; these, too, are my neighbors. But there is nothing wrong with my preferring hot dogs over manicotti; there is nothing wrong with loving Corn Flakes over Muesli. Corn Flakes are better than fried rice; that is why I eat them. Similarly, America is better -- for me -- than Darfur. I am glad that there are people who have worked so hard here, in America, so that I can live a fairly leisured, safe, creative, interesting, intelligent, and educated life. In fact, I love them for it. But I also recognize that even my ennui, my satiety or my boredom, or my yawning indifference to all things political or poetic or patriotic, are only possible because of all that underpins my existence here, the vast majority of which I did not create. Do I not owe this undergirding, this great support, this safety net beneath my feet, do I now owe it anything? Or am I to just take, and take, and take? Am I not also called, by mere grace, to help others stand the way I like to stand: the way others have helped me stand?

    If you denounce that sort of patriotism as bad, then, well, call me evil. I may want to fight to keep Roy's Market alive in the face of Wal-Mart, not because I hate Wal-Mart. I hate the thought of losing Roy's, a place I love. But I am fully capable of being devoted to Roy's despite its warts; just like I adore my wife even when she despises my warts. That you should define "patriotism" as blind devotion is a mere straw man fallacy. To be devoted is to be a votary, a person who has made a vow. Love makes vows, and it does not do so in blindness: true love has 20/20 vision.

    (Patriotism, in fact, can be the love of mere pragmatics: things in America may not be perfect or ideal, but they work; they are practical, efficient, functional.)

    Moreover, if you claim that extreme patriotism is bad because it is the ONLY thing a person adores, that nationalism is the highest ideal of a man, then I agree that it is so much vapid idolatry. But tell me, Luke, what is the ideal of a man; what IS the ideal way a man should live in a nation-state? How do you know what that ideal is, and how do you know you are right? What do you idolize, and why is that better than the Christian nationalist's mix of God and Old Glory at Good Hope House of Power Church?

    Yes, Luke, I did read your essay on the Real I.D., and that is why I am perplexed that you would dismiss (some) of the other signs of the times. Much of what we are witnessing is no longer in the realm of conspiracy. It stares us in the face.

    Yes, I am saying exactly what you think I am saying: the left is wrong about civil rights, except when it is right; the right is right about civil rights except when it is wrong. The point I am making is that too FEW people see that the left is stealing their freedoms too. When I say that the biggest intellectual scam in this country is that the religious left is constantly blurring the line between church and state, all the while blaming the right for doing the same thing, I am not speaking in some sort of fantasy. I am talking about a scary reality: Most everybody hurls around the phrase "religious right" all across this country, daily; and yet RARELY does anyone ever mention the very aggressive, vocal, active religious left in America. How has this happened? How can this be? Who has so ably controlled this debate, who has caused such blindness?

    As I have said in my blog, if there is a theme to my blog it is this: my battle is with the religious left, and this for the mere reason that no one else is doing it (well, very few are). I guarantee a LexisNexis search would show the "religious right" is used in the media far more often than "religious left." I will be conservative and guess that the ratio is 100:1. Most people look at me when I say "the religious left" and their eyes go dim.



  18. My Dear Bill, I don't think that being skeptical about the prospect of a world-wide ban on meat-eating means that I am ducking the constant threats of oppression.

    Several people claiming to be Catholics have made the following statement to me: "Catholics believe that the apocalypse already happened." They did not elaborate. So I thank you for explaining the reality to me.

    Yes, I know that the word apocalypse means "revelation"--I remind people of that every time I hear them talking "apocalyptically", which to them means worldwide death and destruction. Which, of course, is much of what is indeed portrayed in the Book of Revelation.

    Of course I like living in America. I'm here, aren't I? Have I ever said, "I hate living in America"?

    However, I'm aware that much of my freedom is due to my obscurity; and that even that freedom can disintegrate at any moment. The reason many people are under the delusion that there are any truly free countries is that most of them have no clue what real freedom feels like, or how they would exercise that freedom.

    By the way, I think that America has produced at least as much truly great art as any country in history, and perhaps more. Wanna see some blank looks? Go to a party with me sometime and watch the reactions when I make this statement. Of course, I suppose that depends on the party. But it's happened a lot. So I identify with you sharply here:

    "Most people look at me when I say "the religious left" and their eyes go dim."

    For this, I adore you. I have been getting those blank looks all my life.

    The word "taxes" has a meaning that is far more universal, and easier to access, than "conservative" or "liberal".

    Love is too strong a word, too strong a reality, to cheapen by spreading it too thin, or abstracting it. So I am wary of my own flashes of patriotism and neighbor-love.

    As for giving back to your country, that sounds awfully liberal to me. Taxes FORCE us to "give back" don't they? How much is owed to our country? Shouldn't we be free NOT to give back? How much should we be FORCED to give back, in your view?

    Perhaps I should just enjoy your shrewd, usually dead-on, and often hilarious attack on the "left" and not demand to know what you think of the Detainee Bill, or the Patriot Act. These things were not exactly creations of the left, religious or otherwise, though they did little to stop them. However, the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act was a Democrat. What about the Flag-Burning Amendment, the one that would have given Congress the power to "prevent" (?) people from burning the flag? It was sponsered by a very "conservative" Republican senator, Orrin Hatch, and more Democrats voted against it than Republicans. Doesn't this concern you?

    I do not know what you should do. But I do know that much of your critique of the left would be taken seriously by the people who most need to hear it if you were to spend a bit more time criticizing the right.

    But I still think that all of this talk about conservatives and liberals is evidence of an irritating clubbiness, and a thirst for domination, in American life.

    You are right to state that no great work of art was ever crafted by commitee. There is some wonderful art being created right now, and, in my view, none of it is being created by either liberals OR conservatives.

    Once again, this is where, I believe, you and I really differ: I believe that the "conservatives" are every bit as much a threat to my freedom as the "liberals". They may not be as much of a threat to YOUR freedom. But as for me, well, when I hear self-proclaimed liberals and conservatives going at each other, the theme song that plays in my head is a tune by a band called Magazine: 'Shot by Both Sides'.

    As for what I idolize: I should hope I idolize nothing. The very word makes me ill! I will search myself for idols, and if I locate any, I promise to do my best to smash them.


  19. Let me start with a quote from Alex De Tocqueville. "Americans of all ages, all stations in life and all types of dispositions are forever forming associations." Nationalism, patriotism and liberalism all cross paths. The consensus is that patriotism and nationalism are the same ism ith subtle differences. Interestingly, while history books explore nationalism, patriotism is essentially absent from those pages. The better way to look at this is to view it as American patriotism (a derivative of nationalism) versus nationalism and the generic form we find everywhere else. The thing that strikes me, as a Canadian, that distinguishes Americans from all societies observed on my part is the voluntary aspect of American nationalism - which really is the civic patriotism Bill alludes. The state plays a minimal role on how Americans exercise their patriotism - be it through the pledege of allegiance or other national symbols. Being America is a state of mind and not a question of blood. I believe FDR stated as much. Patriotism has an intensely personal and civic angle to it whereas nationalism is far more political in its orientation. Nationalism as seen in the 20th century was tribal and evil. Nationalism played a role in the unification of countries like Germany and Italy and its influences were found in places like the arts the opera's of Verdi. The Age of Revolutions and Romantic periods in Europe were fervently nationalistic. Liberation along blood lines is what drove European nationalists and all the Youth Organizations created by Mazzini in Italy that sprung up. This ran contrary to the rational outlook espoused by liberals, who despite supporting nationalism, had major differences with it. Liberalism was not mythical in its beliefs. Its tenets were rooted in the Enlightenment and Renaissiance before it. Individualism came before the nation. Not with nationalism where history, mythology, ethnicity, religion, language all guided and created by government to bled into one. In other words, it's more authoritharian. Liberalism and nationalism quickly became incompatible, However, liberalism did find partnership and solace in the American variety known as patriotism. Patriotism is more universalistic and believes in things like the rule of law, separation of powers and individualism. Patriotism is more organic and from the ground up. It lends itself to jingoism and does not seem to be as aggrieved as nationalism. Nationalism seems so parochial whereas patriotism upbeat. Indeed, Americans are always forward looking. They do not stay stuck on the past - well, except modern liberals. In short, patriotism leads to the culture of the soap box derby, apple pies and entrepreneurial spirit that defines Americana. . Sure, politicians attempt to manipulate this and blind patriots can be racist or plain dumb but their impact is limited. The sheer dynamic spirit of America lends itself to its patriotic visions. Heck, just look at the ritual known as the NFL. Nationalism removes these natural impulse humans may have. Hence, patriotism is better - and more fun. For me.

  20. Luke, my friend.

    You have a way of always turning these sorts of discussions back on what I DON'T say. You are seemingly obsessed with my apparent lack of commentary regarding issues on the right. But I think your concern is misplaced. It's a bit like being disappointed by a book on floods because the author does not elaborate on droughts. It's a bit like being miffed because I praise cold without my also praising heat. It's a bit like saying that people will appreciate my criticisms of love if I give equal criticism to hate; or that they will hear me more fully if I sing tenor ... and bass.

    But I am a tenor. In other words, I know my part. Take the tenor out of the choir, and you have a far weaker choir. And if you ask the tenor to sing tenor AND bass, well, you have a mess.

    If what I said is even remotely true -- that my blog exists as a challenge to the religous left -- then surely you see that the emphasis then would be on religion, and not leftism (is that a word?). But have I not challenged the religious right? Have I not challenged them at their core? How about "The Church Is A Very Idolatrous Place"? Is that too complicit, too complacent? How about "The Problem of Prophets", "When God Is Lost In Sound," or "Emerging Informality"? Are these too conciliatory; do I pander to the Christian right wing? How about my dialogue at Pyromaniacs as described in "Theology As Sport? I Hope Not!"; am I too predictable, too rightist, too dogmatic, too trite?

    And what about you, Luke? Why don't you write more fully about the follies, the grotesque self-indulgence, the idolatry and vanity and self-aggrandizement of Hunter S. Thompson, or Ginsberg, or Bukowski? I have heard you wonder about the accuracy of the name of my blog because I apparently only oppose one half of the ideological spectrum. But if your blog is The New Times, what is new about those times? You are quick to reject Christianity's idols and faults rather easily; but that is easy and old. And being enamored of even poetry and its alleged power is equally old, well-trod, and unoriginal. What is new about any of that?

    You get the point, I hope. And the point is this: you are rather unfair to me. You opine about my work as if I am finished; as if my assorted works are complete and sorted (they may be incomplete and sordid, no doubt). Who's to say I have not even gotten to the right side of the spectrum yet? Who's to say I am not going to end up being a leftist? Who's to say I won't go further in my criticisms of some of the most foundational aspects of evangelical Protestantism? Who's to say that I have not hardly started this whole critical venture? In other words, to accuse me of ignoring idols on the right -- even when I don't -- would be a bit like me saying that you need more balance in your poetry, or your metaphysics, or your diction. It would be, at best, a red herring, and at worst, a mean insult rooted in irrelevance or ignorance.

    As I've said elsewhere, your criticism of me is a bit like some man faulting his doctor for being a podiatrist after he's asked for a medical opinion on throat cancer.

    Are you really committed to this statement, which is very similar to others you've written at my site:

    But I do know that much of your critique of the left would be taken seriously by the people who most need to hear it if you were to spend a bit more time criticizing the right.

    I think it absurd for a number of reasons. I have mentioned a few. I am sure I could drum up a few more.

    OK. Fine. You believe that the conservatives threaten your freedom as much (or even perhaps more) than do the liberals. Let me, at least for the sake of argument, concede that point. Conservatives are a huge threat. OK. Now what? The fact is that we hear this sort of thing EVERY SECOND of the day: we have been hearing it for years (I am really referring to the religious right and not just mere conservatives). But we hardly hear a thing -- A THING -- about a religious left, do we? Think about it: Unitarians, Congregationalists, Quakers, Episcopalians, New Age practitioners, Wiccans, Tarot Card readers, Baha'is, California Buddhists -- these groups are all politically active, and many are just flat out supporters of the Democratic Party. But we do not hear news reports about them in this context; we do not see documentaries about them brain-washing kids with religious doctrine blended with utopian and nationalistic fervor. No, we hear mainly about the great Satan of the Christian right. Or do you dispute this? If you don't, then why fault me for spending MORE time on the left than the right if a sufficient number of commentators is already sounding the alarm about the looming rightist threat?

    How much should we be forced to give back? Not a bit. No one can MAKE you pay taxes: they can only make it so you can't pay taxes (by imprisoning you). Believe it or not, most taxes in this country are voluntary: one can avoid income, sales, and property taxes by not working, not buying and not owning. No one is forcing you to do any of these things. And you know this personally to be rather true. But surely LOVE gives; surely real love shares? Surely honor and grace and beauty and virtue are in that man who pays tithes to the Church, and taxes to the state, of his own informed free will?

    But the question I would posit is almost Socratic: Does the state exist for man or the man for the state? How you answer this determines what side of the political spectrum you land on (though not always). And it will serve as a guide as to how much is required of a person to "give back." But you are right: giving back to one's neighbors -- freely -- is truly liberal, and that's why classical liberalism is about freedom, liberation. But patriotism is about obligation; an obligation that is self-imposed, like devotion, or the making of a vow. Forcing vows is a dreadful idea. But freely making vows is NOT ONE WHIT BAD, at least vows that are all about charity, justice, duty, honor, and kindness.



  21. Dear Commentator,

    I find your comments interesting and compelling. Thank you.

    I pray you forgive me for gassing up the place in my lengthy replies to Luke.



    PS. Luke, please know that I also find you interesting and compelling.

  22. I think I'm getting a fever of some kind. Chills intermittently cascade down my shoulders, and I feel as if my head is a helium balloon suspended from a ribbon.

    "Americans of all ages, all stations in life and all types of dispositions are forever forming associations."

    If there is anything I actually hate about America, De Tocqueville has zeroed in on it right here.

    Commentator, your vision of patriotism in America is quite rosy, in my opinion. I don't see your vision of patriotism, or Bill's, as a threat to my liberty. But I have not spent most of my life around people like you and Bill. I'll leave it at that, for now, except for this one comment: in public schools, children are made to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance (hands over hearts), including the "under God" part, and very often, if they do not comply (though nearly all of them do, unfortunately), they are sent to the principal's office and berated; they are often penalized further, too. I have watched this happen with my own eyes, and heard many accounts of similar incidents from friends.

    Bill: No, I don't spend any time on my blog criticizing Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, or Hunter S. Thompson. I also don't spend any time criticizing T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis, George Bernard Shaw, or Bertrand Russell. I did once attack G.K. Chesterton's racism in a comments thread after you had brought him up (a dumb tactic, I admit), though I did that merely to illuminate the fact that we should not take anyone too seriously--and I would have done something similar if I had run into a similar situation where someone was solemnly citing a quote by Bukowski, or anyone else, as a part of their argument.

    None of the writers you've mentioned has any relation to me other than the fact that I enjoy their writing. If you're under the impression that they are on my "team", you're simply wrong: maybe I should have made this more clear in the past. I don't have a team. I have serious disagreements with everybody. When I'm talking to you, I criticize some of your preferences, that's all. I do the same with all my friends; and I am a real pain in the ass, at times, though I'm trying to be a constructive pain in the ass.

    As for my rebukes of Christianity, they occur mostly in discussions with you. If I bring it up elsewhere, it is partly because Christianity is the most widespread and powerful religion in America, by far, and one of the mightiest in the world. Just think about this for a minute: Christianity has taken control of the calendar. It is the year 2006--2006 years after Christ. And people, totally irreligious people, are so used to it that they no longer even notice it, or remark on it. So, as you fill a gap, I fill a gap. The fact is, most people are too cowardly to criticize anything familiar. You and I perform this task, and are often met with blanks looks; once again, I think this is part of why we feel an affection for each other even as we butt heads.

    Here's something I have experienced: I have run into several people who are more respectful, more interested, and more likely to take me seriously in my criticisms of Bush, because they have also heard me criticize Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton (I know there aren't any criticisms of Clinton on my page, but he is not President right now--and really, my criticisms of Bush are fairly meager). And I know that if you wrote just one eloquent essay on the threat to liberty that the Bush Administration represents, many people would be more likely to pay careful attention when you criticize Al Gore. I don't think this is even slightly unfair of me to point out. It is a matter of simple logic. It is a calculated way to broaden one's audience, to further the impression that one is not a mere team player. Your tenor status does not stop me from taking your thoughts seriously (though I take them, as I do anyone's thoughts, with an iceberg of salt)--but I know for a fact that it has made other people (I have introduced several friends to your blog) lose patience with you--and also occasionally lose patience with my defenses of you. I believe that, at times, you appear to be a tenor singing only to the choir. I know that the reality is far more complex--but I don't believe that your audience always does: witness the number of people who assumed that you supported the war in Iraq from the beginning.

    Look, my criticism of you is not personal--I give all my friends this kind of crap. It is meant to nurture your intellect, to draw your complexities out in public: my antagonism comes from a deep respect. Is there anyone else who so consistently goes to war with your assumptions on your own blog?

    By the way: when I use the word "Christian", I am referring only to people who have thusly identified themselves to me: same goes for "conservative" "libertarian" or "liberal" or "Democrat". However, as you can clearly see from earlier statements of mine in this thread, I don't take these categories seriously at all. Perhaps I should refuse to use them. In fact, I'll work on that. I'm posting a new message on my blog in just a moment that uses nearly all these categories, but only in an effort to bring people together in a common effort: an effort to have a good fuckin' time. Check it out...


  23. By the way, I think group marriage is a good idea, though I find it impossible to imagine that I will ever be involved in any sort of marriage.

    Group marriage already exists in many places, including America--but, thus far, it has usually allowed men to assemble a harem of women, whereas a broader definition of group marriage might allow the ladies to compete in this area. Also, in many cases it could be used to promote balance--a same-sex couple could bring a person of the opposite sex into the marriage in order to help raise their adopted kids with a balanced gender perspective, and, if the same-sex couple is bisexual (many people identify themselves falsely as merely gay, for political reasons, when the reality is more complex, and more interesting), they could bring a beloved person of the opposite sex into the marriage partly for pregnancy purposes, so that they'd be raising their own genetic offspring. There are many potential benefits here, but I'm sure they won't be discussed by the kinds of rigid people who usually debate these things in public.



  24. I don't if it's rosy in as much as this is how America - letting aside people who abuse patdiotism and there are many - built its image and history. I'm not naive to not believe, for example, the story of the boobs you described. Bit if you are to discuss the diffrences between nationalism and patriotism; nationalism seems more cynical to me. Of the two, when weighed without extremist interpretations,contingent based on free will) to make his environment and country better. Those who force it are like zealots or nationalists and miss the point. You mentioned something that intrigued me. Namely, that America has produced as many artists as any nation. There is no debate that America has produced an incredible amount of artists (depending what meant by artists. I'm assuming music, painting etc.) Here's the problem with this. When one considers the greatest artists in Western culture they must take into the overall influence and impact on the entire culture. Obviously, there's a tendency to over estimate or value an indigenous artist which is fine but a rigid methodology is need to separate significant figures from the great ones. I know there is a huge debate about 'underground' stuff and all that but human accomplishment always finds its way to the top. For more on this I suggest Charles Murray 'Human Accomplishment' It does a great job of dissecting all this. In any event, when it comes to the arts the United States - though accomplished - trails the likes of Italy, France, Germany and the UK. In fact, they are right behind them. Of course, America has been at it a lot less time but even proportionally the arts have a stronger impact in Europe it seems. The arts do not include film and American forms of music. For example, Western Music is essentially under the banner of classical. Not surprisingly, America excels in the sciences and technology. We're splitting hairs here. After looking at thousands of figures, these are the five most influential nations in Western culture - byfar. Ancient Greece and Roman are, duh, a part of this but I'm looking at the final count. Just decided to take this into yet another direction.

  25. "human accomplishment always finds its way to the top"

    Sorry, but I completely disagree with this. In fact, I think that this assumption allows people to scoff at the unpopular, at the ignored, at the low-selling; it even encourages a sort of the-marketplace-is-the-best-judge sort of elitism.

    I have spent my life searching obsessively for, and finding, great works in every medium, many of which are ignored by the average person. Human accomplishment often finds its way to the top, but not always.

  26. For the sake of intellectual exercise, let's pretend, for a moment, that I take the term "conservative" more seriously than I do, and think it represents a real group of people, with something of a united front. (I suppose this is directed mainly at Bill, but I'm posting it here because I want you both to read it) Ready? Okay, here goes:

    I'm glad that you brought up Socrates. That's a good starting point.

    According to Plato (remember, we get all our Socrates through Plato) Socrates, upon being deemed a threat to the state, decided to throw a party for his friends and students and poison himself with hemlock, thereby removing himself as a "threat"; this is considered by Plato to be utterly noble, since man, according to Socrates, owes everything he has to the state, including his existence. (I know this is all familiar to you guys, but bear with me.) As I remember, Bill has called for a "Socratic revolt"--and I believe I now understand the nature of this "revolt". As you already know, Christ, according to the New Testament, also allowed the state to be rid of him. I believe that these sacrifices form the basis for modern conservativism.

    When I was younger, I used to wonder why the Christians I encountered so often had such a deep, even superstitious respect for authority, even for corrupt authority. No other group that I encountered in my youth had such stupifying reverence for authority. I wondered why so many of them clammed up, and went blank-eyed and nervous, whenever I expressed a rebellious sentiment. I believe I understand now. "Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's, and to God what is God's", as interpreted by conservativism, has been translated into this: the body belongs to the state (which might explain why so many Christians, and conservatives, did not fight the draft, for example), and the spirit belongs to God. In other words: "Your spirit may belong to the Lord, boy, but your ass belongs to me."

    The Socratic "revolt" melds well with many Judeo-Christian mores; the Bible's repeated injunctions: "slaves, obey your masters", "rebellion is like unto the sin of witchcraft", etc. the New Testament even tells us to consider our bosses representatives of Christ's authority on earth: they are to be unswervingly obeyed.

    What conservatism is really about is protecting the status quo: and making sure that the elite continue to dominate their hapless subjects. If one wishes to rebel, one must be willing to die: a convenient philosophy for those who are in control. No wonder so many conservatives support the death penalty.

    In 'Plato's Republic' (a conservative favorite, I believe, to the extent that any of them read), a utopia, an ideal society, is set forth: and that society would banish poets. Plato also cautions against wild innovations in music and the other arts. So you shouldn't be surprised if I seem to be taking all this a bit personally.

    You see, I have come to suspect that conservativism, like Plato's 'Republic', is, at its core, actually a deranged utopian philosophy. It believes, I think, that a perfectly ordered traditionalist society is desirable, and possible--and that certain brutal methods for achieving this ideal society are perfectly acceptable. Many conservative Christians, in fact, have admitted that they would not be happy if a vaccine were found that could cure AIDS--they would rather see the "guilty" brutally punished, and destroyed, than see a terrible disease cured.

    By the way, I keep a copy of 'Plato's Republic' in my closet; the evil radiating from it is more bearable when its spine is hidden from me. But I take it out and look through it every now and then, in order to remind myself just how stupid, tyrannical and hateful so much of the "wisdom of the ages" really is.

    Ayn Rand (the ultimate anti-Plato thinker, really; she HATED Plato) consistently warned that if anyone succeeded in distorting, and even destroying, the capitalist nature of the United States, it would not be liberals, but conservatives. Well, the "conservatives" have been in charge, more or less, for 18 of the past 26 years (and really, Clinton & Gore served the same big business masters--Clinton was a big-business president, just as nearly all our presidents have been). And what is the result? EIGHTY PERCENT of Americans (including myself) live from paycheck to paycheck. In other words, the mystical vision of capitalism is collapsing (deliberately?), at least for the common man, and this (deliberate?) collapse is aided by the people who really control the government: corporate lobbyists. Their response to those who might cry out against the results of their hypocrisy? "PULL YERSELF UP BY YER BOOTSTRAPS!" Well, most Americans don't even have bootstraps to pull themself up by anymore, not in any meaningful way.

    The more citizens living from paycheck to paycheck, the better for the elites who fill both parties: if the average citizen doesn't have a moment of breathing room, he is less likely to think, and less likely to rebel. And, of course, "family values" are encouraged, homosexuality fulminated against, abortion condemned (I myself am generally disturbed by abortion, by the way, but I believe that much of its opposition is dishonest and deceptive, and that's what I'm talking about here): when a man has children to feed, he is less likely, and less able, to rebel.

    Conservativism is a scam, and, as a scam, it has often been a spectacular success: but to the extent that it controls our national reality, and claims to be a force of personal liberation, it is a miserable, pathetic failure.

    Conservatives like David Horovitz rebuke the utopian dreams of liberals, insisting on the flawed, imperfect, broken nature of human beings: and then they are appalled when a repairman like Alan Keyes shows up and gains even the slightest headway. We are lucky, really, that people like Keyes have not been able to take over: but the reason that he is not allowed by his fellow conservatives to gain TOO much headway is because most conservatives are not interested in supporting a candidate who REALLY stands for brutally religious, traditionalist values; they know that Keyes is radical enough to reveal the sick, angry, controlling heart of American conservativism, and they do not want this to happen. For like all utopians, they know, subconsciously, that their utopia is impossible, and so they intuitively fear the chaos that would result if some firebrand actually tried to bring it into being.

    You have asked, as Socrates did: should man serve the state, or the state man? Socrates answered this question with ultimate finality.

    The "state" is just a small group of rich people (most of whom "earned" their wealth primarily by selling people crap that they don't need) who happen to be dominating the rest of us at any particular moment. To me, what you're really asking is this: should we serve the status quo? Should we serve our masters? My answer: absolutely not. The conservative answer, overwhelmingly: yes. I believe that "liberalism" has usually given the same sinister answer; and that to the extent that conservatives express such anger at liberals, it is because they are looking in a mirror. A funhouse mirror, perhaps; but I think their hatred is really for themselves.

    But here's another way of looking at the question: the "state" is an abstraction that cannot be made a reality without man. Man can exist (though most would say unhappily) without the state, but the state cannot possibly exist without him. Why should he slavishly "serve" something that only he can bring into being?

    Lest you think that I am laying all the blame at the feet of the "elites": I am not. I am not nearly as bothered by the elites as I am by the common man: the common man who worships, or at least tolerates, the boot on his throat.


    Wasn't that fun? And it only took me a few minutes. See how easy this sort of thing is?

  27. As for Bill's remark that one is free to not work, and therefore avoid taxes: I have done this, and it certainly didn't feel like freedom. As Bill knows, the experience left me battered, frightened, and very much alone. Only those who inherit great wealth can afford to do this (actually, I don't believe they are necessarily free to do it, either). As for fleeing to the woods, and living independent from society, this is increasingly impossible. More and more land is occupied, and less and less, if any, is available to the public for this kind of permanent camping, living-off-the-land activity. Is anyone allowed to be born on U.S. soil without being stamped with a Social Security Number, without being categorized as a citizen? Isn't it basically against the law, at this point, to live outside society?

  28. (I apologize if I am being too relentless. But you see, after looking over our exchanges last night, the fever I was running intensified, so much so that I become extremely dizzy and weak and was unable to do much more than lie in bed. And since my brain was still whirling with our debates, and I was too exhausted to fill it with anything else, I became obsessed.)

    Bill has repeatedly brought up the "exploitation" involved in pornography. But the people involved in pornography are participating of their own free will, however sad this might make the rest of us. Should we attempt to legislate their activities out of existence? Also, not ALL pornography is grotesque, exploitive, or disgusting; just the majority of what we encounter. But if you really want to change the world of pornography, make explicit erotic art that is loving, beautiful and tender. Protesting the dumbness of pornography-as-usual is like walking into a McDonalds and yelling at the staff, "Hey, why don't you have any Cordon Bleu?" The fact is, the main thrust of every form of expression is vapid, exploitive, and stupid: this is not limited to pornography. This is my advice: stop complaining about the grimness of the norm, and create an alternative.

    And this a reply to Bill's assertions of liberal dominance in the media, especially its attack on "right-wingers": there is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry devoted precisely to exposing, and fulminating against, "liberal" brainwashing. Did not Ann Coulter's last book reach number one on the New York Times bestseller list quite handily? And did the New York Times suppress this evidence of her massive popularity? Did not many of the mainstream "liberal" talk shows invite her on repeatedly to put forth her opinions (in fact, several of them were quite cordial to her)? Don't the liberal-trashing antics of Michael Savage get plenty of play (yes, I realize that he was kicked off MSNBC, but this was not for being "conservative"--it was for wishing AIDS on a caller--and, as you know from my recent 'Big Blogger is Watching You' post, I think he should've been allowed to continue to spout his feelings on that network, so that we'd be able to aquaint ourselves with his true feelings)? Is FOX News not a thriving business? Is Rush Limbaugh not the most popular radio host in America, followed by several other "conservative" broadcasters? Did not a traditionalist (I won't call Bush a conservative; neither does William F. Buckley, for that matter) win the past two elections? So "liberals" dominate the mainstream news networks, many universities, and the cinema, as well as, in many areas, the "arts"--so what? Nothing is stopping "conservatives" from taking over there, as well; what market controls, what legal restrictions, are preventing them?

    The real problem here is not "conservative" or "liberal" dominance. Both "sides" are quite wildly successful in many areas. The real problem here is the dominance of thoughtlessness and vapidity. The real problem is that our mainstream culture is embarassingly, and utterly, empty. If there is a conspiracy here, it is a largely unconscious one devoted to dividing citizens by making them squabble over utterly false distinctions, cliches, and superficial events. It is devoted to ignoring, avoiding, and silencing any hint of an independent mind.

    But if you want to zero in on some groups who are more serious than others in the constant threat they provide to freedom, I'll give you two: cops and soldiers. Historically, cops and soldiers are the first to follow the edicts of tyrants, and the last to turn against them. Yes, occasionally there arises a man of rare and generous character in their midst, but what I have said is still utterly, and terrifyingly, true. That self-proclaimed "conservatives" don't write about this ever-present threat is, I believe, because they are essentially authoritarian, not because they are too busy investigating other forms of oppression. But if a "mark of the beast" really should arrive, who do you think will enforce its use?

    And now I'll leave you alone for awhile.



  29. Luke,

    I have but a moment. I was able to read just the beginning of your first reply to me.

    The reason I mentioned Bukowski, Thompson, Ginsberg, was not because I thought you were neglecting something. I mentioned them to show you how absurd it would be for me to ASK you, or to expect you, to write about them. I made that perfectly clear. You need not have responded to this part of my post at all: it was clearly meant to show you that your criticism of me is, or so I believe, equally absurd: you seem to want me to spend equal time talking about who -- you believe -- is on my "team."



  30. Luke,

    I have but a moment. I was able to read just the beginning of your first reply to me.

    The reason I mentioned Bukowski, Thompson, Ginsberg, was not because I thought you were neglecting something. I mentioned them to show you how absurd it would be for me to ASK you, or to expect you, to write about them. I made that perfectly clear. You need not have responded to this part of my post at all: it was clearly meant to show you that your criticism of me is, or so I believe, equally absurd: you seem to want me to spend equal time talking about who -- you believe -- is on my "team."



  31. Luke you musn't apologize. Though an observer may think that we are a tad opulent (self-indulgent?). To that I say - Bah! I go back and forth on your statement. I'm not sure. Some days I think this is so because I have to go out and search for quality. I have to cut through the gunk of Jessica Simpsonesque faux artists and find the real ones. That's the underground. However, even the underground finds it's way into the public's eye and imagination at times. Elvis Presley is the culmination of all the great black blues and gospel musicians. This doesn't take away from Presley as many do, it only adds to his aura. A philosopher or painter can lay the framework down for a great project but it is the one who puts it together (in the last stages of its evolution) who gets the fame. Life is not fair. Indeed, we should pay homage to the lesser known geniuses but on average they rise to the top - even after they are long dead. Either way, today, the environment is such that it is not conducive to nurturing the great minds of our age. We are in a Dark Age in terms of content and the arts. Technology is flourishing but not the arts - it is being pushed back. If it was hard enough as it is to achieve fame (if not a stable income) in the arts it has become even harder today. Worse, I would posit that with the arrival of technology many people jam the highway of hope thinking they are a great artist which only makes things more frustrating for the real artist. I'm posting from my satire blog - that's not good. ;<)

  32. Acutally, think of all these sites that "rank the top blogs." What's the criteria? When you look at who is at the top I would submit the quality is not what got them there. What got them to the top is being able to be Internet savvy. Some blogsites who rank top blogs are also honest about this. How to judge a blog's quality? The good sites take a little longer to gain some credibility or traffic. Take Bill's site. I don't think anyone would debate it is jammed packed with exquisite writing and solid intellectualism. However, this has limited appeal. Thus, gaining popularity (assuming this is what he's looking for) will only take longer. Same with my blog. I've been told I have to have all these gimmicks, comment on current affairs and other stuff that just isn't me. Thus, traffic suffers (though I am not displeased with the numbers). Anyone, I lost my thought. I'm in satire mode anyways. By the way, even though it's three people, thanks for helping to shatter my comments record. 30+ comments wow. How many words is that?

  33. I think I understand where you're coming from here. But let me elaborate on what I said before...

    The belief that genius will eventually get its due is mostly superstition, I believe. A comforting superstition. We like to think we have rescued every van Gogh from obscurity, but this is very probably not the case. As for our present day--and I think you've just shown that you understand this perfectly--I think it is just the latest manifestation of a terrifying reality in which mediocrity often dominates simply because most people are terrified of anything powerful and deep; everyone in the USA knows who Brittany Spears is (even those of us who wish we didn't) but how many know anything about Rennie Sparks (who?!?)?

    But now for a truly interesting scenario:

    Bill Gnade, frustrated with the rampant nihilism and exploitation of most modern pornography, decides to create an antidote to his own liking. Utilizing his formidable skills as a photographer, he takes loving, tender and intimate photos of Christian, married couples making love. He then posts this series on his blog.

    Now, who do you think is more likely to protest this tactic? Liberals and secularists? Or his fellow Catholics, conservatives and Christians?

    Ponder that for a moment.


  34. Dear Luke and The Commentator,

    I have had a hard time posting comments here of late. Blogger, apparently, is being fickle. Bitterness!

    OK. Since the original post was largely about life in America, I guess I should focus on that. So, in the interest of giving readers a different view than Luke's, I shall describe my own experience.

    First, a counterpoint. I am old enough to remember teachers still saying prayers at the start of public school, in defiance of Supreme Court mandates. But I do not recall a single incident in my 12 years in public school where any child was "made" to say the Pledge of Allegiance, or that the defiant were sent to the Principal's Siberia. Luke, clearly, had a far different experience than I. And to only make our differences even clearer, my own child was not MADE to say the Pledge of Allegiance in 11 years of public school; nor does my wife, who has been in public education for twenty years, make her students say that pledge. I have taught in public schools, and I know that I did not once expect children to recite it either. Lastly, three weeks ago I attended a high school state semi-final soccer match: not only was there no pledge, there was not even a national anthem.

    With that said, I move on.

    OK, Luke. We do have a great deal of affection for each other; and we do butt heads, as you say. But I would prefer you to be more cautious with your words, for you are clearly saying that we are buttheads.

    But you miss something, Luke. Christians have not seized the calendar. I can't imagine there are too many Muslims who think so, or Chinese citizens. Besides, there are countless scholars using BCE/CE for designating the millennial split: Before Common Era/Common Era. Non-Christian scholars are particularly given to use that nomenclature.

    You take my opinions with an "iceberg of salt?" So you take my opinions with no salt at all, right? But Luke, you don't go to war on my assumptions at all; you go to war on my silences. Moreover, anyone who assumes (your words) that I supported the Iraq War is either a poor reader or a poor listener. There is not a single pro-war entry in my blog; nor is there a single pro-invasion entry. That people assume is the problem; my giving the middle finger to the Bush Administration every once in a while is not going to suddenly stop people from assuming. One woman recently "assumed" that I had argued for the absolute termination of Roe v. Wade in my abortion series, proving, of course, that she had not read the series or had done so through her PC filter. Why people have accepted my criticisms of the left is that those criticisms are usually NOT partisan at all, nor are they merely shrill rhetoric replete with invective and bombs. I argue, Luke. I take something someone says and I analyze it. It's pretty simple. And I usually do so with fresh language from a vantage point not everyone takes. Most of my analysis is not even echoed by the neo-cons in power: my argument why Iraq is a central front on the war on terror is not one bit echoed by Rumsfeld, Bush, and Friends. That is why I even offered to the President my own version of a State of the Union Address: he was quite seriously missing the point.

    As for your thoughts on group marriage, I appreciate them; but they are being discussed by very public people who are not very rigid at all.

    You have almost committed the fallacy of too many questions, Luke. I would suggest, for your consideration, that this is not really much of a dialogue.

    I applaud your thoughts about Plato, but there is too much here to even touch. A Socratic revolt at the very least would be nothing more than a fight to show that most people do not know what they think they know. Foolish certainties abound. That is Socrates to a letter.

    Luke, you are only partly right about the United States media. I, in fact, stated that there was a definite left-wing bias in America, but I also said that there was a right-wing bias as well. But you misunderstand numbers: Fox News might be the most successful CABLE news source, but its overall numbers pale in comparison to the Big Three. Moreover, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and others, are not hard news journalists: the vast majority of hard news journalists are indeed Democrats. The paper of record in America, The New York Times, did not endorse a single Republican this last election cycle -- not one! -- nor has it endorsed any notable ones for decades. And yet! It is the paper of record: it is the paper that is supposed to be fair and balanced.

    As Markos Zuniga, founder of the world's largest blog -- which is liberal to the core -- said last summer: Republicans don't know how to govern and Democrats don't know how to win. Obviously, they won this time: I look forward to seeing them show us all how to govern. But the Democrats cannot be disappointed that CBS News, or Comedy Central, or the grey lady, or NPR stood in their way of victory for the past 6 years.

    I guess I should have shared in my original post an anecdote from my own career as a news photographer. Nearly two years ago, I was contracted by a MAJOR national news outlet to photograph something to do with the Iraq War (on the domestic front). I was told by the assignment editor to send him "something moody." Just think about that for a moment. I did the assignment as asked. Of course, "moody" is thoroughly easy to do: just make sure your subjects do not look at the camera, and are not smiling, even with their eyes: have them look down and to the left, or down and to the right. Or have your subject walking away from the camera, head lowered. And never use happy light. You see, it is all perfectly simple, and entirely manipulative. Photos always lie.

    Lastly: If I take Luke's last scenario at all seriously, I think I can guess that it brings us nothing. If I did indeed show photographs of married Christian heterosexual couples in gorgeous embrace, bathed in gorgeous chiaroscuro, I believe the reaction would be decidedly mixed. Some orthodox Christians would love it, and they would get the counter-cultural point. Some orthodox Christians would loathe it all, convinced that I had brought the voyeur to the sacramental marriage bed. But I suspect that there would be many liberals equally upset, especially if the images were well-received. Criticisms would abound that the images were chauvinistic, traditional, static, retro, homophobic; there would be great umbrage that there were no images of sexual diversity, or homosexual love or group love; there would be complaints that the images were too sacerdotal, too catechismic, too Christian: where are the Hindu couples, the Buddhist or Jewish or Muslim? Certain sexual positions would be berated as suggestive of patriarchal power or the "quaint purity" and chastity of Christian sexuality. Someone would descry a deep political statement about the lack of contraception in the images, arguing that the art promotes sexuality as having something to do with procreation, "that gross Catholic habit." Others might deride the artist for being too hygienic, too clinical; that the images are all sanitized, hiding the messiness of sex. Someone would be upset that I photographed bodies too beautifully, proving that Christianity is ashamed of the human form. Someone would accuse me of exploiting Catholic homophobia, someone else would accuse me of gross capitalism purveying sexual stereotypes. And at least one person might wonder why I hadn't photographed fat people, or amputees, or dwarves.

    I am sorry, Luke, but most of these criticisms would be coming from "liberal secularists." The enlightened. The sensitive. The fair. And they would be coming at me because the images would be presented -- what gall and presumption! -- as documenting Christian sex. As if there is such a thing! As if it was special!



  35. The Big three networks have something like 35 to 40 millions viewers during their nightly newscasts. FOX has 2 million. Or something like that. I could be wrong. But even if I am off by a bit, FOX pales. Which makes me wonder why people attack so much. What are they afraid of? Ok, they may disagree with it but I supsect they would love to censor it.

  36. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  37. Back to radical group marriage: think of how it would revolutionize sitcoms!

    'Dharma & Greg & Andy & Kim & Paul'

    'Sanford & Son & their Wives & Their Wive's Wives'

    'Married to Children'

    And just imagine the wild creative possibilities of a 'Seinfeld' in which Jerry is married to Elaine, George, and Kramer.

    Unfortunately, that'll be the last light note from me.

    Bill says: "If I take Luke's last scenario at all seriously, I think I can guess that it brings us nothing."

    And then contradicts himself (logic can never stand in the way of obsession), completely, by telling us that it brings us something very specific: predictably, the liberals would be the worst of the bunch, again, in every possible way. Unfortunately, this will never be proven in action, since nobody, least of all Bill, will ever undertake such a project. For if they did, it would violate the Great Rule, which is this: This World Must Remain as Boring as Possible, or Somebody Might Get Hurt.

    There is not a single political correctness, not a single desire to censor or control, in the "liberal" world, that does not have an equal, and equally ungenerous, corresponding foible in the "conservative" world. It is comical, really (but not really), to see how much these militant 'sides' have come to sickeningly resemble each other. That most people will never notice this is due, once again, to their lack of confidence in themselves, which leads to every kind of gangish, collectivist activity on the planet, including anti-collectivist ones.

    It's true that most Americans are never forced to do anything--it is not necessary to force them. Most of us never find out that there is a very real whip at our back, because we never step out of line long enough to find out. This allows us the delusion that we have real freedom; and we rarely have the courage to challenge this delusion, or even find out if it is a delusion. The government now has the "right" to strip us of our property, to tax us, to demand more and more identification for what were once simple, everyday tasks, to make war at a moment's notice, all under the guise of safety--all while we revel in our great freedom. That nearly every one of us, no matter what our supposed political allegiances, has failed utterly and dismally to do anything impressive to secure anything like real freedom, is what we should be talking about, rather than splitting political pubic hairs.

    My girlfriend was one of those people who was sent to the principal's office and berated for not standing for the pledge of allegiance (this was in Rochester, NY, by the way). She was threatened with suspension, I believe, until her mother (the most flaming liberal I have ever met, by any standards) came in and chewed the principal out in a fury. But really, all this is irrelevant, isn't it? Why compare experiences anymore? It's too pitifully human, too limited. Not intellectual enough. But at times, it is all we have as a defense against rhetoric run wild.

    What exactly are you guys trying to convince me of, anyway? That I should be MORE threatened by the "left" than anything else on earth? I think that nearly every other HUMAN BEING on this planet is a constant and serious threat to my freedom, possibly including the two of you--is this not enough for you? Am I not wary enough?

    Bill has completely (deliberately?) missed my point about the calendar, which was this (I thought it was obvious that I was talking about America): I don't see people, by and large, questioning their environment. Familiar things, no matter how much they clash with a person's most intimate realities, are not looked square in the face. This is not primarily a point about Christianity; it is a point about apathy.

    Bill, you say I have (almost?) committed the "fallacy" (?) of asking too many questions. Well, you have ducked too many of them. Can you show me a major query of yours that I have not at least attempted to answer? Once again: self-identified conservatives and traditionalists squirm around just as many of my questions as self-identified 'liberals'.

    Let me just say, finally, that this debate, upon reflection, reminds me of nothing so much as the mind-bumbing social pettiness of high school, and that I am ashamed to have taken part in it. I feel sick in the head; I feel that I have done a serious injury to my mind. Excuse me for being maudlin, but I can't think of anything else to say.

    There is something SICK, something slimy and seriously evil, about this insistence on targeting a "group"--it reminds me of the 'Protocals of the Elders of Zion'(I am NOT exaggerating)--and I believe that it is rooted in scapegoating, hatred, and a thirst for dominance and one-upsmanship. It frightens me. I feel poisoned by it; I long to free myself from it completely. I know this is a rebuke, but trust me, I feel far worse about myself for participating in this than I feel about the two of you. That it makes me sound even more unbearably self-righteous to say so, I admit. But I thought it would be better to express myself before escaping than to merely escape; I like to let people know why I'm leaving before I close the door.

    Say what you want about all this categorizing, all this labelling--I say it is anti-love, anti-lovemaking, anti-poetry, anti-art, anti-complexity, anti-kindness, anti-beauty. It is anti-fun. And it is eating whatever remains of the soul of this fucking country. Once, again, it is my role in this process that makes me sickest of all; but I am still young, and it is not too late for me to escape this mindlessness, this mindlessness so thinly disguised as debate.

    With that, I must exit. I'm sure you can both find something do with this: what that might be, I no longer care at all.


    "Try explaining Hitler to a kid"

    --George Carlin

  38. I'm not getting between the two of you. However, I would like a clarification. You mentioned "under the guise of safety." This you must explain further. This is almost akin to saying the 'so-called war on terror.' Which I reject. There is no so-called war. There is a real threat. How America chooses to fight the war is another matter.

  39. Dear Luke,

    I am sorry you have taken this whole enterprise so badly. But which enterprise have you taken so badly? I don't really know. Is it that we have attempted to define some genuine differences between ideas; and that those who adhere to certain ideas, fall under a helpful, expeditious label? If poets write poetry, am I labelling them if I call them poets? If liberals call themselves liberals, or conservatives call themselves conservative; or if you describe your girlfriend's mother as liberal, am I at fault for sharing in this economy?

    It seems that the only censurable evil is reductionism, and I don't believe any such reductionism has happened here. None of us has reduced a group to the totality of a label; none of us has probably ever said that "they are nothing but liberals," or "they are nothing but flaming fundies." That sort of reductionism is gross; and it has not reared its head here at all.

    You wrote this about me:

    Bill says: "If I take Luke's last scenario at all seriously, I think I can guess that it brings us nothing."

    And then contradicts himself (logic can never stand in the way of obsession), completely, by telling us that it brings us something very specific: predictably, the liberals would be the worst of the bunch, again, in every possible way. Unfortunately, this will never be proven in action, since nobody, least of all Bill, will ever undertake such a project. For if they did, it would violate the Great Rule, which is this: This World Must Remain as Boring as Possible, or Somebody Might Get Hurt.

    How have I contradicted myself, Luke? I noted that conservatives and liberals would take umbrage, equally. I stated that it would all amount to nothing, a self-cancelling nothing. There is no contradiction; but there might have been surprise. We all know that you posited the scenario to suggest that the Christian right would stand in my way artistically; all I did was show you that censorship is not confined to conservativism, a point you now plainly stipulate. Liberals can and do stand in the way of creativity, of freedom of expression. They do it all the time. However, they seem to be rarely challenged about this fact. I think you agree with this; if not, know that I believe such a fact informs my writing at this point in my life.

    (Oh, and thanks for your kind praise: "nobody, least of all Bill, will ever undertake such a project." Least of all?)

    What would a truly free American look like, Luke? What is NOT boring? What action, what creative venture, can't eventually become utterly mind-numbing?

    As for missing your point about the calendar, I did no such thing. I hit it clearly: People have wondered about the calendar -- publicly and deliberately -- for decades. It is hardly an indication of apathy. It is a bit like complaining about the circularity of clocks.

    So, Luke, you think me evasive? You think I avoid questions? Maybe I do, but I can't help but remind you that you've probably asked too many questions to answer in this brief debate -- I think it a dialogue -- here.

    Lastly, I have not set out to convince you of anything. I have merely tried to defend myself.




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