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Atheists: The New Homos?

Saturday, May 19, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

The Reynolds Household.

Here's a fun quiz: who are Americans less likely to vote for? A Jew? A twice-divorced man? A gay person? A Mormon. Or an atheist?

Come on, you know the answer. Atheists are ten points below homosexuals. 22 points behind a guy who can't make a marriage work. Not quite 30 points behind Mormons and almost 50 points behind Jews.

I've been involved in a contentious to-and-fro over at Ambivablog on the subject of atheism. My good blogfriend Annie (at least I hope she's still my friend) objects to my playing the victim as an atheist.

Now, here's the thing: I don't feel remotely like a victim. I enjoy it when people call me arrogant, immoral, amoral, a communist, un-American, hell-bound or the next best thing to a puppy strangler. I don't care because I'm invulnerable to words and I feed on controversy.

Then it occurs to me that my kids are atheists, too.

Here are some of the things my kids will hear on the topic in the next few years:

1) You're going to burn in hell for all eternity.
2) Your parents are bad people.
3) Your parents will burn in hell for all eternity.
4) Especially your father.
5) But also your mother.
6) Atheists hate god.
7) Atheists are un-American.
8) Atheists are communists.
9) Okay, not your dad, he's a money-grubbing Jew of an atheist, not a communist.
10) If you're an atheist you're a bad person. You know, Stalin was an atheist.

If my kids persist in being atheists -- and that's their choice to make -- they can never hope to hold political office in the US. If they join the military they can expect to see their careers sidetracked. They cannot work in sales, unless, you know, it involves selling to academics. They may have difficulty adopting. They will find that some of their friends are no longer allowed to play with them. In a custody fight with a believer spouse they would automatically lose.

Now, they'll both undoubtedly survive. We're not talking lynching here, just the hostility of a society that is 95% believer. And my kids are pretty tough. But still, it pushes the issue into the category of, "What the fuck did you just say to my daughter?"

Atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are beginning to speak up on behalf of atheists. They each irritate me to one degree or another, but nevertheless, good for them. They're throwing what in baseball is called a brushback pitch. They're sending the signal that we're at the end of our patience with being every little demagogue's butt boys, and that rather than sit here quietly and be called names, we can inflict a bit of pain ourselves.

If the 95% don't like that, too bad. From here on out, no more closets for us.

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Or Maybe Leviticus.

by Michael Reynolds

I love Tolkien.

Don't get me wrong, I never thought he was any sort of prose stylist. But I love the depth he gave to LOTR, and the integrity of his creation. I've read LOTR probably six times cover to cover.

So I was predisposed to enjoy Children of Hurin, the new book from the dead author. But it is, in a word, unreadable. The story never starts. The characters never take on any life. It's not a novel, it's a fucking sixth-grade history text about a place that never existed. It's as much fun as curling up with Deuteronomy.

I don't believe J.R.R. Tolkien meant this to be published this way. I have to believe it was a series of sketches, notes and first drafts that were assembled by his son, Christopher, with far too much reverence. It's not holy writ, for Christ's sake, it needed a novelist and a smart editor to take this mess as a starting point and then breathe some life into it.

60 pages, that was all I could take. At that point I was hoping Sauron would show up and kill 'em all.

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No, It's Not.

by Michael Reynolds

From the online Merriam-Webster:

2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust.

The favorite first line-of-attack for religious folks when confronting atheism is to allege that atheism or agnosticism or what is (rather regrettably) called the "Bright" movement represents its own faith.

Words have meanings. It's why they work. If they didn't have meanings we'd be just as well off grunting and gesticulating. At the top of the page is one dictionary definition of faith. There are other versions, but they ll amount to about the same thing insofar as the religious meanings of the word "faith."

Here's the same dictionary's definition of agnosticism:
1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god.

And of atheism:
2 a : a disbelief in the existence of deity b : the doctrine that there is no deity.

Even a Christian (yes, that's a snipe) should be able to see that the first part of the definition of faith can clearly not be ascribed to either an agnostic or an atheist. Equally, one can see that the last part of the definition is probably not relevant since it refers to a somewhat different shade of meaning of the word "faith."

So the only possible portion of the definition of faith that might be stretched to apply to an agnostic or atheist is this:

"firm belief in something for which there is no proof ."

The "something for which there is no proof" in this case would presumably refer to the atheist's firm belief that there is no god. Or perhaps to his firm belief in scientific method.

Of course I've never met an atheist - certainly not an agnostic - who states categorically that there is no god. I've met any number of atheists who take my position, which is this: I cannot go around assuming the existence of things, creatures, entities for which there is no evidence of existence. In other words: I can't just make things up because I feel like it.

We don't mind if you believe in leprechauns, but we atheists/agnostics/brights are going to need to see a tiny little person in pointy shoes. We aren't just going to assume them into existence.

A rational person might say, "Well, golly, that's pretty much the opposite of faith." But a believer out on a tear against the heathen insists that our lack of faith is, ta da: faith.

Why? Because people with any weakness need to see it in others. It's reassuring. So because you need to make things up, I must need to make things up too. Except that I don't. I don't need to make things up (except professionally, of course.) I don't need the world to be anything other than what it is.

Do I pretend to know just what the world is? No. Rather the opposite: I have no problem admitting that everything I think I know could be wrong. I may be 100% wrong about 100% of what I think I know. I will always be open to new evidence. Show me a leprechaun: it'd be neat to see one.

However, while admitting that I am an imperfect judge, a subjectivity attempting to perceive objectivity through a veil of distortion and ignorance, I still can't impose order by making things up. Sorry. I'll still need some evidence.

Bring me the goddamned leprechaun.

In this I am fundamentally different than believers. I accept the mystery of the world. I want to penetrate it, but I don't want to obliterate it by tying it up in some weak fictional narrative of gods and magic. I will spend my life staring at the unknown and grant the unknown the respect it deserves by not pretending to know it when I don't.

Thats not faith. Not by even the most distorted, attenuated definition of the word. It is doubt. It is skepticism. It is also, by the way, humility.

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Props To A Series Hack.

Thursday, May 17, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

I've previously confessed that I watch Grey's Anatomy. I'm not proud of it. But tonight's season finale, with it's complete disregard for character motivation or plausibility was . . . fucking brilliant.

The writers needed to hit the reset button. They did. It was absolutely ruthless. They took a big machete to every continuing plot line and cleared the ground for next season. It was completely ridiculous. But it worked.

One of the great dangers of writing an ongoing series -- and it doesn't make any difference if it's books or TV -- is the danger of being buried alive by your back story. You build up a barnacle encrustation of plot lines, each of which has to be serviced, which leaves you less and less space to develop anything new. I know: I've been buried before.

So, as a series hack I bow in the direction (I'm going to say, westward?) of Grey's creator, Shondra Rhimes. Bold. Ruthless. Right.

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Still True.

by Michael Reynolds

I'm watching the "Who lost China" aspects of the Iraq fiasco. The reference is to the aftermath of Mao's triumph in postwar China. American anti-communists from the relatively rational to the barking mad began a search for scapegoats.

We began the search for scapegoats in Iraq about, oh, two years ago maybe? Just about a year ago I wrote about it at Donklephant. I'm reprinting the whole thing now because the denialist Right is still actively trying to pin the blame on the media, the Left . . . anyone but the real culprits. It is vital to their political survival to spread the blame. And vital to their inflated self-images to avoid acknowledging their own central role.

But as you read the following take note of how many of my then-still-controversial assertions -- that Rumsfeld was a fool, that we needed more men, that we lacked the men to really pull off a sufficiently large increase in force -- are now accepted as self-evident.

Who Lost Iraq?
By Michael Reynolds

From the McClatchy newspapers: (note: this link has expired.)

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Bush administration’s decision to move thousands of U.S. soldiers into Baghdad to quell sectarian warfare before it explodes into outright civil war underscores a problem that’s hindered the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq from the beginning: There aren’t enough troops to do the job.

Many U.S. officials in Baghdad and in Washington privately concede the point. They say they’ve been forced to shuffle U.S. units from one part of the country to another for at least two years because there haven’t been enough soldiers and Marines to deal simultaneously with Sunni Muslim insurgents and Shiite militias; train Iraqi forces; and secure roads, power lines, border crossings and ammunition dumps.

From Time Magazine’s Joe Klein:

“We have been pointed toward civil war since the new Iraqi constitution was approved last October and reinforced in the December elections,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told me last week. “The Sunnis have united behind the insurgency because they don’t believe the Shi’ites will give them a fair deal.” In recent months, according to U.S. intelligence sources, the Saudis and Jordanians, who are predominantly Sunni, have quietly moved to support the insurgency with money and intelligence, fearing that Shi’ite Iran will dominate the new Iraqi government if the U.S. decides to leave.

“They absolutely think we’re leaving,” said retired Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century. “This is what happened in Afghanistan when it became clear the Russians were leaving. The factions began fighting each other.” Afghanistan is instructive: civil war led to the Taliban government; the Taliban provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda; and you know the rest. A U.S. skedaddle from Iraq would probably lead to far worse consequences, given Iraq’s strategic location and potential oil wealth. So what do we do now? I asked six leading U.S. military strategists, four of them on active duty, and the despair was universal.

Why are we in this condition? The main culprit is self-evident: the criminally incompetent Bush administration. But in political terms the Bush administration is already past tense. Mr. Bush has left his stain on American history and now we’re moving into a post-Bush world.

In the post-Bush environment who will take the blame for losing Iraq?

There are two scapegoats up for consideration by a Right wing that has no choice but to try and spread the blame for this fiasco around:

1) The media.
2) The Democrats.

Not at all surprisingly there is a major push on by the conservative blogosphere to blame the Media and their supposed dupes, the Left. At least a year ago prominent pro-war bloggers began what seemed to me a doomed effort to blame the media.

The main line of attack — and it seems even more bizarre now — was that the media was hurting morale by failing to report the “good news” from Iraq. I ridiculed that then, and today I don’t even have to bother. That line of attack seems to have largely evaporated. No one who is not actively experiencing hallucinations can talk about the “good news” from Iraq. 100 Iraqis a day die in the chaos of Iraq, the equivalent of 1100 Americans a day. For us that would mean losing the entire population of Omaha or Miami between now and next year this time. How exactly do you put a silver lining on that? Remind people that Fort Lauderdale has a nice beach, too?

But still, the Denialist Right will blame the media because, they will say, without the media we would have convinced the Iraqis we were staying forever, not leaving, and thus the Iraqis would have behaved themselves. In other words, it was only because the media insisted on saying that an insurgency existed, and insisted on announcing that the insurgency was killing US troops that the insurgency the media reported on became an insurgency for the media to report on.

In this fascinating cause-effect reversal scenario media reporting on the insurgency and US casualties did not follow but rather preceded the insurgency and resulting deaths. And, once the media has caused the insurgency, the media should have refused to report on it for fear that the American people might not think things were going well. What with an insurgency and all.

Any attempt to blame the Democrats or the Left is equally absurd. Number of troop requests turned down because of Democratic opposition? Zero. Number of Defense budgets cut by Democrats? Zero. Number of times the Democrats have called for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq? Zero. Impact of the Democratic party or the Left on the actual conduct of this war? Non-existent.

The Democrats are insulated from blame for the conduct of this war by their utter impotence. Everyone knows the Democrats did nothing. Nothing. Didn’t even try.

I have a third choice for supplemental scapegoat, if we’re in the market:

Uncritical supporters of this war.

I’m talking about the patriotic chest-thumpers, the shrill denouncers-of-traitors, the more-macho-than-thou bloggers who attacked every critic of this war, trashed generals and former officials, savaged pundits and ridiculed books that questioned the conduct of this monumental disaster in the making.

Setting aside issues of whether we should have fought this war to begin with, one thing has been clear for three years now: we didn’t have enough men in Iraq. WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. It has been as clear as a waving flag on a bright sunny day. Everyone knew it. Everyone saw it. It could hardly have been more obvious.

And this was something we could have fixed. We could have fixed this. Lots of things we couldn’t fix, but this we could have fixed.

But to the Denialists to say that WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ was lese majeste against our Boy King and his All-Jester Court. Only traitors said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. Only naive fools who didn’t understand the oh-so-deep subtleties of the Rumsfeld reforms said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. Only the impatient, week-kneed sob-sisters said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ.

So month after month, and season after season, and year after year, we did nothing to address the fact that WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. As former military officers, former secretaries of state, war hero Senators, and finally even Right-wing pundits said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ, our fool of a President and his imbecile Secretary of Defense were insulated, defended, protected from presure to do the right thing.

And now it is too late.

Now there is no chance of us putting significantly more men into Iraq. Now we’re running our overworked men back and forth across the country playing whack-a-mole while the Denialist Right calls for more patience. Patience and silence, silence and patience and acceptance and patience and shhhh, don’t criticize, let’s leave it all in the capable hands of good King George.

The United States has been incalculably weakened by this Iraq fiasco. The terrorists and Iran have been greatly strengthened. That’s what the Denialists have brought about. By pretending that day was night, and night day, they ennabled fools to continue making foolish decisions and hurt the country they claim to love.

Patriotism is not uncritical support for whatever man happens to be president. Patriotism is love for our country. Our president is not our country. Patriotism was trying to fix this fiasco, not ennabling it. In this case the critics were the patriots.

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Social 'Tard.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

I had to fill out an author questionnaire from my publisher's marketing department. It's ten pages long. But ninety percent of it's just one question over and over again: do you know anyone important?

Do you happen to know Oprah? No? Okay, um, how about J.K. Rowling? Not her either, eh? Diane Rehm at least? Come on, man, Opie? Anthony? Someone? Anyone?

Let's put it this way: you're saying you don't know anyone? What are you, a fucking hermit?

Frankly I was surprised by that kind of language from a kid's book publisher.

The rest of the questions had to do with author touring. They've promised/threatened a ten city tour. I've enthusiastically endorsed this idea because I believe it's important to be enthusiastic about things you dread like you dread a stiletto in the eyeball.

Here's the thing: if the series is a hit then a year after the launch it'll be fun to do the touring thing. Then there will be fans. But touring during the launch means no one will have read the book, there will be no fans. We're looking at rows of empty folding chairs as I deliver my speech to two winos and a little old lady who thinks I'm Elmore Leonard gone to seed. In some downtown Barnes and Noble in Cleveland. Flop sweat and pitying looks from clerks who worship obscure hipster novelists and think I'm a hack. Then it's back to the Ramada out by the airport where I wipe out the minibar and order the filet because, after all, how much can room service screw up a filet?

So, you're saying you know no one? No one at all?

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I Stand (Partly) Corrected.

by Michael Reynolds

I doubt I ever spoke a kind word about former Attorney General John Ashcroft. He was not my kind of guy. I didn't like his politics, I didn't like his tedious moralizing, and I thought him a ridiculous hack. But I am now forced to reconsider. It seems Mr. Ashcroft cared more about the constitution than he did about his boss. And it seems the former AG had a pair on him:

Senior government officials had expressed concerns about whether the National Security Agency, which administered the warrantless eavesdropping program, had the proper oversight in place. Other concerns included whether any president possessed the legal and constitutional authority to authorize the program as it operated at the time.

Comey testified Tuesday that when he refused to certify the program, Gonzales and Card headed to Ashcroft's sick bed in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital.

When Gonzales appealed to Ashcroft, the ailing attorney general lifted his head off the pillow and in straightforward terms described his views of the program, Comey said. Then he pointed out that Comey, not Ashcroft, held the powers of the attorney general at that moment.

Gonzales and Card then left the hospital room, Comey said.

"I was angry," Comey told the panel. "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general."

There was more to the guy than I saw at the time. So, for what it's worth: a belated "right on, Mr. Attorney General."

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That's A Lot Of Turks.

Sunday, May 13, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

This is important. Remember this when you hear that Islam is incapable of moderation:

IZMIR, Turkey - Choking the highways and crammed onto ferries, hundreds of thousands of Turks streamed into this port city on Sunday in an enormous show of opposition to the pro-Islamic ruling party, saying it threatened to destroy the country’s modern foundations.

Some 1.5 million protesters carried anti-government banners, red-and-white Turkish flags and pictures of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic in 1923. Turkish flags hung from balconies and windows, as well as buses and fishing boats and yachts bobbing in Izmir’s bay.

“I am here to defend my country,” said Yuksel Uysal, a teacher. “I am here to defend Ataturk’s revolution.”

I've read enough of the Quran, and enough about the Quran, to have an idea of some of the quotes and sections that terrify westerners, including me. The Quran is savage in parts. So is the Bible. The Quran lacks some of the softening gentleness of the New Testament, and it draws harsh distinctions between believers and non-believers. And yes, Muslims profess to believe that the Quran is the literal, dictated, verbatim word of God and this allows for less flexibility in interpreting the Quran than Christians may have in interpreting the Bible.

It is surely true that a literal reading of some portions of the Quran would mean perpetual war between Muslim and non-Muslim if Muslims acted on those exhortations. But for 2000 years Christians have had very little difficulty ignoring those sections of the Bible they found inconvenient: most of Judges and Joshua, thankfully, but most of the Sermon on the Mount and at least half of Christ's parables as well.

However literally Muslims take the Quran, and however crazy some of that book may be, Christians and Jews have shown the way forward by establishing a precedent of picking and choosing, cherry-picking, selectively ignoring their own holy books. If Christians can manage to entirely ignore Christ's clear and unambiguous statement to the effect that a rich man is very unlikely to reach heaven, then Muslims can choose not to hear the parts of the Quran calling for harsh treatment of all non-Muslims.

A certain selective memory and a bit of creative hypocrisy may be the keys to civilizing religion.

The Quran makes no distinction between Church and State. But you know what? The Turks -- overwhelmingly Muslim -- do. Just as Christians have contrived ways to ignore Christ's naive communism, so Muslims may be finding ways to shrug off Muhammed's political shortsightedness.

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