Smart people saying smart things

Sr. Joan Chittister: 2012 Baccalaureate address at Stanford University

The great leaders of history have always been those who refused to barter their ideal for the sake of their personal interests and who rebelled against the lies of their times.

If you want to be a real leader, if you want to give a new kind of leadership, you cannot live to get the approval of a system, you must live to save the soul of it.

“As long as the world shall last, there will be wrongs,” Clarence Darrow warned us. “And if no leaders object, and no leaders rebel, those wrongs will last forever.”

If you really want to lead, you must rebel against forces of death that obstruct us from being fully human together.

Brian McLaren: “A question I can never get an answer to

If there is a God, is God best reflected:

a) in human love, but not human hate,
b) in human hate, but not human love, or
c) in both human hate and human love?

Now we would need to define more carefully what we mean by “hate” and “love,” no doubt – but assuming that by hate we mean hostility, the desire to harm or destroy another, and the desire to use one’s power to downgrade and destroy the well-being of another — then my guess is you will never get an “answer” (in terms of proof) to this question, but you will have enough data and instinct to make a faith choice in response to the question.

The Catholic philosopher Richard Kearney refers to this as life’s “wager” (drawing, no doubt, from Pascal). We literally bet our lives on love rather than hate being at the center of it all, hope rather than despair leading to meaning, faith and grace rather than resignation and fear being the way forward. That’s what faith is all about … not knowledge, answers, or proof as much as a choice for love, hope, love, and grace.

Mark Thoma: “The Role of Government

We cannot function economically without supporting infrastructure, we are already falling behind where ought to be and that will prove costly over time, and we cannot allow externalities, particularly those associated with global warming, to run rampant. Conservatives used to understand that government had an important role to play in these areas, and opposition to government was based upon coherent reasoning rather than a knee-jerk rejection of government.

This extremism within the Republican Party is hurting the economy. In the short-run, it makes it much harder to do anything about the recession. Even if you believe spending more on infrastructure will do nothing to help employment, letting infrastructure crumble will hurt our long-run growth, and presently the construction of infrastructure is about as cheap as it gets. Infrastructure is inherently a supply-side policy with attractive demand side effects in a recession, and the refusal of Republicans to support such spending looks far more like a political ploy than a well-reasoned position.

But that may pale in comparison to the long run consequences of failing to deal with global warming. Here we have a party that purports to be all about letting markets work their magic confronted with a clear market failure with considerable potential consequences, a problem that the private sector will not fix by itself. So what do they do? They know that there’s no solution except government intervention if they admit to a consequential market failure, so they deny that a problem even exists.

  • Don Gisselbeck

    The predator class believe there cannot be such a thing as “a market failure”.

  • Tonio

    For me, comments like McLaren’s provoke too may questions for my own good. I start asking things like, “How would we know what best reflects God? Why not just decide that love is good and hate is bad regardless of whether this reflects God? If love turned out not to be at the center of it all, wouldn’t it still be a good idea to value love and reject fear, to have hope on its own merits?” I’m not requesting answers to these questions.

  • Kogeaux

    Yeah, I don’t understand the McLaren thing at all. And by ‘don’t understand’ I mean ‘am angrily frustrated by.’

    This:

    *Now we would need to define more carefully what we mean by “hate” and
    “love,” no doubt – but assuming that by hate we mean hostility, the
    desire to harm or destroy another, and the desire to use one’s power to
    downgrade and destroy the well-being of another – then my guess is you
    will never get an “answer” (in terms of proof) to this question, but you
    will have enough data and instinct to make a faith choice in response
    to the question.*

    Seems like a grammatically correct sentence (and boy is it a long one). But which contains no actual content. It’s like trying to catch a bagful of smoke.

    And this seems like more of the same:

    *We literally bet our lives on
    love rather than hate being at the center of it all, hope rather than
    despair leading to meaning, faith and grace rather than resignation and
    fear being the way forward. That’s what faith is all about … not
    knowledge, answers, or proof as much as a choice for love, hope, love,
    and grace.*

    I don’t know what this means. No not all. I’ve never understood what ‘grace’ is (and, rest assured Christians: your explanations will not help). I *have* understood what love and hope are, but it’s by now pretty evident to me that religious people have special alternative understandings of those words.

    And more broadly, I don’t get why gods enter into it. *I* love things. *I* hope for things. Skydaddy has nothing to do with it. He isn’t necessary. An unnecessary multiplication of causes. A superstition in the purest sense.

  • Robyrt

    I’m skeptical that we could do anything about global warming even if Republicans suddenly developed a taste for compromise. The “market failure” there is largely global, and “government intervention” isn’t much of a solution when the government in question (e.g. China) doesn’t agree it’s a problem worth fixing.

  • flat

    Pray to the almighty wisdom of the free market.

    If you do not understand the free market you must make sacrifices: your friends, your peace of mind, your wife and your childeren so you can understand the infinite wisdom of the market.

  • JustoneK

    This’ll go over well.

    “I don’t understand this but don’t bother explaining because your words are insufficient.”

  • Tonio

     As someone who isn’t religious myself, please stop making the issue about your opinions of believers or their beliefs.

  • Lori

     

    I’m skeptical that we could do anything about global warming even if
    Republicans suddenly developed a taste for compromise.

    IMO this is actually a huge part of the problem. Right wing obstructionism has created an atmosphere in which this sentence appears to make sense.

    We don’t have the option not to do anything about global warming. We’re either going to work to lessen its impact/slow it down, try to mediate the worst effects or we’re going to let a lot of people die. Failing or refusing to chose is itself a choice.

    The “market
    failure” there is largely global, and “government intervention” isn’t
    much of a solution when the government in question (e.g. China) doesn’t
    agree it’s a problem worth fixing.  

    China’s increased energy use is obviously a huge problem, but we really, really can’t push responsibility for global warming off on them. I’m not sure it’s worth getting into a debate about whether there’s really a global marker failure. I do think we have to own the fact that most of the drivers are firmly located in first world countries and most of the victims aren’t and won’t be. I think that tells us something about how we have to approach the problem.

  • MaryKaye

    I don’t think you have to interpret McLaren theistically at all.  It seems to me (from the excerpt) that he could equally be saying that we have to take “on faith” (i.e. as a premise, not a conclusion) that life is worth living and that love and hope are better than hate and fear.  And this strikes me as a reasonable thing to say.

  • Kogeaux

    It’s certainly no *more* arrogant than “First believe, then you will know.”

    And in my case, it’s only the result of 15-odd years experience with trying to read theological books: The more people have tried to explain it to me, the less and less sense it has ever made.

  • Kogeaux

    No. Religious people talk about unreligious people ALL the time. And make many, many assertions about them. It’s natural that you–religious and/or religious-apologist folks–should feel uncomfortable now that the tables are being turned after nearly 10,000 years of untrammeled dominance. Old and decadent empires are always afraid of tribes from beyond the borders.

  • JustoneK

    And here we go.  You’re not a libertarian by chance are you?

  • JustoneK

    Also, please point out where in Fred’s post he said anything remotely like “First believe, then you will know.”  The entire thing seems to be a lot more “We believe because the alternatives are still worse and it doesn’t conflict with what we know.”

  • JonathanPelikan

    I don’t agree with the extremist up there but please stop comparing even the angriest and most intolerant atheist to a libertarian. If nothing else, ‘atheist’ is a category which -has- traditionally gotten one killed, tortured, ostracized, etc, whereas the worst that’s ever happened to a Pauline fucker or a Randian is that they haven’t gotten to stab the poor and the needy in the eyes as hard as they would prefer and thus feel oppressed by Big Hitlerment.

  • Twig

    Oooh, mansplaning!  Now in Fresh Mint and Superior Reasoning flavor!

  • JustoneK

    Fair enough.  (Just seemed like we’d been getting an influx of asshole lolbertarians recently.)

  • JonathanPelikan

    I’m not entirely sure why you’re going after Fred and the community here since this sort of religious folk is the kind that we need more than anything as our allies as the world slowly, slowly, one step at a time, comes to the conclusion that the godless and the heathen -might- just have human souls, too.

    Even if you hate the religious in general (which is fucking stupid considering ‘religious’ is about as big and descriptive a category as ‘people with brown hair’) I just don’t see the percentage in pushing away the people who want to engage in mutual respect and leaving each other alone and stuff like that, given that we’ve seen how bad the other side of the spectrum can be, and is.

  • Kogeaux

    Yeah but the truth is that humans *don’t* face a ‘choice’ between hope and despair. Sometimes we despair, sometimes we hope. It doesn’t seem to matter what we believe in. Some, though, arrogate good things–like hope–as the exclusive property of their though-system and thus claim that anyone against them is thus against Hope and Love (this is what I meant by special alternative understandings).

    And I was pointing to “First believe…” because it’s a quote by Augustine and seems to me to be in a similar category of “Things that make grammatical but not logical sense.”

  • Kogeaux

    “Mansplaning” = when a man uses an angled razor to smooth down a splintery wood surface, right?

  • Kogeaux

    “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are
    people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain
    without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of
    its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a
    physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power
    concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

  • JustoneK

    In the interest of full disclosure, I’m something of a nihilist.  Heavily biased.

    How do you determine what things are good?  How are you so sure Hope and Love as capitalized traits are something worth striving for at all?
    Why do you believe they’re worth having?  Especially if we don’t choose and they’re feelings, reactions we don’t control?
    I am honestly not understanding your words here.

  • Kogeaux

    Oops. That was supposed to be in reply to JonathanPelkin

  • JonathanPelikan

    Yeah, I saw that, too. People like that Chris guy or whoever claimed that rising unemployment was a good thing if it was useless moochers and negroes (government employees) losing house, home, support, family, and life, seemed like they had made it their mission to show the awesome people in this community that some people aren’t even worth attempting to engage.

  • JonathanPelikan

    I’m not depreciating the idea of agitating, genius, I agitate all the time and take extremist partisan stances on tons of issues; I’m depreciating your unfounded and ridiculous inference that the people of slacktivist and Fred Clark are every bit as bad as the worst religious person. I could just as easily point out some facet about you that you share with much of the human race like your eye color and use it to claim you’re a decadent savage incapable of reason. After all, a guy with (green eyes, for instance) beat me up and stole my shit, therefore the Green-Eyed Monsters are just waiting for the chance… And it would be precisely as wrong. Even if trillions of green-eyed people had been beating you up for trillions of years.

  • Tonio

     Don’t make assumptions about other people’s emotional states. Fred’s readership includes many skeptics like myself along with atheists and agnostics, and although many of us don’t share his beliefs about religion, we do agree on many principles of human justice. I continue to be amazed that Fred is often taken for an extremist by some anti-theists AND taken for an atheist by some fundamentalists.

  • http://profiles.google.com/anoncollie Anon Collie

     This community operates on a simple principle; we don’t mind spirited debate here and there, but we don’t take kindly to someone coming in and making caustic, blanket assumptions about us.

    Drop the trollish behavior if you want to be taken seriously.

  • flat

    woohoo slacktivist flamewar

    BURN!!!!

  • Beroli

     

    It’s certainly no *more* arrogant than “First believe, then you will know.”

    So you only aspire to be no worse than some person you’re angry at?

  • Twig

    “Today on ‘This Old Blog’ we’re going to mansplain this argument into a beautiful end table for any home.”

  • JonathanPelikan

    Well when it comes to things like Hope and Love I think we’re all biased in some way. I’m an atheist socialist humanist, and I wish I could answer any of your questions, I really wish I could. Any answer I’m capable of giving comes down to ‘uh, well, because!’ which isn’t terribly convincing.

  • JustoneK

    The point I was gonna go to there is religion is closely tied to culture, especially in murica.  Religion and culture dictate morals and ideals, so the idea that being “enlightened” enough to decry all religion as a source of evil seems to ignore where the sense of evil and good comes from.

  • The_L1985

    1. Of course Christianity isn’t going to rule the roost forever, but that doesn’t excuse being a jerk to Christians.

    2. If atheism were as obvious to everyone as you act, then religion would never have been invented at all in the first place.

    3. The principle of reciprocity is “Do to others what you would want done to you,” not “Do unto others what had been done to you.” (With apologies to Tool.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    So the person whose religion and culture both say ‘honor killings necessary’, but who flinches from doing or being an honor killing on an instinctive sense that the concept is wrong, where did that person get their morals and ideals?

  • The_L1985

    It does now! :)

  • JustoneK

    That’s a good question.  You’d have to wonder where along the line they got the idea to challenge the dominant culture.

  • LouisDoench

     I just want to ask, as a fellow non-believer, for you to refrain from using “skydaddy” or other such language here. Over at Freethought Blogs or even Hemant Mehta’s site I would likely not care, but we are guests at Fred’s house here and we should be respectful of his community.

  • Shane

     1.  Determining good:  The Catholic in me would say that such definitions are tied into the fabric of reality, that good comes from God and is, largely, identifiable with Him.  (I’m sidestepping the Euthyphro dilemma).

    2.  Hope and Love:  Because as Christians, we cannot imagine living apart from those things.  We may stumble, sin, lose sight of them, but they sustain us in witness to the crucified God.

    3.  Love and Hope, theologically, are not feelings.  People often read Scripture in such a way that it turns them into emotivists; love, hope, and faith represent the most fundamental aspects of existence; they’re ontological.  It’s why they are virtues, as they embody the most perfect calling of life as Christians. 

    Referencing alternative meanings:  See, I feel that there is an assumption here that hope and love have stable, defined meanings independent of Christianity, and that Christianity’s “alternative meanings” are a deviation.  Most Christians reject that; love, faith, and hope’s true meanings are found within Christianity.  It is not Christianity, but wider culture who utilizes different meanings.  You can call that arrogant, and it may definitely been seen as such. 

    I doubt any of this is going to be convincing to you;  I highly doubt people people can be reasoned into Christianity, independent of the workings of the Holy Spirit, but such is life.

  • Shane

     Apologizes to JustoneK, that reply was meant for Kogeaux.

  • JustoneK

    Still a good read.  :) 

  • Pat B

    The interesting thing about morality in my opinion is it is slowly moving out of the purely metaphysical sphere and becoming testable.

    From what I’ve read on the subject (not a whole lot, granted*) it seems like basic ideas of fairness and reciprocity are pretty universal in Great Apes, and ‘Kin Altruism’ can be seen even in insect species as self-sacrificing behavior can have an evolutionary payoff. Humans have had to develop a strong sense of generosity to counteract visual theft (basically caveman intellectual property issues).

    So I’m curious how this affects philosophical theories about the basis of morality. On the one hand, it seems to reinforce ideas about Virtue Ethics; more ‘virtuous’ groups being more likely to pass on their traits seems like Eudaimonia to a layman. At the same time, if our innate sense of morality comes from a seemingly amoral process, how does that affect Deontological Ethics? Do Utilitarians even care? 

    I would be interested to hear people’s responses.

    *I can only give really pathetic citations, like Mark Pagel’s article in Nature (haven’t read his book, Wired for Culture), or people talking about Dawkins talking about Kin/Reciprocal Altruism (haven’t read The Selfish Gene either). I need more books :(

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    We’re having Thursday early this week.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     

    I just want to ask, as a fellow non-believer, for you to refrain from
    using “skydaddy” or other such language here. Over at Freethought Blogs
    or even Hemant Mehta’s site I would likely not care, but we are guests
    at Fred’s house here and we should be respectful of his community.

    I personally find it useful when people use such terms as “skydaddy” and “imaginary friend” because it immediately tells me that there is no point in engaging with them.

  • Dan Audy

    While studying concepts like fairness, self-sacrifice, and reciprocity in other species (particularly our cousins) can teach us a lot about ourselves and them, I’m not sure it is a useful field of study to engage morality from.  There are a lot of things that may make sense from a ‘optimizing likelyhood of passing genes on’ perspective that are generally considered wildly immoral (racism, euthanasia of children with impairments, rape, slavery).

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’m skeptical that we could do anything about global warming even if Republicans suddenly developed a taste for compromise. The “market failure” there is largely global, and “government intervention” isn’t much of a solution when the government in question (e.g. China) doesn’t agree it’s a problem worth fixing.

    China’s Ministry of Science and Technology has expressed concern about the effects climate change will have and is having on China, so I’m not sure what you mean by this. The point of contention is how much economic responsibility the Chinese people should bear compared to the responsibility of people in countries with much higher per capita CO2 production.

  • Blotzphoto

    They are perfectly fine terms for when us heathens are talking amongst ourselves. I personally like the “Imaginary friend” metaphor. It’s just not an appropriate tone to use here. We aren’t trying to deconvert any of our fellow slactivites.

    Lou Doench. Posting from my iPhone. In the hospital after a routine endoscopy.

  • hf

     Do Utilitarians even care?

    No.

    Say the world is made of math. Then no consistent system of morality could look at a representation of itself and its causes, understand that representation, and call its reflected self perfectly reliable. See
    The Cartoon Guide to Löb’s Theorem.

  • hf

    Kogeaux started out, despite one or two rude words, by calling the McClaren quote nonsensical. And while this may be wrong, I don’t see how (unless McClaren does in fact refer to something entirely secular and just phrased it in a confusing way).

    The quote has the form of a counterfactual question. “If there is a God, is God best reflected” etc. Now in this common-sense approach to counterfactuals, we (roughly) take a picture of the world and change part of it ‘for the sake of argument’. Then we see how the rest of the picture changes, ignoring the parts that would produce a contradiction if we didn’t ignore them — the causes of the original (probabilistic) state of the world that we changed. What does McClaren want me to change here?

    Normally I would say that ‘if a god existed,’ the world would likely look very different. But it seems McClaren wants me to keep all that we know about the world constant. OK. Doing that instead tells me that ‘God’ is likely a slood-maximizer, caring only about something we humans don’t notice when we look around for evidence. This means neither human love nor human hate has any relevance to such a God. Neither of those words reflects the deity’s motives  or actions at all.

    I get the impression that the original questioner had a problem related to people, eg feeling unloved or worrying about the hate that might come if the questioner recognized the truth of evolution. And McClaren flailed around, not addressing the question as asked but also not openly addressing the questioner’s real concerns (admittedly quite difficult with a stranger on the internet). I hope it worked better for the questioner than it did for me.

  • hf

    Hope you feel better, Lou/Blotz.

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    half of tax revenue goes to the military . The government is “us” according to most here on this site. These are our values apparently. We venerate war over all else. We are the United States of War.  Lets raise taxes there are a few countries left that we don’t have bases in.

  • Daughter

    You’re right and wrong. You’re right, in that our extreme militarism is a reflection of our collective values. You’re wrong in that, if I accept the premise of our nation (that  of being a representative democracy), that I (as an individual) therefore agree with all the outcomes that our representatives have chosen. I certainly don’t agree with our country’s militarism. But there are other things that our government does–student loan guarantees, a social safety net, investments in clean energy research, to give a few example–that I do agree with.

    I look at it this way–accepting certain rights and principles as a nation means I have to accept things I don’t like. Accepting that we have the right to free speech means I have to accept Rush Limbaugh’s right to spew his filth. I wish ordinary  people had more influence on the process than corporate money interest, but we are not powerless. By saying that the government is NOT me, I cede that power to those corporate interests, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to do that.


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