Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Lure of Fundamentalist Certitude

On August 14, I had a monumental event happen in my life: my first grandchild was born. Let me tell you about him. His name is Isaac. He is beautiful. Little hands, small feet, soft skin-- all 7 lbs. 6 oz. and 20 inches of pure wonder and perfection. His parents, my son and his wife, are doing well. I am confident they will make great parents, each providing what is lacking in the other. It's me I wonder about.

I think this grandfather deal is going to be a big job. I take it seriously. Research has shown that, as we age, we fall off in many cognitive abilities, such as perceptual speed and procedural intelligence. Now, I'm a college professor, and I don't like the notion of "falling off" in anything cognitive (I don't like my aching joints either!). I make a living from my cognitive abilities. It's troubling news to think about. But, there is good news as well.

I am 51. I can tell you that I am not as "quick on the draw" as my two sons. They've got me there. But, research into the middle years and old age shows that middlers and older folks continue to improve in judgment and wisdom. They also increase in "crystallized intelligence," that intelligence born of declarative knowledge (knowing "that," while younger folks often excel in knowing "how"), and superior judgment abilities.

Isaac has parents that are plenty smart. I'm sure he will follow in their path. So what can I give him? I held him in my arms all weekend and wondered.

Then it hit me. I can give him some of that wisdom that is the product of half a century of living. So... just in case I wasn't here when he turned 18, I wrote him a letter and offered a little wisdom. I reflected on the growing diversity in society and in the world. I knew that he would face more diversity than I ever faced. In short, he had to learn to get along with others and share the planet with those of many different beliefs, cultures, and religions.

That means that he has to learn, as the title of a recent book declares, others don't have to be wrong for him to be right. It's tempting to pass on the notion of certitude-- that we are always right in our beliefs and spirituality. But, in our modern world, it is only going to work if we can listen to each other and learn. Recent research has called much of the literal accuracy of the Bible into question. Other religions are also "flat earth" endeavors, as Michael Dowd describes them (see Dowd, Thank God for Evolution, 2007). We are all going to have to learn and adapt-- especially if we want to build sustainable, just, and peaceful societies.

Certitude is comforting-- in some respects. But it will be found increasingly wanting, both factually and morally. The hope for the world is in valuing diversity; valuing the other, valuing them and learning from them. That will be my advice to my new grandson. After all, he's already beautiful. Why not teach him to be tolerant and responsibility as well?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Right-wing Faithful are Only Fighting Themselves

In a recent Salon article,"How Conservative Greed and Corruption Destroyed American Politics," Thomas Frank recounts the political shenanigans of the Right since their rise to power some years ago. Frank discusses at length the corruption of such notable right wing demigods as DeLay, Abramoff, Gingrich, Bush, and associated cronies. He points out how their failed policies had bankrupted and wrecked the United States government.

Added to this list, we might include mention of particular legislation. We could go as far back as the Reagan years and move onto Newt's Contract ON America. With that Contract, the Right took deadly aim and hit the target. In the name of "trickle down," and a promise to put an end to "Tax and Spend Democrats," the Right inaugurated the era of the "Cut tax and Spend Republicans." The results have been disastrous.

As Frank recounts, as the government corruption increased, and the Republicans kept "getting caught with their pants down," wealth inside the beltway soared. Yet, this increased wealth was financed by the middle class and the poor. All that trickled=down was misery.

In all of this, the Christian Right was continually duped into thinking that the neo-cons were actually a Sunday School class, concerned with how that might make America more godly, more of a Baptist, fundamentalist nation. They believed it. They helped it happen.

Yet, as the recent past has proven, that was hardly the REAL concern of the political Right. They talk a great Sunday School picnic speech; all the while, however, they line their coffers with the misery of the deluded Christians who support them. No health care-- even as the needs of the poor and the "average" person cry out for relief. Our environment becomes increasingly toxic thanks to the political Right. Yet "anti green" has become a theological position for the likes of the Focus on the Family folks. The economy sucks, while the Right makes speeches about how they will stop gay marriage and restore "family values." The public schools have been all but demolished. Public school teachers, many of them conservative Christians, have been villianized and demoralized. Really, it's all a game-- a trick, smoke and theological mirrors.

And the saddest part of all? The neo-cons have managed to enlist the good church folk, and the "good old boys," and those wrapped in the flag as foot soldiers in this great war for traditional values, lower taxes, and God and Country. But really now, haven't they pulled-off the greatest trick of all. Haven't they really enlisted the foot soldiers in the great battle against the enlisted THEMSELVES?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Fundamentalism and Relativism

This week, I drove from western Kentucky, where I live and work, to Kansas City, the city where I grew up.  I went to see my mom who is in her late 80's and in failing health.  I was glad to find that Mom was moving better than she was the last time I was in Kansas City.  I saw some of my old friends from Jesus Freak days (69'-72' or so) and had a great time catching up. While I was having coffee with Dorothy, one of my dearest friends for over 35 years, we heard news of the earthquake in California.  

Actually, I was telling her that my nephew, who lives in San Diego, was just placed on some kind of marijuana product to help with his migraines.  Dor is a nurse, and the coffee house had several computer terminals for access to the internet.  She got interested and went to the computer to look-up the product he has been prescribed.  While on the computer, she read about the earthquake near Los Angeles on Tuesday (7/29/08).

Dor's sister, Janet, lives in southern California, so Dorothy was concerned.  She called Janet on her cell phone.  Janet was fine, and Dorothy asked if I wanted to talk with Jan.

Jan is from the "old days" too.  I talked with her, probably for the first time in about 33 years. Old friends are precious gifts, not to be taken for granted.

The drive to KC is about a nine hour jaunt.  Now, I hate to drive; it makes me pretty uptight.  I rarely drive out of town without Irene, and she does most of the driving on our trips.  However, on this trip, I was by myself.  At about St. Louis, I was getting pretty stressed-out and was searching for a diversion, so I turned on the radio.  It was offering  a "Christian" talk show.  The guest had just finished a book about how to fight the evil forces of relativism.  I perked-up.

The guy obviously saw it as his mission to "squeeze" all of the relativism that he could out of society.  He especially attacked the notion of "tolerance" as a force of the devil.  You might even call him an apostle of intolerance.  He saw all non-Christians as "objects" of evangelism, not tolerance.  Like many fundamentalists, it seemed he just couldn't take "not interested" as an answer to his offers of salvation.  Maybe it was the fact that I was back in my old fundamentalist stomping-grounds, talking with old fundie friends that made my mind go into action.  I thought, "I've heard all of this before."  Indeed I have.

Are there no absolutes?  If there is a God, it seems to me that there are certainly absolutes.  I really have no argument there.  My beef comes at two points in the fundamentalist argument. First, I dispute the notion that the Bible is without error.  Fair investigation shows that it is the work of many hands with many differing points of view.  The cosmology is plainly wrong.  So, I find the Bible wanting if one wishes to find scientific or moral precision there.

My second "bone of contention" deals with the idea that any human is an infallible interpreter of truth.  All of our truths are tentative.  I'm not opposed to the idea of God possessing absolute truth.  I just think our grasp of it is relative.

All in all, it was a good trip, I'm glad I went.  It was great to see Mom and my old friends.

By the way, recently, I was interviewed on Fascinating Authors.  You might want to click the link and listen to an interview regarding fundamentalism.