Tag Archives: bible

Cherry-Picking And The Rule Of Law

If we assume that humanity will survive into the future–and that there will indeed be future historians attempting to understand the decisions and assorted insanities of the particular era in which we find ourselves–they may well dub ours the “Age of Cherry-picking.”

Think about it: we increasingly choose to rely on information that confirms our preferred beliefs. We routinely dismiss evidence that is inconsistent with our prejudices, ignore realities that are inconvenient, and resist information that challenges our world-views.

I can just see those future historians trying to figure out why more of us didn’t call out the hypocrisies.

Think, for example, of that go-to bible verse cited most recently by Jeff Sessions–the one that supposedly instructs believers to follow even laws they dislike. That verse, which Sessions used to support the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, has  also been cited to support slavery and “the Southern way of life.”

Religious groups opposed to the policy found and cited their own biblical selections.

“The Bible teaches that God ‘loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).”

Since Trump’s election, a casual review of Facebook posts hurling biblical quotes back and forth would suggest that Republican and Democratic Christians own very different versions of the Bible. (Not that the Bible should even enter into a discussion of civil law in a nation that separates Church and State…)

On the issue of immigration, until he was forced by public outrage to moderate the policy, Trump had insisted that his administration had no choice but to separate children from their parents, because it was “a law” and his administration enforces all the laws. 

Speaking of cherry-picking….

As Howard Gleckman recently wrote for Forbes,

Question: What does the Trump Administration’s policy decision to separate immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican border have in common with its policy decision to refuse to enforce IRS curbs on church involvement in political campaigns?

Answer: Nothing.

As Gleckman noted, the administration’s insistence that the law required the separation of children from parents was somewhere between dubious and inaccurate.

But the Administration’s absolute claim that it must enforce laws, even if it disagrees with them, turns out to be somewhat…situational.

Twice in the last three weeks, in formal remarks, Vice President Mike Pence said the Administration would ignore another statute: The Johnson Amendment that bars 501(C)(3) non-profits, including houses of worship, from participating in political campaigns for, or against, a candidate.

Pence could have not been more explicit. Speaking to the Family Research Council on May 25, he said the Johnson Amendment “will no longer be enforced under this administration.” He repeated the vow in a speech to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention last week.

So let’s summarize the delusional state of “leadership” in our country, where the administration picks and chooses its realities:

  • The administration enforces all the laws except those Mike Pence’s Bible doesn’t agree with. (What First Amendment?)
  • The “scientists” relied upon by administration climate-change deniers are sure that the warnings of the other 97% of scientists are bogus.
  •  Larry Kudlow, the President’s current “economic advisor” plucked from Fox News, says the Republican tax bill is responsible for the (non-existent) decline of the deficit. (The deficit and the debt are actually exploding–but not, evidently, in Kudlow’s alternate reality.)
  • Spitting on our longtime allies and cozying up to our enemies is putting America First.

As Kurt Vonnegut would say, and so it goes…..

 

Why Religion Gets A Bad Name…

Polls suggest that the younger generation is far less religious than its predecessors, and it isn’t hard to see why. Religious double-standards are hard to miss; every day, I come across articles with titles like “Why Evangelicals Still Support Trump” and “Is Evangelical Christianity becoming a Cult?”

In all fairness, the (entirely appropriate) accusations of hypocrisy contained in these articles don’t apply to all Evangelicals, or to adherents of other religions, but the mismatch between what these “Christians” preach and what they practice is so obvious, so “in your face,” that it manages to besmirch the entire religious enterprise.

Case in point: Scott Pruitt. As Ed Brayton writes at Dispatches from the Culture Wars,

So far, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Scott Pruitt, considering that the EPA Administrator has been lurching from one scandal to the next. Pruitt had already distinguished himself with his preference for opulent, non-secure hotels while on official travel; with his predilection for first-class flights on taxpayers’ dime; with his insistence that he receive a 24-hour security detail fit for a king, comprising up to 20 bodyguards; and with the plush DC condominium he’s reportedly been renting, for a veryattractive $50 a night, from the wife of a Beltway oil and gas lobbyist.

The embattled Donald Trump appointee is currently the subject of at least two ethics investigations.

Today’s Pruitt controversy concerns a commemorative coin that the wanted the EPA to order.

Pruitt’s preferred design would delete the logo of the EPA he is trying to dismantle, and would instead feature some combination of symbols “more reflective of himself and the Trump administration.” ( I will ignore my impulse to suggest that a jackass might serve as such a symbol…) Among his suggestions were a buffalo, to represent  Pruitt’s state of Oklahoma, and an unspecified Bible verse to “reflect his faith.”

Perhaps the verse that reads “Thou shalt allow thy donors to pollute the air and water”?

I am not religious, but I have several friends who are members of the clergy. Their approach to their various theologies have a number of common elements.  My Christian friends believe they should love their neighbors as themselves; my Jewish friends are obliged to refrain from treating others as they would not wish to be treated. Other traditions teach variations of this Golden Rule.

There is an old adage along the lines of “show me how you treat other people and I’ll judge the value of your religion.” To which I would add, “show me your moral code, and how closely you follow it, and I’ll evaluate the sincerity of your professed beliefs.”

There has long been a clash in America between the “live and let live” morality embedded in the Bill of Rights–the Enlightenment belief that government power must not be used to impose obedience to religious commandments–and the Puritans’ insistence that everyone needs to live by their particular interpretation of their particular holy book, that “religious liberty” means “freedom to do the right thing, and government must insist you live in accordance with what (our religion says) the right thing is.”

The Puritans may originally have tried to live in accordance with the rules they were trying to impose on everyone else, but these days, they don’t bother. Today, they just want to be the ones making the rules. What began as theology has morphed into a fight for political dominance.

For these theocrats and posturers, “love thy neighbor” doesn’t require respect for the rights of others, or for the planet. It requires fealty.

No wonder the kids are turned off.

Love of Money

Here’s a challenge: how many biblical phrases must an evangelical Christian ignore in order to justify supporting Donald Trump?

I know–you have a life, and you are too busy to compile them all.

My personal favorite is the admonition that “Love of money is the root of all evil.” (Note: it isn’t the money–it’s the love of money.) Next time your pious neighbor explains that Trump’s riches are evidence of his worthiness, you might ask him about 1 Timothy 6:10.

I thought about that verse when I read a recent column summarizing research on the moral effects of wealth. It was written by Charles Mathewes, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, and Evan Sandsmark, a PhD student in Religious Studies at the University, and it touched on several issues with which this blog has recently dealt.

The authors note that people with great wealth used to be viewed as morally suspect (“The idea that wealth is morally perilous has an impressive philosophical and religious pedigree.”) but that such attitudes have changed. (As I’ve previously noted, I attribute the change to Calvin…)

We seem to view wealth as simply good or neutral, and chalk up the failures of individual wealthy people to their own personal flaws, not their riches. Those who are rich, we seem to think, are not in any more moral danger than the rest of us.

Recent research suggests otherwise, however. As they explain:

The point is not necessarily that wealth is intrinsically and everywhere evil, but that it is dangerous — that it should be eyed with caution and suspicion, and definitely not pursued as an end in itself; that great riches pose great risks to their owners; and that societies are right to stigmatize the storing up of untold wealth.

After quoting historical figures like Aristotle and religious books (including Hindu texts and the Koran), they quote Pope Francis, who has waxed eloquent on the subject, and then segue to current social science research.

Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.” Wealth, it turns out, leads to behavioral and psychological maladies. The rich act and think in misdirected ways.

When it comes to a broad range of vices, the rich outperform everybody else. They are much more likely than the rest of humanity to shoplift and cheat , for example, and they are more apt to be adulterers and to drink a great deal . They are even more likely to take candy that is meant for children. So whatever you think about the moral nastiness of the rich, take that, multiply it by the number of Mercedes and Lexuses that cut you off, and you’re still short of the mark. In fact, those Mercedes and Lexuses are more likely to cut you off than Hondas or Fords: Studies have shown that people who drive expensive cars are more prone to run stop signs and cut off other motorists .

The rich are the worst tax evaders, and, as The Washington Post has detailed, they are hiding vast sums from public scrutiny in secret overseas bank accounts.

They also give proportionally less to charity — not surprising, since they exhibit significantly less compassion and empathy toward suffering people. Studies also find that members of the upper class are worse than ordinary folks at “reading” people’ s emotions and are far more likely to be disengaged from the people with whom they are interacting — instead absorbed in doodling, checking their phones or what have you. Some studies go even further, suggesting that rich people, especially stockbrokers and their ilk (such as venture capitalists, whom we once called “robber barons”), are more competitive, impulsive and reckless than medically diagnosed psychopaths. And by the way, those vices do not make them better entrepreneurs; they just have Mommy and Daddy’s bank accounts (in New York or the Cayman Islands) to fall back on when they fail.

The authors note studies suggesting that great material wealth actually makes people less willing to share.

All in all, not a pretty picture–although we should remember that statistics don’t necessarily describe individuals. (Not every rich guy is a Koch brother or a Donald Trump; there are the Warren Buffetts.) Nevertheless,

So the rich are more likely to be despicable characters. And, as is typically the case with the morally malformed, the first victims of the rich are the rich themselves. Because they often let money buy their happiness and value themselves for their wealth instead of anything meaningful, they are, by extension, more likely to allow other aspects of their lives to atrophy. They seem to have a hard time enjoying simple things, savoring the everyday experiences that make so much of life worthwhile. Because they have lower levels of empathy, they have fewer opportunities to practice acts of compassion — which studies suggest give people a great deal of pleasure . They tend to believe that people have different financial destinies because of who they essentially are, so they believe that they deserve their wealth , thus dampening their capacity for gratitude, a quality that has been shown to significantly enhance our sense of well-being. All of this seems to make the rich more susceptible to loneliness; they may be more prone to suicide, as well.

Given all this, I’m trying to work up my sympathies for our unhappy, morally-malformed President–but his sheer awfulness keeps getting in the way….

 

That Old-Time Islam…

Perfect prank for a Sunday sermon.

Two young Dutch men wrapped a bible in a cover that identified it as the Koran, and proceeded to do “person on the street” interviews with random passers-by. They had the unsuspecting subjects read selected passages, and then asked them for their reactions to what they had read.

The chosen passages were mysogynistic, brutal and judgmental. There were admonitions to women to be submissive, the old standby about homosexuality (“If a man lies with another man” that probably would have given the prank away here in the United States, considering how often homophobic Christians cite it), and a number of passages instructing believers to take punitive actions against nonbelievers or transgressors–cut off their hands, etc.

The reactions to the selected passages were what we might expect. The readings rather obviously confirmed prior impressions of Islam held by the unsuspecting passers-by, who were shocked when the fake cover came off and the “Koran” was revealed to be the bible.

The prank confirmed two suspicions that many of us hold about citizens of Western democratic countries, definitely including our own: that we hold stereotypical and biased attitudes about Muslims and the Koran; and that very few “Christians” have actually read that bible they constantly thump.

You can watch the “man-on-the-street” interviews here.

Have You Really Read That Book?

It has a name: confirmation bias. It’s the process of sifting through authorities or evidence to find the nuggets that confirm our beliefs, and ignoring those that don’t.

As we watch the food fight that is our political discourse, I often have to resist the temptation to interrupt this or that pontificator and ask: have you really read that book you are citing?

Mostly, this impulse arises in connection with Ayn Rand. I’ve read pretty much everything she wrote, and I find it absolutely amazing when self-identified “bible-believing” Christians threaten to “go Galt” or parrot something else from Rand–and then more often than not, follow it up with a biblical quote. Rand, of course, was a committed and full-throated atheist, and she wasn’t shy about her contempt for religious folks.

Then there are the economic libertarians who quote Hayek when they oppose government social programs. Hayek was anything but consistent, but in The Road to Serfdom, he devoted several paragraphs (page 148 for those who are interested) to defense of a social safety net, arguing that “There is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained” a minimum income shouldn’t be guaranteed “without endangering general freedom.”

There are plenty of other examples, but far and away the most selectively read texts are the bible and the Constitution. If you listen to Conservative and Liberal Christians quoting the bible, you would swear they are looking at completely different books.

What’s that line from Simon and Garfunkel? “Man sees what he wants to see, and disregards the rest.”

We all do that to a greater or lesser extent. But education–not to mention intellectual honesty– requires reading, not culling, with an appropriate recognition of the importance of context, and a fair consideration of points with which we disagree.

When we go “cherry-picking,” we miss the other fruit.