Wednesday, February 22, 2006

More Than Fear

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say that the only reason people subscribe to organized religion is out of fear, I could probably go to Subway. Ignoring my attempt at humor/shameless plug, this statement has two major gaffes hidden within—quite impressive for so short a sentence.

First, it takes for granted that fear is a totally irrational response. Let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that God does in fact exist and that he is going to cast those of us who do not keep on the straight and narrow into the raging fires of hell. Wouldn't being afraid of him be a natural and rational response? Any religion that only contained fear would be narrow indeed, but it would be an extremely foolish set of beliefs which did not reserve some awed reverence for a higher deity. The proud atheist can hold his head as high as he wants for he has no one above him, but the believer must stoop to his knees on occasion to remind himself of his humble place in the world.

The other problem with the original criticism is that it is false on its face. No doubt there have been people who have clung to a particular creed due to an irrational fear of the wilder world. But to suggest that the only reason people would be religious is the terror of a world bereft of God is utter nonsense. The reason any sane man would call a religion his own is the same reason that an atheist would insist that there is no God—he believes it to be true.

Truth be told, I know of no way to ascertain for certain that God does or does not exist. St. Thomas Aquinas laid out some very interesting proofs for God's existence, but they are usually dismissed rather quickly by atheists. Most people have their minds made up at this point, but here is the one which I find to be the most convincing:

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

We could then ask “Who moved God?” but it is assumed that God is that which needs no one to mover. Even trying to comprehend this makes my head spin a bit. I find the proof convincing, but there are others who do not believe. The point though, is that there are those of us who have thought this religion thing through and find it to be quite true. Atheists are free not to believe of course, but they do a tremendous disservice when they assume that there are no logical reasons for belief in a higher deity. If nothing else, Thomas should lay that fallacy soundly to rest for at least a little while.

Lode 2-22-06

My column for this week. Enjoy.

Edit: The misspelling in the headline is my editor's doing. Engineering schools, I tell ya.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

An Open Letter to Arianna Huffington

Dear Arianna Huffington,

I am a conservative, but I did not vote for Bush. Instead I "threw away" my vote on the Libertarian candidate, Michael Badnarick. Truthfully, my political opinions are most akin to Pat Buchanan.

Since neither major party supports more than half of my ideas, I tend to look to both sides of the aisle, in hope that someone will save this country from the current "conservative" leadership. Thus I occasionally journey over to the Huffingtonpost. Although I rarely agree with many of your bloggers, there are bits of wisdom and the posts are sometimes enjoyable.

Recently, perhaps in the last couple of weeks, pharmicists have caught your bloggers fire for refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and the like. Being an orthodox Catholic, I can understand the pharmicists position. Yet your bloggers have given no slack. Apparently, though we pro-lifers are to lay off when it comes to others fetuses--which we view as unborn children--the same does not hold when applied to us. Evidently we do not have a choice to withhold prescriptions, even though we believe granting them is immoral.

I noticed that you have posted a story today on your site which I believe provides an interesting parallel. The headline reads "Calif. Execution Faces Indefinite Delay" . The fascinating thing is that due to the moral principles of the anesthesiologists which prompted a delay. Now, I don't have a problem with moral objections to work related activities--so long as they do not occur all the time--but your bloggers do.

I hope I can expect a follow up post either clarifying what I believe to be a double standard or apologizing for letting personal bias get in the way of principle.

Thanks for your time,
Eric Jackson

A Brief Case For Protectionism

If I say “protectionism” what comes to mind? Perhaps a miser in a dark overcoat, suspiciously glancing over his shoulder as he rushes off to his hoard of gold. The word sounds dark, dreary, and stale.

Let's try another one. “Free trade.” That just sounds better. It conjures up images of liberation and unity, people exchanging goods and services with great big smiles on their faces—the fragrant smell of utopia.

Most people have a bias towards free trade and against protectionism. Tariff has become a dirty word, and history has let Smoot-Hawley take the blame for the Great Depression. Never mind that the most infamous of many such acts was enacted almost eight months after Black Thursday. Ignore the fact that the United States had elected protectionist Republicans from Lincoln through Hoover—excepting Cleveland and Wilson—in a time of unprecedented prosperity in our nation's history. If tariffs were so bad, why on earth did people keep electing those who supported them?

Times—and economic policy—have changed. NAFTA (the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) was passed in 1992 by Clinton and it paved the way for other free trade agreementsm, this time passed by Republicans. This isn't your great-great-granddaddy's G.O.P.

Over the course of the last five years, the results of a national commitment to free trade are in. This according to Former Reagan Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts, an economist who was also the Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review:

Communications equipment lost 43% of its workforce. Semiconductors and electronic components lost 37% of its workforce. The workforce in computers and electronic products declined 30%. Electrical equipment and appliances lost 25% of its employees. The workforce in motor vehicles and parts declined 12%. Furniture and related products lost 17% of its jobs. Apparel manufacturers lost almost half of the work force. Employment in textile mills declined 43%. Paper and paper products lost one-fifth of its jobs.

Notice that Roberts does not focus on profits, but rather on lost jobs. In other words, he takes ordinary people into account. Many CEOs have made a killing by shutting down American facilities to set up shop offshore where foreigners will work for a small pittance in horrific conditions. But the people do not exist to serve the global economy. The economy should serve the people. As corporate profits continue to climb, real wages for average working Americans have stagnated and our leaders insist that this poison is medicinal.

Before you hightail it to Mexico, it seems free trade has been a stern master for them as well. According to the Washington Post, since the passage of NAFTA, nineteen million more Mexicans now live in extreme poverty. Read that one again.

On the upside, Wal-Marts are opening across the fruited plain, giving us all just a little bit of hope, unless of course you don't want to work in retail.

In his State of the Union Address, Bush stated that “...the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting—yet it ends in danger and decline.” If free trade had been the harbinger of prosperity it was supposed to be, Bush wouldn't need to warn us of being tempted away from it. Free trade has been a gigantic bust.

“What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools predicted has come to pass,” noted Lord Melbourne. Damned fools who support tarriffs may be in short supply in the plutocracy that is Washington D.C., but it's still high time we returned to the honored tradition of protectionism. With things as they are, what can we lose?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lode 2-15-2006

As promised, two more columns from the Lode. Look here and here. Just don't look over there; it's probably only commentary on Cheney. I am so sick of that I could hurl.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Lode 2-8-2006

This semester I'm working in the corporate world, far away from my school in Houghton, Michigan. Last weekend I went up there for the Winter Carnival festivities, hence, the slacking herein. I apologize.

Here's my column from last Wednesday's Lode.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Bowl

In the words of Lewis Black, "I watched the Super Bowl again this year. Why? Because I'm an idiot." There was a time when I thoroughly enjoyed professional football and looked forward to the Super Bowl. My interest has been slowly waning, and while my Packers abysmal performance this season certainly didn't help matters, my apathy is for an altogether different reason. Emphasis is placed on advertisements during the Super Bowl more especially than any other time. In fact, a large number of Americans watch the game explicitly for these ads.

Ordinarily, I cannot stand television. The mediocre content coupled with my neurotic inability to let go of the fact that, yes, corporations are trying to get me to buy things. Thus, even if a good show is on I spend a very large portion of the time yelling at the TV. It does wonders for stress levels.

Then it dawned on me why I watch the game. Acually I am lying. I still don't know why I watch the game, except that I can't think of a reason to be such a spoilsport that I'd rather spend the night in my room. The venture was not a complete waste though thanks to the wonderful fellows over at Gillette.
Five blades! What will they think of next? Sign of the apocalypse, or merely a very clever marketing ploy directed at the male audience? And I'm still using three blades. It seems I'll never keep up.

Freedom Go To Hell

If you haven't already, check out Pat Buchanan's column for this week. As expected, he addressed Bush's barbs against isolationism and protectionism during the State of the Union Speech.

While we're on the subject of foreign policy, let's talk about freedom and democracy. In the months leading up to the war in Iraq, talk radio pundits would redundantly outline the case for war. Those who doubted the wisdom of such an action were ostracized for belittling Arabs. After all, if we have freedom and democracy, why shouldn't they? How dare someone oppose giving freedom to others! It's a human right. This ignores the fact that while more free than the Islamic world, America is hardly an epitome of liberal democracy and civil rights.

I'm no freedom hater, but the question is a poor one. It's more important to know whether or not the Iraqis want freedom and democracy in the first place. Only a select few, drunk on sentimentality, actually want Saddam back in power, but framing the issue in an either/or format is evidence of a false dichotomy. If Saddam was as tyrannical as we have been told, it was only a matter of time before Iraqi citizens overthrew him. Matter of time here is notably ambiguous, and it would be foolish to claim that a revolution was imminent. However, one then wonders how we expected them to finish what we started if their interest was only tepid.

Over at the Drudge Report, there are some photos of the madness being unleashed in the Islamic world and throughout Europe after some Danes published cartoons starring Muhammad. Evidently, the religion of peace views this as heretical--which I can understand, holding some curious beliefs myself--and proceeded to protest by burning Danish flags. The newspapers are making sure that we know that it is only the fanatical Muslims who are demonstrating violently. Evidently the moderate and sensible Mulsims have yet to have an effect on their more zealous counterparts. Right now, Islam is fanatical just like the Republican party is neo-conservative. I guess journalists have made a disingenuous distinction to avoid the fate of the Danish cartoonists who are currently in hiding, fearing for their very lives.

Anyway, one of the pictures shows a Muslim woman in the traditional garb--that is, significantly less flesh showing than will be present by a variety of American females in the advertisments during tonight's Super Bowl. She is holding a sign which reads: "Freedom go to hell". Personally, I'm curious to know if she wrote the sign herself for that would be a sign of progress for women in the Middle East.

I don't think that it is imperative to understand the reasons why this woman would flip the proverbial bird to the Western god of freedom. It is enough to know that there are people who would rather live in an environment of strict attention to laws where certain freedoms are simply not desirable. This could seem to lead credibility to Bush's howler that "they hate our freedom". Properly understood, the woman's sign denotes that the West has different values than the Middle East. We certainly have an altogether conception of freedom. While we cannot comprehend how on earth Muslim women can live in such conditions, you can bet your bottom dollar that they wonder why we would push a democracy upon them, which is synonomous with our culture of moral depravity.

The War in Iraq has been a disaster because we forgot to listen to Sun-Tzu. While "know thy enemy" didn't seem necessary to Bush or the Danish cartoonists, the angry mobs throughout the Islamic world seem to suggest that "the enemy" is well aware that they are at war.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Civil Discourse

There are very few people who have supported the Iraq War throughout whose opinions I still value. Dennis Prager is one exception because he civil and reasonable. He is not a party hack, and comes to conclusions on his own. We all get things wrong now and again.

Being a Jew, this year he is running a series of columns entitled "Explaining Jews". Knowing less than I should, I am glad to have a good teacher on the subject. His latest installment explaining why Jews are often secular was sound, except on one point.

Which brings us to the third reason. Along with their rejection of Jewish religiosity, Jews also feared and loathed their Christian neighbors' religiosity. European Jews had suffered for centuries from religion-based (especially European Christian) anti-Semitism. For example, Jews were tortured to death on a charge of "desecration of the host," which essentially meant being murdered for allegedly torturing a wafer. Christian anti-Semitism in Europe ensured that virtually no Jew would feel sympathetic to religion generally, let alone Christianity specifically. Therefore, when European culture began warring on Christianity, many Jews completely identified with the anti-religious warriors. Those warriors were the men of the Enlightenment, the self-righteous title the anti-Christians gave their movement.

Historically, this is valid, but I felt that the charge of desecration of the host was belittled. Although Prager probably understood, I felt it was important to remind him that there are some of us who feel that the Host should be capitalized being rather more than a wafer as we believe it to be the Body of Christ.

At this point I went to look for the email I sent, but I had sumbitted it from his site, and hence have no record of it. Then I went to locate his reply--yes he actually replied to me which strengthens the respect I have for him--but could not locate it. Forgive my absent-mindedness.
He essentially told me that while I could regard it as the Host to him and to Jews it was a wafer, which is true.

With Muslims going nuts over a series of Dutch cartoons of Allah, the parallel is clear. There are going to be disagreements when you have people who have different beliefs. But just as Christians should not have killed Jews for torturing what they believed to be a wafer, so too should the Muslims calm down just a bit. We can debate civilly over certain moral issues--abortion, euthanasia and the like--but in matters of faith it does no good to assume that other side agrees with us. The only oddity about this story is that while printing cartoons probably had some value in the public discourse, I can think of no reason to torture a wafer. Though imperfect, the commonality is evident.

Just as a fanatical Church needed to be purged now and again, Islam is in desperate need of a good bath. We can only pray that they are moderated quickly before Europe surrenders to their fanaticism. While it is unlikly a couple of satirical illustrations in a newspaper could spark a world war, the folks in the Middle East are angry an awful lot. Though they are morally right in publishing the cartoons, it is not a tactful or wise maneuver and doing so will only have negative consequences. These will be evident in the not too distant future. As Drudge likes to say, developing...

Lode 2-1-2006

I wrote this on Monday before hearing Bush's speech, but it turned out to be strangely appropriate. Do try to enjoy responsibly.