Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holland's Post-Secular Future

A very interesting article on a possible religious revival in the Netherlands. Two things to note in particular. First, that immigration into the Netherlands has been more Christian than Muslim. (I've had friends tell me about attending churches where African and Asian immigrants had come in and bought old liberal churches and turned them into vibrant evangelical ones). Second (and this isn't in the article) in spite of the fact that the Dutch are and have long been the most secular of European countries, they have also historically been quite religious. In the late 19th century, the Dutch were the country who had the highest percentage of individuals with no religious affiliation and the country with very devout (and politically powerful) conservative Catholic and Calvinist communities. Perhaps something similar might emerge in the 21st century...perhaps.

Scary True Believers

Dan Drezner has a nice round-up of the blogosphere dustup regarding Ann Althouse's attendance at a Liberty Fund conference and her horror at discovering that there are people who really, really believe things. Really.

Now, I have my libertarian (or what our STK would call classical liberal) leanings and I'm instinctively unsympathetic to someone like Althouse who bursts into tears on learning that some young woman doesn't quite appreciate the importance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But I have to say that, having been to a few Liberty Fund conferences myself, it is true that you can run across people who are so committed to their ideas that they really lose their capacity for judgment. I was at one where a young woman opined that the people of North Korea must not mind having the government they did. Since outcomes reflect "revealed preferences", they must be ok living a collective gulag. After violating the Liberty Fund rules (by talking out of turn) and calling her view "the dumbest thing I've ever heard someone say", I didn't think I'd get invited back to another conference.

I did, though, and I'm happy to say that in general, that young woman has been a minority and the LF conferences I've been a part of have been delightful weekends of serious, thoughtful, and invigorating discussion. Indeed, they are places where people take ideas and texts seriously and truly try to understand what some of our forbears have written - much more so than any university campus I've been on (and I've been on way too many). It's a shame Professor Althouse couldn't seemingly handle such an environment.

(As a side note, the incident is reflective, I think, of how much contemporary liberalism sees its moral capital tied up in the 1960s Civil Rights movement.)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Theology or Character?

Richard John Neuhaus responds a bit to this piece by Slate's Jacob Weisberg over at FT basically suggesting that Mitt Romney should be disqualified by voters from serious consideration for the presidency unless he denounces some central Mormon tenets. Neuhaus suggests, in response:

Mr. Weisberg is less than civil, but one may well share much of his evaluation of the LDS belief system without excluding the possibility of supporting Mitt Romney. (For my misgivings about the LDS, see “Is Mormonism Christian?” in the March 2000 issue of First Things.) First, what would people think of someone who abandoned the religion of his forebears in order to advance his political career? (Mr. Romney is apparently having difficulties enough in explaining some of his political changes.) Second, do we really want to exclude from high office millions of citizens born into a religion whose tenets strike most Americans as bizarre, especially when there is no evidence that those peculiar tenets would have a bearing on their public actions? Third, candidates should be judged on the basis of their character, competence, and public positions. That one was born a Mormon is not evidence of a character flaw. That one remains a Mormon may be evidence of theological naiveté or indifference. But we are not electing the nation’s theologian. And, it should be noted, there are very intelligent Mormons who are doing serious intellectual work to move their tradition toward a closer approximation of Christian orthodoxy, which is a welcome development.

In any event, Romney’s being a Mormon may be a factor but it should not be the decisive factor in supporting or opposing his candidacy. Once again, in politics the question frequently comes down to, Compared to what? Depending upon the character, competence, and positions of the other candidate or candidates, it is conceivable that one might support Mitt Romney.

Please note that this is not an endorsement. It is a response to Jacob Weisberg and others who would use religion to oppose a candidate for the presidency in a manner not substantively different from their use of religion in opposing the present incumbent of the White House. One need only recall the innumerable rants against a president who is born again, prays daily, thinks he has a hotline to God, and is bent upon replacing our constitutional order with a theocracy. In the game book of unbridled partisanship, any stick will do for beating up on the opposition.

This seems to me a bit tougher of a call than RJN seems to make it out to be, mostly because I don't think you can distinguish quite so distinctly between a candidate's "theology" and his (or her) "character" and while theology might or might not matter politically (does the Spirit come from just the Father or the Father and the Son?) surely character does. Most presidents get defined by quite unexpected events and they are judged by how they handle them, at least part of which depends on their judgment, their capacity for moral and practical reflection, their character. Now, as I said, some theological questions don't show us much of anything about character, but surely others do. If you're committed to believing things that are flatly untrue what might this suggest about your judgment in other things? Suppose a candidate is such a biblical literalist that he thinks the sun actually revolves around the earth? Would you vote for such a man or woman? I would be very loathe to do so, thinking that such commitments reveal something unsatisfactory about his (or her) judgment. (On the flip side, just to be fair here, I would be equally suspect of someone who embraced the mushy-minded view that all religions are just different paths to God, as if the very real and very serious distinctions were just so much fluff above the "real" stuff "we all" believe.)

So what does this say about Romney? Well, it's unclear - he hasn't really addressed this yet. Does he really believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet who translated a new Revelation? Does he really think there was an enormous civilization in North America that vanished without so much a trace? If so, that seems reason enough to at least wonder about his judgment. That doesn't mean, though, that it's a smack-down case for thinking his judgment thereby necessarily bad. I'm not quite sure how to draw those lines, but I don't think RJN gives the question enough credence.

King Jr. (But No Memorial)

The passing of former President Leslie Lynch King Jr. goes unremarked, because he is better known by his adoptive name, Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr., which he spelled as Rudolph, perhaps because he had a red nose.

Of course, he did accede to the Presidency because people said: "Let's lynch the king." The king said, "Nix on that." And Gerald was resigned to his fate.

But the object lesson is this. Had Leslie Lynch King Sr., the wealthy wool merchant from Wyoming, been an honorable mensch, he would have honorable mention in every history book, because his eponymous son became President. Instead house painter Gerald Rudolff Ford Sr. gets that honor.

Chew on that as they drop the ball for the new year and resolve: in this new year I will not drop the ball.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bobby Knight and the Power of the Press

Never a silent KnightTomorrow night Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight goes out to break Dean Smith's record for lifetime victories by an NCAA men's basketball coach. Knight has been vilified for years by the press, and of course some of his behavior has certainly earned rebuke. However, as Michael Ledeen points out in National Review Online, the press tends to hold Knight to a higher standard than it sets for most coaches. For example, Ledeen notes,
Yes, he’s got a temper. I have never known a winning coach in any spot who did not have a terrible temper. A few years ago I went to the Final Four in Indianapolis and watched Wisconsin lose to Florida. The Wisconsin coach was named Bennett, and everybody loved him. At a certain point one of his players committed a stupid foul and he called timeout, walked onto the court, and let fly at this poor kid with a torrent of abuse that would have made Knight blush (which is saying something). We were sitting two rows down from the Arctic Circle, and we heard every epithet. But there was no mention of it in the press coverage, because the hunting pack had decided the guy was lovable.
That is a thoroughly correct observation, and I'll add the "why" to it. The real reason the press go after Knight so aggressively is not his infamous actions such as chucking a player under the chin during a game or throwing a chair, unpleasant as those incidents may look on television.

The press will forgive even things such as that—consider the kind of rancid behavior we've seen on football and baseball fields that has been entirely forgotten by the press.

But what the media won't forgive or forget is being exposed as ignorant. And that that is what Knight consistently does in his postgame press conferences and other public forums. Knight treats the press just as he does his players: when they do something stupid, he tells them so, in no uncertain terms.

His press conferences are often hilarious, as he takes ignorant writers to task for asking absurdly stupid questions.

Knight is the one sports figure who does this consistently, and he has paid the price in public scorn. Yet he doesn't appear to mind at all. Here is a man who does what he thinks is right and doesn't give a crud who thinks otherwise. That's a very masculine way to act, and Knight makes no apologies for it. That's another reason many in the press fear and dislike him: he's not the type to worry about other people's opinions and back down under fire. Instead, he fights back.

That's what men do, and it's something our modern mores find unacceptable. That's a pity. We need more examples of fortitude like Bob Knight.

Congratulations to Coach Knight on tying the record for victories. I wish him continued success.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Christmas Derangement

From Yahoo News:

Israel agreed Monday to remove some of the military roadblocks that have hindered Palestinian travel in the West Bank, one of several gestures aimed at boosting moderate President Mahmoud Abbas in his bitter struggle with the militant Islamic Hamas.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved streamlining checkpoints and removing roadblocks "to strengthen moderate (Palestinian) elements," according to a statement from his office. Olmert has already offered $100 million in frozen tax income to Abbas and indicated he might release some Palestinian prisoners.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said inspections would be eased at 16 checkpoints, and 27 unmanned roadblocks would be removed. Also, crossings for people and cargo between Gaza and Israel would be upgraded "in order to accelerate the economy in Gaza to lessen the poverty and despair."

This may appear as insane to you, Gentle Reader, as it does to your Curmudgeon. But, needless to say, it does not appear insane to Ehud Olmert. Why?

Heads of state habitually favor other heads of state, including heads of hostile states and pseudo-states such as "Palestine," over other forms of life. It's midway between professional courtesy and a fantasy that elected officials are inherently supreme over their peoples. Olmert probably believes he can buttress terrorist-turned-politician Abu Mazen -- Abbas's cognomen from his terrorist days -- in a fashion that will conduce to the security of his own consitutents. But has he reckoned with the hostility of HAMAS, or with that of the many thousands of Palestinians who voted HAMAS into overwhelming power? Is his belief in the supremacy of political authority as firm as that?

Possibly. And let's be candid: Olmert could be right even against such formidable odds. But he's playing high-stakes poker with the lives of Israeli citizens, when the evidence is strong that the dominant sentiment in the West Bank is viruently hostile to Israel. If the slackening of security eventuates in an increase in Israeli deaths at Palestinians' hands, will he take responsibility for the outcome? Will he admit that his gambit has failed and should be retracted?

Admitting their mistakes is another thing heads of state don't do terribly often.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas from the Moon

(The below was our blog's message from this time in 2005. Just a year has passed, but remembering the important things, as these men did, seems longer ago and even farther away, and even kind of silly. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all those here gathered, and may we smile today, give thanks, and be inspired in the coming year to perpetuate their silliness...)

It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:

Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

It is good. God bless us, every one.