Archive for May, 2011
Harold Camping, the former civil engineer who heads the
Family Radio Network of Christian stations, had been unwavering in his message that believers would be swept to heaven on May 21.
His Oakland, California-based network broadcasts over 66 U.S. stations and through international affiliates. With the help of supporters it posted at least 2,000 billboards around the United States warning of the Judgment Day.
In New York, retired transportation agency worker Robert Fitzpatrick was inspired by Camping’s message to spend over $140,000 of his savings on subway posters and outdoor advertisements warning of the May 21 Judgment Day.
As he stood in Times Square in New York surrounded by onlookers, Fitzpatrick, 60, carried a Bible and handed out leaflets as he waited for Judgment Day to begin.
By his own reading of Bible, which was slightly different than Camping’s, Fitzgerald expected the great worldwide event to begin at 6 p.m. Eastern Time.
When the hour came and went, he said: “I do not understand why …,” as his speech broke off and he looked at his watch.
“I do not understand why nothing has happened.”
I’ve got a prophecy of my own. One so profound that it will shake the world to its foundation. Here it is. Get ready.
On Sunday, a marvelous thing will happen: the Sun will rise.
Not that son from the NT, who is supposed to rise tomorrow (at 6 p.m., I hear) sweeping across the world through each time zone, causing fireworks like so many New Years Eve celebrations. This notion, lest you have just crawled out from a well-fortified cave, comes to us from Harold Camping, who has scores of believers tromping around Manhattan and elsewhere holding signs about the oncoming doom that is about to befall mankind. This family apparently stopped everything they were doing to go “sound the trumpet” about the prophetic day.
This prophecy will trickle into obscurity and suffer the fate of all others.
Camping has predicted the end of the world before. Here’s a list of other failed prophecies, including Camping’s. Oddly, in 1994, when Camping said the world would end sometime that September, he hesitated to give the precise day, citing Matthew 24:36 that no man knows the day or hour in which Jesus is going to come back. Apparently this time around, he has either forgotten the verse or dropped the humility. Not that it matters to me, only to the gullibly led, fearful and squirrel-brained people hanging on this old man’s every word.
This article from The New York Times suggests that billions of planets are wandering through the universe either wholly unattached from a star or very distantly orbiting a star like our Sun. The implications?
Planetary astronomers say the results will allow them to tap into a whole new unsuspected realm of exoplanets — as planets outside our own solar system are called — causing scientists to re-evaluate how many there are, where they are and how they are created, even as astronomers immediately begin to ponder whether the new planets in question are in fact floating free or are just far from their stars, at distances comparable to those of Uranus and Neptune in our own solar system.((1))
Here is an artist’s rendering:
- http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/science/space/19planets.html?ref=science [↩]
One has to wonder about the logistics of carrying this out:
SEOUL, May 4 (UPI) — A South Korean man with a religious obsession crucified himself around Easter, police said.
The body of the 58-year-old taxi driver was discovered Sunday in an abandoned quarry in Mungyeong in North Gyeongsang province, The Korea Herald reported. He was nailed to a wooden cross.
Police said the man went to great lengths to simulate Jesus’ crucifixion. He was wearing only underpants and a headdress resembling a crown of thorrns (sic), had a wound on his right side and had drilled holes in his palms.
Such is the power of religion to drive a person to such lengths.
Luckily for all of us, most people don’t really believe the entire program of Christianity. If they did, they would, en masse, abandon their families, sell all their possessions, as Christ commands in Matt. 19, and go and evangelize “to the ends of the earth.” Of course, that quote in the Bible is made to be taken figuratively, we are told, so as to get believers off the hook for not carrying out its real implications, implications that are far too radical and dangerous for modern Christians to digest. We are told that Christ is not saying to give everything to the poor, but only to submit your whole selves to him spiritually. But in context, this is not what Jesus meant in the passage. If Jesus were talking in spiritual terms, he probably would have said so, and the rich man would not have walked away in sadness, since the man already indicated that he was willing to meet spiritual goals like keeping the commandments. He was not, however, willing to give up his physical possessions, thus walking away in sadness. Jesus, if he actually said those words in the first place, gave no excuses for his radical command nor made any redactions to it.
Of course, this South Korean fellow appears to have taken his beliefs to a new level of radicalism. Not only did he (presumably) die with Christ spiritually, but he did physically and in a like manner. The logistics of physically nailing your own hands and feet to a cross must have been tricky. Also tricky: did this guy believe he was quickening his eternal “walk” with God, or is he now, according to doctrine, in hell for committing murder (of himself)? It’s inconsequential at this point, and to me especially, but you can’t say the guy didn’t appreciate some good old fashioned symbolism.
I want to take some time to address a link recently posted by a Facebook friend of mine. I was going to post it as a comment on Facebook, but the reply, as you can tell, got a bit lengthy. I thought this might be an apt forum. The friend posted a link to this article, which makes the claim that
Secular Humanism is an attempt to function as a civilized society with the exclusion of God and His moral principles. During the last several decades, Humanists have been very successful in propagating their beliefs. Their primary approach is to target the youth through the public school system.
I originally commented in Facebook that I would need a lot of “space and time” to address all the errors and misrepresentations in the aforementioned article. Before I do so, it’s important to note that a cursory look at the content of the host website, allaboutphilosophy.org, appears to be an apologetic site masquerading as a philosophical trove of data. A quick read of other articles such as this one on existentialism makes this immediately clear. As such, this seems to be a place for Christians and other believers to go and read a little about some other strains of thought, like existentialism, so they can feel as if they have “learned” something about some contradicting philosophies, when, in reality, the articles mainly present either flatly wrong interpretations of such philosophies or greatly misrepresented versions of those ideologies.
Take, for instance, this statement about existentialism:
Existentialistic ideas came out of a time in society when there was a deep sense of despair following the Great Depression and World War II. There was a spirit of optimism in society that was destroyed by World War I and its mid-century calamities. This despair has been articulated by existentialist philosophers well into the 1970s and continues on to this day as a popular way of thinking and reasoning (with the freedom to choose one’s preferred moral belief system and lifestyle).
In this paragraph, the article attempts to make the case that existentialist thought began after the Great Depression and WWII, that it was born out of despair and that it prescribes that people have the freedom to cherry pick whichever moral systems they choose. This makes it seem almost morally relativistic. To the contrary, existentialism officially sprang up in the 19th century well before the Great Depression. It is less about despair than living decent, personally responsible lives in spite of the despair that may come from realizing the apparent meaninglessness of the world. The writer of the article in question seems to be attempting to claim that existentialism is steeped in despair when really, it’s the opposite. At its core and as I understand it, existentialism is about how to live noble and sincere lives in the absence of anything else for which to live. Some noted existentialists were believers and some were not, but most of them said people were personally responsible for how they live and conduct their lives. Many sub-strains of existentialism exist, of course, and it’s a challenge to reduce the entire philosophy to one sentence, but this is my basic, working definition.
In any case, back to secular humanism. We should note in the first quote the capitalization of the personal pronoun, “His,” to refer to God. This is another clue that this article is not presenting an objective look at secular humanism but one slanted through a theistic lens.
The author’s second quote, framed as a “strategic focus” by humanists, comes from John Dunphy, who supposedly said in an “award winning” essay from 1983 titled, “The Humanist:”
The battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: A religion of humanity — utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to carry humanist values into wherever they teach. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new — the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism.
If Dunphy actually made this statement (I can’t confirm that he did because while I found couple essays with his name on them, I could not find one titled, “The Humanist,” anywhere except on apologetic websites, which, unsurprisingly regurgitated the quote in question), he used some unfortunate terms like “faith” and “religion” to describe humanism. Humanism is a philosophy or ideology, not a religion, that explores the concepts of human responsibility, freedom and potential. Or, simply:
Most people who describe themselves as humanists would likely cringe at being lumped into some kind of “new faith.” Humanists, to put it as succinctly as possible, have humans’ best interest at heart. They aren’t satanists or egoists or attempted demigods, as believers have, no doubt claimed.
In any case, if an essay titled, “The Humanist,” received some unnamed award, one would think a record of said essay would have surfaced in an Internet search result.
Moving on, here is the next passage from the article on secular humanism:
John Dewey, remembered for his efforts in establishing America’s current educational systems, was one of the chief signers of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto. It seems the Humanists have been interested in America’s education system for nearly a century. They have been absolutely successful in teaching children that God is imaginary and contrary to “science.”
It is true that Dewey signed the Humanist Manifesto, but after scanning two of Dewey’s works on the education system, “The Child and the Curriculum” and “Moral Principles in Education,” I could find no references to either “God,” “creation,” ”Darwin” or “evolution” and only a few references to “science.” The only references to science in these two works discuss it as a mere subject in the classroom and do not address a deity in any way. One would think that if humanists were so interested in taking over the classroom, one of its leading proponents would have made some reference along those lines in two of his works that address education directly.
While Dewey probably did think Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the correct one in explaining how complex life came about, I can find no evidence to suggest that he lead or supported some kind of humanist conspiracy to take over the school system in the way suggested by this article. The concept of creationism, of course, is indeed “contrary to ‘science’,” and that’s not under dispute by any serious scientist who adheres to the scientific method to draw his conclusions about how the world works.
Here is another flatly wrong statement from the secular humanism article:
Yet Evolution has not been proved. In fact, it seems that the Theory of Evolution is contrary to established science.
When it comes to the Origin of Life there are only two possibilities: creation or spontaneous generation. There is no third way.Spontaneous generation was disproved one hundred years ago, but that leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance!”
Contrary to what the article says, Wald was known for his work on retinas in the eye, not for evolution. Whatever personal opinions Wald might have held on evolution are irrelevant. He was most certainly not an evolutionist, so here is another patently false statement. A look at more recent Scientific American articles, however, will provide reams of credible information about evolution. Here are some examples: 1, 2 and 3.
The scientific explanation of how life developed from simpler forms is, not only a more beautiful and marvelous explanation than creationism, it is the default explanation. People purporting creationism or intelligent design have all their work ahead of them in explaining these subversive notions. Evolution by natural selection, to say it again and for the millionth time, is a scientific theory, as firmly established as gravity. Here’s a good explanation:
A theory is a scientific explanation of an observed phenomenon. Unlike laws, theories actually explain why things are the way they are. Theories are what science is for. If, then, a theory is a scientific explanation of a natural phenomena, ask yourself this: “What part of that definition excludes a theory from being a fact?” The answer is nothing! There is no reason a theory cannot be an actual fact as well. … So there is the theory of evolution. Then there is the FACT of evolution. Species change– there is variation within one kind of animal. There is a predictable range of genetic variation in a species, as well as an expected rate of random mutations. …
Yes, evolution is a fact, as real as gravity. The fact that all species alive today have descended from a common ancestor can be denied, but not refuted. We know it happens because we can observe it directly in short-lived species, and for longer lived species there is genetic and fossil evidence that is unambiguous. There is no other scientific explanation for the diversity of living species. Evolution is a very well established scientific concept with a massive amount of physical evidence for support. It is not a guess. Evolution is the basis of modern biology, and universities and laboratories across the world are engaged in research that explores evolution.
To address the other part of the quote from the secular humanist article, the idea that God, like creationism, is contrary to science, I might propose the following: If a supremely intelligent and powerful being actually exists, would this not tear down everything we have learned in 300 years of serious scientific inquiry? For, he would have to be somewhere, perhaps not in this dimension but in some other dimension, a fourth or fifth dimension perhaps. Or, some heretofore unexplained “spiritual” dimension, whatever that might mean. Christians here will roll out the oft-touted claim that God must exist outside of space and time, but to say that throws God, along with the baby, out the window.
Here is former pastor Dan Barker on the subject:
To say that God does not exist within space-time is to say that God does not exist. And even if it is true that God does exist “outside of time,” despite our failure to intuitively grasp what appears to be an impossibility, then how can he possibly interact with us mere temporals? It would be similar to an author trying to interact with one of the fictional characters in his or her novel — you can’t get there from here.
My believing friends might retort that if God is all-powerful, surely he can jump into our own space-time from wherever it is he abides, thus crashing into our world to alter the thoughts, actions and outcomes of human lives. But if this is the case, he is not outside of space-time after all. Ignoring the fact that there is, by definition, nothing outside of space-time, at the very least, God would have to exist in part of this space-time in addition to partly existing in some other realm. Here, we are bordering on the absurd, but to say that he exists outside of space-time either suggests that a) he is beyond our grasp and vice versa, b) does not exist or c) is at least a part-time member of our space-time. And if he is partly a member of our space-time, he requires an explanation like any other phenomenon. And it is here that we return to futile attempt to explain how a supremely complex being came into being. As Richard Dawkins has stated, if we grant this being the power to intervene in this world, the attempt to explain his complexity then becomes a scientific endeavor.
Here is Dawkins in “The God Delusion,” writing about a couple points he made at a conference at Cambridge:
First, that if God really did communicate with humans, that fact would emphatically not lie outside of science. God comes bursting through whatever other-worldy domain is his natural abode, crashing through into our world where his messages can be intercepted by humans brains — and that phenomenon has nothing to do with science? Second, a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of humans simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth!
I have only covered the first page of the allaboutphilosophy.org article. The second page trots out some quotes from a few of the Founders on religion, most notably one from John Adams, which is often summoned by conservative talking heads. It reads:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
This was a passage from a letter written to a brigade in Massachusetts in October 1798 and must be understood through his audience, his personal thoughts on religion and Christianity being markedly different than his “public” stance on the matter. Probably most if not all of the soldiers to whom Adams was writing were Christians, so being the statesman that he was, he framed his letter according to his audience.
But consider some of Adams’ personal correspondence:
The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles? — letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815
As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? — letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816
I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! — letter to Thomas Jefferson, from George Seldes, The Great Quotations
And now, Thomas Jefferson. Notice that the final fourth and fifth quotes are addressed to John Adams himself.
I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another. — letter to Elbridge Gerry, 1799
I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others. — letter to Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803
Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus. — letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp July 30, 1816
To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise … without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence. — letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820
The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. — letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
There is no need to go further. I think I have sufficiently made the case that allaboutphilosophy.org both gets the basic definition of secular humanism wrong, distorts basic science and trots out a very selective grouping of quotes from some Founders, whereas other quotes, which are more personal in nature, more truly represent some of our Founders’ thoughts on religion, indeed, of two of our most revered Founders, Adams and Jefferson.
If I were still a believer, I would have credited what I am about to share as some sort of divine revelation. Since I’m not and since what I am about to share pecks very large holes in the belief of a caring, all-powerful God, I will merely call it a coincidence.
This evening, I was thinking about how I wanted to begin my review of “Night” by Elie Wiesel — ”A slim volume of terrifying power,” according to The New York Times — which recounts Wiesel’s experiences while under German imprisonment in the Auschwitz concentration camp and elsewhere.
At this point, some may say: “Have you not read this before? I read that in high school.” No, somehow, I’m not sure how, this one slipped by me. It was mentioned in passing conversation one day a couple months ago, so I decided to get a copy.
Moving on, for anyone who doesn’t know the story, “Night” tells the story of a young Elie Wiesel, who after living through hellish conditions and watching his father waste away (ungracefully die, heartlessly carried away and tossed away with the other bodies as if he was a mutt) in Nazi concentration camps, returns from captivity with his faith shaken to the core.
I had an introduction for this review already in mind and was ready to begin typing when it occurred to me that, perhaps, I should consult John Loftus’ “Why I Became An Atheist” because I remembered that he included two chapters titled, “The Problem of Evil” in his book. I had not remembered this from my prior reading of Loftus’ work, but he actually begins these two chapters with a quotation from “Night.” I thought that was quite coincidental. Following is the quote from “Night” Loftus selected.
Recalling the day he arrived at the Birkenau Nazi camp, Wiesel writes:
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
And Loftus picks up with this:
The problem of evil is known as “the rock of atheism.” Michael Martin considers this problem so significant that out of 476 pages of writing and defending atheism, there are 118 pages in his book on this one issue alone, which is a quarter of his book!((1))
“Night” is an easy read in word only. As you follow Wiesel and his family as the Nazis begin clamping down on his hometown of Sighet in what was then Transylvania, creating a ghetto in Sighet and eventually deporting thousands of Jews to concentration camps across the region, you learn that Wiesel, once a devout Jew who read his Talmud daily, was slowly losing his faith as he witnessed atrocity after atrocity, not the least of which was eternal separation from his mother and the death of his father.
As the prisoners traversed the European countryside in cattle cars, transported as if they were livestock and hopping from one camp to another, the Jews were barely given enough food to live and many died along the way, their bodies simply tossed to the side of the road at each stop.
Wiesel recalls one instance where human beings, pushed the point of severe starvation, fought like animals over a piece of bread:
I saw, not far from me, an old man dragging himself from the struggling mob. He was holding one hand to his heart. At first I thought he had received a blow to his chest. Then I understood: he was hiding a piece of bread under his shirt. With lightning speed he pulled it out and put it to his mouth. His eyes lit up, a smile, like a grimace, illuminated his ashen face. And was immediately extinguished. A shadow had lain down beside him. And this shadow threw itself over him. Stunned by the blows, the old man was crying:
“Meir, my little Meir! Don’t you recognize me … You’re killing your father … I have bread … for you too … for you too …”
He collapsed. But his fist was still clutching a small crust. He wanted to raise it to his mouth. But the other threw himself on him. The old man mumbled something, groaned, and died. Nobody cared. His son searched him, took the crust of bread, and began to devour it. He didn’t get far. Two men had been watching him. They jumped him. Others joined in. When they withdrew, there were two dead bodies next to me, the father and the son.
I was sixteen.
I thought this scene was made all the more shocking because Wiesel reveals his tender age at the time. Although the prisoners often endured cold and harsh weather conditions, oftentimes, the sun was shining, and if a prisoner merely looked up, his heart could be brightened by the clear and bright sky. But one only had to look around to notice the stark contrast between sunny day and the dark path of disease, famine, suffering and death that was being cut across Europe. Like Albert Camus in “The Stranger,” Wiesel points out this striking and nearly unbelievable paradox between the sun and an unforgiving sky.
Believable or not, it happened, and 6 million Jews, God’s supposed chosen race, were herded up like cattle, tortured, starved, beaten, stripped from their families, worked to the bone and gassed, their lifeless bodies thrown into pits like so many of their brethren. Perhaps they were the lucky ones. Unlucky was Wiesel, who witnessed live infants being tossed into the furnace. And it was this image, among all the others, that struck me the most about “Night.” This was the only book that I can recall that summoned nightmares the night after completing it.
And where was God in all of this? Wiesel asks the question numerous times in the book, and we can formulate only one answer. In 1940s Europe, God was nowhere to be found, the skies were silent and Adolf Hitler, who promised to exterminate the Jews, was the only one who actually lived up to his promise. Believers will likely say that all those bad things happened to the Jews (“Bad” being a decided understatement) because we live in a fallen world, where we can expect all kinds of nasty things to happen to humans since we live under the curse of Adam. Thus, slavery, the Salem Witch Trials, the Holocaust, Hurricane Katrina and Sept. 11, 2001 can all be explained away because of the curse, and God can shirk responsibility for all of it. Fine, but only a monster can watch infants be tossed into furnaces while still alive and not intervene if he had the power to do so. And, if he exists, he did indeed watch it with folded arms. If he did not watch it, he is not omniscient.
So, we are now forced to deal with an impasse. Here again, I’ll pick up Loftus:
So the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. The stubborn fact of intense suffering in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge. I consider this as close to an empirical refutation of Christianity as is possible.
Thus, whether we consider the case of human beings being treated like cattle in mid-19th century America or humans being, again, being treated like cattle in 1940s Europe, as portrayed in “Night,” believers must face these two questions: how can God be all-loving and watch his creation suffer every form of ridicule and human depredation and how can he be omnipotent with all the power in the universe to end such suffering or see that it doesn’t begin in the first place? Even more, suffering to his supposed chosen race of people?
No book that I have ever read brings these questions to the forefront with such brutal honesty. And I think it may be for that reason that The Times used the words “terrifying power” to describe this short, but seismic cattle car ride through the bowels of man’s darkest hour.
Leave it to a black man to kill the most wanted terrorist in American history. This is all in jest, but I have often told anyone who would listen that if we would send some gangsters from East L.A. over to the Middle East, we would have Osama’s head on a platter in a matter of days.
I liked this video so much that I wanted to post it here for those who might not be following me on Facebook. I think the impersonation is spot-on and of SNL-quality, and the “rap” portion is brilliant.
Here we go:
Take away lines:
- Team 6 showed up in choppers. It was so cash. Lit his house with red dots like it had a rash.
- Navy SEALs dashed inside, their their heads spinning. Then flew off in the night screaming, “Duh, winning!”
- Like Antoine Dodson said, “We gon’ find you!”
- We went down low and did it my way. “We, we so excited!” And it ain’t even Friday.
Before I begin, let me say that I have some mixed feelings on how the Osama bin Laden case was handled. In one sense, as I will state again later, I’m glad we finally got him. On the other hand, I think his execution elevates him in the eyes of some and skirts a judicial system that is all ready in place to try individuals accused of crimes against humanity. I explain further here.
I wasn’t planning on chiming in on the bin Laden case in the first place, since it’s been covered ad nauseam in the media following his demise, but that was before I read that Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendelhall had opined on the matter. While many NFL players were quite positive about the military finally getting bin Laden and laudatory of our men and women in uniform, Mendelhall had some rather brash things to say about Sept. 11 and bin Laden’s death.
Speaking from his Twitter account, here are a couple of his posts:
What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…
@dkeller23 We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.
In these comments, Mendenhall appears to be referencing certain conspiracy theories that claim the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were enacted by our own government, that the World Trade Center buildings were imploded artificially and that the whole thing was a farce. I will not speak on the absurd notion that the Sept. 11 attacks might have been executed by our own government as an excuse to invade Iraq. I will concede that George W. Bush was exceedingly incompetent as a leader and probably led us into a war with Iraq on false pretenses, but even I can’t indict Bush for orchestrating a massive plot to raze the World Trade Center, sacrificing 3,000 Americans as an excuse to invade Baghdad.
I agree with Mendenhall that celebrating death, any death, is cause for pause, but I don’t share his religious misgivings about judging bin Laden or his crackpot suggestion that bin Laden might not have been behind 9/11. We know that he and his organization were behind the Sept. 11 attacks. This isn’t in dispute because he admitted it in 2004, lest Mendenhall or anyone else forgets. As bin Laden said at the time:
We decided to destroy towers in America. God knows that it had not occurred to our mind to attack the towers, but after our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this came to my mind.
But celebrating bin Laden’s death is misguided for a different reason: as hinted at earlier, I’m not convinced that we should have killed the man in the first place or at least not without a trial. First, his death may incite future attacks, possibly more so than would have his capture and trial, and second, because we actually did him a favor by cutting his life short or at least based on his religious worldview and the worldview of his followers. By killing him, we essentially raised bin Laden to martyr status in the eyes of fringe Muslims and members of al-Queda.
According to this report from The Atlantic, the official story about what happened in the minutes leading up to bin Laden’s death was either misleading or an outright untruth. The original story was that bin Laden was killed amid a firefight, which implies that he was armed and putting members of a U.S. operatives group in harm’s way, thus leading American forces to fire on him. We now know, however, that bin Laden was unarmed when SEALs personnel shot him in the head and chest. As The Atlantic story says:
A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.
The public stance from the White House, however, is that the ops group would have taken him alive if they had the opportunity. It seems to me if he was unarmed, the SEALs would have had that opportunity, whether bin Laden was belligerent with them or not. The Atlantic article also implies that if the U.S. had captured bin Laden alive, an ensuing trial would have been a bureacratic and diplomatic boondoggle:
Capturing bin Laden alive would have also presented the administration with an array of nettlesome legal and political challenges. …
A bin Laden trial, even before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, would have attracted enormous media attention, potentially giving the terror mastermind a high-profile platform for spreading his extremist views, and also could have inspired more terrorist attacks.
Boondoggle or not, the Obama administration is beginning to look more and more like the cavalier, let’s-go-get-’em outfit that presided over the last administration or, perhaps, even more so, since the Bush administration at least captured some suspected terrorists and informants, rather than cutting a fiery path of “justice” across the Middle East. The American ethos, of course, favors the approach that we took, which is to go after bin Laden with the intention of killing him. I won’t go so far as to say Obama purposefully took that course of action to help his election chances in 2012 (because he knows most Americans wanted bin Laden dead), but no other president can claim to have killed the mastermind behind the deadliest act of terror ever exacted against the United States. So, I think it will certainly play a significant role in his reelection chances.
Whether or not killing him was legal not (related article), refusing to try him like any other criminal presents other ethical problems. Michael Moore made a cogent point this week on Piers Morgan Tonight. He said that even high-ranking Nazi officials, who were at least partially, indirectly or directly, responsible for the murder of millions of Jews, received a trial and were not just executed firing-line style.
Or, in Moore’s words:
I just feel … we’ve lost something of our soul here in this country. And maybe I’m just an old-school American who believes in our American judicial system, something that separates us from other parts, other countries, where we say everybody has their day in court no matter how bad of a person, no matter what piece of scum they are. They have a right to a trial.
The question then becomes: should modern terrorists be treated more harshly than other war criminals like the Nazis? I think most anyone would have trouble making the case. Hitler and the surviving SS members had millions of people’s blood on their hands. Bin Laden had 3,000 Americans. Does just one American equal thousands of European Jews, thus justifying killing terrorists who harm Americans rather than putting them on trial like we did the Nazis?
Let’s work it out mathematically. By this wayward logic, if we take the 6 million Jews killed in Europe and the 3,000 people killed in New York and equated them, what would we find? We would find by simple division that the death of just one American would equal 2,000 Jews in Europe (6,000,000/3,000). Or, to put it another way, to kill one American means that 2,000 Jews in Europe would have to die to justify the same amount of justice. If all human beings are counted as equals, as they should be, and using the Obama administration’s line of thinking, we should have just shot all captured SS officials without batting an eye and been happy about it all the while.
But we didn’t. We allowed a group of deluded, racist and depraved individuals to have their day in court in the wake of Auschwitz, the gas chambers and the mass graves that littered the fields and towns of Europe. But when a fanatical Muslim terrorist kills 3,000 of our own, our justice system is too good for the man. Only the barrel of a gun will do. Thus, a martyr was born.
Since a trial would have surely damned bin Laden to the death penalty anyway, something about how events played out should, at least on some level, chaffe us all. Like Moore, I’m glad we finally found him, but even people who admit guilt are given a trial. Should bin Laden have been any different? It seems to me that we essentially immortalized the man by treating him as if he was somehow different than any other person charged with crimes against humanity. A trial would have said, and quite forcefully, to the rest of the world, especially to the radical Muslim world, “No! Bin Laden is no different than any other man. He will face a trial, and he will bow to the justice system like everyone else.”
We missed an important opportunity here. When celebrations break out in the streets after we gun down one of our national enemies execution-style without the use of the machinations that judge the guilt of every other mortal in the modern world, our collective soul may have, indeed, suffered an irreparable blow.
[Photo credit: Getty Images - Hundreds of Pakistani Jamaat-ud-Dawa activists prayed in Karachi for Osama bin Laden, whom they regard as a martyr.]
I was just doing some stumbling around today and found a few nifty sites. Here’s some random examples of coolness from Cyberspace:
Fractal Lab: Here, you can play around with fractal art without having to download a program onto your computer. Just create the fractal right in the web browser. Of course, since fractals are fairly complicated digital images rendered using algorithms, push the settings too high and your browser and/or computer might freeze, depending on the badassery (or not) of your particular system. I created this image while playing around:
B-Rhymes: This is a handy tool for poets or song writers. Plug a word into the search, and the site returns words that rhyme but those that might not be so obvious. Unless a person is trying to write a terrible poem or song, for instance, one probably should not rhyme “fun” with “sun.” This search returns more uniquely crafted rhymes. For instance, I entered “stereotactic” and got such gems as “peripatetic” (Consequently, this is my screen name in Counter Strike: Source with one letter variation), “extragalactic” and “bacteriostatic.”
Flickr Related Tag Browser: This is a different kind of browser that works within a more spatial context, grabbing images based on whatever word a person enters into the search field. I put in the word, “poo,” and here is a screenshot of the result:
Each of the words in the white rectangles can be clicked to get their respective search results.
And my favorite of the day …
Conflict History: This site offers an interactive map that traces all the battles and conflicts on the planet dating back to B.C. The timeline at the bottom is scrollable, and when loaded, the battles for the particular time periods are highlighted in red and more information is available for each of them. The first war that I could find was the Kurkshetra War, dating back to 2993 B.C.
Thanks to Robert Luhn, with the National Center for Science Education, for passing along this news piece about high school student Zack Kopplin’s efforts to help repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows teachers to use
supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board.
The bill, which was supported and signed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal with the additional support, as this story notes, of some religious outfits, most notably, the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design advocate. According to the article:
Lining up to promote the bill were a coalition of religious organizations and Seattle’s pro-Intelligent Design think tank, the Discovery Institute. According to the Louisiana Science Coalition, Discovery fellows helped write the bill and arranged for testimony in its favor in the legislature. The bill itself plays directly into Discovery’s strategy, freeing local schools to “use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”
Opponents of the bill, like Kopplin and LSU science professor Kevin Carman, say the bill leaves open the possibility that anti-evolution materials could be taught in the classroom. A portion of the bill’s text says that
This Section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion
Nonetheless, the Discovery Institute’s involvement in the bill suggests highly that Louisiana’s pro-creationism base, indeed, wants to try to slip intelligent design into the classroom where it doesn’t belong.
The bill also says school board officials seek to
create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
The problem with this part is that there is no need to have any “objective discussion” that may throw evolution into a questionable light just because it’s a scientific theory. Scientific theories are very different than other definitions of the word “theory.” There is no discussion within the scientific community about the validity of evolution being the engine by which complex and diversified life formed on this planet. Evolution is on as firm scientific footing as gravity. So much so that if the ID crowd wants to throw evolution into question, it must also be willing to question gravity as well since both are technically scientific theories.
As Carman said in the following video,
Evolution is an integral to the understanding of biology as atoms are to the understanding of chemistry.
And here is Carman’s recent speech: