Two bad football teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who went a collective 8-24 in regular season season play last year, are squaring off right now in their first preseason game.
Given the Jaguars’ already-awful jerseys and the Buccaneers’ new “groundbreaking” hey-if-we-distract-fans-with-glow-in-the-dark-jerseys-maybe-they-won’t-notice-the-terrible-team-on-the-field jerseys, I’m going to go ahead and christen this game the Ugly Jersey Bowl:
Charles C. Haynes in his most recent “Inside the First Amendment” column addresses the court case of American Atheists, Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in which nonbelievers have attempted to keep the notorious cross-shaped beam from being exclusively displayed at the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero in New York.
Although some Christians have found comfort and even symbolism in the existence of the “cross” among the wreckage at Ground Zero — despite the inconvenient fact that practically all construction beams can be construed to look like crosses — some atheists have contended that the cross at the historic site violates the Constitution. But as the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the recent case,
The Establishment Clause is not properly construed to command that government accounts of history be devoid of religious references.
The American Atheists group essentially agreed that the cross was important for historic reasons, but argued that if the cross was going to remain at the site, a display should be added acknowledging that nonbelievers were also victims in the tragedy. Here’s the important part in Haynes’ column:
In rejecting the atheists’ challenge to the display and demand for equal time, the appeals court panel took the opportunity to give a primer on the meaning of government “neutrality” under the First Amendment.
Yes, the Establishment Clause requires that government remain neutral among religions — and between religion and non-religion. But for constitutional purposes, neutrality doesn’t mean ignoring religion or, in this case, leaving religion out of the story.
Government-funded museums may not, of course, erect displays intended to promote or denigrate religion. Inclusion of religious artifacts (or objects viewed as having religious meaning) must have a secular or educational purpose.
The many religious paintings, altarpieces and other religious objects in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., for example, have profound religious content and may have been used at one time for devotional purposes. But they are now part of a secular museum, displayed to convey the history of art. Remove religious images and objects from the West Wing of the National Gallery, and the place would be nearly empty.
Similarly, exhibits at the 9/11 National Museum have an obvious secular purpose: They document the history of the terrorist attacks and the rescue efforts that followed. The Cross at Ground Zero is a significant part of that story. Leaving this object out would not only be incomplete history; it would signal hostility to religion that could itself be viewed as a violation of the First Amendment.
The cross-shaped artifact is in the “finding meaning” section of the museum, included among some 1,000 objects associated with ways — religious and nonreligious — in which people sought to make sense of the attacks.
One can easily see how adding an atheistic display at Ground Zero alongside the cross or other religious or nonreligious items to cater to any and all groups who may or may not be offended by the exclusion of such could become ridiculous, which is why the Establishment Clause stipulates that the government doesn’t have to provide balance necessarily, just that religious symbols on public property have to have some type of underlying secular purpose or historical significance, like providing comfort to grieving families in a time of national tragedy. Of course, one can also easily see the irony in a symbol of one religion bringing spiritual comfort to one set of people that have suffered immense personal turmoil directly as a result of adherents to another religion. The story never changes: one religion cheers, the other mourns, vice versa ad infinitum and religion still poisons everything.
Zionism “the initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land. …
“Israel doesn’t ‘give up’ anything by abandoning religious expansionism in the West Bank and Gaza. It does itself a favor, because it confronts the internal clerical and chauvinist forces which want to instate a theocracy for Jews, and because it abandons a scheme which is doomed to fail in the worst possible way. The so-called ‘security’ question operates in reverse, because as I may have said already, only a moral and political idiot would place Jews in a settlement in Gaza in the wild belief that this would make them more safe.
“Of course this hard-headed and self-interested solution of withdrawal would not satisfy the jihadists. But one isn’t seeking to placate them. One is seeking to destroy and discredit them. At the present moment, they operate among an occupied and dispossessed and humiliated people, who are forced by Sharon‘s logic to live in a close yet ghettoised relationship to the Jewish centers of population. Try and design a more lethal and rotten solution than that, and see what you come up with.”
— Christopher Hitchens, Frontline interview, May 2007
For all the intense criticism that has been hurled against neuroscientist Sam Harris for his recent essay, “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?,” I think a lot of his naysayers, including Andrew Sullivan, P.Z. Myers, A Million Gods blog and others, missed the larger point.
First, Sullivan seems to take issue with the fact that although the title announces the fact that Harris doesn’t criticize Israel, he then proceeds to criticize Israel numerous times, not the least of which is a statement against Israel’s right to be in the first place. In the text of the essay, however, Harris admits that his position on Israel is “somewhat paradoxical:”
For those of you who worry that I never say anything critical about Israel: My position on Israel is somewhat paradoxical. There are questions about which I’m genuinely undecided. And there’s something in my position, I think, to offend everyone. So, acknowledging how reckless it is to say anything on this topic, I’m nevertheless going to think out loud about it for a few minutes.
I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state. I think it is obscene, irrational and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion. So I don’t celebrate the idea that there’s a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. I certainly don’t support any Jewish claims to real estate based on the Bible. [Note: Read this paragraph again.]
Now to the main part of the essay. Essentially Harris’ point is that Israel, as a democracy in the Middle East surrounded by enemies that have threatened to wipe it off the map for decades now — and for centuries before that — Israel should not be blamed for defending itself, and although thousands of deaths have resulted from the conflict on the Palestinian side, which has been wholly “disproportionate” in Israel, the latter nation has a vested interest in preserving civilians because of the residual and humanitarian backlash that has occurred for years and has flared up again in recent weeks. I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, and I think Israel has played too strong a hand in responding to the threat from Gaza, and likewise, Hamas’ strategy of using humans as shields is reprehensible to the highest degree. In short, so-called “leaders” on both sides have failed their own people and failed miserably in refusing to broker longterm peace. Neither side has any winners for sure, but innocent people of Gaza, serving only as pawns for Hamas, have suffered the most.
Here is one of Harris’ main points:
But there is no way to look at the images coming out Gaza—especially of infants and toddlers riddled by shrapnel—and think that this is anything other than a monstrous evil. Insofar as the Israelis are the agents of this evil, it seems impossible to support them. And there is no question that the Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation. This is where most critics of Israel appear to be stuck. They see these images, and they blame Israel for killing and maiming babies. They see the occupation, and they blame Israel for making Gaza a prison camp. I would argue that this is a kind of moral illusion, borne of a failure to look at the actual causes of this conflict, as well as of a failure to understand the intentions of the people on either side of it.[Note: I was not saying that the horror of slain children is a moral illusion; nor was I minimizing the suffering of the Palestinians under the occupation. I was claiming that Israel is not primarily to blame for all this suffering.]
And this, I think, is where critics have departed from Harris’ actual meaning and inferred their own. Myers, in his usual explosive tone, had this to say in retort:
The “Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation”. Stop right there. What do you mean, we critics are “stuck”? Isn’t that a terrible, awful fact of Middle East history that is being blithely glossed over? Of course it is. Sam Harris apparently does not think it’s that big a deal that the Palestinians are suffering under an occupation, and for someone who wants to claim we have to look at the big picture to see the causes of the conflict, he doesn’t seem to see how that could have led to the hatred expressed by Hamas. Again, not to excuse it…but if you want to address it, you can’t simply call the Palestinians evil bad guys and offer no solutions other than shooting them. Both sides have deep antecedents and a thousand justifications.
Harris didn’t call everyday Palestinians evil or say their mass slaughter was acceptable. Indeed, and perhaps regrettably, Harris barely mentioned the plight of actual on-the-ground civilians who are the real victims in all of this, and regrettably again, he didn’t seem to make it clear that by “Palestinians,” in almost every instance, he meant members of Hamas, not innocent residents of Gaza.
One would think that astute readers such as Sullivan and Myers would have understood the nuance in context of Harris’ larger claim, which was that religious fanaticism such as practiced and preached by leaders of Hamas is really to blame for the suffering in Gaza. In the Middle East, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is ground zero in the whole saga, as fanatics have spent thousands of years tearing each other apart with their thinly veiled claims over territory in the so-called holy land. Compared with the likes of Hamas, Israel is a virtual Mecca of secular thought with a reported 42 percent defining themselves as more worldly Jews.
The larger point, then, is that Hamas’ endgame, if it could have its way, is ultimate submission under Allah for Israel and everyone else for that matter. Perhaps Harris didn’t make a larger enough deal about Israel’s settlements in Gaza, which Hamas views as an invasion of their territory, and he’s probably mistaken to think that the settlements are solely for security, but his basic thesis was not so much a whole cloth defense of Israel — he said clearly that civilian deaths in Gaza amounted to a “monstrous evil” and freely admitted that Israel has probably committed war crimes — but a castigation of religion and its grip on the region:
What do groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and even Hamas want? They want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity. They want stifle every freedom that decent, educated, secular people care about. This is not a trivial difference. And yet judging from the level of condemnation that Israel now receives, you would think the difference ran the other way.
This kind of confusion puts all of us in danger. This is the great story of our time. For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way. The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.
Sullivan seems to have completely misunderstood this last part, adamantly disagreeing and detailing all the reasons why we are not, in fact, living in Israel. As I understand it, Harris’ point here is that if radical religion such that is festering in parts of the Middle East is allowed to hop the river and infect us to any large degree in the United States, we will then take on the role of Israel, in beating back the fanatics at our own doorstep. In the same way, radicalism threatens to destroy any society in the world that values human peace and solidarity.
Allen West reported to us on July 29 that he enjoys the chance he has to “educate, edify, and challenge us all to think beyond the obvious.” He then takes exception with a statement that President Barack Obama made about Muslims, namely, thanking Muslims for their
achievements and contributions … to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy.
West invites us to “scour the annals of history” to look for instances in which Muslims have contributed to American history in this way. He picks up here:
I’d like some audience participation here. Please share what you think are the “achievements and contributions” for which we should all thank Muslim Americans in building the very fabric of our nation? Oh – and don’t forget “common values” — please share those as well.
I’ll go first. And I’ll go way back. I know Abraham was the father of all nations and he was Isaac and Ishmael’s dad. And in Genesis 16:11-12, (NIV) “The angel of the Lord also said to her (Hagar): You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”
So to Muslims, I say thank you for being a part of the Judeo-Christian foundation that established this great nation. And I am thankful for this Bible verse so I understand God’s blessing upon what would ultimately lead to the growth of violent jihad.
The claim here, dubious at best, is that Ishmael was the ancestor of Arabs, and thus, a progenitor of Muslims, who will collectively and by extension “be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers,” as is the perception of radical Muslims.
In any case, Obama’s statement was obviously was not to be taken literally that Muslims were present and participated in the founding of the nation in 1787 — that’s absurd — just that they contributed to strengthening the modern democracy and cultural diversity that is the United States, which provides for the inclusion of people of all religions and all backgrounds, a doctrine which, as it happens, is the fabric of our nation.
The wealth of these folks is is inevitably trickling down, right? It must be true because Reagan said so.
I see a lot of opposition on my Facebook page to genetically modified foods. Opponents to this mean well, but as Neil deGrasse Tyson points out below, humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals and manipulating the gene pool for thousands of years:
Here is Jonardon Ganeri, visiting professor of philosophy at New York University Abu Dhabi, during an interview with The New York Times’ Gary Gutting:
G.G.: How does Hinduism regard other religions (for example, as teaching falsehoods, as worthy alternative ways, as partial insights into its fuller truth)?
J.G.: The essence of Hinduism is that it has no essence. What defines Hinduism and sets it apart from other major religions is its polycentricity, its admission of multiple centers of belief and practice, with a consequent absence of any single structure of theological or liturgical power. Unlike Christianity, Buddhism or Islam, there is no one single canonical text — the Bible, the Dialogues of the Buddha, the Quran — that serves as a fundamental axis of hermeneutical or doctrinal endeavor, recording the words of a foundational religious teacher. (The Veda is only the earliest in a diverse corpus of Hindu texts.) Hinduism is a banyan tree, in the shade of whose canopy, supported by not one but many trunks, a great diversity of thought and action is sustained.
That’s a stunning statement for a religion with 1 billion adherents. If there is no essence, why bother? Seems to me if the goal is to gain knowledge, enlightenment, awareness, peace and tranquility, humans can do all that simply by studying the cosmos and reflecting on our place in it. No [insert god or gods] needed.
Read more here: What Would Krishna Do? Or Shiva? Or Vishnu?
Epic words from the head of the Smashing Pumpkins recently receiving the Alternative Press vanguard award. And here is another gem:
The kids should always kick motherfuckers like me out of the way. And I mean that.
Indeed, and I don’t doubt for a second that he believes that. Here’s the full acceptance speech:
CM Punk referenced one of his favorite Pumpkins songs, Cherub Rock, which is unmatched:
Steve Gorman made a good point today on his radio show about NFL penalties facing Ray Rice, with the Baltimore Ravens, and Josh Gordon, with the Cleveland Browns. Rice allegedly knocked his then-girlfriend unconscious back in February at a hotel, and Gordon got caught pot. In one incident, pot was found in Gordon’s car and in another, he was arrested and charged with DWI. He also failed a drug test this offseason.
Rice faces a two-game suspension for his domestic issues, while Gordon could be forced to sit out a year for his offenses. Rice and his girlfriend have since got married — go figure — and Rice has claimed that counseling has helped in their relationship, which is precisely what he has to say in order to get back into good graces with the NFL suits.
But as Gorman pointed out, what kind of message does this send to children and teenagers, many of whom are obviously fans of the NFL, that smoking pot is somehow worse than physically abusing another human being, a woman no less? The NFL should have zero tolerance for civil violence period, much less violence against women. As more and more states continue legalizing pot or medical marijuana, the drug will most likely be available everywhere sooner than later. That’s going to happen; it’s just a matter of how long it takes. People want it, the health risks of smoking pot are relatively low compared with other drugs and as soon as it’s legalized and distributed, it will be as commonplace as alcohol and cigarettes. The ethical difference between smoking pot in this day and age and hitting women isn’t even close, yet Gordon faces a year, and Rice essentially gets a slap on the wrist. I like the NFL, but the message this sends to their fans is shameful.
I like Gorman’s idea for the NFL:
They might as well put out a billboard that says we’d rather have you punch a woman than smoke pot.