Reading Radar Update

Loren’s Recommendations

It’s my month to be featured on the Nashua Public Library’s Reading Radar (our staff pick display). I have some new recommendations, and I reproduce all my picks here on this blog, since I’ve reviewed many of them in the past, and supply the links at the end of the blurbs. Fiction and non-fiction alike are included in the following recommendations. (Click on the right image for my feature page on the library website.)

1. The Twelve Children of Paris, by Tim Willocks, 2013. A crusader enters Paris during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) and goes on a slaughter-mission, tearing up the city to find his lost wife. His salvation, if he deserves any, comes from a group of abused children he rescues along the way. Full review here.

2. The Accursed Kings, by Maurice Druon, 6 volume series, 1955-1960. George Martin calls this series the “original Game of Thrones”, and I can see why. It’s historical fiction (not fantasy) set in France (1314-1336), showing the downfall of the Capetian dynasty amidst self-serving ambitions. Endless family quarrels, clashes between church and throne, civil war, adultery, backbiting, regicide, baby-switching, baby-killing, you name it.

3. Cynical Theories, by Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay, 2020. A book I wish everyone would read. The authors explore the tension between classical liberalism and woke postmodernism, and the differences between their approaches to social justice. They conclude that classical liberalism stands the test of time against the emptiness of woke theories. Full review here.

4. Veritas, by Ariel Sabar, 2020. A real-life conspiracy thriller, the true story of a pornographer who conned Harvard University into believing that a “gospel of Jesus’s wife” was genuine. This brilliant piece of investigative journalism was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime. Full review here.

5. The History of Jihad, by Robert Spencer, 2018. Featured front and center: the first book of its kind, that covers all theaters of the Islamic holy wars, starting with Muhammad and then proceeding through every century, showing how jihad has always been an essential ingredient of Islam. It even covers the jihads in India (usually hard information to come by). While there are many peaceful and moderate Muslims, there has never been a form of moderate Islam; it’s not a religion of peace, which is why disproportionate numbers of Muslims have been jihadists in every day and age. Full review here.

6. Recarving Rushmore, by Ivan Eland, 2014. If you want a book that ranks the U.S. presidents who were good for the causes of peace, prosperity, and liberty (like Tyler and Harding), then read this book. If you want to stick with presidents who have been mythologized (like Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan), or who were charismatics, then get any of the mainstream rankings that fill the shelves of libraries and bookstores. Full review here.

7. Free Speech on Campus, by Erwin Chemerinsky & Howard Gillman, 2017. “We should prepare students for the road, not the road for the students.” Sounds elementary, but college campuses are among the last places today you can be guaranteed a free exchanges of ideas. The majority position of students (58% of them, in 2017) is that they should not be exposed to ideas that offend them — and these students are the future of our legislators and supreme court justices. If every college student read this book, it might go a long way to making strong thinkers again. Full review here.

8. Koko, by Peter Straub, 1988. A novel about four Vietnam vets who believe that a member of their platoon is killing people across southeast Asia. Then they think it’s a different member. Then more surprises unfold. An absolutely brilliant story, and you can taste the sweat and tears that went into it. Full review (retrospective) here.

9. Boundaries of Eden, by Glenn Arbery, 2020. Last but not least, and in fact I’ll call it my #1 pick. It’s a heritage mystery, a southern Gothic, a drug-cartel thriller, and examines the tormented mind of a serial killer. It’s that rare novel that does a bit of everything, very literary, and I didn’t want it to end.

 

Reading Roundup: 2020

Most of my reading this year was rereads of novels I enjoyed long ago — the prescribed medicine for Covid quarantine. But there were new items too, five in particular, and by far the best of that handful was the expose of the Jesus-Wife hoax. You should read Veritas if nothing else on this list.

1. Veritas, Ariel Sabar. I don’t care what else was published in 2020 that was good and I didn’t read. Veritas is the book of the year, a piece of detective work that shows rare command of so many specialties — early Christian texts, canonical and gnostic; papyrology; peer review processes; online pornography; the fine line between liberal theology and academic study. Sometimes the hardest lie to refute is the Big Lie, since it requires so much ground to cover — even when the lie is obvious from start. Veritas shows the depths to which professionals sink in willful naivete, and the lengths to which forgers will go to bamboozle the academy. I’m wiser than ever before about what drives forgers, and why certain scholars get easily played. Walter Fritz succeeded thanks to a divinity school in crisis. Harvard was on the brink of creating a secular religious studies department, and the divinity department (and Karen King’s status) was in jeopardy. The Jesus-Wife fragment came as a godsend to Karen King, for keeping progressive liberal theology married to academic scholarship. Full review here.

2. Rating America’s Presidents, Robert Spencer. Most historians tend to favor presidents who were charismatics, goal-oriented managers, foreign interventionists, and heavy into top-down government. But just because a leader is charismatic and can move you with speeches, doesn’t say anything about his policies and how good he was. That he accomplished his goals says nothing about how good those goals were. That he intervened militarily abroad and economically at home are just as likely bad signs as good ones. Robert Spencer grades the American presidents on the basis of their actual policies and their Constitutional fidelity. Were they good for America, or were they not? In most cases (26 presidents), I agree closely with Spencer’s rankings, aside from minor quibbles. And even in the other 14 cases, only 6 represent dramatic disagreements on my part (Spencer scores Jackson, Lincoln, and Trump high, where I score them low. He scores Hayes, Carter, and Clinton low, where I score them high.) We agree in any case on what matters most in a president’s policy-making decisions: the dangers of entangling alliances, the superiority of fiscal conservatism, and the importance of liberty. Full review here.

3. Age of Monsters, Robert Kruger. I read the draft for this novel in 2019 but it was published this year. It tells two stories — the aches and twists of teen love in the ’80s and a gaming campaign that loudens the relationship. An eighth-grade student in Portland Oregon falls for the new girl in town, and hooks her into his role-playing fantasies (the RPG sort, not S&M). The dark-priestess character she plays is a vessel of her real-world baggage, and together the teens use their imagination to confront real-world problems at school and home. There are Stranger Things vibes but it’s very much its own thing; Kruger started writing the story long before the Netflix series landed. It’s hard to make table-top narratives engaging as they are immersive, but Age of Monsters taps into the fire that made us grognards so passionate for old-school D&D in the ’80s.

4. Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Will Arbery. I saw this play dramatized over Zoom and it was brilliantly acted. Four graduates of a Catholic college in Wyoming have returned to campus for a weekend event, and spend an evening arguing with each other about a lot of things — abortion, divorce, the LGBT community, hate speech, to name a few. Justin laments the fading power of Christianity in the world. Kevin is a pathetic whiner who can’t shit or get off the pot. Emily is tormented by a painful chronic illness. And Teresa (by far the most entertaining character) is practically a clone of Ann Coulter who writes polemical essays for a right-wing publication. These four voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but had reservations about doing so. Their mindset is alien to those of a liberal or secular audience (like myself), but the play has been hailed as compelling by many viewers. It’s a fascinating stretch of dialogue between friends trying to make sense of entrenched values. Arbery neither endorses nor condemns them. He writes about them because it’s what he knows, having been raised as a conservative Catholic. See this review for more.

5. Presidential Elections and Majority Rule, Edward Foley. Since the 2016 election especially, people have demanded that we abolish the electoral college in favor of a national popular vote. But the electoral college is a very good if flawed system. A national popular vote carries the danger of mob rule — like the reign of tyranny during the French revolution, or the Brexit vote, when 51% or 52% of the people imposed their will on 49% or 48%. The American founders wanted more than just a simple majority rule; they wanted a compound form of majority rule, or a “majority of the majorities” — in other words, a majority of the electoral votes compiled from states in which the victor also achieved a majority of the statewide popular vote. That system works like a gem in two-party elections, where the winner by necessity obtains a compound majority of the vote, but when third-party or independent candidates are involved, they can rob another candidate of an honest victory. The solution, as Foley argues, isn’t to abolish the electoral college, but to establish rank choice voting (or some run-off equivalent) in all the states. Full review here.

PC Compass

I was experimenting with online quiz makers, and this one evolved into something more than I’d intended. I post it below for any who wish to take it. I’m not going to be disingenuous and say there are no wrong answers, for I obviously believe there are, and I designed the quiz on that premise. Have at it, and score yourself at the bottom. Or, if you want the computer to score you, take the quiz directly here.

1. Racism is prejudice plus power; prejudice alone is not racism.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

2. The classic film Song of the South should be released on DVD and for streaming, irrespective of claims that it promotes the myth of the happy slave.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

3. The terms “biologically male” and “biologically female” are problematic descriptors, which should be dropped in favor of “designated male at birth” or “designated female at birth”.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

4. Promoting safe spaces in an academic environment does more harm than help to a student’s intellect.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

5. How do you feel about this image? (Click to enlarge)

 

a. Deeply offensive
b. Inappropriate
c. Mildly amusing
d. Genuinely funny

6. To say that Islam is a religion of violence is bigoted.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

7. Whether one says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy holidays” doesn’t matter. It’s the thought of well-wishing that counts.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

8. It’s inappropriate for Caucasians to wear dreadlocks, for non-Scots to wear kilts, and for whites to wear Native American headdresses.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

9. Literary and/or cinematic figures like Paul Atreides (Dune), Danaerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones), and Neo (The Matrix) are “white saviors” whose narratives reinforce an implied superiority of whites over non-whites.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

10. Consider the following image, in which Jesus is high-fiving Moses, as they’re jacked off by Ganesha, who in turn pounds Buddha up the ass:

How do you feel about the absence of Muhammad from this image?

a. Approve the absence of Muhammad. People should not draw pictures of Muhammad, because it provokes Muslims to kill. To a large degree, the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were assassinated got what they asked for.

b. Doesn’t faze me.

c. Dismayed by the typical exemption of Muhammad from pictorial satires. Western liberals are reinforcing Islamic blasphemy laws when they do this. Standing for free expression isn’t a provocation (much less a bigotry or phobia) but a moral obligation.

11. While a private business owner (like a baker) must provide equal access to all products and commodities (so as not to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, or sexual orientation), the private business owner should be under no obligation to create or design a product in a way that violates his or her conscience or religious beliefs (such as wedding cakes for gay couples).

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

12. A person’s biological sex isn’t objectively bimodal; it’s subjectively determined by the individual, and on a spectrum.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

13. It is wrong-headed to criticize a particular religion and claim that it is more dangerous and oppressive than other religions. All religions have the same potential for good and harm.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

14. The word “bitch” should be used (in a name-calling sense) only by women or transgendered people, as a reclaimed term in referring to their close friends.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

15. How do you feel about this image? (Click to enlarge)

a. A mesmerizing piece of art
b. Fine with it
c. A bit sexist
d. Extremely sexist

16. Comedies like All in the Family and South Park are funny precisely because they are so offensive, by their satirical use of sexist, racist, and homophobic slurs.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

17. The theory that women’s rape fantasies reflect a need to surrender to male dominance is sexist.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

18. Consider the following statement made by a film critic: “I have blind spots when it comes to historical dramas.” The critic’s statement is offensive for its use of ableist language.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

19. Hate speech should be protected by law.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

20. A man should generally defer to a woman’s opinion on gender and abortion issues, and a white person should generally defer to a person of color’s opinion on racial issues.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Disagree
d. Strongly disagree

 

Assign points to your answers as follows

1.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

Racism doesn’t require a power imbalance to be what it is.

2.

a = +2 points
b = +1 point
c = -1 point
d = -2 points

The Song of the South is a cherished classic, and there’s no reason for the company to not meet the demands of its consumers who have been long awaiting its release. Even if it promotes a myth, so what? The market is flooded with films that promote wrong or bad ideas.

3.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

The terms “biologically male” and “biologically female” are objectively valid categories.

4.

a = +2 points
b = +1 point
c = -1 point
d = -2 points

Safe spaces are anathema to a healthy undergraduate environment. College is the place to have one’s beliefs questioned and mercilessly skewered, to prepare for the real world, and to cultivate a healthy intellect.

5.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

In the image shown, Ben Carson is being satirized more for his ideas than for his skin color.

6.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

Saying that Islam is a religion of violence, regardless of how accurate that claim is (I believe it is accurate), does not constitute bigotry. Bigotry is about people. And just as no people are beneath dignity, no idea is above scrutiny. Especially when it comes to religious ideas.

7.

a = +2 points
b = +1 point
c = -1 point
d = -2 points

Consider the spirit in which things are said, and you’ll get through life a lot happier.

8.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

Of all the PC tropes, none is more sadly absurd than “cultural appropriation”. If one adopts certain elements of another culture, then wonderful. No one needs the blessing of the people who belong to that culture, anymore than someone from that culture needs any vice-versa blessings.

9.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

In the examples listed, the heroic figures do not reinforce the negative tropes of white savior narratives. Had different heroes been listed — such as John Dunbar from Dances With Wolves, Nathan Algren from The Last Samurai, and Jake Sully from Avatar — that would be a different matter.

10.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +2 points

This also calls to mind the South Park creators, who got away with depicting Muhammad (alongside Moses, Joseph Smith, Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna) in season 5 (top image), but were later required by Comedy Central to block him out with a bar labelled “censored” in season 14 (bottom image).

11.

a = +2 points
b = +1 point
c = -1 point
d = -2 points

The Supreme Court correctly decided (7-2) that a private business owner cannot be compelled to create or design a product in a particular way. The atheist bakers in question could refuse to design wedding cakes decorated with homophobic sayings, and the Christian baker in question could refuse to design a wedding cake decorated for a gay couple’s union. If you don’t like the fact that a business owner doesn’t create or design products in a particular way that you want, then tough rocks. Go elsewhere.

12.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

If a biological female can declare herself to be a man, then I, as a human being, can just as easily declare myself to be a member of a different species. Those who believe that sex isn’t bimodal live in a world of alternative facts. Gender may be a social construct, but biology is biology.

13.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

The claim that all religious systems have equal potential for good and harm makes about as much sense as the idea that all political systems — capitalism, communism, fascism, socialism — have equivalent potential. Ideas matter, and the ideas across different systems can vary dramatically.

14.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

Reclaimed words set a problematic double standard.

15.

a = +2 points
b = +1 point
c = -1 point
d = -2 points

Pornography itself doesn’t reduce women (or men) to sex objects. It highlights an aspect of women (or men), and in this sense similar to fashion modeling. If a drawing like this is seen as sexist, the problem lies with the viewer, not the art.

16.

a = +2 points
b = +1 point
c = -1 point
d = -2 points

Praise All in the Family, which did as much for the cause of social progressives in the ’70s as the hippie movement did in the ’60s. It was genuinely funny, because it was allowed to be funny, and to push the bounds as satire must. South Park is similar.

17.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

To whatever degree evolutionary theory accounts for rape fantasies (on which see here, theory #7 out of 9), claims about dominance and submissiveness being hardwired in our genes are devoid of value judgment and are thus not sexist. They only become sexist when the objective claims are used to justify or excuse sexist behavior.

18.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

I almost didn’t include this question, because it’s rather hard to take seriously, but there you have it. (One person I tested the quiz on thought it was so dumb it should be removed, and he was probably right.)

19.

a = +2 points
b = +1 point
c = -1 point
d = -2 points

Hate speech has to be legal for many reasons: (1) One person’s hate speech is another’s protest against oppression and social injustice (witness Aayan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz). (2) What is deemed hateful is often not hateful at all, but simply disagreeable opinions that are unpopular and inconvenient. (3) Even when something is genuinely hateful, and there is wide agreement about it, it is terrible policy to silence or criminalize it, as it only makes martyrs of the bigots who are being denied the basic right to speak their minds. (4) On general principle, the solution to hateful ideas isn’t silencing or criminalizing, but countering them with better ideas, and to set a good example in a free society.

20.

a = -2 points
b = -1 point
c = +1 point
d = +2 points

Minorities don’t get to pull rank like this. As a member of the LGBT community, I may have first-hand insights to LGBT issues that a straight person would miss, but I should not as a rule be deferred to by a straight person on LGBT issues. We should all listen to a multitude of voices and treat each other’s arguments on their merits.

 

The Score Chart

Score Profile
31 to 40
Not a PC bone in your body
21 to 30
Solidly anti-PC
11 to 20 PC skeptic
-10 to 10
PC as often as not
-20 to -11
PC friendly
-30 to -21
Proudly PC
-40 to -31
PC to the core

(My score: +36)

Ellen/Elliot Page and the Declining Numbers of Lesbians

Yesterday the buzz was that Ellen Page is now Elliot Page. Page had come out lesbian in a moving speech on Valentine’s Day in 2014, and yesterday came out as transgender. What’s interesting is that only a few days before there were online discussions about the fading of lesbianism. It does make me wonder if Page’s second coming out has something to do with this trendiness or any social contagion factor.

Katie Herzog and Andrew Sullivan’s article (from four days ago), “Where Have All the Lesbians Gone?”, covers how the term “lesbian” is rapidly disappearing and wonders if “gay” will be next to go. That may sound crazy (because it is crazy), but in the minds of the ultra-woke, the term “homosexual” assumes a binary view of sex and can thus be construed as a bigoted term:

After Portland’s last lesbian bar closed in 2010, as Ellena Rosenthal explored in the Willamette Week, there were attempts to start lesbian-specific nights at various venues, but most avoided the L-word to appear inclusive of trans and nonbinary people. One event, called Temporary Lesbian Bar, apologized after being accused of condoning “trans women exterminationism” for using the labrys — a double-headed ax that symbolizes female strength and has long been a part of lesbian iconography — in their logo. That event still exists, but the organizers make sure to advertise that, despite the name, it’s “open, inclusive, and welcoming to all people.” The flight from “lesbian” has accelerated since. An academic in the Southeast, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that when she mentioned to a colleague that she’s a lesbian, the colleague “reacted like I’d confessed to being a Confederate Lost-Causer. She told me that the term is outdated and problematic, and I shouldn’t use it.” So the lesbian keeps quiet about her identity: “It’s like living in a second closet.” Not long ago, it would have been the Christian right stigmatizing homosexual women. Today, it’s also from people who call themselves queer.

The discussion was then picked up the following day on Jerry Coyne’s ““Why Evolution is True” blog, where Coyne discussed the increased social contagion factor that makes it cooler these days to be trans than lesbian.

Readers know that I was a fan of Page’s acting performances in his early career. These days he’s okay but not quite as on fire (I tried watching The Umbrella Academy but couldn’t get into it). I wish him the best and hope that this second coming out is authentic and not born of any discomfort with identifying as lesbian. Biological sex may not be binary, but it’s certainly bimodal (with very rare exceptions due to genetic/physical disorders), and not on a “spectrum” as many of the woke crowd insist. And it’s pathetically sad — though not in the least bit surprising — when some lesbians have to fear the left as much as the right when identifying as lesbian.

Reprobates and Sinners: The Hell Roster and Bad List of Pastor Steven Anderson

Steven Anderson has been leading his church in Tempe Arizona since Christmas 2005, and his sermons have been online since February 2006. Thirteen years later he’s pounding the pulpit, kicking the pulpit, and yelling from on top of it as hard as ever. Here I list the sinners and offenders he habitually screams about. There are of course so many more, but these are the fourteen kinds of people he obsesses and returns to time and time again. I’ve divided the categories into three tiers, and ranked them, as I see it, from greatest offense to least — though let’s be honest, these are all mega-offenses in the eyes of our dear pastor.

— Tier 1:  The irrevocably damned. The sinners in this category are reprobates and cannot be saved, according to Anderson. God has rejected them eternally, once and for all.

1. Homosexuals/pedophiles. By far the worst group, and in Anderson’s view the two are inseparable; it’s impossible to be one without being the other. Anderson believes that sodomites are not only sinners, but actual reprobates, based on the text of Romans 1:18-32. They have been rejected by God for rejecting Him one too many times. God finally got tired of being patient with them, and turned them into sodomites/perverts: “God gave them up to vile affections” (Rom 1:26); “God gave them over to a reprobate mind” (1:28); “God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts” (1:24). This, according to Anderson, is the explanation for homosexuality: “When sodomites say ‘God made me that way’, they’re actually right. But God didn’t make them that way when they were born. God made them that way when they rejected Him (‘glorified Him not as God’) one too many times, and then God discarded them by turning them into homos.” As reprobates, sodomites, unlike most sinners (those in tiers 2 and 3), cannot possibly be saved, nor should anyone want to try saving them: “He that is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Rev 22:11). It’s the whole reason God turned them into sodomites to begin with: to turn them into trash, because of their unrelentingly God-hating hearts.

2. Bible translators/biblical scholars. Almost as bad as the first category, these people are, like the sodomites, irredeemable reprobates. Anderson bases his view on the text of Revelation 22:19, which speaks of anyone who tampers with the Word of God — that is, anyone who either adds or removes from the words of the precious King James Bible, indeed anyone who insists on changing but a single word of that bible — as “blotted out of the Book of Life” and irrevocably damned. Once removed from the book, they can’t be put back in.

— Tier 2:  Especially wicked sinners. These offenders are at least capable of being saved, if they accept Christ as their savior in the Bible-believing way that Anderson espouses.

3. Abortion doctors; pro-choice crusaders; women who obtain abortions. Abortion doctors, or any who have some kind of pro-active role in procuring abortions, are especially wicked in Anderson’s view. They murder the most innocent and vulnerable.

4. Zionists. Israel is the most ungodly nation on the planet, according to Anderson. He calls the year 1948 a diabolical fraud. The Jews are not God’s chosen people, and have not been so for two millennia. Replacement theology shouldn’t be a cuss word but common sense; it’s a basic premise of the New Testament: “If the kingdom of God is taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof, you’ve been replaced! You were the people of God, you were that holy nation of the Old Testament, but now you have been replaced. And today, the physical nation of Israel has been replaced by believers, by a holy nation made up of all believers in Christ, whether they be Jew or Gentile, no matter what the nationality.” According to Anderson, Zionism is more anti-Christ than any other of the major world religions.

5. Modalists. These people really get Anderson breathing fire. Modalism is a heresy that denies the trinity. It says that God is only one person or entity who has three modes (or faces, or masks) which do not exist simultaneously, and that He changes modes by putting on different hats (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit) as the occasion demands. In other words, according to modalism, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same person or entity. There is not three in one, but rather one who can morph as the situation requires. Christianity, of course, maintains that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct. There is one substance and one God, to be sure (which maintains monotheism), but there are three different persons or entities within that God. That’s the trinity. So what’s the problem here? The problem is that Anderson doesn’t like anything that remotely smacks of modalism. He goes ballistic when Christians so much as dip a toe into modalist waters, even when they affirm the trinity. So if you suggest to Steven Anderson that “Jesus is the Father” in some way (per Isaiah 9:6), or if you point out to him that the three members of the trinity are sometimes interchangeable (the bible says the Father raised Jesus from the dead in Galatians 1;1, but also that the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead in Romans 8:11, but also again that Jesus the Son raised himself from the dead in John 2:19-21), he will go into an apoplectic fury. Indeed if you say that “Jesus is the Father” — even if you don’t mean that in a modalist way — you will probably get screamed at, thrown out of his church, and branded a “Oneness heretic”, no matter what trinitarian confessions you’ve insisted on.

6. Atheists/evolutionists. For Anderson they are the same thing. Perhaps more than others on this tier, they are especially in danger of becoming reprobates — unrelenting “haters of God”, whom the Lord will turn into sodomites (category #1) if they persist in virulently rejecting Him.

7. Litterbugs. I have never seen anyone so enraged over litterbugs. Whether it’s hikers and campers who leave trash in the wilderness, or people who throw garbage on the side of the road, if Anderson sees you doing this, you’d best be prepared for a mighty tongue-lashing. And yes, he justifies his “environmental” tirades from the bible.

8. Men who piss sitting down. Germans and other Europeans especially, but any man who allows himself to be micromanaged into effeminate bathroom behavior. Anderson takes the King James phrase, “him that pisseth against the wall” (I Sam 25:22, 25:34; I Kings 14;10, 16;11, 21:21; II Kings 9:8), as a symbol of proper manliness. “And that’s what’s wrong with society today. We’ve got pastors who pee sitting down; we’ve got the president of the United States, George W. Bush, who pees sitting down; we’ve got a bunch of preachers and leaders who want stand up and piss against the wall like a real man.” Anderson is so serious about this, that he has openly rebelled against his mother-in-law when he visits her in Germany — against her “no standing policy when peeing”. On biblical grounds, he will not allow his bathroom habits to be micromanaged.

9. Doctors who perform in vitro fertilization; women who undergo the treatment. Those who engage in vitro fertilization instead of waiting naturally to get pregnant, according to Anderson, are stealing babies from God. Or, as he put it in one sermon, “ripping babies out of the hands of God”. (Side note: this has become a running gag with a friend of mine, when we joke about performing bodily functions before nature calls. So for example, urinating when I don’t really have the urge is “stealing a piss from the Lord”.)

10. Male gynecologists. Men who examine women’s nether regions are disgusting perverts, according to Anderson, no matter how medically professional.

— Tier 3:  Sinful Christians. Those who preach or espouse these views could either be false Christians, or simply misguided believers in Christ who need a tongue-lashing. In any case, these issues do set Anderson off like a bomb.

11. Pre-tribbers. I have to agree 100% with Anderson on this one. Christians who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture have nothing to show for themselves. The idea that Christians will be raptured (taken bodily up to heaven) before the onset of the apocalyptic tribulation (a) is completely un-biblical, (b) emerged only in the 19th century, and (c) was popularized by the Left Behind novels in the sensationalist way of The DaVinci Code. There are technical problems with this view (namely, there’s not a single bible passage that lends credence to it) and the more general problem, which is that the early apostles and Christians not only expected to suffer the tribulation before they were raptured; they saw it as their holy duty. In the synoptic gospels, the letters of Paul, and the Book of Revelation, the rapture comes after the tribulation and prior to God’s wrath pouring out over the earth. Anderson has produced a deluge of polemical youtube videos explaining Revelation’s timetable, but you don’t have to wade through them if you don’t want to. Just check out his helpful graph, which is probably the best available chart for the Book of Revelation (from a fundamentalist point of view, anyway).

12. Dispensationalists. One of Anderson’s mantras is that God never changes. He’s always the same. And above all, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The Old Testament carries the same moral imperatives it always did, and the God of the New Testament aligns completely with it. If you’re a dispensationalist, you’d best have the courage of your convictions, because Anderson will tear you a new one.

13. Calvinists, or anyone denying free will. This one convicts me out of the gate. I deny free will, though not because I believe in spiritual predestination, rather because I believe in material determinism. For Anderson, a scientific reason to oppose free will is as bad as a religious reason. He insists that we have the free will to do as we choose, and to believe as we choose. And he gets mighty incensed about the issue.

14. Lazy Soul-Winners. Anderson has broken fellowship with his Baptist colleagues over this. If you refuse to go out knocking doors at least twice a week, in order to save souls and win people to Christ — and above all, if you just leave door-hangers and tracts instead of knocking and talking to people — get ready to be screamed at like this.

Immigration: Three Reasons Trump’s Fans Should Love the Idea

Trump is obviously an idiot, but his hostility to immigration shows how clueless he and his fan-base really are.

(1) From a national perspective, welcoming immigrants has been a mark of enlightened thinking. The U.S. was founded by immigrants and has prided itself on being open to diversity. For all its troubled history with Native American ethnic cleansing and African American slavery, the nation was built on principles which advocate equal opportunity for all. When a president like Benjamin Harrison called for needless restrictions on Asian immigrants, he was judged for it accordingly. Americans have historically resisted the equation of nationality with ethnicity. Nationality has been about citizenship, and allegiance to the vision of the founding fathers.

(2) From an economic perspective, immigration has always been the life’s blood of the U.S., infusing new ideas and skills into the American market. Immigration has given the country new jobs, new businesses, new inventions. Immigrants create new populations of people who buy things. People tend to fear job competition in times of hardship or depression — and the threat of having jobs “stolen” from them — but the fact is that a bigger workforce means more consumption, more demand, and more jobs. That’s the long-standing wisdom of economists. Thwarting immigration is a likely path to slowing economic growth.

(3) From a Judeo-Christian religious perspective, one could make a strong case to be pro-immigration. According to even a hard-core fundamentalist like Pastor Steven Anderson, God specifically tells his followers to welcome and love the immigrant: “The stranger (immigrant) that dwells with you shall be as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:34). “You shall neither vex a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21; cf.23:9; Leviticus 19:33). After all, says Anderson, everyone in America descends from immigrants (aside from the Native American Indians), and those who have a problem with immigrants “should probably leave the country themselves”. There is also the example of Ruth, who wondered why she should receive grace, given that she was an immigrant from Moab. Yet Boaz took care of her anyway, and told others to treat her well. (Ruth 2:10-16)

In light of the support Trump receives from “patriotic” nationalists, entrepreneurs, and conservative Christians, the irony is amusing.

Reading Radar Recommendations

Over on the Nashua Public Library website, I have a list of book recommendations. Someone asked that I write blurbs for the books, which is a good idea, though that’s not the format we’re currently using on the library site. I have produced the blurbs below, for both my fiction and non-fiction picks.

Fiction

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. You’ll love this novel if you grew up in the ’80s playing Dungeons & Dragons and primitive computer games, but even aside from this it has a wide range of appeal. For all the obscure pop-culture references, the plot isn’t confusing and the narrative moves like a bullet while leaving just the right breathing space for its characters. Their friendships in the virtual world feel real, because in some ways the OASIS is just as real. It’s where kids attend school online, where everyone plays games and retreats from the misery of the real world. That reality is the setting of the 2040s, a future in which the earth’s energy resources and economy have all but collapsed, the vast majority of Americans are poor and live in “stacks”, vertical trailer parks where mobile homes are piled on top of each other. The quest for a Easter-Egg inside the galaxy of the OASIS carries the reward of a billionaire’s legacy, including complete control of that virtual reality. A corrupt corporation wants the control, to charge for access, and prevent people from using it anonymously, and in the race for the Egg they locate and kill others — not just avatars, but the people hiding behind them in the real world. I know many people who love this book, even if they don’t normally read science fiction.

Ubik, by Philip Dick. The story is set in a future where some people have a natural ability to read minds or choose the future (psychics), and others are able to thwart those telepathic or precognitive powers (anti-psis). Security firms hire the latter to protect people’s privacy, and the plot involves one of these firms coming under attack. Its CEO is killed in a bomb explosion, and his employees store his corpse in a half-life mortuary so that his consciousness can live on. The employees then start to experience bizarre shifts in reality as the world regresses back in time to the year 1939. Maybe they are the ones who actually died in the explosion and got stored into half-life, and are now dreaming terrible events as their boss tries to reach them from the real world. Or maybe both died and are feeding off each others dreams. Adding to the tension is that one of the employees has a unique anti-psi talent that doesn’t just cause psychics to choose a different future; she can actually change the future by resetting the past. Is the time regression somehow on account of her? There doesn’t seem to be a coherent explanation that accounts for any one theory, but enough patterns to make any explanation plausible until you look real closely. Ubik may not be Dick’s most popular novel, I think he outdid himself here.

The Five, by Robert McCammon. If you like suspense and music, then this book is for you. A dirt-poor indie rock band (called The Five, three men and two women), drive around in a van and play gigs across the southwestern U.S., chasing dreams of success. They finally get that, but at a nasty price when a crazy ex-Marine sniper starts picking them off for comments made by the lead singer about soldiers in Iraq. Suddenly the band’s concerts swell in proportion to the media vultures, and with the fame comes devastation. It’s a nail-biter punctuated with slow pauses and soul-searching, both parts just as hard to put down. The narrative is also saturated with the author’s love for rock n roll. It’s no mean feat to make a reader “hear” music off the page, yet that’s what I was doing — crafting my own mental jams and drawing on textures from favorite bands. (You’ll make your own associations, but I imagined The Five as sounding grungy like The Smashing Pumpkins and searing like The Walkmen.) This was especially true for the signature song written by all of the band members instead of the usual two: it takes on a curious life throughout the story, as it’s born of harrowing events and each band member finds his or her muse at the oddest, eeriest moments.

Song of Kali, by Dan Simmons. I consider this the best novel Simmons ever wrote. Critics say that first novels often show authors at their most honest, writing without regard for anyone’s expectations, and Song of Kali fits that profile. It’s about the Kali cult in India, and forget the cartoonish portrayal in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The cult depicted here is foul beyond words. They run Calcutta like the Mafia runs American cities. Businessmen by day, killers by night, they sacrifice people (including their own members) to make their goddess manifest on earth. Their evil seems to have somehow infected the stones and air of Calcutta; pain and hurt are the only language people understand. The story involves a magazine writer who is sent to Calcutta to obtain poetry supposedly written by a man who was thought to be long dead. He takes his wife and infant child (bad move) and becomes entangled with the cult. What happens is vile and depressing, but in an understated way that makes everything seem too real to be fictitious. There are no cheap thrills or victories against the Kali cult; no one is brought to justice; the cult goes on; the city of Calcutta sweats poverty, despair, and anger in endless cycles.

Lost Boy, Lost Girl, by Peter Straub. There’s a scene from this book burned in my psyche: It’s evening. Jimbo creeps onto the front porch. From the lawn Mark shines a flashlight into the window. Jimbo is so shocked by what he sees that he leaps backwards and passes out before Mark revives him and they run for their lives. Pages later we find out what he saw: “A guy was hiding way back in the room. He was looking right at me. It was like he stepped forward, like he deliberately moved into the light, and I saw his eyes. Looking at me.” That may fall flat in the retelling, but in context it terrified me. It appears that Jimbo has seen the ghost of a serial killer who used to live in the house and customized it to facilitate his murders. (The killer had used secret passageways to spy on his terrified captives, torment them on beds of pain, and do all sorts of hideous stuff.) But it turns out the ghost isn’t the only entity inside the house; there’s something or someone even worse, and this mixture of terrors is handled so brilliantly we’re never sure what’s going on. Soon after, one of the boys disappears, and the question is whether he was abducted by a pedophile or snatched into a spiritual world by the ghost of the serial killer’s daughter. How you answer determines your reaction when you turn the final terrible page.

Sword of the North, by Richard White. It’s hard to believe that Columbus ever got the credit for discovering America. Leif Erickson beat him by five centuries, and Henry Sinclair probably beat him by one. This novel is Sinclair’s story. He was Baron of Rosslyn in southern Scotland and also Jarl of the Orkney Islands, and as White portrays him a fair but firm ruler who went at heads with corrupt bishops and venal noblemen. He got around plenty before embarking on his voyage to North America — to Norway, the Faroe Islands — and there’s even an amusing scene where visiting England he bumps into that father of literature, Geoffrey Chaucer. The dialogue is superb, lyrical and almost poetic without sounding aloof. There’s striking humor on display, and whether or not it represents 14th-century thought, it’s the book’s clear signature which sets it above the mainstream. It’s long out of print and almost unheard of, which is a shame. The author was a teacher at my high-school back in the ’80s, and he went on to write the smashing western Mister Grey; more recently he finally published his scholarly research on Sinclair’s expeditions, These Stones Bear Witness.

The Twelve Children of Paris, by Tim Willocks. Whether you love or hate this novel will depend on how flexible you are with genre. It’s the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572) as Quentin Tarantino might envision it — pulp historical fiction at its most graphic and obscene. The violent content was judged so extreme that it couldn’t even be published in the U.S. The hero’s slaughter-fests make him as bad as the villains. Most of the opposition he faces are poorly trained city militia, everyday thugs, and politically appointed “knights” hardly worthy of the title. He kills out of simple revenge for his wife, hardly caring who. The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre began as a royal stab against the Huguenot elite but degenerated into a full-blown extermination of unarmed Protestant civilians by the Paris militia. Tannhauser’s personal degeneration matches the city’s; there’s backstabbing everywhere, and a kingdom of beggars and thieves shunned by everyone. Those dark alleys are Tannhauser’s ultimate destination, and where an unexpected salvation is found. There, and in the souls of raped and dispossessed children he rescues along the way. The cloak-and-dagger intrigue is crisp, and the mystery of who wanted Tannhauser’s wife dead and why unfolds at the right moments. It’s an unusual novel that indulges hyper-elements to explore the consequences of hurt, and the inability to transcend monstrosity.

Non-Fiction

Free Will, by Sam Harris. The idea that we don’t have free will seems to defy common sense, but more scientists are coming to that conclusion. The idea of free will implies two things. (1) That we were free to think and act differently than we did. We did something but could have done otherwise. For example, I raised my right hand but could have raised my left; I went to see a movie, but could have visited a friend; I decided to join the Peace Corps, but could have gotten a job; I thought about cooking dinner, but could have considered ordering pizza. (2) That we are the conscious source of our thoughts and actions. Our consciousness is the author of our inner lives and subsequent behaviors — the thinker of our thoughts, and the intender of our intentions. For example, I feel that I want to rise from a chair, and so I rise. I experience the desire to marry my girlfriend, so I propose to her. Sam Harris says that both of these assumptions are false. Read this persuasive book to find out why.

Probing the Authenticity of the Parables, by John Meier. The author believes that of the 32 parables attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, only four are historically reliable: The Mustard Seed (God’s rule was already at work in human activity, and however small that seemed now, it would bear fruit on a huge scale in the end), the Great Supper (a warning that one’s place in the kingdom can be taken by those who never had any right to it), the Talents (along with sovereign grace and reward comes the possibility of being condemned in hell for refusing God’s demands contained in his gifts), and the Wicked Tenants (Jesus knew what awaited him if he confronted the Jerusalem authorities, and he accepted a destiny of martyrdom). All other parables, even the long-standing cherished ones — The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, The Leaven, The Sower, The Seed Growing Secretly, The Laborers in the Vineyard, The Unmerciful Servant, The Shrewd Manager, The Pharisee and the Toll Collector, The Unjust Judge, The Friend at Midnight, The Rich Fool, The Rich Man and Lazarus — either show signs of being written after Jesus, or can at best be judged unclear. It’s worth noting that Meier is a conservative Catholic and not predisposed to being so skeptical about accounts in the Bible. His historical methodology pushed him to the conclusion.

Night Comes, by Dale Allison. Here’s a meditation on death and how we cope with the idea of it. There’s a chapter on the fear of death, how we push for longevity, and how our increased longevity has effected our perception. In the days of Jesus, for example, life would have looked different if you could only hope to make it to 30 instead of 80. Imagine, says Allison, how Jesus’ prohibition against divorce will look to a 500-year old Christian, if science ever gets us that far. There’s a chapter on the resurrection, suggesting that no matter how physical (like the Gospels) or spiritual (like Paul) we favor the idea, there’s no neat answer to the objections against both, though Allison leans more in favor of Paul’s idea of a discontinuity between the old and new bodies. Modern cremation and organ donation, not to mention our increased detachment to the physical remains of loved ones, means that corpse-like resurrection becomes less important to modern Christians. There’s a chapter about judgment, with a fascinating discussion of near death experiences and “life reviews”, which according to survivors forced them to watch the replay of their entire lives in an instant. Then there are chapters on the question of an afterlife. Like many of Dale Allison’s books, Night Comes succeeds in unnerving you no matter what you believe.

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, by Dario Fernandez-Morera. This book is a milestone in putting to rest the biggest academic myth of our time, and what’s amazing is that the author is a scholar from Harvard — the last place you’d expect on this subject. We’ve been taught that Muslims, Christians, and Jews co-existed fruitfully under an enlightened Islamic hegemony in medieval Spain, where the reality is the opposite. Christians and Jews were treated horribly under Islam. They were subject to degrading laws that made life barely tolerable. Medieval Spain was a society in which the abuse of non-Muslims, slaves, and women was written into law and sanctified by holy writ. Even at its most prosperous the Caliphate of Cordoba was never a tolerant or humane society. None of this should be controversial, but university presses are a bit paralyzed; they want to avoid the charge of “Islamophobia” and so present Islamic domination (of even centuries ago) as relatively benign. The idea of Christians being content under Islamic rule is as much a fantasy as that of American blacks being happy slaves in the antebellum south since their masters made them “part of their family”. This books shows that had there been no Islamic conquest, and Visigoth Spain was left to grow and interact with eastern Christianity, the Renaissance would have happened much sooner.

Recarving Rushmore, by Ivan Eland. This is unlike any other ranking of the U.S. presidents. Most historians, regardless of their political bias, tend to grade presidents on the basis of their management style and charisma. Eland points out that effective presidents may be successful at accomplishing their goals, but those goals could be bad and often are. Charismatic leaders may inspire us with speeches, but that’s meaningless; some of the worst leaders in history have been charismatics. Eland ranks the presidents based on a threefold criteria — what they did for causes of “peace”, “prosperity”, and “liberty”. After all, these were the prime objectives of the American founders, and most people when asked say they want to live safe lives, be able to provide for themselves, and enjoy freedom. This is the book I’d been awaiting for many years. Even where I disagree with some of Eland’s assessments, I respect the reasoning he uses. His rankings tend to turn the common wisdom upside down. For example, in his judgment, Jimmy Carter (a Democrat) and Warren Harding (a Republican) were the two best presidents of the 20th century, while many historians consider them among the worst. As for the presidents we carved on Mount Rushmore, says Eland, three of the four don’t deserve the honor of being there.

The Complete Infidel’s Guide to Free Speech, by Robert Spencer. Anyone who cherishes the First Amendment should read this book. Our right to free speech and expression may not last. People are increasingly unable to listen to and engage with views they are offended by, resulting in safe spaces on college campuses, shout-down strategies against invited speakers, and the advocacy for “hate speech” laws that criminalize bigoted opinions (or those that are deemed such). Spencer reminds us that free speech is offensive speech, and that has always been its point. Inoffensive speech doesn’t need the protection of a First Amendment. Liberals are the worst threat to free speech these days, and a conservative like Spencer is a breath of fresh air. In this book he describes how social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as student groups on American college campuses, are doing the bidding of anti-First Amendment activists; how American representatives at the United Nations have already agreed to limit free speech in certain ways; how people have lost their jobs for criticizing the doctrine of Islam; how European “hate speech” laws are used to prosecute and harass people who are not hateful — and how this could become the way of America. As a liberal, I stand with Spencer against my own leftist tribe on this issue.

 

Salon on “New Atheism” and the Alt-Right (Michael Turton’s Reply)

On his Facebook page, Richard Carrier linked to a Salon article, “From the Enlightenment to the Dark Ages: How New Atheism Slid into the Alt-Right”, with approval. Like most Salon articles it’s garbage, and Michael Turton wrote a lengthy rebuttal in the FB comments. I’ve pasted his comments below (Carrier’s FB page is public), and added a few observations of my own in bold.

[Turton] Let’s look at the article as the lifelong atheist and political activist and popular niche blogger that I am. After three paragraphs of Harris’ views on Islam (but note, we get no evidence that this is a problem for “the movement” or “the leaders”, just Harris), we get this:

[Salon] This resulted in an exodus of women from the movement who decided that the “new atheist” label was no longer for them. (I know of many diehard atheist women who wanted nothing to do with “new atheism,” which is a real shame.)

[Turton] No evidence is presented for this “exodus”.

[Salon] Along these lines, the new atheist movement has flirted with misogyny for years. Harris’ “estrogen vibe” statement — which yielded a defense rather than a gracious apology — was only the tip of the iceberg. As mentioned above, there have been numerous allegations of sexual assault, and atheist conferences have pretty consistently been male-dominated — resulting in something like a “gender Matthew effect.”

[Turton] This isn’t a problem with the New Atheist movement. This is a problem with Skepticism in general. I believe the anthropologist David Hess wrote Science in the New Age, which discusses the gendered/gender problem in Skepticism almost 25 years ago. This is not a new issue. Obviously, the author does not understand the issue he is addressing or how the New Atheists are connected to it.

[Salon] Many leading figures have recently allied themselves with small-time television personality Dave Rubin, a guy who has repeatedly given Milo Yiannopoulos — the professional right-wing troll who once said that little boys would stop complaining about being raped by Catholic priests if the priests were as good-looking as he is — a platform on his show. In a tweet from last May, Rubin said “I’d like a signed copy, please” in response to a picture that reads: “Ah. Peace and quiet. #ADayWithoutAWoman.” If, say, Paul Ryan were asked, he’d describe this as “sort of like the textbook definition of a misogynistic comment.” Did any new atheist leaders complain about this tweet? Of course not, much to the frustration of critical thinkers like myself who actually care about how women are treated in society.

[Turton] “Many leading figures have allied…” No evidence is presented for “leading figures” who are “allied”. Connecting Milo to the New Atheists in this way is a smear. “Did atheist leaders complain about this tweet?” Seriously? I doubt Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris spends much time combing the literally millions of tweets of other atheists for things to police them on. They have productive lives. And why would we expect them to complain about a tweet of someone whom the author himself identifies as a marginal figure (!). Excellent clickbait, that rhetorical question — it is so good the author resorts to it twice (“Has any leader….?”.) You could go on asking “Has any leader…?” rhetorical questions all day long. A question like that is designed to emotionally appeal to the article’s target audience, without actually making any survey or showing why anyone would bother to respond to a tweet from a marginal figure. As if silence constituted endorsement.

Turton is right that connecting Milo to the new atheist movement is a ludicrous smear, but I would also point out that Dave Rubin runs a good show, and he is to be commended for having Milo Yiannopoulos on as a guest, just as Bill Maher did on Real Time. Reason being: when leftists try shouting down and silencing people — even idiot trolls like Milo — it becomes virtuous to give a platform to those idiots you would otherwise ignore. Chris Hayes made the same point about the “Draw Muhammad cartoon” contest held in Garland Texas two years ago (and it was refreshing to see a liberal like Hayes school his fellow leftists). When jihadists respond to cartoons of Muhammad by killing people, it’s necessary to be offensive and draw more cartoons, otherwise you’re catering to sharia blasphemy law and letting jihadists rule you through fear. Or, as Hayes made the analogy with his own profession, if he were considering doing a segment that he was on the fence about or didn’t even like, but then someone came to him and said, “You can’t do that segment because of an advertiser”, then he would absolutely do the segment, because “It has to be the case that we can do that segment”.

Ditto for Milo. Neither Dave Rubin nor Bill Maher make a habit of inviting trolls, but they will when everyone else resorts to thuggish silencing strategies that are only getting worse on college campuses. Objections about being inflammatory, or unfair to an advertiser, etc., go straight out the window at the moment the aggrieved group tells you to stop or be stopped, to submit or be killed, etc.

[Salon] In fact, the magazine Skeptic just published a glowing review of Yiannopoulos’ recent book, “Dangerous.” The great irony of this intellectual misstep is that Yiannopoulos embodies the opposite of nearly every trend of moral progress that Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic, identifies in his book “The Moral Arc.”

[Turton] (1) One author at Skeptic appears to like Milo… clearly this means that the New Atheist movement loves Milo. Can the author show us numerous New Atheist personalities who like Milo? Nope. (2) Do New Atheists control the editorial decision-making of The Skeptic? I think not, which means that — you guessed it — this is a smear, typical of Salon clickbait articles. Even better, the piece has a clickbait image at the top that puts Harris together with Milo the idiot. But it is photoshopped. A smear so obvious no one noticed it.

[Salon] Perhaps the most alarming instance of irrationality in recent memory, though, is Sam Harris’ recent claim that black people are less intelligent than white people.

[Turton] The author then spends four paragraphs explaining to us about IQ and race. Harris’ views are totally nutcase and evil. Are they widely held in the New Atheist movement or among its leaders? It is not difficult to find Dawkins saying that race is real but meaningless. Obviously, if Harris being an idiot proves that the New Atheists are evil racists, why doesn’t Dawkins saying race is meaningless prove the opposite?

Moreover, Hitchens, whom the author mentions, has written abusively about the idiocy of the race-IQ connection:

“There is, and there always has been, an unusually high and consistent correlation between the stupidity of a given person and that person’s propensity to be impressed by the measurement of I.Q.” [“Minority Report,” Nation, 11/28/94]

“Linguistics, genetics, paleontology, anthropology: All are busily demonstrating that we as a species have no objective problem of ‘race.’ What we still do seem to have are all these racists.” [“Minority Report,” Nation , 11/28/94]

Again, very obviously — if a “leader” of the movement asserting X means the whole movement is X, then why doesn’t Hitchens’ savage denunciation of that mean anything? Shouldn’t both Hitch and Dawkins’ remarks show that the New Atheist movement is solid on race? But no… painting Harris as a worshiper of Murray and a fool on race and IQ makes for much better clickbait. Salon’s clickbait articles work by rhetorical appeal to the “reasonable middle”. This is hardly the first such clickbait article on atheism at Salon, one reason I stopped reading Salon was because of the regular flow of such articles.

I agree with Turton that the sins of one person don’t reflect the views of a movement, but for the record, I seriously doubt that Sam Harris is, as Turton says, “totally nutcase and evil” on the subject of IQ and race. I admit I haven’t followed his views and interactions with Murray, but I have found that every time Harris is smeared on other subjects (like torture, or Islam), his views have either been distorted, exaggerated, or deliberately taken out of context. (Turton himself points this out in the case of Ben Carson below.)

Even Murray, while holding what I take to be incorrect views on the subject of race, has been overly maligned, and I doubt he is a racist. He’s an advocate for gay marriage and has two half-Asian kids for Christ’s sake. His error lies in dismissing the effects of socialization on race data, but his arguments should be rejected or upheld on the basis of scientific methodology, not political ideology. Reasoned refutations, not ad hominems and shut-down strategies, are the proper counters.

[Turton] Then comes this brilliance:

[Salon] On a personal note, a recent experience further cemented my view that the new atheists are guilty of false advertising. A podcaster named Lalo Dagach saw that I had criticized Harris’ understanding of Islamic terrorism, which I believe lacks scholarly rigor.

[Turton] The author spends two paragraphs discussing some marginal podcaster’s behavior towards the author as if that were somehow indicative of an entire movement. How? The podcaster is one marginal person. This personal digression is merely a bit of entitled whining about being attacked online that says nothing about New Atheism as a whole. If whipping up followers to attack people were a proclivity of New Atheists as a whole and the author could provide many examples, then perhaps this might have a place in this essay. Otherwise, no. It’s pure whining designed — once again — to appeal to the emotions of the audience which has already been nodding along. The author still hasn’t learned that if you jump in online, people are going to abuse you.

[Salon] From censoring people online while claiming to support free speech to endorsing scientifically unfounded claims about race and intelligence to asserting, as Harris once did, that the profoundly ignorant Ben Carson would make a better president than the profoundly knowledgeable Noam Chomsky, the movement has repeatedly shown itself to lack precisely the values it once avowed to uphold.

[Turton] This sweeping conclusion is hilarious and such stunningly obvious clickbait. “From censoring people online” — the author conflates his own experience with some nobody podcaster with the habits of the entire movement. You can’t “censor people online” unless you are the Communist Party of China and own the entire internet. Anyone can comment anywhere on the internet, at least in most of the West. Harris’s comments on race and Islam somehow stand for an entire movement. The provocative one on Ben Carson is especially hilarious, since Harris dismisses Carson as a nutcase in the very next sentence (which the author ignores, of course). Harris was obviously indulging in rhetoric to make a point about the “Islamic threat.” But obviously, it isn’t good clickbait to note that Harris was just being rhetorical.

Indeed. As I said above, Harris is regularly taken out of context, if not outright misrepresented. That tends to be what happens to those who speak unwelcome truths.

[Turton] If you are going to say “This movement is X and I don’t like it!” then you need to provide many examples/surveys etc that show that the whole movement is X. None are provided here, the article is simply a clickbait attack largely on Harris, designed to appeal to the audience of New Atheists like himself (and myself) who wish Harris would STFU about Islam and that they would address the mysogyny in the skeptic movement.

Turton is correct that the Salon article is a ridiculous hit piece on Harris. However, Harris should not stop speaking about Islam. His task has been a thankless one in explaining that (1) Islam has more dangerous and toxic ideas than other religions, (2) these ideas (jihad, sharia, geographical expansion) saturate the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, and thus have always been mainstream and mandatory in all Islamic schools of jurisprudence, and (3) they are believed and enacted on by a disproportionate number of Muslims (who may be a minority, but by no means the fringe). He should be applauded for this, along with Maajid Nawaz (Harris’ colleague), Asra Nomani, Aayan Hirsi Ali, and Bill Maher — people who are far more progressive than leftists who cry “Islamophobia” in the name of cultural tolerance.

(“Islamophobia” is a propagandist term in any case, intended to shut down criticism of the religion Islam in advance. The correct term for racism is “anti-Muslim bigotry”, just as we use “anti-Semitism” and not “Judaiaphobia”).

In sum, I agree with Michael Turton that the Salon article is worthless, but would go further in correcting the smears of certain individuals.

Do kids adventure anymore?

Yesterday a Facebook friend tried buying valve caps for her daughter’s bike in four different stores – including an actual bike shop – and none of the stores had any. The bike-shop owner lamented that kids “just don’t ride bikes anymore”, and that’s been true for many years now. I never see kids biking around the neighborhoods like my generation did growing up in the 70s and 80s. Helicopter parents don’t let their kids out of sight for a moment (fearing pedophiles on every corner) and keep them caged indoors. Watching a show like Stranger Things makes me feel nostalgic for my biking days as a kid, when the outdoors was a world to explore.

Another FB friend pointed out that paranoid parents are only part of the problem. In the internet age, kids themselves often prefer to spend the whole day online or texting or playing video, and need to be dragged away from their screens and gadgets. It makes me glad that I grew up in the age before internet and iPhones, or I might have had to be dragged as well. I’ll say this: I’d be a very different person today had I been hovered over as a kid and/or stayed indoors all the time — and a lot less independent minded.

I cherish my childhood memories. Between ages 8-13 I hiked (with friends, not parents) deep into the woods, played at the sand dunes, and biked around town. The most extreme example I can think of was the Halloween I went trick-or-treating with a friend in a faraway town we’d never been to. His parents drove us there, dropped us off in the dark, and then returned to pick us up much later. We joined a group of kids that my friend barely knew as we went from house to house, and at one point I got separated from my friend, which was scary because I had no idea where the hell I was. But it was fun scary, and luckily I didn’t stay lost in the dark in an unknown town. I caught up with him, and we figured out how to get back to the rendezvous where his parents came to pick us up.

That’s the sort of escapade kids don’t get to experience anymore!

Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces

triggersThe recent statement from The University of Chicago is long overdue:

“In a welcome letter to the incoming Class of 2020, Dean of Students John Ellison gives students the truth: there will be no quarter from controversial ideas on campus. U of C has made an ironclad commitment to the First Amendment, and will not abide safe spaces, trigger warnings, and other kinds of limitations on what is considered acceptable discourse:

‘Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.’

Ellison pulls no punches. ‘Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship,’ he writes. ‘At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.’ “

Plain common sense, and this isn’t just a reaction to extreme cases like the Yale and Mizzou protests last year (over “insensitive” Halloween costumes and other ridiculous furies). It’s embarrassing that we live in a time when courageous thinkers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Bill Maher are petitioned to have their speaking invitations cancelled because they are deemed bigots by students who have a poor understanding of the term. Or when genuinely funny comedians won’t bother performing at college campuses because humor can’t offend as it should. Even in my undergrad days at Lewis & Clark (’89-’91), I was cognizant of the growing narratives on liberal arts campuses which made “everything” offensive. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are very real problems, and those issues are trivialized by the hyper-sensitive who protest infringements on their “safe spaces” and misguided narratives. Grow up.

Whether material might offend or trigger trauma isn’t for college instructors to worry about in any case, beyond the common sense used in prefacing their courses. For examples:

  • In both my Hebrew Bible and New Testament classes in ’90-’91, my professor (Richard Rohrbaugh) outlined historical criticism and the kind of thinking we would be expected to engage in, and warned us that as long as he had been teaching intro bible classes, there are always some students who become very upset throughout the coursework (confronted by sudden chasms separating what the bible meant and what it means to believers today). He said, “My answer to that is tough rocks; let the chips fall where they may; I’m not here to offend anyone, but some of you will naturally be offended.” Again, common sense, and this is a perfect heads-up warning to quit the class on day one if you don’t think you can handle it.
  • Over a decade ago a friend of mine took a film class and one of the required films to watch was Irreversible, which depicts an extremely long and upsetting rape scene. Again, on the first day of class, the professor warned about transgressive content like this in some of the films. Now, at the other end of the spectrum, a rape scene like that in Pulp Fiction is universally seen as hilarious, though it could potentially upset a rape victim. But we can’t police the species and worry about every possible trigger. That’s up to the student. As someone on Facebook put it the other day, college professors aren’t counselors and it’s not their responsibility to pander to recovery needs.

So whether we’re dealing with material that may be offensive to some or triggering trauma in others, that is adequately covered in a first-day preface, which has been the professorial norm for ages. Students shouldn’t be mollycoddled beyond this. It’s not serving them at all, and it’s certainly not preparing them for the real world, which is the goal of an institution of higher learning.