Monday, February 12, 2007
Miracles and Resentments
AMERICA, LAND OF VICTIMS. I generally know when to let a subject go, but I also once accepted the advice that a comment worth responding to is a blog entry worth writing. So I decided to respond to this whole comment from a gentleman named Ray Swenson, who remains angry and embittered about my challenge to Mormons supporting Mitt Romney despite my non-satiric explanation of my motives. As I contemplated what he wrote, it seemed an excellent opportunity to specify what I have addressed only generally about the mistakes Mormon apologists are making. I haven't omitted any of Mr. Swanson's words. Here they are, in full, with my thoughts:
If you want to call Mitt Romney an untrustworthy idiot, you should come up with some specific data to support such an assertion. He was trustworthy and smart in turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics, making it successful in every way, including being profitable enough to provide permanent endowments to support the continued operation of the Olympic venues for the benefit of the people of Utah. He has proven trustoworthy and smart as governor fo [sic[ Massachusetts. He proved trustworthy and smart as the head of various businesses, rescuing companies that were going under and making them profitable employers of thousands of people.
Good opening salvo for an armored assault. But try stating this as a positive argument for Romney rather than as an aggrieved and reflexive attack on those who might be skeptical.
If it boils down to "Romney is Mormon, therefore he must be untrustworthy and dumb", even if you throw out such a statement simply to be provocative, it is nevertheless offensive and demonstrates carelessness not only about the feelings of millions of Americans...
There is no right in the Constitution not to be offended by what various people might say. I'm offended all the time by what leftist totalitarians say about the United States, what liberals say about conservatives, what hard-line feminists say about men, what black race-baiters say about white people, what atheists and Islamists say about Christians, what homosexuals say about heterosexuals, what Global Warming hysterics say about skeptics of the latest scientific permutation of original sin, and what "pro-choice" activists say about fetuses. I nevertheless accept that if those who disagree with me manage to hurt my feelings, they are committing no crime. With respect to my feelings, they are not even committing a sin. All too often, people use injured feelings as an excuse for not thinking. I have always been scornful of George Bernard Shaw's wisecrack that he would have had a higher opinion of Jesus Christ if, in the gospels, He had ever exhorted people to think. That is precisely the reason for the parables, which are not edicts but invitations to think. (Shaw was an 'arrogant twit' on this point.) Similarly, I invite you to think rather than emote like some irritated child.
...but also a total ignorance of how precisely such casual prejudice led to the murder of good Mormons, including Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, and the forced exile of thousands of people from their homes, first in Missouri and then in Illinois. Thinking that you can throw out such bigotry in the interest of your own entertainment places you in the camp of those who murdered Mormons at Hauns Mill, Missouri. It places you with the Mormon-haters who sent the US Army against Utah in 1857, and who confiscated all Church property and denied Mormons the right to vote and serve on juries in the 1880s.
No, it doesn't. There's a vast difference between provocative speech and murder. Casual prejudice doesn't come marching up to the door with a bucket of tar and feathers. It just says things you don't like and have no right -- moral or legal -- to suppress. If you disagree, then you shouldn't be backing a Republican candidate at all, but one of the presumptive juvenile tyrants at Berkeley who want to make unwelcome speech a hate crime and prosecute social heretics for what they think rather than what they do. Is that part of your faith? Do you really want to make me nervous about your religion? Keep going.
Your ignorant bigotry places you in the camp of those who cried out for the summary imprisonment without trial of 100,000 innocent American citizens of Japanese ancestry for three years during World War II. Your ignorant bigotry places you in the camp of the jihadists who call for the extermination of all Jews and the annihilation of Israel.
No, it doesn't. Making fun of people -- any people -- is not the same as seeking to deprive them of freedom or life. Indeed, it is the opposite. Jokes are the safety valve of civilized societies that keeps minor resentments from ballooning into fanatical hatreds. If I'm wrong, show me any single personal anecdote from Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Baathist Iraq, Kim Jong Il's Korea, Castro's Cuba, or Khomeini's Iran comparable to this exchange between British parliamentary rivals Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill:
ASTOR. If you were my husband, I'd poison your coffee.
CHURCHILL. If you were my wife, I'd drink it.
People who actually work with Mormons know that they are at least as well educated as the general American populace, and that the more educated a Mormon is, the more dedicated he tends to be to his faith. They are trusted to be doctors and attorneys and professors and business leaders throughout America. They compete well in the academic environments of universities across America. For example, until recently a Mormon, Kim B. Clark, headed the Harvard Business School. Among the leading 15 Mormon leaders, several of them have PhDs and JDs and MDs, one is a nuclear engineer, and several have been presidents of colleges and universities and were respected in that capacity among their academic peers before assuming Church leadership positions.
Tedious name-dropping. And counter-productive. It tends to reinforce the widespread notion that Mormons have a hard time distinguishing between real goodness and more superficial attainments like success, wealth, authority, and status. If I were really being mean, I could invite you to reread this paragraph making the following substitutions: 1) for "Mormons," "National Socialists;" 2) for "American," "German;" 3) for "Harvard," "Heidelberg," 4) for "America," "Germany;" 5) and for "faith" and "Church," "Party." Would it still sound like a perfect resume? Not that I'm asking.
If your reasoning is that anyone who believes something that is "impossible" is an idiot, then every atheist is in just that category, because their [sic] is simply no hint of any scientific explanation for how life started.
Every hypothesis comes down to a lot of hand-waving and simple blind faith that nature, unassisted, can create living cells--with DNA and their complex chemical machinery--out of random pieces of non-living matter. Richard Dawkins just skips that part and talks about Darwinian evolution, hoping you won't notice that he hasn't provided any explanation whatsoever for the generation of living cells, which have to exist already before evolution can work. The National Science Foundation web page on evolution blabs on about their [sic] being several alternate hypotheses, but it doesn't set them out nor admit that none of them rises beyond mere speculation and "imagine this". The simplest living cell is a factory that can reproduce itself. Mankind hasn't been able to build anything that capable, that can find raw materials in the environment, and obtain its own energy, and make multiple duplicates of itself, that contains not only the machinery but also the complete instructions for how to build and operate itself. Darwin lived in a time when spontaneous generation had not yet been disproven by Pasteur. We know far too much about chemistry and DNA to ignore the question of how cells came into being in the first place. Scientists who gloss over this unanswered question are ignorant or hypocritical or self-deceptive. Their confidence that someday science will figure it out is nothing but pure faith, not reason. Ergo, atheists believe in something that is simply, on known scientific principles, impossible.
They are therefore just as "dumb" as those who believe in things which are typically classified as "religious" in nature but miraculous, such as the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Sorry for reducing your brilliant argument against atheism and evolution to microfiche, but it's completely irrelevant here. (Instapunk has gotten into enough trouble with atheists and evolutionists in the past.) There's a more important point that most of the Mormon spokespeople in the comments have quite failed to perceive. Not all infinities are created equal. For example, the infinite set of rational numbers is larger than the infinite set of integers. In the same way, not all impossibilities improbabilities are created equal. It may seem improbable that a divine incarnation named Jesus Christ rose from the dead after being executed by the Roman governor of Judea, but we do not not have to further diminish this probability by questioning whether there was a Roman Empire, a captive state called Judea, a city called Jerusalem, a town called Bethlehem, a place called Nazareth, a sea called Galilee, a Greek language in which the gospels were written, a Latin language in which the memory and meaning of the improbable events were translated into doctrine and creed, or a process of recording scripture that did not involve the use of magical, disappearing technologies.
Strangely enough, some of the other Mormon debaters have even dared to frame the improbability of Christ's immaculate conception and resurrection as an implicit accusation against those who question the legitimacy of Mormonism. I can't think of a worse line of argument. A Mormon begins his series of improbable beliefs with an acceptance of all the New Testament improbabilities, then piles on top of them the improbabilities of the Book of Mormon -- a civilization, language, history, and technology for which there is no evidence of any kind.
No, this does not mean that you are wrong. It does not mean that you are crazy. It means that you constitute a tiny minority of the most populous and influential religion of all time. Skepticism, distrust, and even scorn from the limb out of which you grow as a twig are a natural condition of your existence. There is probably no other country in history in which the people of your faith could have survived and prospered as they have here. Utah and the Mormon Tabernacle are a purely American miracle. Now you even aspire to the highest office of the nation that -- despite numerous bumps and scrapes did finally accept your right to exist -- and it is your choice how you respond. How do you choose? With a cynical presumption that no one else in the land believes as deeply in their faith as you believe in yours, which gives you the right to demand acquiescence, silence, and even obeisance in the face of what could be perceived as ludicrous heresies? With bilious resentment and contempt for those who still cling to the two-millennium-old taproot from which you and yours are but a century-and-a-half-old sprout? Or with the missionary enthusiasm and humility with which the first Christians set about sharing the spiritual joys of their faith with the ancient denizens of the culture whose laws and traditions gave them the chance to survive the lifespan of their original inspiration?
My oldest impression of Mormons was that they were missionaries, not bratty didacts. Fact is, I have cousins who are Mormons. And one close friend from college who was one of the few saintly people I have known. He had been raised by Mormons as a touchingly virtuous person, a bishop by rank, but he was also a troubled agnostic of his own faith. From what he shared with me of his knowledge and doubts, I did acquire a skeptic's view of Mormon scripture -- and an unsettling conviction that true goodness can be sired through paternity of dubious worth. (In fact, this is my only reason for believing in the existence of the "good" muslims who are supposedly on our side.) Call it bigotry, but I learned to expect extraordinary personal qualities from Mormons even as I continued to question the legitimacy of their faith. My conclusion is that your dudgeon, Mr. Swanson, is itself a Mormon heresy.
Only in America could a religious faith like this rise from nothing to the possibility of supreme elective office in a religious nation in fewer than 150 years. You're scarcely older than the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah's witnesses. You've lost a few true believers along the way. But so have the Roman Catholics and the Protestants and the Christians who fought to free the slaves in the United States of America. Join the club. So quit your whining and griping and start using your faith and considerable intelligence to convince this unbelievably hospitable nation that you have something wonderful to offer.
Call me what you will. That's beside the point. You're competing for the highest office of the greatest, freest country in human history. It's time to prove you're more than yet another victim-in-waiting.