"It seems to me that to organize on the basis of feeding people or righting social injustice and all that is very valuable. But to rally people around the idea of modernism, modernity, or something is simply silly. I mean, I don't know what kind of a cause that is, to be up to date. I think it ultimately leads to fashion and snobbery and I'm against it."
Jack Levine: January 3, 1915 – November 8, 2010
Since first noticing the bizarre practice of atheist cosmologists to create the most absurd, stupendously massive and entirely unevidenced "things" by intoning the word "probability" I've come to realize how much magic is done by those people who so despise and disdain "magical thinking." I call it "magic" because that is what it is, the creation of "things" that are to be taken as real and whose reality is not to be questioned and which are to be talked about seriously. How the discussion of Boltzmann brains differs from that of late medieval demonology in character is worth considering. And the creation of "things" by atheists intoning "probability" is far more ambitious than most of the earlier traditions of belief. You have to come up with some of the more extensive estimates of the dimensions of the highest level of Hindu deity to even approach the vastness of what the atheists are inventing these days. The admission reportedly made by Martin Rees, that the motive of atheist cosmologists in magic-ing up their greatest achievement, to date, the bazillions of universes under multi-universe theory, that it was done so they could figure out some way to have the fine tuning of this universe without a God, was honest, at least. That is the motivation of atheists using magic words as science. That is why the educated class of the West has been practicing a form of magical materialism for more than a hundred-sixty years.
Oddly, I think that, for cosmology and physics, this form of magical thinking, giving the most extensive of creative powers to mathematics, is a survival from the previous faith of those two branches of science. Lord Kelvin, in his "Baltimore Lectures" given at Johns Hopkins University, His attempt to create a physical model of the aether displayed a similar faith in the power of mathematics under the 17th-19th century mechanical model of the universe. But within a few years Kelvin would admit that there were problems to be accounted for in that mechanical universe, especially the problems raised by the Michleson-Morley experiments, giving a practical refutation of Kelvin's declaration that he knew the aether was there because he could measure it. In a few years after that the mechanical model of the universe would be destroyed in Germany, but not the habits of thought built up under it. Those habits of the disposed of mechanical universe still pervade atheist culture and, I suspect, they always will. I think this kind of magical thinking among atheists today is an unadmitted aspect of that.
It was after realizing that use of magic in the physical sciences that I came to see that, beginning in the 1860s, atheists were using the phrase, "natural selection" as a magical incantation in much the same way. You can look at the publications of some of Darwin's most informed and sophisticated of followers and see how, with no evidence, whatsoever, they created all kinds of organisms and forces without any kind of observation by the application of "natural selection".
Ernst Haeckel, one of the most influential of all of Darwin's colleagues and followers immediately set about to inventing everything from micro-organisms, traits of embryology, right up to a complete and final and, he said, "triumphant" universal monist material system, all on the basis of "natural selection". And that form of creation has pervaded the life sciences and, even more so, the slippery sciences dealing with the non-material aspects of behavior and thought, right up till today. As I noted recently, hardly a day passes when some scientist won't be heard on NPR or PBS or even the commercial statements intoning the potent phrase "natural selection" inventing class inequality, gender inequality, class inequality, special abilities but, even more so "inabilities" that have the same effect of Haeckel's magic, propping up existing inequality, turning it into a real "thing" that is the right and immutable nature of things.
And since such things as "behaviors" and thoughts are easily transmuted into a form convenient to any purpose, the magic of such scientists is potent in a way that is most persuasive to those whose faith in everything called "science", who despise and disdain anything that is CALLED "magic" who believe that they are upholding the rational tradition that has left magic and other such superstition in the past. Their faith in "science" and their moderny materialist conception of the world blinds them to the obviously magical quality of the entire thing.
We have gone from a scientific tradition that understood the limits of its methods, that those were dependent, in the end, on observation of physical entities, to one that values the immaterial products of theory divorced from observation. Frequently the excuse is that physical observation is either impossible or that a real, non-subjectively evaluated observation is impossible. And instead of admitting that such things, no matter how much they would like, can't really enter into the same realm and share the same prestige as the science based on the adequate observation of actual things. Or, at least, that they shouldn't be admitted into that body of ideas that have, in fact, the reliability of those kinds of observations and evaluations. The desire to weasel even the wildest speculations on behaviors and the insanely issued promissory notes of materialism into the category "science" has won out over the most basic methods and requirements of science. I don't doubt that will continue because the interests of those involved, professionally, financially, in terms of status gained and through ideological desire, will sustain this means of introducing magic into science. But those of us not involved should call them on their hypocrisy and willful blindness of what they are making the real public understanding of science.
It is tempting to go on with that last passage but I will jump ahead. After a long and fascinating passage about Americans in the period around the Civil War and the role Karl Marx certainly played in the thinking of American figures as iconic as Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe Marilynne Robinson continues: I am haunted by the sense that a changeling has been put in the cradle of American culture. Adam Smith, the supposed capitalist, whose influence among us is notorious, developed an economic system in which prison, the poorhouse, and starvation have no role and in which the flourishing of the people ( a term he prefers to "the poor") is the desired end. Compare the Fabians, those most sedulous of strainers of mercy, Why are Smith's proposals for public projects to enhance the economy, taxes that weigh less heavily on the poor than the rich, and education to alleviate the effects of industrial work, called capitalist, while subsidies of the cost of labor and visits of inspection to the homes of the poor to assure that their destitution was perfect before they were relieved - that women had sold their wedding rings, for example - are called socialist? Why do the Land Grant Act, the Homestead Act, and the G.I. Bill, three distributions of wealth to the public on a scale never contemplated in Britain, have no status among political events, when the dreary traffic in pittances institutionalized as the British Welfare State is hailed as an advance of socialism? We must find a political and moral clarity that will enable us to address the starkest problems of survival, if the world is to have any hope. For a long time now, socialists have claimed an exceptional interest in the well-being of the generality of people, a special inclination to humanize collective life. But the history of socialism is disheartening. It is too strongly associated with repression, and these ties are too casually dismissed, for socialism to be conceded the special virtues it claims for itself. Plutonium manufacture and radioactive waste dumping are enterprises for the British government, and as good a proof as one could wish that government ownership in itself means nothing. The pattern identified by Adam Smith and Karl Marx, the accumulation of capital through the destruction of wealth is fully present in Sellafield. British socialism has always been no more than the left hand washing the right, and yet for years it has compelled the admiration of American socialists, who can find nothing in their own tradition to compare to it for moral grandeur. The mainstream political tradition in America is represented insistently now as unrelievedly "capitalist" whatever Marx might have said about it, and as compromised grubbing and mean-spirited because of the supposed relative prevalence of "private property" - whatever Marx might have said about that. On both the right and the left, capitalism, not democracy is represented as the basis of our institutions. If Sellafield is sometime sold to private owners, as the government has long intended that it should be, then overnight it will become a classic capitalist enterprise by Marx's definition. There is a third option, however, described by both Smith and Marx, and , as luck would have it, indigenous to America, of a society based upon individual autonomy, to be achieved through policies of government that by act or omission enhance the specific, tangible material well-being of individual people, by creating or protecting conditions of life that enhance vigor and morale. These include education, fair wages, wholesome food and water, and reasonable hope for one's children. These things correspond in a general way with what Americans consider to be "Western values," yet they have have never described, and do not now describe, the condition of life of ordinary British people. To the inevitable reaction, that people do not miss what they have never had, that the austerity of their lives has spared them the corruptions of materialism, that legal protections are needed only where society is a war of each against all that there is the dole to assure them security from cradle to grave, however tedious the passage, or however swift, the reply must be that the history and present condition of ordinary British people make it clear enough how they have been used and in that spirit, by capitalists and by socialists, in tacit or declared collaboration. The best American political impulses occur outside this sham opposition. 'they need to be rediscovered as valuable impulses. Certainly we need to rediscover the complexity of our own political history, which deserves vastly better than to be seized upon by capitalists or dismissed by socialists. When Abraham Lincoln said of a hypothetical black woman that "in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands ... she is my equal, and the equal of all others," he expresses an economic proposition which is by no means the commonplace or inevitable. Lincoln based the woman's rights on what she earned, not what she needed, a departure from "subsistence theory" and an implicit acknowledgement that labor creates value - that is, a margin between the cost of the worker's subsistence and the amount of wealth she creates - and that she has a right to share in this overplus. One learns from Adam Smith, Thomas Carlyle, E.G. Wakefield, and others that subsistence was assured to slaves as it was not to free workers. In Britain before the Second World War, employers still felt day laborers' arms before they hired them, so that men who were frail or malnourished could be turned away. Under ordinary circumstances slaves would have had as much as economic theory, up to the time of Beveridge, promised or allowed fully employed working people in Britain - enough to maintain them in a condition of physical efficiency. Lincoln made the case, successfully, that in justice more was due anyone. If he had used Marx's language, he would have declared the right to "self-earned private property." Against a history in which vulnerability triggered the crudest abuse - the history of the British poor, into which Africans were swept up fairly late - so modest a statement as Lincoln's sounds like beatitude. The most difficult struggle of our civilization has been to find the means to create autonomy for ordinary lives, so that they might not be plundered or disposed of according to the whims of more powerful people. Ideas like civil rights and personal liberty come directly from this struggle, which is not terribly well advanced at best, and which is untried, failed or abandoned in most of the world. There has not been a president in fifty years who was more fitted by history to restore that characteristically American ideal than Barack Obama, it is doubtful that he will do it. Summers, Geithener and, now Lew, are not going to do it. I suspect that Obama's education, as the one I got, indoctrinated him out of either a knowledge of it or a serious consideration of it. I think, though, that in it lies a way out of the stalemate he finds himself in, in which he aspires to nothing more than a more efficient expression of neo-classical economics. Robinson's remarks about Adam Smith indicate how much of a distortion of his ideas "capitalism" in the modern style are. Thatcherism-Reaganism, millennial austerity... are bound to enslave us, the pseudo-socialism that has been seen as an alternative is, in fact, just the left hand washing the right, as it is so wonderfully put above. Life for middle class Americans is, ever more, resembling the dispirited, desperate condition that Marilynne Robinson prophetically held up for us to see almost a quarter of a century ago. Note: March 2014 Don't Minimize The Role of TV In the Decline of the American Left It is a really good question that is asked, why is it that the history of American democracy is not what the left didn't choose to continue building on instead of the overtly non-democratic Marxist theories or a romanticized version of the British left that had failed to produce even such benefits as Marilynne Robinson lists in this passage. I would include land grant universities, which were an important way in which the children of the underclass were able to continue their educations to join the professions and to staff the most remote public schools with professional teachers. But the children and the grand children of the people who were the first to benefit from those characteristically American forms of wealth redistribution were successfully taught to disdain those and what progress had been made in the United States. A great deal of that profligate abandonment of what could have turned into one of the strongest assets in appealing to the larger American population, on the basis of their own cultural tradition rested securely on the basis of fashion and a popular presentation of the far, far less appealing British and, to a lesser extent European socialist tradition. Britian had achieved national health care, which isn't an inconsiderable fact in making that kind of appeal but, as Marilynne Robinson said, the remnants of the poor law, aided and abetted by the very "socialists" who had constructed the Welfare State, were also a part of that. And that made the British model of "socialism" less than a model for emulation than it was often presented as being. Politically, the fashionable disdain of American traditions has not enhanced the electability of more liberal candidates successfully saddled with it. Americans who had saved Britian from the economic and political intrigues of its ruling elite, twice in the preceding half century might well resent the snooty dismissal of American achievements in political advancement, even as it was engaged in the struggle that would push off more of its baggage, racial and other forms of inequality. The very period in which Britain was romantically looked to by the new educated elite, often through imported form from the BBC on the newly formed PBS, was the same period that the left in the United States achieved the end of its most productive period and soon found itself unpopular and failing in elections. If Republicans and right wing Democrats could appeal to lower income Americans through appeals to patriotism, the left helped them through failing to make their own appeals on the basis of American experience and traditions that were, in fact, worth building on. That a lot of the best in that tradition has been successfully transformed by the far right into something that seems alien to many Americans would not have been possible if the left had presented it as an achievement of American equality, a result of the best thing in our political tradition and the culture of The People. The role of the media in destroying the achievements of the American tradition, things that, as said above are "distributions of wealth to the public on a scale never contemplated in Britain" cannot be minimized or dismissed by intoning those magic words, "free press". The use that the owners of that "free press", the use of the rich people who own the massive and unprecedentedly politically effective electronic mass media to destroy that American tradition has been countered by a total capitulation by the libertarian-left. In order to do that they have had to suppress the basis of and the reason that print media was, originally, given that freedom, the need of free people for unbiased information in order for them to be able to cast an informed vote. I don't think that the steady diet of British TV and, later, radio fed into the United States has really helped much. Its role in the culture of what remains of the American left has been a bad one. British TV produced the Thatcher era in Britian, after all. If that kind of "press" were going to have a role here, that is the result that could be expected. We have to rebuild a real American left, built on the remaining parts of the achievements of the American populist and liberal traditions of the past. It might be that the habits of thought and the appeals of equality, inherent rights and the moral obligation to respect those - which will not done except on the basis of effectively strong religious conviction - is still possible. It is certainly more worth trying than building on the failed lefts of other countries which have failed to protect what acheivements they have had. As Robinson points out, the American achievements of more equal distribution of wealth were more successful in the past, even as their left was fretting over how to make the lot of the destitute sufficiently miserable to be salubrious. That is a British tradition that the American right has successfully copied, aping the worst of the British system, even importing Rupert Murdoch in order to destroy the truly American heritage in line with more typically American ideals.
The First questions that arise in attempting to understand Sellafield, and more generally the nuclear and environmental policies of the British government, are: How have they gotten away with so much? and Why on Earth would they want to get away with it? To put it in other terms, why should the relationship of those who govern Britain to its land and population be that of a shrewd adversary contriving to do harm for profit? For decades the British government has presided over the release of deadly toxins into its own environment, for money, using secrecy, scientism, and public trust or passivity to preclude resistance or criticism and to quiet fears. Such extraordinary behavior cannot have a motive in any usual sense, since it is in no one's interest It has, however, an etiology and a history, in which the institutions which expedite it and the relations it expresses evolve together. This is of more than casual interest to Americans, because there is no stronger cultural force than atavism. our past is a good commentary on the future we seem to be preparing for ourselves.
It is often said that Britain has no written constitution. If a constitution is a body of law that defines the fundamental relations among the elements of a society, then Britain has an ancient one indeed, solidly encoded, enshrined in literature, in history and in the array of institutions. The core of British culture is Poor Law, which emerged in the fourteenth century and was reformed once, in 1834, when it became the Victorians' notorious New Poor Law. It remained in force until 1948. Then it was superseded by the Welfare State, in which its features were plainly discernible. In essence, Poor Law restricted people who lived by their labor to the parish where they were born, and mandated assistance from the parish for those who were needy and deemed deserving of help, while wages were depressed to a level that made recourse to such help frequent. This often meant entering a poorhouse, institutions hose wretchedness made them, over centuries, objects of the minutest study to generations of philanthropists Working people who were forced to accept parish assistance, and whose destitution was absolute, and who were found otherwise worthy of aid, surrendered whatever rights they may have had. Or the fact that they had no rights was thoroughly and ingeniously exploited once the accepted this status. Under the Old Poor Law, before the 1834 reforms that made the operation of the system more punitive and severe, child paupers, that is, the children of destitute parents, were given to employers, each with a little bonus to reward the employer for relieving the public of this burden. The children would be worked brutally, because with each new pauper child the employer received another little bonus. To starve such children was entirely in the interest of those who set them to work. Aside from all the work the child performed under duress, its death brought the reward that came with a new child The authorities asserted an absolute right to disrupt families, and to expose young children to imprisonment and forced labor. The invasiveness of the Poor Laws was never impeded by the development of any system of assured rights, with which the entire institution would have been wholly incompatible and out of sympathy. Leslie Scarman, a member of the House of Lords and a legal authority, has written: "It is the helplessness of the law in [the] face of the legislative sovereignty of Parliament which makes it difficult for the legal system to accommodate the concept of fundamental and inviolable human rights." More to the point, the social history of Britain has never reflected any sense of the unconditional value of human lives or any respect for the modest baggage of person and property, the little circumference of inviolability on which personal rights depend. The indigent who were considered worthy of parish assistance were called paupers. The unworthy, those who were considered able-bodied but shiftless, were not to be relieved, though in fact they were often assisted on the same terms as the "deserving poor," that is, meagerly and punitively, since the system was in any case preoccupied with the need to withhold charity, considered the great source of moral corruption of the poor and therefore the great source of poverty. So late and well reputed a social thinker of the young William Beveridge urged that starvation be left as a final incentive to industry among the shiftless poor. Beveridge was to become the father of the Welfare State. The mandate of Poor Law charity was only to provide subsistence because if the recipient of charity were to do as well as the independent worker, the worker too, would become demoralized and slide into pauperism. At the same time a very important article of economic faith was that the wages of workers could not exceed subsistence - if it did, the depletion of capital would cause a decline in investment and employment that would return the worker unceremoniously to something less than the level of subsistence. So it was difficult to make the situation of paupers less desirable than the situation of the employed, especially considering the horrendous conditions under which most work was done. Paupers were subjected to the miseries of the separation of their families and they were auctioned off or forced into emigration, depending on the improvisations of local authorities determined to keep relief recipients to an absolute minimum. To assure that parish assistance would be limited to those who were qualified by birth or legal settlement to receive it, the movement of workers was narrowly restricted
One of the great benefits of reading Mother Country is that a lot of what you have read in British literature and history makes far more sense knowing what it contains. And reading the essay was a revelation in understanding what I had read of Darwin and Huxley and other British scientists even up to W. D. Hamilton. Knowing how truly horrible the New Poor Law was made my understanding of Darwin's complaint that it kept too many of the "weaker members" of society alive far more complete than if I hadn't read it.
One of the problems in posting these passages is what to choose and how far to go with it. Every page is of value in understanding the real horrors of the British system but, as Ms. Robinson notes in the first paragraph above, it is also relevant to understanding the United States. That relevance grew in the 1990s and 2000s to the point where much of the current discussion of "entitlements," the minimum wage, the environment and related issues is stronger than it was when it was written.
I don't know the role that the growth in the promotion of Anglophilia to the popular imagination will have on voters choices. I suspect that any effect will be a bad one. It is clear that the journalistic and media elite have fallen into a quite similar mode of discourse. That Rupert Murdoch has flourished in the United States during that time might be a coincidence, or it might not. I tend to believe he came here from Britain and was allowed to become a citizen with a clear purpose. His record of promoting the far right in Britain was known. The exact kind of callous indifference to human suffering recorded in Mother Country, of the reduction of people from possessors of inviolable rights to units of commerce has arisen in ways I never would have believed forty years ago. I find quite a bit of what has come from the Obama administration to be alarmingly resonant with much of such British thinking as is found in that record. Listening to Jimmy Carter on the radio this afternoon, I can't recall ever hearing those same resounding notes from him.
I've got some kind of respiratory system virus, or something, that is making me lazy.
A year ago I was posting excerpts from the great essay by Marilynne Robinson, Mother Country. I'll post some of that and, who knows, maybe it will inspire me to type more of it into the computer.
Anyone who reads much of what I've written will know that there is no living writer who I respect more than Marilynne Robinson, the great novelist and, I say, even greater essayist. In her writing the finest style is motivated by and matched with honesty, intellectual rigor and an enormous effort in researching her subjects. But none of those is an end in itself, all of that is in service to a deep and simple moral purpose, to tell the truth in service of the common good, to witness to a religious faith that is thoroughly relevant to today's life. She achieves that relevance not by joining up with some ideological project of modernism but by telling the truth to the best of her considerable ability. The truth is always and eternally up to date. When a writer so thoroughly believes in the value of telling the truth, they place themselves above changing fashion and calculations of career promotion. There is no more worth while writing than that, though it will escape the confines of respectability, it is more likely to get forced out of that cage, the door locked behind it. And then there is legal suppression.*
Her great, suppressed long essay, Mother Country, indicts the cultural and intellectual conditions that allowed the massive British environmental crime of polluting the ocean with plutonium and other nuclear waste. Her case, citing the ancient English Poor Law in its several iterations down till today, her indictment of British intellectuals and alleged charities is one of the major revelations of my life. Her case against the Fabians turns the received, required POV on the left on its head. Her explanation of how the aristocratic British "radicals" constructed a socialism that had the effect of reinforcing and intensifying the British class system is brilliant and fearless. She takes down some of the biggest names, including many I have respected in the past. Those revelations hurt, I will admit it, but it is invariably better to face the reality about people than to admire them on the basis of self-serving PR. I will excerpt it below in order to promote the revival of the book, its reading and the message it contains.
As the Obama administration seems poised to approve the tar sands oil pipeline, the civil trial of the company formerly known as British Petroleum is beginning and the ongoing human rush to murder suicide, not impossibly destroying life on Earth, I can't think of a more important thing to do with my week. Here is some of Robinson's revealing, condensed history of British social thought and its real motives.
British social thought can well be imagined as occurring this way. It takes place in a country house built and furnished to accord with conventions polished by use, a house filled with guests, great and minor luminaries, ornaments of literature, the sciences, the church and of philosophy and politics. Most of them, not coincidentally, are cousins at some remove. They are charmed to find in one another just that streak of intuitive brilliance they had always admired in themselves and to be confirmed in their sense that they are true members of a group in which there are no impostors by a very great similarity of taste, of interest of sympathy. It is a leisurely visit, some centuries in length, and in due course everyone has confessed his weakness for Hesiod, and admired the garden, and regretted the weather. The evenings would perhaps have begun to weigh, if someone had not suggested a game called Philanthropy. The rules of the game are very simple. One must justify things as they are by attacking things as they are. It is a philosophic game, perfectly suited to showing off a fine wit. It has even the thrill of risk, since it invites subversive ideas. But the point is always, of course, to achieve a resolution that will bring the argument right back where it began. This distinguished party warms to the challenge. And how affecting it is to hear them, one after another, in the language of statesman and moralist decry the sufferings of the poor, until it seems that the very table they sit round must be made into splints and crutches and the topiary garden planted in potatoes. Then, just when the pleasure of participation in this virtuous fantasy is at its height, that is to say, just when the temptations of virtue are most intense, then the play er reveals the illusion: This "virtue" is not a virtue at all, but an evil to be scrupulously avoided. A little thrill of relief passes over the company when their world is safely restored to them. But the risk is never as great as it may seem. Any strategy is sufficient in defending the moon from the wolves. It is a distinguished company, and everyone seems willing to hold up his part in the game. Daniel Defoe, Bernard de Mandeville, Henry Fielding, Adam smith (who did not understand the point of it, and was given a hearty cheer and sent off to bed). There is no need to observe chronology, since at this table Jeremy Bentham might find himself seated by Beatrice Webb, and Herbert Spencer by John Stuart Mill. This is only to say that their reflections on the subject accumulate rather than develop, in the manner characteristic of rationalizations. Their disputations produce a welter of harmonious contradiction, the sort of thing that happens when any argument is welcome that will prop a valued conclusion. So the centuries pass. The influence of this genteel assembly can hardly be overstated. Only consider how important the notion of excess population - basically the artifact of an odd and unsavory history - has been to Britain, and therefore to the world. Malthus felt he observed the fact of population being restored to equilibrium with food supply in the misery of the poor, but at the time he wrote the importation of wheat - bread was the food of the British poor - was restricted, and land had been converted to pasture which had formerly been used for growing food, and both industrial and agricultural workers had lost access to independent means of subsistence, the first by being crowded into urban slums where there was no corner of open land, the second by being crowded into rural slums where no bit of land was conceded to them. Social reformers early in this century wrote dreamily of the little garden plots of Belgian workers, who throve better on, of course, lower wages than their British counterparts. But the British laborer had no little plot of land. Irish immigrants shared quarters with their notorious pigs, which they slaughtered for food, but that was considered degraded. In fact, British workers, rural and urban, died of exclusive dependency on a meager wage, made up in part, especially among farm laborers, of parish relief, more parsimonious because it was paid by ratepayers rather than employers, and because, being "charity," it always remained discretionary. The relation of population growth to the productivity of land, which Malthus tidily but meaninglessly described as increasing geometrically in the first case and arithmetically in the second, had nothing to do with the the misery and vice he set out to account for. His was merely an early insistence on the tendency to refer to the consequences of a remarkably artificial situation to the hard laws of nature.
It is interesting to read how William Cobbett, one of Malthus' severest contemporary critics had to say about the use of barley to make bread instead of the more expensive wheat and potatoes, which he disdained. Particularly noteworthy is how as sympathetic a writer as Cobbett believed that British laborers, and, especially, their also laboring wives, were in more control of their meager domestic economy than they could have been.
Unless I get a cease and desist order, I hope to post more long passages from Mother Country, one of the most important and entirely neglected books of the past quarter of a century. It should be reprinted, at the very least, if not updated. If I can renew interest in it, the risk is worth it.
I can't think of a book with more to say in a country with a "liberal" administration regularly does the bidding of the banking and oil industry, which has appointed Summers, Geithner and Lew to its top economic posts, which is constantly putting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on a negotiating table. The total fraud that the official version of British social reform, exposed in all of its sordid and explicit depravity is being recreated in the United States by the current crop of The Best and the Brightest, who never have to worry about the consequences of its advocacy. And maybe this is what is needed to cure a self-regarding intelligentsia,of sorts, that has taken Downtown Abbey to its collective breast -PBS and the BBC have done more to paper over the real history of Britain than any overt propagandists. If that college educated intelligentsia learned the truth about Britain and the real history of American liberalism they wouldn't buy that stuff.
*Robinson has written Mother Country (1989), an exposé of Britain's nuclear pollution of the North Sea and a book which also skewered the environmentalist group Greenpeace to the extent that Robinson was sued for libel by Greenpeace and, rather than retract her statements, saw her book banned from sale in England.
Before I went online I would never have entertained the thought that atheists were any more prone to lying than other people. The values of equality and giving people the benefit of the doubt would have made that thought impossible. But that was in the absence of experience of the direct thought of many atheists. After reading thousands of atheists online, unedited, unfiltered, I have to say that I now believe atheists are far more likely to lie because they don't believe that it is a sin to lie. And that includes the "editing" they've organized to do at Wikipedia, the thing is useless on any topic that has been subjected to atheist editing. I think the idea of reliable information, the ability to safely depend on information presented as being reliable that history, science and other areas of intellectual culture is based in depends on a sense that it is a sin to lie, that it is wrong to lie. After the past decade plus of seeing things, I don't think that is sustainable in a culture permeated by atheism in which there is no sin. I think the online atheist "community" is a good indication of what a wider atheist culture would be and it is a dishonest, cynical place which will produce no good.
As my fellow Irish Americans set about to dishonor St. Patrick by doing their best to live up to the most malicious stereotypes of us that the Anglo Saxon nativists invented, it's good to remember that St. Patrick was an escaped slave. As such it's not surprising that the evil of slavery was of special importance to him, one of the most certain things we know about him. One of the few documents that scholars believe is reliably from him is his letter to the soldiers of King Coroticus effectively excommunicating them along with Coroticus because they abducted and enslaved a number of Irish Christians under Patrick's care. His language in his excommunication is remarkably strong and firey considering the mildness and humility of the other document reliably attributed to him, his Confession.
American St. Patrick's day is as disgusting as American Christmas and American Halloween. There isn't anything honorable about it. St. Patrick, escaped slave returned to convert his enslavers and one of the earliest campaigners against slavery deserves a lot better than being used as an excuse to get drunk and participate in parades that become an annual celebration of bigotry and discrimination. Not to mention that disgusting political roast held in Boston every year. Do something to fight against modern slavery, to refuse to buy products made by slave labor in the third world and here. Refuse to ignore the sexual slavery that is so widespread today. That kind of commerce and sexual slavery during his lifetime were condemned by St. Patrick, after all, mentioned specifically as a sin damning Coroticus and his "gangsters".
Last year, in a conversation with a friend of mine who is a Congregationalist, I shocked him by mentioning that Pius XII called Karl Barth the most significant theologian since Thomas Aquinas. Since, the Catholic Church back then, and especially under his ultra-conservative, neo-medieval pontificate, Aquinas's theology was THE OFFICIAL Catholic theology, him saying that about a Reformed theologian would be entirely unexpected. Catholics were still being told that it was a sin to enter a protestant church around here. My mouth might have fallen open when I read it a few years back. I mean, Pius XII was more Catholic than the Pope. The lesson of this is that things in even the most conservative of Christianity has often been a lot more open than it's believed to be.
Oh, when Barth was told about the nice things that Pius said about his writing, he said, "This proves the infallibility of the Pope."
I was fascinated to hear this interview with Brian McLaren, a figure in the emergent Christianity movement, usually described as a part of the evangelical branch of Protestantism, something which, I'll admit, I haven't paid a lot of attention to. His description of how he went from an ultra-conservative fundamentalist church, The Plymouth Brethren, to breaking with that over evolution, through a conversion experience in the Jesus Movement of the 60-70s, and to the spontaneous formation of a house church and on to where his Christianity is radically different from what he began with. Especially interesting to me is how his radical change was based in looking more deeply at the Bible, of reading more of the words, the things that, as he mentions he missed due to what he concentrated on before.
His point that The Lord's Prayer explicitly calls for The Kingdom of God to be formed on Earth, something that hasn't seemed to be noticed by hundreds of millions of Christians who probably recite the words weekly, if not several times a day.
Oh, what an amazing time to be alive. So I'm sure I can't be exhaustive in this, but I'll just give you a couple that quickly come to mind. So 100 years ago, Walter Rauschenbusch, this German Baptist pastor — Walter Rauschenbusch goes back and reads the Gospels and realizes, wow, Jesus had this message called the Kingdom of God. And for so many Christians, Kingdom of God had been reduced to going to heaven after you die and he made this slight observation that, in the Lord's Prayer, it says "may your kingdom come, may you will be done down here on earth." In other words, the direction of the Bible was downward, not upward. I mean, that changes the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. got hold of that. Others got hold of that. That was one of the most transformative ideas of my life. I grew up in the church all my life. It wasn't until I was in my 40s that I realized that the Kingdom of God was not going to heaven after you die. Oh, my goodness. Then you add to that the insights of liberation theology from Latin America and places in Africa, this obvious, obvious discovery that the primary biblical narrative is exodus, that when God made a decision to support slaves, not slave owners, that's one of the most radical ideas in the world.
Just as an aside, this would be interesting to bring up to right-wing evangelicals as well as allegedly left wing people who heap denigration "evangelicals". There are few people who are more converted to do good with the power of evangelicals who see the light.
The same people have made the most appalling accommodations to imperial systems, to oppressive systems that are the opposite of what The Kingdom of God, the place where the blessed community, would life. As Brian McLaren points out, Christianity's great sin has been the pragmatic and violent adoption of the program of most earthy and wealth based systems, resulting in deaths and oppression around the world. That massive list of sins that atheists are always bringing up, the sins that Christians have not adequately confessed and abandoned. They might pray for the coming of the Kingdom on Earth but they have no intention of living in a way that would embody that coming. In that they betray that they don't really believe it.
Brian McLaren talked about the lessons he learned from his gay son and the difficulty he ran into when he participated in his son's wedding to another man. And in that I will offer my congratulations but will also make a point about difficulties in any rapprochement and between Christians and gay folks, and not just gay folks.
I grew up a liberal in New England, my parents were Eleanor Roosevelt liberals who grew over the course of their lives to become increasingly liberal, while remaining Catholics. Their Catholicism was the kind that embraced Vatican II and the fresh air it let in. After The Blessed Good Pope John died and Paul VI slowed down the change, I became increasingly disillusioned with the hierarchy, though certainly not Catholics in general, and I stopped going to church. I didn't stop supporting Maryknoll and The Medical Missionaries of Mary or the United Farmworkers Movement. I became officially agnostic, realizing that there was no way to know the answer to whether or not God was real and studied Theravada Buddhism.
Then, about twelve years ago, I had what I now realize was a conversion experience, or maybe it was more an integration of all of the things I'd learned from my parents, from the example of other good people. It was a sudden realization that most if not all of the evil humans do is based in regarding other people, other animals, other living beings as objects of commerce and utility.
That conversion was the product of a confrontation of the gay porn that was, inevitably, encountered while reading gay media online. It forced an admission that the message of gay porn was that other men were objects for use. That casual, anonymous sex of the kind that oppression had made normal for gay men had that as a basis. And that the emergent culture that was being presented to the world as "gay culture" in all its gaudy, unserious, decadent amorality contained all that was wrong with straight culture.* Only the determinant in who did the using and who was used was based on physical strength, comparative ruthlessness, deception, exploitation of levels of experience, and exploitation of the mentally ill and damaged. The fact that they shared a gender and a sexual orientation made exactly no difference, that they shared a wider experience of oppression only provided the stronger men the expression of their oppression and the weaker ones, the understanding of their role in their own oppression. With that realization, the bright shiny veneer of modernism that had covered up the real nature of so much of what I'd come to accept as good was destroyed, though it took me most of the last decade to realize that.
There are two hands holding down gay people, one is that of the remnants of cultural hatred, what is expressed by the Republican Party, even as it dies in the general culture. The other is the habits of thought built up over the combination of internalized hatred and modeling our relationships on the same dynamics that oppress women. That must be broke if we are to be truly free. I have come to believe that the only force that will do that is religious conversion of the type that is ongoing in my life. It is only through that that sex, in general, gay or straight, can go from the commodification of one and the consumption of another to an expression of mutual love.
The horrific amount of spiritual damage that hatred of gay people, especially gay men, is seen all the more clearly for the removal of legal and even political restrictions on us. Healing that won't be easy, especially due to the mutual hostilities built up between religion and gay people, though most of the gay people I have known have, in fact, been religious. The greatest force to accomplish that is contained in the tradition of Justice that powered the civil rights movement, the thing that empowered the Christians who laid their lives on the line to make enormous changes in the face of overwhelming opposition. If that tradition of justice is absent, any liberation will merely be the reproduction of former systems of oppression with the characters, the oppressors and the oppressed, being changed.
* I've had many straight people who are anything from outraged to confused when I criticize that "gay culture" until they are asked if they would like to be treated in those prescribed ways, to be considered as the "bottom" is treated in those presentations, if they would like to be presented as a superficial and frivolous figure of entertainment instead of as a full person with a full range of possibilities and entitlements. Women seem to have an easier time understanding the point than straight men do.