Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sunday's Sermon, Nahum v. Jonah

Nahum vs. Jonah
John Shuck
First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
April 20, 2008

An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.
A jealous and avenging God is the Lord,
the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
and rages against his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger but great in power,
and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
--Nahum 1:1-3

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.

Jonah 3:10-4:2


I have been thinking about God this past week. I am happy to report that I have it all figured out. Here is the answer.

It is kind of silly, isn’t it? What I mean is, the idea that we can figure out what God is all about. Even more foolish it seems to me, is to make any claim that we can speak for God.

Yet people do it all of the time. You may hear people say, “This is God’s will. This is what God wants; this is what God says.” Usually, folks are not quite that obvious. Some Christians who claim to speak for God usually settle for what they think the Bible says. We hear phrases such as, “The Bible says” or my personal favorite, “These are biblical values.” In this sense, the Bible serves a cipher for God.

Preachers who talk with certainty about what God says and what the Bible says are a dime a dozen. What I find odd, frightening really, is how many people go along with that. People who are intelligent and capable of making their own decisions will give that power away. They voluntary hand over their own authority and autonomy to some preacher who tells them how God wants them to act, think, and feel.

What is that about? Is there a psychological need or a social need that is met by doing that?

  • Perhaps making their own decisions is frightening and they need an authority to tell them what to do.
  • Perhaps they are afraid of being alienated from family and friends and they need to belong.
  • Perhaps fear of eternal punishment has been so ingrained that free-thinking has not been a viable option.
  • Perhaps preconceived notions about what is right and wrong, good and bad, need to be reinforced by an external authority.

Whatever it is that external authorities do for us in the short term, they are ultimately fallible. The sign of their fallibility is their claim to infallibility.

The Pope didn’t become infallible (that is without error) until the 19th century. Protestant fundamentalism which gifted us with the infallibility of the Bible, did not develop until the 19th century. What happened in the 19th century? Science came of age. Biblical criticism came of age. Ludwig Feurbach showed us that the gods we create and worship are projections of our internal needs, fears, and desires.

These doctrines of the infallibility of religious authorities developed as a defense against modern thought. That was the 19th century. Here we are in 2008 and the gods of authoritarianism are still working their voodoo in attempt to keep human beings from thinking for themselves.

I raised the ire of some of my more conservative colleagues when I wrote something on my blog a few months ago. It is still quoted by them, however only partially and out of context. Just this past Friday, our executive presbyter, Rich Fifield, forwarded me an e-mail from an irate person.

“Do you know what John Shuck writes on his blog? He is a disgrace!” He then quoted part of this blog entry that I am going to read to you.

Rich and I have a little ritual. He responded to this person as he responds to all of them: “Yes, I am aware of John Shuck’s blog. Why don’t you contact John Shuck with your concern?” Of course, they never do. They want someone else to punish me. Rich then sends me a copy of the e-mail. I save it to my computer and write back thanking him for keeping me posted. I am getting quite a collection. If I am not careful I am going to start thinking that I am a big deal.

That whole authoritarian mindset is what I am talking about. Someone must punish. Someone must silence any threat to this authority. When someone dares to speak out of his or her own authority, the entire house of cards is threatened.

This past Thursday over 50 people gathered in room #503 of Warf-Pickel on the ETSU campus for our first PFLAG meeting. PFLAG stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It also includes Bisexual and Transgender persons. It was a far larger group than I had anticipated. It was a moving experience for me. Person after person said how glad they were that they could meet in a safe place and know that they weren’t going to be judged and instead would be affirmed and that their loved ones would also be affirmed.

PFLAG is a national organization that exists for support, education and advocacy on behalf of sexual and gender minorities and their families. We have begun a local chapter, PFLAG Tri-Cities for our area. The context for all of this is that we live in a religious culture that says, “It is not OK to be gay and we have the Bible to back it up.”

In other words, the religious culture in which we live says that denying sexual and gender minorities equal rights makes the baby Jesus happy. Many folks, including religious folks do not agree. Science, the medical and mental health professions, and academia tell us that we are wonderfully diverse and that there is nothing wrong with being gay anymore than there is anything wrong with being left-handed.

We don’t even need the authority of science. We really just need to talk to people.

The religious community has yet to catch up. The Bible seems to be the sticking point. We hear about what the Bible says and about biblical values and the authority of the Word of God and so forth.

One of the solutions to what we think the Bible says is to actually read the Bible. It is no easy task. The Bible has a lot words on many topics. It contains varying views on the same topic.

Today I read passages from Nahum and Jonah. After reading them, what is your conclusion? Is God vengeful or forgiving? Nahum votes for vengeance. Jonah, against his wishes, concedes forgiving.

It depends what we are looking for, I suppose. If we want God to clobber our enemies, read Nahum. If we want our enemies to forgive us, read Jonah.

In the end, the Bible doesn’t say anything. We only think it says something because we interact with it and desire it to speak to us. But it is, in the end, a book.

I was looking for a quote that I heard years ago about the dangers of reading one book. I couldn’t find the quote in my internet search, but I did find this other quote in a book entitled The Purity of Blood by Arturo Perez Reverte. It is the story of a thirteen year-old who is held in the dungeons of Toledo during the Spanish Inquisition. The main character, speaking for the author, says:

Later, with time, I learned that although all men are capable of good and evil, the worst among them are those who, when they commit evil, do so by shielding themselves in the authority of others, in their subordination, or in the excuse of following orders. And even worse are those who believe they are justified by their God. Because in the secret dungeons of Toledo, nearly at the cost of my life, I learned that there is nothing more despicable or more dangerous than the malevolent individual who goes to sleep every night with a clear conscience. That is true evil. Especially when paired with ignorance, superstition, stupidity, or power, all of which often travel together.

And worst of all is the person who acts as exegete of The Word—whether it be from the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran, or any other book already written or yet to come. I am not fond of giving advice—no one can pound opinions into another’s head—but here is a piece that costs you nothing: Never trust a man who reads only one book.

http://acorn.nationalinterest.in/2008/02/24/never-trust-a-man-who-reads-only-one-book/

So the Bible supposedly contains a few verses against homosexuals that in turn supposedly sums up the truth of the universe and of the great Creator, YHWH himself and his only son, Jesus, regarding how we are treat other people in the present. If they are gay, condemn them. Thus sayeth the Lord.

If we look to the Bible as authority on whether or not we are OK or not OK or someone else is OK or not OK, we will find that for which we are looking. The Bible is a mirror. It, like any unexamined external authority, mirrors our preconceived ideas.

I do appreciate my moderate and liberal colleagues who examine the passages and painstakingly parse Greek verbs and show that these passages are not as bad as they seem. They work hard. They want to defend the Bible and to defend gays. That is good to do as far as it goes. It is an intermediate step in my view. People who still need the Bible to tell them that they are OK are served by that for awhile.

(Until some conservative publishes a thick book that shows that the Bible really is homophobic and misogynistic and all the other things that some of us deplore and others apparently celebrate).

I have come to the point in which I no longer need to bother. It still plays into the “I am not OK unless an external authority says I am OK.” It keeps me from focusing on the real thing, our shared humanity. If I want to know about you, I don’t need to go to the Bible and look for a passage that tells me about you. I really need to talk to you.

This is why I wrote that provocative post that gets a lot of attention on the internet. At the risk of vanity by quoting myself, here goes:

‘And the bottom line for me is I really don't care what the Bible or Reformed Theology says about this or that or if its opinion on this or that is presumptuous enough to tell me how to live my life. I can make my own decisions.

This means that...

* if even 500 verses of the Bible and

* if Jesus himself proclaimed it on the Mount of Transfiguration and

* if Jesus appeared to me on my back deck in the glory of his resuscitated corpse and

stated to me as clearly as the four p.m. sun is hot…that if I support gays and lesbians in their relationships I would join them in the fires of hell, I would look him in his piercing eyes and say (if I had the courage of my convictions):

"Fine then. Send me to your hell. You are wrong, Jesus."

Why? Because I know Tony and Mike. (Tony and Mike are a couple for whom I officiated at a commitment ceremony). Why do I dare say Jesus would be wrong? Because I know dozens of other couples and individuals and I know who they are and that what they do is as good and sacred as what anyone else does.

When I read the Bible I don't see an external authority telling me what is true or how to behave. Something is not true because an authority says it is true. Authority is earned by the truth it tells. The Bible is a mixed bag.' http://shuckandjive.blogspot.com/2007/08/authority-and-truth.html

I don’t go to the Bible to tell me about dinosaurs or the age of Earth or how to do geometry. Nor do I go there to learn the truth regarding human sexuality.

Now of course, I don’t think Jesus would have condemned gays either, but even he did, I wouldn’t care. That is the point. Eventually, we come to a point in which we do not need an external authority to justify our existence.

The Buddhists have a saying. If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him. The Buddhists are lot more provocative than me, I tell you. The reason you kill the Buddha is because if you see the Buddha outside of yourself, you are projecting reality externally rather than realizing you are the Buddha.

I have heard from others and to some extent have experienced it myself. That is, to move along life’s path, to grow spiritually, if you like, one needs to kill the gods that are in the way. We outgrow them. They become fake. They become idols. Not idols in the sense of sacred statues that are vehicles for devotion, but fake, phony, and false.

It is a loss to do that. It is frightening. It is hard letting go of our gods, even fake ones. No one can tell you how or when to do it. You know it when you know it. It often happens around an issue that we cannot resolve. Bishop John Shelby Spong began his popular book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism with the line: “Sex drove me to the Bible.” It was the Church’s backward and hurtful attitudes toward sexuality that moved him to question other things, including religious authority itself.

I began this sermon by saying that I have been thinking about God this past week. I sure have. I am still trying to figure out how people come up with their various ideas about God and why these ideas are so hard to let go.

Now, we don’t have to let these ideas go. If our concepts of God are making us more loving, hopeful, and aware human beings, then that is good.

I overheard someone say that this congregation is BYOG—Bring Your Own God. I like that. You can conceive of God however you want. You have the authority.

I should say something more. Listening to God, I think, is a good thing. We do that in meditation, prayer, ritual, walking a labyrinth, reading more than one book, and so forth.

Speaking to God is a good thing as well. Articulating our thoughts, needs, fears, joys, and so forth is an important exercise in self-awareness.

It would be good if the church focused on those activities. That is helping people to listen attentively and to speak honestly. Listening to God and speaking to God, I think are helpful things.

It is the speaking for God that makes us dangerous.

39 comments:

Harry said...

Rev Shuck:

Now, we don’t have to let these ideas go. If our concepts of God are making us more loving, hopeful, and aware human beings, then that is good.

Are we supposed to take it on your authority that we ought to be more loving, hopeful, etc. ?

Why shouldn't someone decide to be more selfish and cruel?

The sociobiologists teach us that we humans are evolutionarily programmed to get a great deal of satisfaction from raping and pillaging.

Why shouldn't we follow our bliss

John Shuck said...

You don't have to take it on my authority. I personally think it is better to be loving than cruel. Perhaps you disagree.

Harry said...

Perhaps I do.

Where do you get off telling me any differently?

Or do you simply enjoy manipulating people into follow your personal preferences?

That's OK according to your philosophy, I suppose. But it is hypocritical to criticize others who do the same thing.

Alan said...

Just an observation: What's interesting about this exchange is that I assume (perhaps I'm wrong) that Harry is being intentionally contrarian -- advocating selfishness and cruelty -- in order to make the argument that human beings cannot, without an external authority, make any sorts of ethical/moral decisions on their own, and that without such an external authority no one can make a value judgement about someone else's behavior.

What's funny is that he has apparently made the decision to make such an argument in a snotty, sarcastic way. Apparently even those with external moral compasses don't always use them? What good is such an external authority if one ignores it, Harry? If it isn't worth following in even small actions like blog discussions, why bother following it at all?

Not a very good example of the point he's trying to make in any event. :) Or rather, an excellent example of a good counter argument. LOL

Melanie said...

man, i wish i'd been there Sunday to hear that sermon instead of bleeding money at that garden show in abingdon.

FranIAm said...

John Shuck, you are my hero and as unlikely as it may be that I will become a Presbyterian, if I do it will be all your fault.

Well it would or could possiblybe your fault if I listened to all that external authority.

First off - brilliant sermon, so rich and powerful.

For many years of my life, as I lived in a state of confusion, of abuse, of abandonment and despair, I wanted and needed all this external authority.

I would vacillate between the poles of all me and all someone else (God, the Bible, who I was dating, some boss of mine, who or whatever!)

Fool's game indeed.

Somehow through years of therapy, love, healing and grace upon grace, I may be scarred but I am still standing.

And somehow I integrated that whole kill Buddha on the road thing.

Anyway, I think you hit the nail on the head in so many ways.

This weekend I was listening to a podcast about a secular humanist who was speaking about a research study that said something like 63% of people would not commit murder out of fear of God.

Well, now that is not a very good reason not to commit murder now, is it?

Which I think speaks to your point about externalized authority and projection.

Which is why people blow up abortion clinics and become suicide bombers because they have subliminated all that authority to "the other."

How I prattle on. Let me go grab a big steaming mug of STFU and move along.

Not without recommending this post, which I think is also brilliant.

Pax my brother!

P.S. I am not killing anyone because I think it is wrong. I also choose not to be selfish or cruel for the same reasons, but I slip on those things more often.

Harry said...

But, but, but, Fran!

Fr. Haller's post is all about the nature of God which the Rev. Shuck says is a very, very, bad thing to talk about. Fr. Haller, in this post at least, is utterly orthodox in his thinking!

I don't see how you can find both of these posts brilliant. The Rev. Shuck ought to be taking Fr. Haller to the woodshed!

John Shuck said...

Thanks, Fran for the link and for your kind words.

Melanie, I hope it wasn't a total waste of time and money...

Thanks, Alan.

And Harry,

"Or do you simply enjoy manipulating people into follow your personal preferences?"

You nailed me.

Alan said...

""Or do you simply enjoy manipulating people into follow your personal preferences?"

You nailed me."

LOL

Yeah, I sorta thought: Heck, who DOESN'T? :) I use an old Jedi mind trick that works especially well on the weak-willed.

You want to go get me an ice-cream cone....

Harry said...

Rev. Shuck:

You nailed me.

Figured I did.

And I'll pass on the Kool-Aid, thanks anyway.

Melanie said...

who is this Harry guy, and why is he so hostile?

and what an odd thing to argue for, the right to be a selfish and cruel person. what's his point? that we need religion to scare us into being "good" rather than "following our bliss" of raping and pillaging?

personally, if the only thing making you be good is fear of punishment, that's not very impressive to me. character is what you do behind closed doors, when nobody is looking. if you have to believe that someone is watching your every move in order to be good, well, that's not really being "good" at all, is it? it's just being self-serving.

john, i apologize if i'm feeding a troll. i'm not really sure if i am or not. it always confuses me when i come across someone who is just looking to cause discord, rather than really actually wanting to talk. this might be one of those instances, but i never can really tell.

John Shuck said...

You can feed Harry if you like, just take care you don't get bit.

"personally, if the only thing making you be good is fear of punishment, that's not very impressive to me."

I agree!

Harry said...

Melanie,

The question is not what makes you good.

The question is:

How do you know what the good is.

The Mongols thought that raping and pillaging was a good thing to do. They organized their whole way of life to do just that.

How can you convince them they are wrong?

Snad said...

"The Mongols thought that raping and pillaging was a good thing to do. They organized their whole way of life to do just that.

How can you convince them they are wrong?"

The short answer, Harry, is "we shouldn't". There is this quaint little notion called "the Golden Rule". There are a lot of variations, depending on culture, but generally it says "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". I have yet to read a variation that says "Convince others as to your moral superiority".

Alan said...

"Convince others as to your moral superiority".

Nor do I remember that the appropriate way of doing that is to be snotty and sarcastic. Is that Biblical? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Harry said...

Snad:

OK, we shouldn't convince the Mongols not to rape and pillage, because you wouldn't want the Mongols telling you not to rape and pillage on the weekends?

Then where does Rev. Shuck get off telling the Mongols (or me for that matter) that we ought to be more loving, etc.?

He apparently rejects the Golden Rule because he gives guidance but acknowledges no authority over himself.

-----------------

Alan, Rev. Shuck says we shouldn't rely on external authority (except him of course), so why are you dragging the Bible into this.

Or do you disagree with the Rev. on the utility of the Bible to give moral guidance?

Snad said...

Harry. Do you have any idea how utterly stupid you sound?

FranIAm said...

Hmmm... I hold John Shuck and Tobias Haller in high esteem.

I must be mad.

Is this one of those Osama Obama moments?

Does Harry even know I am an RC?

Harry said...

snad:

Stupid! I don't know the meaning of the word!

What did I get wrong?

Do you really want to impose your moral superiority on the Mongols and I missed your sarcasm?

Does the Rev. really think that we should guide our lives by Biblical values?

Does Fran being RC explain why she admires two imcompatible posts?

FranIAm said...

Perhaps, regardless of my denomination, it is just my desire for integrity and seeing the wholeness in things.

As for that, I am done with you Harry, our short relationship is now over.

Melanie said...

Harry,

I suppose my whole starting point is this: if it occurs with the complete consent of all parties directly involved, and it does not interfere with the rights of others to live as they choose, then that's basically "good". If it does not intentionally cause pain of any sort to other beings, that is "good". If it means considering the good of the one in a context that also considers the good of the whole and tries to uphold both, that's "good". And while there is no perfect anything, not even perfect "good" or perfect "evil", it should be a direction that we are always mindful of, always doing our best to lean toward...and when we veer away, that it is the direction we work to get back to as soon as we can considering that we are fallible humans and all.

The explorers thought Mainfest Destiny was a good thing, too. But they were not considering the good of the Europeans in a context that also considered the good of the beings already present on the land they came to. So, that was not "good", it was selfish in a destructive and hurtful way.

That's the direction I come from, anyway.

(full disclosure: i descend directly from 2 Mayflower passengers. i also have a chunk of relatives who were on the wrong side of Nazism. i have not always been kind or selfless in my life, either. i own that my shitstank is just as powerful as anyone's. but i lean as much as i can, and and new information comes to me, i use it to lean ever more to the point my human-ness allows.)

Melanie said...

Harry, I'm sorry if this seems dismissive, but I really think your argument is nothing other than being Devil's Advocate for the hell of it. I mean really, are you seriously arguing for the rights of the Mongol invaders? Aren't there other places where that energy would be better spent?

Harry said...

It is certainly a Devil's Advocate argument, but I am very serious.

If the Christian source of morality is thrown away, what replaces it.

Why is being loving, etc. good?

Other societies have not thought so, what makes them wrong?

Melanie said...

Harry,

Well, I think the premise that "other societies" have not valued morality is pretty bogus. Even the Mongols, in their own twisted way, believed they were doing what was right. The problem, with outdated societies *and* religions overall, is that their idea of "good", "kind", "fair" and such only applied to those who were a part of their little group. Everyone who was an outsider became something less than human, and therefore the rules of "good" didn't extend to them. They aren't/weren't part of the GROUP, so they were nothing. Garbage. Not worth considering, certainly not deserving of any sort of energy in the way of fairness and decency.

Just because religion has self-ordained itself as the sole source of morality in the current world, that doesn't mean it's true. There are plenty of perfectly ethical humans out there who don't need a religion to tell them about compassion, justice, honesty, or selflessness.

And, honestly, without Free Will (which the Bible estouts, but is often ignored in favor of threats and mandates), there really can't BE any sort of true "morality". Because morality is about supporting a vision of good that is beyond the self. If the self is acting in fear or through force, that's not selfless and therefore not moral.

Harry said...

Melanie:

The problem here is how to refute Neitzche and his Geneology of Morals

On The Geneology of Morals

Where does you notion of "good" come from.

Why should'nt the strong exploit the weak?

And how does Rev. Shuck's approach guarantee that your conception of good will survive in the future?

Evolution teaches that the strong survive and the weak perish and this is how progress is made.

Why shouldn't this ethic prevail in a Shuckified world?

Snad said...

"Evolution teaches that the strong survive and the weak perish and this is how progress is made."

No, Harry, that is not how progress is made. It is how survival is made. Nothing ore. The idea that a surviving specimen is somehow an "improvement" over those that did survive is a complete misunderstanding of evolution.

Also, John's view doesn't guarantee anything. It isn't intended to. I own a sponge, but that's no guarantee I'm going to sop up a spill with it.

And Melanie - Harry keeps talking about the Monguls because he thinks it is a safer alternative than bringing up Hitler and the Jews. He got a smackdown for that a few weeks ago and probably still smarts from it. He's obviously a sensitive fellow ;-).

Also, I don't consider him as much a devil's advocate as a dog in the manger. If it looks like someone else will benefit, Harry's gonna shit on it!

Melanie said...

Harry,

I don't feel any need to refute Nietzche or his dictums, nor Ayn Rand, nor anyone else really. He was a person, just a fallible person like anyone else. He had his viewpoints on things, and it's pretty clear he wasn't 100% right about everything, always and forever. You take what works, you discard the rest. See, that's why I have never been able to subscribe to a religion. I can't swallow what *anyone* says whole. If it scrapes against my conscience, I just can't ignore that. Not with Nietzche, nor Rand, nor Voltaire, or Descartes, or even with the fallible humans responsible for transcribing the various Holy Texts out there.

Why shouldn't the strong exploit the weak? Who is even to say who is really "strong" and who is really "weak"? In what ways? We are all strong, and we are all weak. We can't have a society unless we learn to accommodate one another's strengths and weaknesses, and we are social creatures overall, so we need a society in order to thrive on the whole. It's ultimately in our own selfish best interests to take care of one another, because we all end up being in a position where we need to lean at some point. (whether our pride allows us to acknowledge it or not)

How does John's approach guarantee the survival of my concept of good? Pfft, guarantees. I don't believe in guarantees. You work toward what seems right and you hope it's enough. That's it. There are no guarantees. Just because something fails, that doesn't mean it wasn't a good thing to work toward. It doesn't mean it was a waste. The only waste is when you throw aside what seems right because you don't think you can win, or because it's too hard. I don't need a guarantee in order to feel like I'm doing the right thing. Do you?

Evolution does teach that the strong survive. But "strong", again, doesn't always mean ruthless. Creatures have adapted to survival in many ways, including the use of intelligence, creativity and COMMUNITY.

Harry said...

melanie:

Why shouldn't the strong exploit the weak? Who is even to say who is really "strong" and who is really "weak"? In what ways? We are all strong, and we are all weak. We can't have a society unless we learn to accommodate one another's strengths and weaknesses, and we are social creatures overall, so we need a society in order to thrive on the whole. It's ultimately in our own selfish best interests to take care of one another, because we all end up being in a position where we need to lean at some point. (whether our pride allows us to acknowledge it or not)

You make a good argument for individuals, who need societies,
but why shouldn't strong societies exploit weaker ones?

The Mongols did it successfully for centuries. It is only when they became soft and civilized that more robust societies conquored them.

Melanie said...

Harry,

Why shouldn't "stronger" societies exploit "weaker" ones? Again, who is to say what's "stronger" or "weaker"? I mean, what are the criteria? History, beauty of culture, strength of education system, number of athletes, amount of resources, ability to be productive, big nuk-yu-lar muscles?

But I'll just go with "muscles", because you've mostly been talking in terms of violence and physical aggression anyway.

My thought? Because too much power tends to put blinders on a society just as it does on a person. We need to hear other voices to keep the tunnel vision at bay, to remind us of all the perspectives available to us out there in order to really do a good job of searching out our own. If you stamp out all the "little guys" and it's just YOU, then you're on a fast track to...well, wherever the hell it is you're going, and you don't have anyone traveling in the other lanes to look to for perspective.

Here in the US, you tend to look at your situation and that of your neighbors in regards to how nice their lawn is, how big their TV, how new their car, whether or not they keep the hedges neatly trimmed. You go to other countries and there is virtually no value places on these same things....but they have other values they hold just as dear. After long enough, we'd climb so far into our own navels we wouldn't even realize there was an "outside" anymore, if there weren't other societies out there doing it a different way to help us remember that there are even questions to be ASKED about the values we have. After all, if you've never been around anyone in your whole life who didn't consider a green lawn to be the direct measure of a man's worth as a husband, how likely is it to ever occur to you that there are other ways to make that measure?

Different is important, because otherwise you end up living by default rather than by choice.

Rastus said...

Melanie wrote: "who is to say what's 'stronger' or 'weaker'? I mean, what are the criteria? History, beauty of culture, strength of education system, number of athletes, amount of resources, ability to be productive, big nuk-yu-lar muscles?"

And she hits the nail on the head.

Evolution is indeed the survival of the fittest. But have a look at what the most fit is.

It's us....for the time being.

Evolution has brought forth cooperation and altruism. It's brought a sense of beauty, and an appreciation of justice. It has brought forth the good in us, and the bad. The process continues. This blog is an outcrop of the ongoing struggle for future fitness. The tide shifts over time, but my money is on enlightenment, kindness, inclusiveness and tolerance as characteristics of optimal fitness.

Alan said...

"Harry keeps talking about the Monguls because he thinks it is a safer alternative than bringing up Hitler and the Jews."

I was wondering about that too. I didn't get that he's just working on a corollary to Godwin's Law. LOL Lame.

Harry said...

melanie:

By "strong" I mean any advantage you can use to exploit another society. If you've got a bigger military you can invade them, if you have a stronger economy, you can buy them, if you have a better education system you can outsmart them.

From my observation of other countries, I think everyone wants a bigger TV. They substitute other values only when they can't afford TV's. I spent quite a bit of time in China, about as different as you can get from the US, and all the kids are really into cell phones and video games.

The US is the way it is because this is what people want to do when they have the resources to do it.

(This is a tragedy. The solution is to enforce a deep monoculture which carries the wisdom of previous generations on the right way to live. You take away the bad choices.)


The only ones who don't want bigger TV's, radical Islamicists for example, are more dangerous.



-------------------------

To get back to a theme in a previous post of yours, I think you are much to sanguine about guarantees. Merely working for what you think is right is not enough: it is quite true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

For the Rev. Shuck's approach to the good, he has to first tear down the basis of traditional Christian morality. If he succeeds at this (and I understand he is just a foot soldier in a broader movement) and his replacement morality comes a cropper, then we are much worse off than before.

It is not a waste to discard at attempt to do good if careful thought suggests that it may ultimately cause harm. The Communist Revolution in Russia was aimed at revamping society to make it much better. It was full of idealists like yourself. It would have been much better if they had all been convinced to give it up.

I think I am working for the good by pointing out the dangers and maybe giving you all just a little doubt about the wisdom of your Revolution.

I do need a guarantee or at least a damn good response to all the criticisms I can think of before I would engage in remaking a society.

Your arguments for multiculturalism is another example of a social experiment that turned out poorly: consider Europe. Cultures are deep. They are based on different values and cannot be mixed except in the most superficial ways. I would rather be deeply rooted in a monoculture than a dilettante in multiculture.

Harry said...

Evolution has brought forth cooperation and altruism. It's brought a sense of beauty, and an appreciation of justice. It has brought forth the good in us, and the bad. The process continues. This blog is an outcrop of the ongoing struggle for future fitness. The tide shifts over time, but my money is on enlightenment, kindness, inclusiveness and tolerance as characteristics of optimal fitness.

To a first approximation, you are losing the bet.

The Progressive Christians are having many fewer children than the Traditional ones. This is the main reason that Presbyterians are projected to disappear altogether in a few decades. They are simply not reproducing themselves.

Enlightened Progressive Europeans are being demographically slaughtered by the Asian immigrants. By 2050 it is expected that London will be 50% Islamic.

I'll be delighted to take your bet.

Alan said...

"but my money is on enlightenment, kindness, inclusiveness and tolerance as characteristics of optimal fitness."

vs.

Enlightened Progressive Europeans are being demographically slaughtered by the Asian immigrants.

So apparently Asian immigrants are neither enlightened, kind, inclusive, or tolerant.

Gotcha.

Harry said...

Apparently not, at least according to Tony Blair:

Tony Blair has told immigrants to Britain that, in his opinion, they have "the duty" to integrate with the country's mainsteam.

In a speech immediately interpreted as overturning decades of Labour support for multiculturalism, the Prime Minister explained what ethnic minorities should do if they want to call themselves British.

Among the qualities expected of them were: "equality of respect," especially for women, observing the rule of law and a command of English.

If outsiders wishing to settle in Britain were not prepared to conform to such values as tolerance then they should stay away, Mr Blair argued.

"The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what being British means," he said.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?view=BLOGDETAIL&grid=F11&blog=yourview&xml=/news/2006/12/08/ublview08b.xml

Alan said...

"Apparently not, at least according to Tony Blair:"

Ah, I missed the point where Tony Blair was participating in this "discussion". Welcome Mr. Former Prime Minister! ROFL

Snad said...

What!?!? Former PM Tony Blair is now adding comments to this blog? Geez - John will REALLY think he's sumthin', now! :-)

Rastus said...

"To a first approximation, you are losing the bet."

So it seems. Currently, fundamentalism, ie., unenlightened intolerance, exclusion, hate-mongering, moral bigotry, anti-intellectualism, demagoguery and fear are enjoying the day. But as I said, the tide shifts, and in the fullness of time, I'll win my bet. Evolutionary fitness is on my side.

Flycandler said...

Wow. We've gone from Genghis Khan (who is now marketed as "Hitler Lite"--think of the marketing possibilities: "you can't spell Hitler without L-I-T-E"), to Social Darwinism, to the Bolshevik Revolution (and by inference, the other Hitler Alternative), to the need for white people to start screwing to make up for all the brown people moving to Europe and the US, to Tony "Dodgy Dossier" Blair.

Gotta give Harry credit for trying. At least I think we do.