Personally, I tend to skip the interview portion of the show.
I’m not one of those who complain that Stewart is some kind of soulless corporate lackey because he doesn’t preach a radical Green/Marxist/anarcho-syndicalist message with his airtime, or that his show serves as a safety valve to release frustrations that would otherwise find expression in confrontational political activism (uh, this is still the Yew-Nahted States, isn’t it?) He does his thing very well, and says a lot of things that you never hear anywhere outside of the blogosphere, and I just never saw the point of griping over the obvious limitations of someone working within the system, just like I don’t pay to go watch movies starring Keanu Reeves or Mark Wahlberg only to complain about the terrible acting. You should already know what you’re getting when you sit down.
On that note, it’s certainly true that this is a guy who admitted that he would have voted for McCain over Gore in 2000, and who displays an irritating habit of forced evenhandedness (the “extremists on both sides” bit, which really pissed me off when he used that in an interview discussing abortion with Ramesh Ponnuru). He’s really not terribly “liberal”; like so many, he seems to have been slightly radicalized by the Bush years, but he’ll always rush to take potshots at official enemies like Ahmadinejad and Chavez while assuring everyone that he didn’t really mean to call a U.S. president a war criminal. Boats and apple carts will remain upright and at rest, don’t you worry.
But the sliver of idealism in me leads me to hope that he might feel a little discomfort at having bullshit artists like John “Got Milk?” Bolton and Bill Kristol – who lies like most people breathe – singing his praises. That grinning sociopath Kristol especially should be pelted with garbage and rotten fruit anytime he shows his face in public, if not on trial at the Hague for his influence on recent foreign policy. It’s perfectly possible to be “fair” to your guests without acting like old high-school buddies, and the real-world consequences of their words and actions should carry far more weight than their savoir vivre and sense of humor.
Just in case the rumors are true, and we will all be visited by Obama’s medical bureaucrat-assassins in order to inform them how we wish to die, I figure it can’t hurt to make a statement for the record, right here, right now. For all I know, maybe there are limited opportunities available for certain arrangements, and I don’t want to procrastinate on something so important. All y’all can be my witnesses, too. All right? Ready? Here it is:
I want to die by means of a lethal, heart-stopping orgasm (to be induced by a partner of my choosing, yet to be determined) while on a heroin high.
Is it official now?
A minor quibble: I can vouch that the “euthanizing old people” stuff isn’t believed exclusively by conservatives. About a week before this became news, I got one of those mass emails forwarded to me* from a professional acquaintance warning of this, and it took a few back-and forth exchanges before she finally either accepted that there was no government plan for euthanasia or just wrote me off as one of Them.
She’s not a doctrinaire conservative, although she is also a firm believer in La Reconquista being official policy of the Mexican government — for one thing, she can’t believe that the global warming denialists can be so stupid. She has no problem understanding that mega-corporations like ExxonMobil that make tens of millions in daily profits just might be tempted to lie and fudge data and generally be as obfuscatory as they can in order to keep those profits from being threatened by changes in our fossil fuel consumption (as opposed to the alternative of Al Gore being involved in a conspiracy with every reputable climatologist on Earth to destroy global capitalism and force us all to live in caves and forage for grubs and berries), but it doesn’t seem to have occurred to her that the for-profit health insurance industry might be similarly motivated (as opposed to the alternative that Obama really does have a Stalinist streak and sees a million premature old codger-deaths as just a statistic). It reminds me that Digby, some months ago, took issue with the conventional wisdom that says this country is too ideological and polarized. She suggested that often times, people aren’t ideological enough, meaning that in cases exactly like this, they haven’t even devoted a few minutes to establishing some ground rules, some basic pattern of principles underlying the rhetorical needlework of specific issues. They just go with their knee-jerk reactions. (For that matter, too often, this is also what passes for being an independent thinker, or – sigh – a “maverick”. Wild, superficial incoherence being mistaken for originality or independence.)
I believe the philosopher Forrest Gump’s maxim had it that “stupid is as stupid does,” and pace John Stuart Mill, I’m afraid I have to admit that conservatives don’t have a monopoly on stupid people (New Agers? Come on — they may be affably harmless, but have you ever met people with a worse case of reality-aversion syndrome?) Yes, different political philosophies seem to dispose one towards different types of conspiratorial thinking, but I think the underlying theme is one of being unable to think contextually, to be shockingly ignorant of current social and political realities, to think that certain events can happen like a bolt out of the blue simply because somebody wills them to happen.
*And while I’m thinking of it, how about you lazy fuckers delete the addresses of all those who received the email before forwarding it on to others? I don’t particularly care to know the last ten stops this piece of shit made before landing in my inbox. Thanks much.
Har har. I just wrote in the last post:
That doesn’t even touch on another favorite parlor game of secular liberals, that of insisting that no one with any kind of education or position of power could possibly believe this crap; it has to all be a cynical put-on.
And then I see this:
Incredibly, President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse.
Honest. This isn’t a joke. The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God.
Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”
This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”
But I’m sure this was all just part of Rove’s eleven-dimensional chess plan to make Bush appeal to the average Pabst Blue Ribbon-drinking stumpfucker in the heartland, even if we’re only finding out about this now. Or something. Truly crazy people would never actually be allowed near power, right?
Religious liberals are in one sense even farther in spirit from scientists than are fundamentalists and other religious conservatives. At least the conservatives, like the scientists, tell you that they believe what they believe because it is true, rather than because it makes them good or happy. Many religious liberals today seem to think that different people can believe in different mutually exclusive things without any of them being wrong, as long as their beliefs “work for them.” This one believes in reincarnation, that one in heaven and hell; a third believes in the extinction of the soul at death, but no one can be said to be wrong as long as everyone gets a satisfying spiritual rush from what they believe. To borrow a phrase from Susan Sontag, we are surrounded by “piety without content.” It all reminds me of the story that is told about an experience of Bertrand Russell, when in 1918 he was committed to prison for his opposition to the war. Following prison routine, a jailer asked Russell his religion, and Russell said he was an agnostic. The jailer looked puzzled for a moment, and then brightened, with the observation that “I guess it’s all right. We all worship the same God, don’t we?”
Wolfgang Pauli was once asked whether he thought that a particularly ill-conceived physics paper was wrong. He replied that such a distinction would be too kind – the paper was not even wrong. I happen to think that the religious conservatives are wrong in what they believe, but at least they have not forgotten what it means to really believe something. The religious liberals seem to me to be not even wrong.
One often hears that theology is not the important thing about religion — the important thing is how it helps us to live. Very strange, that the existence and nature of God and grace and sin and heaven and hell are not important! I would guess that people do not find the theology of their own supposed religion important because they cannot bring themselves to admit that they do not believe any of it. But throughout history and in many parts of the world today, people have believed in one theology or another, and for them it has been very important. One may be put off by the intellectual muzziness of religious liberalism, but it is conservative dogmatic religion that does the harm. Of course it has also made great moral and artistic contributions. This is not the place to argue how we should strike a balance between these contributions of religion on one hand and the long cruel story of crusade and jihad and inquisition and pogrom on the other. But I do want to make the point that in striking this balance, it is not safe to assume that religious persecution and holy wars are perversions of true religion. To assume that they are seems to me a symptom of a widespread attitude towards religion, consisting of deep respect combined with a profound lack of interest. Many of the great world religions teach that God demands a particular faith and form of worship. It should not be surprising that some of the people who take these teachings seriously should regard these divine commands as incomparably more important than any merely secular virtues like tolerance or compassion or reason.
This reminded me of the distaste many liberals have for the so-called New Atheists for supposedly being intolerant and unnecessarily divisive. Personally, I think Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, etc. pay advocates of old-school religion the respect of treating them like honest opponents who know what they believe and are willing to fight for it, not confused little kids who just haven’t grown up enough yet to realize that you’re not supposed to take all that stuff about heaven and souls and judgment literally, you big sillies! (That doesn’t even touch on another favorite parlor game of secular liberals, that of insisting that no one with any kind of education or position of power could possibly believe this crap; it has to all be a cynical put-on.)
The popular bumper sticker image above encapsulates that for me — people who think that “we all worship the same god” and that all faiths are just different paths to the same goal don’t seem to realize that that in itself is a secular ideal. Asking people to subordinate what they believe about the ultimate nature of existence and the meaning and purpose of life to a general commandment to get along and play nice is fine; in fact, I’m all for it! I just don’t pretend that it’s an inherent aspect of religious belief itself. It reduces important issues to the level of lifestyle accessories, and I can fully understand why some people see that as intolerable. Certain belief systems make some very clear truth-claims upon the world, and I think it’s actually more disrespectful to condescendingly tell those people that “Oh, you don’t really mean that,” than to tell them they’re flat-out wrong.
“Turn the other cheek,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “As you have done to the least of my brethren, so have you done unto me” are hardly pro-torture slogans. But in the hearts and minds of movement conservatives, not even Churchill, Saint Ronnie or Jesus himself can compete with the comforting violence of Jack Bauer.
Essays like this would be much better if they could leave out the dishearteningly inevitable appeals to the authority of a certain ancient demagogue. Scrutamini scripturas!
From J.L. Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and Against the Existence of God:>
Richard Robinson has examined the synoptic gospels as the best evidence for Jesus’s own teaching, and he finds in them five major precepts: “love God, believe in me, love man, be pure in heart, be humble.” The reasons given for these precepts are “a plain matter of promises and threats”: they are “that the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and that “those who obey these precepts will be rewarded in heaven, while those who disobey will have weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Robinson notes that “Certain ideals that are prominent elsewhere are rather conspicuously absent from the synoptic gospels.” These include beauty, truth, knowledge and reason:
As Jesus never recommends knowledge, so he never recommends the virtue that seeks and leads to knowledge, namely reason. On the contrary, he regards certain beliefs as in themselves sinful…whereas it is an essential part of the ideal of reason to hold that no belief can be morally wrong if reached in the attempt to believe truly. Jesus again and again demands faith; and by faith he means believing certain very improbable things without considering evidence or estimating probabilities, and that is contrary to reason.
Jesus says nothing on any social question except divorce, and all ascriptions of any political doctrine to him are false. He does not pronounce about war, capital punishment, gambling, justice, the administration of law, the distribution of goods, socialism, equality of income, equality of sex, equality of colour, equality of opportunity, tyranny, freedom, slavery, self-determination, or contraception. There is nothing Christian about being for any of these things, nor about being against them, if we mean by “Christian” what Jesus taught according to the synoptic gospels.
What about the historical Jesus? What do we know about him?
It’s popular to say he said the good stuff and not the less good stuff. I think it’s the opposite.
He’s typically seen as the great prophet of peace and love.
Yeah. But the fact is, the Sermon on the Mount, which is a beautiful thing, does not appear in Mark, which was the first written gospel. And these views are not attributed to Jesus in the letters of Paul, which are the earliest post-crucifixion documents we have. You see Paul develop a doctrine of universal love, but he’s not, by and large, attributing this stuff to Jesus. So, too, with “love your enemies.” Paul says something like love your enemies, but he doesn’t say Jesus said it. It’s only in later gospels that this stuff gets attributed to Jesus. This will seem dispiriting to some people to hear that Jesus wasn’t the great guy we thought he was. But to me, it’s actually more inspiring to think that the doctrines of transnational, transethnic love were products of a multinational, imperial platform. Throughout human history, as social organization grows beyond ethnic bounds, it comes to encompass diverse ethnicities and nations. And if it develops doctrines that bring us closer to moral truth, like universal love, that is encouraging. I think you see it in all three religions.
If Jesus was not the prophet of love and tolerance that he’s commonly thought to be, what kind of person was he?
I think he was your typical Jewish apocalyptic preacher. I’m not the first to say that. Bart Ehrman makes these kinds of arguments, and it goes back to Albert Schweitzer. Jesus was preaching that the kingdom of God was about to come. He didn’t mean in heaven. He meant God’s going to come down and straighten things out on Earth. And he had the biases that you’d expect a Jewish apocalyptic preacher to have. He doesn’t seem to have been all that enthusiastic about non-Jews. There’s one episode where a woman who’s not from Israel wants him to use his healing powers on her daughter. He’s pretty mean and basically says, no, we don’t serve dogs here. He compares her to a dog. In the later gospels, that conversation unfolds so you can interpret it as a lesson in the value of faith. But in the earliest treatment, in Mark, it’s an ugly story. It’s only because she accepts her inferior status that Jesus says, OK, I will heal your daughter.
But wasn’t Jesus revolutionary because he made no distinctions between social classes? The poor were just as worthy as the rich.
It’s certainly plausible that his following included poor people. But I don’t think it extended beyond ethnic bounds. And I don’t think it was that original. In the Hebrew Bible, you see a number of prophets who were crying out for justice on behalf of the poor. So it wasn’t new that someone would have a constituency that includes the dispossessed. I’m sure in many ways Jesus was a laudable person. But I think more good things are attributed to him than really bear weight.
Why, it’s almost like all he cared about was the supposed imminent end of the world! A fanatically anti-intellectual cult leader who demands unquestioning loyalty, even at the cost of alienating friends and family, who exults in the thought that anyone who rouses his resentment will suffer greatly in the new world order…you know, I don’t think it’s the conservatives who don’t understand how to interpret his message.