Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Your community values, and what they say about you.

There is a perfectly apt Conservative precept aimed at one of the most common sins of liberalism that sums up my reaction to this article:

"Don't be so open-minded that you let your brains fall out."

Here is another: "In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is that good men do nothing."

Of course, in these times, that position requires a little encouragement.

Surprises from Liberty University: What I Learned as an Undercover Evangelical

A sociologist named Margarita Mooney has shown that college students who attend regular religious services report being happier, more diligent, and more satisfied with their college experience than students who practice no religion. I still don't consider myself an evangelical Christian, but I can understand now what millions of Christian college students see in faith-based education, and why Liberty's enrollment has grown at a rate that few colleges, secular or religious, have ever matched.

Since the book came out, I've taken some heat from people who have argued that, by going to Liberty with an open mind, I was turning a blind eye to intolerance - or worse, that I'd been brainwashed by my time under Rev. Falwell's tutelage. But no community is all bad, and to dismiss Liberty as a place of wall-to-wall insanity is to reduce it, and the evangelical movement that birthed it, to a lazy caricature.

I still disagree with a lot of the values Liberty stands for, but seeing the human faces on the other side of the American culture wars made me question my own assumptions and realize that, in some ways, I had just as much to learn about tolerance as the most hard-line fundamentalist.

It is all very high-minded and tolerant - until we realize that we are being asked to be tolerant of a community that is designed to further and advance un-apologetically intolerant causes and ideals - with coursework that is rather less well-founded in science, reality, or even respectable Christian theology than your average hairspray porn. No amount of hair-spray can overcome basic bore-stroke incompatibility, so there is a degree beyond which credulity cannot be stretched. So to speak.

The intellectual foundation of Liberty University, on the other hand, is somewhat akin to using Hentai Anime to illustrate a sex-ed manual, with the straight-faced assertion that every once in a while, if you are very good or bad, tentacles will suddenly appear from toilets and heating vents for no particularly understandable reasons.

From the article:
I remember opening my first Creationist Biology exam to find the question: "True or False: Noah's Ark was large enough to accommodate various species of dinosaurs." (According to my professor, the answer was "True" - since dinosaurs and humans cohabited the earth after the Flood, they would have had to find a way to squeeze onto the Ark. He suggested that they could have been teenage dinosaurs, so as to take up less space.) Also troubling was Liberty's extreme social and political conservatism, which made for classroom lessons like "The Consequences of Immoral Sex" and textbook chapters like "Myths Behind the Homosexual Agenda."

Like I said - it's on a par with tentacle porn as part of a Sex-ed curriculum.

But the author asserts that there were were warm fuzzies to be had, and therefore the community itself was not without merit.

There are many virtues in communities. There were virtues and good times to be found in various slave cultures. There was much to be praised about the nobility and courage of Gladiators - and yet one must not overlook the context, in which the entire purpose of their lives and deaths was to die an agonizing public death - no doubt virtuously and courageously - for entertainment.

One must ask, "In what what good end does this virtue lead us?"

All cultures do indeed depend upon virtues and generally select several of particular importance and likewise define any number of vices. But one must look to see if these virtues and vices map coherently to any generally agreed-upon map of ethical behavior. And, whatever map one selects, one must see if there's any particular correspondence between the moral principles cited most often, public actions and actual outcomes.

I find it ironic, for instance, that the public behavior and associations of Jesus of Nazareth would very likely make him unsuited for tenure at Liberty University.

I would argue that while it may well be comfortable and attractive for persons who identify with "Conservative Family Values" to live and learn in a context where their preconceptions are reinforced, rather than challenged, it is not "learning" or "education" in any usual sense - it is rather "indoctrination" and "brainwashing," if only in the sense of maintaining the condition, rather than pro-actively challenging parochial assumptions.

And if one argues a community of the like-minded does not mean all must be irredeemable fools - nonetheless, it is still a collective that is far less than the sum of it's parts, for exactly the same reasons and by exactly the same means as perfected by, say, Liberty's political ally, The Unification Church.

No, participation in such a system of "education" is to abandon one's own moral and ethical judgment to - well, fools at best. And ultimately, I challenge anyone to establish a case where such things ever lead to enough good to balance the harm they do.

What harm?

Consider how very much graduates from such institutions of "higher learning" had to do with the current world-wide economic disaster, refusal to deal with climate or energy issues in any serious way, general hostility towards science and the systemic and deliberate sabotage of public education, from high to low.

And this criticism may be laid without any reference whatsoever to religion or faith in any ethically coherent, defensible sense.

We are speaking of teachings that are in deliberate opposition to established fact - not faith in the absence of evidence. Moreover, many of these "faith based assumptions," particularly the socio-economic ones - have either no biblical foundation, or are in direct opposition to principles stated in the big red letters.

We are speaking of a conscious, deliberate, fabricated and quite provably delusional worldview; supported with malicious, and dishonest misrepresentation of the morals, ethics and motives of all paths and persons that might serve to inform the conscience and intellects of the inmates of these institutions of higher brainwashing.

I do not see this as a religious or political issue; it's rather a divide between those willing to think about issues and make competent issues based on real information and those who would prefer to live in a comfortable self-affirmation society that simply denies the existence or reality of anything that may call those comforting assumptions into question. In other words, it is the choice between the possibility of good outcomes and the certainty of outcomes that can be accurately and fairly described as "evil."

The confluence of current events conspire with the willful subversion and malicious discontent of such willing tools may force the rational and civilized to draw a sharp and surgical line in the sand between the real and the fabulous. Some - many, I hope - may be presented with the dilemma Gen. Robert E. Lee faced - and choose more wisely. I still cherish some hope in that regard, but even in the light of my greatest hopes, there is no future I can see in which these two Americas can continue as one singular nation. The ability to pretend the differences do not exist, don't really matter and do not play out in terms of practical, disastrous effect cannot long be maintained.

Likewise, it becomes clear that various visions of the future of the US - or parts of it at least - are defined by the absence of those who are invited, by implication, to explore their life-paths elsewhere.

As I stated at the beginning, there are limits to tolerance. My tolerance ends when it seems likely that a majority of the "moral majority" support the use of torture in direct contradiction to every value and example in the bible and every civilized moral code in existence.

Then, such is life and the lives of nations and peoples. This is a paradigm shift that effects everyone on the planet, where we are finding that the teachings of old are inadequate to the social, economic, environmental and ethical challenges we are faced with. Clearly, we need a moral and ethical framework that can help us deal with these deeply interconnected challenges Equally clearly, American Conservative Christianity, and it's mirror twin, the various violently oppressive "Islamic" movements are a huge part of the problem.

When a religion is found to be cheer-leading for contributing to morally and ethically indefensible offenses against human rights, it has become a force for evil - if that word is to have any useful meaning at all, it must be applied when it fits.

"By their fruits, ye shall know them."

As an individual, I have always felt it best to avoid large concentrations of stupid people who are easily provoked to violence, since I'm disinclined to join another gang to spread the risk. Unfortunately, the larger the church, the more likely that is to be illustrative of it's character - a gang of stupid people, easily led toward doing evil things "for the greater good."

It needn't be that way, of course; outcomes depend on leadership in all such situations - but currently there is a bias toward a particularly brainless form of unquestioning obedience to Higher Authority that has only been seen infrequently since - well, the Crusades come to mind.

If that boils down to a political stand, well, that's unfortunate trending toward disastrous. But it is also a reasonably accurate assessment. One cannot be intellectually honest about the critical issues facing the human race at the moment and support to any degree the visions of the US Republican movement, ignore it's entanglement with the Dominionist Christian movement or the greater entanglements with various world Conservative political, social and religious movements - none of which have any use for free minds or free peoples with their own individual, functioning consciences.

"When you say 'radical right' today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye." - Barry Goldwater

This is true even when one is generally inclined to highly value the very virtues that Conservatives most often pay lip-service to. Alas, it is no more than lip-service. It is no virtue to defend torture and oppression in the name of "liberty." That is not what Goldwater was speaking of. He would have called it something rather blunt and rude - theocratic stupidity, perhaps, or worse. But it was not his conservatism, much less my own. I'm a progressive Conservative - not a conservative Progressive.

Liberty University may have what some may consider a "vibrant social life," no doubt it contains many puppy and kitten lovers, and be blessed with the occasional rainbow, but none of those things are due to it being in service of anything ethical, moral, respectable or good.

It is a place that stands for intolerable, indefensible ideas and ideals. I will not tolerate them in the name of tolerance - particularly when such people making such choices based on such conspicuous stupidity have done their best to make things far worse than circumstances required.

Liberals, atheists, abortionists, would-be gun controllers and Godless Democrats were not responsible for Katrina, or for deciding that torture was a good policy. A case may be made for failure to oppose, certainly for a conspicuous lack of moral courage - but the case cannot be made for creating the situation in the first place.

Shall we speak of the perfect expression of all that is NeoCon philosophy - Hurricane Katrina? It featured evil for all occasions; sloth, incompetence, racism, religious bigotry, naked greed for the land occupied by "undeserving minorities," and of course, none of this has been in the slightest bit alleviated by government response to the aftermath of the situation they allowed to develop and than failed to address. They chose, instead, to metaphorically and in some rather conspicuous cases, literally attribute that disaster to the "sins" of New Orleans and declare that help would be against "God's Will."

But that's not any God I'd be on speaking terms with. I hope I may be forgiven for my hope that the distinction may become manifest in their lives. "Full measure, pressed down and running over."

I'm done with "Do as you be done by." It's time for "Ms. Bedonebyasyoudid."

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