Sunday, June 19, 2011
Homosexuals want it both ways (!)
Traditional organizations like the Boy Scouts of America have long been under siege by atheists and pro-gay lobbyists who insist they shouldn't have the freedom of association to maintain their God-fearing identity. But you think that's maddening? How about the ultimate cultural flip-flop of a gay softball league going to federal court to insist that bisexual or heterosexual players can't play ball with them?
In Seattle, Reagan-appointed U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled that a group called the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance has a First Amendment right to limit the number of bisexual or heterosexual players.
"It would be difficult for NAGAAA to effectively emphasize a vision of the gay lifestyle rooted in athleticism, competition and sportsmanship if it were prohibited from maintaining a gay identity," the judge wrote.
In other words, the gay left now can have it both ways. They can force "anti-discrimination" rules on everybody else, but they don't have to follow them.
The gay softball alliance oversees gay softball leagues in dozens of U.S. cities and runs an annual tournament called the Gay Softball World Series. Three men claimed in a lawsuit filed last year that their team's second-place finish in the 2008 tournament in Washington state was nullified because officials ruled they were bisexual, not utterly gay, and thus their team exceeded the limit of two non-gay players.
D2, the San Francisco-based team the men played on, was disqualified after others at the tournament questioned their sexuality and filed a protest. Rumors had persisted for years about whether D2 was stacking its team with "straight ringers." In addition to the three plaintiffs, the team had two designated straight players.
Isn't it strange that gay activists would cheer the inclusion of openly gay athletes in professional sports, with all the pride they can muster in their talents, but insist in federal court on throwing out "straight ringers" -- all but admitting gay athletes can't compete with them on the field?
At least the judge said one fraction of the plaintiffs' case can proceed toward a trial set for August 1 -- over the sexual interrogation these three players faced. They were marched one by one into a conference room at the tournament in suburban Seattle in front of about 25 people and asked about their "private sexual attractions and desires." The gay softball alliance argued that under questioning, the men -- Steven Apilado, LaRon Charles and Jon Russ, all African-Americans -- were somehow not forthcoming enough about their sex lives.
Minutes of this interrogation revealed that Charles claimed to be gay but acknowledged being married to a woman. (Curses!) And Apilado initially said he was both gay and straight but then acknowledged being more attracted to women. (Gross!)
The organization says it has always considered bisexuals to meet the definition of "gay" for roster purposes, but the minutes also note that one official involved in the decision to disqualify D2 insisted that "this is not a bisexual world series. This is a gay world series."
In a statement, Charles, who was also D2's manager, complained, "When you play softball, you never expect for anyone to corner you and ask you personal questions about who you are and what you do. It was emotional for me as a coach to go in there and not only get grilled, but watch my team be put in this situation."
According to Charles, people inside the hearing room were texting private information to people outside while the questioning was taking place.
"When I came out of the hearing room, people I didn't even know were making comments about my marriage and other things we said in the hearing," he said.
In court documents, the gay softball alliance insisted this kind of "protective discrimination" is not unique: the Black American Softball Association allows just four "non-black" players per team and demands birth certificates as proof of race; the Native American World Series has a cap of two non-Indian softball players per team and requires players to carry "Indian identification"; and the SMASH Softball Tournament for Asian/Pacific Islanders allows only three non-Asian players and requires "proof of ethnicity."
The three players are being represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which sued a gay organization for the first time to stay consistent with their typical opposition to groups like the Boy Scouts having their own private exclusions. The gay-softball league is a "public accommodation," they argued, and cannot discriminate on sexual orientation.
OK, so let's launch the White American Irish-Catholic Heterosexual League. It will have a two-gay limit per team and any transgression will be disqualified as "too gay." Oh, and no Jews, no blacks and certainly no Methodists. (A couple of Anglicans, maybe.)
See how crazy we've all gone?
The Expanding Vengeance of Affirmative Action
Some use the more traditional term "affirmative action." Others prefer the more cheerful, unifying-sounding "diversity." Either way, one would be hard-pressed to deny that mandating equal outcomes among racial and sexual groups over time has become the official coin of the realm in this country. What is perhaps most remarkable is the absence of any real political opposition to this regime.
Prime evidence of affirmative action's capacity to expand can be found in a 36-page report issued this April by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) titled "Survey of Federal Laws Containing Goals, Set-Asides, Priorities, or Other Preferences Based on Race, Gender, or Ethnicity." The study counted 12 government-wide and 264 agency-specific statutes that require or encourage such preferences; the grand total of 276 is about 60 percent higher than the 172 examples the CRS found during a similar review in the mid-Nineties. The report underscores the tendency of all bureaucracies to become captive of the constituencies on whose behalf they regulate. It also demonstrates once more that most lawmakers are petrified of angering black and Hispanic "civil rights" leaders.
The new study is welcome and overdue. Since its beginnings in 1965 with President Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 – an order continued by every president since – affirmative action is now woven into the fabric of American everyday life and not simply the federal work force. Indeed, virtually nobody prominent in government, business, labor, philanthropy, sports, entertainment or religion now thinks of challenging it. They know well that a misperceived stray remark, not to mention a "discriminatory" policy, can end their career or, failing that, threaten their social standing. Corporate officials now regularly celebrate their respective companies' commitment to racial, ethnic and gender "diversity," often contributing generous checks to nonprofit groups controlled by civil-rights hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to avoid lawsuits or boycotts.
As unwritten rule would have it, the primary beneficiaries of the affirmative action edifice are nonwhites, especially blacks; the secondary beneficiaries are women, especially single women. Advocates of these arrangements believe, and with few inhibitions about saying as much, that whites, having been privileged for too long. Thus, the ostensibly privileged must make way for those who have been "excluded," "underrepresented" or "disadvantaged."
Affirmative action operates on a presumption of collective grievance. Even if individuals within a privileged class – e.g., whites – haven't disparaged the rights of nonwhites, the argument goes, they still owe their good fortune to past acts of discrimination imposed by their own. All white success, in this view, in some measure is a legacy of injustice. Affirmative action has succeeded over the years because members of putatively privileged groups, especially white males, have been made to feel a strong sense of guilt. Under this new regime of rights, an employer, contractor or college can't simply be race-neutral in its decisions; it also must take proactive steps to boost its percentage or numerical representation of underserved groups to a level that authorities deem appropriate.
Into this morass has stepped the Congressional Research Service. The CRS is a nonpartisan research shop on Capitol Hill, a division of the Library of Congress. Its new monograph is couched in dry language. And on the issue of affirmative action, it is neither "pro" nor "anti." But the findings are exceptionally useful all the same, documenting how far federal program design and administration have incorporated affirmative action, regardless of which party holds power. The study's authors, Jody Feder, Kate Manuel and Julia Taylor – respectively, a pair of CRS legislative attorneys and a CRS law librarian – sought to catalog race, ethnic and gender preferences according to federal agency or program category. Using LEXIS/NEXIS and WESTLAW data searches, they developed a list of individual items, accompanied by a brief description.
What follows is a tally of the number of programs, by agency/program area, that are required or encouraged by federal law. The list is not comprehensive. The authors admitted they had to exclude most regulations and executive orders, plus general anti-discrimination statutes (e.g., Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act) that don’t mandate racial, ethnic or gender preferences per se. What did make the cut were "any statutes found during the course of our research that appear, in any manner, to prefer or consider race, gender, or ethnicity as affirmative factors in federal employment, in the award of federal contracts, or in granting any federal benefit to individuals or institutions." This included laws directed to “socially and economically disadvantaged” individuals, groups and institutions, a term that even the authors admitted is a proxy for beneficiaries of affirmative action. Here is the breakdown:
Program Category/Number of Programs Government-wide - 12 Agriculture - 32 Banking - 17 Commerce - 7 Communications - 6 Defense - 18 Education - 41 Energy - 8 Environment - 3 Health and Human Services - 53 Homeland Security - 8 Housing and Urban Development - 6 Immigration and Naturalization - 1 Interior - 6 Internal Revenue - 1 Justice - 4 Labor - 5 Office of Personnel Management - 6 Science and Technology - 11 Small Business - 9 State Department and Foreign Affairs - 9 Transportation - 7 Veterans Affairs - 6 Total - 276
Here are a few examples of affirmative action mandates, as worded in the CRS report:
Banking. 12 U.S.C. Sec. 635a-4: Requires the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank to attempt to ensure that a major share of any loan guarantee ultimately serves to promote exports from small, medium-size and minority businesses or agricultural concerns.
Education. 20 U.S.C. Secs. 1051 et seq.: Provide a range of assistance to institutions of higher education that serve high percentages of minority students.
State Department and Foreign Affairs. 22 U.S.C. Sec. 3922a: Requires the head of each agency utilizing the Foreign Service personnel system to develop a plan to significantly increase the number of members of minority groups and women in the Foreign Service in that agency, with particular emphasis on mid-level positions.
One could go on, but the point should be clear: Federal law almost reflexively now operates on an assumption that mandatory racial, ethnic and sexual diversity is necessary, for government and for the nation as a whole. Democrats in Congress and the White House may lean on federal agencies harder than their Republican counterparts in order to meet standards, but neither party, save for a brief moment in time, has made any real attempt to challenge the assumption.
That brief moment in time occurred during the afterglow of the 1994 congressional elections which saw a major Republican pickup of seats in the House and Senate. On December 22, 1994, Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., sent a letter to the American Law Division of the Congressional Research Service requesting “a comprehensive list of every federal statute, regulation, program, and executive order that grants a preference to individuals on the basis of race, sex, national origin, or ethnic background. Preferences include, but are not limited to, timetables, goals, set-asides, and quotas.” The CRS obliged him soon enough. On February 17, 1995 it sent Dole’s office a list and accompanying brief descriptions entitled, "Federal Laws and Regulations Establishing Preference Based on Race, Ethnicity or Gender (1995)."
The list, like the more recent one, was the product of several searches of LEXIS/NEXIS and WESTLAW legal databases. The categories were somewhat different from the more recent report, but results indicated that racial, ethnic and gender favoritism already by then had become bloodlessly incorporated into the federal regulatory apparatus. Here was the breakdown:
Program Category/Number of Programs Federal Acquisitions – General - 4 Agriculture - 15 Banking - 10 Commerce - 5 Communications - 6 Defense - 7 Education - 28 Energy - 7 Environment - 5 General Services Administration - 3 Health and Human Services - 8 Housing and Urban Development - 9 Interior - 9 Labor - 7 NASA - 2 Small Business - 4 State Department and Foreign Affairs - 3 Government Procurement Agreements - 6 Transportation - 6 Veterans Affairs - 2 Other - 3 Equal Opportunity Laws - 11 Federal Regulations - 12 Total - 172
Comparing the total for this list with the new one, the number of federal mandates for racial, ethnic and gender "diversity" has risen by about 60 percent. The areas of "Agriculture," "Defense," "Education" and especially "Health and Human Services" have witnessed especially rapid growth in directives.
To stem this tide, Sen. Dole and Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., in July 1995 introduced legislation, the Equal Opportunity Act, to bar the use of affirmative action criteria in all federal laws and programs. Dole, Canady and other supporters of the bill were subjected to a torrent of criticism that they were insensitive toward racial minorities and women. With President Clinton increasingly giving signs he would veto the bill, backers quickly lost their nerve and withdrew their support.
It wasn’t as if there was all that much nerve in the first place. An anonymous Republican staffer at the time put it this way: "Republicans have been ambivalent from the beginning about Dole-Canady. So this is not a surprise." Affirmative action critic Clint Bolick, then-Vice President of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit legal group, the Institute for Justice, was more direct: "The Republican leadership has consistently been terrified of this issue for unknown reasons."
Actually, the main reason for the terror was obvious, if unspoken: Whites in power don't want to be known as "racists." The power of that word to define a public figure's legacy has become the ultimate political card, regardless of party. Even the two black House Republicans, Gary Franks (Connecticut) and J.C. Watts (Oklahoma), declined to lend support. Who within the Republican Party wanted to anger them?
Supporters of the Dole-Canady legislation reintroduced a stripped-down bill in 1996 that would have applied only to federal contracting, but that, too, went nowhere. Dole distanced himself from the measure once he left the Senate to become a full-time candidate for president. Further undercutting his credibility was his selection of former New York Republican Congressman and HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, an unabashed affirmative action enthusiast, as his vice-presidential running mate.
If opponents of affirmative action in Congress went wobbly, in California, at least, they did not. In 1996, opponents placed a statewide initiative on the November ballot to amend the state constitution known as the California Civil Rights Initiative, or simply Proposition 209. Drafted by two white academicians, Glynn Custred and Thomas Wood, and chaired by a Sacramento-based land use planning consultant, Ward Connerly (a mixed-race black), the measure sought to ban preferential treatment by race, ethnicity or sex throughout the state in public employment, education and contracting. Voters approved Proposition 209 by nearly 55 percent to 45 percent. Defenders of affirmative action promptly went to court to block the law from taking effect. They eventually failed, but not without injecting enormous uncertainly into the enforcement process. In August 2010, nearly 14 years after passage, the California Supreme Court ruled, for the second time, that Proposition 209 was constitutional. Connerly would lead similar efforts in Washington State (Initiative 200) and Michigan (Proposal 2). Here, too, voters approved measures banning affirmative action mandates in state law, only to see implementation delayed or otherwise undercut by lawsuits and political pressure by quota supporters.
Affirmative action, at bottom, represents a radical redefinition of rights. It focuses not on an individual’s desire to be free from acts of aggression or fraud, but on whole classes of persons allegedly denied opportunity to realize arbitrarily determined social and economic outcomes. The latter vision holds that inter-group inequality, by its nature, is a product of injustice and thus is in need of forcible redress. This redefinition has triggered a growing State, which in turn has created an official means of stigmatizing innocent persons and institutions. Opponents of affirmative action do have one ace in the hole: It is unpopular. More to the point, it is deeply unpopular among whites, even if they fear the consequences of fully verbalizing their thoughts. Christopher Caldwell, writing in Time magazine (June 8, 2009) on President Obama’s nomination of affirmative-action supporter Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, recognized the concept's capacity to antagonize:
Affirmative action has been a revolution in American rights and in our ideas of citizenship. To judge from almost all polls and referendums over the past few decades, it is reliably unpopular. Judges prop it up. Since the election of the first black President, it has been a shoe waiting to drop. The rationale it rests on – that minorities are cut off from fair access to positions of influence in society – has been undermined, to put it mildly. Elevating a hard-line defender of affirmative action is thus a provocation in a way that it would not have been in years past.
Yet if affirmative action is more indefensible than ever, that it doesn't mean it was ever defensible in the first place. Harvard sociologist Nathan Glazer, in his 1975 book, Affirmative Discrimination: Ethnic Inequality and Public Policy, the first full-length treatment of the subject from a critical standpoint, explained the impossibility of enlisting all of society to accurately make amends for group grievances:
Compensation for the past is a dangerous principle. It can be extended indefinitely and make for endless trouble. Who is to determine what is proper compensation for the American Indian, the black, the Mexican American, the Chinese or the Japanese American? When it is established that the full status of equality is extended to every individual, regardless of race, color, or national origin, and that special opportunity is also available to any individual on the basis of individual need, again regardless of race, color, or national origin, one has done all that justice and equity call for and that is consistent with a harmonious multi-group society.
Supporters of affirmative action view harmony as something within reach only until all population groups achieve equity. That this goal is neither possible nor desirable is a possibility they refuse to fathom. Their ceaseless insistence upon enforced social outcomes has been realized in an obsessive federal bureaucracy backed by the will of Congress. The Congressional Research Service once again has performed a public service by cataloging this obsession.
Keep Jesus Out of Your Socialism
In part one of this series, I made clear, from the words of Jesus and the New Testament, that ministering to the poor and the needy among us is the work of Christian individuals and the church, not the secular government. Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. . . ." Today's Religious Left wants to change that to, "He has anointed the federal government to preach good news to the poor."
The Christian gospel is a message of salvation, not a message of income redistribution and raising our neighbor's taxes. Jesus said that the way to serve the poor is by giving generously of our own resources. "But when you give a banquet," He said in Luke 14, "invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
The Religious Left is very generous—with other people's money. In fact, I believe the founder of the Religious Left was none other than Judas Iscariot. When Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anointed Jesus with costly perfume just days before the crucifixion, Judas lectured her and said, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?"
Notice that Judas put on a show of caring for the poor—even though the money was Mary's, not his! The motives of Judas, John 12:6 tells us, were corrupt and self-centered—and Jesus responded with a stinging rebuke.
At least one of the Lord's disciples was a "social action Christian" in the Sojourners mold: Simon Zelotes (Simon the Zealot). Just as Sojourners president Jim Wallis was once president of the Michigan State chapter of the militant Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Simon Zelotes was a young political radical who attached himself to Jesus because he thought Jesus would lead a revolt against the Roman Empire.
Simon saw Jesus as a political Messiah who would topple the powerful while lifting up the poor and oppressed. But Jesus was not a political Messiah. He didn't attack the Roman Empire. He did battle with the Evil Empire of Satan himself.
Jesus didn't tell the Roman government what its budget priorities should be. Why? Because His agenda was much larger than the agenda of Simon Zelotes or the Religious Left. His eyes were fixed on eternity. He said, "My kingdom is not of this world."
The Religious Left has missed the meaning of that statement. Yes, there is a place for Christian social action—but that place is in a personal lifestyle of generosity and compassion to the poor. Jesus didn't tell the rich young ruler to become a political activist and affect public policy. He said, "Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
It's true, there's poverty in America, and some of the poor can't lift themselves out of poverty without help. Some are physically or socially disadvantaged. Some are down on their luck. They need and deserve Christian compassion and the good news of the gospel.
But a huge number of people receiving government assistance are substance abusers, welfare cheats, or chronically lazy. Doesn't the Bible tell us, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10)? Why must the "makers" of society support the "takers" of society? That's not compassion. That's theft. Wouldn't it be more compassionate to encourage the takers to develop self-respect by becoming productive citizens?
Would Jesus endorse government policies that encourage and enable addiction, indolence, and welfare fraud? Certainly not. The Religious Left should read His parables, especially the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the Parable of the Vineyards (Matthew 20:1-16), and the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46). In those parables, Jesus blesses hard work, personal responsibility and the freedom to achieve.
Government programs can't separate the truly needy from the welfare cheats—but private Christian charities can. Private charities are far more effective than government at meeting needs, changing lives, eliminating fraud and waste, and dispensing compassion. Our stance as Christians should be pro-compassion, not pro-bureaucracy.
The place for compassionate Christian social action is in the church, and in the lives of individual believers. When the church becomes a political pressure group, telling the government, "Confiscate more wealth from those who earned it and give it to those who have not," then the church has formed an unholy union with the kingdoms of this world.
Income redistribution is not Christianity. It's Marxism—and mixing the two only pollutes the Gospel and betrays the Great Commission.
An unreliable atheist
By John Dickson
Tamas Pataki, a trained philosopher and well-known figure on the atheist circuit, recently put up four arguments against state schools offering Special Religious Education (SRE). It leads to divisiveness, strengthens group identity (a bad thing because of the first), is factually untrue and, unlike Graeco-Roman wisdom, argues from parable and dogma instead of by reasoning. Pataki is wrong on all four counts.
It was ironic to me that his first two points were grounded not in reasoning or in evidence (such as a social study of the ill-effects of SRE in school life) but in a 1000-word personal parable of a young Jewish boy made to feel alienated in a Melbourne schoolyard.
The story itself was not at all amusing; it shows the damage that can be done when passion - whether religious or political - is not coupled with compassion.
The anecdote was notable on another level. It struck a motif quite common in atheist literature: the boy wounded or disillusioned, sometimes understandably, by early religious experiences grows up to be an ardent atheist (Richard Dawkins's testimonial is the most famous example).
Such stories seem to provide a partial explanation for the puzzling superficiality of the engagement with the intellectual sources of faith that we sometimes see on display. The "religion" that atheists most often parody, quite successfully, is like an imaginary enemy from childhood, an object frozen in the mind of a twelve year old and never seriously examined since.
How the West was won
But back to the point. In a secularizing society like ours, I fear that Pataki may be right that the case for SRE today carries little force for many Australians.
The only argument I personally think has weight - and on which he was noticeably wobbly - is that Judeo-Christianity significantly influences Western culture, art, politics, ethics and history.
Children should be taught Judaism and Christianity - and, in the interests of multicultural fairness, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism too - in order to grasp something of Australia's cultural heritage and, more generally, how powerful ideas have shaped the realities of the modern world.
This could be taught by existing teachers and as a "secular subject," but it is hard to predict how successful this would be in conveying the essential content and inner strength of the different worldviews.
Pataki skirts around the issue when he says that the influence of the Judeo-Christian worldview on Western history has been "exaggerated." This is itself a flimsy assertion, which he hopes readers will believe on account of the fact that, in other respects, he is a thoughtful writer. But I do not see how any serious ancient or medieval historian could accept that.
Western culture has been shaped decisively by its Hebrew and Christian cultural sources, as many specialists qualified to speak on the subject have shown, including Oxford's Peter Harrison, Princeton's Peter Brown, Baylor's Rodney Stark, Macquarie's Edwin Judge and others.
The Judeo-Christian shape of Western civilization is hardly discussed in the media, let alone given the opportunity to be "exaggerated." Sadly, such insights are usually left to the cultural historians and political philosophers. One such expert, the atheist Jurgen Habermas of the Goethe University in Frankfurt, famously conceded:
"Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than a mere precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love ... Everything else is just idle postmodern talk."
But I have a particular bone to pick with Pataki. He slips into a presumption very common among both religious preachers and atheist writers at the moment: competency extrapolation, where expertise in one area is taken to justify grandiose claims about things far outside your field.
It's not that people can't comment on important matters outside their area of study. We all do that. But when we do, we should proceed with some caution, citing relevant evidence and experts to support our case.
Tamas Pataki is a technical philosopher, but his knowledge of historical scholarship leaves much to be desired. He begins well. "Truth in history matters," he says as he introduces his section on the hopeless unreliability of the Bible. But then come the baseless assertions, errors of fact and serious misrepresentations of scholarship.
This is something of a trend in recent atheist literature. Leaving aside the small, pardonable mistakes of those who haven't felt it necessary to read any Bible since childhood (Dawkins's placement of the Magi story in Luke's Gospel, for instance), harder to overlook are the serious misrepresentations of scholarship found in atheist apologetics.
For example, Michel Onfray, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins all suggest that the very existence of Jesus is still in doubt among the historians. Dawkins cites an authority who has made what he describes as a "serious historical case that Jesus never lived at all," one "Prof. G.A. Wells of the University of London." But what Dawkins doesn't say is that Wells is Professor of German Language and Literature at the University of London.
How would he react if someone made an eccentric biological claim and then cited a language professor as the "serious" authority. In reality, the Jesus-never-lived hypothesis is about as marginal in historical scholarship as young-earth-creationism is in biological science.
Pataki's essay displays a comparable tendency toward competency extrapolation - though, at least he seems to take for granted the historicity of the figure of Jesus. He frequently makes bold historical assertions, which appear to carry force only because of his winsome writing style and good credentials as a philosopher. It certainly is not because they are accurate.
I won't dwell on the small errors, such as the statement that Matthew and Luke were "largely based" on the Q-source (Q accounts for less than 20% of these Gospels' material; hardly any kind of basis).
But I will point to the several historical pontifications in his piece that grossly misrepresent scholarly opinion and highlight again the rhetorical excess of the evangelizing atheists. They will cite any scholarship, even non-scholarship, so long as it furthers the cause of unbelief. They get away with this only because they assume their readership, like the authors themselves, haven't read any serious writings on the subject.
The origins of Israel
First was Pataki's obvious kicking-against-the-goads of his Jewish heritage:
"There was no Egyptian bondage, covenant on real estate, exodus or conquest. Our best archaeology, history and biblical scholarship tell us that the Israelites crystallized out of local Canaanite peoples and culture, and their exclusive monotheism was a late post-Exilic development shaped by a host of political, cultural and theological influences."
This is an outrageous misrepresentation. It holds up one strand of contemporary archaeology, known as the "minimalist" perspective, as if it stood for all scholarship. Pataki thereby ignores the majority of the field, made up of "maximalists" and "centrists," which would reject the caricature of Israelite history offered in the above paragraph.
Ken Kitchen, for example, has laid out the contemporary evidence for early Israelite monotheism, an Egyptian bondage, a mass exodus and a Canaanite conquest. Kitchen is no maverick. As Professor of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool (retired) he is in an excellent position to assess of the Bible's conviction that the Israelites began their journey to nationhood from the Nile Delta.
By contrast, Pataki's sole authority in these matters is a journalist:
"As Robert Wright affirms in The Evolution of God, virtually no biblical historians today believe that the biblical accounts of these matters are reliable."
That certainly is not true, but my larger question is why Pataki would call as his witness a popular author with no relevant credentials.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
And the Robert Wright references don't end there. Pataki cites him later as an authority on "the historical Jesus" too. He tries to make the case that even sublime sayings, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke's Gospel, are "unlikely to have been teachings of the historical Jesus."
This particular parable, he says, is not found in the earliest Gospel (Mark), nor in the early Gospel-source known as Q. It is therefore a late addition, an invention.
Bizarrely, he then adds that the universalistic trend of the parable, where a Samaritan is more morally heroic than a Jewish priest, is contrary to the "historical Jesus's ethnocentric ejaculations." Here, he relies squarely on Wright, whom he quotes as follows:
"The real Jesus believes you should love your neighbours, but that isn't to be confused with loving all humankind. He believes you should love God but there's no mention of God loving you ... 'love your enemy' like 'love your neighbour' is a recipe for Israelite social cohesion, not for interethnic bonding."
Almost everything in Pataki's (and Wright's) foray into biblical commentary is wrong.
While it is true that Mark and Q do not have the parable of the Good Samaritan, most scholars in fact think this teaching comes from the early Gospel-source known as L (see the major studies of K. Paffenroth, J. Fitzmyer and C.F. Evans). That gives it a date earlier than Mark's Gospel and roughly contemporary with Q.
It certainly is not an editorial invention of Luke, as both the grammar and syntax of the parable and its clunky segue from the previous section make clear.
What of the alleged "ethnocentricity" of the historical Jesus? This argument reminds me of a section in Richard Dawkins's God Delusion under the title "Love They Neighbour." Here Dawkins, like Wright and Pataki, tries to suggest that Jesus was nowhere near as kind and loving as Christians make out. "Jesus was a devotee of the same in-group morality - coupled with out-group hostility - that was taken for granted in the Old Testament."
He freely admits his source for this historical insight, an article in the Skeptic Magazine by John Hartung, whom he enthusiastically describes as an "American physician and evolutionary anthropologist."
How do these credentials qualify someone to dogmatize about what a first-century Palestinian Jew thought, especially when the conclusion is counter to one of the most securely established consensuses of Jesus-scholarship over the last thirty years: Jesus deliberately broke down "out-group hostility."
From E.P. Sanders to M. Borg, from G. Theissen to the Jewish specialist G. Vermes, scholars are in agreement that one of Jesus's core critiques of his own people was their antagonism toward the "sinner," the tax-collector, the Samaritan and the Gentile.
According to a passage in Q (the earliest Gospel-source), the religious elite slandered Jesus as the "friend of sinners." In another Q passage, Jesus declares that the pagans of Tyre and Sidon have more chance of entering God's kingdom than his fellow Jewish communities in Capernaum and Bethsaida. And, finally, yet another Q text has Jesus praise a Roman centurion for his faith and then announce to the astonished home crowd, "Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."
The "universalistic trend" of the parable of the Good Samaritan coheres completely with what our earliest sources say about the teacher from Nazareth.
He was one of a number of Jewish teachers in the period who insisted, largely on the basis of the universalistic hopes of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, that the God of Israel loved all of humanity, the righteous and the wicked alike.
Pataki's attempt to argue otherwise, and his reliance on questionable sources, reveal the disturbing tendency of the new atheists to use any assertion to bolster their case. It is the mirror image of the Christian apologetics of yesteryear. It works for no one but the uninformed or already-convinced.
Casting the first stone
Pataki's next faux pas concerns the famous incident of the woman caught in adultery, about whom Jesus says in John's Gospel, "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone." It is an "excellent story," writes Pataki, but it "was added centuries after John was written."
He has confused the fact that this narrative doesn't appear in the best manuscripts of John's Gospel, something all modern Bibles acknowledge in their text of John 8, with a conclusion that the story was concocted "centuries" later.
In fact, it is acknowledged that the story has a very ancient, if not first-century, provenance, as C.K. Barrett, J. Charlesworth and others have argued. It is an additional piece of oral testimony that was placed in Luke's Gospel in some ancient manuscripts and in John's in others (usually with a copyist's asterisks to indicate its uncertain origin).
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, the volume explaining the decisions of the committee that establishes the Greek text of the New Testament (from which modern translations are then made), states that:
"the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western Church ... in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage, a majority [of the committee] decided to print it."
What we got from the Greeks
But Pataki is at his rashest and, thus, weakest when trying to argue that the West, far from being the product of the biblical worldview, has really inherited its best ideas from the earlier, Graeco-Roman cultures:
"In fact, the fundamentals of our legal, political, civic and economic structures, as well as nearly every fruitful form of investigation, including moral exploration, we owe to Graeco-Roman civilization, itself complex and pluralistic."
Indeed, Pataki thinks that it is only to the degree that Christianity "absorbed and preserved" some of the wisdom of Greece and Rome and "failed to destroy entirely the rest" that we can say that Christendom shaped Western civilization.
His sharpest claim is his most vulnerable, namely, that the Judeo-Christian worldview argues only by parable, poetry and pronouncement, whereas the Greeks insisted that "knowledge entails rational argument."
Moreover, the Bible is a "regression to a more primitive state of affairs," but a true education, as cultivated by the Greeks, urges students to:
"search for answers in texts or experience, through equations or experiments, and they are asked to justify their answers rationally by appeal to evidence, mathematical proofs and so on."
Pataki fails to describe the real significance of the Greeks and he conflates two types of knowledge that were really quite separate in the ancient world. He is correct to say that the sixth-century BC philosophers launched a revolution in knowledge, centred on a pure rationalism.
As a result, they made huge advances in mathematics (Pythagoras, born 580 BC), offered powerful rationalizations of nature (Aristotle, 384 BC), reasonably accurately calculated celestial movements (Ptolemy, AD 100) and started to explore what we now call medicine (Galen, AD 129).
But for all the advances, there was a major intellectual roadblock at the heart of Greek thought that prevented them from making the leap into what we now think of as science.
The methodology of empirical testing fundamental to our Western intellectual tradition did not come from the Greeks. Indeed, it could not. The Greeks closed the door on verification through experience. "The whole business of testing for truth," says Professor Edwin Judge, a specialist on the reception of Graeco-Roman culture into the modern world and founder of Macquarie University's Ancient History Department, "was explicitly rejected in classical culture as being illogical."
Why? Because the Greeks believed the universe operated according to a fixed, eternal logic, which was accessible to the logical mind of human beings. What was needed in order to comprehend the world, whether the movements of the stars or the circulation of the blood, was not testing but careful reasoning from unchallenged axioms.
So long as we are amply trained, we can think our way to reality. Experimentation was therefore irrational. From Parmenides (born 515 BC) to Aristotle (384 BC), from Chrysippus (280 BC) to Plotinus (AD 205), the Greek intellectual method, for all its advances, erected a giant blockade in front of what we today recognize as the only valid path to true science.
According to Peter Harrison, Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford:
"The revolution which gave rise to a proper natural history was not the result of new facts or observations, nor of the discarding of irrelevant and extraneous material, but of a change to the mental field in which generally accepted facts were located."
This "change in mental field" involved giving up the Greek obsession with rationalism, says Harrison, and adopting the pathway to knowledge called "empiricism," testing by experience.
Rationalism imagines that we can think our way to a true account of the world; empiricism concedes our limited grasp of reality and sets out to observe nature, propose theories to explain it, tests those theories with experiments and invites others to confirm or disprove the explanation.
What we got from the Jews and Christians
This revolution in the path to knowledge was the result of the shattering of the Greek worldview by the Judeo-Christian worldview. And we can date it precisely.
In AD 529 the Christian philosopher John Philoponus published his Refutation of Proclus echoing his Refutation of Aristotle. These were a stunning dismantling of the Greek doctrine of the rational, eternal universe in favour of a philosophical defence of the biblical notion of the universe as a created object with a beginning. And this gave us science as we now think of it.
The Oxford Classical Dictionary states things plainly: Philoponus
"influenced subsequent science to Galileo by replacing many of Aristotle's theories with an account centred on the Christian idea that the universe had an absolute beginning."
The breakthrough was immense. If the world is not an eternal, logical system but a creative work of art, we cannot simply think our way to understanding reality. We must humbly inspect what the Creator, of his own free will, has produced and apply our rational powers of testing to comprehend what He has manufactured. Testing of what is, not rationalizing from first principles, will lead us to the truth about the physical world.
This is precisely the path John Philoponus opened up and it is exactly how the first modern scientists thought about their work. Isaac Newton, John Ray, Galileo, Johannes Kepler, William Harvey, Robert Boyle and the others: they were all inspired by the doctrine that the universe is a work of art from an utterly free Hand, not an eternally rational system.
What was required therefore was not more confident philosophical (or theological) rationalizing about the world but more probing of what is there in front of us, proposing theories about how it might work, testing those theories against other available facts and seeking confirmation from others: in short, the modern scientific method. The monographs on the origins of science by Oxford's Peter Harrison bear this out in compelling detail.
Tamas Pataki is totally wrong to suggest that the Greeks gave us the path of testing, experience and appeal to evidence. They gave us logic, for sure. But it was the followers of the Bible who insisted that logic alone cannot establish ultimate reality by deduction.
What is needed is "experience" - criticizing hypothesis from evidence and so verifying what is, not what ought logically to be. They applied this method first to the historical discipline, giving birth to the modern practice of history through research into primary sources (another story worth telling), and then to the physical world, giving birth to the empirical sciences.
What is perfectly clear is that Pataki's dewy-eyed ode to the wonders of Greek thought and his caricature of the bumbling "soothsaying" of the Jews and Christians owe more to his own dogma than to either evidence or contemporary scholarship on any of the questions he touches upon.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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