Wasn’t Going to Post Today
Sat – April 2, 2005
Was going to take the day, it being a Saturday, a day of rest.
But occasional correspondent DM wrote me a note, and like most of his notes, it made me think while writing back. And it seems a dern shame to waste good thoughts, or at least those I spent some time on.
So – we’re sharing, again.
Good call on ‘Lolita in Tehran’. It was a fascinating read. I was sometimes put off by her reference to herself as an intelectual (which always grates on my nerves; It’s similar to when people put their membership in MENSA on their resume), and the feeling that she was sometimes trying too hard to sound like a university professor. Other than that, it was time well spent. I’d like to put some of the authors that she references on my reading list.
“Flat-Hatting, part deux” was one of my favorite sea stories. “…there was a Very Real Chance of killing yourself. Why that always seemed to go hand in handwith good clean fun… and aviation is something that is still a mystery to me.” This reminds me of “Flying and drinking and drinking and driving” in ‘The Right Stuff’. I don’t need to ask, I know you’ve read it.
“I scarcely ever see him, any more.” Yeah, right.
“And although I’m not an evangelical Christian myself, I rather resent the point of view which holds that people who have a certain faith should not be allowed to let it influence their discourse in the public sphere. Those who don’t believe in religious doctrine must believe in something, and if their gods, whether they be “diversity” or “social justice” or pick-a-noun-and-put-an-”ism” behind it can inform their world view it seems a little cross-grained to insist that other folks can’t do the same, in a democracy, where free speech is guaranteed.”
Fair enough. Everyone believes in something, and it is folly to believe otherwise. I have my own beliefs, and they differ from those of others. While I don’t share the beliefs of many, I give the same respect that I expect in return. My objection is if an elected official says ‘I am for/against X legislation because that’s what it says in this teachings of my religion.’ It is impossible that their religious views match the beliefs of 100% of the population. The whole point of having the separation of church & state is that the activities of the government do not embrace ANY religion. I can live with things like ‘In God we trust’ on money, or the fact that we have a National Christmas tree (near the elipse, north side of the Mall, in front of the White House), or that we have a National Cathedral (Woodrow Wilson is interred there). Beyond that, I tend to take the ‘slippery slope’ argument about prayer in schools, or reference to God in the pledge of alegiance. I want my government to stay away from religion, because the government shouldn’t impress their faith upon me. I find it very distressing that people like John Ashcroft openly hold bible study meetings in the justice department, or any other instance where faith determines policy or legislation.
As always, I don’t mean to start a pissing contest.
Hope all is well in your part of the world,
And now me:
I’m glad you liked the book. Like you, I found the number of self-referential claims to membership in the intelligentsia a bit off-putting. Sometimes reading it, I wondered at who she was trying to impress – who the audience was that she was writing for. I wonder if whether, being a representative of third world academia, she felt as though she had to establish her academic cred with the first world types to be really understood.
I think it’s possible that we sometimes take for granted the advantages our culture and civilization confer upon us, whether or not we deserve them. Something closer to home would be the question posed in the 60′s by one of the black writers of the day (I forget who): When a black man looks in the mirror, does he see a face, or does he see a black face? The essence behind the argument being that members of the majority race will never understand to what degree “otherness” adheres to those in the minority. The same dynamic may reside in Ms Nafisi’s insistences. But that’s arm chair psychotherapy at a considerable distance, so I’ll let it go…
Glad you liked the Flatthatting II post as well. You were evidently right, by the way, in your last email – the one in which you predicted that I’d be back. I found myself hitting my own site every day just to check my blogroll – the sites I visit most often hang there. And that tentative farewell would hit me in the face each time. I do need to strike a purer balance though, between the real world and the synthetic one. It’s something I’m working on.
As for the last bit of your email, don’t worry about pissing contests at all. You and I have exchanged enough of our thoughts over the last several months to permit, I think, the free expression of opinion without fearing the need to self censor. I’m not at all doctrinaire, and haven’t tied any of my self-esteem inside my politics, so I don’t mind an honest disagreement, so long as the other guy argues the point rather than the pointer.
To the point itself, I grant you a fair amount of ambivalence. But you’ll have to grant me, as at least a nominal conservative, my concerns when society moves away from the fundamental things that have anchored it in the past to chart new ground in some undiscovered country, the boundaries of which we do not know, the dangers in which are not yet clear. All progress is change, but not all change is progress, if you’ll permit me the prosaicism. Our public laws are based on nothing more or less than that what they always have been, throughout history – our understanding of our place in the world of men, and our responsibilities when we interact with others. They are a philosophical declaration of choices on things which ought to be allowed, and which ought to be proscribed. They have been informed by law passed down through the Torah, and New Testament:
“That which is hateful to you, do not unto others – this is the whole of the Torah, all the rest is commentary, although we read it.”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourselves. On these two commandments hang all the laws, and all the prophets.”
In our society, from its birth until fairly recently, our morals were defined by our faith – the Judeo-Christian tradition – to which we at least publicly paid obeisance, with no great harm done for those who thought it all superstitious folly. Secular humanism rests I think on more shaky foundations – when morality becomes a salad bar, where one gets to choose which things are proper and which are not, based on one’s own best interests. In the first path lies a moral universe whose contours we understand, in the second, a fear of the Hobbesian world of winner take all, and devil take the hindmost.
Which takes us back to slippery slope arguments. Thirty or forty years ago, the leading of prayer meetings by a public figure would have been uncontroversial, unworthy of remark. The cross atop Mount Soledad, on the soldier’s memorial here in San Diego (placed on public land, alas), which has caused so much angst and vitriol seemed a right and proper way of recognizing the dead who lay there, fifty years ago – now of course, it is a monstrous affront, and must be removed. If we are on some slippery slope, it seems to me that the “shoving” moment which causes all things to start to slide comes not from my side, but from yours.
Jesus himself it was, when asked by the Sadducee whether or not it was proper to pay taxes to Rome, asked his questioner whose face it was on the coin of the realm. And on hearing his reply, told him to offer unto Caesar those things which are Caesar’s, and offer unto God those things which are God’s. This was the original separation of church and state, from whence our modern, American tradition devolves. And I would be loth to disagree with him – so I myself would oppose the leading of prayer inside the public school arena – because not all of us pray to the same God in the same fashion.
But I am also one of those who reads the Constitution just as it is written, so I do not believe that freedom of religion is the same thing as freedom from religion. So I have no patience for those who insist that religion must be banished entirely from the public square, that nothing may be said about one’s faith, while every other opinion, no matter how carelessly formed or loosely supported must be assumed to be constitutionally protected speech. That can’t have been what the Framers meant, when they wrote that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
So for my money, a moment of silence for those who want to pray at the beginning of a school day does not unduly burden those who think it’s all a colossal waste of time.
And, while this redounds again to the black/non-black paragraph above in uncertain ways, it seems to me passing strange again that we must say nothing untoward about the Islamic faith, many of whose precepts in execution are in effect anathema to our our received understanding of the meaning of liberal democracy, or that Joe Lieberman (whom I respect tremendously) might run for office as an observant Jew, unable to campaign on a shabbat, but that members of the majority faith must keep their mouths shut on issues which concern them as a matter of public policy, for no better reason than that they are members of the majority. As though that, in itself, conferred special obligations.
You make me think, DM. I appreciate that.
And things are well in my part of the world, thanks for asking. I hope the same for you.
I don’t win this, obviously. It’s not about winning or losing. It is about having a civil discourse on matters of the first importance to our society, which is why I so respect DM’s ability to see the world in far different ways than I do, and make me think about it