New Atheists and Non-Overlapping Magisteria

Stephen Jay GouldIn 1997, Stephen Jay Gould published an essay, “Non-Overlapping Magisteria.” In it, he posited the idea that there was no conflict between religion and science because they dealt with different things. For example, religion was concerned with questions of morals and existence — issues on which science had no opinion. One could question this on the moral front, where science actually has a lot to say about many of our morals. But the obvious counterargument is that religion isn’t really concerned with morality as find it but rather morality as we ought to find it. On the issue of existence, science really does have nothing of value to add, although sadly most atheists can’t seem to understand that.

I’ve always seen Gould’s essay as more a plea to religions to stay on their own ground. One of my great frustrations in dealing with theists is their reliance on Iron Age myths for their science. So they think that Genesis is literally true. But claims like humans being created originally in their current form and the Grand Canyon being formed by the great flood are not religious claims; they are scientific claims. Not only do these fanciful stories soil science, they also make religious people stupid in a theological sense.

Recently, the atheist community has begun to attack the idea behind Non-Overlapping Magisteria. In fact, they are so outspoken about it, I had assumed that I had missed something — that there was some critical flaw with the idea. But then I came upon the following video by Hemant Mehta. In general, I like his work. But on this video, he shows his smug atheist colors. I take special offense to one line, “If you are a devoutly religious person, and one who accepts the scientific method, something’s gotta give.” Ugh!

I am greatly concerned about the way the atheist community fetishizes the scientific method. They seem to have learned about this in high school science class and decided it was The Truth™. I noticed this same thing in the first episode of the new Cosmos. Neil deGrasse Tyson said that even though Giordano Bruno was right about stars just being other solar systems, he wasn’t a scientist. Why? Apparently because he never proved that it was true. He just had an intuition. This is an enormous error of thought. It mistakes the scientific process for what any given scientist does. What Bruno did was no different from what Einstein or Maxwell or Newton did.

The High School Science Class MethodWhat Mehta is getting at is that people who accept the “scientific method” only believe things that have been proved. This is patently false. What it means in practice is that atheists believe in the current state of science. Hooray for that! But most issues are not this clear. When it comes to the murky waters of economics or child rearing, do atheists really use the “scientific method” or do they just go with their gut? We all know the answer to that regardless of what some iconoclastic atheist might say.

There is one issue on which science has no opinion: ontology. And here I’m not just talking about the fact that science has no answers. Science is not designed to answer questions that exist outside the realm of existence itself. But I’ll admit: maybe some day science will have answers. But given the fundamental paradox of existence, it seems unlikely. But until then, science has no answer. And to expect people to simply have no opinion on such a fundamental question until science does have an answer is just silly.

I think that the Non-Overlapping Magisteria concept is just what we need today. I’ve already mentioned how religions soil science by applying their Iron Age myths to scientific questions. But atheists have a strong tendency to soil religion by applying scientific answers to theological questions. The ultimate example of this is Lawrence Krauss’ facile ontological answer, “Nothing is unstable.” It’s a perfectly fine scientific answer to why universes form. Similarly, the big bang is a perfectly fine scientific answer. And if we ever manage to show that our universe is part of a multiverse, that too will be perfectly fine scientific answer. But people who are interested in the ultimate question of why anything exists at all will not be satisfied with these answers.

From my perspective, there is one and only one question that is beyond the conceivable reach of science. But it is the biggest question there is. And atheists do themselves no good by pretending (1) that the question doesn’t matter and (2) that eventually science will answer it. And the idea that science has answered it is just fatuous. Atheists need the idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria. Stephen Jay Gould was a lot smarter than the leaders of the New Atheist movement.

See also: Non-Overlapping Magisteria Helps Theists and Atheists

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Ever to the Right Democrats!

Thomas FrankCarter’s vice president, Walter Mondale, ran for the presidency in 1984 on a platform that The New York Times called “bluntly conservative,” a “turn to [the] right,” because it promised spending cuts and higher taxes in order to deal with the federal deficit. Yet, after Mondale lost — in a landslide even worse than Carter’s — the verdict among pundits and Democratic strategists was well-nigh unanimous: The party had to cut its ties to what were then called “special interests” (meaning labor and African-Americans) and find its way to the center.

On and on it went. The Democratic presidential candidate in 1988, Michael Dukakis, seemed like a centrist’s dream, a post-partisan problem-solver who famously refused to call himself a liberal until the race was as good as lost. Once he had been good and properly floored by George Bush senior, however, the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, high priests of the move-to-the-right postmortem, found it convenient to make Dukakis the symbol of everything they despised.

Bill Clinton, though, won elections; therefore: Visionary! Meaningful! A champion of the “vital center”! Except for when Bill Clinton didn’t win elections (like in the mid-terms in 1994, after getting the Republicans’ beloved NAFTA passed); in which case: Hie thee to the center, lib’rul! Al Gore, a DLC centrist of impeccable credentials, lost his bid in 2000; therefore: Populism discredited for all time.

Barack Obama presented the mythmakers with a challenge. On the one hand, he is obviously a fellow worshiper at the pundits’ post-partisan shrine, and his efforts to conciliate the GOP and be nice to Wall Street have sometimes been enough to make one wince with shame. On the other hand, the right has always regarded him as a socialist and maybe even a Satanist. So, what is a pundit to make of him?

Well, duh: the same as always. When Obama succeeds, it is yet another triumph for centrism, even when Obama pulls off the win by going “populist,” as he did against Mitt Romney. When Obama’s team loses, as came to pass earlier this month, the man suddenly no longer represents the “center” at all; now he has supposedly led his party into the wilderness of the left. This is asserted even though the man didn’t do anything significant to speak of between the 2012 and 2014 elections.

—Thomas Frank
Phony Spin Even Fox News Won’t Buy

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Robert Towne

Robert TowneThe great screenwriter Robert Towne is 80 years old today. I know, I know: another screenwriter?! But I quite like Towne. Most especially, I like him for Chinatown, which is a great screenplay and a great movie. In Hollywood, he is probably best known as a “script doctor.” He is legend for all the films he has helped fix. I can’t really comment on that. I tend to think that kind of stuff is anti-art. For example, he was brought in to work on Crimson Tide. But really, what major screenwriter in Hollywood was not brought in to work on that film?

The only films that I’m really sure he was the primary writer on were Shampoo and the second Mission: Impossible film. The first Mission: Impossible film is probably more typical of what Towne is paid extremely well to do. After going through a number of screenwriters, the production didn’t have much of a script. Brian De Palma (the guy who made good films at one time) put together a few action sequences in pre-production, so Towne took David Koepp’s basic story line (What?! Team leader double crosses team?) and De Palma’s action sequences and created some kind of a structure. In the end, the film almost seems like it makes sense.

Mission: Impossible II makes a lot more sense. It is riddled with Hollywood movie cliches and its most clever plot twist is so unbelievable that it would make Stan Lee wince. But it is a good vehicle for John Woo and probably as good a thing as he did in America. But it does highlight something unpleasant: being a writer for hire is probably the perfect thing for Robert Towne.

But sometimes a great craftsman gets the perfect project and great art is born. And that is the case with Chinatown. Actually, The Two Jakes is a great script too. It shows that having a great director is also important though. Towne did some directing too. Nothing worth mentioning. Let’s forget all that and just watch a little Chinatown. The following scene brings together three ideas that are very important to me: (1) money is a self-aggrandizing game for the powerful; (2) under the right circumstances, people are capable of anything; and (3) the powerful are far more likely to be evil than the weak.

Happy birthday Robert Towne!

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Fernwood 2 Night

Fernwood 2 NightI’ve noticed that YouTube is overflowing with quite good copies of the late 1970s television show, Fernwood 2 Night. When I was a kid, I thought it was a big deal. But I was wrong. It only played for 65 episodes during the summer of 1977. Then they did another 65 episodes in the fall of 1978 in a “national” format as America 2-Night. But I’m often impressed with just how good my taste was as a young boy. I don’t recall fully understanding the show, but I certainly understood that it was something hip and generally silly enough to enjoy.

The show had a strange birthing process. It all started with the comedic soap opera Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. I don’t know a lot about the show because it was far too dry for my young brain. Consider the following dialog from the first episode:

Loretta: She said, you know that new family over there, the Lombardies? And I said, well, no, I hadn’t met ‘em yet. She says, well you should have met them while you had the chance. Because they’re gone now. Somebody just shot ‘em all.

Mary: Oh my God. The whole family?

Loretta: All five of ‘em plus two goats and eight chickens.

Mary: I can’t believe it. What kind of madman would shoot two goats and eight chickens? [Pause.] And the people. The people, of course.

Funny stuff and throughout the episode, everyone seems more focused on the goats and chickens than the family. But after a year, Louise Lasser left the show. So they changed the show to Forever Fernwood, which ran for a half year with all the same characters except for Mary Hartman. And then they changed it to, Fernwood 2 Night — a local talk show.

Fernwood 2 Night was hosted by Barth Gimble, who is the brother of Garth Gimble, a wife beater on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Both characters were played by Martin Mull. Fernwood 2 Night is still pretty dry fare. But it is spiced up with Mull’s sarcasm and Fred Willard clueless silliness. The show also has Happy Kyne, as the band leader — played as dour as can be by Frank De Vol. It’s all brilliant.

The first episode is, “Talk to a Jew.” In addition to the titular segment, it also has Bruce Mahler as Howard Palmer playing piano while in an iron lung, which in addition to being offensively funny is also kind of amazing. I think you can find most of the other episodes on YouTube at this time. That also goes for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and America 2-Night as well.

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Democracy Loses Even When Scandals Debunked

Darrell IssaAfter two years of investigation with Darrell Issa hellbent on finding something — Anything! — to make into a scandal, the House Intelligence Committee released its report on Benghazi yesterday. And their results: nothing. Everything was just the same as the administration had always claimed. No political maneuvering. And certainly no “stand down” orders costing Embassy personnel their lives. Nothing at all.

Ken Dilanian at Associated Press provided all of the details, House Intel Panel Debunks Many Benghazi Theories. The House report found pretty much what the previous six investigations found. And it found what the eighth investigation by the House Select Committee will find. And that is because there is no there there.

But none of this means that the investigation was useless. The point of the investigation was the same as pretty much everything that Darrell Issa has investigated. The point is to generate a bunch of smoke so that everyone will think there is a fire. This has been the plan all along and it has been extremely effective. It keeps Issa in the news and it reduces confidence in the government. What could be better for a Republican politician?

Susan RiceThere is pretty much nothing that Issa can do that the mainstream media won’t pick up on. And their approach is about the same as his: write a bunch of stories questioning the government; then when it goes nowhere, just drop it. The harm has been done. Most Americans don’t know much about the “scandals” regarding Benghazi, the IRS, and the Fast and Furious program. But they have a vague idea that the government was up to no good. The Republican Party could have no greater propagandists than The New York Times and 60 Minutes.

All along, the linchpin of the Republican case was the most pathetic thing: Susan Rice’s “talking points” when she went on the Sunday news shows. The outrage about this from conservatives was palpable. And the more information that came out, the tinier their argument was. In the end, it really came down to the fact that Rice had said that the attack came out of a protest over an anti-Muslim film. This turned out to be wrong. But somehow, conservatives were outraged that the American people had been misled for a couple of days. This went along with conservative outrage that Obama said the attack was an “act of terror” rather than a “terrorist act.” This is a good indication of just how vacuous the conservative movement has become.

But now even Darrell Issa’s committee has to admit that Rice’s talking points were not part any nefarious plot:

But Rice’s comments were based on faulty intelligence from multiple agencies, according to the report. Analysts received 21 reports that a protest occurred in Benghazi, the report said — 14 from the Open Source Center, which reviews news reports; one from the CIA; two from the Defense Department; and four from the National Security Agency.

In the years since, some participants in the attack have said they were motivated by the video. The attackers were a mix of extremists and hangers on, the investigation found.

“To this day,” the report said, “significant intelligence gaps regarding the identities, affiliations and motivations of the attackers remain.”

But what will Issa himself say? Well, the release of the report on a Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving should give you some idea. But I’m sure that Issa will now claim that this was always about the intelligence failures. But that isn’t true. The investigation was always political. Issa’s idea was that he could use Rice to show that the administration had manipulated the talking points to assure Obama’s re-election. (Note: Republicans still think the election was ever in any doubt.)

This morning over at Washington Month, Martin Longman wrote, What Fair & Balanced Would Look Like. He suggests that after the media spent two years pushing what was always a farcical scandal, they should spend the next two years falling over themselves to explain that there was no scandal. I like the idea. But it would never work. Regardless of getting the people to understand that there was no Benghazi scandal, the damage has been done. People have been given more (but fake) evidence that says that governments are incompetent and corrupt. No amount of counter-evidence on a single issue will reverse that.

Darrell Issa-1; Democracy-0.

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Low Greek and the New Testament

What Jesus MeantThe marketplace Greek of the New Testament — koine (“common denominator”) Greek — is not elegant. When Alexander the Great conquered his huge patchwork quilt of different peoples speaking different languages, the only way the defeated could communicate with Macedonian officers, and with other parts of the empire, was in fumbling attempts at the rulers’ Greek. When the Romans succeeded the Greek imperial forces, they had to use the language in place, not their own Latin. As Cicero said of the Roman empire, “Greek is read in practically every nation, while Latin is hedged within its own narrow confines.”

In koine, as in any pidgin language, niceties tend to be lost. Words are strug together, often without connectives to get across a basic meaning. Most of the gospels are written in this basic language, used equally by Romans like Pilate and by Aramaic speakers like Jesus and his followers. Sentences sometimes fumble clumsily at meaning. “What to me and to you, woman?” says Jesus to this mother (John 2.4). “Nothing to you and to that just man,” says Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27.19). “The law and prophets up to John” (Luke 16.16). “I must be at my father’s” (Luke 2.49) — his father’s what? Commentators quarrel. Definite articles, used according to subtle rules in classical Greek, come and go confusingly in koine: the Lord’s Prayer open with an address to “Our Father in the heavens,” but a little later in the prayer we get “in heaven and on earth.” Tenses shift randomly.

When the meaning is obscure in such a simple language, it is less often because of any sublime meaning conveyed than from mere linguistic clumsiness. Grammar can be muddled, if not neglected altogether. The Book of Revelations is especially ungrammatical — Nietzsche, a trained classicist, said that if God wrote the New Testament, he knew surprisingly little Greek. Except in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the complex sentence structure of classical Greek is rarely evident. We get a simple stringing-on of independent clauses (parataxis) linked repetitively with the boring kai (“and”). Dialogue has no elegant variation. It is a matter of “And X say… And Y says… And X says…”

Most of the words used are common. The infant Jesus is laid in a hay trough (phatne). But translators know that people expect a “biblical English” in the gospels. They make the hay trough more dignified by using a foreign word (French manger, for food) instead of “hay trough.” When Jesus answers Pilate, “So you say,” they try to find a more elegant form of answer — though “So you say” exactly replicates the Greek. Translators try to give more churchiness to the evangelists, to teach them their linguistic manners. Jesus should not say to his mother, “What to me and to you, woman?” So they do not let him. Almost every translation into English tries to hide the “faults” of the new Testament. They straighten out the grammar, make the tenses more uniform, break up the repetitions.

—Garry Wills
What Jesus Meant

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Rand Paul’s Process Argument All About Policy

Rand PaulDigby wrote a very interesting article yesterday, Power and Process. It follows off a statement of concern from Rand Paul about President Obama’s executive action on immigration. According to Paul, “[T]here are instances in our history where we allow power to gravitate toward one person and that one person then makes decisions that really are egregious.” And his example, “The president issued an executive order. He said to Japanese people ‘we’re going to put you in a camp.’” Rand Paul is a classic subgenius: he is smart enough to be dangerous, in part because he greatly overestimates his intelligence.

Roosevelt wasn’t acting in a vacuum. Congress wanted the internment and passed a law to enforce it. The people wanted the internment. If it had gone for a vote, it would have passed. And when the Supreme Court ruled on the matter, they upheld it. So how exactly would collective action have helped? How was “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” and its mentally retarded brother the House of Representatives going to make this situation better? Digby rightly noted that Paul’s concern here is all about process. So his statement is really vile. The problem with the internment of ethnically Japanese citizens was wrong not because it represented the majority oppressing a minority, but because it wasn’t done the right way.

I realize he didn’t put it that way. He is claiming that when everyone is involved, such things don’t happen. History shows otherwise. Jackson was one of the most popular presidents in history and he oversaw the Trail of Tears and numerous other outrages. The truth of the matter is that like all conservatives, Paul just hates Roosevelt so he wants to put the whole thing on him. Because only Democrats are tyrants. The bottom line is that Paul has the causation wrong. All that was necessary to intern the Japanese-Americans was an executive action because it was hugely popular.

And in the case of Obama today, the executive action was finely crafted. As Greg Sargent noted yesterday, “[I]t shows that the proposal’s legal rationale is tightly circumscribed to reflect that Congressional intent [to relieve humanitarian hardship endured by US citizens].” So the idea that the president is just doing whatever he wants is ridiculous. But that won’t stop the Republicans from screaming about it.

Digby noted that a big part of Rand Paul’s claim here comes from the fact that he simply wants the government to get nothing done. In this way, he is no different from other conservatives. Boehner’s pleading to allow the legislative process to do its job is just another way of saying, “Let us block anything getting done!” And that is another aspect of Mitch McConnell’s plan to make Obama a one term president: stop everything possible until the Republicans are back in power.

Arguments about process are always arguments about policy. We know that Paul would be much more understanding of executive action if a Republican were in the White House. And he would be entirely in favor of it if he were that Republican. So we should forget about these arguments about the right and wrong way to do things — at least so long as we actually do have democratic institutions that set limits. These process arguments are just a cover for people to argue against policy they don’t like but can’t be seen as attacking. Digby put it well:

I no longer fetishize the legislative process because it’s mostly just kabuki anyway. At this point, I’ll take decent outcomes wherever I can get them and be thankful for it since they happen so rarely.

Roosevelt’s executive action was wrong because the policy was wrong. Obama’s executive action is right because the policy is right.


To be clear: the argument here is not that process never matters. It is just that in almost all cases, process arguments are disingenuous. Ultimately, the question is policy.


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George Eliot

George EliotOn this day in 1819, the great writer Mary Ann Evans was born. You probably known her better as George Eliot. It is often hard to fully appreciate older authors. For example, people often miss much of the social commentary in Jane Austen, who is read as little more than a particularly witty Harlequin romance. And don’t even get me started on Shakespeare, who almost no one gets much out of. But Eliot doesn’t so much have this problem because of her deep characterizations.

Another aspect of this is how she approaches people on the margins of society. That’s especially true in her first three books. The crux of Adam Bede is Hetty’s desperate and foolish behavior leading to the death of her baby and the ramifications of that. The Mill on the Floss if mostly about Maggie’s isolation and the results of it. I’ve never understood why Tom and Maggie have to die at the end of the book. I guess it was the style of the time, but the book is hardly a tragedy. And Maggie’s sins are minor — even by the standards of time.

Both of these books seem to me just a lead up to Eliot’s masterpiece, Silas Marner. Okay, I admit it: I’m just a soft touch who is easily charmed by an infant melting the heart of a miser. But there is so much more in that little book. Above all, it is highly positive but still realistic rendering of community. People can be very messed up, but in a situation like this, I think this is how people behave. Of course, it is still 19th century literature, so we have to have villains like Dunstan Cass and low-born opium addicts like Molly Farren.

I guess I have to stop there because I haven’t read anything else by Eliot. She is also known for her German translations and for her work as a left wing journalist. She also led quite a scandalous life. She rejected Christianity. And she lived in sin with philosopher George Henry Lewes for twenty odd years. And then, at the age of 60, she married John Cross who was twenty years younger than she was. On their honeymoon, he apparently tried to kill himself. And then when they returned, she caught some kind of infection and died a couple of months later. But hell, she lived a hell of a lot longer than the much better behaved Jane Austen and all the Brontë sisters.

Happy birthday George Eliot!


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Goodbye to Half of Nichols and May

Nichols and MayAs you have probably heard, Mike Nichols died on Wednesday. Much has been made of his career as a film director. And he did direct some great films. Of particular note to me are: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Catch-22, and perhaps oddly, Primary Colors. There are a lot of other fine films too. The one film I’ve never really appreciated is the one that people are most impressed with, The Graduate. For its time, it probably was great, but I have found it impossible to integrate it into its time. And I just don’t think it stands up to In Cold Blood, Bonnie and Clyde, or Cool Hand Luke. And that doesn’t even consider films outside the country like Samurai Rebellion, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex, or most especially La Chinoise. But that isn’t to take anything away from Nichols.

What I most remember him for was his sketch comedy work with Elaine May. When I was a teen, I found a whole bunch of records that must have belonged to by parents. It included most especially Shelley Berman and Mort Sahl. And that introduced me to other more edgy acts like Lenny Bruce — and Nichols and May. Of course, I had remembered comedy duos while growing up like Rowan and Martin, Stiller and Meara, and Burns and Schreiber. The two latter groups came out of Second City, just like Nichols and May. But none of them — funny as they were — compared to Nichols and May in terms of brilliance.

I’m very fond of this following “watercooler” routine. It involves the game show controversy, which you probably know from the film Quiz Show. But it is amazingly fresh because we are still as easily distracted by nonsense as ever. I remember during the OJ trial how people were so wrapped up in that, despite the fact that it had nothing to do with anyone’s life. One line really stands out, “If there was a war tomorrow, I couldn’t think about it.” The reason that the networks didn’t cover Obama’s immigration address last night was because they didn’t want to interrupt the prime time lineup. I mean, just imagine if Grey’s Anatomy had been delayed by a half-hour? Well, I suppose that would have given people something to talk about at the watercooler this morning.

Anyway, it is sad that Mike Nichols is dead. There was really no warning. He just died of a heart attack. He was 83, but that isn’t that old at this point. Still, I’ve always thought that Elaine May was the greater talent. She wrote two of Nichols’ better films, The Birdcage and Primary Colors. She also wrote and directed two comedy classics: Mikey and Nicky and Ishtar. The second film is not only great but an excellent example of how film critics are useless. Check out the review of Rotten Tomatoes and you will see the usual: a bunch of critics who have decided to not like a film and come up with reasons to justify it, “The performances are endearing enough, the pacing is actually quite crisp and there is no shortage of zany silliness in the story. It just never gels.”

Clearly, I will never be able to separate Mike Nichols from Elaine May. And now half of it has died. It’s sad. You really should run out and get The Birdcage for two hours of comedic genius. But I can’t offer you that. But I can offer you something just as good. The following video is from the American Masters series: “Mike Nichols and Elaine May — Take Two.” Well over half of it is just them performing. It’s great fun:

It is sad that Mike Nichols is dead; long live Elaine May!


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Conservatives Outraged Obama Quoted Bible

Conservative JesusExodus 22:21 tells us, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Or, more accurately, “וְגֵר לֹא-תוֹנֶה, וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ: כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.” But it is important to remember that this seems to be Exodus 22:20 in the Hebrew Bible. I don’t know; it is hard to get my head around, since it is read right to left. Regardless, we know that the Bible tells us this because during his speech last night, Obama told us, “Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too.” I just looked it up.

I believe that like all religious books, there is much wisdom in the Bible. But I don’t like it being quoted by our secular politicians. Can you imagine the uproar that would have occurred if our first Catholic president had used the Bible as ostentatiously as every president since Reagan (Not Carter!) has used it? But I don’t blame Obama for using it. It is now what a vocal minority demand. Indeed, as Emily Arrowood reported today, it was only Wednesday that the folks on Fox & Friends complained that Obama wasn’t Christian enough:

On November 19, the hosts promoted a “fiery” online op-ed penned by Chuck Norris, echoing his outrage that Obama had not publicly opposed a local school district’s decision to remove references to religious holidays on the schools’ calendars. The hosts then aired video of former President Ronald Reagan talking about Christmas and his Christian faith, saying, “Chuck Norris’ point was, remember the time when American presidents weren’t afraid to talk about traditional values, as Ronald Reagan did back in 1981.” Hasselbeck remarked that Reagan’s religious rhetoric gave her goosebumps.

As Arrowood noted, Obama throws scripture liberally in his speeches, but conservatives continue to complain. Let’s be honest: Obama can’t win. Conservatives don’t hate him for any real reason. They just hate him because he’s of the wrong party and then they come up with reasons for it. And that was on clear display this morning.

In a rational world, the Fox & Friends folk would be thrilled with Obama for wiping away the dust from his Bible and quoting from everyone’s favorite Red Sea pedestrians. But no. It was a silly idea. What’s the point of even speculating about a rational world? Two days ago they complained that Obama didn’t talk about Christianity and today they thought he talked too much about it. According to Arrowood (no video yet), they were “challenging him to a ‘scripture-showdown’ and claiming it’s ‘repugnant’ for Obama to ‘lecture us on Christian faith.’”

Of course, there is a kind of theological distinction here. This kind of use of the Bible as a moral weapon is generally looked down upon. The only true Christian is one who uses it to push social conservatism and to push Christianity as the One Truth Faith™. This is what is behind the whole War on Christmas™. The war — such as it is — is not about Christians being denied the right to observe the holiday as they see fit. It is rather about Christianity being held up as an earlier passage from Exodus, “You shall have no other gods before me.” That’s the right kind of Christianity — the kind that Chuck Norris practices.

What it is really all about is that conservatives know what Obama was doing: he was rubbing their noses in their favorite book that they never read. He was effectively saying that it is anti-Christian to be against immigration reform. And he’s right! Obama quoted the Old Testament, but he could have as easily quoted Jesus (“I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not” — he meant that as a bad thing!) or even the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor…”).

But that isn’t the conservative way. They aren’t out there grappling with what is a very difficult book. They aren’t reading, What Jesus Meant. They only think that Christianity is right because they assume it tells them that they are right in whatever they want to do. And they don’t want immigration reform. So Obama is a heretic to quote the Bible when it isn’t in the service of what they know the gay-hating, rifle-wielding, free-market-loving Jesus stood for.

What would Jesus do? Deport them all! For when they were hungry, he said, “Get out of the country you moochers!”

Update (22 November 2014 10:02 am)

The Bible is so repetitive! I quoted Exodus 22:21, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” But apparently, the president was quoting Exodus 23:9, “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And then there is Exodus 41:53, “You shall not oppress a stranger, do do that voodoo that you do so well, goo goo g’joob!”

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