The Legitimate Rape Song

This is an ode to Todd Akin called, Sex Education in Missouri. It is posted via a YouTube Account LiberalRhythms. Otherwise, I don’t know anything about it except that it came via Digby. It’s a good song. What I’m most taken with is how it sets the stage so that people who aren’t up on the news (Although I’m not sure how anyone could have missed this one!) can still get the joke. “Oh, legitimate… Yes, yes, legitimate… Legitimate! Legitimate rape!”

Spiritual vs. Religious

Here is a very good cartoon by Atheist Experience contributor Tracie Harris:

Spiritual vs Religious

But I don’t accept the point of this. Yes, I find foo-foo spiritualists as annoying as the next guy. But I do understand the difference between “spiritual” and “religious.” And I dare say so does Tracie Harris.

What they mean is that they have airy ideas about other worldly phenomenon, but they don’t follow a religious dogma. And for that, I think we should encourage them. In fact, I think they are generally very open to hearing about new things. Generally, they are a hell of lot more interesting to talk to than are most religious people.

Of course, I would recommend that they read Robert Price’s excellent Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticisms. But I’ve found such people to be interested in learning more. This doesn’t, however, mean that they are likely to ever give up their airy ideas.

I am perhaps particularly sympathetic to these people’s concern about the words “spiritual” and “religious.” Most people consider me an atheist, but I think of myself as a spiritual seeker. True: my spiritual quest is mostly centered on culture and community. But there are Very Big Ideas involved in this question, especially what Denys Turner calls the only real spiritual question, “Why does the universe exist?”

I’m all for slapping religious and spiritual people when they’re being evil. But when they are just being stupid, perhaps we should be a bit more understanding. And I mean that in every sense.


Tracie Harris is a very good cartoonist. Check out her other work!

In Search of… God

God - MichelangeloFor a while I was discussing the nature of God with an old friend who had since become a Christian. This is always a dangerous thing to do. I am very interested in spiritual matters, but I am actively hostile to religious dogma. Nonetheless, I tried to find common ground by introducing the idea of negative theology, something I find compelling and useful.

Negative theology is the belief that we can only say what God is not—never what he is. It is very useful for dispensing with the most primitive—and the most commonly held—ideas that God is some thing. The stereotype is a man with a white beard which Beckett has so much fun with in Waiting for Godot.

My friend dismissed negative theology as something that he had abandoned. He derisively referred to it as “easy.” Contrast this reaction to negative theology with his answer to some of the following most difficult questions regarding Christianity:

  • Why does God allow suffering of the righteous?
  • Why did God not care about those born more than 2000 years ago?
  • Why did God send his son to a backwater where word would travel slowly?
  • Why does God hate the children of Buddhists and other religious followers?

To these kinds of questions, my friend responded, “I long ago gave up trying to figure out God”! So negative theology is easy, but throwing up your hands and proclaiming God’s inscrutability is tough minded? This gets to the heart of my problem with all religions: they don’t start questions about God, they end them.

I think that the teachings of every religion can be useful in a spiritual quest. But once you accept that a particular dogma is right, you stop being a seeker and become an apologist.

I’m not suggesting an à la carte approach to spirituality: a little reincarnation here, a little redemption there. For one thing, I think these ideas are barren. The main thing is that these religions can help in the journey to understanding. But they are not the destination.

So I think that one can self-identify as a Christian.[1] He can use the Bible as a primary source. But the moment he starts reading the Bible like a Gypsy reads tea leaves? The moment he thinks he has found the key to God’s love? The moment he gives up on understanding God? He is lost in a world of fake certainty.

[1] Take for example Anglican priest Don Cupitt (from an interview in Philosophy Bites):

We invented all the theory [of God]. We gradually built up our own picture of the world, and we have also gradually evolved our own religion and our own values. I would say Christian theology was just about right for the historic period between about the first and the seventeenth centuries, during which it flourished. But gradually, as the world has changed in modern times, we have become more aware of our own world-building activity and we have begun to see that we have got to move on. We can’t stick for ever with a late medieval world-view.

Bill Maher and False Equivalence

Goldie TaylorLast week Bill Maher pitched in to help out with the false equivalency nonsense coming from the mainstream media and the right.

Ever since the last debate, the Romney campaign has been pretending that it is winning in order to convince the chattering class. The Obama campaign is too. The problem is that a lot of idiots in the mainstream media are believing the Romney campaign. Jonathan Chait called this early on, Romney Says He’s Winning—It’s a Bluff.

The column includes a quotation from one of Romney’s closest aides, “We’re going to win… Seriously, 305 electoral votes.” This is a very interesting claim, because it is almost impossible. According to Nate Silver, there is perhaps a 5% chance that Romney would get that many or more electoral votes.

Last week on Real Time with Bill Maher, Goldie Taylor was the only liberal on the panel. She predicted that Obama would win with 330 electoral votes. The conservatives laughed at her—that’s no surprise. But Maher too dismissed her claim, even going so far as to say it was an indication of the “liberal media bubble.” But Maher is completely wrong.

While it is almost impossible for Romney to get as many as 300 electoral votes, the situation is much better for Obama. The three most likely electoral vote counts for Obama are 335, 305, and 345 with 13.5%, 9.0%, and 7.5% likelihoods. So Taylor is very likely wrong that Obama will get that many votes, but she isn’t crazy, stupid, or ignorant. She is making a good guess. There is a greater than 21% chance that Obama will get 330 or more votes.

I expect false equivalence from the mainstream media. I expect it from conservatives. But Bill Maher is supposed to be the thoughtful guy who gets past all the bullshit. And he often is that guy. But last week, he was just helping to smear the bullshit around.

Update (24 October 2012 11:41 pm)

Since this article is getting a little traction, I want to be clear on the numbers: they are all rough. I did my best to read Nate Silver’s graph. The vote totals could be up to 3 votes off either way. So when I reported 335, it could have been anything from 332 to 338. The percentages are good to the nearest half a percentage point. None of these errors take anything away from the argument I’m making. Goldie Taylor was making a very reasonable vote total prediction. Note that she didn’t say anything about the popular vote. That will likely be close. But that doesn’t matter—as we learned in the most painful way in 2000.

Obama’s “Grand Bargain” Idiocy

Obama NopeMost of my liberal friends get mad about how much I complain about Obama. I understand this. Obama is a damn good President by historical standards (which doesn’t say much) and he is infinitely better than what the Republicans have on offer. Yet I can’t shake the idea that Obama doesn’t much believe in liberal principals. What’s more: I think he doesn’t really care about me and everyone else who doesn’t have $8 million in assets.

Digby has written about a recent interview of Obama by the Des Moines Register. In it, Obama is again talking glowingly about a “grand bargain” where the Democrats give up $2.50 in spending for every $1.00 that the Republicans allow in raised taxes. There are so many things wrong about this, I want to scream. Now I’m think that I would not vote for Obama even if I lived in a swing state.

There are two fundamental problems with this “grand bargain”: the bargain itself and future legislation. On its merits, this is a terrible deal. The people in the upper class (the top 20%) get 54% of all the income in the United States. (The top 1% get 21%!) So this “bargain” makes the rich pay for 29% while the poor and middle class pay 71%. What a fair bargain! Way to go, Mr. President!

The other problem—which is arguably even worse—is that it will be pretty easy for Congress to cut taxes at a later time. They’ve done this a lot and there is no reason to believe that they will not continue. But the lost Social Security benefits? The lost Medicare benefits? These will be gone for good. So even if this “grand bargain” were equitable now—at it’s not—it would be inequitable soon enough and forever more.

Fortunately, Matthew Yglesias points out something important: liberals are not going to continue to take this shit. The President and his allies think that all they have to do is make a deal with the Republicans and the Democrats will fall in line. However, the political calculus has changed:

But the closer we get to the actual fiscal cliff the less sense it makes as a genuine bargain for people who think Social Security and Medicare cuts are bad on the merits. That’s why you see things like AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka loudly hopping off the grand bargain bandwagon. It’s not clear to me how much this substantively matters. The left-wing of the Democratic caucus rarely gets its way on anything. But the political system has an enormous inaction bias built into it, and objectively speaking the incentive for liberal wing of the Democrats to sign on to a grand bargain is vanishing fast.

Indeed. Liberals have to ask themselves, “Do I really want to gut two of the greatest accomplishments of modern liberalism just for the sake of Obama’s legacy?” Because that’s what it comes down to. Debt is not killing us. Someday we will have to get it in line. But not today. Not in the middle of a depression. Not on the back of our social safety net. No way, Mr. President!

Update 24 October 2012 (1:28 pm)

The Des Moines Register article filled a whole segment on Martin Bashir. Were they talking about this issue? Of course not! No Serious Journalist cares about these matters. Why would they? They’re in the upper class.