God is Not All-Good

God - MichelangeloThe Onion has published a very funny article, God Distances Self From Christian Right.

As with all The Onion articles, it starts with one jokes and repeats it paragraph after paragraph. In this case, it is quote after quote from God saying basically, “I’m not a bigot like my followers!”

God comes off as a pretty good guy:

“Many people hear my name in connection with the Christian Right and start to assume we are aligned in some capacity, and I’m here to say, for the record, that we are not,” God continued. “So let me just be clear: I don’t want women to get raped—not ever. I don’t think their resulting pregnancies are my divine will. And if a woman is raped, then she has the right to get an abortion, period. I do not agree with Mourdock. I do not agree with the Christian Right. End of story.”

Calling Mourdock’s comments “the last straw,” the Lord Our Maker explained that while in the past there have been a few areas where He and the religious Right have been in agreement, more often than not, in recent years, He and Christian conservatives have grown “actually quite far apart” on a wide range of issues.

Of course, the truth is God in the Bible is as bad or worse than the Christian right. I was just reading “Stephen Law on the Problem of Evil” in Philosophy Bites. He makes a compelling case that God is not good. It is just extremely hard to argue given what we know about the world.

One way of looking at the problem is by assuming that God is evil:

Right now I can see happy laughing children frolicking around in the sunshine. Why would an evil God allow that kind of thing? Surely a supremely malignant being would be interested in torturing us for all eternity with a red-hot poker, not producing rainbows and laughter and sunshine and ice cream. There’s just too much good stuff in the world for this to be plausibly the creation of a supremely powerful, supremely evil being. You can see that this problem—we might call it the problem of good—is just the reverse of the problem of evil. If you believe in an all-powerful, all-good God you have to explain why there’s so much bad stuff. If you believe in an all-powerful, all-bad God you have to explain why there’s so much good stuff. Actually, it seems to me that you can probably also develop some ingenious arguments to deal with the problem, why does an evil God give us a lovely sunset to enjoy? To make our appreciation of the ghastly dreariness and ugliness of day-to-day life so much more acute. Why does he give us fit and healthy young bodies? Well, he only does so for about ten or fifteen years. Then, slowly and invevitably, people slide into decay and decrepitude until they end up dying, hopelessly ugly, incontinent and smelling of wee, having lived out a short and ultimately meaningless existence. I mean, what better way could there be of maximizing suffering than giving you something good for a short period of time and then slowly and inexorably taking it away? Most of the standard theodicies can be flipped round. And when you flip them round in this way, they’re a joke. So, the question is: why do we take the standard theodicies so seriously? On the scale of reasonableness, I place an evil God very low down. But that’s exactly the reason why I place the good God very low down on the scale of reasonableness.

Who says philosophy and theology aren’t fun?

“Moderate” Republicans

George W. BushWhen it comes to Republican pundits, I’ll take an extremist over a moderate any day. At least I know what the extremist believes. The moderate is as likely as not to be a Trojan horse. Read the likes of David Brooks or Michael Gerson. If we went by what they claim to believe they would be conservative Democrats. Why be “moderate” Republicans? To begin with, there really is no such thing as a moderate Republican. Look in the dictionary for “moderate Republican” and it says, “See Blue Dog Democrat.” These supposed moderate Republicans are nothing more than extremists who put a “happy face” on conservatism. They are a kind of political apologist—making vile policy sound reasonable.

Jonathan Chait deconstructs both of these pundits today. David Brooks spent his column today asking why we can’t all just get along. His answer: all those extremists on the right and left. He notes that for certain conservatives, the answer to every problem is a tax cut. And for certain liberals, the answer to every problem is a tax increase on the rich. Chait notes that this is not true. Democrats have not been pushing for higher taxes other than up to the Clinton era levels while Republicans have not even been happy with the two Bush tax cuts—they want even more!

Chait didn’t discuss a very slippery part of Brooks’ comparison. I will admit that I personally (and I would never be elected to government office so it hardly matters) would like to see the top federal income tax rate raised to 50%. And I would like to see the Social Security cap eliminated. So it is true that some liberals would like to raise taxes on the rich a bit. But conservatives don’t want to lower taxes in a general sense. Conservatives only care about lowering taxes on the wealthy. They lower other taxes simply to justify this goal. By stating it as Brooks did, he distorts his point from the beginning.

Next up for Chait is Michael Gerson, or as I like to think of him: the bleeding heart neocon. Gerson didn’t invent cognitive dissonance, but he sure as hell perfected it. But don’t get the wrong the idea; he doesn’t need cognitive dissonance; he has such deep wells of untapped denial, he’s considering partnering with Exxon. In his column yesterday, Gerson is disappointed that Paul Ryan has not been clear that his policies wouldn’t hurt the poor. Because they (and by this, I mean moderate and not so moderate Republicans) don’t want to hurt the poor. They care about the poor. When a child goes to bed without dinner, Michael Gerson’s feet bleed.[1]

So Gerson wants to know why Paul Ryan didn’t just come out and say what Gerson knows in his heart: Paul Ryan would never harm the poor! Luckily, Jonathan Chait has an answer:

He wants a specific assurance that Ryan doesn’t plan to roll back government at the expense of the poor and vulnerable? We already have a specific, written assurance that it will come at the expense of the poor and vulnerable. That assurance is called “the Ryan plan.” It details absolutely enormous cuts to programs for the poor. And it’s not like Ryan was backing away from those cuts in his speech. The Ryan poverty speech was about how throwing poor people off their government-funded nutritional assistance and health care would force them off their lazy butts and make them go get a job, plus private charity something something.

I’m sure now that Chait has explained to Gerson, he’ll see the error of his ways: “Right! Right! Jobs and Salvation Army!” I’m sure his feet will have only bled for a moment!

It is really important to be vigilant against these “moderates.” There’s no way a Rush Limbaugh or a Todd Akin will take over the country. But a “moderate” who speaks softly and carries an extremist stick? I’ve got one letter for you: W.

[1] This is a reference to the Jim Carroll Band’s Catholic Boy, “When I enter a church, the feet of statues bleed.” I assume he is thinking something like stigmata, which is certainly what I’m getting at: Gerson suffering like Jesus. Here is the song:

RIP Jim. The one that loved not wisely but too well.

Stick This!

The ProclaimersWhen I was in grad school, I lived with this crazy English brother and sister Straford and Andrea Wild. (This is a different person from American Andrea English who writes Curiously Clever.) Now they are respectable with jobs and spouses, but as I recall, their last name was a good description of them. And they were a band: Both Wild. But it’s hard to say more because I was drunk most of that time.

One thing I do remember is that they introduced me to a lot of music from over in Once Merry Ol’ England and environs. And one of the songs (that it turns out was a huge hit anyway) was The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). Normally, I like this song. It is particularly good for making up new lyrics: “When I get drunk / Well you know I’m gonna be / I’m gonna be the man who’s passing out with you.”

But for the past two days, I have had this little ditty stuck in my head. And so for that I will “proclaim” that the Wilds can take all their kingdom’s music and sod off. Barring that, perhaps I can get the song stuck in their heads. Or yours:

La la la la! La la la la!

Cleopatra Jones

Cleopatra JonesI finally got to see that 1973 cult favorite Cleopatra Jones starring Tamara Dobson. It is one of the silliest films I’ve ever seen. It tells the story of Cleo Jones, a secret government agent, who is apparently out to win the Drug War single-handedly. The film starts with her ordering the destruction of $30 million of poppies. The owner of these poppies, drug kingpin Mommy (played with John Waters’ style vigor by Shelley Winters), is determined to take Jones out. So she manages to get Jones’ boyfriend’s rehab shelter shut down in order to tempt Jones back home. Once there, Jones combats repeated attempts by Mommy’s subordinates to kill her. The film climaxes in a karate fight between Jones and Mommy. That’s right: Shelley Winters tries to kick Cleo Jones’ ass. I don’t want to ruin the end because it is very not surprising.

Cleopatra Jones does not take itself very seriously. At least, I hope it doesn’t. The film is filled with understated lines like, “It’s been real heavy around here.” But even if these lines were meant to be serious at the time, now they are charming. “No matter how many times I see a cat go through withdrawals, it’s always a heavy trip. That cat’s 15 years old, Cleo.” I don’t know about you, but I can dig it. It’s solid.

All the scenes with Mother were certainly meant to be funny. Why would Shelley Winters be cast? She’s naturally funny. And the character is over the top. She is forever abusing her young subordinates—except one. She has a young woman who seems only to be there to serve her drinks and put up with being pinched in the ass, because Mother is as much a lesbian as possible in a 1973 movie. In this way, the film is pretty open minded.

According the Wikipedia, Cleopatra Jones is a blaxploitation film. I don’t think this is exactly true. It is certainly no Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. It is more the co-opting of the form. It is directed by the very white Jack “Gabby Johnson” Starrett. Most of the crew is white. It was funded by Warner Brothers. And it goes out of its way to show “good” white characters. I don’t mean all of this as an insult however. The film is definitely steeped in the black pride and feminist movements. Even the choice to make the drug kingpin an over-sexed lesbian has to be applauded. And what I especially appreciate is that the black community is very much defined in terms of Malcolm X’s vision. They are solving their own problems despite the inept and hostile meddling of the white culture.

As pure entertainment, Cleopatra Jones works. This is especially true if you like this genre of film and this period of American history. There is something extremely positive about its outlook. It really does portray a time when people were optimistic—when it looked like the future would go in the right direction. Today, it is hard to find that kind of thing.