The Devil Wants You Praying in Public

Mary's Gourmet DinerProbably my biggest problem with religious people, as I generally find them here in the United States, is that it is all style and no content. I usually refer to them as “Cultural Christians.” And that’s a good why to sum them up, although the problem is not limited to Christians by any means. What it gets at is how people use their religion. And I want to be very clear: the Cultural Christians are often very serious about their Christianity—ridiculously so. But they use it primarily as a cultural signifier and not as a way to get closer to God, how ever they may define the concept.

And the poster child for the Cultural Christian movement is, of course, Tim Tebow. Now for those of you who are neither Cultural Christians nor football fans, Tim Tebow is a middling NFL quarterback who was a cause celebre for his ostentatious praying on the field. Of course, the Cultural Christians will tell you that he is pure of heart and just witnessing for the Lord. But I don’t think that’s true. I’m sure he started off pure enough, but after a while it became a thing. And he got lots of extra attention for it. I wrote about this before, Tim Tebow Hypocrisy.

To me, the most interesting gospel is Matthew. I actually like Mark better. But Matthew is where we get the Sermon on the Mount, which is really the best condensation of Jesus’ message. It contains the only part of the Bible I actually have memorized, “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”[1] Now that’s a prayer!

The whole middle section of the Sermon deals with not being a Cultural Christian. It is all about not doing “good works” just to get in good with God. Jesus explicitly says that when you pray, you should shut yourself away in a room. Just look at what our man Jesus has to say about public expressions of holiness:

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

This actually comes back to a recurring theme throughout the Bible: be modest, not prideful. The word I most associate with the Old Testament is “hubris.” And God really doesn’t like it. He has this tendency to wipe out whole cities when he sees it. But among the Cultural Christians, I see almost nothing but hubris. There is this constant drone coming from the movement that they know what the Bible means and so they know what God wants. This is particularly offensive when one of the things they know is that abortion is wrong, which is not only not in the Bible, but which was an issue debated for centuries by the church.

So it was with some annoyance that I saw a headline at the Huffington Post, North Carolina Diner Offers Customers 15 Percent Discount For “Praying In Public.” The wait staff at Mary’s Gourmet Diner in North Carolina, have the option to give a 15% discount when they see “someone in [the] restaurant honoring their gratefulness at my table.” Long before I started reading the Bible I found people saying grace in public offensive. There is no denying it: as heartfelt as it may be, a large part of it is making a spectacle of the person praying. “Look at me! I love God so much that I’m making a big deal of telling him out loud that I’m grateful that he didn’t make me born in some poor time or place when I would be too busy surviving to make a spectacle of myself in a restaurant”!

15% Discount: Praying in Public

But this is so much worse. It says on the receipt that the discount is for, “Praying in Public.” It makes you wonder: are these actually Devil worshipers who are just trying to anger God? After all, he sent his only begotten son down to earth to make a big speech—very likely the most famous speech in the history of mankind—and the people at Mary’s Gourmet Diner are encouraging people to do exactly what Jesus told his followers not to do. But that, I’m afraid, is exactly the point.

The Cultural Christians are not followers of Jesus. Largely, they are people who want to wipe out dissent. They want to create a theocracy based upon their own interpretation of the Bible. And that interpretation of the Bible is that women’s birth control should be illegal and gays should be in jail at the very least. At the same time, of course, they will just as ostentatiously “love” the women who they are forcing to die of blood poisoning resulting from a dead fetus. And they will “love” the gay men who are beaten to death. But most of all, they will love that 15% discount at Mary’s Gourmet Diner!

[1] This is actually not what I have memorized. I always quote from the New American Standard Translation, because it is reputed to be the closest to the original Greek. Also, the last part—”For yours is the kingdom…—is a later interpolation. So even if you think Jesus actually did give this sermon, that part is not in the earliest manuscripts of the Bible. But you can see why they added it: it is, as Jimmie Walker would say, “Dyn-o-mite!” (I mean that: it gives the whole thing a great cadence.)

H/T: Mad Kane

Why Scientists Are Overwhelmingly Liberal

National Review: Smarter than ThouThis morning, Paul Krugman wrote, Anti-Intellectualism That Dares Not Speak Its Name. It’s about the anti-intellectual bent of the modern conservative movement. In particular, he’s interested in National Review‘s really offensive cover story, “Smarter than Thou.” The subtitle is, “Neil deGrasse Tyson and America’s Nerd Problem. Of all sources, it is particularly sad coming from National Review, because whatever else you can say about its founder, William F Buckley Jr was not anti-intellectual. But while I would agree that in terms of dog whistle racial appeals, this is your father’s Republican Party—in terms of facts, this is not your father’s Republican Party. It is now a postmodern party where things like facts and competence don’t matter and reality is whatever we (they) say it is.

Krugman pointed me to a 2009 Pew Research poll of the politics of scientists. And they found that as a group, scientists are quite liberal. The report says:

Most scientists identify as Democrats (55%), while 32% identify as independents and just 6% say they are Republicans. When the leanings of independents are considered, fully 81% identify as Democrats or lean to the Democratic Party, compared with 12% who either identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP. Among the public, there are far fewer self-described Democrats (35%) and far more Republicans (23%). Overall, 52% of the public identifies as Democratic or leans Democratic, while 35% identifies as Republican or leans Republican.

Majorities of scientists working in academia (60%), for non-profits (55%) and in government (52%) call themselves Democrats, as do nearly half of those working in private industry (47%).

That’s very interesting in a number of ways. One is that the “independents” break 81% (26÷32) to the Democrats. Also: this isn’t just a question of scientists working in academia or government. The numbers for scientists working in private industry are 47% Democrat, 10% Republican, and 37% independent. If we assume the overall partitioning of private industry scientists is the same as it is for the independents (as it was for scientists overall), the independents break 80 percentage points (87%) for the Democrats. That gives a total of private industry scientists of 82% Democrats and 16% Republicans.[1] So no matter how you slice it, scientists are overwhelmingly Democratic.

The question is why this would be. Krugman offers, “One simple explanation would be that current Republican doctrine really is anti-science and anti-intellectual, and that scientists are responding to that.” But I actually think this is only a small part of it. Everyone knows the John Stuart Mill quote, “I did not mean that conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any honorable gentleman will question it.” This implies what we see in the polling data. Scientists are on average smarter and given that the overall population breaks about 50-50 conservative-liberal, scientists would break liberal.

But I think it is even more fundamental than that. It’s about the way that scientists (and for that matter, artists) look at the world. They are, in the broadest sense of the word, liberal. They are open to new ideas. They want to be able to see things from different perspectives and this makes them value empathy if not making them actually empathic. On a policy level there isn’t that much difference between Democrats and Republicans. What is really different is the way the two parties talk about the world and the Democratic way is far more open minded and empathic.

Regardless, if I were a conservative, I would be embarrassed about this. I wouldn’t be mocking scientists. And of course, in the past, they have not. It is just that now, the conservative movement is utterly dependent on conservative Christians—so dependent that they wouldn’t even be as competitive as the Green Party without them. And, of course, the conservative movement is now committed to denying the well establish facts of climate science. So I guess they feel the need to lash out at science. But like most acts of the conservative movement generally and the Republican Party in particular, what they are doing is shortsighted. Not only is it not good for themselves—it is not good for the country. Conservatives claim to be very concerned about American hegemony. But the greatest threat to it is not that taxes are too high (they aren’t) or that welfare is too generous (it isn’t). The greatest threat is their campaign to vilify the most creative forces in our country for their short-term political and economic benefit.

[1] It is just a little algebra. Assume D is the percentage of Democrats, R the percentage of Republicans, and I the percentage of independents. Furthermore, ID is the Democratic leaning independents and IR are the Republican leaning independents. Thus, we get the following equation:

(D + ID) / (D + R + I) = ID / I

Everything is known but ID, so we get:

ID = D × I / ( D + R )

Note that there is a question of percentages and percentage points. The percentage of answers actually makes the Democratic tilt look even more extreme.

Elisha Gray’s 1887 Fax Machine

Elisha GrayOn this day in 1835, one of the greatest American inventors Elisha Gray was born. He’s most interesting because almost no one has ever heard of him. Despite this, he probably invented the telephone. We all know Alexander Graham Bell because, of course, of the company name. And there is the stupid little narrative of the first telephone transmission, “Mr Watson: come here; I want to see you.” That, at least, has the advantage over most stories we are told in grammar school of actually being true.

Bell, of course, got the patent first and so made all the money from the telephone. But it does bring up this issue that I have been grappling with for years. How should a society reward creative work when multiple people develop the same ideas at the same time? We see the same thing with airplanes between the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss. I don’t like the system we have for many reasons, but this random aspect of it is quite troubling.

Don’t get the wrong idea, however. Gray was enormously successful. For example, he invented the fax machine. In 1887. Really! He called it the teleautograph, and it allowed handwriting to be transmitted via the telegraph. The company he founded would (through a circuitous route) went on to become Xerox. He was (like many inventors of the time) a telegraph man. It was, after all, the internet of its day. And being an electrical engineer, most of his work was based on the telegraph.

Another such application was the harmonic telegraph. It was a way of sending musical tones over a wire. It is one of the first electronic musical instruments and the first device that can be said to be a musical synthesizer, although it more along the lines of your grandmother’s old electric organ. But this was in 1875.

As I sit here, my partner is fighting with the hardware of our top secret amazing “I never thought we would be able to do this” invention. And as a result, we were not able to go out and do field tests today. I don’t mean to compare myself to Gray, and as much as I admire my partner, I don’t mean to compare him to Gray either. But we are doing this work outside our regular work. So I’m quite interested in the fact that Gray did his greatest work after he retired. The creative instinct in humans is strong. So I find it offensive when conservatives and neoliberals claim that if we don’t allow creative people to become billionaires, we won’t have progress. I think it is rather the opposite. Although I don’t question possible riches as being a motivator, without a certain level of financial stability, nothing creative gets done.

Happy birthday Elisha Gray!