Saturday, May 24, 2008

Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC)

Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) could prove to be quite an important resource. The institute has issued some interesting publications, and several texts can be found online.

I mentioned David Hollinger's essay in a previous entry. For an introduction to the symposium see:

By Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar.

One important publication is Secularism & Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives. See the Introduction online.

Maryam Namazie & the anti-Islamist movement

According to the relevant Wikipedia entry Maryam Namazie "is a communist political activist of Iranian descent. She is mainly known for her activities for women's rights, asylum seeker's rights, gay rights and for her fight against the Islamic republic and political Islam internationally." She is associated with the Worker-Communist Party of Iran and other organizations. Residing in the UK, she is the recipient of the National Secular Society's "Secularist of the Year" award for 2005.

She is also a signatory to the MANIFESTO: Together facing the new totalitarianism. See:

Full text: Writers' statement on cartoons

MANIFESTO: Together facing the new totalitarianism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Whatever can be said about the intellectual state of the UK, surely its political discourse cannot be as thoroughly backward as that of the USA. Could a communist be awared similar recognition in American atheist/secularist circles? When pigs fly. We are stuck with the likes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, now with the American Enterprise Institute. A study remains to be done about what McCarthyism did to atheism / freethought / humanism in the USA.

David A. Hollinger on alliance with liberal religion

By David A. Hollinger

Recently I reviewed on this blog Hollinger's essay collection Science, Jews and Secular Culture. The essay cited above can be found on a site rich in resources:

Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC).

I haven't kept up with the development of Hollinger's intellectual career, so I don't have a full picture yet as to what he is all about. In this essay, Hollinger advocates an alliance with liberal religionists, adding the proviso that instead of proscribing debates over religion in favor of cooperative efforts on other social issues, religion itself should be debated in the public sphere in hopes of winning over religionists to the more benign, liberal side of religion.

I have some reservations about Hollinger's formulation. America's civic religion has deteriorated badly ever since Jimmy Carter announced he was born again, something I had never heard of before he showed up on the national scene to destroy the Democratic Party from within. American civic religion was already excessively pumped up since the onset of the Cold War, albeit slightly moderated by the invocation of a fictitious Judaeo-Christian tradition on the part of Eisenhower and others which covered up the inherent anti-Semitism of a Christian nation. But from the moment JFK declared the absolute separation of church and state in 1960, secularism was on the upswing. Then, any specific discussion of religious issues was safely kept out of sight so that public business, including popular culture via television (with the exception of Billy Graham's noxious crusades), could be conducted with minimal turbulence. But as what Americans call liberalism broke down in the late '70s, so the secular bourgeois democratic consensus was dealt a serious blow with the rise of the New Right and the election of Reagan. And with the dumbed-down millennium and Baby Bush's coup d'etat, the Constitution as well as secular democracy has been converted to toilet paper. Now the Democratic Party is a party of faith. The religious left has now become dangerously theocratic.

So what to say about Hollinger's proposal? I think religion should be excluded from policy discourse if not from public discourse, unless we plan to reinstitute the Middle Ages, withcraft trials, and similar intrusions into public business on a supernaturalist basis. Democracy cannot live where any other than rationally discussable and accountable propositions are the objects of public policy debate under the tacit assumption of a naturalistic universe, whatevcer private beliefs are held. This question was seemingly settled a long time ago, but ever since the New Right got a foothold in the media, secular debate becomes tied up with Biblical interpretation. If you remember, for example, Phil Donahue's engagement with the likes of Jerry Falwell, you will have an apt reference point. Religious discourse should be militantly excluded from the political sphere, and if it the issue comes up, the justification for excluding it should be the inherent authoritarian and theocratic nature of injecting religious belief into the political/legal system. Religious issues should be publicly debated in fora specficially tailored to such discussions, but religion should be persona non grata in the political sphere.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Womanism revisited

In an earlier entry I criticized Alice Walker's airheaded New Age ideology. I won't pass judgment on her fiction, but her opinion pieces get more and more ludicrous as time goes on.

More generally, in a commodity society every issue becomes an identity and every empirical concern is turned into metaphysics, with a proliferation of idealistically conceived isms. We need not doubt that there is a race issue, and a gender issue. I am also convinced that the whole is more than the sum of its components in this instance, as I know quite well the special characteristics of black women's situation in American society. But aren't there enough problems as it is without adding obscurantism to the mix?

Black feminism is a commonly accepted concept, but why "womanism"? Why must a specific nexus of human experience be converted into a metaphysical concept? First, let's take a look at the definition:

Womanism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

If the notion were not pretentious enough, note that by the time we get to the third paragraph, we are in the realm of womanist theology. What could be more priceless?

The fun is only beginning. Now look at this:

Womanist Theology, Epistemology, and a New Anthropological Paradigm by Linda E. Thomas.

If the black liberation theology of James Cone et al were not bad enough, here we have a new wrinkle on the theme. Furthermore, the goal is to link the existential situation of black American women with "women of color" all over the world. Added to this is the slumming mentality of anthropologists and one gets a particularly self-indulgent provincial ideology. Both expand and limit your social identity in a metaphysically defined fashion and glorify folk experience to concoct a fictional essence to be categorically distinguished from the essence of other groups, and you get the obscurantism of a race and sex based epistemology that is somehow insulated from the rules of evidence, inference, verifiability and rational accountability that apply to everyone. And if black women did not already have religion up the wazoo, they need a new theology to keep them just where they are.

Here is another blog entry on the subject:

Womanism/ Black Feminism

Here there is more nonsense about womanist theology. Walker is quoted as claiming that "womanism" is not exclusive and sounds more inclusive than "black feminism".

One can of course play with terminology however one likes. Furthermore, a new ideological concept also presents a new opportunity to consolidate a power base. However, no power base nor any constituency nor any identity can be shielded from critical scrutiny. A politically organized movement to achieve rationally accountable goals is one thing; ideological mystification is something else.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Humanism progresses in Black Africa, not in Black America

See the report on humanist activism in Africa:

African Americans for Humanism in Africa by Norm R. Allen Jr.
Free Inquiry, June/July 2007, pp. 38-40.

Allen contrasts the notable activity in Africa with the scarcity of non-white participation in organized humanism in the United States. It seems to me an inquiry into the reasons for the depressing situation in the USA is in order. At the very least, one could attempt to enumerate the factors influencing black Americans' inclinations towards or against religion as individuals. Participation in organized atheist/freethought/humanist groups is another matter, but one could pose the question whether there is any socially causal factor to differentiate racial (non-)participation in these groups.

Another question is the existence of all-black atheist/freethought/humanist groups. I know there was a group in Harlem in the 1990s, unaffiliated as far as I know with any other. I don't know whether it still exists. I was invited to attend its monthly meetings, but I was never available in New York at the proper time. There is, however, a Harlem group now on the grid:

Harlem Community / Center for Inquiry

See also my web guide:

Black / African-American / African Atheism

One key question to pose is the degree of correlation of nonbelief among black Americans with racial integration. I would think that social segregation reinforces ingrained behavioral patterns, whereas interaction with diverse groups of people enables individuals to escape those patterns. But another question is the pattern of religiosity among the educated black middle class, and whether it is changing generationally. Other correlations to be factored in include regional and urban/suburban/rural factors, gender differentials, and behavior often deemed deviant in black communities (homosexuality, nerdiness, unusual cultural tastes, etc.).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sam Harris, Islam, neurophysiology & historical illiteracy

So far on this blog I concentrated my criticism of Sam Harris on his op-ed piece "Head-in-the-Sand Liberals". While he is eloquent on the need to oppose "faith", he is a very ignorant man on most other things. Here is a sample, his most recent piece on the threat of Islam:

Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks, The Huffington Post, posted May 5, 2008

Harris complains about the cowardice in the West of publicizing attacks on Islam, the Koran, Muhammed, etc., due to the fear of violent retaliation. He insists that the religion of Islam is intrinsically related to Islamic political violence and wonders where the Muslim moderates are in speaking up against it. He insists on the right of free speech, which he counterposes to the barbarism of Muslims ready to do away with anyone who dares to exercise it in the criticism of Islam. There are, however, some gaps in Harris' argument. He has no real notion of social causality. Doctrines produce behavior, but what produces and sustains doctrines, the interpretation of doctrines, and the translation of doctrines into action? What are the institutions that reinforce dispositions, convey information, and instigate actions? And what about the context in which information is conveyed? The problem begins in the very first sentence:
Geert Wilders, conservative Dutch politician and provocateur, has become the latest projectile in the world's most important culture war: the zero-sum conflict between civil society and traditional Islam.
Wilders is under a death threat for a documentary film denouncing Islam. If Wilders has a right to free speech, and Islam is bad, then surely Wilders should be defended. But note at the outset Wilders is described as "conservative Dutch politician and provocateur". Wouldn't this set off some alarm bell to anyone not in a coma? One might want to know something about what Wilders' politics is all about, how it relates to the Netherlands's Muslim population, and to what extent this population refuses to conform to West European secular democratic norms, and to what extent they are under siege by European right-wing hate groups. What is Wilders' goal in defaming Islam; is it part of an illegitimate assault on the immigrant population? I don't know the answers to any of these questions, but I think they are essential to an assessment of the situation.

Or perhaps Wilders' motive and political agenda are irrelevant to the content of his film: if the content is sound, then what does the political context in which it is generated matter? And regardless of the morality of the situation, doesn't Wilders have any absolute right to free speech in any case? Would anything be different were a person of Muslim origin to circulate anti-Islamic materials, as many, including most famously, Ayaan Hirsi Alihas done?

I have no problem with the denigration of Islam as a general principle, but there is no action that doesn't have a context, and we are deprived of the real social context in which Wilders' film is circulating. We don't know, for example, what percentage of the local Muslim population supported or approved of the assassination of Theo van Gogh, or how the information about the provocative cartoons or this film is communicated to the rest of the Muslim world to stimulate retaliation.

What about Harris' characterization of the global geopolitical situation? Can the very concept of "culture war" explain the world situation? Is it true that the the struggle over Islam is the world's most important culture war? And that the "zero-sum conflict" between Islam and civil society makes sense as an explanatory framework for understanding the world system?

The fact is, Harris is an ignoramus. He lacks the elementary tools to analyze society, and he knows nothing of history. He deduces society from fragmentary facts and abstract principles, as if belief systems are suspended in air and just generate social realities . . . or, are just rooted in the physiology of the brain.

Which brings to mind his only area of expertise. On his web site he presents four surveys, one or more of which he requests his readers to fill out, as part of a research project on the neurophysiology of religion:

Research Volunteers Needed
We are preparing to run another fMRI study of belief and disbelief, and we need volunteers to help us refine our experimental stimuli. This promises to be the first study of religious faith at the level of the brain.
I suggest you take a look at one or more of these questionnaires. I filled them all out. Perhaps they are not as idiotic as they seem. I don't remember much about survey design and psychological testing, but I'm guessing that the questions are designed to elicit telltale responses while concealing their purpose from the test-taker, so that the testees reveal more about themselves than they consciously intend. Still, it's hard not to think that these questionnaires are utterly ridiculous and can't possibly measure what they purport to measure. And can you even imagine the ideological biases of the survey designer? And for all we know, people who concoct questionnaires like these themselves belong in a straight jacket and a rubber room.

But more generally, the question must be asked: what can it mean to ascertain religious faith based upon the study of brain physiology? Of course we can gain knowledge about how dysfunctional thinking operates on the basis of the physiological and psychological mechanisms at work. But separated from real behavior in social context, they are just abstractions, descriptions of abstractly delineated processes. Everyone concedes that environmental stimuli trigger these brain processes, but then don't we have to understand just what the "environment" is, and how its structure and history--i.e. the structure and history of society--create a structure and history of responses and dispositions in the brain? How can we actually know about the genesis of and mechanisms of social reinforcement of belief systems by studying brain physiology in abstracto?

It's too bad people like Harris cannot learn the lessons of the Soviet developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, for starters. The same ideological naivete gets repeated over and over. We get a regression to metaphysical abstractions of social behavior--in-/out-groups, prejudice, etc.--in combination with natural-scientifically conceived biological constants, in order to explain behavior, and real society and history drop out of the picture. Instead of institutional analysis combined with the essential concept of ideology, we get pseudo-scientific garbage like "memes" and pseudo-Darwinian explanations of economic systems and social history. But instead of going after the likes of Dawkins, Shermer, and Wilson, let me focus on the problems of self-enclosed biological explanations.

Yesterday I happened upon perhaps the worst "scholarly" book on bigotry I have ever seen:

Dozier, Rush W., Jr. Why We Hate: Understanding, Curbing, and Eliminating Hate in Ourselves and Our World. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2002. Publisher description.

Perusing the book, and reviewing the bibliography, I am astounded how completely devoid it is of something you will find in all serious books on this subject--real information about society and history. There is no usable social knowledge or information in this crappy book: it's all about brain physiology combined with platitudinizing. I cannot conceive of anything with scientific pretensions more disgraceful.

This is the same clueless ignorant level on which Harris operates. And most other prominent public atheists on the American scene are no better. They are disgraceful representatives of atheism, not because they are too haughty and confrontational in their atheism, but because they are politically bankrupt. With what they contribute to popular enlightenment with one hand, they take back with the other. These people have contributed mightily to the provincialism and miseducation of their fans regarding the nature of their society. Their science-worship itself is a source of ideological mystification.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Jeremiah Wright, MLK, black theology & Obama (5)

Sorry to keep you waiting for my review of Rev. Wright's notorious speech at the National Press Club and the subsequent fallout. While some of the attacks on Wright and/or Obama are askew, defense of Wright can be equally repugnant. Case in point: tonight's episode of the racial Twilight Zone:

Barack Obama, Reverend Wright and Black liberation theology
By Malik Miah
Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
"Malik Miah is editor of the US socialist magazine Against the Current, where this article first appeared."

This is one specimen of unbearable stupidity that shows that hard leftists no more than black nationalists or mainstream liberals have a firm grip on reality in their minds. First, there is the admonition to other leftists not to think like sectarians and reject mainstream electoral politics. Then Miah projects "a possible shift in political consciousness" when Obama disillusions his young supporters when he proves to be just like any other mainstream politician. Those hoping for a change might be motivated to seek a more serious change. Well, maybe, but one would have to investigate more carefully the composition and perspectives of Obama's supporters to assess this potential intelligently. Then Miah acclaims this "outstanding speech", though it doesn't go as far in denouncing institutional racism as many on the left would like to see. Obama is alleged to reveal himself as different from the run-of-the-mill mainstream politician. Well, Obama, as the would-be president of neoliberal America, said what he had to say without excessively humbling himself by disowning his pastor, and made some conventional sops to his white audience in order to defend at least a basis for a different social perspective on the part of blacks. Logically speaking, the speech left much to be desired, but it hit the right note under the circumstances.

Then Miah's argument goes south as he defends Wright, insisting that Wright is no hate-monger and that Wright preaches "in the best tradition of Black liberation theology." Miah did not intend this to be a backhanded compliment, of course. It gets worse when Miah makes the disgusting move of equating Wright with King, concluding: "Wright and King delivered the same message of truth." Here Miah shows himself to be a liar. King resolutely opposed black anti-Semitism and never would have had anything to do with the likes of Farrakhan or any black separatist. King would not have exploited black paranoia and illiteracy by spinning conspiracy tales about AIDS unsupported by evidence, or by peddling crackpot notions about black developmental psychology and brain hemispheres.

Miah asserts a linkage of the black liberation theology that arose in the '60s with a tradition going back to slavery. "It is rooted in Black nationalism and the traditions of Black radicalism. It goes back to the resistance to slavery. The modern version arose during the civil rights movement. It basically combines the philosophy of the Black Christian church and Black nationalism." The "modern version", however, has little in common with the pre-black-power phases of American history. Miah quotes Cone; I'll take Miah at his word for now; Cone:
The Black theologian must reject any conception of God which stifles Black self-determination by picturing God as a God of all peoples. Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God's experience, or God is a God of racism... The Blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God's own condition.
It can be seen at a glance that King would never identify himself with this drivel. King might have identified God with the oppressed, but he never would have advocated God as a black God and not the God of all peoples. This obscurantist metaphysical fol-de-rol is of no value to black liberation; the only black power it promotes is that of the manipulation of the masses by self-aggrandizing leaders. Interestingly, Miah argues that Wright's perspective is mainstream, neither anti-American nor anti-capitalist.
In Wright's speech before the National Press Club, he identifed himself with Black liberation theology and pointed out that the attack on Obama and him by the corporate media and others is in reality an attack on the Black community.
This is doubly reprehensible. Aside from identification with the hocus-pocus of black liberation theology, Wright commits the sin of all black nationalist demagogues, including his pal Farrakhan: instead of establishing a rational, verifiable connection between his own interests and the interests of others, he arrogates to himself the right to equate his own agenda with that of the "black community", wrapping himself in the black nationalist flag to ward off criticism of his individual responsibility for crackpot ideas and a manipulative racial-mystical world view.

Finally, Miah warns his fellow socialists not to be sectarian and turn their backs on mainstream electoral politics. But the fact that he has to issue this admonition already proves the bankruptcy of his peers. Interestingly, Miah demonstrates awareness of the limitations of black capitalism by identifying Wright, Jesse Jackson, and Obama with it, and by highlighting the trend towards integrating minorities into the management of corporate America. Miah thinks that Obama's candidacy is an indicator of a post-racial society in germination, because of the willingness of a number of whites to accept Obama and not succumb to race-baiting. Well, it does indicate something, but precisely what and how far it goes is a matter for discussion. Miah suggests that the Obama candidacy opens up an opportunity for consciousness-raising on race. Well, I wonder. What we see, in Obama's "landmark" speech as well as all the hand-wringing over the "Wright" scandal, is not so much a penetration of the race situation on the ground as the usual insipid contrast of two opposing perceptions: "whites see the world this way, and blacks see the world that way, and whites don't know how the world looks from the other side of the racial divide." Well, the last part is true, but the media propaganda environment does not admit any deliberation beyond the pluralist ideology of showing us a diversity of viewpoints. The occasional showcasing of the "black perspective" is predicated on the curious form of integrated segregation to which the American racial order has evolved. Without the maintenance of de facto racial social segregation, the "black perspective" would not have to be peddled as some exotic foreign country that requires ambassadors to speak in its name. "Diplomacy", in fact, is an apt metaphor for this shell game, for diplomacy is all about understanding the perspective of the leaders of another country enough to negotiate with them . . . diplomatically. Diplomacy, however, is not designed to pursue truth beyond appearances.

Curiously, once Miah links black liberation theology to black nationalism, which he links to black capitalism, he fails to draw a number of conclusions therefrom. He seems quite unconcerned with the irrationalism and obscurantism of the black liberation theology of Cone and his successors, nor does he broach the subject of the stunting of the intellectual growth of black people under segregation, reflected in the power of the black church to inculcate hocus-pocus and the authority of preachers over a rationally accountable investigation of social reality. Here Miah succeeds in demonstrating the mental confusion and mediocrity of the American left.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Jeremiah Wright, MLK, black theology & Obama (6)

So much transpired in the few days following Bill Moyers’ interview with Jeremiah Wright, not to mention the fallout afterward. Wright spoke at a meeting of the NAACP, followed by an infamous engagement at the National Press Club, after which Barack Obama forcefully dissociated himself from Wright, citing outrageous statements by Wright.

How outrageous was Wright, exactly? Is he the total maniac the brief video clip of him shouting “God damn America!” purportedly shows him to be?

Moyers gave Wright the opportunity to contextualize his remarks and explain his views. Moyers addressed the double standard by which Wright and right-wing white preachers are judged owing entirely to race and provided some needed balance in his follow-up statement:

Bill Moyers: Welcome to the Journal, May 2, 2008.

Moyers contrasted the reasonable and rational dialogue he had with Wright on April 25 with what he called the “politics of personal destruction” on May 2, the likes of which he had never seen. Moyers was on target in redressing the imbalance, yet he did not delve to the bottom of the Wright affair. No one in the mass media I have yet encountered has systematically addressed just what is wrong with Wright.

Obama himself declined to explain the discrepancy between the Wright he knew and the “outrageous” behavior he witnessed in this press conference. Wright is so outrageous that his remarks are shunned by “every American”. Obama must know this is not quite true, but this is politics. Wright’s denunciation of American foreign policy is hardly outrageous. However, his characterization of the cause-and-effect relationships between American actions and the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01 is highly imprecise, and furthermore, mystified by his transmutation of the facts into theology. Offensive, though not necessarily crazy, is Wright’s characterization of 9-11 as the “chickens coming home to roost.” Perhaps Wright is a Malcolm X wannabe, Malcolm having characterized the JFK assassination in just this way. A more accurate descriptive term for 9-11 would be “blowback”. The phraseology of “chickens coming home to roost” in conjunction with the tone in which it was delivered carries the connotation that the people killed in 9-11 got what they deserved, but in fact, the chickens have faulty navigation skills and never quite arrive at home to roost. People in power don’t often pay for their crimes: cannon fodder and civilians do.

We can fault Wright for his offensive remarks, though not for his hostility to American foreign policy, which hardly is anathema to every American as Obama claimed. Where, then, does Wright definitively cross the border into outrageousness? Objectively, his offenses are these:

(1) His unsubstantiated folk paranoia about the U.S. government giving AIDS to blacks;

(2) His crackpot remarks about black learning style and left brain/right brain thinking;

(3) His defense of the anti-Semitic, separatist fascist Louis Farrakhan;

(4) His megalomaniacal claim that an attack on him is an attack on the black church.

Bill Moyers, while otherwise commendable, does not venture into these telltale signs of the underlying ideology of Wright and the numerous black nationalist crackpots among and outside of the black clergy who think like this.

Wright’s outburst at the National Press Club may have singlehandedly cost Obama the presidency. White people are, after all, chronically insecure, and panic more at the slightest aggressive gesture on the part of a black person than at the Caucasian monsters and lunatics that abound in their midst. The post-mortem conducted by Charlie Rose is worth scrutinizing with care:

A discussion about Barack Obama & Rev. Jeremiah Wright with James Clyburn,

Sally Quinn, Floyd Flake. Further discussion about Race, Religion and Politics.

Flake and Clyburn were quite measured and precise in their statements, knowing well what damage Wright was wreaking upon Obama. Flake was a congressman and remains a minister. Clyburn is a congressman and—my memory is shaky—may be a preacher as well. Flake denied that Wright could claim the right to equate himself with the black church as a whole. Naturally, none of the participants in the discussion were about to criticize the institution of the black church per se.

Sally Quinn of The Washington Post, a white woman who monitors the current dominance of religion in public discourse, was remarkably sympathetic to the black situation, but she missed the mark on a couple of important points. She contrasted the rational content of Wright’s speech with his responses during the Q & A during which he went haywire. He seemed to be off-center in his outlandish responses to questions posed to him. Quinn’s sensitivity to this discrepancy, however, fails to account for its root cause. Quinn made one other remark that proves that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. When the question of Obama’s biracial composition was brought up, Quinn responded with her knowledge of the one-drop rule: in America, if you’re part black, you’re black. Flake nodded. This remark, however, is not as sophisticated as Quinn would like to think. Even if both your parents are black, and you are definitely black according to our racial classification system, your viewpoint is not thereby automatically secured. But if one your parents is not classified as black, even if other people classify you as black, you definitely do not experience your world in the same way as “real” black people, especially if you are raised by the white side of your family. Quinn’s remark, in this light, is actually quite stupid. Obama’s association with a nationalist like Wright most assuredly requires some explanation. Maybe Obama’s nonbelieving white mother is up in heaven as Obama assures us, but what must she think of her son joining an Afrocentric church whose preacher is a fan of Louis Farrakhan. No biracial child is going to put up with the likes of a separatist crackpot bigot like Farrakhan. Either Obama is a total opportunist and his conversion to Christianity is a pose, or the impact that Wright had on him exposes another weakness in his character. There is much about Obama’s attitude towards an institution he originally must have found quite alien that is probably not too distant from that of the typically stupid white liberal or white leftist who feels obligated to underwrite black ignorance out of a sense of political or moral deference. This weakness hardly disqualifies Obama for the presidency, especially given the demonstrably low standards of both the American presidency and the white American electorate, but it is a pressure point worth probing. Note, then, this discussion of the question:

Why'd Obama Join Trinity in the First Place?
The New Republic,

In the next installment I shall continue to pursue the fallout from the Wright-Obama affair, with an emphasis on the difference between the analysis of two irreligionists, Adolph Reed, Jr., a black leftist, and Christopher Hitchens, a white former leftist turned warmonger and unprincipled gasbag.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Jeremiah Wright, MLK, black theology & Obama (4)

Bill Moyers' Interview with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, April 25, 2008.

Resuming the narrative: Wright reviews his life and times--his sojourn in the military, during which he attended President Johnson in the hospital, his changing perceptions of what the church is and should be, the dominance of white cultural superiority even in black institutions, which persisted until 1968, and so on. Then Wright denies that Black theology is a race-based theology, explaining the meaning of the church slogan "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian". His narrative makes sense from the perspective of the '60s, when the aggressive public assertion of black culture was a novel and bold move. However, the more one asserts "our culture", the more one is tempted to impose uniformity and conformity among its members. There is much more to consider between 1968 and 2008. But not to worry, says Wright: his church is multiracial and multicultural as well as unashamedly black.

Then Moyers and Wright get involved in a discussion of Bible stories, and Wright makes a number of proclamations about what God and the Bible tell us to do and not to do. Here the cherry-picking and brazen arbitrariness of the assertions are ridiculous. But Moyers is eating it up. The Bible stories and its teachings are universal, but oddly the God of a billion galaxies decided only to speak to one nationality lodged in a narrow patch of desert and the rest of the universe--maybe even the multiverse--has to accept all this bubba meises without proof. So, while interrogating verifiable human history, Wright opposes, to the false values of the state, fairy-tales about what God ordains. And when he enumerates the injustices done to various peoples by modern empires, including those committed by the United States, he converts these earthly insights into theological principles, and thus explains his remarks about the chickens coming home to roost on 9-11-01. There is indeed a cause-and-effect relationship between the actions of American foreign policy and the terrorist attacks, which can be explained in rational terms. "Chickens coming home to roost", though, is neither precise as an assertion nor does it explain anything. Wright is indignant about the willful misrepresentation of his perspective and his church, recounting all the social services and good works the church performs, complaining that his vilifiers know nothing of the black church. Yet an outsider not just to the black community but to religious institutions can't help but notice the schizoid nature of Wright's mind as he feels compelled to translate rational knowledge into theological mumbo-jumbo and practical social service and political action into a supernatural mission, just as surely as he originally sought to make religion relevant to the real world.

In the course of explaining his relationship with Obama, Wright says:
. . . he goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician. I continue to be a pastor who speaks to the people of god about the things of God.
That's quite a cheeky assertion. And with what justification can Wright speak in the name of God about the things of God? Why not, without just being a politician, just speak of the things of the world as they are? His theology is already selective and politicized to the hilt.

It is also revealing how Wright justifies the crackpot fascist anti-Semite and black separatist Louis Farrakhan. He simply waves Farrakhan's ideology aside and says, well, look at all the great things he's accomplished, keeping black men off drugs, etc. etc. A purely opportunistic, pragmatic exculpation without any accountability for the ideology and institution of Farrakhan's gutter religion. But even more revealing is the corporate metaphor: "Louis Farrakhan is like E.F. Hutton. When Lewis Farrakhan speaks, black America listens. They may not agree with him, but they're listening." This assertion is idiotic on several counts. What does it mean to listen and not agree? Who says they're all listening? And if they do listen, then what does that say about their susceptibility to manipulation? What an absolutely corrupt justification!

Now get a grip on this:
Your theology determines one's anthropology. And how you see humans determines your sociology. To look at how we've come to see race, and in others of other races, based on our understanding of God who sees others as less than important. Less than my people. And where in our religious traditions are there passages in our sacred scriptures that are racist? They're in the Vedas, the Babylonian Talmud, they're in the Koran, they're in the Bible. How do we grapple with these passages in our sacred texts? The same way you grapple with Judges:19, where it's alright for a preacher to have a concubine and cut her up into 12 pieces. We gotta argue with our texts that are, as we've been struggling with, battling with, wrestling with, anti-Semitic. The Christian, "The Jews killed Jesus." No, we gotta come to grips with, you know, these texts were written by certain people at certain times with certain racist understandings of others who are different.
Well, the way to come to grips with these deficient sacred texts is to strip them of all authority and divine sanction, as these very admissions prove none of them can possibly be the word of God.

This man appears to have assassinated his own intelligence. So why was biracial, middle class, atheistical Barack Obama so impressed with him? A Harvard graduate couldn't do better than this? Naked pragmatism without rational accountability for one's nonsense--like attracting like?