Sunday, March 04, 2012

Casual Stupidity

When it comes to op-eds, I think I'm bothered more by casual nastiness, bigotry or stupidity than I am when people are super-explicit about it. Rush Limbaugh's comments about Sandra Fluke, for example, while atrocious, were so over-the-top that people sat up and noticed, and were then able to put pressure on him to own up to the fact that calling someone a slut for advocating a policy shift during a Congressional deposition is over the line.

It's harder-- and in some ways, more pernicious-- when the venom is embedded in someone's article, or speech. Here are some examples from this week's WND:

- Barry Farber championing algae as a gasoline replacement:
I have a dream. About 20 years from now a fifth-grade teacher somewhere in America will ask her students, “Who can name our two most important inventors, and why they are the most important?” And little Cathy stands up and replies, “Thomas Edison and Adrian Vance. Edison lit up the world and Vance put the oil-producing nations of the Middle East in their place – selling pistachios alongside the bagel carts in mid-town Manhattan.”
Dude, really? So Middle Eastern folks' proper "place" is as snack vendors? I love how Barry not only paints an idyllic picture of casually racist 5th graders, but that he also rips of Martin Luther King to do it. Nice.

- Joseph Farah explaining why Christians and Muslims have zero theological common ground:
If you compare the personality of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the Christian and Hebrew God – with Allah, Islam’s god, the contrast could not be more stark. The Hebrew-Christian God is characterized by love. The Islamic god is characterized by war and vengeance. The Hebrew-Christian God provides a clear path to redemption and personal salvation in a fallen world – through repentance. The Islamic god provides only one certain path to personal salvation – martyrdom.
Put aside Farah's strawman about Islam thinking the only way to be a good Muslim is to martyr yourself. What's with pretending the Jewish (not Hebrew, Joe, Jewish) God says anything about "personal salvation" or even that we live in a specifically "fallen" (as opposed to imperfect) world? Stark contrasts between depictions of God? You can find differences between depictions of God from book to book in the Torah, to say nothing of Prophets or Writings. That's one of the starting points of Biblical criticism, Lurianic Kabbalah, and most lay-led Dvar Torahs. The God of the Bible goes through a myriad of personality shifts, sometimes from sidra to sidra, and that's part of what makes Him an intriguing character. Not only does this Unified God argument go against tons of Jewish textual tradition, it also runs counter to hundreds of years of Christian criticism of Judaism! How often have we heard about the "loving Christian God" being compared to the "vengeful" or "legalistic" Jewish God? Now you want to say there's no daylight between them? I'd be suspicious of this anyway, but all the more so given that now you want to play buddy-buddy so that you can beat up on Islam.

It's ironic that Farah is talking about how Christians need to recognize the important theological gaps between them and Muslims while simultaneously demonstrating he knows next-to-nothing about Judaism or traditional Jewish texts. Recall that this was the guy who fought against an Old Testament scholar questioning whether the Jewish God was really a "creator" of Heaven and Earth by using quotes from the Greek New Testament. Please, Joe, leave us out of your craziness.

- Last, Dennis Prager demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that the goal of university is to get young people to become nihilists, steal their parents' property, and then eat them:
If this [comically hyperbolic] list is accurate – and that may be ascertained by visiting a college bookstore and seeing what books are assigned by any given instructor – most American parents and/or their child or children are going into debt to support an institution that for four years, during the most impressionable years of a person’s life, instills values that are the opposite of those of the parents. 
And that is intentional. 
As Woodrow Wilson, progressive president of Princeton University before becoming president of the United States, said in a speech in 1914, “I have often said that the use of a university is to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible.” 
In 1996, in his commencement address to the graduating seniors of Dartmouth College, then-president of the college, James O. Freedman, cited the Wilson quote favorably. And in 2002, in another commencement address, Freedman said that “the purpose of a college education is to question your father’s values.” 
For Wilson, Freedman and countless other university presidents, the purpose of a college education is to question (actually, reject) one’s father’s values, not to seek truth. Fathers represented traditional American values. The university is there to undermine them.
First of all, I like how Prager's supposed evidence of indoctrination of students doesn't consist of any actual citation of texts, or even quotes from professors, but rather a list of liberal college strawmen which he claims are backed up by hypothetical reading lists. Second, isn't it fantastic that two quotes from two college presidents (a mere 82 years apart!) about students challenging their preconceptions are used to suggest the existence of an evil college cabal poised on turning young people against their parents? Dennis has a point about universities having political bias, but he loses his credibility once he starts crying about how the evil liberal universities turn innocent college students against their hard-working conservative parents. You may not have noticed, Dennis, but liberals are about half the country, and they send their kids to college, too. My great-grandparents were Jewish socialists. My father is a would-be hippy whose only political rule is "never vote Republican" and is mad at Obama for being too aggressive against medical marijuana. For me to have attended a school that rejected my father's values, I would have had to be going to Brigham Young (with maybe Bob Jones as a safety school).

For the record, I attended a very liberal high school and college, and if anything, it made me slightly conservative (relative to the people I was around) because I was exposed to arguments and people that I disagreed with (particularly on Israel) and it required me to think about why that was so. If I had taken Dennis' advice and stayed home (and done what?), I might have been the very model of the unthinking reflexive young liberal he so decries. And no, I still wouldn't have believed in "traditional American values."

1 comment:

Antigonos said...

Theologically, of course, Islam and Judaism are very close, since both faiths believe in a single omniscient, omnipotent, incorporeal God, whereas Christianity is really only rehashed paganism, with God impregnating, Zeus-like, a human woman which produces a quasi-Divine being. [How Christians fail to see that is a mystery to me, but it does account for the religion's early enthusiasm among Gentile pagans]

Observant Jews won't visit churches because of the idols, sorry, images within.

Of course, Islam and Judaism diverged in practice almost from the outset of Islam. Judaism abandoned proselytization and turned inward [not exactly by choice] while Islam took exactly the opposite tack -- not only demanding complete conversion of the Infidel World, but approving of violence in doing it.