Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Rhetoric of Identity (and how to Identify that Rhetoric)

The answer to our country's problems isn't to return to some mythical past when all was well and everything was right (or left) in the world. The New Deal, the Great Society, the Reagan Revolution, Compassionate Conservatism, or even more recently, Yes We Can, are all but dim reflections of their times, broken as they are, each in their own way.

But neither is the answer to ignore all of these previous attempts to make things better. The rhetoric of each of these political and cultural movements were aspirational, even if rather transparently manipulative. But it's in this strange confluence of aspiration and manipulation that we need to analyse where we've come from and how we've gotten into the predicament we're now in.

Why do these rhetorical appeals work? In the ten Presidential campaigns I personally remember, along with many other campaigns for various products being sold to us, we've been sold an identity, a sense of who we are and our place in the great movement of history. We're told that if we join this campaign or buy this product, we'll find our true meaning and purpose for our lives. But if we don't come alongside this great movement of history and instead choose to go down another path, we're consigning ourselves not only to insignificance, but we're separating ourselves from the common identity that exists among our family and friends (or so the ad and campaign execs say).

And who wants that? In some way or another we all want to belong. It's a part of our being human that we join ourselves to various groups so that we can identify ourselves as a part of some larger whole. Even the lone wolf exults in their identity as a lone wolf because of the pre-existing myth of the lone wolf. Myths don't exist in a vacuum. They always serve a purpose.

But the question before us today is this: in light of the fact that we're being told that if we don't do....(pick your side)...all hell will break lose economically, politically, and possibly even cosmically, how can we step back and analyse the rhetoric being used and how it's being used so as to conflate the aspirational with the manipulative? In other words, how are we being bullshitted?

The classic bullshitter knows how to combine flattery with fear of failure, and hope with a sense of impending doom. Juxtaposing each in such a way that the voter has their emotions massaged to work up the response the purveyor wants from them. Either a vote, a sale, or a believer. Any will do. As long as they give their feasance to them. Or more importantly, to the ideal.

Can we cut through the deep rhetoric? Can we see beyond the silly semantics of salesmen telling us what we need before we know it ourselves? Can we recognize that all of this exists in us too as we see others behaving this way? Can we recognize ourselves as the bullshitter in chief before we accuse those we don't like of being the chief bullshitter?

You see, this is the Augustinian side of me coming out. It makes me a Christian skeptic, especially of myself. And I think it's my democratic side coming out too; in that I'm pretty sure we all have this in us. I could be wrong of course. But I doubt it. Only time will tell. And time seems to be telling.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


I'm not your enemy I'm not your foe
you are, you are, please don't you know?
I'm not the one chasing you down the road
chasing me like an unclean toad.
We disagree, is that such a crime
it's not murder, just give me time.
I see the glint of the barrel in your eye
why must we judge before we even try?
Fire at will if it be thy will
but if it be thy will I will be still.

You're not my enemy you're not my foe
I am I am, please don't I know?
You're not the one being chased down the road
chasing you like an unclean toad.
We disagree, is that such a crime
it's not murder, just give me time.
You see the glint of the barrel in my eye
why must we judge before we even try?
Fire at will if it be thy will
but if it be thy will I will be still.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Singing Prophetically Against Rupert Murdoch (Why Scouses Rule)

BILLY BRAGG - NEVER BUY THE SUN from Billy Bragg on Vimeo.

An amazing song written and performed by Billy Bragg about the Rupert Murdoch scandal in the UK, which could easily spill over into the US if it turns out his minions hacked into 9/11 victims cells, which considering their prior track record, seems entirely likely. The lyrics of the song are well worth listening to, even if you're not a Scouser (from Liverpool), since they speak to issues of powerful media enterprises and giving in to our more base instincts. The line where he speaks of us buying into "tell alls" and how that makes us partly culpable is very telling.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

To Consolidate Blogs or Not, That is the Question

I'm thinking about importing all of my blogs into my main blog, which at this point is The Augustinian Democrat, and just have separate headings depending on the topic, whether it's science, theology, conspiracy theories, poetry, etc. Sound good? Yes? No?

Doonesbury on Teaching Evolution in Louisiana

Here's the original link to Sunday's comic strip.

(I had posted the original cartoon here, but the width interfered with seeing the side bar links, so I recommend visiting the link above to see the cartoon. It's well worth it)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Very Nicely Done Cartoon Version of Evolutionary Theory.

Here's a great cartoon rendering of the theory of evolution that I found just now from reading Jimpithecus's science and religion blog. In a blog post on June 25 which I only saw today, he links to a great cartoon from another blog explaining the theory of evolution, but in cartoon form, from Darryl Cunningham. Very nicely done indeed.

The American Revolution for Ideologues

Since this week is the annual celebration of America's independence from Britain on July 4th, I'm seeing the usual assortment of essays from the left and the right, from the religious and the irreligious, all with their particular axes to grind to "prove" their view of America's history is the "right" view. And since we now live in the era of twenty four hour "news" or to put it more accurately "infotainment" we're seeing these competing narratives getting airtime because they're attention grabbers. And attention grabbers get ratings. And ratings bring in advertising revenue. And advertising revenue helps companies sell more goods and services to consumers. And these companies sell us these goods to satisfy our felt needs. And we know what these needs are by watching twenty four hour news and entertainment.

Ah yes, the circle of life.

I have friends across the spectrum both ideologically and religiously, from the hardcore right to the far left; from fundamentalist Christians to dyed in the wool atheists. Black, white, Asian, Latino, multi-ethnic, straight, gay, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and friends from every continent except Antarctica. But in this special time of year, when patriotism flourishes and the reaction against it also flourishes, passions flourish no matter what or why. It's very similar to the various other contentious debates we so love to argue and divide over: Creationism/evolution, climate change, gender roles, sexuality, Yankees/Red Sox, etc...

So at this time of the year, the two biggest controversies are over the founding of the United States and how much religion played a role, in particular evangelical Christianity, and in a related issue, whether it's appropriate for modern evangelical Christians to be "patriotic" and celebrate America's Independence Day. Let me say from the outset that I'm not going to give my own ex cathedra declaration as to what is the eternal and always correct answer to these contentious issues. Read what I've written elsewhere to figure that out. I've certainly touched on both topics more than a few times. Instead, here I'm more interested in how each side has played the game of what the founders had to say about religion either privately or publicly and as it related to its role in governance, and how evangelical Christians should relate to their country as Christians.

I've noticed four views that seem to have predominated when it comes to this issue:

1) The "Christian America" view, which sees the founding era as being guided by orthodox/evangelical Christian views and which also believes that the US was specifically founded upon these beliefs and therefore should return to them in order to be blessed by God once again. The late Rev. D. James Kennedy, most Reconstructionist/theonomist Presbyterians, and most well known now, David Barton of Wallbuilders, all represent this perspective.

2) The alternative Christian view that the founders were a bunch of deists at best, and atheists in some cases, and therefore the US was not founded on Christian principles, but instead on Enlightenment ideals. This view is most often espoused by Anabaptists as well as some of the more conservative liturgical churches, such as Missouri Synod Lutherans, some fundamentalist separatist Christians, and many quite liberal Christian denominations. This view certainly has its strange bedfellow thing going on to say the least.

3) The strong secularist perspective that says, similar to the Christians above, that the founders were anything but Christian, and were deeply driven by Enlightenment concepts in their political thinking, and most importantly, in their drafting of our founding documents. But for these secularists this is of course a good thing. Some of the Christians above would agree, such as the Danbury Baptists, because of the freedom of conscience the Bill of Rights gives. Whereas some other Christians see Enlightenment thinking as being antithetical to basic Christian orthodoxy.

4) A less common viewpoint in this spectrum are the secularists who do acknowledge the role of religion in the founding period, and in the subsequent years following the revolution (not to mention the preceding Puritan era), but who see this presence as something to be expunged from American life, since "religion poisons everything" as some are wont to say. The New Atheists (TM) seem to be split between these two camps on this point, since some prefer having religion around to have as an appropriate boogey man to posit every national sin upon.

What makes all four of these competing narratives appealing is that they can each claim historical facts for their perspective. However, precisely because all four can do that, all four are also deeply mythological in their understanding of American history. Views one and three both share an American-Exceptionalism viewpoint, but obviously from very different philosophical/metaphysical bases.

Views two and four both lean towards an anti American-Exceptionalism view, since they both emphasize the historic wrongs done by the US from the Puritan era to today (though liberal Christianity in the late 1800's to WWI held deeply to American-Exceptionalism during the progressive era, and some still do).

In any case though, the reality of the role of religion in America's founding as a Republic is complex enough that each of these views have been able to rise up. So in each of them we see a little bit of truth (some more than others to be sure), but a good deal more myth in their narrative telling of America's origins ideologically and theologically. I'm sure I've oversimplified some of these issues in putting this together. If so, please call me out and explain where I've gone wrong. For further info on this topic, I highly recommend you visit some of the links on my right sidebar under the heading "Religion and Culture" where they deal with this topic in depth and quite well if I do say so myself.