Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I couldn't have said it better myself

Heather MacDonald has been making a splash of late in conservative circles for her promulgation of a secular strain of conservatism. It started with this article on conservatism & religious belief in the August edition of the American Conservative. That prompted this reply from Michael Novak in National Review and FirstThings. Heather followed up with this reply to Novak today in National Review:
I have no doubt that a believer’s experience of God is powerful and transformative — indeed, that it is the most important reality in his life, as Novak so eloquently describes. I also know that no set of arguments can counter the force of that experience. But with all due respect, subjective experience is not always a guarantor of objective reality. It well may be that a Christian’s ecstatic awareness of God’s love is in fact caused by that love, but an outside observer needs something more to reach that conclusion.

He will likely evaluate the claims for God’s existence based on objective evidence. And here I have to revert to the question of why very bad things happen to good people, a topic which must be infinitely tedious to believers, because I find Novak’s arguments for God’s love more conclusory than evidentiary.

The most important characteristics of the Christian God, as I understand them, are his love of man and his justice. If one were to posit a god who is capricious, ironic, absent-minded, depraved, or completely unknowable, I’d be on board. Any one of those characteristics would comport with a deity superintending the world as I see it. But not the idea, as a Bush administration publicist put it to me, that every one of us is “precious in God’s eyes.”

Let me take a banal example. As I write this, the Los Angeles Times has a small item on a thoroughly unremarkable traffic accident. A 27-year-old man in Los Angeles misread a traffic signal, and drove his car into an oncoming Blue Line Metro Train. He and his sister were killed; his 7-year-old son and his grandmother were seriously injured.

Now imagine that a human father had behaved towards the occupants of the car as our Divine Father did. That is: a) He knew that his children would be mowed down by a train; b) he had the capacity to avert the disaster through any number of, for him, quite simple means; and c) he chose to do nothing. No one would call this father’s deliberate and possibly criminal passivity “love.” Instead, we would deem such a father a monster and banish him from our midst. Yet when God behaves in just this way, we remain firm in our conviction that he loved the occupants of that car, and that each was “precious” in his eyes.

How do I know that God could have averted the accident? Because believers tell me so. At the encouragement of their Church, Catholics regularly pray to saints to intercede with God on their behalf for the cure of sickness or protection from accidents. Such prayers would be nonsensical if God did not have the capacity to answer them. When a believer recovers from cancer, he thanks God for saving him. Ditto when an air passenger misses a flight which subsequently crashes — if he is a believer, he will likely thank God for keeping him off board (without wondering why he deserved a reprieve from death and the other passengers did not). If a hurricane misses a town, believers express gratitude to God for redirecting its course. As I mentioned in my American Conservative article, John Ashcroft credits God for keeping America safe since 9/11 (while holding him blameless from allowing the attack to go forward in the first place).

The traffic accident reported in the Los Angeles Times was quite trivial; such events happen on a daily basis in every town around the world. It is perhaps unfair to question God’s love for every “precious” last one of us on the basis of one measly car accident (which nevertheless was not insignificant for the car’s occupants). But it seems that there is simply nothing that will shake a believer from his conviction in God’s solicitude for man. This belief precedes worldly evidence; it does not grow out of it. Last year, National Review approvingly quoted Pope John Paul’s observation that God allowed “Nazism [only] twelve years of existence,” a statement intended to reassure us of God’s continuing love for individual human beings. A host of questions present themselves, including: Would 15 years have triggered a spasm of doubt? And if it’s acceptable for God to allow Nazism for 12 years, what about the Nazis themselves?

Perhaps when believers speak of God’s “love,” they use the term in a way that has nothing to do with ordinary usage. Novak maybe implies as much when he states: “What is difficult to believe is that any one of us . . . knows more than God does about His love for every individual.” God’s “love” is different from human love; it includes the capacity to foresee and watch the destruction of one’s children and not intervene. But then why not use a different word entirely — “callousness,” say. At the very least, if we are going to continue to use ordinary words in counterintuitive ways to refer to God, we should give them some sort of diacritical marker to let listeners know that the words they are hearing don’t mean what they ordinarily mean. One could speak of “G-love,” for instance, to distinguish it from ordinary human love.


This last paragraph from MacDonald eloquently makes the point that I have also made in past discussions on the Daily Duck saying that God has to either be judged by human standards of good and evil, in which he would be judged evil, or must be considered to be an alien, non-personal being following a different standard of good and evil that has no meaning or bearing for humans. He can't be personal and good, because as a person he is at best a cruel tyrant, at worst an unpredictable psychopath.

And MacDonald is dead on with these observations, which mirror the arguments that Harry, Skipper and I have been making in Pastor Kennedy's Deadly Hair:

Novak’s characterization of the Catholic Church strikes me as debatable. Perhaps today’s Catholic Church stands for “liberty,” but that phrase may be anachronistic applied to most of the Church’s glory years, even without reference to its reaction to the Reformation or the establishment of the Universal Inquisition. Even during the great explosion of Renaissance art under the patronage of Popes Julius II and Leo X, I don’t think that “liberty” was what the Church was about. Order, authority, grandeur, hierarchy — yes, and these are all extremely valuable traits. The uniting of temporal and spiritual power—that, as well, to magnificent result in Rome and elsewhere.

I also disagree slightly with Novak’s claim that Christianity conquered the world only “by argument and by personal example.” This may be true in the main, but early Christian emperors stamped out classical religion by destroying temples and outlawing pagan rituals. Pagans, Jews, and heretics were pariahs under the law. Justinian the Great shut down the Academy in Athens. These may have been necessary measures, but they go beyond argument.


You go, girl! MacDonald's summary is a perfectly reasoned response to the argument that conceptions of morality and justice are exclusively religious in nature and not derivable through secular principles:
Religious institutions and beliefs are, however, human creations. They grow out of man’s instinct for system and order, as well as out of the desire for life beyond death and a divine intervener in human affairs. Our striving for justice is one of the great human attributes. Far from imitating a divine model, man’s every effort to dispense justice is a battle against the randomness that rules the natural world.

It is probably not possible to determine whether the aspects of modern life that we most value today — including the rule of law, scientific exploration, or the free market — trace their origins ultimately to Christianity or to concurrent developments in the Western world. But America’s governing institutions stand on strong secular grounds, as well as whatever religious origins we may want to give them. And the arguments for conservative values can proceed on reason alone.


Make room, religious conservatives. The secular Cons are here! Deal with it.

Update: Razib Khan provides an excellent blow by blow commentary of the Heather MacDonald/National Review debates.

52 Comments:

Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Bad hair day, Harry?

August 23, 2006 10:36 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Ms MacDonald wrote: "And the arguments for conservative values can proceed on reason alone."

Sure, they could proceed on reason alone. Or not.

Would we all agree that if conservatives (and everybody else for that matter) proceed using reason alone that we'd end up in a different place than if conservatives were to proceed using a mixture of belief and reason or maybe just belief?

If so, the argument is not about how conservatives COULD proceed, but rather how they SHOULD proceed. In other words, which path produces the best short, medium, and especially long term results.

Even though I'm not personally religious, I side with religious conservatives on this one. I think the construct of an external and eternal guiding force is critically important for the long term survival of western civilization, though I'd agree that it is likely non-optimal in the short and medium terms.

August 23, 2006 10:42 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Bret,
Why is it important? Do you have a reasoned justification, or is this just a hunch? Is this one of those "well, sophisticated skeptics like me can do without the myths just fine, but the unwashed rabble must have their fire & brimstone, or society will come unglued" arguments?

August 23, 2006 11:18 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm practically bald.

I haven't encountered World War Three, so I don't know what perspective he brings to the table, but whichever way you read his post, it does confirm my view that all religions are arbitrary -- if not also absolutely crazy -- and that, therefore, any claims by religionists to guide us have to stand on their own bottoms.

They are neither less nor more credible and creditable than, say, Weekly World News advice on garlic and vinegar.

That gets us to Bret's argument that an external belief system has practical value even if (or perhaps especially if) every element in it is entirely imaginary.

Here, yer pays yer money and yer takes yer cherce.

I cannot think that World War Three's post makes the religionist choice more attractive.

Also, I am having a hard time conceiving of 'Catholic communists.' Catholic socialists, yes; Catholic communists, no.

August 23, 2006 11:27 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

For those latecomers who will find Peter and Harry's discussion confusing, I deleted the first comment on the page from a character called WorldWar III who apparently copied and pasted an RSS feed of questionable articles from India accusing the Catholic Church of masterminding the execution of thousands of Hindus and other such rambling nonsense. This blog is not a dumping ground for newsfeeds.

August 23, 2006 11:43 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

As far as I can make out, the so-called 'religious conservatives' in the US are (a) a relatively recent phenomenon, and (b) are not at all conservative. In fact, they're radical in the extreme.

My idea of a religious conservative is an old dear who sheds a tear during 'Once in Royal David's City' but doesn't let it interfere with his politics, which is after all a pretty unholy business.

August 23, 2006 12:25 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

duck asks: "Why is it [an external and eternal guiding force] important [for the long term survival of western civilization]?"

Since I had to insert far more words than the original question itself, I hope I got it right.

My analysis takes into account several factors, each of which is not particularly significant by itself. To put forth and defend them all is beyond the scope of this comment forum, but are a few examples of things to consider...

(1) An assumption is that there will continue to be other religions with large number of adherents who are willing to die and kill for their religion. I think that the west will have a harder time resisting such people without general belief in eternal life. A much harder time? No, just a somewhat harder time, but the difference between survival and non survival may be decided at the margin.

(2) Demographics - I believe that religious people, on average, have a very slightly higher rate of having children. Since the number one predictor of a child's culture and beliefs is his or her parents culture and beliefs, there is a possibility that western civilization will eventually be overwhelmed by other cultures. This process will take a very long time (500+ years is my estimate), but still could be an important factor in the long term.

(3) I believe that technology will advance ever more rapidly during the coming decades. Many of those technologies may have potential dangers and/or negative moral impacts. I think that organized religion could act as a buffer to slow down the adoption of such technologies - possibly avoiding a catastrophic situation. I do agree that unfortunately, the price paid is that many beneficial technologies will also be adopted more slowly.

I realize that 3 small examples, each with 3 sentences isn't going to convince anyone, and I also realize that even my entire analysis fully defended is subjective and each person must, as Harry says, "yer pays yer money and yer takes yer cherce."

August 23, 2006 2:03 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Heather MacDonald finds God to be a callous monster, rather than a loving parent. This is because she doesn't believe in God.

If one has no sense of the eternality of existence, and believes that our entire selves die with carnal death, then yeah, sure, when someone dies it's A Bad Day for them. Otherwise, while it's a bad day for that person's loved ones, for them it's just an inevitable transition, that was going to occur sooner or later - no big deal. Like losing one's baby teeth.

However, one clearly cannot claim that reason shows that God must not be as believers claim, by analyzing God's actions or inactions using criteria that God wouldn't use. By American standards most of the world's parents are abusive and neglectful. But what sane person claims that only people in rich countries love their children, and that the rest are abusive monsters ?

Anyone is free to disbelieve in God, but it's a fundamental error in reasoning to discard the most central belief of all religions, and then to claim that the rest of Christian beliefs are internally inconsistent. Like, duh, you've already removed the philosophical linchpin.
It's like claiming that profit doesn't exist, and then saying that capitalism makes no sense.

Ms MacDonald also shows her contempt for religionists by assuming that when they thank God for dangers missed, they don't think about those for whom the danger did not miss.
But that's entirely contrary to basic human nature. "Surviver's guilt" affects believers and nonbelievers alike. The difference is that believers have a helpful mental and philosophical framework to get them through, a crutch, if you will.

August 23, 2006 5:45 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Also, while I agree with Duck that God cannot be known, I disagree that such means that God cannot have a personal relationship with us.

Young children understand their parents only in the most superficial ways, and then only as it pertains to the well-being and happiness of the child.
Pets are the same way, only with even less understanding.

Yet, who would deny that children and their parents usually have an extremely tight bond, or that many pet owners truly love their animals, and that some pets love their owners ?

(O/T, that's one reason why I don't eat mammals - I decided that I'd rather not eat beings capable of love, if other foods are available).

August 23, 2006 5:53 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

That's a better than usual work-around, but it leaves the question yet: If god were (for his own good reasons) a monstrous god who did hate his creatures, how would we tell the difference?

That's a Get Out of Jail Free card.

We're humans. The only standards we have to use are human standards. If you can invoke non-human standards, OK, but then don't turn around and invoke God's love as justification for X.

Or do, but don't contend that you're arguments are logically consistent.

I don't know why religionists want to make logically consistent arguments anyway.

August 23, 2006 5:54 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "If god were (for his own good reasons) a monstrous god who did hate his creatures, how would we tell the difference?"

Surely you could imagine a world, or at least your life, with immensely more suffering? No?

My life is pretty good. If a deity actually hated me, my life could easily be made a lot worse.

I think your argument works better for the neglectful god as opposed to the monstrous god. But I suppose a neglectful deity might still love us, He's just too busy taking hits from the great bong in the sky to bother with us. Or something like that.

August 23, 2006 7:37 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

That's not a very Christian view. What about 'man was born of woman . . .' and all that?

I don't know for sure that I can imagine more suffering. I don't suffer from much, but perhaps that is an equisite form of godly torture, lulling me into grasping my atheism close to my bosom, but knowing that I'll be tortured in hell for all eternity. Is that enough suffering for you?

I dunno. But then, I deon't claim to be Simone Weil.

August 23, 2006 7:54 PM  
Blogger David said...

My G-d, these points are so penetrating. Why hasn't anyone raised them before?

August 23, 2006 8:05 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I dunno. I thought my last one was original. I'd not seen it anywhere else.

I think, though, your remark would be better addressed to Dr. Kennedy. I do believe the Unity of Belief or whatever the hell he's pushing was fought out, literally, some time ago.

Even most Christians voted against unity.

August 23, 2006 10:16 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

This all just brings us back again to the disconnect between philosophical discussions about what ‘God’ might be, and the actual detailed content of religions as preached and practiced.

A great deal of confusion arises in these discussions because Believers tend to make abstract arguments about the former in order to defend from attacks on the latter. But this tack rarely makes any sense.

McDonald says: “If one were to posit a god who is capricious, ironic, absent-minded, depraved, or completely unknowable, I’d be on board.”

There being no God is plausible. There being an unknowable God is plausible. There being an inconsistent or frivolous or capricious or fickle God is rather less plausible.


But the absolute, rock-bottom, least plausible God is the loving God (in the sense of ‘loving’ as we understand and use the term). Yet this is precisely the God that Christians explicitly choose to believe in and worship, and the one that they tell us exists and that we should worship.

Every time somebody says “thank you God” for surviving the train wreck or winning the beauty pageant, they think they’re thanking the loving God. But by stating this thanks, they can only possibly be talking to the capricious, ironic, absent-minded, depraved, or completely unknowable God.

Oro claims both that God is unknowable and that he feels a ‘personal’ relationship with this unknowable God, comparable to that between an infant and a parent.

I have no interest in, or grounds for, denying the validity of Oro’s feeling, but (a) I don’t see its relevance to the practices and preachings of actual earthly religions, and (b) since a similar feeling has thus far been denied to me and I cannot bring myself to fake one, the best I can do is hope that if there is an unknowable God and an afterlife, He or She cuts me some slack.

August 24, 2006 3:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

Unbelief is a perfectly reasonable position, but all this bit about being unable to get your head around how to square the reality of life with a loving god smacks a little bit of self-indulgent boomerism. The problem may not be your inability to comprehend as much as indignation that anyone is telling you what to do without explaining Himself to your satisfaction. The analogy to a parent is often used and while it is far from perfect in the sense of resolving all logical conundrums, it's the best we have and surely helps you understand.

We have no problem comprehending a loving father who frequently scolds and punishes us in childhood or denies us what we want for reasons that appear unjust and incomprehensible to us. "Because I say so" is his timeless justification. How about a father who lets us sit in jail and suffer the consequences when we trangress rather than just cut a big cheque to a good lawyer, even when we have been swayed by others rather than consciously done anything wrong intentionally? What about one who tells us us it is our duty to go off to war and risk death when we really want to run away? Or one who says we have to go with Mom's wishes while agreeing she is being unreasonable? How about one who stands back and lets us suffer the consequences of our actions and make our own mistakes when the injury or pain we risk is evident to him to the point of near-certainty? You may question his parenting skills, but do you see any of those things as evidence that he is not an all-loving father totally committed to his child?

Well, you probably sure did when you were young, but we all know that his love and wisdom is revealed to us as we get older--often much older. It is inaccessible to us as immature, demanding youth. Maybe that's the Duckian problem--your theology/spirituality is stuck at the stage equivalent to six year olds angry that Daddy doesn't love them because he won't stop the bobos from hurting or let you have more candy.

The sad thing about Ms MacDonald's articles is not her unbelief. It is that they read more like battle cries than calls for accommodation and alliance.

August 24, 2006 4:11 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

That's a better than usual work-around...

High praise, given your attitudes towards religion and religionists. Thanks.

I don't know why religionists want to make logically consistent arguments anyway.

In my case, I'm primarily interested in pointing out that Ms MacDonald's assumptions and arguments aren't logically consistent.
My reasons for believing are fundamentally nonrational, so logical arguments about faith are useful only at the margin anyway.

Which is why I write that Ms MacDonald can simply say that she believes in no God, or in a cruel God, and that's acceptable in a way that her flawed analysis is not.

[T]he best I can do is hope that if there is an unknowable God and an afterlife, He or She cuts me some slack.

If it's a Christian or Buddhist afterlife, you're golden. "Slack" is God's middle name.
If it's a Mayan or Aztec afterlife... Whoops.

August 24, 2006 4:31 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

If it's a Christian or Buddhist afterlife, you're golden. "Slack" is God's middle name.

Er.. it depends on what Christian god you are talking about. The evangelical Christian god has gives miles of slack to believers; even Jeffrey Dahmer makes the cut. But nonbelievers, whic h would include Catholics, Jews, Mormons and atheists, only get the flaming trident in the gut.

We have no problem comprehending a loving father who frequently scolds and punishes us in childhood or denies us what we want for reasons that appear unjust and incomprehensible to us.

Yes, but to use Harry's point, there is nothing to distinguish this "tough love" father from the loutish, alcoholic, abusive father, or the non-existent father who apandoned mom the minute she became pregnant. To reiterate a question that I asked about the coach metaphor, what lesson is a five year old from Rwanda who is killed by a machete to the skull learning? How will this lesson help him in his future life?

The difference is that believers have a helpful mental and philosophical framework to get them through, a crutch, if you will.

This is debatable. I've known people for whom the crutch fails when it is truly needed. I think it works well dealing with the daily fears about potential tragedies, but when the uforeseen tragedies occur, it is like a slap in the face from God.

It is hard to maintain this kind of belief in a loving god without coming to depend on it as a form of psychic insurance, a belief that God won't let really bad things happen to me. Call it the Saliere syndrome. Only the exceptionally strong-willed believer can resist it.

The belief/unbelief question is a tradeoff between psychic benefits and costs. The bad thing about unbelief is the need to reconcile yourself to a meaningless (in the grand sense) universe. The good thing is that you aren't blindsided when senseless things occur. A tragedy is hard enough to deal with, but when you have to ascribe a personal motive to god for either making the tragedy happen or for allowing it to happen, then its doubly bad. You have to take it personally. You have to look within yourself to figure out what lesson god is trying to teach you, even if the tragedy had nothing to do with your behavior, but was just a freak, random act of nature.

That's why you get people like GJerry Falwell and Dr Kennedy blaming America when 9/11 occured. That's why all ancient religions practiced animal, and probably human, sacrifice.

August 24, 2006 6:05 AM  
Blogger David said...

One of the many reasons not to take this argument seriously is that it is argument by metaphor. G-d is not our father. Our fathers are our fathers. G-d is G-d. Father, King, Lord, etc., are just metaphors. The allow people, of varying levels of belief, of eduation, of catechisation, to understand certain aspects of G-d. They are not meant to be taken literally. Thus, identifying situations in which G-d does not act like a father only shows the limits of the metaphor and of our understanding. It does not in any way reflect upon G-d.

My preferred metaphor is author. G-d is the Author of our existence. I don't like this metaphor because, in every conceivable way the relationship between G-d and man is like that between author and character, but because it highlights those aspects of our relationship with G-d that I think need emphasizing at this time. Did Tolstoy love Anna as a father should? I can't even begin to answer that question.

August 24, 2006 10:07 AM  
Blogger David said...

Another problem with "Why do bad things happen to good people" is that it is not an argument for atheism, it is an argument against American pop Christianity. It is an argument against a particular conception of the Creator: one who is necessarily just. Indeed, one who is bound to be just, so that, if one instance of injustice can be identified, G-d's existence is disproven.

So, great, you've disproved American pop Christianity. So what?

August 24, 2006 10:09 AM  
Blogger David said...

Another problem with "Why do bad things happen to good people" is that G-d never promised otherwise. In fact, He promised the opposite.

This thread at BrothersJudd, which amply repays rereading, deals with this fallacy.

August 24, 2006 10:13 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

So what?

So nothing. So that. If there is a God, He is unknowable, which is the 'author' God you're arguing for. Or there isn't a God.

My position is that it's one or the other of those things, and I'm described an atheist (though I don't like the term, as I've explained before).

So how is my 'atheism' distinguishable from your 'faith', other than that you're optimistic that there is an unknowable God, and I just admit that I dunno?

August 24, 2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

If god is an author, he needs a better agent.

'Which is why I write that Ms MacDonald can simply say that she believes in no God, or in a cruel God, and that's acceptable in a way that her flawed analysis is not.'

Well, I'm not here to defend MacDonald or even atheism. My job is just to point out whenever religionists talk nonsense about what they do, not what god does.

Preaching atheism is just weird in a philosophical sense. How does an existent being benefit from trying to believe in nothing even if there really isn't anything to believe in?

Religion is necessary, for all but the few self-confident ones, not for what's out there but for what's in here.

That's just an accident of evolutionary development, sorta like our need for vitamin A. No more. But no less, either.

You can die from too much vitamin A.

August 24, 2006 11:20 AM  
Blogger David said...

Preaching atheism is just weird in a philosophical sense. How does an existent being benefit from trying to believe in nothing even if there really isn't anything to believe in?

Religion is necessary,...


What in the world has gotten into Harry?

for all but the few self-confident ones

Oh.

August 24, 2006 12:02 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Religion is necessary, for all but the few self-confident ones

Wow, that sounds like raw Calvinism for secularists. Say, Harry, do we know who these elect are or is it only revealed at the conclusion of intensive psychotherapy?

But, hey, the posts just above should give you some comfort that the religionists have no plans to slaughter you. We're just going to keep arguing and arguing until everybody...just...gets...soo... tired.

David:

Not a metaphor, just an argument that the notion that one who loves us can cause us intentional pain or sadness is not as incomprehensible or irrational as these guys keep saying.

August 24, 2006 1:29 PM  
Blogger M Ali said...

It's Heather Mac Donald. Not Macdonald or McDonald.

I'm unsure of how much of an active interventionist God is, and whether or not He actively cares about prayers to cure acne and allow sports teams to win.

I'm a little confused by the example Mac Donald brings up of the guy in the auto accident, as no religion that I know of has claimed that existence here is anything but a great and trying test you have to deal with as best as you can.

Plus she also assumes Earthly existence is where it all ends.

August 24, 2006 1:48 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

We're just going to keep arguing and arguing until everybody...just...gets...soo... tired.

I wish you would keep arguing, but you are reverting to your habit of driveby sniping with short, humourous, ironic asides.

the notion that one who loves us can cause us intentional pain or sadness is not as incomprehensible or irrational as these guys keep saying.

Causing intentional pain in the cause of a greater purpose is not incomprehensible or irrational. You just have to sell us that there is a greater purpose for allowing five year old children to be butchered with machetes.

August 24, 2006 1:48 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The self-confident select themselves, of course.

And they don't spend much time worrying whether they were right, either.

August 24, 2006 2:34 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Ok, my bad, but dear hostmeister, would not a little collective self-discipline and perhaps direction from above allow us to focus better? From my partisan and dissident perspective, the double whammy of trying to argue the problem of pain in the face of predictable accusations of papal galley slaves from one side and the horrors of ignoring feedback loops from the other can be...ummm..discombobulating.

I wouldn't dream of trying to convince you of anything except to accord the respect of a wise and modest philosopher to the arguments of the other side. As Mark Steyn wrote last week in NRO, a conservative does not need to be a believer, but he should respect faith.

I will try and mind my ways, but in the meantime, I doubt anything I could say today would better M Ali's most succinct wisdom above.

August 24, 2006 3:28 PM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: He's got the best selling book of all time. What more do you want?

August 24, 2006 8:18 PM  
Blogger David said...

I have to admit, Peter, that "I spank my kids" and "G-d allowed the Holocaust" is not a seamless web for me.

August 24, 2006 8:27 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

David:

Apples and oranges. One implies inflicting pain directly, the other standing back and allowing things to happen.

But I confess my own problem with my metaphor is that the deeper appreciation of our fathers'love we acquire as we get older occurs against a backdrop of a declining sense of their omniscience and omnipotence.

August 25, 2006 4:16 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

It's tempting to welcome you to Dunnoism, fellas.

August 25, 2006 4:43 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

You just have to sell us that there is a greater purpose for allowing five year old children to be butchered with machetes.

The greater purpose lies not in the butchery, but in allowing conditions of existence which will predictably and inevitably lead to the occasional butchering of children and others.

Free will allows mistakes to be made. Mistakes educate in a way that vicarious experience, "teaching", cannot. We all eventually touch the stove, despite being told not to do so.

Human free will, and God's respect for such, also means that God technically isn't omnipotent or omniscient, just megapotent and megascient.

August 25, 2006 5:29 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit, I'm very comfortable with dunnoism. It's do-mock-and-hate-and-oppose-ism that is troubling.

But it is time to redeem myself with Duck:

Getting back to Ms. MacDonald, what a strange way to make the appeal she says she is making, which is purportedly about political accommodation, not theological resolution. I have a tough time accepting her underlying premise that non-believers have been relegated to the margins of American conservatism and must claw their way back into the circle. The surge in religious political activity in recent years has clearly been in response to very specific social and cultural issues, not building a New Jerusalem. Is she going to compromise on those?

Her appeal is one that believers are familiar hearing. It goes like this: "We have the greatest respect for your beliefs and the the spiritual comfort they give you. Indeed, we kind of admire your self-reliance and civility. To be honest, some days we're a little envious of all those easy answers and we do love those of you like kind old Aunt Agnes who quote scripture with such innocent charm. We have no doubt your lives are enriched by your faith and we wouldn't dream of interfering with your right to practice it. Having said all that, we are constrained to add as a footnote that the whole thing strikes us as irrational, disordered and more than a little spooky. Have you guys ever been in a science class? A loving god? Are you blind or what? Frankly, most of you scare the pants off us. Do you guys even listen to Kennedy and Robertson? The idea that one of you is guiding foreign policy terrifies us and if you think we'll let any of you weirdos have a say in our marriages or sex-lives, you are crazy. Don't even dream of our paying the slightest attention to your views on anything that affects us and be ready for one heck of a battle if you try. But, remember, we're all conservatives, so let's work together."

OK, so what does she as a non-believing conservative believe and where does she want to lead us? Faithful followers of the Daily Duck will assume one of two possibilities. She may be a proponent of Duck's classical stoicism--disdaining and dismissing formal religions and churches while prizing reverence, self-denial and (some)ancestral wisdom about timeless human nature and scumminess. That's an honourable creed, but it is also a rare one that has never in history grabbed anything like a mass following. It fits well into one-on-one discussions between Roman aristocrats, but its hard to see it winning the New Hampshire primary. Too depressing.

Far more likely is that she is a proponent of Skipper's uncompromising libertarianism: "Individual freedom, defined objectively and materially, is my god and nothing, certainly not majority votes, can be allowed to crimp it. Political life is a constant battle to keep both collectivists and the religious from soiling the grand secular project that is our nation. We can sort of respect you from afar, but when it comes down to any specific issues--obscenity, abortion, what we teach our kids, Sunday openings for chicken retaurants, yada yada--we see you as a force to be marginalized and we no more are willing to compromise than is the ACLU."

OK, but there is a huge practical problem here. As Skipper has alluded to before, the vast majority of folks who see religion that disdainfully or menacingly are not patriotic free-enterprisers expousing self-reliance and growth, but rather foul-mouthed leftists over at the Daily Kos. I respect the thirst for freedom that beats in the libertarian breast, but its combination of public amorality and private self-focus simply does not resonate with most folks, who see both life's purpose and public life as much broader and deeper. It is simply not an electoral winner. It's been around for a long time and asserts itself with some success when folks feel squeezed by too much leftism or puritan morality, but that isn't today.

So, sure it's a big tent with lots of room for all, but just how do you propose to work with a political force you do not respect and would like to contain, if not make disappear altogether?

August 25, 2006 7:27 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

David, in the metaphor, the author's output was not books but us.

August 25, 2006 9:51 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: Well, that's the question, isn't it.

August 25, 2006 1:28 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Peter, I'll have to admit that the first part of your very funny paragraph above describes people like me pretty accurately: "We have the greatest respect for your beliefs ... we are constrained to add as a footnote that the whole thing strikes us as irrational, disordered and more than a little spooky."

If I didn't find the whole thing irrational and a little spooky, I would be, almost by definition, a believer.

But the second part of the paragraph doesn't fit particularly. Perhaps Heather baby feels that way, but I don't, and I don't think all that many libertarian leaning folk do either. Except the part about having a say about our sex-lives. Stay out of my bedroom, ya prevert!!!

August 25, 2006 3:50 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Bret:

Then close the bloody curtains, you exhibitionist!!!

(Although, my parish, by a vote of 35-34 with 110 abstentions, still wants to know what exactly you are doing :-))

August 25, 2006 4:19 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

LOL

August 25, 2006 5:14 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
Good post. You are hereby redeemed. Now that wasn't so hard, was it?

I will agree that MacDonald protests too much about religious conservatives underlying beliefs for an article that is purported to show these religious conservatives that seculars can be conservatives too. Big Tent theory is based on the notion that people can agree about moral and political values without sharing the same philosophical presuppositions.

But such an accomodation does not mean that secular conservatives should be expected to keep these philosophical differences hidden for the sake of the team. None of this "don't ask, don't tell" nonsense for us. Especially when the other camp refuses to do so. If you read the linked to article, the author, in short, is saying "we tried accomodating the godless, and it only lead to nihilism, divorce, abortion and bad hair."

Iannone's post requires a deconstruction all its own, and I'll get to it this weekend, hopefully. It is a perfect example of the anti-secular "litany" and shows as much intellectual cluelessness and ideological bias as the "litany" of environmentalism so ably deconstructed by Bjorn Lomborg.

August 26, 2006 7:47 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I'm surprised Ms. Mac Donald based her argument on circumstances so prone to human agency, when there are far better avenues. For that matter, I'm equally surprised at apologetics comparing God to a father whose discipline we are incapable of understanding as children.

As I have mentioned before, God could have saved mankind a great deal of suffering by imposing restrictions upon drinking water even fractionally as comprehensive as dietary restrictions.

God did not, leaving it up to humans. OK, God is like a father whose discipline we cannot understand. In what possible way would that justify not teaching your kids to wash their hands after using the bathroom, instead letting them figure it out for themselves?

In no way, that's how. There is simply no way to explain that omission (without appealing to "divine mystery" hand waving) without concluding that God is malevolent, oblivious, or non-existent.

Which is something people like Novak need to keep in mind when making claims for universality (while denying same to the Mormons -- turns out he is a skeptic, just like I am).

I am quite aware that I bang on about this; there is a reason. Religionists*, despite all manner of historical evidence proving it a bad idea, ascribe to all individuals in a group the qualities, imagined or otherwise, characterizing that group**. Therefore, atheists, as individuals, are incapable of moral reasoning (and, therefore, cannot be good citizens) because of the qualities religionists ascribe to skepticism they fail to understand, based upon certainty they claim, but do not possess.

*C.F: Bush #41, Fr. Heuhaus, and essentially all evangelicals. A certain blogger prominent in these parts has advocated punishing, deporting, or worse, all skeptics, because they are incapable of understanding the US's founding principles.

** What likely makes the US great is its unique reliance on individual merit, rather than group identity. Yet without a hint or irony, or self awareness, religionists such as those cited above resort reflexively to tribalism when insisting skeptics cannot be good Americans.


Bret said several insightful things:

(1) An assumption is that there will continue to be other religions with large number of adherents who are willing to die and kill for their religion.

Which, true as it is, turns religion into a self-licking ice cream cone.

(2) Demographics - I believe that religious people, on average, have a very slightly higher rate of having children. Since the number one predictor of a child's culture and beliefs is his or her parents culture and beliefs ...

Also true, and it appears likely that the tendency towards (or away from) religious belief is heritable. To the extent Bret is right, religion becomes additional proof for the Darwinism the religious declaim. Irony is indeed the driving force of the universe.

That said, it is also worth noting that the third largest religious group in the world, and second largest in the US is secular / irreligious / agnostic / atheist / antitheistic / antireligious. I suspect a great many, if not most, of those came to that conclusion under their own power: the increase in the Christian population (as a portion of the US population) was 5% from 1990 to 2000, while the increase in the non-religous groups was more than 110% over the same period. (before concluding this is an increase from a small starting point, the number of people claiming no religious belief is more than three times greater than all other religious groups, save Christianity, combined. At over 38 million adults, that is an awful lot of bad citizens.)


M Ali:

Plus [Mac Donald] also assumes Earthly existence is where it all ends. That appears to be her personal belief. However, her larger point is that it is possible (and probably essential) to make an evidentiary argument for conservatism. Claiming belief in God is a sine qua non is not only wrong, doing so risks needlessly alienating over 38,000,000 Americans. Basing your political convictions on your religious belief is one thing; claiming "If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin" makes Ms. Mac Donald's point perfectly.

Peter:

I wouldn't dream of trying to convince you of anything except to accord the respect of a wise and modest philosopher to the arguments of the other side. As Mark Steyn wrote last week in NRO, a conservative does not need to be a believer, but he should respect faith.

What goes around, comes around. There are any number of prominent religious intellectuals (well beyond what I noted above) who have utterly no respect for my beliefs. Never mind the second largest religion in the world, whose book directs my murder.

OK, so what does [Mac Donald] as a non-believing conservative believe and where does she want to lead us?

To the conclusion that conservative ideas rest upon their own material merits, thereby making religious belief irrelevant. That, and nothing more.

August 27, 2006 9:23 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

...comparing God to a father whose discipline we are incapable of understanding as children.

"God as father" is simply an analogy, as both Peter and David have written before me, and as such it doesn't support deep analysis. It's a hasty pencil sketch.

God is our creator, both in a meta and in a personal sense, but She doesn't act as our nanny while we're here on Earth.
This is in part because almost all humans are in their spiritual adolescence. We don't need to be swaddled.

Just as most human parents don't hover over their teens while they're learning about life in school, on the playing fields, and on the streets, so too does God only advise us, not make our decisions for us.
Risk-taking in adolescence is not only normal, it is an essential part of learning and personal development.

What happens to us here on Earth isn't "discipline" in any human sense. Being killed in a tsunami, volcanic eruption, or by disease isn't a "punishment" for wrongdoing, and behaving angelically won't end a drought, famine, or plague.

Those experiences help us learn to be disciplined, however.

God could have saved mankind a great deal of suffering...

The suffering is kinda the point. There are (at least) two reasons for that.

First, as I have written before, personal experience is usually a far better instructor than is vicarious experience.

Second, Nietzsche famously wrote that "that which does not kill us makes us stronger", and in my experience I've found that to be true.
It's the organizing philosophy behind such experiences as Outward Bound and U.S. Army Ranger School training.

While I've never been through either, I have been colder, wetter, more tired, and more miserable than I ever dreamt possible, as a youth.
Now whenever I'm uncomfortable, I have something much worse to reflect upon, and it puts my current situation in perspective.

In other words, "suffering" can also be seen as "teaching", leading to "experience and wisdom".

God did not, leaving it up to humans.

Yes. We are supposed to be making it happen; this is our time, not God's.

Earth isn't a nursery, it's a finishing school.

But that's not to say that most humans don't have access to metaphysical guides and instructors.
I and many others that I know have had contact with, have received advice, instructions, warnings, and insights, from... Something, someone - whatever.
The Force. God. Spirit guides. Xanadu. The ancestors. Whatever paradigm works for you.

There may be people who, for whatever reason, lack the capacity to communicate with non-physical energies. I don't know. What I do know is that a lot of people DON'T LISTEN.

Just as a lot of people refuse to listen to or act upon advice from other humans.

There is simply no way to explain that omission (without appealing to "divine mystery" hand waving)...

"Mystery" implies a possible solution, an understanding. "Divine enigma" might be a better way to look at it.

While there is certainly a lot of hand-waving that occurs around the divine enigma, such does NOT mean that there is no divine enigma. God cannot be fully explained or understood by humans, any more than ants could explain or understand humans, no matter how much we'd like for there to be an explanation for the Universe that we could easily grasp.

There are many, many things about the universe that cannot be rationally explained - are we to say that because there are things that we don't yet understand, failure to rationally explain them amounts to "hand-waving by atheists", and that such inexplicable phenomena prove that God must exist ?

To say that religionists must prove their case without reference to the divine enigma is to make the same mistake that Ms Mac Donald does - terrestrialism, a deeply-held belief that our Earthly existence is all that there is.

So, because rational argument cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, of course religionists can't prove that God really is a nice guy, within a rationalist framework.

Basically, one either feels it, or not.

And if one does feel it, and accepts that terrestrial existence is but one aspect of all that there is, then human suffering is put into perspective.

As an aside, humans are responsible for a LOT of their own misery. For instance, if people in advanced nations would eat right, and sparingly, and get some exercise, the rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and erectile disfunction, among many other illnesses, would be cut by at least half.
But, we prefer to sit, and to stuff our faces, denying ourselves nothing. We prefer short-term gratification to long-term.

August 27, 2006 4:47 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'What goes around, comes around.'

Yeah, I'm still waiting for a Christian to contest President Ronald Reagan's oft-stated view that irreligious people cannot be moral.

As for Oroborous's long post, I'll take that as additional confirmation that almost no Christian alive today would qualify as such if teleported back 350 years.

Don't get me wrong. I prefer the 21st century versions. But it does blow claims to universality away.

Lastly, since I spent about the first 5,000 days of my life praying 'Our Father who are in heaven . . .' I find the contention that god as father is 'a hasty pencil sketch' breathtaking.

Some days, I feel more Catholic than the pope. I may not listen to disembodied deities, but I did listen sincerely to my religious instructors.

August 28, 2006 12:28 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I'm still waiting for a Christian to contest President Ronald Reagan's oft-stated view that irreligious people cannot be moral.

With respect, perhaps you haven't been listening that hard. I know many people who consider themselves to be Christians, that would agree that irreligious people can be moral.
They also recognize that religious people can behave immorally.

August 28, 2006 1:43 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I am not part of any conservative movement, so I don't have a god in this this fight, but Reagan was a conservative, wasn't he; he did, as the Great Communicator, enunciate the views of the inarticulate conservatives masses, didn't he?

I still don't remember anybody objecting when the leader of America's conservative Christians slandered their 38 million (or whatever) fellow citizens.

Odd behavior, you'd think if you hadn't had previous experience, for a Religion of Love that waves the flag as vigorously as American conservative Christians do.

I don't object that they consider me unqualified for public office as an atheist. They'd better hope, though, that I'm right and they're wrong about that higher judge. They're gonna score low on the love thy fellow man line.

August 28, 2006 4:44 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Oroborous:

It seems to me you have resorted to the handwaving mode of apologetics.

The suffering is kinda the point. There are (at least) two reasons for that.

First, as I have written before, personal experience is usually a far better instructor than is vicarious experience.

Second, Nietzsche famously wrote that "that which does not kill us makes us stronger"


Random suffering is the point of what? (Never mind that the suffering isn't exactly random; the direct consequences were far more likely to fall upon children younger than five. IIRC, pre-modernity, something like 50% of live births survived until the 5th birthday.)

Unfortunately, just because Nietzsche said it doesn't stop it being fatuous nonsense. Some are plenty strong going in, some aren't, and some of those don't survive the experience. Can you see the problem here? If the experience kills you, you weren't strong enough. This has to be the most quoted tautology of all time.

With respect to God's failure to provide any warnings about clean water, while going into agonizing detail about dietary restrictions, S/He/It was faced with no constraints, and no human agency. God could have prevented the agonizing deaths of millions (never mind the suffering of the survivors), by relying upon human agency. But God did not, leaving open one or more of several options:

God is: unconscious; oblivious (bent on making galaxies -- humans happened by accident); malevolent.

God is not: loving

Or the whole thing was made up out of whole cloth by tribes who -- no surprise -- had not the foggiest notion of bacteria.

This is related to the point Harry made earlier. All these options are completely indistinguishable.

Consequently, any claim to religious certainty is completely indefensible. Hence, religious claims are irrelevant to analyzing material problems and advocating solutions. Ms. Mac Donald is completely on point when she states that the religiously exercised make both a tactical and conceptual mistake when they exclude non-believers.

To say that religionists must prove their case without reference to the divine enigma is to make the same mistake that Ms Mac Donald does - terrestrialism, a deeply-held belief that our Earthly existence is all that there is.

This is not Ms. Mac Donald's point, and in any event confuses what is going on. Religionists use their beliefs to substantiate motivation, and then go on to list material consequences as the proof of why we should do material things differently. With regard to social policies, the Earthly consequences are the point of the whole exercise. These consequences -- first order knowledge -- are amenable to anyone's observation, regardless of theological beliefs. This has nothing whatsoever to do with God's existence or characteristics, and everything to do with excluding those with differing beliefs that are, frankly, irrelevant to the material problem at hand.

What Ms. Mac Donald is objecting to, at its basis, is argument from authority. She is absolutely correct to do so.

August 28, 2006 7:51 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

It seems to me you have resorted to the handwaving mode of apologetics.

That's because we're operating from two different paradigms.

Which is my main point, really. If someone doesn't believe in God, that's fine with me, but I hope to point out that such people are self-deluded if they think that they can argue that because they lack a perception of God, therefore God must not exist.
It's like a blind person arguing about whether the color "red" exists.

No rational argument can prove or disprove the existence or nature of God. Some people have nonrational perception and experiences.

God could have prevented the agonizing deaths of millions... But God did not, leaving open one or more of several options:

You left out the option where terrestrial existence is the lesser part of being.

We all die, carnally speaking. The time and manner of our deaths is generally less important than nonreligionist tend to believe.
(One exception to that is to choose a self-sacrificing death, which is always a good way to go, especially for males. Valhalla awaits, and today is a good day to die).

Consider: Not only could God have prevented the agonizing deaths of billions, over the eons, but She could prevent all death.
If one believes that God exists, and is megapotent, then the fact that carnal death is not only allowed, but is indeed unavoidable, must mean something, no ?

[J]ust because Nietzsche said it doesn't stop it being fatuous nonsense. Some are plenty strong going in, some aren't, and some of those don't survive the experience. Can you see the problem here? If the experience kills you, you weren't strong enough.

There are plenty of experiences that kill almost nobody, but are trying nonetheless, and going through them makes most people stronger.
Being deprived of food for a few days. Being really, really physically uncomfortable, but not dangerously so. Losing a loved one to death or divorce.

There are other experiences that kill indescriminantly, regardless of human strength.
Artillery fire. Tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, mudslides, tornados, or earthquakes. Storms at sea.

The "strong" have an edge in life, but they're not automatically superior, nor do only the strong survive.

Granted, some people going through such traumatic events survive them, but are forever emotionally scarred by them, made weaker. It's only a rule of thumb.

August 30, 2006 10:48 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Oroborous:

My point throughout this thread has been to advocate Ms. Mac Donald's thesis that religionist exclusion of skeptics is not only tactically unwise, it is also specious, self-congratulatory, nonsense.

This has nothing to do with arguing God's existence. Rather, even taking God's existence as stipulated, it is impossible to say, even remotely, what God's characteristics are. The obvious conclusions are equally likely, and the popular ones require performing Juddian torture upon words in the Bible, draining them of the meanings they must have in order to derive any meaning from the Bible at all.

Hence my "specious, self congratulatory" conclusion. Religionists argue from authority. But their authority is completely empty; instead, they proceed upon preferences masquerading as authority.

You left out the option where terrestrial existence is the lesser part of being.

True enough, I did. You left out the option where terrestrial existence is the only part of being.

Consider: Not only could God have prevented the agonizing deaths of billions, over the eons, but She could prevent all death.

I did consider this, in a previous thread. A creation leading to life and human agency imposes many constraints upon the Designer, if such exists. In fact, God can -- must -- create a stone too heavy for God to lift. The naive theodicy argument, such as Ms. Mac Donald used, is easily refuted by appeals to human agency, (just as tsunamis aren't evil, because a habitable Earth on occasion requires them).

But the failure to provide prudent warning for easily preventable suffering violates neither agency nor constraints. In what possible way does it make sense for God to prohibit us killing each other, while allowing bacteria open season upon us? The Bible is devoid of even the most simple advice, despite reams of requirements in all sorts of other manners, to obtain and drink clean water.

Why is that?

August 30, 2006 7:45 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

[R]eligionist exclusion of skeptics is not only tactically unwise, it is also specious, self-congratulatory, nonsense.

Well, sure.
But religionists are only human. They mostly do what feels best, not what's wisest.

You left out the option where terrestrial existence is the only part of being.

Because I know that that's not true. Your milage may vary.

In what possible way does it make sense for God to prohibit us killing each other, while allowing bacteria open season upon us?

In part, you've answered that question yourself: "A creation leading to life and human agency imposes many constraints upon the Designer, if such exists."

Bacteria are necessary, despite the fact that they can be harmful to humans.
Humans killing each other isn't necessary. That's voluntary.

But again, you're trying to make sense of God within a nonreligious framework.
If there is more to life than the terrestrial, and death is inevitable, then what difference does it make to God if one succumbs to bateria at age three, or to accident at age thirty-three ?
Within a religionist paradigm, it's just not an issue or problem.

Note, however, that I wrote that it makes no difference to God. Religionists are human, and are subject to the same urges and instincts as are nonreligionists, so they generally seek to extend their lives, despite there being no real need to do so.

The Bible is devoid of even the most simple advice, despite reams of requirements in all sorts of other manners, to obtain and drink clean water.

Why is that?

You'd have to ask a Biblical literalist, although of course it's a rhetorical question.

You already know the answer.

August 31, 2006 5:22 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

In other words, one can say "I don't believe in God," without having to prove that God doesn't exist, but if one wants to say that "God isn't loving," one must show that to be so using a religionist framework.

Otherwise, what's the point of referring to God ?
Once one begins to speculate on the nature of God, one necessarily postulates the existence of God.

August 31, 2006 5:58 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Oroborous:

Bacteria are necessary, despite the fact that they can be harmful to humans. Humans killing each other isn't necessary. That's voluntary.

Ummm, you lost me. Bacteria are necessary, but as mere humans have proven, it isn't necessary to include them in your drinking water. What's more, the means of excluding them are simple: just boil the stuff.

God, or at least the Christian one, provides all sorts of fussy dietary restrictions, yet is completely silent on this. The Islamic God is just as silent, which is also par for the course with the Mormon God.

I am not trying to make sense of God in a non-religious framework, but rather attempting to demonstrate that the religionist conception of God has no framework whatsoever.

If even the most egregious neglect can go completely unmentioned, or excused as a higher mystery.

That's fine, so long as we agree that the words in revealed scripture are devoid of any meaning whatsoever.

Which is fine with me. But it would be nice if conservative religionists would recognize the thoroughgoing paucity of their position, and the irony of excluding materialists from a material argument.

August 31, 2006 2:11 PM  

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