Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Bunnies

We came home from church this morning. It was impressive. The dramatic presentation of the Resurrection showed one of the guys in church dressed in a white robe, portraying Jesus. I'm not quite comfortable with actors dressing like Jesus in a worship service.

A while later I'm talking to my wife, Mary. She said, "What do you small children think when they see Jesus and think that he goes to their church?"

I replied immediately. "Same thing they think when they see Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny in the mall."

I think that gets to the nub of my discomfort. I never taught my kids to believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. I try to keep myths and history separate.

I'm told that Karl Barth was asked by some students, "Did the snake speak?" Referring to the garden of Eden and the part of the story where Eve is tempted. Talking animals are the stuff of myth. The students obviously didn't believe the Bible was history and they braced Barth at this point. He replied, "What did the snake say?" I think Barth was trying to get at the notion that there's some epistemic middle ground between myth and history. I don't know, call it "useful metaphor."

Nevertheless, I'm not completely comfortable with this business of having an actor portray Christ. I suppose Barth's strategy is useful when dealing with people who can't quite believe the historicity of the Bible. Maybe the utility of the metaphor will buy credibility until someone is ready to believe the Bible's historicity. At least, that's what I hope.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Moonbats & Wingnuts

If you sought a one-word characterization of recent politics, polarized might come to mind. We're seeing the extremes of left and right going beyond saying the other guys are wrong to saying they are evil. And you see this online with one side calling the other "wingnuts" and the other side calling their opposites "moonbats." Why is this?

For one thing, the stakes have been raised. A lot of folks believe we're only one Supreme Court Justice away from resumption of the Salem Witch Trials. A lot of other folks believe the Axis of Evil will enable someone to create a mushroom cloud over Manhatten. Because the stakes are so high, we're disinclined to shrug and go back to ignoring the politicians.

We're in an environment where you simply cannot talk to some people. I think this is because we disagree about what some words mean. For instance, I think everyone from the most moonbattish to the wingnuttiest believe in "liberty and justice for all." But what does liberty and justice mean?

Some think that "liberty" means freedom to be left alone. Others think that "liberty" means being able to be self-actualized. Freidrich Hayek would say that liberty means that one is free to starve to death. Conversely, Thomas Merton would say that I am not free if my brother is in bondage. Some think that "justice" means that the law should apply to everyone equally. Others think that "justice" means that everyone should play on a level playing field.

Thus Michael Moore speaks of clean water and universal health care when he's thinking about freedom because he's thinking about something completely different from Charleton Heston when he's asserting the second amendment.

To half of America the term "economic justice" means that everyone should be taxed at a fixed rate and no rich person should be taxed more simply because he can afford it and no poor person taxed less simply because he can't. The other side believes there is no justice if anyone in society doesn't have a satisfactory standard of living.

Take the words "good" and "evil." The moonbat's good is the wingnut's evil and vice versa. Is it evil to allow people to starve? and good to force others to pay to feed them? If you say, "yes" then what if that person being starved is in a permanent vegetative state like Terri Shiavo?

I leave as an exercize to the reader finding an equally ironic formulation of the wingnuts involving pro-life, Scott Peterson and the death penalty.

The problem is that it does not suffice to form up sides and throw rocks at each other. There are insights in each partisan position that the other side must aggregate to understand the world as it is and to refine the quality of his own thinking. That's the genius of democrasy. People disagree, but a democratic process forces disparate voices to be accommodated and extreme voices of wingnuts are cancelled-out by the extreme voices of moonbats.

Neither side should be given the power to silence the other, and each side should thank the other side for serving to refine their own thinking. Peruse the Socratic dialogs and you'll see Socrates thank those who contradict him most sharply. They call to his mind the parts of his thinking that need work and create opportunities to elaborate the parts of his thinking that aren't immediately obvious.

I think that my own position is most strongly vindicated when I talk to someone on the other side, and instead of hearing reasoned arguments, I hear abuse and insult. Maybe I'm wrong, but I know that the other fellow won't set me straight and I can go on from there.