Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bill and Melinda

Bill Gates has enjoyed the freedom America has to offer to create one of the great corporations in history. He has certainly earned his wealth and is entitled to spend it as he pleases. I understand that we all have different causes that tugs at our heart strings but you’d think a man like Mr. Gates would be most grateful to the veterans who have fought for his freedom.

For 2005, the “Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation” gave $2 billion in grants. But an Internet search on veterans and military grants shows few, if any, grants for veterans. The only grant I found was $35,000 “to support the Partner's Program which allows middle school students to serve as health aids at the Veterans Hospital” in 2002. That year just under $1 billion of grants were awarded.

This is outrageous. As our men and women fight for his liberty he shows complete contempt for welfare of those who served. Where are the investigative reporters asking him the tough questions about this issue? Where are the editorialists using moral suasion urging that he "give back" to the men and women who risked their lives?

The Gates Foundation enables Mr. Gates to avoid the taxation that pays for the military. A few years ago, when the estate tax was debated in congress, the greatest supporters for maintaining the tax were some of the very rich. Mr. Soros, for example, campaigned hard for a high estate tax. However, they don’t intend to pay it. They want the tax because it gives them power. With a high estate tax they can talk others to contribute to their causes to avoid “losing” it to the government. In essence they are using the threat of taxation to fund their new avocation and pet causes.

And American veterans are clearly not high on their list. That is the real outrage.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Karzai is on whose side?

This past October, I argued that Afghanistan is taking a fundamentalist path after the jailing, for blasphemy, of an outspoken advocate for women’s equality. This past winter, we all remember the convert to Christianity that would have been sentenced to death if not for the international outcry. In today’s New York Sun we learn the following about our ally, Mr. Karzai:
“Karzai criticized the American-led coalition's anti-terror campaign yesterday, deploring the deaths of hundreds of Afghans and appealing for more financial help for his government.”
That he believes that bashing our efforts brings increased financial aid (jizya) says more about our appeasing (dhimmi) administration than his duplicity. There’s more:
There’s been a “major offensive against terrorists across southern Afghanistan. More than 600 people, mainly terrorists, have been killed since May.”
Clearly that’s good; isn’t it? Not according to Karzai. He says:

“It is not acceptable for us that in all this fighting, Afghans are dying. In the last three to four weeks, 500 to 600 Afghans were killed. [Even] if they are Taliban, they are sons of this land.”

Whose side is he on? We are the ones who should me making the demands.

The Northern Alliance had been in power before the Taliban. Because of their repressive Islamic rule, Afghan expatriate women’s groups like RAWA were opposed to their return. For our defense, which should be the only concern, it's good that we’ve achieved the removal of the sponsors of Al Qaeda training camps. However, we shouldn’t imagine that there is or can be a cultural change as long as Islam is the law of the land. Islam remains the problem. Perhaps our leaders in Washington could learn something about Islam. Would that be too much to ask?

Monday, June 19, 2006

How do people pick a religion?

It is interesting that the discussion in the comments section of the last post quickly turned to the question of proving or disproving God's existence. But how often do people decide to be religious or abandon religion because of a formal proof or argument? Or for that matter, how many people decide on a religion because it provides the best explanation of the creation of the universe? Historically, both Christianity and Islam found Greek philosophy objectionable because of cosmological issues: for example, that Aristotle rejected the notion that the universe was created. With some mental contortions, theologians tried to reconcile religion and philosophy. Reading some of these arguments can be mind numbing.

In the end, individuals decide mostly by their need for ethical guidance and spiritual renewal. The Catholic Church may have objected to Galileo’s argument that the sun is the center of the universe but the Protestant Reformation had already occurred. The imagined threats to the Church's authority and infallibility posed by science are minor compared to the ethical, political and spiritual needs of human life which are ultimately the drivers of religious practice in a culture.

How, then, does a religious-seeking person decide on a religion and/or denomination? How do you decide Jesus is right and not Mohammad? If you are going to reject Mohammad as a violent oppressive tyrant, do you not already know that such a model is an abomination? Thus, you have to know right from wrong before you decide which religion is just and respectable. This suggests that ethics can be known without religion and indeed it must if you are going to be able to avoid being trapped into a nefarious religion or cultish denomination. You don’t just follow Jim Jones to Guyana … you use your own mind and decide this guy is pure evil. You don’t just join the jihad … you use your own mind and decide this path is barbaric. But that means you need a standard to judge—an ethical standard. Ethical knowledge must come first.

I wonder if this is why some conservatives can’t be critical of Islam. They seem to believe that a long-standing widely-shared religion must have some truth as its basis and the only real question is God or atheism. This posture, establish during the Cold War, didn't anticipate the threat of Islam. However, not all conceptions of God are equally appealing. How, then, does a Christian argue that one should avoid Islam and take the path of Jesus? If one’s argument is purely based on faith you are at the mercy of chance as to whether you accept Christianity, Islam, or reject religion altogether. That’s a disturbing notion is it not?

Founding Fathers didn’t argue about religion given the vast numbers of religious beliefs from deists to Quakers. They argued about ethics and politics but they generally did so by using empirically-based reasoning. Even if they weren’t deists, they assumed if you understand the laws of nature by examining nature, you understand the laws of "nature’s creator." Settling differences by reference to reality and right reason avoids direct questions about theology. There was no doubt in their minds that if one discovered an ethical principle, just as if one discovered a law of chemistry, that one was learning about the laws created by "nature's creator." However, it was reality that settled the dispute, not textual analysis. The latter is pursued privately with one’s fellow religionists.

Essentially, the Founders embodied a tradition of ethical naturalism. It’s a tradition worth maintaining.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Today Darwin, Tomorrow Newton

Recently the conservative author and provocateur, Ann Coulter, advanced another embarrassingly silly notion. No, I’m not talking about her statements on the so-called “9/11 widows.” That’s minor. She’s obsessed with Darwin, who she sees as a source of a satanic secular religion. Darwin, in her view, is pseudo-science used to prop-up a materialist atheistic valueless worldview. With the Catholic Church gun-shy since its debacle with Galileo, the church of Coulter is taking over.

Let’s review history.

There is indeed a materialist/relativist philosophy on the left but it doesn’t originate with Darwin. It goes back to Hobbes in the 17th century. The 18th century philosopher, Kant, saw the world we experience as governed by Newtonian mechanics. But in the 19th century, with Marx, the materialist determinist worldview reached its greatest influence.

Material reductionism isn’t the dominate viewpoint in the history of secular philosophy. Neither Plato nor Aristotle subscribed to this viewpoint. Indeed, they explicitly rejected the materialist/mechanical/reductionist viewpoint of their contemporary, Democritus. Both Plato and Aristotle saw man as volitional and life as purposeful.

Of course, Newton and the 17th century physicists (they were called natural philosophers back then) aren’t to blame for the distortions and inappropriate speculation of materialist philosophers. But if Coulter wants to attack the scientist whose theory inspired materialism in modern times, Newton is her man. Darwin, incidentally, is a naturalist whose methods often seem quaint to biologists who believe bio-chemistry explains everything. And to the chagrin of some biologists, Darwin had great admiration for Aristotle.

The left dominates junk-science. Michael Fumento is one crusading journalist who exposes such nonsense. Robert Bidinotto, also, does good work in this arena. An excellent source for scientific rebuttals to junk science is the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Consider, for example, the Rachel Carson-inspired ban on DDT. It had led to the deaths of millions in Africa, which desperately needs a cost-effective means of fighting malaria.

Coulter, unfortunately, is only creating new right-wing junk science to compete with the decades of leftist nonsense. Unfortunately, some hallowed journals on the right agree with Coulter. For conservatives, this should be an embarrassment.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Our Evolving Culture

Can we face the threat of Islam?

A healthy culture is able to respond and adapt in the face of challenges. The rot within any culture is often unseen until a crisis. The Islamic threat exposes our culture’s weakness: we are in denial of the threat (“It’s only a few extremists”,) sit in fear of the future (“Nothing can stop a suicide bomber”,) and blame ourselves for the problem (“Why do they hate us? We broke Iraq, etc.”)

As we’ve pointed out, denial is an overwhelming problem that stems from multi-cultural relativism on the left and an ecumenical respect for all religion on the right. Despite the administration’s claim that “fighting terrorism” is a war, not a criminal matter, our leaders proceed as if they are fighting the Muslim Mafia—not a broad religious ideology that is undergoing a revival. They’ve assumed if we dismantled Al Qaeda and removed the Baathist thugs, all would be well. Well it hasn’t worked out that way. The problem remains; indeed it is growing.

Mainstream political and intellectual writers are unable, on principle, to face the barbarian nature of the enemy’s culture. Instead, they blame America. Both Democrats and Republicans argue over who can engineer a better world in Iraq and win “the hearts and minds” of the Islamic world. It’s we that have to change, not Muslims. We’re the problem, according to this analysis. If they haven’t embraced the liberal democracy that we’ve patiently and generously offered, we must have did something wrong. (Too few troops, too many troops, not enough U.N. troops, too much humiliation, too little force, too soon, too late, etc.)

The complete blindness to the inherent failure of Arab societies is captured in Colin Powell’s quip on Iraq: “we broke it, we own it.” If Saddam’s Iraq was Colin’s idea of a working nation, let’s hope we never have Powell as a President. Iraq, like Arab and Islamic nations everywhere, are dysfunctional, backwards, and impoverished (without the help of the oil windfall.) Let’s face it: it is them, not us.

Our culture is changing.

Polls show an increase in the number of people who believe that Islam underwrites the barbaric behavior of jihadist terrorists despite being told, over and over again, that such thoughts are bigotry. It’s hard to ignore the nature of a religion that motivates its members to kill over a cartoon. It’s painful to see that even with all our help, the Afghanistan government would execute a man for practicing his religion, if that religion is not Islam. It’s sobering to see the broad embrace of the jihadist spirit as “moderate” nations like Egypt praise suicide bombers and “allies” like Qatar broadcast vicious beheadings by devout jihadists.

We’ve been extremely generously in trying to establish liberal democracies in two Islamic nations. We’ve been told that the religion isn’t an obstacle. It is clear to many people now that is most certainly is. It’s become clear that the standard grievances are nothing but rationalizations. As people realize the old clichés don’t explain the continuous worldwide jihadist assault, people are ready for the real explanation. A growing literature (see also this, this, and this) now explains Islam without the politically correct party line.

Our hope lies in our greatness.

If we are to face today’s threat we need to take stock in our distinctive core values. What made America, and other European societies, able to emerge from the religious Dark Ages in the West, establish sustainable liberal societies, and withstand the temptations of secular collectivism? It may seem that we don’t have the capacity to face today’s Islamo-fascist threat as our parent had when facing the totalitarian threats 60 years ago. But that internal strength lies dormant. Our ability to withstand external threats depends on our ability to re-affirm our core principles, re-affirm the pride in our achievement, and hold on to the aspirations to furthering those principles.

The key to our civilization is that we are nations based on individual rights where reason, not force, is the means we deal with each other. This is our founding principles which we’ve held as an aspiration and have realized to a great extent. This involves respect for the sovereignty of each individual, an embrace of self-reliance, and a liberal free-market economy. It’s true that there’s been a significant erosion of these principles but they still have broad appeal.

Islamic culture, on the other hand, is based on faith, submission, and renunciation of this life in favor of the afterlife. Force, not reason, is the dominant means of dealing with differences and bringing others into submission. The individual is disposable, in the cause of Islamic imperialism and global domination. At root, Islam is a warrior religion. Individual differences are intolerable and must be suppressed for the mission: bring the world under Islamic domination.

We should remember that our most precious liberties have had opponents even within Western culture. Individual thought was subordinated to dictates of Church authorities during most of Western history. Starting from the 12th century Renaissance, reason has supplanted dogma in a slow and less than steady process. After the religious wars of the 17th century, religious toleration found several forceful spokesmen. In the 18th century, British liberalism was put into practice on both sides of the Atlantic. However, the 19th century saw the rise of a counter movement against individualism. Its impact was felt in the 20th century with the rise of totalitarian movement in continental Europe.

We, in the Anglo-sphere, have maintained the core principles of individualism and reason in human affairs. And we’ve maintained the spiritual and material capacity to withstand the totalitarian threat. If we are to fight the Islamic threat, we again have to renew that sprit and revive the capacity to fight the enemy. This is where we stand today.