Friday, April 28, 2006

Chill, it's just a movie

The Vatican is calling for a boycott of the Da Vinci code flick. LHG really doesn't understand the uproar. The book is fiction, the movie is just a movie. Get over it. Maybe the staff here is just out of touch. What do you think?

Idolatry alive and well

If I were Christian, I'd argue that God is a God that supports human life. Not just the life of the "soul" but also our concrete bodily life. An idol, on the other hand, requires human sacrifices. So any line of reasoning that justifies the sacrifice of human life is by definition idolatrous.

Take, as an example, a memo written by Larry Summers while he was the World Bank Chief Economist and Vice-President for Development Economics. In the memo, Summers presents the economic logic behind the dumping of polluting industries in the poorest parts of the globe. This is the key argument: "the measurements of the cost of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."

The reasoning is simple. If one were to place toxic waste in a rich country it would lead to the illness and death of wealthy people with high life expectancy. Lets say that a North American or European contributes $20,000 per year to the global economy while an inhabitant of one of the lowest wage countries contributes a paltry $360 per year. If both are forty years old, the wealthier of the two can be expected to work for at least twenty five more years during which he will contribute another $500,000. The poor person at forty, on the other hand, will likely work for only fifteen more years to muster a mere $5,400. In economic terms, the lives of the wealthy are far more important to the workings of the global economy than the lives of the poor - so it's economically logical that illness and death should occur in places where the lost earnings will be the least.

Notice the outcome: when worth is measured according to this logic the poor are inevitably sacrificed, and that sacrifice, moreover, is scandalously justified as legitimate.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ugly Truths

I'll be using this data to make a case for "idolatry" as a concept to better understand our world...

What Religion Would You Recommend?: Thanks for commenting #2

Anonymous writes (edited, you can read the rest in comments section): "Isn't it amazing that many of the religious claims still stand even thousands of years later and people believe they receive truth in them when many theories in other areas have actually been proven completely false."

LHG says:

Of course, an issue here is how you would actually disprove a religious claim. Take religious experience as an example. If somebody tells you God talks to them - how would you counter that claim? To do so, you'd have to go to the source of an experience which is tough to do. A different way to go about it is to stress not the source, but rather the effects. In the history of Christianity a conversion is often deemed real if it's expressed in a life of piety - the effects determine whether the conversion experience was real.

On the other hand, anonymous, lots of religious claims have been disproved and people don't really care. The Gospels, for example, are not historical documents. They don't give us factual accounts of Jesus' life. Yet lots of Christians still think they do. And yes, that's often were faith comes in. But it comes at the price of sacrificing our capacity for criticism. Interestingly, Islam has a different understanding of faith than Protestant Christianity. Protestant Christianity often sees faith as a kind of believing without reason, for Islam it's reason that leads to faith.

Thanks for your comment, and good night.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What Religion Would You Recommend?: Thanks for commenting #1

In response to my post "What Religion Would You Recommend?" Confucius-Pillar writes (edited, you can see the full version of the response in comments):

"Why, if we have known of man's fatal weaknesses for so long, do we continue our destructive cycles? I contend that this cardinal sin reigns supreme above the rest, for in pride, we neglect to learn from our errors. Perhaps this is why we practice religion, and certainly why, when asked which one is right, I can only respond: all of them, and none of them."

LHG agrees with placing pride at the forefront of the seven deadly sins - but wants to press further the idea of recommending a religion. Why assume that one must choose among one of the religious traditions? Why can't we choose elements from different traditions? We tend to see religions as sovereign states that jealously guard their boundaries; you can't belong to more than one religion without feeling like a traitor to your faith. Instead, LHG likes to think that while you may have been born into one religion, as a human being all religions are part of your spiritual inheritance - and you've got as much of a right to them as a native adherent. So perhaps choice is not just between religions, it's among different ideas within all the religions.

PS. Confucius-Pillar, thanks for your comments!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fear and trembling institutionalized?

Kierkegaard, from me to you

A random thought: can Qutb's political program be seen as the social embodiment of Kierkegaard's vision in Fear and Trembling? I'm not suggesting that Qutb read Kierkegaard - I don't know whether he did or not - but if one were to take Kierkegaard's argument (which was centered on the individual) and try to give it a social program, woulden't you end up with something Qutb like?

On Islamic Extremism: Qutb and his Vision

Qutb's vision:

a. The governments in the Islamic world are in a state of unbelief, much like the condition of the world before the advent of Islam.
b. These governments create their own law and in so doing stand against God's law. In standing against God's law they lose all legitimacy.
c. A religious/political vanguard needs to be created that will struggle against the effects of unbelief.
d. The model of training for that vanguard will be the Quran. Here he's looking back at Muhammad and the expansion of the early Islamic community. The idea is that they were successful because all they had as a guide was the Quran. For Muslims to once again thrive they need to turn back to their sacred text.

What comes next the LHG actually finds very cool:

Creating a truly Islamic government is not just a human desire, it's God's will. God has created everything and thus has rights over everything. Secular government and society places humanity and our laws before God. For Qutb, unless Islamic law rules, we're guilty of idolatry - worshipping ourselves and our desires over God.

What the LHG likes about this is the great urgency behind this vision and the way it's connected to democracy. For Qutb, a true democracy - a true egalitarian vision - can only take place if we live under God's law. Otherwise, some people rule over other people.

Anyway, cool - but also dangerous.

Hurting for Egypt

Read Sayyid Qutb's Milestones if you want to understand what happened in Egypt yesterday and gain a glimpse into the worldview of Islamic extremism. It was deemed so dangerous that anyone in Egypt who owned a copy could be arrested and tried with sedition.

And if you don't i'll tell you about it later. Left hand of God is off to his weekly soccer game...

Summing up:

Republicans won on a platform of family, morality and God. That’s bad news for democrats; it’s hard to run on a platform of anti-family, immorality and Satan worship. This is not Portugal.

Ed Helms, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Monday, April 24, 2006

Strike 1, strike 2, strike 3 - you're out!

For the Left Hand of God (LHG), of all the ways Democrats are striking out, the "if you can't beat them, join them" approach is both the best and the most disturbing of the three. Let's look at the three strikes one more time:

The strength of the "avoid it like the plague approach" lies in that it's a position taken from conviction; the politician in question really doesn't believe in mixing politics and religion. LHG respects that. It's weakness, however, is fatal. It hands over the religion and values camp to Republicans on a platter. God becomes a Republican, by default.

The strength of the "hey, I'm religious too approach" is that the politician has barely tried to come up with something substantive, or even decent, to contribute to political debate. And as they say, if you don't try you can't really fail either. The weakness, however, is the same as the strength. You've barely tried, so why the hell should we vote for you?

Finally, the strength of the "if you can't beat them, join them approach" comes from a politician making a real substantive attempt to grapple with religion in relation to public policy. This is what needs to be done if Republican aren't going to play the God card by themselves. Thumbs up, so far it's the strongest of the three. The weakness, however, is also the most disturbing of them all. Think about it: You've gone beyond position one and brought religion to play with politics, you've gone beyond position two and actually TRIED; but, lo and behold, you've failed! You failed because in the process of developing a positions that bring together religion and politics you've abdicated your convictions and mimicked the Republican platform.

This is tremendously disturbing. When trying to develop a progressive approach to religion and politics the best Democrats can muster is to look like fuzzy Republicans - the Republican program with a 10% discount. Is this really the best that can be done? Is there really no room for religious discourse in a progressive political platform? Is it really true that to make room for religion the politics needs to become more conservative?

LHG, for one, refuse to believe that's the case.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Three strikes and you're out: on democrats and religion (strike 3)

Strike #3: the "if you can't beat them, join them approach." This position is better than strike 1 insofar as it recognizes that a politician in the United States today must draw an explicit link between religion (or at least value talk) and politics. It's also better than strike 2 in that it tries to give substantive content to a position, rather than merely giving examples of one's own religiosity (I was an altar boy, I go to church, I pray, etc). Strike 3's fatal flaw, however, comes from the fact that when adopted you've given up on your own moral and political convictions - the Democrat becomes a Republican.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Can you recommend a religion?

To some religion should always be talked about with great respect. For them, religion is different from economics or political science or literature, because it touches upon the deepest beliefs and feelings a person might have. It's one thing to critique or make fun of shakespeare, it's quite another to critique or make fun of the bible.

But isn't this position intellectually dishonest? It seems to boil down to the following statement: "Use your full critical capacity when examining all spheres of life - except for religion. When it comes to religion, leave those critical capacities at the door." Here at the Left Hand of God, we believe religion is worthy of the same merciless rigor with which we should examine all expressions of our humanity.

In fact, we like John Dewey. For Dewey the main problem with religion was not this or that article of belief. The problem was not that it required believing stuff that given modern science it's now hard to believe. It's deeper. Religion requires a mode of imparting truth that is just not compatible with a democratic society. Religions impart truth from the top down - when it comes to truth they're hierarchical and often authoritarian. Democracies, on the other hand, need open debate and discussion to flourish. You just can't have a thriving democracy when people are not allowed to challenge authority, when truth is given once and for all.

What kind of religion would you recommend for a democracy? The whole idea of recommending a religion sounds strange. But should it?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Three strikes and you're out: on democrats and religion (strikes #1 and 2)

The Democratic party has three approaches to religion and politics - and all three are, to put it mildly, rather lame.

Strike 1: the "avoid it like the plague approach" - you avoid talking about religion because you believe in the separation between church and state. Unfortunately for democrats, the outcome is that republicans get to carry the banner of religion unopposed.

Strike 2: the “hey, I’m religious too! approach" - when you see that your opponent’s shameless use of religion is getting votes, you chip in “hey, I’m religious too!” Kerry, for example, tells us he’s an altar boy, as if that would make him a good president. Who cares if he’s never talked about his faith before. Sad.

Strike 3: on monday

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Reza Aslan

I know envy is one of the seven deadly sins, but i just saw Reza Aslan on the Colbert Report. The guy's everywhere. Who's his agent? And how can i get in touch with him (or her)?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What do Michael Lerner and Diego Maradona have in common?

Yes, I know that Michael Lerner just published a book titled The Left Hand of God - but i swear that this blog's name is neither a tribute to his book nor proof of my lack of originality (note: proof may be forthcoming in later weeks).

The year is 1986, the place is mexico city, the time is mid-afternoon, the event is quarterfinals of the World Cup, the teams are Argentina and England. In 1982, a mere four yrs before, the same nations fought the Malvinas/Falklands war and Argentina got its butt whipped. This time, however, Argentina would carry the day: 2-1. And in the process Diego Maradona, the greatest soccer player of all time, scored both the most beautiful and the most infamous goals in World Cup history. In the former, he received the ball just behind mid field and dribbled past half the english team and the goalie. In the latter, maradona - all of 5 feet 4 inches - miraculously levitated over english goalie shilton - 6 feet plus - and may have punched the ball into the net with his left fist (you be the judge). "Was it a hand ball?", he was asked after the game. If it was, Maradona smiled, "it was the hand of god."

That's where this blog's name comes from. But this excursion isn't just an apology to lerner, it also sets up a point which relates to the perspective from which we think about issues, including religion. It's late, i'll make the point tomorrow.
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