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Andrew Sullivan Hears No Evil
2005.10.16 (Sun) 16:39
Skeptico has a post up discussing one aspect of Andrew Sullivan's appearance on Bill Maher's show. In particular, we learned two salient things from Skeptico's post and the wonderful discussion that ensued in the comments: one, Bill Maher is really going downhill (a sentiment with which we strongly agree); and two, Andrew Sullivan completely avoided Maher's point to make his own quite flawed argument (against a larger grievance he has with Maher). As Skeptico suggests, Problem Number Two could have been prevented if it hadn't been for Problem Number One — quite simply, Maher just doesn't think quickly enough to counter any potentially intelligent opposition to his talking points. Of course, this was not an opportunity to counter an argument, but rather to steer the conversation back to what he was actually talking about — still, Maher failed on that count as well. Skeptico provides a copy of the transcript; in it, you can see Sullivan sidestep Maher's original point with all the grace of a syphilitic bear with an inner ear infection (that is to say, none at all).
Our take? Andrew Sullivan is, if not an idiot (we can't deny that he has some intelligence), then quite an obtuse ass. His claim that "true" religiosos do not impose their beliefs on others is, as some of Skeptico's commenters surmised, bullshit. In Sullivan's narrow view, he is defining which people of faith are and are not "true" believers — with no regard to the fact that every true believer thinks they are the genuine article. More to the point, if Sullivan is attempting an appeal to the "majority representation" angle, he's dead wrong. The world's major religions all dictate, as one of their basic tenets, the charge of opposing the unbelievers — i.e., everybody else. That's a pretty black-and-white, clear-cut fact, and there's just no getting around it. The more extreme groups carry this duty to its most dangerous potential outcome — violence and terrorism. Others may simply exhibit a strong isolationist streak. Between these, there are many subtle levels of "opposing the unbelievers," ranging from snobbery and bigotry to legislatively forcing your beliefs on the rest of the nation (or the world). The end result, of course, is that "true" religiosos do impose their beliefs on others, whether directly or indirectly. It is either terribly ignorant or terribly disingenuous of Sullivan to declare otherwise.
Are there religiosos who are content to "live and let live"? Certainly. However, based on the typical imperatives foisted on believers by their religious authorities, the peaceable ones are the exception, not the rule — even if they happened to be the majority (which they don't seem to be), they are the exception because of the very by-laws and beliefs that define their organizations. If more religious folks were like John Shelby Spong, or the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, then there wouldn't be quite so prevalent a problem. But again, these folks are the exceptions. So we'll reiterate: Andrew Sullivan is full of shit.
In our opinion, Andrew Sullivan is full of shit anyway...simply by virtue of being a gay Republican. Listen, random person to whom we're addressing this sentence, you may agree with the Republican agenda on 90% of the issues of the day, and because of that, you call yourself a conservative. But one of the overarching goals of the Republicans in power at the national level right now is the definition of homosexuals as second class citizens — you know, all that pesky DOMA bullshit. If you're gay, and you support the Republican Party (by your vote, your endorsement, or any other political action), you are fucking yourself, plain and simple. (If you're poor, and you support the Republican Party...same thing. Hell, if you're non-Christian, and you support the Republican Party...same thing. And so on, and so on....) Frankly, what good are tax cuts (if you're lucky enough — rich enough — to get them), control of the Middle East (if you think that's a good thing), and even world domination, when you yourself are going to be forced to sit in the back of the Happy Republican Bus? Seriously, Andrew, we just don't get it.
If some of the Republican politicians showed even some ability to think for themselves and vote accordingly, we might feel differently. But as it is, today's Republican Party seems bound by a blood oath to vote as a block; and when one of their members breaks ranks, the sentiments we see from his fellow Republicans are shock, outrage, and revenge (remember George Voinovich?). So, to us, supporting the Republican Party at the national level, at this point in time, is just plain stupid — unless you're a rich, heterosexual Christian who doesn't really care about trampling on the rights of everybody who isn't like you.
But, for a moment, let's pretend that Sullivan didn't manage to sidetrack the conversation and ignore Bill Maher's original point — which was a pretty important point to make. As Maher said, there is currently no representation in our federal government of folks whose beliefs don't rely on magical fairy stories, such as...oh...us. And that is a problem. Maher spells it out: we've got folks representing racial minorities, religious minorities, women, and other traditionally secondary groups. Yet, in the current administration, there doesn't seem to be any voice to speak for rational, logical, reasonable people who don't pray to imaginary friends. Hey...at last count, we outnumber the Jews, and they get a comfortable little niche on the Supreme Court! We're extremely wary of a representative democracy that refuses to represent a substantial portion of its population. Andrew Sullivan avoided arguing against this, Maher's actual point, because there is nothing he could possibly say to excuse it (unless he's going to rely on the old standby "This is a Christian nation!" argument, which we don't expect to come from him).
We'd also like to address one of Sullivan's diatribes directly, as it left us reeling in its utter stupidity. In defending religiosos against (what he imagined to be) Bill Maher's standard claim that they are "stupid" (actually, Maher's claim is that the beliefs are stupid, not the people — we agree), Sullivan went off on an expansive list of crap that, apparently, religion is able to answer, while science is unable:
[True people of faith are] going to recognize that there are some things that science cannot tell you: the meaning of the universe...
You see, you're already asking the wrong questions, Andrew. There is no "meaning" of the universe, except what we — sentient beings — make of it. "Meaning" is a human concept..."meaning" itself has no meaning without a human to actually think one up!
...the point of our lives...
There are two ways to look at this. First: the "point" of our lives, from a strictly materialist viewpoint, is to procreate. That's it. Science has pretty well answered that, don't you think?
Alternatively, like the "meaning" of the universe, the "point" of our lives is a subjective human concept. The point of Sullivan's life is different from the point of Skeptico's life, which is different from the point of Orac's life or Rockstar's life, which is different from the point of your life...and so on. This is because, assuming that you have any personal volition whatsoever, the "point" of any person's life is decided upon by that person. We Two Percenters may have decided that our "point" is to set as many people straight about logic and reason as possible. Sullivan's "point" might be to have a lifelong male partner and vote Republican. Nobody else gets to decide the point of your life...that's for you to decide. Only a religioso thinks that there is a "point" to their life that means anything to anybody but themselves and the people with whom they connect. What a stupefyingly self-centered way to weasel out of responsibility for your own words and deeds.
So, what's the next thing science can't figure out, Andrew?
...what morality is...
Sheesh. Well, if Sullivan's going to beat this rotting equine, we'll join the piñata party. Again, this is an abstract, subjective concept that only has meaning within a sentient mind — there simply is no such thing as objective morality. From an anthropological standpoint, "morality" is a just code of behavior determined jointly by an entire culture, which is why moral behavior differs from culture to culture, from era to era. From a logical standpoint, "morality" is a made up list of dos and don'ts that varies from person to person, and any commonalities between any two lists are simply happenstance derived from similar upbringing and personality, or biological and psychological imperatives.
Please, Andrew, something new...?
...what happens to us after death...
Simple answer: we cease to exist. Complex answer: we cease to exist. You see, Andrew, science has answered this question, but religion has been sticking its fingers in its ears, shouting "La la la la!" and refusing to listen. Frankly, if you can't be bothered to pay attention, fuck off and come up with a testable hypothesis of your own that can be supported by evidence. We'll wait.
Last try, oh clever gay Republican.
...how we should treat our fellow human beings...
Well, the scientific answer is an anthropological (or psychological) one — it's a simple question of human behavior, and it boils down to the Golden Rule. Don't fuck with others if you don't want them to fuck with you. Be nice to them if you want them to be nice to you. Help out if you want help. Uphold moral, ethical and lawful values in the defense of others, and they will uphold those same values in your defense.
Really, Andrew, all of this stuff is just so obvious. Science has provided answers to these questions — but religion doesn't like the answers science has provided, so religiosos say it hasn't provided any...which is bullshit. If you folks are going to close your eyes and refuse to listen, don't go on to claim that nobody's talking to you — we've been shouting the answers at you for several centuries now, and ignoring them won't make those answers (or us) go away.
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