Nov. 27, 2006
November 27, 2006
IS GOD IN CHARGE OR NOT?
Does God create but then not control the world? That's what a lot of people in India think, it's reported. The country where I spent two years of my boyhood is endlessly fascinating when it comes to religion. But who knew that so many folks there seem to be essentially deists?
* * *
IN SEARCH OF MORAL VALUES
Maybe you can help me out today.
I'm having trouble understanding some questions of ethics. I've thought about this for some days now but I still just don't get it.
The first is the O.J. Simpson story. After a huge outcry about a book and interview in which Simpson said he'd describe how he would have killed his wife and Ron Goldman "if I did it," News Corp. pulled the plug on both projects.
In doing so, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch said this: "I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project. We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."
Pardon my skepticism, but it seems to me the only reason Murdoch now considers this an ill-considered project is that the public was outraged and he was facing a rebellion among Fox television affiliates who normally would have been expected to carry the interview.
After all, anyone with a lick of ethical sense should have known that this was a terrible idea on so many levels: It would wound the families of the victims again; give a public voice to a manipulative and dangerous man; make yet another mockery of our criminal justice system; be a financial transaction soaked in innocent blood. And on and on. All of this was obvious when the idea first surfaced.
Murdoch and his "senior management" clearly have the morals of a vacuum cleaner. Otherwise they'd have seen that and smashed down this bad project idea immediately. My question: Was it simply money that drove ethical thinking out of the park? Did Murdoch and his corporate sycophants really think the American public would buy anything so gross? (Yes, the public has bought a lot of grossness, but even our entertainment-besotted culture has its limits.)
I don't get it, as I say.
The same day the Simpson story was on the front page of The Kansas City Star last week, there were two other stories inside that left me almost equally puzzled about the lack of ethics and morals and simple good sense.
One was about comedian Michael Richards' apologizing for a clearly racist rant at people who were heckling his stand-up comedy routine. I've seen the video (to which I am decidedly not linking you), and his language far surpassed even Mel Gibson's recent anti-Semitic rantings, though Richards' words were aimed at African-Americans. Later, on David Letterman's show, Richards said, "I'm not a racist. That's what's so insane about this."
People who aren't racists simply don't say the stuff Richards said -- under any circumstances, drunk or sober, provoked or not. If he didn't mean what he said, why did he say it? And if he meant it, why apologize? I don't get it.
Another story that day was about an artist in Ohio who created gingerbread Nazis that the owner of a hardware store displayed in his store's front window. How did the store owner, who removed the display and then criticized it, allow this kind of tasteless ethical violation to occur in the first place? Why not think all this through before doing it? What seems to be blocking our ability to recognize how monstrously offensive words and displays will be taken?
I don't get it.
If you get it, tell me.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.
Bill, the article about the gingerbread nazis claims that the display was installed after the owner left the store. I'm willing to cut him some slack for promptly covering up the display. I surely might question the sanity of the artist.
I'm really of two minds about this. Art can be edgey, challenging, even controversial as well as offensive. Recall the "elephant dung" paintings several years ago at the Brooklyn Museum? Of course, art critics can mirror the same crudeness or rudeness as the art they critique. I recall Tom McClanahan trying to write architectural criticism on the Star's OpEd page about a certain building on Rockhill Road. I can't recall whether his was in response to a column you or Yael Abouhalkah wrote.
Not having seen the display, I'm hesitant to condemn it outright. Just what was the point of it? What did it look like? What was its point? Should movies that portray Nazis be banned? I, sensitive to Nazism, reserve my personal judgement.
Posted by: Keith | November 27, 2006 at 04:44 AM
Ooops...it was Holmes Road, not Rockhill Road. Sorry about that. I was mentally driving on the wrong side of the curve!
Posted by: keith | November 27, 2006 at 05:50 AM
An interesting OpEd piece in today's New York Times at http://tinyurl.com/yy9zjo
I disagree with the piece, but I disagree with a lot of things, so that's ok.
Posted by: keith | November 27, 2006 at 06:20 AM
If God controls the world with all its genocide, war and abuse, then God help God!
Posted by: Joe Barone | November 27, 2006 at 07:10 AM
“Murdoch and his ‘senior management’ clearly have the morals of a vacuum cleaner.”
Bill, hahahahahahaha! Somehow, that helps.
“Otherwise they'd have seen that and smashed down this bad project idea immediately.”
Yes, maybe Fox could publish a book now, called, “If We Would Have Done It.” It would tell the tale of their whole network of affiliates breaking up in a sea of suits, charges and counter-charges, and expose the depth of their empathy, compassion, and foresight to the American public.
And, related to “gingerbread Nazis,” have you heard about the latest proposal from arch-Darwinist atheist Richard Dawkins?
He’s suggesting that maybe some of Hitler’s ideas weren’t so bad after all:
“I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn't the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?”
As one blog commenter noted: “According to the wedge strategy the thin edge of the wedge goes in first, then once discussion becomes more common the wedge gets thicker as the issue is discussed and so on.”
I think this goes to the op-ed piece you pointed us to, Keith. I’m inclined to agree with it.
Posted by: Dave Miller | November 27, 2006 at 07:37 AM
O.K. Bill. Here is a possibility re spewing verbal poison. When crossed, my 4 year old grandson gets an ugly look on his face and calls anybody a “butt-head” including parents and me, grandma. Precious little impulse control there. He is nailed immediately and put in time-out. Comes out repentant (?) and then is his own sunny, loving self. .
The rest of us should know better. I will share an experience which shocked me greatly at the time (50 years ago). I was irritated by some people I did not know nearby and the thought that came to mind was “Damned_______.” I won’t put down the race/religion on that blank. It still makes me shiver. Doesn’t matter. I recognized immediately that it was stupid, ugly, utterly mistaken. I didn’t SAY it. I didn’t BELIEVE it. Where had it come from? What other dumb notions had I picked up unawares and stored in some subterranean cave in my mind? “You have to be taught before it’s too late, before you are 6 or 7 or 8, to hate all the people your relatives hate...” Or maybe just soak up the prevailing poison in any society. That experience was a wake up call to examine my quick notions about other people. Don’t know about Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, etc. They have to own the ugly absurdities they have picked up by thought or osmosis.
Posted by: Mary Behr | November 27, 2006 at 07:42 AM
Mary, thank you for an astute posting. I, too, find my brain going to dysfunction mode from time to time. I've been fortunate that the lag between brain and mouth has given me space to self-censor.
Posted by: keith | November 27, 2006 at 07:53 AM
You're onto something, Mary. I've not seen the Richard's video with expletives intact. I can imagine. I did happen onto his apology on Letterman because Charlie Rose had been pre-empted by auction. It was rather a rambling mess of apology mixed with "I-don't-knows".
One of the things that impressed me was that it was set up and engineered by a much more savvy Jerry Seinfeld. Both he and Letterman tried to feed Richards a couple of excuses. Which he did not grab. He didn't try to excuse the inexcusable. He just sat rambling and confused and sorry.
Richards is known in the business as being something of a jerk. One who was failing miserably around the country with his stand-up routines. I suspect that frustration and anger may have set off forces and racism within that he didn't know existed. Or that he daily fooled himself into denying.
Racism workshops are eye-opening, when it comes to seeing just how much racist "stuff" lives below the surface of conscientiousness. In most white people. I think that I've written before in this spot about the fact that they begin each white person saying, "I'm not racist." And then realizing that they are. WE all are.
Posted by: Patricia | November 27, 2006 at 08:22 AM
OK, here goes. I am going to "sort of" defend the gingerbread Nazis.
The gingerbread man is a symbol that was really popular a few years ago; used by visual/multimedia artists The Residents, a bunch of novelists, and Robert Altman in a film. Capable of easily crumbling, being consumed, real cowardice in continual running while maintaining an exterior of false bravado - are all meanings built into the symbol. Layer onto that the importance of gingerbread in German society and you might just have a pretty smart symbol for beliefs that seem to have been consumed to re-surface in later generations in Germany.
Coming from someone who has had to grade student art projects using toilet parts, their own nudity and sex activities, and, yes, even used condoms, I can say that gingerbread Nazis wouldn't even be in the ballpark for shock value. Unless an artist had the bad sense to put it into a hardware store window.
In Oberlin, Ohio.
Posted by: Patricia | November 27, 2006 at 08:38 AM
We should all be keenly aware as well as very proud that we live in a country where free speech applies to all people regardless of our feelings toward the speech. While I find what Mr. Richards said to be outside of good taste and our collective cultural norm I stand by his right to say it. I also agree with the outcry against what he has said...that is free speech at work. This applies to window dressings, books, and any media. When political correctness infringes on freedom than the best that America has to offer is eroded.
Posted by: Jim | November 27, 2006 at 08:54 AM
"Is God in charge or not?"
After all my remarks yesterday about GOD, God and our HTA I still wonder who is the God of Religion that Kills and lets people kill.
With all the religions that say they believe in a God that does not kill, and gave the Ten Commandments and "Thou Shalt Not Kill", which GOD, Man God, HTA is it?
I say our HTA, but I do not know who the Killer God is:
The God of the people before Abraham?
The God of Noah, Abraham, David, Solomon, Sampson, Moses and the Children of Israel?
The God of Genghis Khan?
The God of the Crusades?
The God of WW1 and WW2?
The God of Christian USA?
The God of President Bush?
All killed in the name of God.
Can anyone figure out who the God is that is?
I accept it is our HTA that do not Kill. Were all the other Gods a reflection of the Noah/Atlantis Society, that did Kill?
Did Man mis-translate all the Gods that killed, as what people say and wrote.
In the past were all these Gods that killed and let people kill, mis-translated God, because of the loss of the High Tech Science Knowledge of our HTA?
Posted by: Dolores Lear | November 27, 2006 at 09:01 AM
Dave, I think we've come to a disagreement here.
I don't think Dawkins is recommending Hitler's eugenics when he writes "Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular." I don't think he's strongly supporting eugenics when he asks why it's ok to train for skills but not deliberately breed for skills. He immediately continues, saying "I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me."
Perhaps I disagree with you because I'm not a fan of "wedgies" and "slippery slopes" as arguments. Perhaps I see political/religious ties as having a detrimental effect on life as well as a positive effect.
Which part of "arch-Darwinist atheist" makes Dawkins immoral, illogical, or unworthy of consideration? I may disagree passionately with a "the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it"-ite, but I won't condemn him or her as immoral.
Posted by: keith | November 27, 2006 at 09:03 AM
I, too, think you misinterpret Dawkins' piece, Dave, and agree with Keith.
Dawkins is saying that because genetic engineering became forever linked with Hitler's eugenics programs, we stifle discussion and questions about same.
Dawkins isn't advocating genetic engineering and alludes to the fact he probably would reject it.
Posted by: Patricia | November 27, 2006 at 09:16 AM
Regarding Indians who think God created but does not control the world.
Don't Christians who give great power to sin or Satan really do the same?
Posted by: Patricia | November 27, 2006 at 09:19 AM
Patricia is right, of course. We're all racists to one degree or another. I'm surprised Bill doesn't get it. All of us here are old enough to remember when what today is considered "racist" was simply the norm.
It's very easy to believe that what a person may say in anger is not how that person really tries to live and conduct himself when he's calm and collected.
In my opinion, its much worse when someone who is calm and collected makes much worse statements. Most of what is written and published in the way of rap music falls into this category. It's much, much, much, worse than what Michael Richards said, because it's said by people who are rational; not by people who are momentarily angry and irrational.
Bill is shocked that the ability to even use the "n-word" is in Michael Richard's mind. I'm not. If we're honest, it's in all of us. I'm confident there is no one in the world who would be incapable of using similar epitaphs because they have no knowledge of them. It's in all of us, and can come out in certain situations.
I guess my point is, Michael Richards is really no different than the reest of us, who pretend that we would never, ever do such a thing. Most, if not all of us, have done something similar at some time in our lives. Who hasn't told a Polish joke, or any joke that uses as its humor a put-down of some other person's race, ethnicity, or physicial characteristics? Who hasn't thought bad things about someone of another race or culture in certain situations? Of course we have. Why do people now all of a sudden feign such outrage and disbelief that someone could think or say these things? They act as though Michael Richard is so completely abnormal that he should be ostracized from society forever. That's silly.
Posted by: Ron | November 27, 2006 at 09:27 AM
Hi, Keith and Patricia.
You wrote, Keith, "Which part of 'arch-Darwinist atheist' makes Dawkins immoral, illogical, or unworthy of consideration?"
Well, no part, of course. Go ahead and knock that straw man down...I've got no use for it either.
And I'm also not a fan of slippery slope arguments...but I see them as a little different than wedge arguments.
If Dawkins believes there are persuasive arguments against "breeding" humans for various traits, then why bring it up? And if he doesn't want to be caught agreeing with Hitler, even in a single particular, then why propose that--now that Hitler's been dead for 60 years--we discuss some of his ideas?
I don't get it.
Patricia, welcome back! I missed you over the Thanksgiving holiday!
Posted by: Dave Miller | November 27, 2006 at 09:48 AM
Thank you, Dave! I missed you, too. You'll be happy to know that I suffered the dreaded psychological disability called "blog withdrawal" as our Thanksgiving hosts' computer was continuously occupied by........YOUNG people. (And what good is a wireless notebook when there are no conveniently unsecured servers?)
I think that as long as the genetic engineering technology exists, we need to discuss the potential uses and abuses and come to some sort of legal consensus on ethics. Dawkins' ongoing argument seems to be that religion stifles these discussions.
Incidentally, we had a similar topic at Thanksgiving dinner. It revolved around the new bionic limbs that are being used for some of the soldiers who lose their limbs in Iraq. Will there be a day when athletes cut off both legs in order to increase their abilities? Will it be allowed? If not, then what about the kid who loses a leg to cancer and has it replaced? Should she be disqualified?
I think you have some good points regarding racism and rap music, Ron. I'm not sure why we are shy about addressing the sexism in the lyrics, either.
Posted by: Patricia | November 27, 2006 at 10:11 AM
Dave, to be honest, I don't understand the page/article in the Sunday Herald. I don't know where the title "In the Afterword" comes from, unless it refers to an afterword in one of Dawkins' books, or a regular column in the paper. It's only in the url that you gave us that the word "eugenics" even appears, though Dawkins obviously refers to it. (If I go to the Sunday Herald home page, click Life, then the link to Dawson's words, I get a different link address to the same display. Did you get this address from a third party?)
Without trying to put words in Dawkins' mouth, it seems to me he's asking why some subjects are taboo. One thought I've had as the "stem cell" debate has raged over the last few years is, "Will America's (or Missouri's) squelching of research merely move it elsewhere?"
It seems to me man's curious, inquisitive mind can't be stopped. It's the same mind that has brought us antibiotics, MRIs, x-rays, radiation therapy and heart surgery. It's brought us domesticated animals, including vegetables and beef (yum)! Years ago it brought us the bow, and the spear reduced to the size of an arrow. It's also brought us firebombing and B2 bombers with nuclear warheads.
Posted by: keith | November 27, 2006 at 10:23 AM
One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is that we are not capable of _________. While there are certainly some things that most are not capable of, they are not as many as we would like to believe. One of the things that I learned while studying psychology is that we often attribute acts to internal mental conditions of "the other" rather than to situational response as a defense mechanism to avoid dealing with the fact that we are capable of bad things. Its disturbing to think what each of us may be capable of given a set of circumstances. Take a look at the Milgrim shock experiments or the Stanford (I think) prison study for an interesting look at situational influence.
Often, the things we express the most outrage at are the things we are closest to doing.
Posted by: openmind | November 27, 2006 at 10:33 AM
Openmind, that's a little too much pop psychology for me. It sounds like you're still saying that anyone who says anything racist, is really deep down a racist. I think alamost everyone is racist to a certain extent. My question would be is this: If you train yourself to never say out loud anything racist, does that mean you're not a racist? Or, does that mean you're a little racist like most people, but you've trained yourself better not to reveal it? If so, is there really any difference between someone who accidently lets a racist remark slip out, and those who don't? It seems to me, the answer is "No." The people who are jumping all over Michael Richards are being a little hypocritcal, in my opinion.
Posted by: Ron | November 27, 2006 at 10:48 AM
My father has Alzheimers and suddenly as he loses his ability to communicate and recognize anyone - he remembers crude words and names that he has not spoken as an adult. He calls his caregivers terrible names. He would never have allowed such language from anyone in our home. I think the social inhibitions that keep us from expressing two year old emotions become lost at this stage of dementia and all that is left is rather awful language. The utter contempt with which he is treated by some caregivers - makes me want to cry. They don't know him. They don't know that racist words were not only not allowed, but were punished severely when my father heard anything like that. I never heard a racist word from his mouth until the last year or so. So, sometimes, it is a memory of a bad word, or an attitude which was not chosen that comes back to haunt us. I think there are better ways to fight racism than to destroy another with self righteousness. I probably would have thought quite differently until we had to hear such words from my father - the man who would not allow such things to be said in his house.
Posted by: Betsy | November 27, 2006 at 11:14 AM
Hi, Keith and Patricia.
I suppose part of my response to Dawkins' proposal comes out of my experience viewing an exhibit at the National Holocaust Museum last Fall.
The exhibit was entitled, "Deadly Medicine." Maybe someone else on this blog toured it as well.
It documented visually and graphically how the policies of national socialism were heralded by German biological scientists as compatible with "cutting edge" science. In fact, German geneticists were supported by scientists who embraced eugenics both in the U.S. and England.
The exhibit is now touring in Dresden, Germany. But you can access an online version at
Just click on "Start."
A transcript of the narrative is also available:
"Scientists dreamed of perfecting human beings by changing the genetic makeup of the population, and so this does offer a cautionary note in that regard and it certainly also speaks to the importance of always respecting the value of the individual and the human dignity of the individual."
"Breeding" human beings, it seems to me, places the characteristic being "bred for" on a higher plane than the individuals who are "bred." That is what separates it morally from simply "training" a human being in the acquisition of a skill.
Yes, I am concerned about a line so subtle here that we may not recognize we've crossed it until we're on the other side. Please note the other ongoing thread today regarding racism.
I mentioned that Dawkins is an "arch-Darwinist" because Darwin used the notion of "selection" which farmers and ranchers were already employing to improve cultivated plants and domestic animals as a metaphor for what nature herself did: "natural selection." It's a fairly short step to want to wrest control of this process from nature...which is what eugenics is about, I believe.
I identified Dawkins as an atheist because I believe it makes him more likely to advocate for a position which is contrary to a Judeo-Christian system of values.
When I toured the "Deadly Medicine" exhibit, I was struck by this 1938 quotation from Joseph Goebbels:
“OUR STARTING POINT IS NOT THE INDIVIDUAL, AND WE DO NOT SUBSCRIBE TO THE VIEW THAT ONE SHOULD FEED THE HUNGRY, GIVE DRINK TO THE THIRSTY, OR CLOTHE THE NAKED . . . . OUR OBJECTIVES ARE ENTIRELY DIFFERENT: WE MUST HAVE A HEALTHY PEOPLE IN ORDER TO PREVAIL IN THE WORLD.”
That quotation is now on the home page of the online exhibit.
It's not hard to recognize the twisted, distorted words of Matthew 25 in this quotation.
Posted by: Dave Miller | November 27, 2006 at 11:18 AM
If by pop psychology you mean well documented scientific studies published in reputable journals, then I guess you have me dead to rights. My original point was actually very similar to yours Ron: that we don’t like to admit what we are capable of and that we all have a little bit of that in us.
I don’t think I view Richards as “accidentally letting a racist remark slip out.” If he used the word once, and then didn’t continue to base his entire tirade on the individuals race, then maybe. But he didn’t. As a white male, I have been in the presence of people who “have black friends” as they make incredibly racist remarks behind their “black friends” backs. Which is their true self? I don’t know that we can ever know, but one former friend in particular used to make pretty terrible remarks about people of other races, and then go and act like things were ok when they were around them. I think this is the case with regards to Richards. We don’t know his true self, he could have been cracking racist jokes and hating black for years, or he could have just gone for the Lowest Common Denominator attack which would hurt the most. If I were a betting man, I would bet on the former. A slip I may put on the latter category, but a continuing tirade sounds like something much deeper. Throw in his “apology” and I think that you have your answer.
I also do believe that there is a difference between those who acknowledge their own “racist tendencies” and control them and those who “let things slip.” If you don’t admit to it, then these thoughts will continue to influence your actions (I know “pop” psychology”). People who “slip” are more likely to act on those beliefs than those who train themselves to fight their own prejudices. Most who “train themselves not to reveal it” acknowledge that it is human nature to think that way, but it is not right. They often go out of their way to make sure that they realize their flaws and do the best they can to correct for them.
We all have a little “in-group, out-group” hate hidden within us. As a whole people like people who are “like them” even if the differences are meaningless (watch the fights that can break out at a MU-KU game).
Posted by: openmind | November 27, 2006 at 11:28 AM
"Openmind, that's a little too much pop psychology for me."
Ron, that's not pop psychology. That's main-stream, research-backed, academic psychology.
This line of research followed WWII and the Holocaust, when psychologists were trying to understand what would allow the majority of the German population to accede to the atrocities which had taken place in their country, perpetrated by their countrymen, and by themselves. They finally came to the conclusion that there was nothing extraordinary about the German people in this regard. Given similar circumstances, "normal" people would do the same thing.
The research openmind identifies confirms what Augustine said in the fourth century: "Never fight evil as if it was something which arose entirely outside yourself."
(And before Augustine, Jesus said something about splinters and logs...)
Posted by: Dave Miller | November 27, 2006 at 11:29 AM
Trust me Ron, I probably dislike true "pop" psychology as much as you do. It hurts the creditability of entire field. Dr. Phil is to psychology what Ann Coulter and Mike Moore are to politics
Posted by: openmind | November 27, 2006 at 11:36 AM