August 21, 2011

Will the State of the Union be delivered in tongues?

I note with a growing sense of detached bemusement that Gov. Rick Perry of the Lone Star State is strenuously creating as much daylight as possible between any perception of himself as a "rational former Democrat" (which he once was, when he served as Al Gore's campaign organizer in Texas) and his new incarnation, that of a dumbed-down, anti-intellectual, global-warming-denying, Creationist know-nothing. "God is how we got here," he assured a crowd of the Republican Ultra-Orthodox recently.

It's amazing that this stuff works in America, in 2011, at least 250 years after the Enlightenment, 150 years after The Origin of Species, over a hundred years after the Special Theory of Relativity, despite the amazing discoveries of modern cosmology. "Evolution has some holes in it," Governor Rick lamented. It may have been covered in one of the 9 classes he got a D in at Texas A&M, but nevertheless, Perry has a powerful sense that we're not monkeys, even if our physiology is about 99% identical. Makes you wonder if the Creator just ran out of ideas, and started tweaking existing models a tiny bit rather than building from scratch.

In response to the nice comment on the last blog - I write about Christianity and religion because I know more about it. I was raised in a Fundamentalist Christian church, heavily indoctrinated for 18 years or so till I escaped to Heathenland (Berkeley). Thus, I am intimately familiar with the double binds and circular logic used to demonstrate that there is no escape from God's Truth: the very act of resisting one's "salvation" was prophesied and predicted by Scripture. Further, the Bible is inerrant (proved by Scripture itself, which says it is), and thus if the Bible declares that the act of resisting salvation is further proof of the truth of the Bible, because the Bible predicted that man would resist the truth and be unable to see it, then the Bible has confirmed itself through the very act of any man's renunciation.

I always suspect that when word play is used to prove Actual Things, then we are dealing with something fundamentally Not Real. Bertrand Russell was particularly adept at puncturing such sophistry, as when he dealt with the notion of First Cause. An argument for Creation is that nothing can exist without a cause; the Universe exists, thus it has a cause. That cause, rationally, is God, an intelligent force who put things together just as Rick Perry says He did. Russell, however, refusing to play along with this easy syllogism, then asked the question: then who created God? The answer given by the faithful is that God "just always was." To which Bertrand responded that the same exact answer could then be given for the Universe, or the materials out of which the Universe was made: the Universe just always was, and did not need a cause.

Neither of these "theories" is necessarily true, of course. I don't think Bertrand Russell was attempting to elaborate a theory of cosmology; he was simply demonstrating that if all you want to do is play word games, you can't really "prove" anything. You can only demonstrate that such a mode of argument, free of any empirical proof or investigation, can prove nothing. You cannot "trap" an agile mind into belief in God. Maybe it's possible that the materials present at the Big Bang did not exist a nanosecond before and "quantum fluxed" into existence out of nothing. Who's to say what went on in such Singularities billions of years ago and under such exotic, incomprehensible conditions? I think the only honest answer to Leibnitz's question, why is there something instead of nothing?, is this: Ya got me.

But here in the Enchanted United States, in this demon-haunted land, we're carrying on as if the Enlightenment never happened. I took the time to further my education on "charismatic Christianity," which apparently received new impetus around 1962 and has since become quite the In Thing, Christ-wise. It's from the Greek "charismata," meaning gifts, and refers to the Pentecostal practices of glossolalia (speaking in tongues), prophesy, healing by laying on of hands, and working miracles. Those seem to be the Big Four, and you have to admit that's quite a skill set. Whether it indicates a visitation from the Holy Spirit or not, it could definitely land you a nice gig in Vegas. I suppose the old line Fundamentalists were simply wondering why the Pentecostals should have all the fun and muscled in on spouting gibberish and various other signs and wonders.

Thus, if a "second baptism," this one of the spirit and administered directly by the Holy Ghost rather than a preacher in a trout fishing get-up, should visit the head of a believer, maybe Rick Perry himself, then the sky's the limit, and Presidential addresses might be given in a language sounding vaguely like a cross between the Aramaic of "The Passion of the Christ" and Mandarin Chinese. I certainly hope so. The straight-ahead versions have been intolerable for years.

That's only if the "modern Charismatics" are right. Another set of Christian believers, called the "Cessationists," believe the gifts were only bestowed during Apostolic times. That strikes me as a cop-out; if that's true, what was Jimmy Swaggart mumbling about on cable TV? The Cessationists would have you believe he was faking. A bum rap. My money's on the Neo-Pentecostals and their ilk, but the "controversy" is indicative of the one truly fun thing about these various camps and their "belief systems." Once you decide to part company with rationality and empiricism, jettisoning the whole scientific enterprise which has brought mankind to such truly astounding discoveries and insights about the nature of the universe, and to simply dabble in mythology and what amounts to modern sorcery, then you can make this stuff up by the metric ton. While informing those not quite so taken with all this lunacy that they simply lack the "gift" of understanding what is so obviously true.

Hope it is true, in a way. At the rate we're going, we could use some homemade miracles.