kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

China blog to ignore

Some folks--okay, one drunk guy who had to choose between looking at his shoes or pretending to be interested enough to talk to me, and he spent some time determining his preference--have asked me to post some stuff about China.

This blog is devoted to things that people don't read about politics, sex, old girlfriends, baseball, and other things.

I've decided to get another blog, devoted to things that people don't read about China.

Chinese Love Affair

Check it out. Tell your friends. You, too, could be a winner.

Back soon here with some discussion of this question: is Mitt Romney black enough?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


The other day, listening to John Powers, the critic at large for NPR's Fresh Air, I heard him refer to "atheist chic" as one of the ten "cultural trends" of the 2007.

"Atheist chic," naturally, is a reference to Tom Wolfe's old insult "radical chic," his (perhaps justifiable) dismissal of various trendy types who embraced radical politics, and radicals, without necessarily fully understanding what those radicals represented. Thus Leonard Bernstein might have a cocktail party for some Black Panthers, implying his support for them, and in turn being responsible for not just the activities of those he invited, and not just the activities of the Black Panthers, but all the activities of all the Black Panthers and anyone who claimed to be associated with them. This used to be considered "guilt by association," but such a strategy is such an easy tool to use against one's ideological opponents, the temptation has become much too great to eschew it.

More troubling, however, was the idea that the popularity of such books as Dawkins' The God Delusion, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon, and even Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great could be, again, easily dismissed as "chic": a passing fancy among intellectuals and those seeking to be trendy (assuming that a) intellectuals could ever be trendy and b) this is the bandwagon on which to hop).

Powers is an interesting guy, albeit a bit obsessed about a show I've never seen, The Wire. I think he knows quite a lot about television. But I'm not so sure we should be quite as reductive of the fact that atheism—and, I think, in the American context, agnosticism—has become a teeny bit less radical as something to admit to.

Polling consistently shows that Americans admit to being more likely to vote for someone who is gay, black, or Hispanic—among the other candidates for being in groups you really couldn't be in and hope to be President—than who is an atheist. A lot of people I talk to believe that one simply cannot have a systematic and coherent set of ethical principles if they are not grounded in a theistic worldview. As Dawkins—I think—pointed out (although on reflection it sounds more like Hitchens), the percentage of atheists is sufficiently large enough that simply on mathematical grounds there have to be some of them in Congress and in other political positions. But to announce such a thing would be the death knell for anyone seeking political office in the US, in spite of the Constitution's explicit statement that no religious test shall ever be required for holding public office.

But, with that said, it has become a bit safer for ordinary people to admit that they don't believe in God. This takes a small amount of courage, depending on your peer group, your family, your job, your location, among other variables.

I take that to be progress. Mr. Powers wishes to regard it as a trend. Lord knows the theists of the world, from Mike "the Christian Candidate" Huckabee to George W. Bush to various Muslims advocating jihad to the world of the Punjab and Kashmir to Osama bin Laden to the denial of Palestinian human rights, have enough issues to deal with. I personally am starting to enjoy a great deal hearing Republicans argue about whether this is a Christian nation, and, since they think it is (it isn't), what the correct kind of Christianity is.

I'd like to think that if there were a God, she would be much more pleased with sincere atheists who, like LaPlace, simply have no need for such a hypothesis, rather than with theists who spend far too much time worrying about other folks worshipping the wrong God, or the right God in the wrong way, or the myriad other details that seem to divide the world's theists from one another.

Let's hypothesize a loving God. I show up at the Pearly Gates.

"Hey, St. Peter. Damn. I was wrong. But I lived, more or less, a moral life, much of which was in accordance with a long history of generally acceptable moral principles. Can I come in?"

Is a loving God more hip to that approach, or to that epitomized by Christian evangelicals, and the various other people I encounter who not only know the right answer, but are willing to go ahead and judge on the basis of that answer?

In any case, to dismiss atheism as chic, or as some sort of trend, does a great disservice. Looking at much of the developed, and developing world, it spends considerably less time than the US worrying about these issues, indoctrinating its children, and going to worship services. Perhaps Dennett is right, and religion is something whose time has come and gone, or taking that line along with Marx, perhaps in the future people are going to be less willing to be exploited economically, and go fight ideologically-based wars, on the basis of a supernatural hypothesis that quite possibly does more harm than good.

If it weren't such a trendy thing to say, I'd even consider it the possible harbinger of a new paradigm.