Wednesday, March 24, 2004

This Site Has a Ban On Cute Pledge-Related Malapropisms 

Times headline:
Atheist Presents Case for Taking God From Pledge

Now honestly. What the hell kinda headline is that? The article itself is not only extremely fair, but in fact very complimentary of Dr. Newdow, the godless heathen. It describes his rhetorical ability and the soundness of his argument, though he comes off a bit like a slick, fast-talkin' lawyer.

Most Evangelical Atheists I've met annoy me greatly -- we get it, there's no god, and you're so proud for being smart enough to have figured that out -- so I'm sure that if I met Dr. Atheist in person I'd want to slap with an Asimov paperback across the back of his super-intelligent head, but he is absolutely in the right in this case. That doesn't matter, of course, as he will lose 7-1 (your guess is as good as mine as to who the dissenter will be, but there will be one). The public opinion battle is already lost, and this man has probably done quite a bit to set back the cause of public acceptance of atheists (they're sort of the elephant in the room -- most intelligent, educated Americans don't actively worship anything, and though many of them will profess to belief in a "higher power," they are often just dodging the question. Something like 90% of scientists are atheists/agnostics. But still -- non-believers have the stigma of Stalinists. Look at that headline again -- Dr. Newdow is simply "Atheist." Like "Terrorist Asks to Be Freed From Prison" or "Socialist Wants to Raise Taxes"). Of course -- I'd like to see a woman President before I begin to bitch too loudly about Atheists being excluded from public office, but both are example of shutting out the smartest and most rational Americans.

Safire is hedging his bets, but is better than usual. No Nixon, even.

On wider grounds of the traditional recognition of the deity in American political life, Olson could point to the words "In God We Trust," put on our coins in Lincoln's time. Or the fervent reference to "the Creator" as the source of our rights that Jefferson put in our Declaration of Independence. Or the words opening this morning's session: "God save the United States and this honorable court."

Yes -- but a roomful of school-children is not being compelled to say those thing out loud in unison. And Jefferson is completely out of the question here -- the man edited and released his own version of the New Testament in which he systematically excised God and miracles and kept the wisdom and morals. These arguments are specious, and Safire doesn't actually agree with them, as he lets us know later. But honestly, Bill, there's no need to repeat them.

Here's the important bit, towards the end:
The only thing this time-wasting pest Newdow has going for him is that he's right. Those of us who believe in God don't need to inject our faith into a patriotic affirmation and coerce all schoolchildren into going along. The key word in the pledge is the last one.

So what Safire has done, inexplicably, is written a column in which he argues a point he does not agree with in every paragraph except one. In this paragraph, he and I are basically in complete agreement, except I don't believe for a moment that he's a God-fearing man. But the column is more infuriating because of this paragraph. Why can't Safire argue a point that goes against current "conservative" ideology without first listing every single one of their talking points as if he agrees? He even says Newdow doesn't have any claim to "standing" in graph 4, and then says that doesn't actually matter in graph 13 (the very last one).

Even his final recommendation is a cop-out. Tell the teachers to tell the children that they don't have to say "Under God" if they don't want to. Oh. Brilliant. Thanks, Bill.

[UPDATE... This is great reading for Aerian History nerds and fans of the Supreme Court. The way they go after him demonstrates that my 7-1 prediction will be so right it hurts, but look how the Atheist has them on the defensive the whole damn time. They're trying to argue loopholes with him -- things like "can't you let this slip by" and "it's not like there are that many atheists" -- and he keep hammering fundamental tenets of American constitutional law. Good stuff.]

[and, fer chrissakes, if you didn't see it, read this. It's not a smoking gun, but it's at least a warm one. If you don't have time for the whole thing, I recommend Tenet and Clarke. And try to find some way of listening to Richard Armitage's testimony. He sounds like George C. Scott playing Peter Falk.]

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