October 2004 Archives

In an age where religion rules the roost in the USA

Is it too much to ask that people be aware of the basic facts of their religion?

I learn from Gareth that Christians are opening up a nudist colony in Tampa, Florida:

"The Bible very clearly states that when Adam and Eve were in right with God, they were naked," said David Blood, executive director of the project.

Look: I'm a liberal (US) / Liberal (UK). I support nudist camps, and I think a lot of the things the people promoting the "Natura" resort (snappy name) have done are right.

But, for crying out loud, if you want to be modern and naked, don't be a Christian. Or a Jew, for that matter. I mean, read Scripture (Genesis, chapter 3, verses as indicated, King James translation):

  1. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
  2. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
  3. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
  4. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
  5. And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
  6. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
  7. And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
  8. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.


  1. And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
  2. Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

Let's summarise this even more (remember, people like Mr David Blood - oh, what an unfortunate name for a religious nudist - may well believe this to be actually, historically true). I may have got some of the more arcane theological points wrong, but I believe the narrative is roughly as I described it.

  1. God says "Do not eat of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge".
  2. Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
  3. With the knowledge acquired, they realise they're naked.
  4. God realises what has happened; Adam blames it on Eve, Eve blames it on the serpent.
  5. God curses them severely.
  6. God realises that Adam and Eve know good and evil.
  7. To avoid them obtaining godhood, he banishes them.

Adam and Eve were only both naked and "in right with God" before they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. From thence onwards, nakedness was bad. If you're a Christian, and you you wish to be publicly naked and approved by God, you must therefore be completely and utterly amoral. You must have no idea of Good or Evil. At all. You must attempt to recreate within yourself the intellectual framework of pre-fruit Adam and Eve, inasmuch as that is possible.

Oh, and you'll have no friends, apart from those others who have mastered the same mental feat.

It aims to provide a "wholesome, safe, family oriented, nude environment" to counter the evils, including sexual abuse, it says results from "body shame".

You jackass! Your entire religion is based upon body shame resulting in intellectual and moral enlightenment!

According to Scripture, it is actually literally (yes, I use the word the way it was supposed to be used) inconceivable that anyone could be moral, nude, happy, and Christian. To say that such a thing is possible is to directly contradict God's pronouncements in Genesis.

Christian nudist camps. That's like Muhammed appearing in a hall of mirrors promo video on MTV. It just does not make sense.

Is there any doubt that the man must go?

Wilfully ignorant, partisan, dogmatic: how can the US afford to elect Bush in 2004?

Reading tonight's news reminded me of a scene in Barbara Hambly's novel Dog Wizard (although it's a common enough theme). The wizards are busy doing all sorts of complicated and intricate magic to, basically, stop the world from being destroyed by other invading realities, while trying to avoid the attention of the Inquisition, their long-term antagonists, who have barged in demanding to know what the hell they're up to. At one point the head of the Inquisition breaks into a room with all sorts of mystical chalk circles and incense and silver powder and what have you, and the wizards say "What ever you do, don't break the circles! You'll destroy the Universe as we know it!"

The chief Inquisitor's response, at this point, is to say "Ahah, you're planning something evil, I know it. And you say that breaking this circle would foil your plans? Well, even if it would mean my death, I will do it gladly, to rid the world of the likes of you."

The rest of the book, after he breaks the circle, is about the wizards trying to put the world back together again.

While no analogies are perfect, obviously, the behaviour of the Bush administration had a lot of similarities: its refusal to listen to people who are not theologically pure, its sheer and utter determination to follow its own agenda, the primacy of belief and tactics over reason and facts. Tonight threw up three examples.

A moonbase! No, let's go to Mars! No, both!

I don't have much to add to what Gregg Easterbrook has said (via Atrios) - in summary, that building a moonbase is scientifically pointless and prohibitively expensive, and would be no use for sending men to Mars, which would also be prohibitively expensive. I'd add, personally, that I'd like to see us getting unmanned missions to Mars right before we send people there. The success rate is 50% this year, and 33% all in all, I believe, which is not something I'd be too happy about for a manned mission.

Matthew Yglesias adds:

Even as a political gambit this is a bit weird -- surely a more generous Medicare benefit would buy you more votes-per-dollar. And if you want a giveaway to aerospace constractors why not just push for even more defense spending? It almost seems to me like Karl Rove was just sitting around his office trying to figure out how he could really piss me off and he (correctly) decided this would do it.

Ezra Klein in Pandagon expands on this:

Bush could rally Americans around curing cancer, ending world hunger, rebuilding shattered societies, remaking our communities, recreating civic participation or any of a huge number of issues that face humanity in the near future. But instead, he's rallying Americans around something that they can't possibly be personally involved in and, in the scheme of things, is not the most pressing of causes.

I'll note that, as yet, Bush has not actually announced what his major Space initiative is, so to some degree this brickbatting is premature. But, nonetheless, the fundamental problem with Space is that it costs too much to get from Earth into orbit, and then from there to elsewhere in the Solar System. Oh, and the Space Shuttle is a 20-year-old implementation of a 1970s design. That's the main problem with the Space programme, not whether we want to go back to the Moon to see if it's still there, and still made of rocks.

No discussion in the Bush cabinet

Ron Suskind is due to bring out a book about the workings of the Bush administration, The Price of Loyalty, fuelled partly by confidences from Paul O'Neill, Bush's first Treasury Secretary. Says CBS (via Calpundit, who has more on this issue):

A lack of dialogue, according to O'Neill, was the norm in cabinet meetings he attended. The president "was like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people," O'Neill is quoted saying in the book.

It was similar in one-on-one meetings, says O'Neill. Of his first such meeting with the president, O'Neill says, "I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage [him] on...I was surprised it turned out me talking and the president just listening...It was mostly a monologue."

There's more in the Washington Post (bizarrely):

In making the blind man analogy, O'Neill told CBS his ex-boss did not encourage a free flow of ideas or open debate.

"There is no discernible connection," CBS quoted O'Neill as saying. The president's lack of engagement left his advisers with "little more than hunches about what the president might think," O'Neil said, according to the program.

To which the Bush Administration's response is:

"It's well known the way the president approaches governing and setting priorities," says White House Spokesman Scott McClellan. "The president is someone that leads and acts decisively on our biggest priorities, and that is exactly what he'll continue to do."

Shorter McClellan: This isn't news; the President doesn't waver.

This response spectacularly fails to address any of the criticisms in the programmes. It sounds so much like a non-denial denial that I can only assume that O'Neill is, in fact, speaking the truth. It certainly gibes with what we know already, that Bush doesn't read newspapers, because his staff can do no wrong.

Remember, also, that the Clinton administration was preparing to bomb Al Qaeda, but decided not to do so because they were a lame-duck administration and didn't have the right to impose a policy on the next President. Instead, they briefed the new team extensively on the threat from terrorism - only to see the Bush team do nothing, until September 11th.

Now, you could vaguely excuse Bush & co. for not trusting the Clintons. But if O'Neill is correct, Bush (and his people?) had a tendency to not listen to anybody. This report removes one of the last remaining excuses the Bush administration had for underestimating Osama bin Laden, and that's something that deserves to be repeated.

Incidentally, compare this with this wonderful quote about Wes Clark:

Always, he thought unconventionally. General Scales, his classmate, offered this: "They say in the military that you bring to your boss three solutions: one that's too hot, one that's too cold and one that's just right. That's called the Goldilocks solution. You have an answer and you steer him to it.

"Wes doesn't recognize the Goldilocks solution. He'll say: `Well maybe we shouldn't eat any porridge. And why are there bears in here? And who is this Goldilocks character wandering around? And by the way, what is the whole purpose of fairy tales?' And this drives some people nuts."

Religion, science and morality? They're all the same

The last story tonight is the latest from the Associated Press' wingnut hack in residence, Nedra Pickler (you know the country's going wrong when the wire services are pushing politically biased reporting). In Dean Criticizes Bush Over Stem Cells, the first paragraph reads:

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean on Friday criticized President Bush for restricting stem-cell research based on religious beliefs even though his own faith affected his decision to extend legal rights to gay couples.

I don't know where to begin. I mean, the UK press isn't that bad.

OK. Let's start with what's actually going on.

  • In 2000, Howard Dean, as governor of Vermont, signed into a law a Civil Unions bill that granted the same rights (insurance, inheritance, hospital visitation) to gay or lesbian couples as married heterosexual couples.
  • In 2001, Bush announced a moratorium on harvesting of stem cells, citing the sanctity of human life.
  • Howard Dean recently said that his religious beliefs contributed to him making that decision: "The hallmark of Christianity is to reach out to people who have been left behind."
  • He also recently criticised Bush for letting religious beliefs get in the way of good science.

Is there a contradiction? No.

Dean's decision was only partly backed up by religion - indeed, until recently (and some people are deeply unimpressed by this latest addition to the story), he didn't mention religion at all when explaining why he campaigned for civil unions. You could have reached the same decision without using religion at all - it's a matter of ethics, political theory, or, very probably, both. Equality of rights before the law is a fairly solid, consistent tenet for most people in Western democracies, and you don't need to be religious to favour Howard Dean's ultimate position. (I'm all for it, and I'm an atheist.)

Bush's decision, however, was not only based purely on religion, but actually went counter to the scientific evidence available to him at the time. Scientists came to him and said that stem-cell research could potentially cure Alzheimer's and a number of other diseases, and he said "Forget it, God is against it. I know it, because I believe."

I deeply hope that, come this time next year, the US has an intelligent, inquisitive, challenging, consensus-building President that will do something to address the country and the world's problems. Either Dean or Clark would be fine candidates - although I prefer Dean myself. But for the good of the country, it cannot, must not, be Bush.