Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Bus of State

New Business: Driving a Bus

As President Bush's approval ratings descend, I am concerned that he might be made the scapegoat for others who are just as morally responsible for the failures of this administration as he is.

By this, I mean his most loyal supporters, who show such low moral and rational sense that they still praise this Administration.

Bush would not have amounted to much if not for the loyal support and hard work of a large number of influential individuals and an army of individual soldiers. He is the representative of a philosophy that has, by now, demonstrated its moral and intellectual bankruptcy.

In spite of this, there are people who still think that God picked Bush as the ruler of His people. Consequently, any who criticize Bush are criticizing God. Preserving one's faith in Bush and the ultimate success in his policies is comparable to preserving one's faith in God and the ultimate success of His policies.

It is that way of thinking, not just Bush the man, that is responsible for the current situation.

Choosing Drivers

Assume that you are about to take a bus trip. There are two busses. The driver of one bus has put on a blindfold. He says that he is going to navigate the treacherous mountain road ahead by faith alone, and will trust to God to guide him. He will pray as hard as any man can pray for guidance. He tells us that this is the safest and surest way to make it through the troubled times ahead.

The driver of the other bus intends to navigate the road by looking out the window. He will determine whether to make a sharp left turn by looking to see if the road makes a sharp left turn. If he comes to a railroad crossing, he will stop, look, and listen for trains -- trusting to what he sees and hears to determine if it is safe to proceed.

The Map

The blindfolded driver of the first bus tries to comfort us by claiming to have a navigator. The navigator insists that it is a sin to look out the window. He says that the view out the window was put there by Satin to deceive us and to weaken our faith in the map that he has acquired. Consequently, he never looks up from the map. He never looks out the window to compare what is out there with what the map says. He cannot allow anything to get in the way of his certain knowledge that the map must be right. Using the map, he gives the blindfolded driver instructions about how far to go, and in which direction. He trusts the map to be literally true in all respects.

He says this in spite of the fact that we know that the map was created 2,000 years ago by a map maker who never traveled through the mountains. He made the map after hearing stories from somebody who once talked to somebody who was friends with a man who claimed is said to have traveled through the mountains.

We also know that there are literally thousands of maps, and millions of different interpretations to any one map. The maps themselves disagree with each other in important details. Our navigator insists that his is the one correct and true map incapable of being wrong. Though, in fact, we know that he merely picked the map that was handed to him by his parents.

I want you to think about actually standing in a parking lot when this bus, with its blindfolded driver and navigator who insists that his interpretation of an ancient map must necessarily be flawless. Think about how likely it would be that this team could actually navigate the mountain.

All Aboard

Unfortunately, we have no choice. We live under circumstances where we must board the bus regardless of who the driver is. If a majority of the voters select a blindfolded driver and a navigator who considers himself incapable of error, then that is what we must do.

When the empiricists among us look out the window and shout that they can see a sharp left turn up ahead, the faith-based among us dismiss the claim by saying that it is not on the map. The blindfolded driver says that he prayed to God to help him decide whether ot turn or go straight, and God has answered his prayers.

In fact, the faith-based passengers scoff, ridicule, and denigrate those passengers who think that looking out the window might actually have merit. They assert that the empiricists are dangerous, because they weaken our faith and our trust in God. Every time they point out that the road curves, where the map goes straight, they are attempting to lead the faithful away from God. For this, they are to be condemned.

One of the greatest reasons giving for holding the empiricists with contempt is that they might persuade the children to drive by actually looking out the windows as well. Those children will lose their faith in God, and we can’t tolerate allowing that to happen.

Children who are taught to drive by observation rather than faith, they claim, lose their moral compass. They will become liars, thieves, rapists, and murderers. They will become just the type of people who will torture others, sometimes to death. They are just the type of people who will grow up to engage in kidnapping (aka ‘rendition’), imprisonment without a trial, rob and enslave the poor in service to the rich and powerful, and who will think it acceptable to spy on their neighbors at will. All of these evils, they declare, are what happens when children are taught to trust their eyes, rather than the voice of God in their heads.

When the empiricists point out the window and say that the Global Warming Express is coming down the tracks, the Advocates of the Blindfold Driver send members to paint a scene on the window that hides the train. They then point at the picture they painted and say that the possibility of a collision is ‘highly dubious’. They also paint pictures to hide the evidence that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and that life evolved from other forms of life.

Two Methods of Map Reading

This is not written as a condemnation of all religion. Most religious people do not despair at looking at the window. They, too, believe that the map is flawless. They may begin by thinking that a symbol represents a bridge. Yet, when they look out the window and see the road cut through a hill, they simply say, "Okay, that symbol apparently does not represent a bridge. It represents a cut through the hill.”

In this same way, they look at the real world and see that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and that life evolved from simpler forms to the types we see today. They look through the telescope and agree that everything does not, in fact, revolve around the Earth. So, they look at their map and say, “Okay, this map is not saying that the earth is the center of everything.”

These people do not like the idea of painting illusions on the windows. They agree that driving this way would be dangerous.

This posting is about the minority – the thirty percent or so – who cannot bring themselves to look out the window, because they might have difficulty squaring what they see with the map.


The next question to ask is: Let us assume that there really was a group of people who insisted on being allowed to drive while blindfolded. Whenever anybody criticizes them – whenever people suggest that letting them drive is not such a good idea – they scream that they are victims of religious persecution.

If they were driving around on their own land, taking care not to do harm to others if they should be wrong, then little can be said against them. Again, the problems I am writing about occur when they are driving through areas filled with pedestrians. The type of problems I am writing about are those that occur when they insist that a blindfold and prayer is the only legitimate way to drive a car.

As I said at the start of this essay, we have now seen the effect of driving the bus that is the United States while wearing a blindfold, trusting to the guidance of people who have shut their eyes to the real world when deciding where to turn and how fast to go.

We have ridden in this bus with the blindfolded driver and myopic navigator long enough. At the next opportunity to replace drivers, we need to make sure that drivers we pick are those who are much better skilled at looking out the window at the real world and making sound judgments based on the facts.

As a final note: I would not even dream of suggesting that no Democrat has put on such a blindfold. Nor am I going to suggest that the only maps that myopic navigators use are religious. We should recognize that the lessons we should be drawing from the failures of the Bush administration have a broader application.

Announcement: Carnival of the Godless 38

I keep forgetting about this. I’m sorry. I’m typically thinking mostly of sleep by the time I get these things published. However, this episode of the Carnival of the Godless contains my story “The Meaning of Life”, and a bunch of other really good stuff.

Surprisingly, when I submitted this story, I did not even think of the connection between Easter and the fact that the story talks about hidden eggs. However, the carnival host for this week, A Rational Being, caught the coincidence .

Please pay them a visit.

Old Business: Situation Ethics

A few posts back, I wrote about how those who claim that religion gives them a solid moral foundation, who then strut around all puffed up with pride that they do not cotton to those ‘situation ethics’ that make others so worthy of contempt and degradation, seem to embrace situation ethics at every turn, in practice.

Today, I came across a story in Rolling Stone magazine that concerns whether Bush could actually be “The Worst President in History, ” according to a survey of academic historians.

the undeniable champion “winner of the award investigates describes Bush as caught in reading "bush worst president", I came across three quotes that illustrated the religious right's affection for situational ethics.

Bush's alarmingly aberrant take on the Constitution is ironic. One need go back in the record less than a decade to find prominent Republicans railing against far more minor presidential legal infractions as precursors to all-out totalitarianism. "I will have no part in the creation of a constitutional double-standard to benefit the president," Sen. Bill Frist declared of Bill Clinton's efforts to conceal an illicit sexual liaison. "No man is above the law, and no man is below the law -- that's the principle that we all hold very dear in this country," Rep. Tom DeLay asserted. "The rule of law protects you and it protects me from the midnight fire on our roof or the 3 a.m. knock on our door," warned Rep. Henry Hyde, one of Clinton's chief accusers. In the face of Bush's more definitive dismissal of federal law, the silence from these quarters is deafening.

In light of current events, we see that these are truly people who live only by those moral principles that are useful at the moment -- principles that are discarded the instant their usefulness fades.

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