Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Bad Faith and Dead Kennedys

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

When Galileo was compelled to recant, it is said that he muttered inaudibly under his breath: "...but it does move". Earth, of course. The Catholic Church had maintained its doctrine of an unmoving Earth in unmoving space, from a noumenal 'God's eye view'. I may recant if someone holds a gun on me, but I will always be in danger of muttering too loudly and blowing my cover. Galileo was threatened with death.

If I should be compelled to recant my liberal, progressive views of both politics and metaphysics, it will be because the American right wing will have created and enforced a dictatorship of both the very stupid and those who choose to be ignorant, a 'faith based dictatorship' , a 'faith based tyranny'.

Those who know better but rationalize their accommodation with such a dictatorship epitomize what Existentialists call 'bad faith'. Any school curriculum, any dictatorship derived from either deliberate ignorance or 'bad faith' must be opposed, nipped in the bud, eventually overthrown, crushed and replaced upon true democratic and egalitarian principles subject to reality checks, pragmatic expectations, good sense, good faith.
Belief in God is one of many forms of "bad faith" (mauvais foi). Bad faith, according to Sartre, is the human attempt to escape from freedom and responsibility — and from the anguish, forlornness, and despair that are the existential consequences of freedom and responsibility in a world without God. This escape [or] evasion may take place through the vain attempt of theistic religion to synthesize the in-itself with the for-itself in the concept of God
--Notes on Sartre
My views are entirely consistent with religion based upon 'good faith'. Is there such a religion? I am at odds with 'bad faith'. Faith, itself, does not require proof or even meaningful sentences. Faith is just that: faith. Logically, 'certitude' --which is certainly the best word to describe the more militant fundamentalist churches --is inconsistent with faith, though fundamentalists claim to have it. They don't. They have certitude which is inconsistent with faith,

One cannot have faith if one is certain and if one is certain faith is not required. Many modern fundamentalists profess a 'faith' called Christianity but insist that the tenets of that 'faith' are 'factual' and must, therefore be taught in public schools at public expense. If that were true, why do evangelists preach 'faith' under tents and/or super churches? Which 'way' do they prefer their fundamentalist Christianity? Forced upon a populace or freely chosen by free people?

'Militant Christians like Sarah Palin cannot have it both ways. Either their beliefs are a matter of faith and therefore inappropriate in a science curriculum. Or they are a matter of truth or falsity: if proven true, they are taught! If proven false, they are banned from public schools for that reason alone. For that reason alone the teaching of a religious dogma in any guise is inappropriate in a science classroom.

By definition, religion must not be militant. When it is, it ceases to be religion. Even the fundamentalist baptist church I grew up in 'preached' that the acceptance of Christ must be chosen freely! It follows, then, that if coerced or induced through brainwashing or social pressure, the choice is not free. Like a bad vaccination, it doesn't 'take'. Religious views of any sort may be taught dispassionately in Anthropology curricula. It is completely inappropriate, however, to teach in public tax supported school systems any religion as anything other than a sociological or anthropological phenomenon.

That brings up the matter of William Jennings Bryan who was, in many respects, a very admirable and honest person. But at Dayton, TN he supported efforts of the state to impose upon a curriculum a religious agenda. As I have pointed out: by definition, 'faith' cannot be imposed. Any oath imposed by law or coerced at the point of a gun or threat of excommunication is invalid. The very notion is self-contradictory.

A more recent example is Sarah Palin who has a record of trying to put 'creationists' on School Boards so that local school districts may be forced to teach 'creationism', a pseudo science which has no business in a public school system. This is not a matter of faith; said 'creationists' believe their theory to be fact not merely the religious faith that their acts seem designed to conceal. They have made this a political issue! It is now fair game for debate, fair game for richly deserved ridicule, fair game for uncompromising opposition, fair game for unapologetic scientific refutation.

As John McCain sought the Presidency, Cafferty said of Sarah Palin "this woman is one 72 year old's heartbeat away from the White House and if that doesn't scare you it should." It is no less frightening than the inquisition, no less frightening than the Pope who forced Galileo to recant, no less frightening than a bad ruling in Dayton, TN where Clarence Darrow had defended the rights of a young teacher to present to his classes the Darwinian point of view.

As 'science', the 'creationist' ideology is easily disproved. David Dawkins was challenged recently to prove creationism false! I do not recall Dawkins' response but my own was but one sentence: if we can look up at the sky at night and see Andromeda, 'creationists' are wrong! Andromeda has been proven to be some 2 million light years distant. This result can be duplicated easily enough by scientists but even amateur astronomers can achieve the same confirmation. With a bit of Trig and parallax, the distance to Andromeda can be determined even by amateur astronomers. We see Andromeda as it was some 2 million years ago; therefore, the creationist belief that the universe is very young and the earth itself just six thousand years old is very, very wrong. To make the point: if we can see Andromeda at all, 'creationism' is not only wrong, it is not science ---but faith. At last, every galaxy and every nebula, every object seen in the Hubble Deep Space photo to the right utterly disproves Sarah Palin and her followers and it does so decisively. There are many more objects much more distant than Andromeda and they are easily discerned by the Hubble telescope. That we can see them, Palin is disproved.

The 'creationist' position with regard to the teaching of 'creationism' in public schools is a straw man. Every curriculum I have ever seen teaches all science as method, theory and verification. If it does not do this, it is not science. But creationism is not science, not even scientific theory, subject not to verification but religion, accepted upon 'faith' and requiring no confirmation as a result of observation and scientific method.

Because of the genius of our founders, people are free to act upon their religious convictions and may worship in the church of their choice –or not! Nevertheless, a 'religious conviction' must never be confused with a verifiable fact. A religious conviction must never be taught or compelled of anyone at tax payer expense.

There are many things in which I have faith. But, I would hope never to make the mistake of trying to prosecute those do not share my faith. In the meantime, both of us are free to argue until the last dying, red sunset.

While the Left has historically challenged us to think for ourselves in matters of science and reason, the right wing aligns with superstition, certitude and the authoritarian imposition of both. That is the very definition of 'right wing'. One is what what does and 'right wingers' in almost every instance oppose experiment, pragmatism, science and the corollaries --free speech and inquiry. Right wingers oppose, therefore, the very tenets upon which Western Civilization rests.

I respect those who profess a faith in 'good faith'. Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertolt Brecht addressed what it means to have integrity far more persuasively than any 'bible thumping' fundamentalist preacher that I had been forced, as a child, to endure. Both Sartre and Brecht addressed the issue of bad faith, essentially, the 'condition' in which an individual appropriates a false notion of self and as an inevitable result, the world. Bertolt Brecht summed it up bluntly: "A man who does not know the truth is just an idiot but a man who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a crook". The fashion photographer Richard Avedon was more succinct: "You cannot expect another man to carry your shit!"


The GOP --as a whole --is premised upon 'bad faith' derived either from 'religion' espoused in 'bad faith' or GOP exploitation of religion to get votes. The names Reagan and Bush come to mind. To that extent much or all organized religion in America --especially the 'super churches' -- is but a mass manifestation of 'bad faith'. I believe it to be dangerous and subversive.

People do not seek religion because they wish to be moral. People seek religion because they are fearful –fearful of truth, fearful of responsibility, fearful of dying! I doubt there is any statistical correlation between the espousal of religion and morality except the incidental one that in order to pretend to be moral, you cannot afford to be caught being immoral. Many a tel-evangelist has been caught with his pants down or fly undone having earlier told his 'flock' to keep their own zipped up!

I am in good company when criticized for raising doubts among the faithful. Upon his conviction on similar charges, Socrates was forced to drink hemlock. He might have saved himself had he recanted --a tactic favored by the establishment. The tactic is a Faustian bargain in which one trades his soul for his life. Because he believed that "a man's soul is his self" –an existentialist point of view --St. Thomas More turned down the offer. In Robert Bolt's great play A Man for All Seasons, More tells his daughter, Meg:
"...when a man takes an oath, Meg, he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water and if he opens his fingers - he needn't hope to find himself again".
A description of 'bad faith'.

Later, when More is sold out by the ambitious Richard Rich: "Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... But for Wales ----?"

Another great existentialist play from the period is Jean Anouilh's Becket; ou l'honneur de Dieu. As the title suggests, Becket, having first served his King with distinction, found his 'honor' in the service of "God". To act contrary to that would have been, for Becket, the supreme act of 'bad faith'. Forced to make the existential choice, Becket chose the honor of God above his duty to his King. Simplistically, he lost his life --murdered in the Cathedral --but saved his soul. By contrast, poor Galileo saved only his life.

I saw both 'Beckett' and 'A Man for All Seasons' in the same year in which I heard Stokely Carmichael address an audience at Cullen Auditorium on the University of Houston campus. It was historic --Stokely Carmichael's promise to keep alive the revolution that the assassinations of RFK and Martin Luther King Jr seemingly ended. With them, the 'dream' died.

JFK could have, might have made the Faustian bargain with the Bush crime family that even then, via the Sr Bush, directed the CIA effort against Cuba. Instead, JFK refused to provide air cover for the abortive 'Bay of Pigs', a CIA operation. He also promised to 'smash the CIA into a thousand pieces'. Whomever benefited from the murder of JFK is guilty of it. With some effort and the utter rejection of the obvious cover stories, JFKs killers would most certainly have been brought to justice. The guilty are always most motivated to lie about a crime and the most pernicious lie about the JFK assassination is the magic bullet theory.

RFK threatened the same people. Just recently, a BBC documentary established that RFKs 'killers' were most certainly CIA. Martin Luther King, of course, represented the 'black' revolution that would have rocked the establishment. He too was a threat to the CIA. Many years later, a little known self-professed 'liberal', Steve Kangas, would publish to his website, 'Liberal Resurgent', an article exposing a sordid history of of CIA crimes and interventions from Guatamala to Cuba, from Iran-Contra to Watergate. The article is entitled: The Origin of the Overclass. Kangas would be found dead in a men's room in the Pittsburgh office building owned and occupied by Richard Mellon Scaife, the spider behind the effort to impeach Bill Clinton. Kangas, it is said, committed suicide by shooting himself twice in the mouth! It is a story that one must accept upon bad faith.

All of this 'odd' history is explained easily enough: coincidence. It is only coincidence that the dead Kennedys had also been a threat to the CIA. It is only coincidence that Kangas had zeroed in on conservative crimes and BS just as Scaife was bankrolling a jihad against Clinton. It was just coincidence that Bush Sr was hanging around the front entrance to the Texas School Book depository just minutes prior to the murder of JFK. It was just coincidence that tramps looking like E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis et al were arrested for just hanging around the rail road tracks that run north and south just behind the grassy knoll. It was just coincidence that Martin Luther King Jr seemed to have prophesied his own death with his 'I Have a Dream' speech.

If a man's soul is his 'self', then one may never find it in 'organized religion', a standardized tour through preconceived dogma. By definition, every individual must take this journey and experience it for him/herself. Because it differs with each individual, it cannot become scripture. However, the 'form' seems always the same: the 'individual, in crisis, is given a choice: his life or his soul. It is no coincidence that this 'form' is likewise the structure of almost every work of literature worth reading or watching. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who summed it all up in one sentence: 'A man is nothing else but what he makes of himself!'



Darwin, Darwin and Dayton


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