About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Traitors go to Hell?

“Traitors go to Hell” is one of the disgusting signs that so-called “patriots” have been carrying at an anti-anti-war rally in Washington, DC yesterday. More than 100,000 people protested the insanity of the Bush-Cheney war, and – predictably – 160 of them were arrested by the ever overzealous police, in a stunning visual demonstration that we are much closer to fascism than most of us would like to concede.

But let me go back to the invitation to go to Hell. I'm not trying to make a subtle theological point here (like, Hell? What the hell are you talking about, simpleton?), but rather a political one. Specifically, I would really be interested in knowing exactly what in the alleged teachings of Jesus virtually guarantees (if history is any indication) a steady alliance between Christians and the military (remember the Crusades, if you wonder what I'm talking about).

Why is that? Granted, the jealous and small-minded god of the Old Testament incited his followers to one carnage after another, directly condoning genocide, ethnic cleansing and abortion (as in passing the enemy's pregnant women through the sword) and still had the balls to claim the moral high ground, giving his people “the law” according to which they ought to behave.

But the New Testament was supposed to have introduced a nicer, gentler god, whose new “present the other cheek” attitude was to override the “Father's" sociopathic streak (yes, I know that even Jesus had his moments invoking swords and condoning violence, but still, one has to make the comparison with what preceded him – morality evolves slowly).

There is a famous Italian song by Fabrizio De Andre` about the Ten Commandments which is appropriate to this discussion. The story in the song is told from the point of view of one of the bandits allegedly crucified with Jesus. The lyrics at one point point say:

Lo Sanno a memoria il diritto divino
ma scordano sempre il perdono

(They have memorized the divine law, but they always forget the part about forgiveness)

Oh, by the way, a “patriot” is someone who loves his country enough to want it to go in the right direction, and it follows that a true patriot is occasionally called to question those in charge, even at the risk of going to jail or being told he's going to an imaginary place where he would be in some of the best company in the world. A patriot, on the other hand, is most certainly not someone like Bush and Cheney, who has lied to the American people from the beginning, inventing excuses for a war they were itching to get started regardless of 9/11 and bin Laden (by the way, is he in Hell yet?), likely stealing an election or two to keep in power, and spying on their own citizens in the name of a war that isn't (one does not fight wars against terrorism, any more than one fights them against drugs or cancer).

The most pernicious development of the last twenty years or so is not the war on terror, but the newly reforged alliance between religious nuts and political ideologues – in the Middle East as much as in the good ol' U.S. of A. That is the common enemy of humanity, to hell with everything else.


  1. "Specifically, I would really be interested in knowing exactly what in the alleged teachings of Jesus virtually guarantees (if history is any indication) a steady alliance between Christians and the military"

    Well you are correct that that has been the predominant trend, but lets not forget the long minority tradition of Christian pacifism. The link below gives Biblical references for those beliefs. Why do so many American (and other) Christians ignore those passages?


    And I suppose it is further evidence how incoherent Biblical religion can be that Christians
    can justify contradictory beliefs with reference to the same book.

    Furthermore, pacifism as some absolute inflexible principle is pretty irrational as well.

  2. I think it not the best practice to speak flippantly or casually about spiritual matters such as hell (judgment) or even the wicked One, (the Devil)
    meaning: "from Latin diabolus, from Late Greek diabolos, from Greek, slanderer".

    The truth of the matter is, none of us literally knows who will be judged to eternal damnation. We do actually know, however, that ALL PERSONS ever born will be judged. (including the sign holders) And is that really such an objectionable thing? In terms of accounting principles, don't you want to be assured that those amongst us who have caused incredible grief and suffering for mother's and children in the Sudan and Darfur (for instance) will be judged for this?

    I do.

    In my HO, knowing about the potential for judgment is not what tends to cause people to become interested in being right with God. Actually it is quite the opposite.
    As for what our political foes "deserve", altho I will always feel that it is good to speak the truth on "the issues", we who believe certainly do not want to be found doing the work of the "Slanderer".

    Mat 5:43 ¶ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
    Mat 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
    Mat 5:46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
    Mat 5:47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others]? do not even the publicans so?
    (blue letter bible)


  3. "We do actually know, however, that ALL PERSONS ever born will be judged."

    Oh, we do huh? Now how do we know that, Cal?

    "In terms of accounting principles, don't you want to be assured that those amongst us who have caused incredible grief and suffering for mother's and children in the Sudan and Darfur (for instance) will be judged for this?"

    It is one of the very unfortunate facts of reality that some who do very evil deeds sometimes escape human imposed justice, and thus escape justice completely. Sucks!

    However, given that there is a Bible verse that condemns and equates disbelief in God with the worst of actual crimes against persons, I am actually quite relieved that your beliefs are most likely false.

    p.s. Cal, isn't it time you set up a blogger account, so as not to be "anonymous".

  4. Cal, where is your evidence for "knowing" that we'll all be judged.
    Oh, and FYI, before the Greek (mis)translation of the Bible, the word wasn't "devil" but "satan", which merely means "opposer", or "giver ofthe other viewpoint". That's because Xianity is based on Mithraic dualism (a sort of Near Eastern yin/yang) within the worship of Mithras (the Sumerian sun god).
    Matthew 10:21: And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child; andthe children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.
    Matthew 10:34 to 36: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.
    For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
    And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
    Luke 19:27: But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me.
    Not much gaity and love thy neighbour there, then.

  5. I've addressed the "anonymous" problem before, but will go at it one more once. You needn't have a blogger account to avoid the "a nony mouse" moniker. Simply click on the "other button under the "choose an identy" section below and you will have your name in black and white (as opposed to blue) at the head of your post.

    It's so easy a caveman could do it. This old curmudgeonly retired trucker driver has been doing it ever since I stared reading and posting on Massimo's blog.

  6. that ALL PERSONS ever born will be judged

    Yes, some will be judged by history, some will be judged by surviving relatives, friends, and some judged by decendants, but no one is going to be judged in an afterlife by some cloud being.

  7. The duty of a patriot is to always speak the truth about one's country. If that truth is unpleasant, then its airing will ideally spur the nation to correct its flaws.

    The equation of patriotism with cheerleading is pernicious. I can't remeber which Founding Father called patriotism the "last refuge of the scoundrel", but he sure was right.

  8. @thumpalumpacus - that was actually Samuel Johnson (coincidence: his birthday today!)

    From Boswell's Life of Johnson:

    Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." But let it be considered that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak of self- interest.

  9. Alliance of religion and military? Well, to me it seems quite obvious -- which worries me, because obvious answers have a knack for being wrong.

    But I guess both endeavors strive to suppress thinking, while fostering blind obedience and allegiance to some ethereal concept. If you have very religious people, they are already used to being told what to do, what to believe, whom to obey etc. Not that it can't happen in other parts of people's lives, but I think religion is specially good at suppressing thought and freedom following orders?
    (one can argue that, in practice, things are different; but in any case, can you picture a sargent asking the privates how they feel and what they think would be they would like to do, and let's have a vote...?)

    Sorry for the friends, here in this blog and out, who were or are in the military, but in the immortal words of Megadeth:

    "Military intelligence, two words combined that can't make sense."

    I guess you could put religion there in place of military and it would still fit...

  10. Oh, and I forgot to add that thing I always say when this subject raises its ugly head: patriotism is for monkeys. :-)

  11. J,
    I think we can summarize part of what you are saying in one word:


    Of course it is a practical neccessity for the military that it be authoritarian, at least to a certain extent.

    Speaking of critical thinking soldiers. They do exist. I highly recommend the film "Ground Truth", about Iraq veteran dissenting soldiers. The film is out on DVD and you can get it through Netflix.

    Also, if you go to HBO's website, you can watch "Alive Day" on line. It is a powerful and sad film about severely wounded soldiers. It pissed me off so much to see these young people sent over there, and lose so much for a war of choice, based on a lie.

    Some say, for example Alonzo Fife over at the Atheist Ethicist blog, that he is concerned that a withdrawl from Iraq would boost Al Qaeda's morale. "Alive Day" quite graphically shows what really boosts Al Qaeda's morale.

  12. It seems to me that the connection between the military and religion is an over generalization to the point of meaninglessness. Sure, people in the military and people who support armed conflict are probably more religious than average, but there may be confounding factors. For example, military service is good paying job for people without a lot of education, and people without a lot of education tend to be more religious, as far as I am aware. So it could be correlation without causation. That said, there are plenty of great people in the military that are there for the right reasons. Though now retired, Wes Clark is a great example in my opinion. Also, there are plenty of religious people that are pacifist to the point of absurdity (though I'll take unwarranted pacifism over unwarranted aggression any day!). The point is, you can use religion to justify anything you want, and people do. I wish people would stop attributing their absurd beliefs to 'god' and actually consider their actual origin. oh well...

  13. "But I guess both endeavors strive to suppress thinking, while fostering blind obedience and allegiance to some ethereal concept." -- J

    As an Air Force veteran of the first Gulf War, I as never expected to give blind obedience. From basic training forward, I was told that I was expected to think. When I did ask questions, I was not censured or punished in any way. I made my atheism plain, and when we invaded Panama, I made my disapproval known. I knew the war in Kuwait was about oil, and said as much, with no recriminations. Of course, anecdotes aren't evidence, but I'll wager that my experience is not unique by a long shot.

    Sorry 'bout the fillipic, but I get pretty tired of the GI-as-robot stereotypes that are passed around, usually by those who've never worn the uniform. Rote training, as well as thinking, is a sure route to defeat.

    And thanks for the correction, ridger. The quote is more pertinent than ever nowaday.

  14. Look here, you big mouth, if you had been living under Saddam dictatorship, wouldn´t you wish for somebody to try and rescue you? If you were being tortured in one of Saddam´s prisons, would you like if somebody would stop it? If your wife or daughter were being raped every day by Saddam´s sons, wouldn´t you be happy if you knew the americans were coming?

  15. Tina, these people are so happy they're shooting US soldiers to prove it...

  16. Ha, sounds like someone drank too much of the Faux News kool-aid.

    So, Tina, give me just one metric of life quality that was worse in Iraq under Saddam than it is now under... chaos. I mean, tens of people wouldn't randomly die every day under Saddam, would they? Obviously Saddam and his regime were no good (and what to say about their sponsor, the USA?), but nothing is so bad it can't get worse, innit?

    You know, it probably sounds patronizing and maybe is indeed, but I'd say some societies are just not evolved enough socio-politically to be "democratic". They are either held together by a dictator, or they don't exist at all and break apart as soon as the central fear factor is gone. Guess what's the case in Iraq?

  17. Chris, good point on the causation x correlation, and amount of poor people there. But I don't know if that would explain the people OUT of the military who are so hawkish AND religious at the same time -- even when they are not poor. Or is this all just a cliche that has no real basis in reality?


    I see your point, and I kinda tried to account for cases like yours in my post, but failed. But nonetheless, what you say makes little sense (although I acknowledge I never been in the military, so I can't really say much apart from personal opinion). WHAT did they want you to think about? I would say that you just mentioned something obvious. Of course you have to think there to get to your objectives, whatever they are. Obviously things will not be the way you trained before. But do they encourage soldiers to question their officers, really? That would be weird, how can armed forces function if every one does as s/he pleases? No matter how much you disagreed with what was going on, I guess you had to do what you were told. No?

    I guess what I said could apply to a civilian life in corporate world too... But McDonald's does not usually send their employees to kill people, so there probably is some problem os scope here or something.

    Glad to hear you had no trouble speaking your mind there, but the stories we hear usually go to a different tune. Bias in reporting or was your experience atypical?

  18. J --

    I don't argue that my experience was typical, not at all. However, it certainly, as I wrote, was not unique. And yes, constant questioning does lead to a breakdown in discipline. The windmill I am tilting at, however, is the cliché that soldiers must by dint of occupation be robotic.

    I would argue that this stereotype is prevalent for a couple of reasons:

    1)The vast majority of people have no experience in the military;

    2)For this vast majority, the only words they hear from the military are by some LtCol in charge of PR who has received the sermon from the Pentagon's Mount and is repeating it -- or the carefully selected servicemen interviewed for TV news, newspapers, etc.

    Your statement that "No matter how much you disagreed with what was going on, I guess you had to do what you were told. No?" is absolutely false, in the American armed forces. Every trainee is taught about the Geneva Convention (except our generals, it would appear, heh), and is taught that any order which is not lawful vis, the GC or US law, not only may be refused, but must be refused. Does this place the objector's career at risk? It can, yes (one must be very certain of one's ground). But that does not remove the moral obligation to refuse the order, nor does it remove the legal obligation to refuse an illegal order. Again, this was taught to EVERY basic trainee when I inducted, and Calley's example at My Lai was cited. I bet Abu Ghraib will be used as well nowadays, as it was every bit the moral failure that My Lai was.

  19. "You know, it probably sounds patronizing and maybe is indeed, but I'd say some societies are just not evolved enough socio-politically to be "democratic". They are either held together by a dictator, or they don't exist at all and break apart as soon as the central fear factor is gone. Guess what's the case in Iraq?"

    You wouldn´t speak like that if you were one of the victims of Saddam. The case with Iraq is the same with any other one. Anybody in the world is entittled to be treated as human and not as an animal. It is not fair when the well being of some people (Saddam´s people) is at expense of the suffering of the others.

  20. If it were for reasons of chaos and violence than in that case none of the African colonies should had became independent, and South Africa should still be under the apartheid regime considering that nowadays that are much more people dying as a result of urban violence than before due to war and persecution.

  21. Tina,
    You wouldn't speak like you do if you were a victim of US imperialism. All the Iraqis have done is change one despostic regime for another. Not much freedom there. You're right that everyone is entitled to humane treatment, so where is that in the current Iraqi situation? Can you poitn to it?

  22. "You know, it probably sounds patronizing and maybe is indeed, but I'd say some societies are just not evolved enough socio-politically to be "democratic"." -- J

    Y'know, J, I think it sounds condescending becaue of the phrase "not evolved enough." I don't disagree with your general thrust, except that I don't believe it's because of a lack of cultural or social evolution. Indeed, Arabian culture has for millenia highly prized the strongman who can keep the disparate factions of tribesmen on the caravan together riding in the same direction. Remeber, the Arab culture evolved in the desert -- a harsh taskmaster indeed. So, in a way, one can say that Arab cultures do not take up democracy easily because they are overly specialized -- i.e., too evolved.

    Now that doesn't sound so condescending, no?

    And Tina -- your point about all people deserving liberty is correct, to a limited extent. I, for one, do not believe that it should be purchased with American blood. Additionally, a J alluded to, it had ought to be proper liberty and not a simulacrum.

  23. Tina is absolutely right. So are we going to go in and rescue the rest of the world suffering under dictators now? Is Burma next?

    Or are we going to face up to the fact that saving people from Saddam was a fringe benefit of our real goals (never publicly acknowledged) and not even listed as a goal until it became clear that the ones we did list were false? And that because saving them, while laudable, was not a goal, it wasn't planned for and it wasn't really accomplished? We thought that if we removed Saddam Hussein we would - poof! - get a democratic Iraq full of pro-American, oil-rich, anti-Iranian friends. But we didn't make any plans for accomplishing that - we seem to have thought it really would poof into existence.

    So we ordered our soldiers to sit and watch while the country collapsed. We removed Saddam Hussein, and in the process we broke Iraq.

    Now, breaking Iraq wasn't hard; it wasn't a real country to begin with. And by saying that I am NOT saying that Arabs can't form real countries. I'm saying that when the winners of a war (WWI in this case) go in and draw lines on a map, disregarding the peoples who live in the area, and whether they have ever been a "nation" before - whether they even LIKE each other - then that country holds together only as long as a strong authoritarian central government exists. Even well-functioning "countries" like Czechoslovakia fell apart as soon as they could. Iraq is no different.

    It can be argued that breaking Iraq - while most emphatically not what we or indeed most of the countries in the region wanted - is not such a disaster. Lord knows the Kurds don't think so. What can't be argued is that we can't put it back together again without making a despotism which would be much worse than the one we broke.

  24. Y'know, J, I think it sounds condescending becaue of the phrase "not evolved enough."

    I don't know if I agree with a strict analogy like that. I know, I was the one who started by saying "evolved" while talking about societies. But I think the parallel of biological and socio-political evolution is not very good in several aspects. The mosr fundamental reason is that biological evolution has no final goals, it's not teleological or whatever. But we can make choices about where we want our societies to go and who we want to be. So while some principles of bio evolution may apply to societies, there are things in societal evolution that have no relation to bio evolution whatsoever, I'd guess. A big one would be that environment is not everything to determine the course of a society, even if it does help ("Guns, Germs and Steel" is a good book on this). For example, most of the world is not nearly as harsh as the Middle Eastern deserts, but most of the world hasn't developed democratic societies anyway (e.g. China). And some other parts are as unforgiving, but are not dictatorships nowadays (Scandinavia, maybe?)

    And even if we do keep the bio evolution theme going, there are still some problems with your argument. First, the "Arabic" societies would not be "too evolved" (specialized would be more accurate) anymore, but living fossils. Today's conditions are very different from the ancient times where they evolved, and their once adaptive traits are now nuisances. There was a time, until some hundreds of years ago, when the Arabs kicked European arse in mostly everything. Just see the amount of vocabulary we took from them to describe math, for example. Or the fact a lot of our knowledge of the classical authors comes from translations from the Arabic. But, for some reason, they stopped somewhere along the way, and are now less "evolved" than us.

    In my view, the goal of "socio-political evolution" would be to reach a point where every person's well being is maximized, human rights (for every person) are "the" law, that type of thing. In this regard, I'd say for example that Western Europe, specially its Northern parts, is the most "evolved" society we came up with so far, while not perfect of course. My own home country (Brazil) would be quite down on that list, I'm afraid. :-(

    So, yes, I'd be being condescending, but only if you believe my metric for society evolution is bad.

  25. Colin Powell was a bit of a prophet, right? "If you break it, you have to fix it." Oof.

    I often wonder what hat man really thinks.

  26. J --

    I think our disagreement is one of terminology, not message (i.e., "specialized" vs "too evolved", given that specialization usually, but not always, involvesfurther evolution away from a standard model). It should be noted that "living fossils" are often that exactly because they have over-specialized into a niche that has subsequently shrank.

    I wouldn't propose such a simplistic argument as "environments determine political structures". Of course, there are many different reasons that a given political system is adopted, and I merely proposed one that might explain this particular case, excluding others for reasons of brevity. Islam's influence, the fallout from WWI, the European invasions of the last twelve hundred years, and other causes almost certainly entered the mix.

    I absolutely agree with your statement "I think the parallel of biological and socio-political evolution is not very good in several aspects." Such an admixture gives us stuff like Social Darwinism, genetically inherited criminal tendencies, etc.

    Finally, FWIW, I do agree with your measuring a society by how well it protects the rights of its members.


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