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.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

God called to help Detroit, likely to decline

I’m sure you have seen the silly pictures: yesterday’s New York Times ran an article entitled “Detroit churches pray for God’s bailout,” accompanied by a photo of a prayer meeting at Greater Grace Temple, a Pentecostal Church, where worshipers surrounded three SUVs (one for each of the big three automakers, though the SUVs at least were hybrids…). What a waste of human energy and potential, and what a bucket of hypocrisy. These are hard times for many families in the United States and across the world, and my heart sinks when I see once again how superstition is the common resort of people who feel so little control over their own lives.

Cardinal Adam Maida, a Roman Catholic archbishop in Detroit, wrote that “At this darkest time of the year, we proclaim that Christ is our light and Christ is our hope.” Well, yes, the days are indeed getting shorter until December 21, so this literally is the darkest time of the year, though I doubt that’s what the good cardinal was referring to (he would do well to remember that axial tilt is the reason for the season…). Ever ready to exploit tragedy, a church outside Corpus Christi (which is nowhere near Detroit) invited people to go inside and hear about “God’s bailout plan.” Hmm, do we get to fire him and withdraw his bonus if the plan fails? At the very least God should give up his private jet and start driving a hybrid.

Pentecostal Bishop Charles H. Ellis III was quoted in the Times as saying “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we need prayer.” We do? Why? What we need is a sensible government intervention (as opposed to a free handout) to save the backbone of America’s manufacturing infrastructure. What we need is to fire the CEOs of the big three and to ask both the companies and their unions for significant restructuring and concessions respectively. What we don’t need is to bamboozle people by anointing SUVs with “consecrated oil” on an altar.

“We have done all that we can do in this union, so I turn it over to the Lord,” said a U.A.W. vice president for Chrysler. Are you sure, mister? Or is this an easy way to discharge your own responsibilities as a union leader? A Dana Corporation worker refrained “We’ve got to keep the faith … All my hope is in God.” Except that unfortunately there is hardly a worse place to put his trust.

But Massimo, why do you want to take hope away from these people? Aren’t they desperate enough already? Because hope based on illusion is cruel, and it is a chief instrument of oppression and exploitation (at the cost of sounding quasi-Marxist here). These people’s energy and dreams are being channeled into the socially harmless (and absolutely useless) form of religious fervor, while what they should do instead is to strike against the automakers and march on Washington to demand rationally based action from the bands of thieves and morons who have respectively been running America’s corporations and government. But I guess that would truly be too much too hope for. Thank God I’m an atheist.


  1. Praying will not help workers, and neither will a bailout. A sensible government bailout is as likely as God's miraculous bailout.

  2. You mean you think the Government is a mythological creature with no actual powers? :)

  3. No. I rather think that they are real people who cannot walk over water or devise socially beneficial bailouts.:D

  4. Actually Massimo, I'm pretty sure god has a handle on this one. Once there is enough prayer, the recession will end and everything will back to normal. We'll know, of course, that enough people have prayed once the recession is over. Perfectly logical.

    It's also perfectly sensible that god would intervene again in this recession, since he done so much to relieve unemployment and poverty in the past (can you even think of time when people were as destitute as they are now?) and other places around the world (really, is there anywhere that is or has ever been in economic dire straights as bad as the US right now?).

    Ok, that wasn't a constructive comment. It's just too frustrating to hear about people praying for a bailout and not revert to sarcastic derision.

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  6. At least you can laugh at this and they are not harming anyone. Before reading this I had stumbled across a video of a beheading in Iraq by some extremists affiliated to the "religion of peace" (which I will not mention to avoid offending the politically correct). In their case, praying next to a car would be reaching a human height which is currently way beyond their grasp.

    Oh btw Massimo do you really present yourself as an atheist, not just agnostic? Interesting. John Maynard Smith once said you can't really be sure, can you?

  7. Ok, that wasn't a constructive comment.

    Sarcastic indeed. That's why I liked it. :-D

    Anyway, these people should be careful what they pray for... Weren't people doing praying task forces or whatever to get gas prices below $2 a gallon? They got what they wanted in a funny way...

  8. I quote everything, and in particular "thanks god I am an atheist". Perfect close for a nice post!

  9. Oh btw Massimo do you really present yourself as an atheist, not just agnostic? Interesting. John Maynard Smith once said you can't really be sure, can you?

    You can't really be sure if an invisible elephant made of frozen yogurt isn't hiding in your bathroom right now, or a time machine about to be activated in the chair you're sitting, etc. etc., but you act as if you were 100% sure there's nothing like that there.

    Massimo: answering to that very nice last paragraph, I would quote: "The truth shall make you free". Religion is a consolation but it's also a prison for minds. You aren't really free if you are not allowed to think for yourself.

    Regarding bailouts, I say no thanks; it's just giving a prize to people who are far from deserving any. Use that money to save the people instead of banks and corporations owners. No part of the manufacturing industry needs to be destroyed in the process. If the present owners can't keep them, let the workers administrate them themselves. Ok, it won't happen, I know... it didn't happen with the banks either. We would need a really big strike for that. :)

  10. This kind of behavior, no, lack of logic, makes me want to vomit.

  11. "Religion is the opiate of the masses" Seems like ol' Karl got that one right over a century ago. Keeping the "masses" drugged and ignorant makes for GREAT politics doesn't it?!

  12. Righty O, Mr. Andrews. Righty O!

    Side note; My verification word is "gascommi." Coincidence?

  13. Why would God come down to help people prop up what are essentially "idols" anyway? I understand the need that many in Detroit have for jobs, but those jobs were first built up and then torn down by pitifully poor lending practices. But as with anything else in life, it was not like most people were going to listen to what GOD would have said about going out on a limb and purchasing things that we can't afford in the first place.

    We buy most of our cars with cash, not credit. What's more, we usually make something when we sell them several years later. One 1300$ 90 240 volvo sedan, sold it late this summer (3-4 years later) for 1600. A 93 240 wagon we bought almost 5 years ago for $1700.... and so on. I have no idea why the gov should come in and have to bail out auto makers. Many of us choose to live within our means but the gov and the big corps do not.

    How aggravating. Whatever God does choose to do on this, I sure it has been long deserved.

  14. Just remember WWJD.

    What Would Jesus Drive?

  15. Tommy, VDub bus, of course.

    My oldest, our son, just bought one for a road trip he and his friend are going to take sometime later this year. Fortunately he can fix anything. :)

    He owns an Acura and a Blazer as well, but he's going through the 'technology (texting, television watching) materialism is all leading to the downfall of the entire world' phase.

    But we love him. He can have that. It beats the alternative.

  16. This headline reads like an Onion article... But honestly, we annointed hybrid SUVs with oil?? I adore this crazy town--Just not for the right reasons. I'm actually hoping for a complete restructuring of the city. Out with the CEOs of all three & the UAW. New Mayor. New Governor. Level about 75% of the abandoned areas of the city, plant some native trees. Then just start over, and create some sustainable green industries. No religious fervor needed.


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