Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Stuck in the Middle with You

with 7 comments

I’d have used the other part of the lyric, but I already did that, as a post title, some time ago there.

Anyway, it’s about three in the morning and I’m not getting anywhere.  Our downstairs air conditioner, the great big one, died the day before yesterday, and I’ve learned a couple of things.

First is that the air conditioner always dies at the beginning of a heat wave, and we’ve got one.  It hasn’t been this bad since the beginning of the summer.  Temperatures are in the mid to high nineties.  Humitidy readings sound like the grades for somebody who’s going to make the honor roll.  It really is a mess.

The second thing is that, this late in the season, it’s virtually impossible to get an air conditioner. 

Matt’s gone back to school, which means I’m here largely on my own, and I need not only to have an air conditioner, but to have somebody deliver and install it. 

And you can forget it.  I know, I tried. 

So what I’m doing is staying upstairs as much as possible (very nice air conditioners up there, and relatively new, too), or staying out, or riding around in the car–in other words, being mostly uncomfortable and not getting a lot of work done.

But here I am, and at the moment I’m mostly disheartened.

I really do try to read both sides of just about everything–or at least both sides as sides, if that makes any sense.  I’ve read A People’s History of the United States and A Patriot’s History of the United States.  I watch both Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly.  I see Michael Moore movies and read Ann Coulter books.

I try.  I really do.

But lately I’ve been finding that I’ve got litmus tests.

For the left, my litmus tests are varied. 

First and foremost is whether or not they get religion right when they criticize it.  They can criticize it.  They can scoff at it.  They can make fun of it.  What I won’t put up with any more are completely misunderstandings and misreprentations of what religions say or what their actual history does.

If that makes sense.

Some of that is the Medieval thing. 

My next big thing with left leaning writers is whether or not they know the difference between a conservative and a libertarian and whether or not they know what libertarianism actually says.

If you think the nonsense people spout about religion is bad, the nonsense they spout about libertarianism is not only worse but often just idiotic. 

There are other things, of course, but those two tend to be my biggies, because they’re things that I know something about.  So I know when people are cheating.

With the right–and I’m talking about conservatives here, not libertarians–there are also two main issues.

One is the separation of church and state.

If I have to hear, one more time, that “separation of church and state isn’t in the Constitution,” I’ll scream.  The statement is deliberately tendentious, besides being untrue at least as its base.

And it almost always goes along with either misunderstanding or misrepresenting Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists–or with not reading it, which I suspect is usually the case.

For the record:  the Baptist church in Danbury, Connecticut, wrote a letter to then-President Thomas Jefferson complaining about Connecticut’s “multiple establishment” law.

Connecticut was then one of a number of state that gave tax money to churches.  Its law stated that all churches would receive this money.  In practice, the Baptists–whom many other Christians did not consider to be Christian, since they denied the validity of infant baptism–were getting stiffed.

The Baptists wrote and asked Jefferson if this was not contrary to what the Bill of Rights had intended.

Jefferson wrote back to say that yes, the intent of the First Amendment’s religion clauses was to erect “a wall of separation between Church and State,” and that the men who had written those clauses had hoped that by giving the example of such separation on the federal level, the individual states would follow suit.

He then gave the letter to his attorney general to vet.

In other words, this was not a casual, private reply to a personal level. Jefferson knew the Baptists would publish his letter.  He was writing for the public as much as–or even more than–to them.

Conservatives trying to get around the clear meaning of Jefferson’s letter tie themselves into all kinds of knots, and do at least two predictable things.

The first is that they refer to seventeenth century America when they talk about the place of God in politics.  But nobody has ever denied that the original colonies were mostly religious enterprises.

The issue is the sentiment in eighteenth century America.  And that is not anywhere near as useful to these people as relying on the early stuff is.

The second thing is that they ignore that there are other indications that what was wanted was a separation of  Church and State.  I often get conservative writers who tell me that Ben Franklin wanted the meetings of the Constitutional Convention to open with a prayer.  They rarely include the fact that the idea was put to a vote and rejected. 

And I hear nothing about the Treaty of Tripoli at all.  In case I haven’t beaten you over the head with this already: the Treaty of Tripoli was negotiated during the administration of George Washington, passed unanimously by the US Senate in the administration of John Adams and then signed by him.

Why does this matter?  Because article eleven of that treaty begins, in no uncertain terms, “As the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”

I honestly do not understand how much clearer that can be–or how thoroughly that discredits the idea that the Founders of this country based its political system on the Bible or intended to found “a Christian nation.”

The other litmus test I have for conservative books is, of course, evolution.  If I hear one more time about how “scientists” think it’s “controversial” or “flawed” or any of the rest of it, I may go crazy. 

If I have to put up with one more whinging whine about how it’s a “theory,” or one more deliberate confusion between methodilogical naturalism and philosophical naturalism–well, whatever. 

Evolution is a fact–we’ve observed it happen, and we’ve got scores of transitional sequences between species as well as within species. 

The theory of evolution is the scientific explanation of that fact–it’s the set of explanations we’ve come up with as to why the fact of evolution exists and how it works.

And a theory is not a guess, and it is not an opinion. 

And methodological naturalism is not atheism–it is the decision to look for natural explanations for natural phenomena, and it is what makes science science.  Science is the enterprise of seeking natural explanations for natural phenomena. 

In case you’re wondering why I’m frothing at the mouth about all this this morning–well, I do try to read everything.

Right now, I’m reading something called 48 Liberal Lies About American History, by Larry Schweikart.

Schweikart is one of the two authors of A Patriot’s History of the United States.

This morning, I hit the chapter on Scopes and evolution.  I hit the chapter on separation of church and state yesterday.

Well, what can I say?

Schweikart hit all the high (or maybe low) spots–no mention of the Treaty of Tripoli, mention of Franklin’s call to prayer but no mention of its rejection, even a paragraph that implies that there’s something called “creation science” that actual scientists do.

It’s this kind of thing that makes me want to drink huge quantities of tea and go to sleep early.

But, of course, I’ve got a lot of running around to do today.

Written by janeh

September 1st, 2010 at 3:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'Stuck in the Middle with You'

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  1. I can’t help you, I’m afraid. When I leaf through a book in a library or bookstore and discover that, for example, it’s full of ranting rhetoric to the exclusion of facts or reasoned opinion, I just leave it where I found it. I realize this means I’m sometimes uninformed about the thinking of people I disagree with, but on the other hand, it’s a lot easier on the nerves and blood pressure, and also leaves more time for me to work at the pile of books I have that I want to read!

    I’m always mildly surprised when someone from the northeastern US talks about air conditioning. I know you’re south of us, but I never expect you to be so far south that air conditioning is essential!

    Your problems finding a new one are typical. Modern marketers are always a season out of wack – they’re probably selling snow shovels and sidewalk salt now. I know ours are selling Halloween decorations!


    1 Sep 10 at 6:03 am

  2. Yeah, you know, I like to hang out with smart atheists, and knowledgeable ones. Same with lefties. And feminists. (Hmmm, a theme here.) I would much rather talk with a smart, knowledgeable Baptist libertarian than hang around in a “yes-circle” of “Oh, no–the dark ages! The patriarchy! Let’s all found a commune and hug!”

    I’d say I’d gotten crotchety in my old age except that by all reports I’ve been like this since at least age 2.



    1 Sep 10 at 12:24 pm

  3. I was going to go all Homer Simpson and tell you I’m intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter, but then I realized that I read your blog, which is your newsletter.

    This is one of those posts that had me nodding and saying “uh-huh” all the way through.

    Amen, sister.


    1 Sep 10 at 1:52 pm

  4. I would agree with CAFiorello. A well-informed opponent is often better company than an ignorant ally.

    But it’s a problem without a clear-cut solution if you’re writing to persuade. For instance, is it kosher to mention the Treaty of Tripoli and not mention that the treaty was signed with Muslim pirates in permanent jihad against the shipping of Christian nations? Or is it fair to go over Jefferson again, and not mention Washington pointing out that one of the reasons why the United States should not embrace large-scale immigration was that it was currently united in a single religion? One person’s context can be another’s irrelevancies. Everyone thinks the facts supporting their point of view are decisive–and they are, sometimes, right.

    I would say the critical points are the the writer ought not to be conspicuously ignorant, and he ought never to misrepresent the facts. I have a particular antipathy ellisions which reverse the meaning of the original speech or document. But how much one should let partisanship trump pure unbiased scholarship has to be pretty much a matter of taste.

    Good luck with the air conditioning. You’ll get someone fairly quickly. The trick is getting someone to come when they say and complete the work for the price specified.


    1 Sep 10 at 4:50 pm

  5. I’n going to be a heretic about this post.

    First, the concept of building a wall between church and state annoys me. Why? Because their is a passage in the Old Testament that reads “Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” The Rabbis decided to build a wall around this and came up with Kosher rules. Here is the result.


    Judging from some of the lawsuits I’ve been reading about, the US judges are getting as bad as the rabbis.

    Second, I accept evolution. But understanding it reuires a knowledge of genetics, eoology, paleontology and geology. I don’t think it should be taught to high school students just starting their study of scienc.

    Yes, I know that evolution is often said to be the foundation of modeern biology. But in Physics, it is often said that Quantum Field Theory and General Relativity are the foundation theoris. THey are rarely studied in undergraduate Physics courses and most grad students don’t study them.

    All undergraduate physice students do study a form of Quantum Mechanics called Wave Mechanics but its very different from Field Theory. And those who study relativity, study Soecial Relativity which is much sinpler than General Relativity.


    1 Sep 10 at 6:26 pm

  6. This has nothing to do with the topic. I just liked it a lot:

    Theodore Dalrymple, ‘It’s All Your Fault’



    2 Sep 10 at 7:21 am

  7. I used to live in Ann Arbor MI where I could have a more in depth conversation about United States history with a parking attendent than I will ever have now that I have moved back to Indiana. No offense to my home state…

    But on the other hand, Ann Arbor was also full of knee jerk liberals: folks who could not discuss gun rights, abortion, Fox News without foaming at the mouth.

    Anyway, I learned from this post and I really appreciate your blog and your books. Your writing is a haven where I can just consider what I have read without the extra hoo-haw of extremism.


    2 Sep 10 at 6:26 pm

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