Thursday, May 31, 2012

DOMA Unconstitutional

If you know and respect the US Constitution, then of course DOMA is unconstitutional.
Saw this news item earlier today:
An appeals court ruled Thursday that the heart of a law that denies a host of federal benefits to gay married couples is unconstitutional.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminates against married same-sex couples by denying them federal benefits.

The law was passed in 1996 at a time when it appeared Hawaii would legalize gay marriage. Since then, many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage, while eight states have approved it, led by Massachusetts in 2004.

The appeals court agreed with a lower court judge who ruled in 2010 that the law is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including the ability to file joint tax returns.
Yes, arbitrarily denying federal benefits to some married couples and not others is unconstitutional and immoral.

Eventually, all US states will either come to recognize "gay marriage" (and it will just be "marriage") or they will be forced to. I hope for the former but I'm comfortable with the latter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Waiting for the Ax

Ah, life in the big city.

My company is having tough times. Our market has shrunk and we are not selling as much as we once did. What's more, we have few--maybe not any--substantial prospects for generating sales in either the near-term or long-term.

Layoffs are coming. I predict it will happen Tuesday or Wednesday next week. Every group will likely be asked to identify a percentage of people to be candidates for downsizing. My guess is we will lose almost 10 percent of the company workforce.

Although I don't think my job is in jeopardy, I am certainly not "safe." Assuming I am one of the folks remaining after the layoff, I have a personal strategy for driving improvements in my area. Right now, I am documenting everything I do and thinking about the extra work I may need to take on.

If I am let go, the first thing I'll do is apply for unemployment. Then, I'll make some calls. For now, I have some other preparation work to do, but I plan to be ready next week in case I'm ushered out the door. I'll have most of the files I want saved to a flash drive; I'll also have my desktop filed cleaned out.

I remain generally optimistic about my company and about prospects for the US economy overall. I think--I hope--we are at the bottom point and expect everything to start slowly improving by August.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Baby

I am married 12 years today. A nice thing it is to be married, but especially to my wife. She has progressed so much in managing her depression. I enjoy seeing her be the funny, easygoing, loving person she naturally is.

Some gifts for her. First, a song. The Blood, Sweat and Tears version of "You've Made Me So Very Happy":

Next, a DiNozzo:

Happy anniversary, baby.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bone Stories

Dem bones.
My oldest daughter is nine years old. When she was a toddler, she became fascinated that people's bones could break. In fact, she was nervous about it and wanted to know how people broke bones and what it was like.

To answer her anxiety, I began telling what we have come to call "bone stories," bedtime tales about different bones I broke when I was younger. There are four stories, one for each bone I've broken. When I was seven, I broke my left arm, near my elbow. At 12, I broke my collarbone playing a neighborhood game called "bike tag." I broke a bone in my hand when I was 15. Finally, at age 20, I broke my nose.

I told my girl bone stories to make her laugh. I hoped she would realize it wasn't easy to break a bone. Something extreme and sudden had to happen, often something dumb. I wanted her to know that even though breaking a bone hurt, it wasn't totally unbearable. Other hurts are far worse.

I've been telling bone stories for maybe five years. At one point, the stories were a nightly bedtime ritual. I now have two daughters, and they both like me to tell the stories to them. Of course, the stories bore me now, so I occasionally jazz them up. I'll go into cartoonish detail about how fast I was running, or how many times I somersaulted in the air, or how many tackles I evaded. The stories get ever more outlandish. I like to watch the girls' faces in their bunk beds as I hop around or whirl my hands to describe the moments leading up to the fracture.

My son, who at four years old already has broken his arm, does not hear bone stories at night. Instead, he and I wrestle in his bedroom. Yet, the same principle is involved from wrestling to bone stories: I want the kids to remember the feeling of having fun with me, the feeling of being loved by me. The wrestling and bone stories are unique gifts. I'm the only one in the world who understands the way my boy likes to wrestle. I'm the only daddy with the special stories that involve their uncles and their grandparents.

I cherish the feeling of having unique gifts to pass along to my kids again and again. I'm not always in the mood to wrestle or to tell a bone story. I usually go on despite my mood because I understand the time for gift-giving is finite--that is, the kids will grow up soon enough and not want either to wrestle or to hear my stories--and I believe the offices of love make gift-giving my responsibility. In other words, these kinds of interactions with the kids are part of my obligation as a loving parent.

My wish is that these gifts, my gifts, will be appreciated in the lasting memories of my children. A poem like Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz" expresses something like what I hope for:
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
I've taught the poem for many years, and I confess it's a personal favorite. Some students mistakenly interpret the poem to be about an abusive, alcoholic father. But the battered knuckle of the father is from his day-labor, as is the dirt-caked palm. There is some violence in the poem, falling pans and scraped ears, yet these are inadvertent. At the same time, I know a parent's love can be "violent"--by which I mean not aggressive or destructive but rather messy and unstable: we parents struggle to hold ourselves and our lives together while also caring for the children. Sometimes we can't hold on or we hold on too tightly.

The poem's final image, the sleepy boy who doesn't want to let go, tells everything: the boy holds his father against bedtime, against sleepiness, against growing up, against the inevitable loss of the father to death.

The poem's speaker remembers that he wanted to remain with his father, that he wanted his father to stay. I want my kids to remember that for me. And I want them to know that I would stay if I could.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Historical Jesus Is Here!

R. Joseph Hoffmann has issued the The Jesus Process, a series of essays (one by him) discussing the historicity and non-historicity of Jesus, and the processes of scholarship used to adjudicate between historical arguments on Jesus.

This is a moment of supernova-esque importance because, for the first time that I know, the public (indeed, the world) has quasi-direct access to academic scholars in the process of making scholarly arguments. This is not a journalist's report of an academic conference or paper. This is not a mass-market book made by an academic. This is not a non-academic book challenging academic scholarship.

This is the academy on the "home turf" of the public. This is the opportunity for the academy to show how and why its professionalism serves the world better than amateur scholarship in books and blogs. Now, alert readers may note that one of the three essay writers, Stephanie Louse Fischer, is a graduate student and not yet a professional academic.

Nevertheless, professionalism is what is at stake in this academic volley against prominent mythicist bloggers. This essay series puts professionalism at the center of its concerns. The facts, the knowledge, the inferences and interpretations all serve the application of professional methodologies and techniques. The final outcome of these essays and their aftermath will be both the definition of professionalism and the professional viability of mythicism. This is why the moment is so fascinating.

I am very excited about this moment and these essays. I plan to read and analyze every one. I encourage others to do so, too. From there, we on the sidelines will await what I am sure will be an equally momentous reply from Richard Carrier. There may be other mythicists, academic and non-academic, who chime in on The Jesus Process essays, but now that the essays are out, Carrier is the man. Initially, no reply will matter more than his.

Indeed, the credibility and reputation of non-academic scholarship may rest on what Carrier does with this opportunity. If Carrier can make a strong scholarly case in favor of both his use of Bayesian techniques and his mythicist position, he will have achieved something very significant and unique in modern scholarship.

But Hoffmann's essays are determined, make no mistake about it, to go after Carrier and expose his mythicism as less than professional grade. One of the essays of The Jesus Process is by Hoffmann, a long piece called "Controversy, Mythicism, and the Historical Jesus." In it, he promises that the weight of history is "decisive" in favor of the historicity of Jesus. On this point, Hoffmann offers his thesis as follows:
It is my view, simply stated, that while facts concerning the Jesus of history were jeopardized from the start by a variety of salvation myths, by the credulity of early believers, by the historiographical tendencies of the era, and by the editorial tendencies of early writers, the gospels retain a stubbornly historical view of Jesus, preserve reliable information about his life and teachings, and are not engulfed by any of the conditions under which they were composed. Jesus “the Nazarene” did not originate as a myth or a story without historical coordinates, but as a teacher in first century Roman Palestine. Like dozens of other Hellenistic teachers, but lacking sophisticated “biographers” to preserve his accomplishments, Jesus is distinct only because the cult that formed around him perpetuated his memory in ritual, worship, and text, while the memory of other attested personalities of antiquity, even those who enjoyed brief cultic popularity like Antigonus I, Ptolemy I and Demetrius of Macedon are known to us mainly through literary artifacts.
You'll have to read the rest of the article to see how Hoffmann defends the thesis. Let me note, however, that Hoffmann's use of the gospels in his argument may have similarities with the narrative-based methodology employed by Joel S. Baden for the Pentateuch. Both Hoffmann and Baden are interested in immediate sources of religious texts. Hoffmann argues that a person, the subject of the texts, is probably a source for his texts; Baden argues that earlier, separate versions are the sources for his.

In addition to the positive case for the historical Jesus, Hoffmann holds the mythicist position "as fatally flawed and subject to a variety of objections." Here, Hoffmann's thesis is, well, devastating:
The attempt of “mythicists” to show that Jesus did not exist, on the other hand, has been largely incoherent, insufficiently scrupulous of historical detail, and based on improbable, bead-strung analogies.[1] The failure of the myth theory is not the consequence merely of methodological sloppiness with respect to the sources and their religious contexts; that has been demonstrated again and again from as early as Shirley Jackson Case’s (now dated) study, The Historicity of  Jesus (1912). It is a problem incipient in the task itself, which Morton Smith aptly summarized in 1986: The myth theory, he wrote, is almost entirely based on an argument from silence, especially the “silence” of Paul. “In order to explain just what it was that Paul and other early Christians believed, the mythicists are forced to manufacture unknown proto-Christians who build up an unattested myth . . . about an unspecified supernatural entity that at an indefinite time was sent by God into the world as a man to save mankind and was crucified… [presenting us with] a piece of private mythology that I find incredible beyond anything in the Gospels.”[2]
As I said, Hoffmann's essay is long, yet it's well worth careful reading and re-reading.

So, grab your popcorn and read up. I won't say "This is gonna be good," because it already is good.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Suffering Spouse: A Story of Religious Melodrama

Woe is me! How much I suffer!
I consider myself a "New Atheist" because when I assess the effects of mainstream religious beliefs on the world, religion more often than not appears to be harmful.

The harm shows not only in criminals like the pope or in the violence of religiously motivated groups, but also at a very basic, everyday level. At Spiritually Unequal Marriage, a website for Christians married to "non-believers," a woman writes an open letter to the community:
I remember when I came across your site. I was so thankful that I was not alone! I think the most powerful thing that you and Dineen [i.e., Lynn and Dineen, the site owners] have done lately is to post honestly and transparently. Women in these marriages WANT to have hope but they also don't want to necessarily hear that others in "unequal" marriages are thriving and joyful etc. That may sound strange but for the most part unequal marriages suffer, greatly.
This woman wants to be part of a community...of suffering! She will hear nothing of couples happy and satisfied in "unequal" marriages but prefers to dwell in sadness and difficulty.

As the woman continues, see how religious beliefs give her life a context with a narrative based on war/struggle and characters such as the devil:
And truthfully if the marriage is unequal the home has a constant open doorway for the devil. He is always welcome and WE must do battle continually. We may get "breaks” the fog may lift to some degree but the battle is continual. For those of us in marriages where there are serious addictions the battles are that much more intense. The need to cling to the Lord is that much more necessary. I think your honesty lately is revealing more Truth than ever. Because the truth is, we may live our entire lives with our spouse and they may never be saved. The hardest thing to grasp in these relationships is that it is not God's WILL that ALL be saved. It is His desire and He woos and calls people to Himself but He gives them the free will to love Him in return.
This poor woman imagines herself a solitary warrior in her own home. She mentions "addictions," so perhaps she or a loved one (likely) has substance issues. True enough, plenty of people never shake their addictions. More than anything, this woman seems trying to cope with the uncertainty of the addict. Her reality is an allegory of the religious: one may not be saved from addiction as one may not be saved religiously. The final result is beyond her ken and control, even beyond--to some extent--her loved one's control. The woman invokes God because she wants SOMEONE to be in control. The idea of God covers over the unpleasant scenario of no one having intelligent governance over her affairs.

Yet, the idea of SOMEONE being ultimately in charge, even if that someone is God, does not comfort the woman. It costs her to feel part of a purposeful universe, and that cost is separation from her loved one:
This is so difficult for us who have loved ones who are unsaved. At times, I find myself with a lump in my throat, my spirit crying out, and pain that goes deep beyond description, as I watch my loved ones walk further and further away from the Lord. Yet, at other times, there is great peace and there is a sweet surrender. It is then that I realize the peace that Christ had. He mourned those who are lost but pressed forward into God's will, trusting the entire world to God's sovereign care. Jesus prayed that God would "make another way" but prayed nevertheless, that God's WILL be done. God's will called for Christ to die. This side of the Cross we don't argue with God's decision. On the side of the Cross where Jesus' mother Mary kneeled God probably seemed to be failing His people in more ways than they could imagine. But, He knows what He's doing. We must remember that Jesus said . . .Matthew 7:13-14:

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

My great peace has not come from giving up hope.
I cling to the Promises and I declare:

"But I will keep on hoping for your help; I will praise you more and more"
Psalm 71:14
In each successive paragraph, the woman toggles between grief and sad resignation. True, the notion of God keeps her from falling into an emotional abyss. However, she would do much better to discard the idea of God altogether.

God and Bible quotes give her consolation, but the potential for happiness lies outside of God and the Bible. If she were not so preoccupied with the "spiritual warfare" scenario, she would have no worry of the saved/unsaved problem. This problem would not exist. She would own her life and her life choices. She would understand that her decisions and actions would be able to help her feel better about her life. Although she would never be able to control her loved one's addictions or know if he would re-lapse, she would be able to adopt a proper "we'll deal with it if it comes up" attitude.To ditch God would be to claim her life in the present.

For this reason, I find that atheism better allows one to compartmentalize. In contrast, religion encourages an awful combination of ceaseless naval gazing and self-flagellation. This woman seems driven to see and open her own wounds:
I pray continually for the salvation of my husband and my loved ones but my hope is not in that outcome. If I hope in that I will find myself disappointed. But if I hope in God, trusting that HE knows best even if that means that He must allow some of my loved ones to turn away from Him then, I will not be disappointed. Just as Jesus' Disciples were not disappointed at the resurrection! So, I guess to make a LONG email short, haha. I just think that the more you share your struggles, the more power you will see in your ministry. God will not force ANYONE to love Him. If He did then the love He offers would not be love at all. You can't FORCE someone to love you. Therefore, each person may choose. Though it is difficult for saved spouses to watch, their unsaved spouse may continue to drift back and forth. It is the power of God moving. Yet, in the end it is the decision of their heart and yes, God allows it. Because of His great love.
Those who have engaged in any sort of discussion with religious people know the familiar fallback, "you must freely choose to love (or fear or submit to) God/Jesus." The fallback, again, says more about the woman's fear and need to cope.

Indeed, the woman says almost nothing of substance about her loved one. In the end, her message has nothing to do with her loved one or God/Jesus. It's all about her and her oh-so-valiant struggle to fight the devil. It's about her telling us to look at her and admire her being tied to the train tracks.

She's like the lyric from the Offspring's great song, "Self Esteem":
The more you suffer,
The more it shows you really care.
And this is where I have a real problem with this woman's outlook and the religious context from which she draws. All of her "suffering" is self-inflicted and totally unnecessary. Any moment she really wanted to, she could remove herself from her marriage and just get along with her life. She could, and she'd probably be happier. Look, I take marriage and divorce very seriously, but when the two people in the marriage are not happy they should separate.

It takes more than love to make a happy marriage. It takes attitude, communication, effort, flexibility, giving, reflection, teamwork, and more. In a happy marriage, no one is "suffering" because of the other partner. On a personal level, there is no freaking way I would ever want or allow my wife to suffer because of me--and I'm sure she feels the same way. We didn't get married to be sources of suffering to each other; we married to be constant sources of comfort, encouragement, and support. For this reason, marriage partners do not need to share the same religious beliefs any more than they need to support the same political candidates or parties.

But if your beliefs or your politics cause you pain if your spouse isn't in the same camp, then you need to re-assess those beliefs and politics. And if those beliefs and politics turn out to be more important to you than your spouse, then break away from the relationship. I doubt your spouse wants to be a pre-text for your suffering.

New Atheism looks at some types of religious narrative--such as that of a world engulfed in spiritual conflict--and religious characters--such as the devil--and argues that these are not only ungrounded but poisonous. The woman who wrote the email I've examined here is one case, but notice all the assent and agreement she gets in the comments section. Instead of advising the woman to chill out and then do something productive for herself, the comments are all of a "me too" variety (although there are some disagreements on bits).

If suffering is avoidable, it should be avoided. If happiness is attainable, it should be attained. These statements seem commonsensical, but in practice we often act against common sense.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Neo-Documentary Hypothesis

Joel S. Baden

I have talked before about source criticism of the Torah/Pentateuch, usually whenever the Kuzari Principle comes up. My 2011-12 series on biblical scholar James Kugel's How to Read the Bible dealt by necessity with source criticism, that is, with the Documentary Hypothesis (DH).

I once summarized the DH this way:
The modern form of [the DH] emerges from seven types of evidence: (1) the Hebrew language of different periods in the Torah, (2) the use and quantity of terms in the different sources, (3) consistent content (such as the revelation of God's name, (4) the narrative flow of each source, (5) the connection between parts of the Torah and other parts of the Bible, (6) the relationships of the sources to each other and to history, and (7) the convergence of the different lines of evidence. According to the Documentary Hypothesis, the Torah as we have it today develops from early oral and written sources that coagulated into four main sources--J, E, P, and D. Between 922 BCE and 400 BCE, the four sources were compiled and woven together to produce the Torah.
This summary, taken from Richard Elliott Friedman, does not discuss the divide between documentary and non-documentary pentateuchal scholars. Indeed, the summary doesn't indicate how much of the DH had been discarded because of the approach's methodological problems.

Joel Baden, an Assistant Professor at Yale Divinity School, writes about the transformation of the DH in the last four decades. This transformed DH is sufficiently new; he calls it a Neo-Documentary Hypothesis (NDH) and asserts that through it, revitalized source criticism "is regaining its place as a viable, productive, and current approach to the Pentateuch."

Baden's NDH is a narrative-based approach to the Pentateuch, interested in assessing literary phenomena against the source-critical position that the text was formed from the combination of previously independent documents, that is, essentially complete and self-contained sources.

I like Baden's framing of the DH/NDH:
The Documentary Hypothesis, it must always be remembered, is precisely that: a hypothesis. It is an attempt to explain the literary phenomena of the Pentateuch: clear narrative contradiction, repetition, and discontinuity. It posits that the best explanation for these features is the existence of four independent documents that were combined into a single text, basically the canonical Pentateuch as we now have it. It is the literary solution to a literary problem, no more and no less. Scholarly claims regarding stylistic criteria or similarity of narratives are not inherent parts of the theory; they are aspects of the methods used to argue for the theory. If they do not succeed, the theory does not of necessity fail; the methods do. The theory may simply need to be argued on different grounds. Thus the very correct criticisms of anti-documentary scholars from the earliest days of the theory until our own time are not necessarily grounds for dismissing the whole hypothesis; they are, rather, a call to refine and revise the methods employed by scholars when describing and applying the hypothesis. When such refinements and revisions are undertaken, as they have been recently, the Documentary Hypothesis regains its place as the most economical, comprehensive explanation for the literary phenomena of the canonical Pentateuch.
The last bit above boldly asserts the preeminence of the DH via the NDH. Below, Baden explains the literary focus of the NDH:
We place at the forefront of the analysis plot and narrative continuity—the events that occur, the sequence in which they occur, cause, and effect. The mark of an author is his creation of and adherence to a distinctive and definable set of narrative claims: who did what, when, where, and how. Where these claims are contradictory, we must consider that a different author is at work; where they are the same, there is no need to pursue any source division.
One key issue for the DH/NDH is separating it from at least some of the work of Julius Wellhausen (and followers):
For generations now, the Documentary Hypothesis has been considered synonymous with Wellhausen’s reconstruction of the evolutionary growth of ancient Israelite religion. The source division and the placement of the sources in a straight line of development from earliest to latest, from naturalistic to legalistic, has been taken as the fundamental claim of the hypothesis. This is demonstrated by the attempts in scholarship to debunk the Documentary Hypothesis by arguing against Wellhausen’s view of Israelite religion, as if the former is dependent on the latter. On the contrary, however, it was Wellhausen’s source division in his Composition that allowed for his historical reconstruction in the Prolegomena. In the first book, he addressed only the literary evidence; in the second, he addressed only the historical questions. The Neo-Documentary Hypothesis returns to the first stage, and leaves the second unconsidered. The literary question is primary, and is in fact the only question that can be answered by the documentary theory. Even if one disagrees with or disproves the arguments of Wellhausen’s Prolegomena, the literary analysis of the Pentateuch stands on its own merits.
Separation and restriction are recurring themes in Baden's explanation of the NDH. Below, he discusses how the NDH becomes a better scholarly approach by being properly restricted in scope:
The Neo-Documentary Hypothesis is concerned only with the penultimate form of the text: what the compiler had at hand when he put the four documents together. This approach allows for far greater clarity in addressing the question of how the Pentateuch came to be this way, for it goes back only a single step. It is crucial to note, however, that the Neo-Documentary Hypothesis does not deny the internal growth of the sources; it is simply unconcerned with them. Like so much else, how each source came to look as it does is a secondary question. The Neo-Documentary Hypothesis does not deny that each source has a history; nor does it deny that the Pentateuch itself has a history after the compilation of the documents. It is a restricted answer to a restricted question.
The next bit, below, presents the NDH as a kind of return or re-start of the DH model:
The classical theory began as a fairly simple proposition: four independent documents, combined into a single Pentateuch. Over time, however, it expanded dramatically, so that even within a generation or two of Wellhausen the analysis of the Pentateuch required innumerable sigla, regular divisions of the text into half-verses and even single words, and highly complex theories about redaction. The unwieldiness of this theory inevitably led in part to opposition, as it could no longer be said that the Documentary Hypothesis was a particularly simple or elegant solution to the problems of the pentateuchal text. Ironically, of course, the newer analyses coming out of Europe are, if anything, even more complex than the most tortuous classical source-critical work. The Neo-Documentary Hypothesis restores the simplicity of the earlier scholarship. It requires precisely four sources and one compiler.
This is a tremendously interesting essay, and comments/objections from readers appearing below the article are also enlightening. I would be very interested to understand non-documentary hypotheses better.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Disturbing yet Unsurprising

Banks back Romney.
When the head of JPMorgan Chase met with shareholders to answer for a trading loss of more than $2 billion Tuesday, it was against an evolving political backdrop: Donors from big banks are betting on Mitt Romney to defeat President Obama and repeal new restraints on risky, large-scale investments.

"There’s no doubt that there’s been a big diminution of support for the president," said William M. Daley, Obama’s former chief of staff and a former top JPMorgan Chase executive. "People in the financial services sector are saying, 'The president has been too tough on us, both in policy and on rhetoric.'"
Romney promises banks unfettered operation as they buy labor, dress it up, sell it, pocket the profits, and leave taxpayers with the heaviest financial burdens. Romney knows all about "making money."

The graphic below suggests the difference between Romney and Obama. The former's backers seek to accumulate and consolidate. The latter's seek to innovate and improve.

Rabbi Shmuley on the Disabled

A collage to illustrate a bit of the man.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is a celebrity clergyman, notable mainly for an ignominious association with pop-star Michael Jackson and for a best-selling advice book called Kosher Sex. His latest book, Kosher Jesus, is causing some undulations in the worldwide Orthodox Jewish community because the orthodox don't want to hear anything having to do with Jesus--and Boteach is apparently running as a Republican for a spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Recently, he wrote in the Huffington Post on why God allows some to be born with mental or physical disabilities. This seems to be the payoff paragraph:
I have no idea why G-d would allow any child to come into this world with severe mental or physical disability. What I do know, however, is that He shouldn't. Children deserve to be born with all their faculties and with all their abilities. All children deserve to be healthy. Those who come into the world with mental handicaps are, of course, beautiful children, the equal of every healthy child, deserving of infinite love, equality and rights. Indeed, given their special needs they require more of our love, more of our attention. What they do not deserve, however, and what they certainly have never earned, is our contemptuous effort to justify their suffering and their challenges by ascribing them to some unknown and lofty divine purpose.
This explanation is remarkable for several reasons:
  1. "I have no idea." This line of thinking might be considered refreshingly honest. Nevertheless, the statement runs counter to what religion is fundamentally supposed to offer: resolution into a larger, purposeful order. This statement confesses total ignorance where many others would soften the admission to "The Lord works in mysterious ways." I cannot see how such a confession would satisfy many people, who generally want to think of their clergy as knowing the intentions of the supreme being. Perhaps Boteach thinks confessing ignorance allows him to relate better to a person in pain, but I imagine that one reason a person would consult a rabbi is to be led from pain to a better sense of normalcy.
  2. "He shouldn't." I imagine that many Christians raise their eyebrows at this statement. They cannot handle criticizing the supreme being because it violates the celestial hierarchy. People have no standing and insufficient knowledge--allegedly--to challenge anything the Yahweh does. I find the audacity of the statement silly, mainly because it contradicts the earlier "I have no idea." You cannot claim that X is morally wrong while not knowing God's reasons for doing X--unless you care to admit that God can commit wrongs.
  3. "Children deserve to be born with all their faculties and with all their abilities. All children deserve to be healthy." This is bullshit. When Boteach says "All children deserve to be healthy," I hear the response from Clint Eastwood's character in the movie Unforgiven: "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it!" None of us deserves health, just like none of us deserves tallness, a zit-free adolescence, natural gifts in music, or x-ray vision. We "get" health by a fortunate convergence of body development, mental and physical traits, and external social perception of normal health.
  4. "Those who come into the world with mental handicaps are, of course, beautiful children, the equal of every healthy child, deserving of infinite love, equality and rights." I don't believe Boteach here. Maybe I'm unfair, but he comes across like the person who professes not to be racist--just before launching into a vicious black joke.
  5. "What they do not deserve, however, and what they certainly have never earned, is our contemptuous effort to justify their suffering and their challenges by ascribing them to some unknown and lofty divine purpose." Boteach is just posturing here with trumped-up moral outrage. Trying to justify suffering--and I by no means grant that disabled people by and large experience life as suffering--can hardly be called contemptuous. Many people justify suffering as a way to cope: we sympathize with a person or their family but don't feel like it's enough. I have no idea by what right Boteach describes disabled children as "suffering." Surely, he's projecting, but he doesn't know what he's talking about. Disabled people and their families find and make happiness. It happens all the time. What's more, plenty of so-called "normal" people are very unhappy.
Boteach's is a muddled and ill-conceived article, and while the man tries to position himself as bringing religion's reason to modernity, what he delivers is essentially a secular ethics that retains reference to traditional religion:
Why does God allow the innocent to suffer? I have no idea. He shouldn't. But our job is to fill in the empty spaces G-d seemingly vacates in His universe and to act in G-d's stead, being as human and loving as we can.

The notion of God here ends up as a huge, unnecessary distraction. People need to step up and act, Boteach says. People must assume the role that otherwise would be reserved for God because God is apparently out of the picture. Boteach is but a scintilla away from jettisoning God altogether: God's not protecting innocents and not minding the store here on earth. Why keep the fucker?

Theology or atheology aside, Boteach's passage above shows the unfortunate fact that he focuses not on the disabled and the realities of their lives but rather on "normal" people like himself. He preaches to "normal" people, for "normal" people, teaching them how to sound properly enlightened. With this focus and armed with religious opinions, he wrote an article that he thought said something, maybe even something profound. The article actually added nothing but detritus.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Giant Steps, Illustrated

A young Coltrane.

John Coltrane is undoubtedly the greatest tenor saxophonist in jazz history. His influence is undeniable as a musician, composer, innovator, and cultural icon. There is even a St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church! He died in 1967, aged only 40 years ol.

"Giant Steps" is the title track of one of Coltrane's many landmark albums. Recorded in May 1959 and released in January 1960, the version of the tune that made it on the album features Coltrane on tenor sax, Paul Chambers on bass, Tommy Flanagan on piano, and Art Taylor on drums. Although this line-up is terrific, Coltrane's later group is even better, with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Reggie Workman/Jimmy Garrison.

The video below shows the tune and solo coming to life on paper. The song and solo are remarkably complex, though they don't come across as being indulgently so.

For more on Coltrane, there are a few videos online that are documentary clips.

Incidentally, 1959 is a huge year in jazz. In addition to Giant Steps, several great, great albums were recorded (though not necessarily released) then:
Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz To Come
Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue
Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um
Art Pepper: Plus Eleven
Billy Taylor: With Four Flutes
Gerry Mulligan: What Is There To Say (some tracks recorded in 1958)
Horace Silver: Blowin' the Blues Away
Dave Brubeck: Time Out

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Jews Are a Race, Geneticist Says

Bar Refaeli: She's my race.

Harry Ostrer is a medical geneticist and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. His new book, Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People, argues that Jews exhibit a distinctive genetic signature that is central to Jewish identity. Jews are, in other words, a race of people.

Personally, I am not surprised at this because insularity seems to be a common historical factor across Jewish populations worldwide. Yet, the book aims partly to counteract a general uneasiness with the concept of "race." In particular, Ostrer seems to argue against a view that racial differences are purely social constructions. Yes, Ostrer says, human beings are 99.9 percent similar, but that 0.1 percent difference is important because that's where Jewish distinction emerges in physical features, ancestral origins, genealogies, communities, traits, and shared identification.

I have no problem with the notion of race as "population" and "region of ancestral origin." The problem with race is the problem of using it to express ideas that some human populations are superior or inferior. Ostrter seems to be operating in a post-racial sense of race, where we can talk about race without making it a human competition.

I also think there's no need to attach religious significance to the racial homogeneity of the Jews. It's not as if biological relatedness tells us anything about the patriarchs, the Bible, or God. If the Jews are a race, they are one of many races and sub-races. Humanity is internally diverse. The Jews, too, are racially diverse, and this is perhaps the most interesting and valuable lesson of the subject.

The genetics of the Jewish people (or peoples?) are fascinating. I highly recommend Razib Khan's assessment of a 2010 paper in the American Journal of Human Genetics. The paper, in which Ostrer has an author credit, demonstrated "that European/Syrian and Middle Eastern Jews represent a series of geographical isolates or clusters woven together by shared IBD [identity by descent] genetic threads" (see figure, right).

The paper is very detailed, and Khan does a nice job explaining it. Let me first quote from the paper, where its findings are summarized:
The Middle Eastern populations were formed by Jews in the Babylonian and Persian empires who are thought to have remained geographically continuous in those locales. In contrast, the other Jewish populations were formed more recently from Jews who migrated or were expelled from Palestine and from individuals who were converted to Judaism during Hellenic-Hasmonean times, when proselytism was a common Jewish practice. During Greco-Roman times, recorded mass conversions led to 6 million people practicing Judaism in Roman times or up to 10% of the population of the Roman Empire. Thus, the genetic proximity of these European/Syrian Jewish populations, including Ashkenazi Jews, to each other and to French, Northern Italian, and Sardinian populations favors the idea of non-Semitic Mediterranean ancestry in the formation of the European/Syrian Jewish groups and is incompatible with theories that Ashkenazi Jews are for the most part the direct lineal descendants of converted Khazars or Slavs. The genetic proximity of Ashkenazi Jews to southern European populations has been observed in several other recent studies.The paper here challenges the hypothesis, based on an historical interpretation, that Ashkenazi Jews descend from eastern Europeans and Eurasians who converted to Judaism in the early Middle Ages. The paper's genetic findings indicate that Semitic Jews gained massive Greco-Roman converts much earlier.

The early history matters greatly, and Khan neatly encapsulates the paper's cultural and historical assessment:
In the time of Augustus Jews were divided between different sects and persuasions, and there was a welter of diversity. Additionally, in the marketplace of Roman religion Jews were a moderately entrepreneurial group. The dynasty of Herod himself was of convert origin. There was a wide spectrum of Jewish religious practice and belief, from the near monastic isolation of the Essenes, to the engaged but separatist Pharisees, and finally to the wide range of more syncretistic practices which fall under the rubric of “Hellenistic Judaism.” Many scholars assert that it was from the last sector which Christianity finally arose as a Jewish sect, and that Christianity eventually absorbed all the other forms of Hellenistic Judaism. Judaism of the Pharisees, which became Rabbinical Judaism, and more recently Judaism qua Judaism, was shaped in large part by having to accommodate and placate the dominant Christian and Islamic religious cultures in which it was integrated by the early medieval period. Conversion to Judaism from Christianity or Islam was often a capital crime (though conversion from Christianity to Judaism was not forbidden in Muslim lands, while presumably conversion from Islam to Judaism in Christian lands would not have been, though few Muslims lived in Christian lands). So after 500 A.D. it seems that what may have occurred was that a Jewish Diaspora characterized by geographically determined genetic diversity, despite some common original Levantine origin, was genetically isolated from surrounding populations. This explains why there seems relatively little influx of Slavic genes into the Ashkenazim despite their long sojourn within Poland-Lithuania and later the Russian Empire. In contrast, the Roman Jewish community was already large in the days of Julius Caesar, and presumably intermarried with the urban proletariat of diverse origins. In an ironic twist these data suggest that modern Jews, in particular the Ashkenazim, but to a lesser extent the Sephardim as well, share common ancestry with gentile Europeans due to the unconstrained character of the pagan Greco-Roman world which Jews were to a great extent strident critics of.

Genetics, culture, history: all are intertwined. The lesson is that to call a human population a race is not--or should not be--tantamount to calling them a different species of human. We all know, however, that race has often been used precisely to separate and politicize groups of people. Postmodernist analyses of race focus on the ways race is politicized and used to political ends. The political, politicized race is often the fiction pointed to by postmodernists. I am, like many, a postmodernist about the interpretations, not about the facts. Now, a postmodernist might snidely question how/whether one separates interpretations from facts--and it is an interesting philosophical discussion that may amount to little else than sophistry--but the clear target is interpretation.

I would be interested to read informed challenges to Ostrer's thesis.

Footnote: The image of model Bar Rafaeli and the caption are an ironic--and attempted humorous--comment on the racial politics I discuss in this post.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sunday Funnies: Five Favorite Comic Strips

When I was a kid, I always grabbed the Sunday comics page.
Ah, memories of youth! Few things were as pleasurable to me as waking up early Sunday morning to retrieve the newspaper and devour the comics. I read everything, but I had favorites.

Here are five of them:
1) Calvin and Hobbes. I started to read Calvin and Hobbes in 10th grade (1985-6), and was immediately taken with it. Calvin was the quintessential wise-ass kid. Hobbes was an equal, not a sidekick or gimmick. Together, their observations and adventures were a first everyday encounter with beauty for me. Creator Bill Watterson's Sunday layouts were gorgeously drawn. Even today I see some of those pictures in my mind. And of course, I still have some of the books in my home.

2) Doonesbury. I loved the political subject of Doonesbury, but what hit me--and many other readers too, I suspect--was that the strip really told the story of a group of friends. It was the story of their lives. Garry Trudeau showed that their lives, like our own, were deeply political.

3) Garfield. Don't give me crap about this one. Garfield was somewhat new when I was a kid. The Garfield I remember was a hilarious character--shrewd, grumpy, insistent, sometimes just mean. Jon, Garfield's owner, wasn't such a goofball. The strip began to suck for me when it became more of an ensemble piece, but it was grand once. It helped that I had a cat at home that seemed kind of like Garfield.

4) Bloom County. For a while, Bloom County was a big deal. It was like Doonesbury but edgier and more outrageous. For me, the strip was at its best when Opus and Steve Dallas were more like bit players and not the focus. Opus was always an engaging character, both naive and intrepid, but I liked Binkley, Binkley's Dad, Cutter John, Milo, and the other woodland creatures. That's when it was a strip about growing up in Reagan-era America--when it was OK to act as though pretty lies were true.

5) The Far Side. The Far Side was always a popular comic. It always seemed to capture the strangeness of modern life. The balance of image and caption was always flawless.

I have some books of my favorite strips, but otherwise I don't think my children will ever engage comics in print. That's a little sad, isn't it?

Friday, May 04, 2012

Stones World: The Rolling Stones Project

Now THIS is what I'm talking about!

On this next clip, the dancing and sound of Sara Baras are breathtaking. The version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is perhaps smoother than a Stones song should be, but it's soulful and powerful. If anything: it ends too soon!

"Judaism is opposed to sexual equality"

Jacob Stein, the Jewish or Torah Philosopher:
Accused sexual harasser and unrecognized sage.

 "Judaism is opposed to sexual equality."

So says the self-styled Jewish philosopher, or Torah Philosopher, or whatever he wants to call himself these days. He then states: "Within the Orthodox Jewish community, the primary decision makers should be men."

The philosopher, Jacob Stein, has a history of hating women. He made inappropriate, sexually-laced comments on other people's blogs--leading to his firing once his employer found out how Stein spent company time. Stein was then dismissed from a nursing program at the Rockland Board of Cooperative Educational Services for comments to students that were deemed to constitute sexual harassment.

Of course, Judaism is no different than many religions before and after that view men as fundamentally superior and therefore entitled to privileges unavailable to women. These religions also set norms than make certain behaviors and duties prohibited to men--on pain of being seen as effeminate or less-than-manly.

These same religions also stratify the religious community and outsiders. The outsiders are intrinsically immoral, two-faced, and untrustworthy. One can behave toward them in ways that would not be appropriate with another member of the in-group.

The Torah philosopher gives only the unvarnished core of religious thinking, unconflicted by conscience and reason. The more liberal of his co-religionists have a harder time: they know that religions like Judaism are essentially unjust, but they cannot accept it.

The proper response to the Torah's philosopher's statement is to mock it, and then walk away. The man is negligible and his stupid, archaic worldview deserves only enough attention to make fun of it.

So, go over and comment at Stein's blog. Mock the fucker.

And laugh with me as we think about this joke on the all-powerful Jewish man:
A Jewish boy comes home from school and tells his mother he's been given a part in the school play. "Wonderful. What part is it?" The boy says, "I play the part of the Jewish husband." The mother scowls and says, "Go back and tell the teacher you want a speaking part."

Thursday, May 03, 2012

To a Student in My Composition and Rhetoric Class (Introduction to Literature)

Dear Student,

I was very happy you recently emailed me about a research essay topic you want to pursue. That you felt strongly enough to ask a question is gratifying. You wouldn't know this, but I begin every semester hoping that students find plays, poems, and stories that move them profoundly, or at least profoundly enough to ask such questions as you have.

Unfortunately, after fifteen weeks of class this term, you alone have fulfilled this hope. Your classmates, though nice people and smart enough, have rarely shown the desire or self-motivation to vigorously explore the literary texts in our course. They have read, or skimmed. They have glibly opined. They have written papers. However, I feel they have not been taken by any of our texts. They were unimpressed by Hamlet's grief and by how severely he reckoned every possible course of action. They eschewed, or seemed to, the lonely and noble reflection of Jane Kenyon's "Let Evening Come." They saw no kinship between themselves and proud Sylvia in Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson." 

It takes passion to read anything, but especially drama, poetry, and fiction. It takes conviction to write, but especially to write an academic essay. What I have really been trying to tell and teach all of you is to be passionate, assertive, bold, and confident. If you can muster these attitudes for a class, you can muster them in your life. As much as any knowledge, skill, or wisdom that you take from school, these attitudes will serve you well in life and carry you far.

But there is more than utility to these attitudes. They have more value than getting you a job and helping you succeed in a career. No, these attitudes are the formula of emotional depth and perspective. The happiness literature offers is understanding happiness. From our best writing we learn that happiness is complex, fleeting, easily unrecognized, and surprisingly connected to outlook and effort. And the wisdom literature offers is that of adventure, for the worlds created in literature lead out to reality and to knowledge that spans centuries of human endeavor.

Just two examples of the happiness and wisdom I mean, and then I will close. Think on the rich, lasting happiness from the end of Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind":
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Shelley describes a happiness greater, if less pure, than a child's. It's a lasting, hopeful happiness. It's the happiness of knowing life continues inexorably. To Shelley, we are instruments of a powerful universe in motion. Such happiness comes from being bound sonically and temperamentally to that universe. We readers, too, joyfully recognize the intertwining rhyme Shelley uses. We see it and connect with him, and his world. We hear the trumpet tones and know this sound calls just as well in our world.

We take from Shelley a wise happiness, a kind of knowledge not found in movies, television, games, or other activities--all of which possess their own wisdom. Yet we talk about wisdom and knowledge as if they were only about having facts and being able to recall them. Consider, then, the wisdom of the speaker in James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues":
All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours. I just watched Sonny's face. His face was troubled, he was working hard, but he wasn't with it. And I had the feeling that, in a way, everyone on the bandstand was waiting for him, both waiting for him and pushing him along. But as I began to watch Creole, I realized that it was Creole who held them all back. He had them on a short rein. Up there, keeping the beat with his whole body, wailing on the fiddle, with his eyes half closed, he was listening to everything, but he was listening to Sonny. He was having a dialogue with Sonny. He wanted Sonny to leave the shoreline and strike out for the deep water. He was Sonny's witness that deep water and drowning were not the same thing -- he had been there, and he knew. And he wanted Sonny to know. He was waiting for Sonny to do the things on the keys which would let Creole know that Sonny was in the water.
The man admits at the outset he is limited in his knowledge about music. Yet, like the improvising musicians he observes and hears, he builds on what he knows and tries to expand it. Baldwin's writing here focuses on hearing and watching--listening to Sonny play and watching him expend effort. Baldwin searches and finds in the music a dialogue between Creole and Sonny, a dialogue that turns into Sonny's musical exodus or perhaps a musical baptism.

This is the wisdom of hearing and observing, yes, but more the wisdom of sharing and connecting. What sings in this prose is how the speaker voices--attempts to articulate on the fly--how he understands Sonny and Creole. He wants to partake of their interplay. He learns by doing and by actively being.

The happiness and wisdom of literature are unfathomably rich. My student, I wanted you and all your classmates to learn this. Excepting you alone, I failed this semester. I failed because your classmates did not want to be reached and did not think it was worth their energy. I failed because I was not focused or skilled or apt enough to overcome their extraordinary apathy and complacence.

I will retire as a college teacher at the end of this semester. I cannot foresee teaching an Introduction to Literature course again. After 17 years of teaching, I have lost the drive to lead any more classes on the perilous journey through the language and stories of the past, and through the struggle of writing now. I have ceased to be an effective teacher, if ever I was one.

My student, your letter is a comfort to me as I depart. As you go your own way in life, I hope some of what we have read this term stays with you and grows with you. I bid you, as Tennyson's "Ulysses," to seek newer worlds beyond the sunset. That is my intent. Perhaps we will meet again.

Larry Tanner, a teacher

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Science and Religion Are Very Different Where It Counts

The trial of Giordano Bruno by the Roman Inquisition. Bronze relief by Ettore Ferrari, Campo de' Fiori, Rome.

I have not seen much commentary on Stanley Fish's recent follow-up to his New York Times piece, "Evidence in Science and Religion."

Fish makes very questionable assertions that are, unfortunately, too common in atheist-religious dialogues. His main point is that
because trust [in authority] is common to both [science and religion], the distinction between them ... cannot be maintained.
I must caution that I have edited, using bracket inserts and ellipses, to isolate the substance of Fish's argument above. Yet, it must be understood that he is responding specifically to formulations about the science-religion distinction made by Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker, so Fish is not saying that there is no distinction between science and religion:
What I do assert is that with respect to a single demand — the demand that the methodological procedures of an enterprise be tethered to the world of fact in a manner unmediated by assumptions — science and religion are in the same condition of not being able to meet it (as are history, anthropology, political science, sociology, psychology and all the rest).

This means that all standards are equivalently mediated, not that all standards are equivalent in every respect. Apart from the shared characteristic of not being directly in contact with something called reality, science and religion are different in many, familiar ways, and by and large the differences correspond to the tasks we typically ask them to perform.
Fish's argument fails on many levels:
  1. Although science and religion both operate with experts and authorities, religious authorities have no obligations with respect to empirical, independently verifiable evidence. In religion, authority ends with the Torah, or the New Testament, or the Qu'ran. Even where data apparently contradicts the book, the book wins--see the Genesis account of creation, for example. In contrast, science and reasonable academic disciplines make the expert answerable to evidence. We saw this recently with the faster-than-light particles story. We saw this, too, with Fish himself, when he crafted a nifty interpretation of John Milton's "Aeropagitica" out of the pattern of "b" and "p" sounds. That interpretation cannot stand, or persuade many, if the pattern it depends on is not sufficiently illuminated. To return again to religion: a religious interpretation can always stand, no matter what. The sun "stopped"? Sure, no problem. Or, sure, it's figurative. Under no circumstances can the book, Joshua in our latest example, be incorrect.
  2. Unless I have missed it, Fish doesn't elaborate on what "the methodological procedures" might be. Could he mean something like the Passover Seder? The ritual of a Catholic/Christian mass? Prayer? If so, notice that none of these procedures have the natural world as an object in the way of science. The object of a Seder, for example, is to enact the tradition. It makes no difference whether that tradition has any fact to it at all. Science and educational practices are not enacting for the sake of enacting; rather, to the extent the enact or re-enact, they seek to record what happens in and to the world of fact when the acts are performed. So again, Fish is very far away on how different science and religion really are.
  3. Fish hedges when he states "This means that all standards are equivalently mediated, not that all standards are equivalent in every respect." The adverbial "equivalently" is misleading. Yes, practitioners of science and religion bring assumptions about the world to their respective activities. This point is not new. It's not controversial and not provocative in any way. And it's completely beside the point, which is that scientific activities acknowledge this mediation and seek to understand how it influences their approaches and results. And the related point, also missed by Fish, is that religions tend to suppress this mediation and insist their views of the world are the capital-t truth. That "equivalently" is complete glibness and a sign that Fish has not challenged himself intellectually in a long time.
  4. The glibness continues with the last sentence of Fish's I have quoted, where he reduces science and religion to two different tools made to perform different jobs. This is utter accommodationism and blatant bullshit. I can confidently assert without citation the statement that even today the physical world and how it works are a primary concern for religious authorities and doctrines. No religion can survive without a statement of what the universe is and does. That statement is the foundation from which all religions derive their authority to speak on human affairs. Religion cannot get enough of science; they cannot stop incorporating scientific findings into the incessant train of apologetics they use to keep the dependent faithful showing up (with cash) on weekends.
I like the way Fish reads texts. He's better than most, if not great. But his argumentation on science and religion is embarrassingly bad. He's enamored with pronouncements that momentarily seem smart and insightful but are really vacuous. Fish's arguments remind me of the speaker in "What He Thought," a poem by Heather McHugh:
                    For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant, and there
we sat and chatted, sat and chewed,
till, sensible it was our last
big chance to be poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked
                                             "What's poetry?"
Is it the fruits and vegetables and
marketplace of Campo dei Fiori, or
the statue there?" Because I was

the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn't have to think—"The truth
is both, it's both," I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest to say.
Interestingly, the poem ends by taking us into the mind of a heretic monk--Giordano Bruno--about to be burned alive for the crime of "his belief / the universe does not revolve around / the human being."

Science and religion are very different in their approaches and in their relationships to both  practitioners and the world. Yet science and religion both seek to make true and meaningful statements about reality. So, contra Fish, they really are different where it counts while jockeying for position in the same space. I hope Fish will expend the difficult effort to see this.

It's hard to understand why Fish would fail so badly on this topic. I don't think he is anti-science or pro-religion so much as pro-humanities. His remarks on science come out of a humanities perspective, and his larger argument is really that humanities-type learning governs everything, even science. All he wants to do is bring those haughty scientists down a peg or two, but all he winds up doing is wasting polysyllables.