November 30th, 2012

bilbo

this good news brought to you by the letters U-N

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

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Conga-rats to the Palestinians on earning this recognition. It’s not statehood in the sense of a two-state solution. Basically, the main legal change is that the Palestinians can bring charges in international court. NBC has a decent roundtable about the political and legal challenges, and the woman discussing the Palestinian perspective here made some good points about the political side. I sincerely hope these changes show Palestinians that there is hope for diplomatic progress that sidesteps the U.S. if possible.

It seems odd for an American to want her country out of the loop, especially when we don’t have any troops in Palestine/Israel. (So this isn’t a “bring the troops home” position.) But the way I see it, the US position on this conflict is essentially corrupted. There are good reasons to condemn the Gaza Strip’s military attack, or to question whether any politician politician can adequately prevent this kind of thing. I also understand Israel’s concern about working with a political party (Hamas, in the Gaza Strip) that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to existence. It’s a bit ludicrous to think that the weaponry the Palestinians possess is anywhere near a match for Israel, but let’s set that aside. My real point is that the Palestinians aren’t angels here. Neither side is.

Here’s the problem, though: there’s a small but vocal minority in the US who objects to Palestinian statehood for a very unrelated, and much less reasonable, reason. Some Christians believe that the blessing in Genesis, that God will bless whomever blesses Abraham, means giving preferential treatment to Israel. Some even think that gathering the Jews to Israel is a precondition for Armageddon, so we have some sort of religious obligation to oppose any peace process that will split Eretz Yisrael (the Promised Land of the Bible) into a Jewish and non-Jewish state. I don’t agree with their understanding of what it means to bless Abraham, since even in the Bible God’s “blessing” of Israel involved rebuking prophets and invading armies when Israel fell off the straight and narrow.

But even more to the point, theology has no place in the foreign relations of a secular state like ours. It’s wrong to use any group of people as a pawn in your end-times hopes, and it’s simply cruel to allow the Israelis to blockade Palestine the way they have. I get why the Palestinians are frustrated, and I’m glad they’ve just received a message from the world community that the US isn’t the only game in town anymore. I don’t know what long-term impact, if any, this will have on things. But it’s definitely some of the mos encouraging news I’ve heard in a long time.

bilbo

Eye of the Tiger [a review of "Life of Pi"]

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

(If Life of Pi had plot spoilers to reveal, this would probably give them away. I don’t think it’s the kind of movie that can really be spoiled, but do consider yourself warned.)

In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins wrote:

I have found it an amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.

I’ve encountered this line of thought when I discuss religion with my friends who happen to be atheists, and I think I understand the basic point here. None of us, this argument seems to be saying, feel obliged to prove that Zeus doesn’t exist; we simply don’t see a good reason to believe that Zeus exists, and everyone agrees that if someone truly was a Zeus-lim or a Zeus-tian it would be up to him to show us why that belief was really rational. And atheists just apply this to all the gods out there, rather than excepting the one god they choose to believe in.

But while I understand this line of thought, it’s never really held water for me, for a very simple reason. We’re dealing with different questions, different types of skepticism here. When the atheist denies that God exists, he’s answering the question “Does God exist?” with a resounding no. Theists of all types say yes here (or at a minimum, perhaps), and then go on to the next question: “What is God like?” That’s the work theists are engaged in when they say “Mithras doesn’t exist” or “Zeus doesn’t exist” or (depending on your modern religion) Christ or Allah or Vishnu doesn’t exist.” We are saying that God exists – but He isn’t like what people mean when they use that word. Even if I went through all the conceptions of God we humans have ever come up with are false, that doesn’t get you to a “no” answer on the first question.

I was reminded of all this as I was watching The Life of Pi. Pi is an Indian boy who emigrates to America and is the sole survivor when his ships flounders in the middle of the Pacific ocean. His father is what we might call a functional atheists. It’s not clear (at least from the movie) whether Santosh has actually ruled out the possibility that any God exists, or even that God resembles the Hindi pantheon, but he certainly doesn’t see any value in religion, generally speaking. Pi’s mother Gita is presented as more religious, and has simultaneously been harmed and helped by it. She was disowned by her family for marrying below her social position, which I took as coming out of the caste theology, but at the same time it’s this religion that gives her her main connection to her past in later life. For all that, his mum is also a part of the “new India” and is college-educated; she simply seems to have (at least in the movies) more respect for religion than Santosh does.

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