Cracks in McCain’s “Cone of Silence”

Stop the presses! The New York Times and so many others are reporting that John McCain was not, I repeat … Continued

Stop the presses! The New York Times and so many others are reporting that John McCain was not, I repeat not, sitting in what Pastor Rick Warren referred to as “the cone of silence” while Barack Obama was questioned during Saturday night’s Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency.

McCain staffers told journalists that the Republican candidate was in a motorcade on his way to the church when Obama was on stage, but heard none of the questions. Yet in an age of Blackberrys and text-messaging that strains credulity.

This is no small matter. In fact, it’s a huge matter, if only because we: 1) were assured by the Pastor that he [McCain] was not able to hear the questions asked of Obama, 2) were led to believe by McCain that he was in the “cone of silence” as well, and 3) watched McCain blow the doors off of every single question that was asked of him.

I do not know if this story is accurate and I surmise that in the next few hours we will be learning a lot more. But insofar as I pronounced Senator Obama the night’s loser (see the post from this morning below), I need to retract that verdict.

As you can tell from the post below, I was not too thrilled about the Saddleback Forum. Among other complaints, I believed that only a credible news organization should have been entrusted with a conversation as important to American democracy as this one. It wasn’t only secularists who lost on Saturday night, but journalists as well.

I do not believe–note this–that there was any malice on Rick Warren’s part. Let’s call it a mistake. BUT IT WAS A MISTAKE THAT PROBABLY WOULD NEVER HAVE OCCURRED IF WE FOLLOWED OUR JEFFERSONIAN INSTINCTS AND PREVENTED A SECTARIAN CLERIC–SUBJECT TO NO EXTERNAL MONITORING OR OVERSIGHT–FROM HAVING THE FIRST CONVERSATION WITH TWO CANDIDATES COMPETING FOR THE HIGHEST OFFICE IN THE LAND.

Let’s see how the story develops in the next few hours.

By Jacques Berlinerblau | 
August 18, 2008; 4:33 PM ET


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  • JoeT

    He was in a secret service motorcade until just before he came on stage. I suspect that we would know if he tuned the radio to the event because not all the secret service would keep the secret. Warren was clearly just joking about a cone of silence, and McCain’s eagerness to answer questions was the result of having so many canned answers he had to make sure he used them when he had the chance or manufacture a chance if he didn’t, not the fact that he knew the questions. He wasn’t sure whether to force the abortion issue to the supreme court or wait for a direct question on judges.I for one would forget the issue. To me what’s important is that he gave his stump speech and barely cared what the questions were. And what’s more important is his honesty. To claim credit for refusing early release when to accept it would have gotten you court-martialled is despicable and an insult to real heroes. To apparently steal the “cross in the sand” story from Solzhenytsin’s Gulag Archipelago is beyond redemption. That’s cheating for me.

  • athena3

    McCain lied. And “Pastor” Warren aided and abetted that lie. It was a setup.

  • Robert Kaminski

    When you tell the audience that the next speaker is in a “cone of silence,” you should make a “correction.”I misspoke, he is actually in his car driving to the Church. Therefore, I do not know if he has listened to the questions before hand.He may deny it, but I do not know what was going on in his car.A simple statement for Pastor Warren.

  • Tom3

    McLame didn’t just hear the questions, he got a complete list of questions well in advance.Obama didn’t.It is obvious from watching it that McLame knew all the questions in advance, particularly the Supreme Court question.The Religious Reich are NOT Christians.They are lying, cheating torture monkeys.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Jacques -Why are you giving Warren a pass on this? He stated that, “we have John McCain backstage in a cone of silence.” John McCain was in his motorcade when Rev Warren made that statement. Warren knew that. It was his church, his forum, his statement. He knew McCain was nowhere near HIS church, let alone backstage in some cone of silence.Warren could have just as easily said, “we had hoped to have McCain in a cone of silence, but he’s stuck in traffic.” But that would have been to admit upfront that the questioning would be biased, with McCain getting to hear both the questions and Obama’s answers in advance…which is EXACTLY what happened…and which is exactly what Warren’s LIE was intended to make viewers believe would NOT happen as they sat through his 2-hour religious litmus test.We are left to believe that one of the purposes of the Purpose-driven Life is to lie when it suits your political agenda, as did Rev Warren on this occasion. This episode stands as another sorry example of that long-honored tradition of Xians lying for Jesus. Rev Rick may be able top get away with this kind of mendacity with his fantasy believing flock, but for him to believe that he could get away with it in this “24/7-YouTube gotcha” campaign season shows Warren to be as out of touch with reality as is Teflon John McBush.The Purpose-driven Lie, perhaps?

  • Now see the damage you’ve done Rick? It was not your “call” or was it?

    “Christian conservatives gave Bush 78 percent of their votes in 2004.” What in the world is a “Christian conservative”?

  • Norman Schwartz

    It’s not surprising that McCain would cheat. The GOP will do whatever it takes to defeat Obama. We haven’t seen nothing yet!!

  • Larry D. Wilson

    Speaks volumes about McCain’s character. I am truly saddened – I thought he was a better man than this.

  • Lisa Morgan

    It is really sad and disappointing that the Presidential playing field is not equal. I can not say McCain did or did not hear the questions. However, it is certain that Obama was on time and present to fulfill the forum protocol as established by Pastor Waren. Why could McCain not do the same?

  • Lillian J

    This is a very sad state of affairs and could have been easily controlled by Warren & the production team.

  • Gerald

    These people would do anything to win, even cheating at a church event in front of his own people – the intolerant class (according to McCain). Barack had one goal, keeping McCain religious vote down a bit and I think he has done that. What folks may have missed is how McCain has become so my way ot the highway, it’s really Bush part deux. He went for the choir vote and neglected the vast majority of voters, including the independent vote. We’ll see who is going to win this election. Barack is only going for 35EVs while Mccain has to win all of the 111EVs. Besides, there will not be the choir during the dabates and no way to be phoned in with the questionsand responses. Let the pundits with their bloated egos calling that one out before the first vote. This is going to be a big surprise for the entire world. The nomenclature is about to be detroned.

  • Mike Harley

    I have friends who attend this church and watched the “performances” by the candidates. I must say that while all the initial analysis of McCain’s responses to pastor Rick’s questions was glowing, we need to step back a bit and see it another way, a more realistic way. McCain told the congegation exactly what they wanted to hear, so I remain a skeptic. He blurted out answers even before some of the questions were finished.As for Obama, the intial analysis by thwe so-called experts at CNN, etc., was that his responses were “nuanced” — that was the big word of the day. I see differently. His responses were well thought out, honest, and clearly did not pander to the congegation. He said some things he knew they would disagree with very strongly, e.g., abortion. But the fact remains he stuck to his guns on abortion, on the war in Iraq, and on taxes. Fot that, he is to be admired. I was a little disappointed in the lack of questions pertaining to environmental issues, which Pastor Rick knows are very important to young evangelicals. Overall however, this was an excellent forum. On one hand, we got to learn more about how Obama thinks, and sadly, how McCain preaches to the choir. In the long run, I don’t think it will change much in terms of national polling or where people stand on issues most important to them.

  • Roy

    Like Dick Cheney, McCain has demonstrated he is “above the rules”

  • couchmouse

    McCain may not have actually heard the questions… But you can bet his campaigns Blackberry’s were working overtime.

  • Just Shocked

    Wow, I can’t believe it! A right-wing minister tilted his political forum toward the Republican candidate and then lied about it. I am shocked, just shocked, that a Christian minister would do this.I am also shocked that it would get barely any attention in the mainstream media.

  • Barbara Campbell

    Obama supporters aren’t crying foul because McCain did well (he didn’t), but because the forum was clearly rigged to keep McCain from totally imploding.Before Rev. Rick Warren brought up the Supreme Court justice question, McCain asked: “Are we gonna get back to the importance of the Supreme Court justices?” McCain forgot that he had not yet heard the question during the official interview, but obviously in advance of it.It was also clear from many of McCain’s responses that he knew many of the questions in advance, since he answered before Warren finished asking the question, and McCain’s responses seemed rehearsed.If Warren’s questions to Obama and to McCain are compared side by side, it’s apparent that Warren asked the questions differently. He also let McCain ramble on with stump speeches while cutting off Obama. Further, he made clear his personal preference for McCain.Despite the pastor’s assurances that McCain was in a “cone of silence”, in fact McCain was not even in the building. His staff has admitted that he was in a motorcade en route to the forum.This should be front page news across the country. This forum was a farce. McCain and Reverend Rick Warren have deceived the American people. They have both been willing to lie and cheat in order to bias this election.Now what about that character issue??? McCain doesn’t even have the intelligence to keep his advance knowledge of the questions a secret.You can watch a replay of the interview at

  • Jeff Boswell

    Journalists lost as well? Secularists lost?Of course, Rick Warren has a point of view. But he was evenhanded in dealing with both men. To me, the net gain here was a glimpse at the personal character and experience (pay grade) of both men.Journalists have been falling all over themselves covering Obama and casting him in the best light possible.Maybe it’s ok if someone else gets a shot at providing an even playing field…just once.Before I forget, I’m a secularist. I thought it was a great couple of hours.

  • Mr Mark

    Tom3 writes:”The Religious Reich are NOT Christians.They are lying, cheating torture monkeys.”Coulda fooled me.From what I’ve seen in my 53 years and what I’ve read in history books, Rev Warren and the religious right are perfect examples of what it means to be a Xian. Their religion is based on lies. Is anyone surprised that lying comes so naturally with the territory?Embrace the horror. Xians are liars, Always have been. Why give them a pass when history and current events scream the sorry truth?

  • RB-Chicago

    Classic…Just another lie in the string of fiction surrounding McSame and the church/press love affair with this moron.Rick Warren, as you, are complete losers. Hopefully, everyone with more than 16 brain cells can see that. You, everything you stand for along with your band of sniveling fool dweebs that probably follow you around like a puppy deserve whatever you get.Won’t get fooled again…

  • Jared

    If the Obama campaign truly believes their accusations (that McCain cheated at Saddleback): why doesn’t Obama accept McCain’s invitation to appear in a series of Townhall Meetings? What a great way for voters to get a good look at the candidates in a secular setting.

  • Mr Mark

    Jared writes:”If the Obama campaign truly believes their accusations (that McCain cheated at Saddleback): why doesn’t Obama accept McCain’s invitation to appear in a series of Townhall Meetings?”Why accept an invitation from a proven cheat and liar? As an Obama supporter, I really don’t see the benefit to Obama to grab his ankles and shout, “excuse me, sir, may I have another?” as McCain wields his cheating paddle.On the other hand, I’d love to see Obama and McCain in a forum where the moderator was an atheist. Christopher Hitchens would do nicely.The religious have had their forum. Why no forum for the 20% of Americans who identify as being non-religious?

  • jared

    Why Hitchens? Why not Berlinerblau?C’mon Jacques.. Rick Warren pitched it and made it happen. Here’s your big chance to make a difference this election.

  • Mr Mark

    Jared -I’d be fine with Berlinerblau, but having watched Hitchens in action, and knowing his well-defined position as an atheist and his grasp of religious dogma and history, he seems like a natural.

  • Arminius

    Mr Mark,Please ease up on the sweeping, bitter generalizations. You know damn well that many of us Christians are not liars. Of course you don’t agree with our belief – I have no problem with that, as you know – but please don’t call me a liar.

  • Arminius

    Well, what do we have here? Two accusations:1. McCain, late to the show, listened in to Warren questioning Obama.The (circumstantial) evidence indeed weighs heavily against both. But absolute proof is lacking. So to say outright that Warren lied is stretching the evidence. It is remotely possible that he did not know where McCain was, but that is very difficult to believe. But until proof is forthcoming, we still don’t know. Same with McCain.

  • Roy

    Not a story the neocons will slurp up from the Irish Cathoic bigots at Fox News or from the lying oxy-coton addict Rush Limberger.

  • Posted on John Mark Reynold’s blog

    Anonymous:Be not naive. Rev Rick Warren arranged a carefully controlled public forum in the attendance of a national and international media to present both the presidential candidates in their best light along with useful information about their personal views both religious and otherwise. He called them both his friends. Why would he, as a Christian pastor, want either of them to look foolish or not be at their best?Both candidates said their prepared answers. The questions needed far too much careful reflection to answer, that it could not have been thought out on the spot. Just because Senator Obama paused longer doesn’t mean he didn’t prepare his answers in advance. He is the better orator and well known for it. Pausing for effect is part of oratory skill. It is simplistic to think his longer pauses had any special significance compared to Senator McCain’s immediate quick answers.What matters is what both candidates actually said, their authenticity as persons and how their policy stand resonates.Senator McCain comes from a family of soldiers used to thinking in terms of a group, self-sacrifice and working for a cause higher than themselves.Senator Obama is relatively young and has worked as a community organizer and lawyer, but not without political ambitions.Military training and training as a lawyer are two different things. Both have their unique set of merits and disadvantages.Compare policies and decide what is best for the country.August 18, 2008 1:42 AM | Report Offensive CommentsPosted on August 18, 2008 01:42What about simple honesty?Last night at Saddleback, Rick Waren said that McCain was in a ‘cone of silence’. Later we find out McCain wasn’t in the building. I do not believe Rick Warren who pastors the place the forum took place in didn’t know McCain hadn’t arrived to the Lord’s house– before making the cone reference.Then to top it all off, when Warren asked McCain about his cone experience, Mc Cain said he was trying to listen through the wall. Where is the truth in all of this.August 18, 2008 3:14 AM | Report Offensive CommentsPosted on August 18, 2008 03:14Why such a big deal about nothing? Cone of silence simply could mean that Senator McCain didn’t get to hear Senator Obama’s end of the forum. And does it matter whether he was in the building or not or arrived half an hour into Senator Obama’s part, and was in the cone of silence within the church? What if Rev Warren didn’t know when Senator McCain really arrived because he was interviewing Senator Obama, and Senator McCain had been expected to arrive on time and wait in his cone of silence?August 18, 2008 3:35 AM

  • Kay from LA

    The straight talk express? Derailed again. Why didn’t McCain simply state that although he had agreed to the rules, he chose not to abide by them, that he was not in the “cone of silence” as agreed at the beginning of the questioning? How can he ever prove that he did not have some access to the program. Denied broadcast feed, BUT did not deny access to other electronic devices, did not deny using cell, blackberry, radio, etc. We cannot question the integrity of a former POW with ambitions to become the oldest president.

  • Glenn McCreedy

    Author Jeff Mariotte makes a serious charge against John McCain in his blog

  • thinkagain

    If Senator McCain couldn’t even be honest about a little thing as the cone of silence, how can he be honest about the bigger problems facing us.Oh yeah ! He’ll probably say I need to get a sense of humor.

  • JRP

    There is no way that Warren could not have known that one of the two attendees for his “production” had not yet arrived. So HOW could he state with no qualification that McCain was present and encased in the fictitious “cone of silence”. What a farce! What a deception on the american public. Deja vu all over again. Karl Rove come out from behind that curtain!

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Arminius -There is always the exception that proves the rule, and any sweeping general statement that anyone makes on this blog or elsewhere implicitly recognizes the exception.That said, I am just about fed up with the automatic apology/get-out-of-jail-free-card that pops up every time a Xian is shown to be a liar and a cheat. I am really tired of people spouting “they’re not acting like Xians,” or, “he’s not a real Xian or he wouldn’t say/act/do that.”Xians in this country are assumed to be MORE honest, MORE ethical and have MORE integrity than the rest of us. This is BS of the highest order, and it is as repulsive as it is false. One need not look far to find a Xian embodying he WORST in what humanity has to offer. Rick Warren and John McCain are only this week’s example of Xians who are quite comfortable lying for Christ.And, to be frank about it, I’m also sick of the Xians’ companion free ride: we’re all imperfect and sinners. Yes, it’s so easy to be a sh*t when Jesus has that free pass of “his blessed forgiveness” sitting there for the believers. Well, the rest of us don’t have such placebos available to justify and excuse away our dishonest actions. The rest of us have to face up to these things all on our own. And, you know what, we’re better people than the religionists for being able to do so, for taking that responsibility all on our own shoulders and not shuffling the burden off onto some imaginary deity. We’re better people for asking the people we’ve wronged for their forgiveness, rather than asking god to forgive us, which amounts to nothing more than asking ourselves to forgive ourselves, as there ain’t no god listening there to begin with.So, I’m sorry to be insensitive once again, Arminius, but when someone tells me they’re a Xian, they’re telling me that they’re a liar. They’re telling me that they can’t be bothered with enlightened values but prefer their worn-out fantasies to reality. I have an equally negative reaction when people tell me they’re a Republican, but in both cases, I hold out hope that a particular person can prove to be the exception to the sorry rule. This reflects what I have gathered for myself on my life journey. I don’t for a minute imagine that my experience is that of others, but it is what it is.So, bitter? Perhaps. Eternally disappointed by Xians and the pathetic idiocies of the Bible that are leading them all astray? Surely.

  • Anonymous

    Be fair. Don’t try to play Gotcha with Senator McCain simply because he did better than Senator Obama’s camp expected.Let the best man win and don’t undermine anyone.

  • Anonymous

    Both Senators have their own views on all issues, and had been briefed about what topics would be addressed. Both had prepared their answers as best as they could. How could Senator McCain have gained anything by listening in to Senator Obama’s answers? It was not a debate between them.

  • Anonymous

    How childish to assume that when your “team” doesn’t win it’s because the other team cheated.

  • There You Go Again

    As Ronald Reagan would say, “There you go again.”All you can say when your guy loses is, “McCain cheated,” or “it wasn’t fair.” The truth is, Obama appeared uncomfortable because he WAS uncomfortable. He measured every answer (even changed words mid-stride at times) to avoid saying what he really believes. When he’s in front of an audience he feels comfortable with he says what he really thinks, like how some folks “cling to their guns and religion.” McCain, on the other hand, appeared comfortable because he didn’t need to measure every word. He spoke what he really believes with no hesitation.Look, Obama is a great orator, but despite all his talk of “change,” he has nothing new to offer us but the same old liberal ideas — universal health care, abortion, higher taxes, and income redistribution. We’ve heard it all before.

  • Anonymous

    Those of us who remain untouched by Obama obsession should try to be understanding towards those with “messiah madness”. They have been deluded and experience anger and anguish every time Obama experiences a failure. To maintain the illusion that he is invincible: they will fabricate excuses to explain their hero’s “setback”. I hope someone sets up a support program for them when McCain wins this election.

  • tara

    Some of Obama’s camp exerienced shock and horror when they learned there was no “cone of silence”.When they found out that John McCain wasn’t REALLY sitting under an acrylic cone they naturally felt cheated and lied to by Rick Warren. The very idea that McCain wasn’t actually sitting under a REAL cone when Barack Obama struggled through his interview- meant McCain must be a liar and cheat too. I hope these people get some rest and clear their heads before the Clintons show up in Denver.

  • aanonymous

    Hey Anonymous, yes we should recognize messiah madness when it occurs, wherever it occurs. Christians seem quite infected with this madness, a whole set of delusions and history of enforcement make this a particularly troubling disease.

  • Cooter

    Mr. Mark… I always LOVE your posts. You say what I wish to say, and say it with passion and reason. Thank you.So, why would Obama expect fair treatment among a group of Xians who will never vote for him anyway? Obama did the right thing by showing up, otherwise he would have been accused of ignoring the Xian vote. He did the right thing by carefully choosing his words. The world is indeed complex and requires nuance and intelligent consideration. McSame is of the “let’s pound a square peg into a round hole” generation. I want a POTUS that could challenge me in a debate and provide careful consideration of the issues from all sides. I want a POTUS who will change direction if the facts dictate that he should. Mostly, I want a POTUS who, once elected, will truly reach out to everyone, but realize that some people are just f*****g crazy and should be told to STFU.

  • ZZim

    Hahahahah! Boy are you eager to dismiss the Saddleback results. Here’s my prediction – The Obama people (and their minions) will scream a lot about how McCain cheated and then do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to avoid any further town-hall style events. Because YOU KNOW it wasn’t a fluke. McCain is the master in the town-hall environment, interacting directly with voters. Obama is the master showman soaking up adulation in big stadium rallies and making soaring one-way speeches. When it comes down to interacting directly with actual voters – especially potentially hostile voters – Obama fails miserably. The Obama campaign will do everything possible to avoid a repeat. Which will prove that the result was of Saddleback were valid.IF THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN REALLY THINKS McCAIN ONLY WON BECAUSE OF “CHEATING” THEN THEY WILL BEG FOR A REMATCH. If they don’t, there’s your proof that the Obama campaign ITSELF fears McCain is the better candidate.

  • Robert B.

    Mr. Berlinerblau wrote, “BUT IT WAS A MISTAKE THAT PROBABLY WOULD NEVER HAVE OCCURRED IF WE FOLLOWED OUR JEFFERSONIAN INSTINCTS AND PREVENTED A SECTARIAN CLERIC–SUBJECT TO NO EXTERNAL MONITORING OR OVERSIGHT–FROM HAVING THE FIRST CONVERSATION WITH TWO CANDIDATES COMPETING FOR THE HIGHEST OFFICE IN THE LAND.”So, anyone can ask questions or host a meeting of this kind except a clergyman? Are the clergy not also citizens of the United States with the same rights as anyone else? And how exactly can we legally “prevent” someone from hosting this kind of meeting without completely defying the Constitution?

  • carlyn

    “Obama is the master showman soaking up adulation in big stadium rallies and making soaring one-way speeches (written by other people).”Why does Obama present himself as the “black” candidate- when his mother was white and all his political handlers are too. His wife, Michelle, is black and she has been told to shut up and put away. Clarence Thomas is black and his considerable black advancement was slammed. It gives me the awful feeling Obama may be a “black” puppet being animated by a white hand.I agree with zzim. It’s time for the townhall meetings to begin so we can see who these candidates are standing on their own two feet and speaking for themselves.

  • Robert B.

    Mr. Mark wrote, “On the other hand, I’d love to see Obama and McCain in a forum where the moderator was an atheist. Christopher Hitchens would do nicely.”And what exactly would make Mr. Hitchens a more fair moderator than the Rev, Warren? If you want to balance the scales, find a true moderator that won’t spin anything. Do that, and I’ll bet Obama cleans McCain’s clock…

  • Anonymous

    Anon says”To maintain the illusion that (Obama) is invincible: they will fabricate excuses to explain their hero’s “setback”.”Then Robert B says”find a true moderator that won’t spin anything. Do that, and I’ll bet Obama cleans McCain’s clock…”BINGO..

  • Robert B.

    Cooter wrote “Mr. Mark… I always LOVE your posts. You say what I wish to say, and say it with passion and reason. Thank you.”Mr. Mark used to be one of the most rational people on these boards. Then he started to say things like “…but when someone tells me they’re a Xian, they’re telling me that they’re a liar.”Sadly, this seems to have happened to a lot of posters here, which is why I’ve become more of a lurker than a regular poster.Mr. Mark, could you please reassert some of your former rational side for the sake of decent conversation? If you make an effort to do so, then others might as well and the blog will be better for it.

  • Robert B.

    Anonymous –Look, all I’m saying is that I’d like to see both candidates go at each other in a non-partisan forum (which Saddleback definitely wasn’t). My impression of Obama is that he would shine in such an environment. But I could be wrong about McCain; he also might thrive in such a situation. Either way, I’d like to see it happen, if only because it would give the American people more information about the men who want to lead them.

  • Arminius

    Hello, Mr Mark,As to me being an exception, I am, but not as you say. My apparent rarity among Christians lies in my coming back to the faith from the outside, and looking to find truth, not assuming that it is all true. But as to being someone who is progressive/liberal, and tries to live my faith, not shout it on street corners, I am by no means alone. There are many of us who are non-judgmental; after all, we are supposed to believe that God is the judge. Gandhi said it best: “If you Christians lived your religion instead of just talking about it, then everyone would want to be Christian”.As to the ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’: you are correct that many ‘Christians’ truly believe that they can do anything they want for six days, then go wail a mea culpa or two and get their passport to heaven automatically stamped yet again. Bulls***, they are utterly wrong. One must truly repent. Repentance means turning away from wrong, and doing your best to lead a better life. If God is going to judge us, He’s gonna look at the Whole Enchilada, not just at a weekly whining, or even a death bed confession. Some of the best people I ever have known were devout Christians, but I never knew that until I observed their behavior – they never spoke about it.All too sadly true that Christians have been assumed to be good people here in America. This is utter garbage. When someone says that so-and-so is a ‘Good Christian Man/Woman’, they have just waved a red flag, and my shields automatically go up. It shrieks of hypocritical judgment. Damnit, we gotta walk the walk, to hell with the talk.Christianity in America today is in foment. My own usually placid denomination, Episcopal, is in the news because of the schism over gay bishops and gay marriages. Even the evangelists are evolving. Certainly Rick Warren should be viewed with skepticism, much of it deserved. But he has championed the move out of the dark box fabricated by the Falwells and Dobsons, and moved into actually trying to do something about worldwide poverty, disease, and global warming. This is at least a promising step in the right direction. Mr Mark, you are certainly bitter and angry. So am I. But this has seemingly led you into a binary position, all good or all bad. The fundies have also made this mistake. The long road out of this mess is not helped by clinging to absolutes – you will alienate potential allies. And we need allies in this quest.Arminius

  • Robert B.

    As usual, Arminius, you are a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stifling blog. Keep fighting the good fight!

  • Arminius

    Robert B,

  • Mr Mark

    Robert B writes:”And what exactly would make Mr. Hitchens a more fair moderator than the Rev, Warren?”Oh, I wouldn’t limit it to Mr Hitchens. Considering Rev Warren’s mendacity about the non-existent cone of silence, I’d say just about anyone would be a more honest and fairer moderator.One need only look back on the primary debates of both parties to see that every single moderator/questioner was more fair than was Rev Warren. If nothing else, none of them claimed to have a candidate sequestered in a cone of silence when, in fact, the candidate wasn’t even near the building.The fact remains that Saturday’s event was devised by Rev Warren, played on his turf and by his rules. That he not only ignored his own rules but lied about them in front of millions of viewers speaks volumes about the trustowthiness of Rev Warren.The bar is set rather low to qualify as a fairer moderator than Rev Warren and his Purpose-driven Lie.

  • Robert B.

    Mr. Mark –I agree that I would have preferred to see both candidates on the same stage hearing the same questions at the same time. Do you happen to know why Rev. Warren made the format was the way it was? (I realize that the easy answer is that he is a partisan hack, but did he provide an “official” explanation?)My main concern with Hitchens is that he is as much of a partisan (perhaps more so) as any evangelical preacher. Isn’t he always talking about how people of faith are intellectually inferior to atheists like himself? Much better, I think, to find someone who actually might not allow his bias to tailor his approach to these sort of situations.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Robert B & Arminius -I thank you for your kind words about my “past” rationality.That said, even the most level-headed among us occasionally lose our cool when we are confronted with the repulsive lies of a Rev Warren, especially when the perp goes on CNN and lies some more to try and cover his original lies. There is, after all, a time for everything under the sun, and that includes outrage.Unfortunately for Xians of all stripes on this board, Rev Warren represents you and your faith when he spins his lies, just as a schmuck like gw bush represents me as an American as he sows his seeds of death around the world.Rev Warren has been held up as a moderate, a Xian who is trying to move the dialogue onto a higher plane, a Xian who believes that Xianity needs a transformation to pick up where the Reformation left off. Yet, in his first big event on the national stage, he resorts to outright lies and poorly conceived half-truths to cover his blatant mendacity. Forgive me if I find him no better than Jim Bakker when he first denied his affair with Jessica Hahn. Forgive me if I find him no more credible a liar than Bernard Law. At what point do Xians stop with the easy excuse of, “well, they’re just men, and no one’s perfect,” and come to grips with the apparent fact that there is something seriously wrong with the basic philosophy underlying Christianity itself, and that these philosophical flaws are directly responsible for the unctuous actions of a Rick Warren? At what point do the contradictions and outright idiocies of Xianity become so overwhelming that one finally embraces the reality that such seriously flawed constructs aren’t deserving of men’s faith?For a believer like Arminius, he takes the Jeffersonian route, tossing the bulk of the OT and cherry picking the NT into a philosophy that he can live with. In his defense, Arminius at least has the starch to admit that is what he’s doing, and to be quite open about the fact tat he is basically a Xian sect unto himself. But this has the effect of putting discussion of his beliefs out of bounds for the rest of us, who need to limit our discussion of Xianity to the broad strokes. Discussing Xianity with Armnius can be rather like trying to discuss baseball with a person who has eliminated third base from the infield.What I would like to see – and what I instinctively know I will NEVER see – is a discussion by Xians on what is wrong with the core philosophy underlying their faith. THAT particular elephant in the room is notably off limits, and that fact may account for the many myopic and angry defenses we see of Xianity on this blog every single day of the god-dam*ed week, chief among them the “don’t judge god by the actions of men” gambit.Gotta go.

  • Robert B.

    Mr. Mark –First, you’re far beyond “occasionally” losing your cool here. Your rage has been consistent for at least the past six months.Also, if you truly want to talk about “what is wrong with the core philosophy underlying [the Christian] faith,” I am more than willing to discuss what you believe to be the flaws. What exactly do you think is wrong with Christianity (other than the fact that it’s a religion, that is :) )?

  • bill

    “Do you happen to know why Rev. Warren made the format was the way it was?”It was the ONLY format “in which the Obama campaign would allow their candidate to participate”.. Their standard response is: Obama declines to appear side-by-side with McCain. The debates should be telling..

  • Robert B.

    Bill –Do you have some independent source to back up that assertion (preferably with some further explanation from both camps)? I intend no offense; I just like to know where my information is coming from… :)

  • Arminius

    Hi, Robert B,Mr Mark has been more ‘outspoken’ of late, to be sure. But not always. It is sad when he gets in binary mode, because when he is calm and collected, he is an outstanding debater, with a great grasp of facts.Anyway, the issue here, IMHO. is not so much the ‘flaws’ of Christianity, but what are the core beliefs of Christianity. And this is a gigantic can of worms which I hesitate to open, not being anything of a theologian. It would be a firestorm – a damned interesting one, of course! I tend towards the ‘What would Jesus do?’ camp. Many here are firmly in the ‘Who would Jesus bomb?’ camp.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Robet B -How do you know if I’ve been losing my cool over the past 6 months? You said you hardly blog here anymore.As far as me pointing out the flaws in Xianity, see almost any of my posts.Let’s take a Rick Warren approach: he asked the candidates to name the greatest failing of the USA. I ask YOU, name the three biggest flaws in Xianity.

  • Tracy Dowling

    This is a free country, and anyone should be to invite the presidential candidates to be interviewed. I am appalled by your reasoning. Why is a secular overseer any less prejudiced than a religious one? This is a country that has many interests — religious, secular, ethic, and racial. All have a right to sit at the table and join in the discussion.I don’t think your idea is Jeffersonian at all — I think it is simply a prejudiced against a religious viewpoint. Religious people have as much right to get their questions answered as do those with a more secular orientation — and we have plenty of forums for the latter.

  • Robert B.

    Bill,Thanks for the link. You can count me as one of those “concerned and puzzled” Democrats mentioned at the end of the article.

  • Arminius

    Mr Mark, you said,”Discussing Xianity with Armnius can be rather like trying to discuss baseball with a person who has eliminated third base from the infield.”As a passionate baseball fan, I take grave issue with that. I have not eliminated third base, I have eliminated the infamous Designated Hitter rule!

  • Anonymous

    One of Mr. Mark’s glaring misstatements:”Are you going to stop me from jerking off as well? You’re welcome to watch if it excites you” Whew!

  • Robert B.

    Mr. Mark –I said I rarely *posted*; I have lurked and read the posts of others. Perhaps I’ve been catching your posts on bad days…Leaving aside the fact that you’re the one who brought up Christianity’s flaws in the first place, I’ll start the ball rolling by saying that my religion’s chief flaw is probably its closeness to the Manichaean idea that the physical world is evil. This was one of the major problems of early Christian theology (Augustine himself struggled with it) and the religion still deals with the blowback and misconceptions it creates today.Another major problem is, as you noted earlier, the problem of salvation and evil, which sometimes creates the attitude that “I can sin for six days and be saved on the seventh.” As Arminius indicated earlier, that kind of attitude is bad theology. The entire point of Christianity is that we’re not like the Pharisee who takes so many pains to look good on the Sabbath. Christians are called upon to live their faith every single day of their lives. And anyone who tells you that living up to the example of Christ is easy is severely mistaken; loving one’s enemies and showing compassion even to those who wrong us are the hardest things to do because they defy our natural selfishness. One of your complaints is that Christians are too eager to play the “fallen man” card whenever one of our “heroes” (for example, Jimmy Bakker, who is certainly no hero of mine) screws up. The fact is that man is imperfect, especially when it comes to moral matters. The Christian desire to forgive is at odds with the equally Christian desire to see justice done and we imperfect men can’t really make the balance work. That’s why Christians believe that true justice can only be achieved by God alone. However, that doesn’t absolve us from doing the best we can to make the balance work…A final problem is one that deals more with how Christians are perceived than an actual flaw. Christians are taught (though many do not practice it) that humility is a great virtue. We are not supposed to crow about our positive achievements, but instead “pray where no one sees us.” In the modern age, of course, this leads to a problem. Every evil done in the name of religion and every misstep by a religious figure becomes front page news, while millions of good deeds done by Christians (not to mention those of other faiths) go without mention. I think that this is not because (as some would have it) the media is overly hostile to religion, but because, quite simply, good news doesn’t sell very well.I realize that this post is somewhat rambling and no doubt you or someone else will find some major flaws in my comments and pounce on them. I welcome such pounces, if only because they provide me with a way of further understanding my own beliefs.

  • Robert B.

    Arminus –I readily admit that Mr. Mark, when not in binary mode, is one of the best posters on these boards. This is why I am concerned to see him more and more in the anti-theist camp (again, maybe I’ve simply been unlucky in my observations). We have far too few honest atheists on these boards as is and I don’t want to see him waste his debating and conversational talents by hurling invective at any and all believers.

  • Arminius

    Robert B,I, too, am concerned with Mr Mark’s current attitude. He offers so much more, contributes so well to true dialog, when he is not pissed off.Another good atheist voice here, not heard recently, is E Favorite.

  • Robert B.

    Arminius wrote “‘The physical world is evil’: meaning that man is inherently evil, I presume.”More than that, actually. With Christianity’s emphasis on the spiritual, it’s easy for Christians to call the physical world “evil”. This attitude has many subtle reflections in Christianity. For example, many believe (wrongly) that the spiritual outlook of Christianity creates a hostility to studies of the physical world (what we call “science” nowadays), when in fact, the first book of the Old Testament declares categorically that the created world and everything in it is *good*. Augustine solved this conundrum by proposing the ordo caritas (“order of love”) in which it is perfectly OK to care about the things of this world so long as one places priority on spiritual (in particular, moral) ideals. When the priorities get screwed up, that’s when sin is committed. It’s not a matter of “physical bad, spiritual good,” but rather “physical good, spiritual *better*”…Take a more modern example: most laymen believe that Catholicism’s requirement of priestly celibacy comes from a hatred of sex (a physical pleasure, to be sure). Hence, there is a widespread belief that if Catholic priests were permitted to marry, that there would not be pedophilia within the Church (which is, of course, a convenient fiction). Any closer examination of Catholic teaching on the matter, however, reveals that the “Catholic sex problem” is not based on a hatred of the flesh, but on a concern for morality. In a modern world where (despite American puritanical pretensions) sex is everywhere, it is so easy to believe that orgasm is the key to heaven and ignore little things like fidelity and child-rearing that should accompany sex.

  • Robert B.

    Arminius –E Favorite is an excellent atheist poster, as is Norrie Hoyt (though even he has been somewhat anti-theist of late, IIRC).As for Mr. Mark (and others) being pissed off, perhaps it’s just the fact that we’re in a presidential election year and tempers are running high. I can certainly understand that, though I lament that the times that we most need true dialogue in this country seem to be the times that we are least likely to get it.

  • Arminius

    Robert B,I will get back to you on your most recent post; gotta think on it. I gather that you are Catholic, so let me make this perfectly clear: I have NO problem with that, although we will disagree on details. That is not germane to this dialog.I do want to offer another problem with Christianity: what I call ‘tribalism’. The ‘us vs them’ attitude. The tribe, the particular group, has all the right answers, and anyone else is simply benighted and probably going to hell. I am immediately suspicious of any group that claims to have all the right answers.This view of tribalism is a two-edged sword. Many non-believers tend to lump all Christians into one tribe (re Mr Mark in his worst moments). Nothing could be further from the truth. Even the evangelists are not a single ‘tribe’, but a multitude of sects and denominations, with differing beliefs, and generally mutually suspicious of each other. Further, not all evangelists are fundies, and not all fundies are evangelists. But they have a tendency to regard all ‘outsiders’ as wrong. I do see small signs of this changing.This tribalism, is, of course, not limited to Christianity. The Taliban, for example.To close, as I said in a poem once:We’re all God’s children, can’t you see?

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Robert B -Thanks for engaging the discussion. BTW – I have always identified myself on this blog as an anti-theist, so I’m hardly heading over into a camp.Yes, I would say that the concept of original sin or man having a sinful nature by birth is a major flaw of Xianity. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that man is “fallen.” Utter BS. Man is, in fact, constantly on the rise.You wrote: “The fact is that man is imperfect, especially when it comes to moral matters.” First off, it is man who decides what is or isn’t moral, so we are self-evaluating beings who have no problem revising our morals. In fact, our morals have been on the upswing for centuries, and our present-day set of morals far exceeds the Biblical standard.Imperfect is in the eye of the beholder, is it not? And, aren’t lions and crayfish also imperfect? So, set aside the idea of man having a sinful nature, and one can well ask: why the need for redemption or a redeemer?That’s all for now.

  • Robert B.

    Arminius — Thanks for not holding my allegiance to Rome against me. In return, I will not hold your allegiance to Henry VIII (as a former Episcopalian) against you! :)The tribalism you mention is a problem, especially when you deal with the whole “No one comes to the Father but through me” aspect of Christianity (I really don’t have a good answer for that, except to hope that the statement doesn’t mean what the Biblical literalists think it means). But then again, as you also note, tribalism is a human problem that transcends Christianity. And Christianity, at least, is willing to try to bring as many people into the tribe as possible… :)

  • Mr Mark

    Arminius -I found it funny that a follower of Christ would oppose the DH rule.

  • Robert B.

    Mr. Mark –You commented, “I don’t believe for a nanosecond that man is “fallen.” Utter BS. Man is, in fact, constantly on the rise.”Really? Then why don’t we live in a utopia? Why are we still dealing with milennia-old problems like tyranny, injustice, and flat-out inhumanity? Surely, we should have solved some of these problems by now…You also claimed “First off, it is man who decides what is or isn’t moral, so we are self-evaluating beings who have no problem revising our morals. In fact, our morals have been on the upswing for centuries, and our present-day set of morals far exceeds the Biblical standard.”Not to get off-topic, but if human beings set the standards, doesn’t that mean that human beings (or societies) can set their own individual standards for morality? Doesn’t that force us to see the Nazis, the Taliban, and the communist Chinese as legitimate and moral authorities? I in no way believe that you would ever say this, but that is the logical consequence (at least as I understand it) of a morality established by humans as opposed to one established by what philosophers call “natural law”.This is one part of atheist thinking that I can’t seem to wrap my mind around. Most atheists I’ve spoken to consider themselves (and are, as far as I can tell) moral people and believe in certain moral absolutes. But I have yet to hear a convincing argument from an atheist as to *why* the moral code they believe in is a valid one.

  • Freestinker

    Why should I care at all about a candidate’s religious opinions? I care about whether or not the candidate will use his elected position to force their religious opinions (whatever they happen to be) on others.I wonder why Rick Warren didn’t ask that question?

  • Freestinker

    “Then why don’t we live in a utopia? Why are we still dealing with milennia-old problems like tyranny, injustice, and flat-out inhumanity? Surely, we should have solved some of these problems by now…”So I guess you would prefer to live in medieval europe than the modern U.S.?

  • Robert B.

    Freestinker –You asked me, “So I guess you would prefer to live in medieval europe than the modern U.S.?”Though I am a medieval historian by profession, I’m far too enamored of modern technology to want to live anywhere else. :)I just don’t think that human nature has improved that much since we crawled out of the caves. The problem I see here is people equating technological and political developments to improvement in man himself. Indeed, in many ways these developments have led to a refinement of cruelty rather than an elimination of it.One of the reasons that the great works of the distant past still resonate today is that we clearly recognize ourselves in those works. The problems, concerns, and dreams of an Achilles, a Gilgamesh, or a Hamlet echo through the centuries because we still haven’t answered the questions that they’re struggling with.

  • Arminius

    Mr Mark, you strangely said,Say WHAT?!? The stupid DH rule is in direct violation of the doctrine of Free Will! It castrates the freedom of strategy in this most beautiful of games! It is close to blasphemy!…actually, I’m glad you still have your sense of humor, but I am left with a lingering doubt of why….

  • Mr Mark

    Arminius wrote:”…the issue here, IMHO. is not so much the ‘flaws’ of Christianity, but what are the core beliefs of Christianity. And this is a gigantic can of worms which I hesitate to open, not being anything of a theologian. It would be a firestorm – a damned interesting one, of course!”I would very much like to open that can of worms, Arminius. It’s time we got down to the core issues around here and stop with the spectator sport of nibbling along the edges of the discussion.Check me if I’m wrong here, but the reaction I’m getting these days from you, Robert B and others is that I’ve become less-rational of late. Bitter and angry. I disagree. I think what’s really up here is that you rather enjoy my posts when I’m skewering the easily dismissed fundies, or slapping JM Reynolds around when I scream, “but, what about the Amalekites?!” But when I move beyond that and attack your core beliefs, or when I make a broad statement like, “Xians are liars,” or when I call out ALL Xians (including yourselves) as believers in non-existent fairies, well, then I’ve suddenly lost my sense of fair play and my ability to debate at a high level.But the fact is that my “liars” statement has had the effect of drawing Robert out of the lurking woodwork while initiating what could be an interesting discussion. That’s got to be worthy something, isn’t it?At its core, it comes down to my being an anti-theist, just as it comes down to you as a Xian of any sect or any persuasion believing in supernatural beings. Those are the ground rules, and they’re not shifting. Looks like we either keep it on the periphery and maintain the necessary facade of the happy warriors, or we get into it at the level that – well – that starts wars.BTW – the last time I really pissed of Arminius, he swore that he was done discussing religious matters with me, but would chime in whenever music or something else non-religious made an appearance. Well, that didn’t last long. Not to say I don’t understand the moth-to-the-flame attraction. Lord knows my frustration with this site and the mindset of many of the posters here has had me more than once vowing to call it quits. I mean, ultimately, what’s the point? Yet, I keep posting here. Perhaps I just like listening to myself rant. Or, perhaps it keeps me sharp at my day job as a good portion of my job involves writing everything from marketing blurbs to fund raising letters. There is value in eliminating the fanciful and fantastic from such efforts, and I know of no better exercise in learning how to identify the fanciful than to shoot holes in the typical arguments of the religionist.Gotta go.

  • Robert B.

    Arminius –I think Mr. Mark’s confusion stems from the Christian belief that Christ went to bat for all humanity. Now, have I strained the baseball metaphor enough? :)

  • Robert B.

    Mr. Mark –You wrote, “But the fact is that my “liars” statement has had the effect of drawing Robert out of the lurking woodwork while initiating what could be an interesting discussion. That’s got to be worthy something, isn’t it?”You mean you tricked me? DARN YOU TO HECK!!!!OK, not even I can keep a straight face on that one… :)

  • ash

    Fascinating.Somewhere I read a comment that McCain’s answersI would love to interview either candidate with the option of giving follow-up questions.

  • Mr Mark

    I wrote:, “I don’t believe for a nanosecond that man is “fallen.” Utter BS. Man is, in fact, constantly on the rise.”Robert B replied:But we HAVE solved many of the world’s millenia-old problems. Take the average lifespan, for example. And some problems like tyranny, injustice and inhumanity are going to take more time. I won’t take the easy shot and say that eliminating religion would help us down that road…but I guess I just did.Do you not believe our world would appear as a utopia to people of the Dark Ages?Question for you: why hasn’t your god solved these problems?

  • Freestinker

    Robert B.,”I just don’t think that human nature has improved that much since we crawled out of the caves.”If that’s what you mean by “fallen”, I somewhat agree. What has changed is who is in control. Authoritarian religionist doctrine used to rule the west. Now, enlightenment ideals of equality, justice, and religious pluralism carry the day. I consider that a vast improvement for humanity. Thus we are improving.

  • Anonymous

    Robert B.,”I just don’t think that human nature has improved that much since we crawled out of the caves.”If that’s what you mean by “fallen”, I somewhat agree. What has changed is who is in control. Authoritarian religionist doctrine used to rule the west. Now, enlightenment ideals of equality, justice, and religious pluralism carry the day. I consider that a vast improvement for humanity. Thus we are improving.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Robert B -Actually, Jesus was pretty clear that he was sent in as the DH for the Jews, not for all of humanity.St Paul was the guy who expanded the DH rule to the rest of humanity. That’s because he never heard a single word that Jesus ever supposedly uttered, and because he was full of himself and up to his ears in his own self-aggrandizing BS. St Paul was like a guy dropped off at a ball park who hadn’t a clue as to what one did with all the equipment nor the layout of the field, and who ends up inventing whack-a-mole.

  • Arminius

    Mr Mark,Perhaps the ‘moth to the flame’ is a good analogy. Are we all masochists in the pursuit of knowledge?So, then, I agree that your rigid stance has drawn out both Robert B and myself. We are, therefore, foes in this regard. I must confess that I hoped you would be our ally against worse foes. I somewhat resent being thrown in the same dung heap as the fundies, which is what you have done.

  • Arminius

    No, Mr Mark. The Pharisees and their ilk were the designated hitters. Jesus overthrew that rule.My God, has theology sunk to this level? Interesting, anyway! What a duel!

  • Robert B.

    Mr. Mark –You asked “Do you not believe our world would appear as a utopia to people of the Dark Ages?”I think they would see (as I do) an improvement in man’s institutions, but very little (if any) improvement in man himself. I’ll indulge in a historical example. In his History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides recounts what happened to the citizens of Athens when a plague struck the city. To make a long story short, there was absolute chaos because the people believed that no law (civil or moral) held any sway and that they were all going to die. Fear of death ruled the day.Now, fast-forward to the 21st century. True, we understand a lot more about the nature of disease and how to counteract it. We also have political and social structures that are far more intricate than those of ancient Athens. And yet, if a “superflu” (to use a term from Stephen King) were to strike the United States and wreak the same manner of havoc as the Athenian plague did, do you really think that our 21st century response as human beings would be any different? Look at the lengths we went through to protect ourselves from anthrax-laden mail back in 2001 and the response of many New Orleaners back during Katrina.You also asked “Question for you: why hasn’t your god solved these problems?”A valid question, and one that I admit I don’t have a satisfactory answer to, except to say that, according to Christianity, man created these problems by choosing to sin. (Hey, I told you that it wasn’t a satisfactory answer… :) ) What we can do is try to improve things. But again, these are improvements in institutions, not in the nature of man himself.Could you address my earlier questions on natural law and human morality? I should very much like to hear your views on those.

  • Robert B.

    Indeed, Arminius, I too would rather have Mr. Mark on my side than against me. :)

  • Robert B.

    Freestinker wrote, “Now, enlightenment ideals of equality, justice, and religious pluralism carry the day. I consider that a vast improvement for humanity. Thus we are improving.”Yes, but as I said before, those are improvements in human institutions, not in the nature of man himself. I think that we need to make that distinction.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Robert, Arminius and others -Quick post.I’d like to play more today, but it would appear that – against all odds – we have finally sold our house and avoided foreclosure. Ergo, I need to fill out a ton of paperwork today and get myself to a notary so I can return said paperwork and get this thing done ASAP.BTW, Robert – if mortgage bankers are any example, then we haven’t progressed much as a species. ;)

  • timothy

    Mr. Mark thinks-”Actually, Jesus was pretty clear that he was sent in as the DH for the Jews, not for all of humanity.”Somehow he missed-”And so for their sake and on their behalf I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified in the Truth.Neither for these alone do I pray, but also for all those who will ever come to believe in Me through their word and teaching,That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that THE WORLD may believe and be convinced that You have sent Me.”Honestly Mr. Mark- if you keep talking about Jesus like you “know all” about His life- the Hound of Heaven will pursue you until you do.

  • Robert B.

    Mr. Mark –Congrats on the sale of your house! As for your comments on bankers, I can only say that I’m glad my wife got out of that business several years ago… :)

  • Arminius

    Robert B,True, the core nature of the human beast has not improved too much. A cursory glance at the news will prove that true.However… Freestinker has a point. The overlays of man’s institutions, including religion, can, when done right, put a brake on the evils and enable progress. There have been quite recognizable improvements over previous eras. Cyrus the Great. Greece. Even Rome, until it decayed. Europe and America act much better towards their own citizens, and to their neighbors (in general!) than they did a century ago. Other countries – China, for example – are at least improving. We are not there yet – of course not. It is a constant struggle, and it will never end.

  • Arminius

    Mr Mark,Personal note: congrats on avoiding foreclosure. I was not able to.Mortgage lenders indeed are right down at the bottom of the human evolutionary ladder with bankers, insurance companies, and drug dealers. And most politicians!

  • VICTORIA

    I’m reading this in the timeline and am responding to posts as I go- I’m not an atheist- but I always appreciate the reason Mr. Mark brings to this forum. He makes intelligent remarks and connects them in a coherent way. As for Augustine’s struggle with manichean doctrine- he flirted with it for awhile- but rejected it in favor of christianity- I don’t agree in any way that you can lay the dualism at the feet of Manicheanism because christianity PREDATES it- if anything- manicheanism borrowed from christianity- I find it VERY interestin that neither of the fellows, in their elaboration on the physical+evil equation- have completely left out the christian ideology that woman=physical- :) “Question for you: why hasn’t your god solved these problems?” Mr. Mark- if humanity is, as you contend- on the rise- how do you know that the god has not had a part in that? I will agree with Mr. Mark that Jesus(may he be blessed) was actually NOT (according to scripture) sent as a DH for all of humanity but was sent only to “the lost sheep of israel” but that’s another argument for another time. I don’t know if one could argue convincingly that man has not advanced- the extreme example of a death situation is a pretty black/white one- lacking the “nuance” of subtler ways to gauge development- Look at the attitude towards homosexuals for example- or women’s rights… Death is such a primal example- and so extreme- that it doesn’t encompass a wider view of social mores neede to make such a determination. Mr. Mark- I think your manners were a bit lacking in calling all christians liars however- Apropos of absolutely nothing- except that i really love it- heres a link to a poem on the moth and flame- it is one of my favoritest ever- note the sans cap style- this was my inspiration for my own sans cap- but I switcehd because folks whined about it and used it as an excuse to discredit my points instead of addressing them.

  • VICTORIA

    Actually Arminius I’d say the Romans were the Dh for the Sadducees… just a thought-

  • VICTORIA

    Congratulation Mr. Mark-

  • Arminius

    Victoria,Re the Moth and the Flame: you have just opened a doorway for me, to something beautiful. Thank you. I was strongly affected by that poem.

  • Robert B.

    Victoria wrote, “I don’t agree in any way that you can lay the dualism at the feet of Manicheanism because christianity PREDATES it- if anything- manicheanism borrowed from christianity-”As I understand it, Manichaeanism’s dualist philosophy stems from a tradition older than Christianity: Persian Zoroastrianism. The trouble was that Manichaeanism jived so well with Christianity that the two were swiftly conflated together. Indeed, documents of the era refer to Manichaeanism not as a religion in its own right, but as a Christian heresy.

  • Robert B.

    Victoria,This discussion of Manichaeanism has inspired in me a question about Islam that I hope you can answer.I know that Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet and that one of the sticking points between Christians and Muslims is that Christians view Jesus as God Incarnate. I once had that particular objection explained to me (by a non-Muslim, IIRC) as being based on the idea that God, as a transcendent being, would never deign to take on the “messiness” of flesh (this would indicate a certain amount of Manichaean/Zoroastrian thought in Islam as well). Since I teach Islam to high school students, I should very much like to know if this explanation is true.Much obliged!

  • JoeT

    Obama gave the sound answers from a biblical point of view, McCain gave us sound bites that are in fact on the wrong side of the Bible. “We are the best at helping our brothers” sounds a lot like the Pharisee who prayed “Thank you Lord that I am not like them.” “We have failed to help the least of them” sounds more like “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.”We defeat evil? Only God has the power to defeat evil if it is His will to do so for those who confront it in His name (as Obama correctly recognized our role).Life begins at conception? (that’s not only above Obama’s pay grade, it’s above Warren’s – the saints were unable to resolve the question). McCain thinks he’s God. At least Obama only thinks he’s president.And it wasn’t as responsive to the question as Obama’s response was. Defining the beginning of life won’t do a thing to end abortion. The question is whether we believe that a woman who has one should be sentenced for murder. If not, then it’s legal. (There is no such thing as a law that has no penalty). Does anything less make sense? 90 days for a misdemeanor? if it’s a felony at all, our daughters will be deprived of their civil rights and unable to get jobs for the rest of their lives. I would like a politician to say that it hardly matters when life begins, because it is morally reprehensible to terminate a pregnancy at any stage (whether the soul has arrived, or is about to arrive hardly matters), and that there is only one goal, to make it absolutely unnecessary for any woman to ever consider abortion to be the better choice. That requires pastors who do not judge, parishioners who do not shun, parents who do not disown, friends who do not ridicule, and a society that makes adoption or keeping the child feasible. If we succeed in that, then in fact punishing a woman who has an abortion anyway is more defensible than it is now. But not until.An abortion is the failure of all of the above, not the absence of strict constructionists on the Supreme Court. I think the pro life crowd should shut up about the moment of conception and the Supreme Court, and get off their butts and do something to stop abortion.

  • Mr Mark

    Time for a quick thought:Arminius wrote:”Robert B,True, the core nature of the human beast has not improved too much. A cursory glance at the news will prove that true.”Really? Compare the reaction of “the news” to reports of genocide happening in the world today to the absolute GLEE that genocide engendered in god’s chosen people as they slaughtered their way across the desert. Yahweh himself was quite elated by genocide; not so elated when Saul spared the lives of the livestock.What is clear is that the core nature of the human beast has evolved and has improved for the better.One can’t say the same for god, can one? After all, god is unchanging. The same genocidal maniac who traipsed across the desert ordering the Jews to slaughter people and steal their lands is still around, isn’t he? The same god who flooded the earth sits by and yawns when Katrina comes ashore.BTW – back on the Amalekites: it was suggested in another thread that god had Israel annihilate the Amalekites because they were pure evil, and with omniscient foresight, god removed an evil from the world.So, let me ask you: does it make sense that god would extirpate a people who, at worst, were throwers of sticks and stones, whose evil was blaspheming god, who had no effect on the world outside of a 10-mile radius, but who were considered so evil that every last man, woman, child, newborn, fetus and even their livestock had to be obliterated from the world – and yet,that same god sat by playing tiddly winks while the Nazis swept through Europe? That the same god didn’t feel the blasphemer Stalin and his cabal rated a single lightening bolt?In god’s world, Amalekites=ultimate evil. Nazis & Stalin=not so much.Victoria asks:”Mr. Mark- if humanity is, as you contend- on the rise- how do you know that the god has not had a part in that?”I would normally quote LaPlace at this juncture, but I’ll say this: IF god had a part in it, then it certainly was NOT one of the gods as limned in the world’s holy books. These gods themselves are too stupid and too self-centered to have had the power to help mankind improve himself. In fact, their recipe for success for mankind is pretty much the opposite of what we know works, wouldn’t you say?

  • Mr Mark

    BTW – pretty decent discussion going on here. Perhaps I should call Xians liars more often? (OK, that was uncalled for!);)

  • Arminius

    Mr Mark,By your blanket condemnation of everything Christian, are you thus morphing into the atheist equivalent of a fundie? You’re either with us or against us? All black and white? Are you? ARE YOU? Do you so willingly name me your enemy?

  • VICTORIA

    IF god had a part in it, then it certainly was NOT one of the gods as limned in the world’s holy books. These gods themselves are too stupid and too self-centered to have had the power to help mankind improve himself. In fact, their recipe for success for mankind is pretty much the opposite of what we know works, wouldn’t you say? also- for anon-

  • VICTORIA

    o man! i had a great explanation for robert b and now i have to do it over again as i posted too quickly and lost it- rats

  • Arminius

    Victoria,You said:…it wasn’t the weapons but the state of heart of the throwers…also- for anon-Me: You speak wisdom.

  • Anonymous

    Now Armiuius corrects me”The quest for beauty trumps death.”Oh really- Christian Arminius? You agree with the ideology taught to children to inspire martyrdom?Christianity teaches that death is an enemy to be defeated and that Love is stronger than death.The thief comes only to steal, slaughter, and destroy. As a Christian- please do NOT collude with him.

  • Paganplace

    “Not necessarily would I agree Mr. Mark- it really depends which book you are reading.”Well, I of course recommend either many books or none. :) I mean, not to divert too much here, but I know atheists think it sounds more ‘even-handed’ to conflate an Abrahamic monotheist or Manichaean-steeped Christian view with ‘how Gods are’ ….but there are actually differences… it’s *not* in fact the same stuff with different Names, when we’re talking about beliefs. As in here:”F god had a part in it, then it certainly was NOT one of the gods as limned in the world’s holy books. These gods themselves are too stupid and too self-centered to have had the power to help mankind improve himself. In fact, their recipe for success for mankind is pretty much the opposite of what we know works, wouldn’t you say? “Other religions’ beliefs are not above examination, certainly, (even if in the case of Neopagans the exercise has been likened to trying to cut fog with an ax,) but at least try to do it for what they *are,* and not just cause it’s easier to lump all ‘Religion’ into an argument that’s about a very specific idea of ‘God.’ The assumption that everyone thinks ‘Gods are unchanging’ and then try to apply that to their religious authority …isn’t a true one. In fact, some believe the Gods *are* in a sense change, or part of the very world some scorn, etc, etc. And for book religions, yes, even in the books, the ideas of ‘God’ change, and how they’re read over time changes. Even if pains are taken to make the endless retranslations good, or keep them verbatim, that still doesn’t stop the very language *changing around* such texts, and bringing different eyes. This is a problem with book authority, even if you believe the books themselves are ‘perfect revelations.’ Applying that to politics of course means you can take a big book like the Bible or Koran and justify darn near anything you want to do, anyway, (I mean, notice the ‘sins’ the political Religious Right loves to harp on just happen to be the ones there isn’t a lot of *money* in? )The idea there’s consistency or even absolutes to be absolutist about leaves everyone trying to insist that a character that clearly changes ….doesn’t, so we must be the schizoid ones. :)The temptation is always there for monotheist believers or disbelievers to, for instance, look at Greek myth and try to understand it by the same standards and definitions as the *Christians* set up as the debate, without knowing how to read them or what they meant at the time or what they mean now. And there certainly is change there. It’d be a foolish enterprise to even *talk* about this stuff if there wasn’t. Anyway. Did McCain cheat? Did he need to in order to parrot soundbytes and get applause? Well. After so much show was made about the ‘cone of silence’ …that it just so happens McCain wasn’t actually in, though he implied otherwise… And.. He’s getting all that Roveian… People supposedly want to know about ‘character,’ ….Let’s find out, shall we?

  • Arminius

    Hello, Victoria,I have long since stopped reading any post from an ‘anonymous’, let alone replying to one. They are either cowards or simply lazy. How long does it take to think up a handle? Less time than it takes to make a totally lame reply that one does not have the time to think up a handle… at least to anyone with more than 3 or 4 neurons to string together.

  • Arminius

    Hi, Paganplace,Well, history repeats itself: you exhaust me! I could not get my poor, deficient mind around what you were saying. Damn.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Paganplace -You commented upon my post about the “gods as limned in the world’s holy books.” By this, I was specifically referencing books like the Bible.You bring a pagan perspective to the mix, so I would be interested in hearing from you what books are considered by pagans to be “holy books” on a level that the Bible is considered a holy book.Thanks in advance for your reply. We’re here to learn.

  • VICTORIA

    Thank you Arminius- Robert B. I will try this again, but the first one I wrote and lost was so nice- I will keep it short- The state of original sin is not a concept in Islam- we are born into a state of original grace. The inherent corruption of the flesh is also not an Islamic(and hence manichean or christian or zoroastrian influence) idea. There is no idea of monks or celibate hieiarchy(indeed no hieiarchy of clergy at all) and to marry is one full half of completion of ones deen- or path in religion. One is, in other words- practicing only half of their faith unmarried. It is a very pragmatic faith. The weaknesses of the flesh- the lower base natures of man(and woman) are not avoided or something to be overcome or renounced- but part of our overall nature and accounted for. Our desires and lusts, or nafs- are something to be confronted and controlled- Allah- the god- is neither male nor female- and is not personified in any way- no eyes to see us or hands to hold us up etc… there are attributes of the god- mercy, kindness, justice etc- so in this way- the god is not perceived in human terms. It is entirely monotheistic- there are no co-creators- we are all part of the creation and made of the same stuff as rocks-trees-birds-stardust and elements all in submission to the one god. There is only one sin that is unforgivable in Islam, and that is “shirk”, or setting up another god beside the god- and that can be anything that competes for the attentions and worship due to Allah- sports, TV- or attachment to a leader- or any distraction can become so important to a person that they forget the god. Anything that consumes ones focus. So Muslims do not believe in the divinity of Jesus- or that the god needs a co-creator or co-ruler.(Or has any needs at all being self-sufficent) I will paraphrase some words of the Prophet Muhammad(eace be upon him) When asked who would be closest to him in paradise, he crossed his fingers an said that he and Jesus(may he be blessed) would be “like that” (displaying crossed fingers twined around each other) in paradise. The flesh is part and parcel of our entire being and the vehicle through which we manifest our worship to the god. The montheist nature of it precludes setting any other of creation up besides Allah- I hope that helps a bit- and please not that I am not a scholar and there may be other more informed opinions out there.

  • Arminius

    Mr MarkPaganplace (and others, wish they were here too) can answer this best, but I will try to fill in. The Pagans apparently have no holy books. Sure, they have many published commentaries, but no ‘bible’ – it is all word of mouth.Friend Pagans, I believe this to be true – please correct me if not.

  • Mr Mark

    Arminius -Thanks for taking a stab at the pagan holy books question. While I appreciated PP’s response, it was a bit off the track of the specifics of my post and its reference to unchanging gods as limned in holy books (which the pagans don’t have).BTW – I’m not your enemy, but I am, obviously, an opponent in matters of faith. I do see religion as the enemy of rational thought, and I do see the most extreme religionists as enemies of everything that is good and decent. And, they’re all a bunch of liars as well.You have often remarked that you don’t like my lumping you in with the Xian fundies, yet I almost always provide context for those statements by stating that I as an American am tarred with the heinous acts of gw bush by virtue of the fact that he is the president of the USA. I thought it was clear that it was in this way that I was lumping you in with all other Xians. Just as I have some ‘splainin’ to do as an American when I visit a foreign country where bush is universally loathed, you also have some ‘splainin’ to do when it comes to Xians in general.I think that’s fair enough, just as I think it’s fair enough when Rs ask me what I think about J Edwards’ affair (last week’s earth-shattering-and-now-forgotten media circus). Gotta go.

  • VICTORIA

    obviously that last post was mine- well- we all fall short- but it is the aspiration and doctrine. all we can do is try – the template is impeccable- I’ll disappear folks so the troll islamophobe doesn’t bother your convo anymore- without a target- I’m sure they’ll crawl back under their bridge.

  • Arminius

    Mr MarkI do not consider you as an enemy.Yes, the extremists of any religion are the enemies of all that is good and decent. No argument there. But I do not consider them all as liars – I think they are badly misled. Some, the leaders, do tend to lie, I suppose – but maybe they are just more programmed. Mr Mark, you really do make all-covering statements about believers. Thus I am included in your polemics. To say I am the ‘exception that proves the rule’ is a cop-out. What I am saying is dump the damned blunderbus, get an accurate rifle, and go after the real targets. Be specific. You are immensely capable of that.Yes, I too am tarred, maligned, dirtied, by what that brainless Neanderthal dragging his knuckles around the oval office has done. Yes. I remember very well every president from Truman on to this one. George W Bush is the only one I have actually hated for what he has done to America and the world.Edward’s crotch crisis has nothing to do with anything important.

  • Anonymous

    If Islam meant “peace” we would not read of torture, maiming, and death in mosques. Islam means “surrender”.More news from today”Iraqi authorities discover 27 bodies at mosque and find torture room. The father of a 25-year-old victim of torture tells how his son met a slow and painful death: “His hands, legs were amputated and his head was decapitated”. There are the bloodstains on the wall and dried on the floor in a Baghdad mosque where more than two dozen bodies have been found. And a woman’s shoes. We found her corpse in the grave. Chunks of hair waft lazily across the floor in the hot Baghdad breeze.”CAUTION: this video shows interior of torture room

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Arminius -Your points are taken, but using a scalpel to skilfully dissect the Xian “disease” when the goal of the anti-theist is to euthanize the patient is a tough road to hoe. It’s hard to see how nuance is one’s ally when the forces arrayed against one consist of the Angelas, the Spidermans and the Jim Roberts Jrs (ie: the Orcs) of the Xian tribe. Sometimes carpet bombing is called for.Truth be told, if the nutty radical Xians didn’t exist – and exist in such numbers – then we could get about having a civil discussion about religion’s quaint ideas. But as this current presidential campaign is making clear, scalpels ain’t gonna get the job done this time around. The religious dialogue swirling around this election is NOT the initiative of anyone close to being called a moderate.We may need to wait until after Obama gets elected and the Rick Warrens of the world go back to practicing their studied lying on the gullible within their churches before a more-civil debate can erupt here at On Faith.As it stands now, no one has bothered commenting in any detail to my long exegesis on the Amalekites, including you. I wouldn’t mind discussing that even at this late date. That is, if anyone’s interested.

  • Arminius

    Mr Mark, you said,”Your points are taken, but using a scalpel to skilfully dissect the Xian “disease” when the goal of the anti-theist is to euthanize the patient is a tough road to hoe.”Me: I rest my case. You include me in the ‘disease’.

  • Anonymous

    “this is a part of the story of specific people- those who did NOT defend the women and children when attacked- but SAT AT HOME- What an ugly and twisted perspective you bring- trying to denounce beauty andpronounce it ugly!”This is warning those who refuse to fight and die “in the way of allah” they are nifaaq (hypocrites) and doomed to be in the lowest depths of the hellfire.” Yes- allah does not say that the Kufr will be in the lowest depths of hell, rather he has reserved that punishment for the munafiq (someone who pretends to be a muslim while he hides he is Kufr in his heart).How trapped a thoughtful man must feel born into Islam. If he refuses to fight and die- he is a worse than an unbeliever and after death he will go to the depths of hell to be punished. If he is lucky enough to die in the way of allah- he is rewarded with an eternity of sensual paradise and he gets to bring family members with him. Victoria that IS UGLY.

  • Paganplace

    “As it stands now, no one has bothered commenting in any detail to my long exegesis on the Amalekites, including you. I wouldn’t mind discussing that even at this late date. That is, if anyone’s interested.”Ah, I might be, in a bit. (I seem to have come in afterwards or been talking to someone else. )For now, though, there’s plans here to curl up in front of a fun movie. :)

  • deflag

    People make mistakes, even with all the technology and other things we count on there’s room for error. The only idea I have ever found to be perfect is love. It mutes all the complaints. We are not perfect, so all we can do is have faith in love to hold us and society together. With love there are only winners, leaving evil for the losers to fight over. Good always develops in the next few hours and keeps developing on from there. It never ends. For love goes forward and it’s hard to find at times and impossible to mistake. You know it when you see it and it’s unforgettable. It’s just great, the greatest story ever. You would do anything for love and people have so it’s thumbs up for faith.

  • Glenn Bauer

    Pastor Rick Warren ought to ask McCain publically in front of cameras if he broke the “cone of silence” either by listening, text messaging, or listening to his advisors as they listen or text message, and if McCain is a true Christian, he would not and could not lie.

  • michelle

    Thank you for one of the most thoughtful discussions on this matter. Who elected Warren as our job interviewer for president? He is not my pastor. I do not follow him.Also, the stakes for presidency are so high. Has everyone forgotten Watergate?

  • just wondering

    Hi Michelle,How are things under the bus?

  • Ken

    You ignorant cry-baby reporters. A coin was flipped to see who goes first and your “messiah” Obmama won the flip. McCain had no way of hearing the questions being asked. so, before printing garbage, have proof, facts and morals.

  • Mr Mark

    Ken writes:”McCain had no way of hearing the questions being asked. so, before printing garbage, have proof, facts and morals.”And your proof for that is???Here’s what has been established as FACT:1. McCain was not in a cone of silence when Obama’s session started. He wasn’t even at the building for the first half hour.2. Contrary to every impression he gave, Rev Warren had absolutely NO control over what McCain could hear while Obama was being questioned.3. Warren lied that McCain was in a cone of silence, and McCain advanced the lie by averring that he was in a cone of silence when Warren asked him how he liked it in the cone of silence.4. Not being in any situation whatsoever where Rev Warren could limit McCain’s access to his interview of Obama, there is no way of knowing whether McCain was listening in. However, in this day of cell phones, radios and satellite TVs, it is without doubt tat McCain and/or his surrogates COULD have listened in had the wanted to.Ergo, to state that McCain ” had no way of hearing the questions being asked” is a false statement on its face. McCain and his campaign undoubtedly DID have myriad ways of hearing the questions being asked of Obama. The question is whether they did.Considering that most Republicans are serial liars, I would take their claims that they weren’t listening in and that McCain wasn’t cheating with a huge grain of salt.

  • Arminius

    While there is no solid proof that McCain cheated, the evidence weighs against him. He is running a dirty campaign, has Rove advising him, as well as the Original Swiftboaters, and has cheerfully prostituted himself to any right-winger that happens by. And let’s not even get into his flip-flops. I think him now quite capable of cheating. This is terribly sad – the man of honor of 2000 would never have considered it.

  • pontificator

    I’m also one of those that believes McCain is now capable of any lie and any manner of dissembling in order to get elected. He’s been heading down this road for awhile – and he’s thrown in with a crowd that sports a proven pedigree in artful deception at the highest levels of government. Here is a man that would conceivably employ any workable strategy engineered to help guarantee taking the White House – this is exactly the kind of corrupt personal ambition that we’ve seen for the last 8 years. Where’s the humility? Folks that believe McCain to be a ‘typical’ republican are either serioiusly mistaken as to the degree of his potential mendacity, or have no regard for the few republicans that dare call themselves ‘moderate’ these days. Not only are the Lincoln republicans a thing of the far distant past – the Eisenhower republicans haven’t been seen in force since before Nixon.This is what mystifies me – how do Congressional democrats, that are part of the Washington inner circle, and who know these things in crystal clarity, continue to function in the a low profile ‘business as usual’ modality? For the life of me, I don’t see any real democratic strategy in this campaign – nor do we see or hear much of anything from our illustrious democratic representatives in Washington – and the election is less than 90 days away. I can understand the silence of the republicans, who hope against hope to be carried by McCain. But are the democrats turning another huge opportunity into a huge disappointment? Maybe we’ll see more action after the conventions -

  • Reggie Boykins

    I preferred Barack’s delivery style. Whether McCain had some advantage or not, his answers were thoughtless, careless and George Bush-”ish.”I do believe McCain had some advantage simply because he was too, “quick draw” with his answers.In any event, let’s see if old, “quick-draw” McCain will be as crisp and ready during the real debates.

  • VICTORIA

    Good point, Reggie. Will McCain be as quick and ready, live in a debate? it will be interesting to see. Like Arminius- I actually liked McCain before. And I appreciated McCain’s loyalty to his party at the time- it was an honorable position to take. (Too bad the GOP hasn’t responded in kind to that loyalty).

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