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10.04.2008

No Points Earned For Reading This Post

If you care one lick about where this country might be headed very soon you just might want to read this. (Here's the URL in case you want to see pretty, pretty pictures and read useless advertising on the side of the article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/160080)

When Atheists Attack

A noted provocateur rips Sarah Palin and defends elitism.
Sam Harris
NEWSWEEK
From the magazine issue dated Sep 29, 2008
> >>
Let me confess that I was genuinely unnerved by Sarah Palin's
performance at the Republican convention. Given her audience and the
needs of the moment, I believe Governor Palin's speech was the most
effective political communication I have ever witnessed. Here,
finally, was a performer who being maternal, wounded, righteous and
sexy could stride past the frontal cortex of every American and plant
a three-inch heel directly on that limbic circuit that ceaselessly
intones "God and country." If anyone could make Christian theocracy
smell like apple pie, Sarah Palin could.

Then came Palin's first television interview with Charles Gibson. I
was relieved to discover, as many were, that Palin's luster can be
much diminished by the absence of a teleprompter. Still, the problem
she poses to our political process is now much bigger than she is. Her
fans seem inclined to forgive her any indiscretion short of
cannibalism. However badly she may stumble during the remaining weeks
of this campaign, her supporters will focus their outrage upon the
journalist who caused her to break stride, upon the camera operator
who happened to capture her fall, upon the television network that
broadcast the good lady's misfortune and, above all, upon the "liberal
elites" with their highfalutin assumption that, in the 21st century,
only a reasonably well-educated person should be given command of our
nuclear arsenal.

The point to be lamented is not that Sarah Palin comes from outside
Washington, or that she has glimpsed so little of the earth's surface
(she didn't have a passport until last year), or that she's never met
a foreign head of state. The point is that she comes to us, seeking
the second most important job in the world, without any intellectual
training relevant to the challenges and responsibilities that await
her. There is nothing to suggest that she even sees a role for careful
analysis or a deep understanding of world events when it comes to
deciding the fate of a nation. In her interview with Gibson, Palin
managed to turn a joke about seeing Russia from her window into a
straight-faced claim that Alaska's geographical proximity to Russia
gave her some essential foreign-policy experience. Palin may be a
perfectly wonderful person, a loving mother and a great American
success story but she is a beauty queen/sports reporter who stumbled
into small-town politics, and who is now on the verge of stumbling
into, or upon, world history.

The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that
half the electorate revels in Palin's lack of intellectual
qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of
mediocrity in this country. "They think they're better than you!" is
the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists
have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it
once again. "Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!" Yes, all too
ordinary.

We have all now witnessed apparently sentient human beings, once
provoked by a reporter's microphone, saying things like, "I'm voting
for Sarah because she's a mom. She knows what it's like to be a mom."
Such sentiments suggest an uncanny (and, one fears, especially
American) detachment from the real problems of today. The next
administration must immediately confront issues like nuclear
proliferation, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and covert wars
elsewhere), global climate change, a convulsing economy, Russian
belligerence, the rise of China, emerging epidemics, Islamism on a
hundred fronts, a defunct United Nations, the deterioration of
American schools, failures of energy, infrastructure and Internet
security the list is long, and Sarah Palin does not seem competent
even to rank these items in order of importance, much less address any
one of them.

Palin's most conspicuous gaffe in her interview with Gibson has been
widely discussed. The truth is, I didn't much care that she did not
know the meaning of the phrase "Bush doctrine." And I am quite sure
that her supporters didn't care, either. Most people view such an
ambush as a journalistic gimmick. What I do care about are all the
other things Palin is guaranteed not to know or will be glossing only
under the frenzied tutelage of John McCain's advisers. What doesn't
she know about financial markets, Islam, the history of the Middle
East, the cold war, modern weapons systems, medical research,
environmental science or emerging technology? Her relative ignorance
is guaranteed on these fronts and most others, not because she was put
on the spot, or got nervous, or just happened to miss the newspaper on
any given morning. Sarah Palin's ignorance is guaranteed because of
how she has spent the past 44 years on earth.

I care even more about the many things Palin thinks she knows but
doesn't: like her conviction that the Biblical God consciously directs
world events. Needless to say, she shares this belief with mil-lions
of Americans but we shouldn't be eager to give these people our
nuclear codes, either. There is no question that if President McCain
chokes on a spare rib and Palin becomes the first woman president, she
and her supporters will believe that God, in all his majesty and
wisdom, has brought it to pass. Why would God give Sarah Palin a job
she isn't ready for? He wouldn't. Everything happens for a reason.
Palin seems perfectly willing to stake the welfare of our country even
the welfare of our species as collateral in her own personal journey
of faith. Of course, McCain has made the same unconscionable wager on
his personal journey to the White House.

In speaking before her church about her son going to war in Iraq,
Palin urged the congregation to pray "that our national leaders are
sending them out on a task that is from God; that's what we have to
make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is
God's plan." When asked about these remarks in her interview with
Gibson, Palin successfully dodged the issue of her religious beliefs
by claiming that she had been merely echoing the words of Abraham
Lincoln. The New York Times later dubbed her response "absurd." It was
worse than absurd; it was a lie calculated to conceal the true
character of her religious infatuations. Every detail that has emerged
about Palin's life in Alaska suggests that she is as devout and
literal-minded in her Christian dogmatism as any man or woman in the
land. Given her long affiliation with the Assemblies of God church,
Palin very likely believes that Biblical prophecy is an infallible
guide to future events and that we are living in the "end times."
Which is to say she very likely thinks that human history will soon
unravel in a foreordained cataclysm of war and bad weather.
Undoubtedly Palin believes that this will be a good thing as all true
Christians will be lifted bodily into the sky to make merry with
Jesus, while all nonbelievers, Jews, Methodists and other rabble will
be punished for eternity in a lake of fire. Like many Pentecostals,
Palin may even imagine that she and her fellow parishioners enjoy the
power of prophecy themselves. Otherwise, what could she have meant
when declaring to her congregation that "God's going to tell you what
is going on, and what is going to go on, and you guys are going to
have that within you"?

You can learn something about a person by the company she keeps. In
the churches where Palin has worshiped for decades, parishioners enjoy
"baptism in the Holy Spirit," "miraculous healings" and "the gift of
tongues." Invariably, they offer astonishingly irrational accounts of
this behavior and of its significance for the entire cosmos. Palin's
spiritual colleagues describe themselves as part of "the final
generation," engaged in "spiritual warfare" to purge the earth of
"demonic strongholds." Palin has spent her entire adult life immersed
in this apocalyptic hysteria. Ask yourself: Is it a good idea to place
the most powerful military on earth at her disposal? Do we actually
want our leaders thinking about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy
when it comes time to say to the Iranians, or to the North Koreans, or
to the Pakistanis, or to the Russians or to the Chinese: "All options
remain on the table"?

It is easy to see what many people, women especially, admire about
Sarah Palin. Here is a mother of five who can see the bright side of
having a child with Down syndrome and still find the time and energy
to govern the state of Alaska. But we cannot ignore the fact that
Palin's impressive family further testifies to her dogmatic religious
beliefs. Many writers have noted the many shades of conservative
hypocrisy on view here: when Jamie Lynn Spears gets pregnant, it is
considered a symptom of liberal decadence and the breakdown of family
values; in the case of one of Palin's daughters, however, teen
pregnancy gets reinterpreted as a sign of immaculate, small-town
fecundity. And just imagine if, instead of the Palins, the Obama
family had a pregnant, underage daughter on display at their
convention, flanked by her black boyfriend who "intends" to marry her.
Who among conservatives would have resisted the temptation to speak of
"the dysfunction in the black community"?

Teen pregnancy is a misfortune, plain and simple. At best, it
represents bad luck (both for the mother and for the child); at worst,
as in the Palins' case, it is a symptom of religious dogmatism.
Governor Palin opposes sex education in schools on religious grounds.
She has also fought vigorously for a "parental consent law" in the
state of Alaska, seeking full parental dominion over the reproductive
decisions of minors. We know, therefore, that Palin believes that she
should be the one to decide whether her daughter carries her baby to
term. Based on her stated position, we know that she would deny her
daughter an abortion even if she had been raped. One can be forgiven
for doubting whether Bristol Palin had all the advantages of
21st-century family planning or, indeed, of the 21st century.

We have endured eight years of an administration that seemed touched
by religious ideology. Bush's claim to Bob Woodward that he consulted
a "higher Father" before going to war in Iraq got many of us sitting
upright, before our attention wandered again to less ethereal signs of
his incompetence. For all my concern about Bush's religious beliefs,
and about his merely average grasp of terrestrial reality, I have
never once thought that he was an over-the-brink, Rapture-ready
extremist. Palin seems as though she might be the real McCoy. With the
McCain team leading her around like a pet pony between now and
Election Day, she can be expected to conceal her religious extremism
until it is too late to do anything about it. Her supporters know that
while she cannot afford to "talk the talk" between now and Nov. 4, if
elected, she can be trusted to "walk the walk" until the Day of
Judgment.

What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree
to which she represents and her supporters celebrate the joyful
marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that
she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take
command of the world's only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin
would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:

"Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on
this child's brain?"

"Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I'm an avid
hunter."

"But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a
surgeon of any kind."

"That's just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in
how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a
challenge, you cannot blink."

The prospects of a Palin administration are far more frightening, in
fact, than those of a Palin Institute for Pediatric Neurosurgery. Ask
yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics?
There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent
and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our
planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite
athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote
the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And
yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater
responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all
standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose
thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we
suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with,
someone down-to-earth in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she
doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated.

I believe that with the nomination of Sarah Palin for the vice
presidency, the silliness of our politics has finally put our nation
at risk. The world is growing more complex and dangerous with each
passing hour, and our position within it growing more precarious.
Should she become president, Palin seems capable of enacting policies
so detached from the common interests of humanity, and from empirical
reality, as to unite the entire world against us. When asked why she
is qualified to shoulder more responsibility than any person has held
in human history, Palin cites her refusal to hesitate. "You can't
blink," she told Gibson repeatedly, as though this were a primordial
truth of wise governance. Let us hope that a President Palin would
blink, again and again, while more thoughtful people decide the fate
of civilization.

Harris is a founder of The Reason Project and author of The New York
Times best sellers The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian
Nation. His Web site is samharris.org.
URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/160080
2008

1 comment:

Domer said...

OK, I read it, but I'm fairly sure I'm the only one who actually gets negative points ... mostly because it's about the 300th political article I've read today. Mercy.