A short note on God

I’ve been re-reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, thanks in large part to the new TV series on Starz based on the novel. Gaiman’s works always disappoint me in the end. Not because they’re bad, (I can never put them down), but because I prefer two types of endings: fell-good cheesy ones and depressing I-hope-you-learned-your-lesson ones. Gaiman’s endings always make me think, and I don’t necessarily like that in my fiction.

Behavioral economists will tell me that I’m not actually disappointed in Gaiman’s work because I always come back for more, but I insist they’re wrong.

At any rate, American Gods got me thinking about, well, God. The God I grew up with was the Mormon God (I’m a reluctant atheist now). The Mormon God is a loving god. It’s a man, with a wife, who views human beings as his children. Jesus Christ is his oldest son, and Lucifer is the 2nd oldest.Prior to human life on earth, a war erupted in Heaven between two factions, one led by Jesus and the other by Lucifer. (I highlight the word “war” because this is how Mormons describe what is essentially a philosophical argument. No blood was shed. It is a culture war. Mormons view themselves as God’s warriors. Because they view their God as a loving one, they smile and are nice to everybody, but they do so because they are at war.)

Jesus argued that everybody should have free choice in what they do on earth. All of his brothers and sisters (i.e. God’s children) should be free to make mistakes and sin. Jesus offered himself up as a sacrificial lamb for everybody. He would die on earth so that his brothers and sisters would get a chance to repent for their mistakes and sins.

Lucifer argued that everybody should have an outline of what to do in order to get back to Heaven. His brothers and sisters would already have their lives planned out for them when they were born, and there would be no room to make mistakes. Thus nobody would have to worry about making mistakes, so nobody would not make it back to Heaven.

At the end of their great debate, the people of Heaven, God’s children, the future inhabitants of earth, held a vote and decided to go with Jesus’ plan. Lucifer was butthurt, and left Heaven to found his own society, based on his plan, in Hell. According to the founders of the Mormon Church, about 1/3 of Heaven went with Lucifer. They didn’t have the courage to be tested through free agency. They wanted every aspect of their lives to be planned for them.

This portrait gives you a view, I hope, of a distinctly American God, born as he was in the early 19th century: democratic, freedom-loving, and generous. There is a lot to chew on here, I know. There’s lots of questions, too, such as “why did we have to leave Heaven in the first place?” The answer I received to most of my questions was “faith.”

The Mormon God, though, was also a mass murderer. He killed lots of people (or had people killed) to make his point, more than once. How can a loving God commit (or support) such atrocities? Nothing adds up. It didn’t add up when I was 10, or 16, or 25.

I think the bad math explains polytheistic logic pretty well. Instead of an omnipotent god who loves you immensely and also slaughters human life in anger or jealousy, there is a god responsible for love, and one for war, one for greed, etc. You can simply worship as you please. This polytheistic framework leads directly to questions about self-discipline, though: If you have many gods for many motives, wouldn’t this make it easier to murder people without feeling guilty about it? To swindle people? Just ignore the gods of love or forgiveness or justice and pray to the gods of anger or expedience.

Reality doesn’t conform to this rough logic, though. India’s Hindu population is no less violent than, say, Muslim Albania or Christian Serbia (or secular Los Angeles). India’s merchant class is no less devout than the West’s or Islam’s. Religion can shape a person’s life, indeed a whole culture, but it has less of an effect on good and bad than we like to think.

Threesome Liberation

Defenders of traditional marriage have lost, alas. Rather than just sulk, I suggest that conservatives, especially those from Utah, respond by promoting legalization of polygamous marriage. This will put “progressives” in a lovely bind.

They will have a hard time opposing the idea because it is supported by the same arguments they used to support gay marriage. Why is love among threesomes any less valid than love of couples? Surely it’s past time for threesomes to come out of the shadows and break free of the yoke of suppression! End triophobia!

They will also have a hard time supporting it because almost all plural marriages, whether among Mormons in times past or in Islamic countries currently, feature one man with multiple wives. Clearly these are exploitative sexist unions! Most un-progressive!

Conservatives, don’t get mad, get even! Put it out there and watch ‘em squirm.

Memoirs of a homeless piece of sh*t

I normally don’t do this, but here is a link to my most recent personal musings.

Hell, we’ve all known each other long enough. Hope your weekends have been swell so far.

Libertarian as Ethnicity

The past few months have been busy, to say the least. The Obama administration announced a series of executive actions regarding immigration and that has taken up most of my time. Meanwhile in my day job as a graduate student I’ve been overwhelmed with midterms and finals; I am sure my fellows in NoL can sympathize with this. The few moments of peace I have enjoyed have gone towards pondering one question: Who is an American? 

The question is not isolated. By asking who an American is, I’m really asking what ethnicity, and other social groups, really are. The best answer to my question was an old Cato blog post appropriately titled, What is an American? In it Edward Hudgins discusses what makes an American. It is not, as some believe, a common language, creed, or ancestry. What makes an American is his love for liberty. It is in his closing remarks that Hudgins hits on something amazing, there is no meaningful thing as ‘American’.

Unfortunately, the American spirit has eroded. Our forebears would look with sadness at the servile and envious character of many of our citizens and policymakers. But the good news is that there are millions of Americans around the world, living in every country. Many of them will never make it here to the United States. But they are Americans, just as my grandpop was an American before he ever left Italy.

There exists those individuals who can prefix themselves as Americans, but at best this only tells us that they are somehow affiliated with the American continent. There exists a group of people who yearn for liberty and are willing to fight for it, but many of them were neither born or live in the United States. Likewise there are those who were born and live in the United States who are no friends of liberty. And so my initial question has lead me to a new one. Why not promote being a libertarian as an ethnicity? Why not introduce ourselves as ‘Libertarios’ instead of Americans, Germans, or Turks?

At first my proposal may sound strange to some. Would it not be silly to define an ethnicity by political views? I don’t think so. Few ethnic groups have a concrete basis in reality and are based more on fiction than anything else. I was born in Mexico, raised in the United States, and am directly descended from Germans, Jews, and Cubans. I feel little fraternity to these latter groups though. Why should I? I didn’t elect to have Jewish or Mexican ancestry, but I did elect to be a libertarian. Anyone who proclaims to be a libertarian automatically has my sympathy and support, even if I know nothing else about them. As this is the case I would prefer to be identified as a Libertario than any other ethnic group.

I am sure that there are those who would prefer not to be identified by any collective label at all. For those of you who fall into this category I would offer a pragmatic case for identify as Libertario.

I hope it can be taken for granted that, as libertarians, we wish there to be more libertarians. In the best scenario more libertarians in the world might lead to better public policy. In the worst scenario we at least have more potential friends. By promoting our existence as an ethnic group we would encourage more people to remain as libertarians. I have often found people who have libertarian political views, but who withdraw from participation if they become discouraged about the hope for change in their lifetimes. If we were an ethnic group though these individuals would continue to promote liberty, if only to signal their membership in the group. An ethnic group therefore not only encourages members to remain active, but produces positive externalities to promote the group’s message.

For comparison consider the Mormon people. Many Mormons spend time advocating on behalf on their religion, with several even going abroad on missionary work. From anecdotal experience I’ve noticed that many of them are ill treated when they perform their advocacy. Why do they bother to do so then? Because, as I’ve noted above, it signals their membership in the Mormon community. The average Mormon may not particularly enjoy being harassed for their beliefs, but they do it anyway to tell other Mormons a simple message, “I’m one of you.”

It goes without saying that there must be a benefit to belonging to a given group for this to work.

Additionally the existence of an ethnic libertario community would make raising children to be libertarians much easier. I side with Bryan Caplan in the belief that a relatively easy way to grow the movement is by simply having more children than the general population. It doesn’t matter if you believe children’s political beliefs, and by extension their ethics and other characteristics, are shaped by genetics or their nurturing, a libertario community would help with producing children. If you believe in the genetic argument, then an ethnic community reduces the cost of finding a spouse who shares your political beliefs. If you believe in the nurture argument, then surely a child raised among libertarians is more likely to end up being one himself.

Thoughts? Am I just crazy? Or do you have a counter proposal to ‘Libertario’ as our ethnic label? Comment below.

Right-wing Marxists and the libertarian’s lament

Daniel McCarthy, the editor of The American Conservative, has a post up on the current “liberal” (Leftist) misreadings of how politics actually works:

Politics is just magic to [Leftists]. (Some of this comes of drawing the wrong lessons from Alinsky and Gramsci—wrong lessons the activist right is now busy committing to memory.)

The “lessons from Alinksy and Gramsci” that the Right is currently incorporating into its political program are none other than the tactics Leftists used during the heyday of communism to gain political power in the West.

Unfortunately, I think the Right is making a big mistake by copying a program that has failed the Left. Has it failed the Left? Or is communism an inevitable failure and tactics had nothing to do with it?

Governance is affected by movements. Does the Right want to be the new authoritarians? They’ve always been less authoritarian than the Left, but I see this changing especially if the Right continues to borrow tactics and ideas from the communist Left.

What is interesting is to watch how this all plays out. The Left’s playbook consists of delegitimizing people rather ideas or institutions. This leads to misdirected anger and makes it easier for opposition movements to seize the levers of power. It worked in the Anglo-American world, to a large extent (look at our educational systems, for example; they’re run by Marxists), but never more than superficially. Everybody knows, for example, which institutions have been captured by the Left. They know which institutions are Left-wing and which ones are not.

Why Rightists would want to copy this failed tactic is beyond me. The strength of classical liberalism has always been the resounding truth within its creed. It is truth that we march into battle with, not cheap tricks or ploys from the gutter.

It seems to me that the Right’s embrace of communist tactics comes mostly from one influential group of people in the US: conservative intellectuals with cultural ties to the Catholic or Mormon churches. To me I find this very weird, and while weirdness is definitely something I appreciate in my personal life I truly hope these tactics don’t trickle into the intellectual wing of the libertarian quadrant.

The spectacle of conservative intellectuals mimicking their Cold War adversaries two decades after winning – outright – the war of ideas is pathetic. You know where the ‘comments’ section is!

Assorted Links on Mormon Baptisms for the Dead

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA, says “so what?

Ari Cohen, a Political Scientist professor at the Univ. of Nebraska, says “how offensive!

Over at the American Conservative, Rod Dreher says “so what?

I’ve already gone over this myself, and I am sure that many, many other people have as well, but I just don’t see what is so offensive about baptizing dead people via proxy.  Yes, it is a bit condescending, but we are talking about religion here, right?

This seems to me to be a clear case of Leftist intolerance to other religions.  How many Leftists do you see decrying the Obama administration for forcing religious institutions to provide contraceptive care against their wishes?

The Left can often be good at protecting the freedom of religion, but Mormon proxy baptisms and forced payments for contraceptive care are examples where the Left errs.  And badly, too.

Baptisms for the Dead: So What?

Earlier today over at Slate.com, a spontaneous debate on the curious Mormon practice of baptizing the dead happened. I actually have a lot of Mormon relatives and both of my parents aaannnd all of my siblings are Mormon too, so I always take an interest when Mormonism pops up in the news. For the record, I am not a Mormon, and even if I tried to convert, I don’t think they would let me!

Anyway, I found the way in which this debate unfolded especially heartening, because instead of bagging on Mormonism, or treating it with disrespect, the contributors actually tried to make an effort to understand why Mormons baptize the dead, and then debate why or why not this practice could be perceived to be offensive to people of other creeds. Here are some of the highlights: Continue reading