Redefining “news”

Fox News devoted eight minutes of airtime to debating whether Biblical prophecy predicted the recent economic meltdown. There is video evidence:

At 1:55, the reporter mentions the apocalyptic conspiracy theory that bar codes are the “mark of the beast”. This is a reporter for the most-watched news network in the country, giving sympathetic airtime to religious fanatics ranting about a “one world government” and trying to tie Social Security to the Book of Revelation. Why do one in five Americans believe Obama is the Antichrist? Because the fucking news all but says as much.

You want to “restore” the country to Founding Fathers’ vision? Take a cue from Thomas Jefferson:

It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Apocalypse], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams…There is not coherence enough in them to countenance any suite of rational ideas….What has no meaning admits no explanation and pardon me if I say with the candor of friendship that I think your time too valuable and your understanding of too high an order to be wasted on these paralogisms.

-letter to General Alexander Smyth, Jan. 17, 1825

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4 Responses

  1. Lunatics! A crop of Lunatics! This “end of days” stuff is so absurd I would point and laugh. Sadly, it has real impact on American policies, so I must weep rather than laugh.

  2. You should know that Jefferson was, among the Founders, one of the very least tolerant toward religion. He was even less tolerant than fellow Deists.

    He refused, as president, to designate Thanksgiving a national holiday.

    No doubt some people go far overboard in interpreting Biblical prophecy.

    I think the best Christian interpretation of Revelation is that it’s true, but we really don’t know what it means (beyond extremely broad outlines) and that it almost certainly doesn’t explain current events.

    • “… Jefferson was, among the Founders, one of the very least tolerant toward religion. He was even less tolerant than fellow Deists.”
      What about Thomas Paine? Jefferson might have expressed frustrated difference with Christian orthodoxy in his letters, but he never published a polemic on the internal contradictions of the Bible (viz. “The Age of Reason”).
      Whereas Paine saw it as a duty to fight against false religions, Jefferson wrote that his neighbors’ creedal deviations “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” I wouldn’t describe him as “intolerant” of religion. I think his relationship to religion was nuanced and ambiguous. It’s undeniable he was at least frustrated with orthodox Christianity, which he found not only unbelievable for the “Platonist” elements he believed unnaturally grafted onto it in its evolving history, but he also saw it as divisive and tending towards authoritarianism.
      But on the other hand, he introduced the phrase “separation of church and state” into the legal lexicon in a letter written to reassure Baptist minister that the new Constitution’s promise of religious freedom was designed to protect the rights of minority denominations. One of only three accomplishments he was proud enough to stamp on his self-authored epitaph was his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty.
      Jefferson might have expressed dislike and even condescension for many religious opinions–but only then in the privacy of correspondence–but he was dedicated to protecting Christian’s freedom to openly believe, and proud of that commitment.
      Jefferson did express private dislike for orthodox Christianity, but kept his complaints mostly private.
      And, interestingly, though he did go through Deistic phases, Jefferson ultimately identified himself as a Christian, though his beliefs would be considered highly heterodox. He was convinced by the writings of the Unitarian Joseph Priestley that Christianity had been “corrupted” by the onset through the infusion of supernatural elements and Trinitarianism, but believed in Jesus’ supremacy as a moral teacher. He wrote his own version of the Gospels which redacted any mention of Jesus’ divine heritage and miracle stories, and toyed with the idea of publishing it for the purpose of proselytizing Native Americans, but never followed through with the plan.
      From this we might derive that Jefferson not only believed in religion’s capacity to be a repository for moral truths, but recognized its moral authority was worthy of preserving and exporting. So when he predicted in 1822 “there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian,” he did so hopefully. Unlike Paine, Jefferson thought organized religion was not only salvageable but worthy of saving, if it could be reconciled with Enlightenment commitments to liberty and scientific inquiry. But in the meantime, he was fiercely committed to allowing orthodox-supernaturalist believers freedom of worship and conscience.
      I think calling Jefferson “intolerant” of religion because he disagreed with mainstream opinion and said as much. Tolerance isn’t silence in the face of disagreement, but a proactive commitment to enfranchizing peacable but disagreeing parties to opportunities in public life and discourse, something Jefferson’s legislative legacy thoroughly embodies.

  3. “Jefferson might have expressed frustrated difference with Christian orthodoxy in his letters.”

    “It’s undeniable he was at least frustrated with orthodox Christianity, which he found not only unbelievable for the “Platonist” elements he believed unnaturally grafted onto it in its evolving history, but he also saw it as divisive and tending towards authoritarianism.”

    To McAdams that is intolerance. You and I, understandably find that hard to believe. But McAdams holds that anyone who says a conservative belief is in any way harmful or obviously wrong is intolerant. For instance, he thinks that to merely tell Global Warming skeptics that they are dead wrong is “fascism,” and that people who want to teach kids that violence against gay people is wrong are akin to Nazis! The guy thinks Marquette orientations are the equivalent of Stalinism!

    I agree with his reading of the Apocalypse. What he said is probably the view of most Christians.

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