Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Age of Faith

“The life of the mind is a composition of two forces: the necessity to believe in order to live, and the necessity to reason in order to advance. In ages of poverty and chaos the will to believe is paramount, for courage is the one thing needful; in ages of wealth the intellectual powers come to the fore as offering preferment and progress. Consequently a civilization passing from poverty to wealth tends to develop a struggle between reason and faith, a ‘warfare of science with theology.’ In this conflict, philosophy, dedicated to seeing life whole, usually seeks a reconciliation of opposites, a mediating peace, with the result that it is scorned by science and suspected by theology.”

— “The Age of Faith,” Will Durant

Saturday, September 25, 2004

This is all we need to know

“If my travels, if my books have meaning — if geography itself has significance — it is that we are made to lift our eyes from our own small, provincial selves to the whole complex and magnificent world.”

— Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) explorer, trying to shake the London geographical society out of its prideful, practical and provincial views on exploration

"Answering Only to God"

“Answering only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First Century Iran,” by Geneive Abdo and Jonathan Lyons gets at the problems Popper speculated about in “The Open Society and Its Enemies.”

“Answering Only to God” is billed as, “An inside look at the battle for faith and power in today’s Iran.” And we get a brief history lesson:

“In 1979, Islamic revolutionaries set out to create a new kind of state from the ashes of the Shah’s U.S. backed monarchy — one that was both religious and democratic. But the result was the modern world’s first theocracy, an authoritarian state run by conservative clerics.

“Hope emerged … with the landslide election of President Mohammed Khatami in 1997. Like Islamic reformers throughout history, Khatami argued that the needs of modern Muslims could be met if reason and rationality were introduced into the practice of the faith. His ideas energized parts of the Muslim world yearning for free expression, the rule of law, religious and political tolerance, and increased participation among women and minorities.”

The book goes on to explain how the writers “found themselves chronicling the collapse of this republican leader under the weight of Iran’s religious and social traditions.” Should Iran be a Muslim state ruled by clerics or a republican state ruled by the people? “Unable to resolve this conflict, the clerical establishment has come to rely on repression to maintain power,” shattering the dreams of millions of Iranians who want a state that’s both religious and free.

End of excerpt.

And so that’s the problem: How do you have a state that’s both religious and free? You don’t if you’re “Answering only to God.” Instead of decrying all the problems of the open society, the devout American should remember where his religious freedom comes from: the open society. We seem to be drifting away from this crucial understanding. In short, the Bush presidency is the closest thing to a theocracy I’ve ever experienced in my 53 years of being an American.

Even the most devout believer has to assume at least some responsibilty as a guardian of freedom and friend of the open society.

Friday, September 24, 2004

You're allowed to rant

In answer to Haki's question across the News Desk: Yes, you're allowed to rant in this forum. You can rant under your own name, under some clever screen name ... or even anonymously. Whatever you're comfortable with.

I reserve the right to delete racist, sexist or otherwise offensive messages. But since we're all adults, I won't have to.

Closed systems in the open society

Karl Popper believed that the closed society gives certainty regarding unseen powers and ultimate outcomes. However, in the open society belief in magical, unseen forces takes a back seat to thoughtful discussion, which includes an endless critique of all theories, philosophies, systems and plans. The open society values thought over belief; it values group discussion over the idea that some expert has concluded, once and for all, the secret to personal or societal success; the open society is practical and piecemeal — not sacred or utopian.

And so a problem: It would seem to me that the devout believer struggles with his or her existence in the open society. That society, which gives them freedom of belief, also threatens it; it always tends toward a dangerous erosion of all their sacred truths. Therefore, the devout person must perform a balancing act, which the secular person can avoid.

So, how far does the devout person go in his fight against the open society; how far does he go in threatening the very basis of the freedom to believe? How hard does he or she chip away at the foundation of freedom? Remember, the Baptists were very intent on supporting Virginia's early freedom-of-religion plan (which later became the blueprint for our Constitution) because they knew if there was any sort of state religion they would be barred from the forms of worship they so cherished, which is not to say that Jewish or Muslim groups would have objected but that other Christian groups would have barred the Baptists from their chosen practices. The Baptists, as Christians, were very concerned about Christian oppression. So that's the first irony.

And so the absolutists sided with the freedom people because the only place their closed views were protected was in the open society. And that's the second irony — and a pretty big one. The devout believer needs the open society every bit as much as the avowed secularist. Maybe more.

How I became a blogger

I was very prejudiced against blogs and bloggers.

I didn’t want to be confused with a blogger because I didn’t want people think that all the items on my Web site began, “Got up this morning. Made some coffee.” In other words, the blogs I’d seen were nothing more than on-line journals; each entry started off totally boring and went downhill from there. I wrote things that took hours or days, not minutes. (Unfortunately, this doesn't mean they're not boring, too.)

Then in the span of one week bloggers uncovered the CBS blunder in regards George Bush and his military service — or lack thereof. Then there was the buzz surrounding The Plain Dealer Mystery Blogger. What’s that?

After the 4:30 meeting Monday or Tuesday Jeff Greene and Margie Frazer were talking about … well, I couldn’t tell what they were talking about! “And this is in reference to what?” And that’s when they told me a PD employee (we assume) had published a blog, anonymously, rating some of the columnists, taking pot shots at bosses and speculating about who might get what job.

By the time Jeff sent me a link, the blog had already gone down; all that was left was a snapshot Google had taken earlier in the day — or perhaps even the day before. But it got me thinking about blogs, and I saw Kim Moy looking at the Blogspot Web site and realized how easy it was to make an on-line forum. And in 24 hours (with the help of flickr, an on-line photo service), I set up the “Nightsiders” blog for the News Desk.

It can be found at:

Then last night after work I set up The Rumors of Order forum, based on the same black template the PD blogger used.

So thanks to CBS for making a big mistake, and thanks to the Mystery Blogger for basing his forum on Blogspot. And thanks for curing me of my prejudice against blogging. One other thing: Using Blogspot and flickr doesn’t cost a cent! And it’s easy — very easy.

The funny upshot of this whole thing is that some misguided PD people speculate that I was the Mystery Blogger, but those who have worked with me know better; they know I have never interested myself in behind-the-scenes stuff. I don’t know who’s getting what job where — I can’t even keep track of who’s doing what on the News Desk from day to day! I couldn't even remember the typeface for "The Price of Poverty" logo!

Anyway, this is how I became a blogger without really trying.

Thursday, September 23, 2004


The Rumors of Order Forum is a place to talk about belief.

It's a place to ...

1. Share ideas.

2. Explain and defend your belief system.

3. Stick up for your secular viewpoint.

4. Show me the error of my ways.

5. React to anything on the Rumors of Order Web site, which can be found at

6. Make us aware of interesting books, essays, articles, lectures, TV specials, movies, documentaries — whatever might deepen our understanding of philosophy, psychology, religion, literature or the arts ... and inspire us in our efforts to better understand the nature of belief and the consequences of certainty.

7. Or to discuss any idea or topic because it all comes back to belief one way or another — your judgment about what matters most.

Just click the "comment" button and start typing.