Sunday, March 02, 2003

Are you certain?

John Balzar writes in the Sunday Los Angeles times: (excerpts)
  • On one day recently, three people I respect used the same two words by way of discussing Iraq: "moral certainty."   ...   Implicit in these conversations was a riddle. How can anyone be "morally certain" about war?

  • ... we hear rousing moral preaching about "evil" or "infidels."

  • William Lesher, president emeritus of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, puts it this way: "Moral certainty is not a tenet that stems from mainline religious ethics in the contemporary world. Moral certainty, for the most part, is a luxury of a closed mind ... a fundamentalist religious attitude."

  • Moral certainties ... take us beyond debate. They push us toward the turf occupied by our foes -- to the terrain of fanaticism, where the eye beholds only good or evil, light or darkness.

  • "This is not political discourse. This is actually the language of religious zealots, whether they be Christian or Muslim. It's the language of children's stories," says Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University. "The trouble with this kind of language, as I see it, is that it's very powerful. In a way, it bypasses the brain."
Bypasses the brain? In that case, it's perfect for Bush. After all, even Peggy Noonan has gushed about how Bush makes decisions based on his "gut":
I had the hunch that Mr. Bush, who had succeeded as a Texas governor in part by relying on his gut sense of people, events, meaning, went into the White House wondering if his gut would be up to the job. If it would give him the guidance it had given in Texas, if it was up to the demands of a presidency. Then Sept. 11 came, and he was thrown back onto his inner resources. He had to use his gut to make big quick decisions. The one time he didn't follow his gut--when he didn't return immediately to the White House after the attacks--he made a big mistake. So he went with his gut thereafter, and in the next 12 months he concluded his gut was up to the challenge.


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