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Miscellany, December 29

  • Per John Tierney in the Times, a new review of the literature has “concluded that religious belief and piety promote self-control”, which may help explain why religious belief is often associated with greater success in such goals as personal health and marital stability. Mere going through the motions doesn’t seem to be enough, “Dr. [Michael] McCullough told me, because personality studies have identified a difference between true believers and others who attend services for extrinsic reasons, like wanting to impress people or make social connections. The intrinsically religious people have higher self-control, but the extrinsically religious do not.”
  • A new Vanity Fair article based on interview with GWBush administration insiders includes this quote from David Kuo:

    “The reality in the White House is – if you look at the most senior staff – you’re seeing people who aren’t personally religious and have no particular affection for people who are religious-right leaders,” Kuo said.

    “In the political affairs shop in particular, you saw a lot of people who just rolled their eyes at … basically every religious-right leader that was out there, because they just found them annoying and insufferable. These guys were pains in the butt who had to be accommodated.”

    Note, by contrast or otherwise, DH’s just-preceding post on GWB’s personal beliefs.

  • For those who haven’t overdosed on the subject, the gang at Volokh Conspiracy have a lot to say about the “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” question, with attention to the use of the latter phrase (long before the recent culture wars) as an attempted way to avoid awkwardness between Christians and Jews. Relatedly, David Kopel brings word that readers of the Boulder, Colorado, Daily Camera, have now heard from one of the world’s touchiest atheists on the subject.

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Faith & George W. Bush

Austin Bramwell, He Still Believes:

Bush’s admirers credit him with political courage on par with Lincoln’s. Lincoln, of course, hated the “terrible war” that he felt his duty to wage. “Fondly do we hope,” Lincoln intoned, “fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.” Does Bush similarly hate the evils that his policies have caused? It may seem strange that any man should dare to ask the question. Yet according to Bush, the purest test of a leader is the ability to remain an idealist in the face of every calamity. Without the evils that his policies have caused, therefore, Bush could never have made the principled stands that he himself regards as the “big moments” of his presidency. Bush’s idealism, in short, means that he’s not just indifferent to the evil consequences of his actions but positively welcomes them as proofs of his commitment to idealism. In Bush’s mind, the our very failures in Iraq have shown how he has gloriously withstood the test of leadership. For all that other presidents have also claimed the mantle of righteousness, an idealism as fanatical as Bush’s has never been seen before.

One of the main points which my liberal friends have a hard time grasping is the conservative anger at George W. Bush for not being a conservative. Faith and hope are important human traits, and pure rationality leads to a sterile and indecisive existence (as evidenced in António Damásio‘s work). But all things in modest measures. One can not know the mind of a man, but on many an occasion I have wondered as to the similarity between the cosmic visions of liberal audacity and George W. Bush’s belief that if he believes it is so, it is so.


This topic, which I mentioned in passing last week, is back in the news with the announcement of an executive order by President Bush extending and entrenching the asserted right of hospital, clinic and pharmacy employees to defy their supervisors and disrupt the operation of their workplaces by announcing that they will not dispense prescriptions or participate in medical procedures that violate their religious beliefs.  At NRO’s “Corner”, we are instructed by Tyranny of Reason author Yuval Levin that it’s totally illegitimate to use quote-marks around the word “conscience”, as if to suggest that the employees in question could have spared themselves a crisis of conscience by not accepting jobs that might present them with such duties in the first place. Levin also seems to find it illegitimate for the New York Times’s story to mention the Roman Catholic hierarchy in tones that suggest that the issue has anything to do with churches’ influence on public policy. Speaking of which, a post by Radley Balko at Reason “Hit and Run” reminds me just how broad the Vatican’s opposition to assisted reproductive technology is: I mentioned in vitro fertilization for unmarried women last time, but of course the Church prohibits the use of in vitro techniques for married couples as well.

The rules are likely to cause trouble — maybe even are intended to cause trouble — for clinics offering in vitro and other assisted reproductive services. And yet the Bush people would be unlikely to succeed in mustering the votes for an outright ban on such services, no matter how much encouragement they got from the Corner or Levin’s Ethics and Public Policy Center.

P.S. Some further thoughts from Rick Garnett at Prawfsblawg on the question — which seems in some ways the cutting edge of contention — of whether backers of the measure should be conceded the positively-charged word conscience without the distancing or irony of quotation marks. In part this is a battle over who gets to use language with favorable connotations, but it is also influenced by the sense that there’s a time and place for everything, even crises of conscience, and that the time to announce one’s conscientious objections to warmaking, if one doesn’t want people to start using air quotes about them, is before one is shipped to the battlefield.

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