Fanatics

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I have never understood why evolution was taken as an attack on Christianity, except that some see the Bible as being literally true. Unfortunately for them, the Bible is inconsistent. If the Bible is the literal word of God, why are there two different geneologies for both Noah and Jesus? Did God say that just to be confusing? It is also believed that Adam and Eve were the first two humans, but this is denied later in the book of Genesis, when Cain leaves Adam and Eve and goes gets married. If he and his parents were the only humans, where did he find someone to marry? Not only that, but he founds a city, which means there are quite a LOT of human beings elsewhere in the world. Does this mean that Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to be considered the first humans? The story is presented in a way to ensure that they would be. The story is consistent with an ancient tradition that includes a creation story, which may be true in other senses, but not in the scientific sense.
The same is true of the two geneologies. Noah’s was ancient tradition, and we can infer that there were two groups of people who had the same story, but with slightly different details. In the case of Jesus, something else is apparently being expressed, not very clearly. According to one interpreter, one of these geneologies shows that the Jewish people were exposed to four different basic conceptions of God. He doesn’t say anything about the other. In both cases the information (whether divinely inspired or not) comes through human beings, and is not to be understood as true in any absolute way.
A coworker expressed displeasure that after being taught the Christian explanation for things, that science should come along with an entirely different explanation. His desire for simplicity is unfortunate, as many different people have come up with varying explanations for the world, universe, and much smaller phenomena. As humans we’re in the position, unfortunately or not, of having to decide what conception makes the most sense. I happen to believe that both do, in different ways.
I watched part of a film called God vs Evolution, made by the Ray Comfort my coworker told me about. I didn’t watch a lot of it, as I got tired of the method Comfort used. He asked people who identified themselves as believers in evolution, some of whom also identified themselves as atheists, questions about evolution. What he proved by his questions was not terribly surprising: a lot of people don’t know much about the mechanics of evolution, even though they may claim to believe in the process. I don’t know as much as I might either, though I could have answered some of his questions.
One of these was, what’s the evidence for evolution? There’s a lot of evidence we don’t have, but one piece we do have is the horse: there are fossils showing horses in various stages of development, beginning with them being much different from the horses we see today.
Another is DNA. Some time ago my coworker showed me a picture of an ape, and said that the different kind of noses apes have from humans proves we didn’t come from apes. Actually, he’s technically correct: we came from a common ancestor, and that apes share a great deal of the DNA we have seems to prove that. He answered that he didn’t believe in DNA, which is one way to avoid the question. But I’m afraid DNA exists, whether he chooses to believe in it or not.
When I asked him if he believed creation literally as described by the Bible, and whether the world had only been around for a short time, he said yes, and I told him I couldn’t agree with that. I don’t think the Bible itself lays down any exact timeline for the age of the world. That was decided later by an English clergyman, who calculated it from what he believed about the Bible. His beliefs don’t accord with modern science, which shows that the world is very old indeed, from our viewpoint.
Science doesn’t disagree with the Bible as much as Fundamentalists might suppose. It depicts God as creating the world in stages, which it characterizes as days, and is in what science would say is the wrong order. The “days” depicted by the Bible are actually millions of years, and we still know very little about how life developed and developed higher forms. Fundamentalists would say that God created each form at the time it appeared, and I don’t think science has enough evidence to successfully refute that claim as yet. The most accepted explanation for the disappearance of the dinosaurs is that an asteroid impacted the earth just off the coast of what is now Mexico, and the damage it caused produced a “nuclear winter” (also seen from large volcanic eruptions later) that prevented the food that the herbivorous dinosaurs ate from growing, thus also killing the predatory dinosaurs that ate the herbivores.
But if the damage was that catastrophic, the question is how any life more complex than bacteria survived at all. Supposedly there were mammals at that time which were able to survive, and these differentiated to become all the mammals we see today, plus quite a few others that went extinct in the past. How that differentiation (if that was the actual mechanism) worked is a question. I don’t know the field thoroughly, but I don’t think we have any evidence to prove that’s what actually happened. For it to be true there would have to have been species that produced entirely different species. We have evidence of species changing over time, but as far as I’m aware, none that show new species (different from variants of the same species, like different breeds of dogs, cats, and many others) developing from another species.
Common ancestry is again part of the answer to this question. Someone spoke of a species getting separated from its parent species by being stranded on an island, for instance. After enough generations the two groups will no longer be able to interbreed. This still doesn’t explain how the probably very small mammals surviving the extinction of the dinosaurs managed to differentiate into the many different species of mammals there have been since. One hardly expects to see an elephant descend from a creature the size of a rat, for instance, and also be the ancestor of large predators. DNA may eventually shed some light on this question, but its one that the Fundamentalist belief may best answer: God did it, and in this case we don’t know how.
That Fundamentalists may be right about some things doesn’t mean they’re right about all. They certainly seem to be wrong about the age of the earth, which they shouldn’t have assumed they knew in the first place. And a friend mentioned a curriculum she was thinking of buying for homeschooling her child. The curriculum was conveniently inexpensive, but it also taught geocentrism, which was disproved some 400 years ago. That some groups are still teaching this as fact demonstrates that one reason some religious people dislike science is because it shows the human race is less important than we like to believe. A debate between a theist and atheist I was listening to before beginning to write this points this out: why would God go to the trouble of creating a hundred billion galaxies if humankind was the central reason for creation? That makes little sense.
But the theist pointed out that science is very good at answering the “how” questions, but not very good at the “why”. The atheist tried to say that the “why” questions are really just “how” questions, but I don’t find that convincing. Particularly because I’ve heard at least one answer which at least partly addresses that question.
George Gurdjieff, whom I’ve mentioned in previous posts, had a question, he later said, from a very young age: what is the point of organic life in general, and human life in particular? The answer that he either learned or formulated himself, is that all life transforms energies which feed higher forms of life. We’re familiar with plants nourishing herbivores, which in turn feed carnivores, and ultimately ourselves, who are able to eat both plants and animals, but Gurdjieff was talking about energies we aren’t familiar with, which nourish us (and other beings) in ways we haven’t yet noticed.
Various beings live at various time-scales. A bacterium, with very little apparent consciousness, may die naturally within hours, but to that creature’s consciousness it may live as long as we do. He also saw stars and planets as being conscious, but their time-scale is enormously longer than ours. According to him, one of the ways in which other forms of life support our own (besides the obvious) is demonstrated by insects. According to one of his students, the powerful sexual energy of insects supports our creativity. This is, as far as I’m aware, an unproven assertion, but a very unexpected one, which I think deserves more study. Whether any scientists will take it seriously enough to study remains to be seen.
Part of the debate between the theist and the atheist that I heard, before turning it off had the theist asserting that atheists actually believe in God, but prefer not to because believing would impose moral responsibility on them. That may be true for some, but immoral behavior is hardly confined to atheists, some of whom are at least as moral as many Christians. I think much disbelief is because of revulsion against the record of organized religion. That’s a reason I can certainly understand.
Gurdjieff taught people to work on themselves, giving up habits, practicing various exercises, and thinking about what he taught. A number of his students have testified that with sufficient effort, they had very unusual experiences. These experiences were part of what Gurdjieff’s teaching aimed at, rather than the belief in various dogmas. Each of the major religions teaches various practices, but some focus on them more than others. Christianity tends to focus more on belief than practice, and some of those beliefs are toxic.
The belief that someone is evil simply because his or her beliefs differ from yours is one, and hysteria about evolution is an example of it. Why should not God be using evolution as a tool, whether we understand the point of it or not? People believe what they believe. Why get excited about it, unless it can be shown to be damaging? If you’re so insecure about your beliefs that the concept can damage you, you might want to look for better beliefs. It’s not possible for you to know everything in any case, so your beliefs are largely mistaken, since you lack the perspective of God.
But humans like to fight about things, and religion is one of their favorite reasons for starting a fight. The admonition of Jesus to cast the beam out of your own eye before concerning yourself with the mote in your neighbor’s applies very nicely here, I think. It would be nice if people in general, secular or religious, would ask themselves if they REALLY want to be fanatics. They condemn fanatics who disagree with them. And while the determination to right wrongs is admirable, fanaticism is not. Suppose we all ask ourselves whether we’re fanatics or not, and answer the question as honestly as possible?

The Story of Lyndon Johnson, Part 12

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Lyndon Johnson’s 1963 didn’t start out very well. Not only was he excluded and unimportant in the Kennedy administration, but Bobby Baker, who had been one of his most trusted assistants in the Senate, had gotten into a number of shady enterprises, including establishing a club where legislators and lobbyists could be bribed by sex. Johnson tried to distance himself from Baker, but they were closely connected. As reporters dug into the things Baker had been doing they discovered things that Johnson had been doing too.
An insurance agent had sold Johnson life insurance (Johnson had had difficulty getting insurance after his heart attack), and Johnson had then demanded (in return for his getting a commission from the policy)that the man buy advertising time on Johnson’s TV station in Texas, though it made no sense for an insurance agent in Maryland to advertise there, and also to supply Johnson and his wife with a stereo.
Robert Caro points out that the stereo was a relatively minor item, but it was connected with things not so minor. Johnson’s insurance premium was paid by the LBJ Company, which owned the TV station that Johnson insisted was owned by his wife. But if he wasn’t connected to it, why was the company paying his insurance? Johnson had never made more than $35,000 a year as a politician, but was actually a millionaire several times over. And the TV station had benefited from several favorable rulings from the FCC, so that his wife’s (ostensibly) company now owned more radio and TV stations, as well as land.
As with the insurance agent, much of this wealth had been amassed through people buying advertising time. The reason they had done it was to receive political influence in return. That would not look good to ordinary Americans, and John J. Williams, a Republican Senator from Delaware, who was very independent and disliked corruption, had become interested in the story, and the more he interviewed witnesses, the more questionable activities by Johnson he found.
On top of that, the Kennedys were talking about dropping Johnson from their reelection ticket. The Bobby Baker scandal was a good excuse to get rid of someone they didn’t feel comfortable with.
The campaign trip to Texas in November 1963 was also not comfortable for Johnson. He’d lost a lot of influence in Texas, partly because he was no longer in the Senate, partly because of the administration he was part of: conservatives didn’t like the Kennedys, and stopped backing Johnson.They didn’t object to his beliefs about civil rights, but he had promised them he could moderate Kennedy’s policies on taxes, and he wasn’t able to deliver. Kennedy wanted to close tax loopholes, which these conservative Texans used. When Johnson couldn’t stop that, he lost conservative support.
He was also disliked by Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough, leader of liberal Democrats in Texas, who refused to ride in a car with him during a parade. John Connally, who had worked closely with Johnson for years, had left him after the 1960 election, and won the Texas governorship. He was now trying to show that he didn’t need Johnson.

Everything changed with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Speculation has often connected Johnson with the assassination, beginning not long after it. Robert Caro says that in all of Johnson’s papers that he’s gone through he’s never seen anything to suggest he was involved. That doesn’t entirely exclude the possibility that he was involved, of course, and the assassination very possibly saved his political career.
Once it was certain that Kennedy was dead, Johnson took charge. He arranged for all the people of the administration at the hospital to which Kennedy had been taken to leave for the airport (not knowing just what was happening, or whether there was a conspiracy that might want to kill others too), and gather in one plane, where he took the oath of office before allowing the plane to fly back to Washington.
Johnson knew that Kennedy had several bills he was trying to get passed. He also knew that there wasn’t much time to pass them. There would be a necessary time of mourning for Kennedy, but there were also things that needed to be done if those bills were to pass. One was a bill cutting taxes, which Kennedy hoped would stimulate the economy; the other, possibly more important, was a civil rights bill. Johnson had previously suggested to Kennedy that he might want to pass the tax bill before introducing the other. The civil rights bill was far more controversial, and the tax bill could be held hostage to keep civil rights from ever coming to the floor. Kennedy hadn’t listened to that advice.
Beginning in Texas, and on the way back to Washington, Johnson pleaded with officials and advisers in the Kennedy administration to stick with him. “I need you more now than President Kennedy ever did,” he told them, and a number of them did stay, even though they didn’t much like Johnson.
Johnson felt their dislike, and felt the inadequacy of his education compared to theirs. They had, many of them, been educated in the Ivy League; Johnson had gone to a small teacher’s college in west Texas. Actually, Johnson had several aides who compared favorably to Kennedy’s friends in their abilities, but because those friends weren’t ostentatiously educated, he felt inferior.
But, says Robert Caro, when it came to governing, he had instinct. He knew immediately after the assassination that everyone was confused, no one knew what to do, and that he had to lead them out of confusion by providing direction. There was little he could do on the way back to Washington, or on arrival there, except to ask as many people as he could to help him. Not just Kennedy’s aides, but anyone else he could think of. But when he got to Washington, one of the last things he did that day was to write letters to Carolyn and John F. Kennedy Jr, telling them he was thinking of them, and that they could always be proud of their father.
Once back in Washington he busied himself finding out what needed to be done, and asking others to help him. He started asking prominent men for help: George Meany, leader of the United Mine Workers, and other union leaders; then civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young. He humbled himself before members of the Kennedy administration, telling them he didn’t know anyone as smart as them, and that he needed their help. He said later, “I knew how they felt. He was gone, and with his going they must have felt everything had changed…So I determined to keep them informed. I determined to keep them busy. I constantly requested their advice and asked for their help.” He must have been tempted to pay some of them back for the slights he’d received, but during that period he never did. He and the nation needed continuity, and the Kennedy people gave it.
Then he had to meet with foreign leaders who had come for Kennedy’s funeral. He had little time to be briefed, had to soak up what information he could almost instantaneously, and fell back on his talent for making connections with people he’d never met, or had only met briefly. He was able to do that, even with the Russians and President deGaulle of France, neither of whom much liked America. As soon as that was over it was time to meet with as many governors as he could. He urged them to talk with their congressmen and work for America. He won them over too.
Next was to get the tax bill and budget passed. The budget had to be passed first, and Harry Byrd, Senator from Virginia, wasn’t going to allow it out of his committee if it was over $100 billion. Johnson knew the budget needed to be higher, but that a choice would have to be made being having it higher or getting it passed. Getting it passed was the key to breaking the logjam in the Senate,where almost any Senator could prevent legislation from passing or even getting to the floor, and any Senator displeased with the administration and what it asked for would jam on the brakes, so he made cuts to guarantee the budget would stay below $100 billion. That, and Byrd’s liking for him, was the way to get Byrd to cooperate. Kennedy’s primary economic advisers were impressed too.
Then he had to make his first speech as President. He had often not been good at public formal speaking, as bad at that as he was good at talking to people one-on-one. Now he had to make a speech and make it a good one. He had often ruined speeches by rushing through them, and shouting instead of speaking. He knew he couldn’t afford to do that now. So he typed each paragraph, left an empty space between it and the next, and wrote “pause” in each space by hand. This he managed to do when he spoke.
He spoke about how the president had been assassinated, and how many might wish for the country to fall apart for lack of leadership, how people could come together and act on the important things that needed to be done. Not everyone applauded, particularly not the Southern senators when he spoke about civil rights. But many did applaud: he was interrupted by applause 31 times. And such was the emotion with which he spoke that many people cried when he was done.
When he had been preparing the speech he had gathered some of his allies to help him. They disagreed on what his priorities ought to be, some saying that a president had only so much political influence, and it shouldn’t be wasted on lost causes, meaning civil right. Johnson replied, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”
One thing it was immediately for was creating the Warren Commission to investigate Kennedy’s death. When we think of it now, we usually think, “Coverup.” Caro reminds us that, first, Johnson’s initial desire was to have the assassination investigated in Texas, which had jurisdiction. He came to realize that it needed to be investigated by a Federal commission, which everyone could watch. Johnson was able to get some of the men with the greatest integrity in the country on the commission, including Earl Warren and Richard Russell, and, in Caro’s opinion, it succeeded in allaying the country’s fears–for awhile. Johnson, and others, feared that chaos could result from not facing the tragedy, and for awhile many felt that the Warren Commission had managed to assuage those fears. Unfortunately, they didn’t manage to investigate as many aspects of the case as they should have, and many people still believe that the assassination was a conspiracy. It was an attempt to reassure the country, but ultimately unsuccessful. Johnson went against his preferences by giving up control, and allowing people he hardly knew to investigate, but that was what needed to be done, so he did it.
Then it was time to work on civil rights. Franklin Roosevelt had overreached when trying to pack the Supreme Court, and had been defeated. His proposal had brought together conservative Republicans and Democrats, otherwise usually opposed, and once together, they had stayed together to defeat all Roosevelt’s domestic agenda. After his first term, he was unable to pass any more domestic legislation, and neither could his successors. Harry Truman had wanted to pass civil rights legislation, national health insurance, and expanded unemployment insurance. He managed to pass almost none of it, at least partly because Richard Russell, Senator from Georgia, was able to take other important bills hostage, so a choice had to be made between which bills were most important. Civil rights had lost almost every time. When it hadn’t, it had been Lyndon Johnson’s doing, but in order to pass those bills, he’d had to water them down. That wasn’t going to be good enough now, when there were increasingly more black voters, and someone would have to pay attention to them if they wanted to get those votes.
The bill that had been submitted was stalled in the House Rules Committee, and since three members of the Committee were from the South, it wasn’t going to move. Unless enough people would sign a “discharge petition” to relieve the Rules Committee of its responsibility, and take the bill to the floor.
Johnson’s first step was to call the civil rights leaders and ask them to work at lobbying for the bill. He explained to them that he had asked black people who worked for him to bring his dog to Washington from Texas, and how they hadn’t wanted to do it, because driving through the South meant they could rarely stop to use the restroom or get food, and that he hadn’t realized before how difficult things were for black people in the South. He told them how he had taught Mexican children one year in southern Texas, and how he had determined to help them in the future if he could. The leaders believed him, and vowed to help him.
Then he met with George Meany (who wanted to be seen helping the President) and enlisted labor into the fight. He had the Democratic whips talk to each member to find out how each was going to voe, and put pressure on them. He made a deal with Albert Thomas, a Texas Representative, assuring him that he would retain final say over his business in his appropriations subcommittees and that Brown and Root projects would continue to be funded. In return, Thomas got him six votes from Texas. He also put pressure on Republicans by pointing out that the party of Lincoln ought to support civil rights, and not voting for it was the same as not supporting it.
Clarence Brown, of Ohio, meeting with Judge Smith, of Virginia, who had been keeping the bill bottled up in committee, told him that Republicans were being put in an untenable position. Smith was in an untenable position of his own: two Republicans on his committee could overrule him, which would be embarrassing. He issued a statement that the committee would take up the bill early in January, and wouldn’t spend too much time on it before releasing it to the floor. Just to be sure, though, Johnson kept the discharge petition active on the floor. Next he had to get the tax bill passed before the civil rights bill would be considered, or the tax bill would be held hostage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. Judge Smith tried to renege on his promise, and some intervention by Johnson was necessary to resurrect the discharge petition, and force Smith to let the bill out of his committee.
Meanwhile he was also working on an anti-poverty bill, and had managed to get as much as a billion dollars together to make it work. He did this at least partly by insisting on military cutbacks. With that money he planned to put together a program that could only be compared with Roosevelt’s New Deal. Many people supported that.
Once the tax bill had been finished, the civil rights bill came next, and since Johnson had gotten
the tax bill, as well as various appropriation bills, the South had no bills to hold hostage, and Johnson was determined not to bring any more legislation to the floor until the civil rights bill was dealt with. And Johnson was refusing to compromise about the substance of the bill: he wanted to pass it exactly as it was.
To do this, he asked Hubert Humphrey to take responsibility. Johnson had become friends with Humphrey after Humphrey became a Senator in the early 1950s. He could use Humphrey because Humphrey was a liberal, and Johnson needed liberal votes in the North if he was going to become president. He told Humphrey that liberals would never succeed in passing civil rights bills because they didn’t know the rules of the Senate and would go off to make speeches when they ought to be on the floor. Humphrey realized Johnson was right, and learned the rules, and was able to lead the Senate effort to pass the bill. He had the gift of oratory, and he was always friendly, which kept the fight from getting vicious.
One of the more difficult things he had to do was organize the liberals to keep 51 of them on the floor at all times. This was necessary because they had to always have a quorum to conduct business, since if they didn’t (even in the middle of the night) the Senate would automatically adjourn, Southern senators who had already spoken twice would be able to speak again, and the filibuster would get longer. Only once during that time were liberals caught without a quorum, helping them to defeat the filibuster. Humphrey organized the liberals so there were always people ready to defend parts of the bill, and the liberals enjoyed fighting as a team for it.
Everett Dirksen of Illinois became the key to beating the filibuster. He was a Republican, and the question of whether the party of Lincoln would support civil rights or not resonated with him. And Johnson made sure he got credit for what he did. The vote for cloture (ending debate and the filibuster) was 71-29, with 27 Republicans voting for it. Since 23 of the 67 Democrats in the Senate were Southern or from border states, Democrats had only 44 votes they could count on, so the Republican vote was necessary. Finally, in June, the bill passed. It had to go back to the House because amendments had been added, but Republicans managed to get it through the House quickly.
Johnson had gone from being nothing in the Kennedy administration to being the next president, and had been masterful in taking over in very difficult circumstances and passing the legislation that had been left pending after Kennedy’s death.
The period between Kennedy’s death and Johnson’s presidential campaign in 1964 showed Johnson at his best. Unfortunately, his decision to stay in Vietnam (Kennedy had been planning to pull American troops out) and escalate the war overshadowed all the good things he’d done, and made his domestic legislation less effective than it might have been.
Still, he had accomplished important things that few others could have.
Robert Caro is still working on the volume telling about Johnson’s own presidency, so other than reflecting on Johnson’s life and times, this account will stop here.