Monday, February 23, 2004

The Next Testament
Regular readers of this feature know I don't have much use for religion. I am agnostic on the fuzzier matter of "spirituality." When I take pleasure in a sunset, a song, or some other experience, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about what it is in me that is actually "feeling." Maybe it's something we could call a spirit, or maybe it's just synapses firing--either way is OK with me. But columnist Mark Morford in San Francisco has a more nuanced viewpoint. Morford is just as violently opposed to right-wing Christianity and its toxic effluents as I am, but believes more strongly than I do that life must have an acknowledged, mysterious, spiritual dimension to be full--and he'd like you to believe it too.

Regardless of its worth as history or moral guide, the Bible is an important text in the history of Western civilization. In the current Atlantic, Cullen Murphy muses about what a third testament would look like--"the Next Testament," he calls it. He wonders what we'd get if we assembled the "raw materials for something that would have the same cultural feel a few thousand years hence that the Bible has now." Murphy argues that everything from Stephen Hawking to Emily Dickinson to Ann Landers would be candidates for inclusion.

Recommended reading: Republicans love to campaign on issues of values and morality, personal choices made political and used as a club to beat the hell out of the opposition. These issues have meaning, but they're so wrapped up in emotion that they cloud people's judgment. They take on greater importance than they deserve when placed alongside questions involving things like the economy, national security, and the environment. But they're potent, and when Republicans are beaten on other issues--as they are currently on the economy, national security, and the environment--they eagerly change the subject to "the culture war." At TAP Online, Stanley and Anna Greenberg handicap the 2004 edition of the culture war, and find that Democrats are in better shape to fight it today than they were in 1988, when Bush the Elder rode it to victory over John Kerry's former boss, Michael Dukakis: "With the country divided equally between the married and unmarried, those who are weekly church attendees and those who are not, Democrats and Republicans, the specter of a battle over values should not leave Democrats trembling. Joining the battle is an insufficient strategy in the context of our current political parity, but noting the cultural trends should give Democrats greater confidence as they face the battles ahead."

This morning on Best of the Blogs: The Personal is Political.

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