Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A few items on belief (as addenda to my essays on belief):

- I saw "Troy" and liked it, though I resented the familiar Hollywood theme of ridculing the naivete of anyone who sees a divine hand in their world. The Trojan king (good to see Peter O'Toole in that role) foolishly listens to his oracle, and thus make a serious strategic error. He later gives his son Hector a blessing from the gods before Hector fights Achilles, blindly believing that Hector has a chance. The Greeks, on the other hand, enjoy vision that is unclouded by matters divine (they prefer pure pride and greed as their guides) and so they march to a well-earned victory. But in the original epic, the gods intervene and interfere in direct and obvious ways, so beseeching them is not the least bit irrational for the characters (David Denby gives a nice overview of the murky history of the Trojan wars here).

Incidentally, IMDB's goofs page for "Troy" says, "In the raid of troy, several soldiers can be seen as merely acting out the stabbing of people." Well, I should hope they were "merely acting" it out! Otherwise someone should be arrested. The trivia page, meanwhile, says that Brad Pitt tore his achilles during training.

- I'm not denying that ascribing everything to the gods can be irrational, if not lunacy. In an interview with 60 Minutes, anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr says Allah removed Saddam, not the U.S.:

"Our salvation from Saddam was only with the grace of God.”
If getting rid of Saddam was a favor of God, why was it that God waited until the Americans came in to do the job?
“All praises to Allah! He works in mysterious ways.”

What a coincidence!

- A letter to the Atlantic, in response to a Jonathan Rauch essay (which I also respond to in my belief series):

Does Rauch lack the will or acumen to distinguish between the statements "I believe in God" and "I believe God wants me to fly airplanes into your buildings"? Is there any natural or common common connection between the two? The burden of proof is on Rauch, but he shrugs it off.

- "Nine in 10 [journalists in a survey] say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral (40 percent of the public thinks this way)," says Howard Kurtz. Of course you don't have to believe in God to be moral. Everyone is moral, as I wrote in my response to Rauch:

One of the things that distinguishes humans from animals is that while, say, worker ants march in line according only to the impulse of natural instinct and inertia of social dynamics, humans act upon an ethic of moral direction (ranging from a Franciscan ethic of compassion to the far less sentimental Ayn Rand ethic of self-interest).

Everyone has a sense of what they should do for some reason (whether or not that reason is righteous). If Kurtz (or the survey) meant morally proper, well, that is only up to the standards of a group that holds common notions of propriety. (Those standards may conform to God's will--the ultimate definition of moral righteousness--or they might just be legalistic habits, as with the Pharisees, whom Jesus always scolded.)

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