Do the Douthat Twist

I know I’m a little late to this, but I was reminded of Ross Douthat’s column a few days back about reactions to the Park51 project from what he sees as two distinct Americas.

Refreshingly, the conservative Douthat uses some appropriate terminology in explaining the second America, the opponents of the mosque. He uses words like “crude,” “xenophobic,” and “darker suspicion.” He seems to see clearly the lineage from which the current crop of knee-jerk bigots arise:

The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.

Way to call a spade a spade, sir! Oh, wait.

But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer…

Oh no.

Douthat is a serious thinker, and I appreciate that. But he also does what many right-of-center thinkers often do when made uncomfortable by their neaderthal conservative brethren: he makes excuses for them. In this case, Douthat tries to argue that our ugly history of xenophobia, bigotry, anti-immigrant bias, and religious discrimination has been, in part, a good thing! Why? Because enduring discrimination and demonization helped outsiders “assimilate more quickly.” Well, thank goodness for that.

It’s an awkward thing to behold, and it’s hard to believe that he could take this line of thought seriously. (I mean, he can’t be all that right-wing, I’ve seen him shopping at both a Harris Teeter and an organic market in town!) The ever-shrinking not-quite-lunatic sphere of conservative thought must be thinking that there won’t be a conservative America without the knuckle-draggers, that they are a necessary evil. To allow for William Cohens and Dick Lugars, one must allow for the Michele Bachmanns and Louie Gohmerts, so the logic (I presume) goes. And what a twisting dance they must do to make sense of it all!

But this is a ridiculous, and I think damaging position: Those who are enlightened, those of higher principle, those who make the effort to understand and bridge differences (Douthat’s “first America”) must supposedly make more room for the persecutions of the willfully ignorant and vindictive (Douthat’s “second America”). For without this kind of suffering inflicted on out-groups, they will never become “American.”

I look forward to the day when Mr. Douthat decides which America he really wants to live in.

PS: Here are some more examples of Douthat doing the twist.

Disbelieving Outside the Lines

Ross Douthat writes in defense of the Yahweh concept, reminding we stuffy atheists that it’s not as silly as Russell’s teapot assumes:

This analogy – like its modern descendant, the Flying Spaghetti Monster – makes a great deal of sense if you believe that the idea of God is an absurdity dreamed up by crafty clerics in darkest antiquity and subsequently imposed on the human mind by force and fear, and that it only survives for want of brave souls willing to note how inherently absurd the whole thing is.

I’m fairly certain that atheists’ diselief in God is not contingent upon the assumption of some conspiracy of Jesus Christ Superstar-type priests looking to fool the drooling masses with a prefab script. It is the lack of any evidence that is the beginning and end of the story.

Douthat doesn’t discount atheism entirely, but if you don’t disbelieve within his parameters, you’re probably just a weirdo (emphasis mine):

But it is one thing to disbelieve in God; it is quite another to never feel a twinge of doubt about one’s own disbelief. And just as the Christian who has never entertained doubts about his faith probably hasn’t thought hard enough about the matter, the atheist who perceives the Christian God and the flying spaghetti monster as equally ridiculous hypotheses really needs to get out more often.

Ouch! But truly, the best reason I can think of that one would not see the two ideas as equally absurd is that the concept of God is either incredibly vague or incredibly anthropomorphic; that is to say, fuzzy yet familiar enough not to jump out in our own minds as patently nutty. Orbital teapots and sentient pasta, not so much. But there is equal evidence for all of these things: none.