Archive - Jan 9, 2007

Stupidity Begins At Home

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Memo to Jonah Goldberg: IF I GIVE YOU A DOLLAR, WILL YOU GO AWAY?

If you listen to people of a certain political and religious persuasion talk about atheists, you'll frequently hear things like "Of course, atheists can be good people too." Productive members of society. Maybe even elected officials, if the office isn't too important. And if you listen a little closer, you know they don't actually mean it.

It's a polite fiction required by the rules of society. You know, like "love the sinner, hate the sin". Nobody actually loves the sinner and hates the sin. It's a farce, along the lines of asking policemen to free the criminal, but arrest the crime. Discourse requires them to pay lip service to the fact that atheists and secular types are just as worthwhile as religious types, even though we're going to Hell. It doesn't require them to believe it.

This is where Jonah Goldberg comes in. Goldberg, last seen in this space being shocked, SHOCKED, that the Bush administration would be casually dismissive of its critics, turns his attention to an exciting new book which allows him to state, in an admittedly roundabout and careful way, that the godly are much better than the heathens.

You see, Goldberg has read a book. Or at least skimmed it. The book is called "Who Really Cares", by Arthur Brooks, and its contention is that religious, conservative people donate more of their time and money to charity than secular, liberal people. And while Goldberg frontloads his caveats hard and heavy, he somehow manages to let his feelings sneak through in his syntax. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"Brooks doesn't really deal with what makes one person "better" or "worse" than any other. But it's fair to say that how much a person gives -- of either his money or time -- is usually considered an important indicator of character."

Now, let's take Brooks' data at face value. I don't know him, I don't know his motives. So when Goldberg describes Brooks' conclusion that "not only is Joe Churchgoer nearly twice as likely as Sam Secularist to give money to charities in a given year, he will also give 100 times more money per year to charities (and 50 times more to nonreligious ones)", I won't quibble. Oh, I -could- quibble, but I won't, because I don't have to. Brooks, possibly by accident, got one aspect of "Who Really Cares?" right. As a self-proclaimed Sam Secular, I sure as hell don't care what metric Jonah Goldberg uses to fuel his feelings of superiority.

Because Goldberg correctly states, but completely fucks up refuting, the central defense against relying on charity:

"Compelling payment by others through high taxes isn't charity. What's interesting to me is that Europeans are uncharitable for the same reason liberal secularists tend to be. In America, as in Europe, the more you think the state should provide for everything, the less you think anybody else should provide anything.

No, providing for people via the state isn't charity. It's BETTER THAN CHARITY. Because for the most part, the criteria used for distributing it isn't based on what you believe, or whether you're straight, or whether you're willing to sit through a service before they pass out the food. It's how hungry you are, or how cold you are. If the state DID provide for everything, then nobody else would HAVE TO provide anything. People get taken care of no matter how selfish or good people feel on any given day.

Goldberg dismisses that as being uncharitable - a praising of intent over results that would be shocking if it didn't come from a fervent Bush defender and Iraq war supporter. Still, he lays out his dichotomy in stark and idiotic terms in his final statement, which I'm sure he thinks is profound:

"Maybe such a transformation would make America a better place. But the data suggests it wouldn't make Americans better people."

Well, fuck you. I don't particularly care if God-fearing Americans get charity chubbies when they drop a fiver into a Salvation Army bucket, then get tenfortyrection every April when ten fewer of their dollars went toward food stamps. But then, I thought the whole point of charity was to make sure people don't starve or freeze to death. Not to give Jonah Goldberg moral justification for looking down on my sorry, secular ass.