Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Straw Man Maker of the Week

The Electron Runes is proud to present its first Straw Man Maker of the Week award to editorial cartoonist Dick Wright of The Columbus Dispatch. This award will be presented on a semi-regular basis to the person who best exemplifies the philosophical “Straw Man” fallacy, so Dick, this one’s for you.

If you’re not familiar with this fallacy, here’s a definition from www.nizkor.org: “The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of that position.”

In other words, why settle for having an opinion when you can completely fictionalize the opinions of those you disagree with?

Dick’s winning entry is a two-panel cartoon. In the first panel, a young man is solemnly reading from the Ten Commandments, which are mounted on a stone pedestal. He reads “Thou shalt not swear. Thou shalt not lie. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not murder. Honor thy father and mother.” In the second panel, a fat, mustached, ponytailed man wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase labeled “ACLU” is shrieking “That religious rotgut has no place in government buildings!”

Well, as much as Dick might want to believe it (or more importantly, as much as he wants people who aren’t exactly critical thinkers to believe it), the ACLU hasn’t been referring to the Ten Commandments as religious rotgut. Looks to me like Dick chose that phrase to get the biggest rise out of readers who already feel their religious beliefs are under fire. Had the ACLU man in the cartoon calmly said “We feel the Ten Commandments are an important part of the Judeo-Christian heritage, but that displaying them in a government building is tantamount to government endorsement of religion,” the cartoon would have been more accurate (and more bland, though no less unfunny), readers would still have had room to disagree, and Dick wouldn’t have won this award.

But wait, there’s more. I’m awarding Dick a Special Citation to go along with his inaugural SMMW honors, because he very slyly set up two straw men in this cartoon. Calling Old Testament statuary “religious rotgut” was certainly the most obvious, but let’s not forget that the character in the first panel was intoning the commandments about lying, stealing, killing, and honoring one’s parents. Hey, wait, that makes it look like the ACLU thinks an admonition against killing is religious rotgut! Otherwise Dick could have drawn the cartoon in one panel, with his demonized ACLU man shrieking at the monument standing alone.

Dick, you sly fox, that straw man was subtle, but I caught it and so will most people who haven’t been brainwashed by the Karl Rove spin machine. Congratulations on being the first recipient of the Electron Runes’ Straw Man Maker of the Week award, and be sure to keep rousing that rabble. We wouldn’t anyone to calm down and notice that removing the Ten Commandments from government buildings won’t make one damn bit of difference in their lives, now would we?

Random Thoughts on the Big Ten

+ Did you notice that in Dick’s cartoon, he subtly changed the commandment from “Thou shalt not kill” to “Thou shalt not murder”? Makes it a whole lot easier to justify invading foreign countries that way.

+ Even though they say nothing against rape, child molesting, giving tax breaks to corporate polluters, and operating commercial establishments in residential zoning areas, I think the Ten Commandments are basically good enough to be posted in any church that wants to post them.

+ Some people who want the Ten Commandments displayed in government buildings have rather disingenuously altered their argument to claim the Ten Cs have historical significance. If they can prove that Moses brought the tablets down from Mount Rushmore on the Fourth of July, 1776, I’d consider that a valid argument. Otherwise, they need to stop pretending that they aren’t trying to push their religious beliefs off on everyone else. If the Ten Commandments are significant to American history, then so are Hammurabi’s Code, the Magna Carta, the cave paintings at Altamira, and Plato’s Republic. Put ‘em all in an exhibit called “Stuff That Happened, But Not Here.”

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Antichrist Dead, Film at 11

I read in the paper this morning that a man in Nebraska was sentenced to life in prison for the first-degree murder of his four-year-old son. He had a good reason, though: He believed the boy was the antichrist.

According to the story, when the man confessed to the killing, he claimed the boy had the number 666 on his forehead. Of course, since the body has yet to be found, we have no way of knowing if Dad wrote it on there with a ballpoint pen or a Sharpie.

Now, the most likely scenario is that the murderer, probably an abuse victim himself, made a habit of beating his son, went too far one day, then figured he could get off by claiming the victim was the antichrist. After all, everybody hates antichrists, right? What judge would convict a man for killing the antichrist?

I’m sure his lawyer suggested something a bit more plausible: “Bob, I think you’d be better off saying the kid slipped and fell in the bathtub. Yes, even though you hid the body, it’s got more legs than the antichrist thing. Trust me.”

Let’s face it. The “my son, the antichrist” defense might have worked in ninth-century Europe or present-day Vatican City, but fortunately, here in the mostly rational world it doesn’t fly.

However. Let’s pause for a moment and give the murderer the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say he sincerely believed the smudges on the kid’s forehead said 666 and jumped to the eschatological conclusions. It doesn’t make him any less twisted, but it does raise an interesting point. Since you have to take the Book of Revelation seriously to even believe in the concept of an antichrist, it follows that you think the whole “end times” interpretation has to play itself out, lest (gasp) the bible be proven fallible. I mean, you either believe in Revelation as prophecy or you don’t, so if you honestly believe your kid is the antichrist, where the hell do you get off killing him? Where’s the verse in Revelation that says “Then the antichrist will be born in Nebraska but will be slain before he can do anything much worse than leaving his dad’s tools out in the driveway overnight”?

Somewhere in a Nebraska prison, a big convict named Bubba has “the antichrist killer” cornered in the shower room: “When I heard you say you killed the antichrist, it made me doubt the theological beliefs I hold so dear—and I don’t appreciate that, bitch.”

I feel sorry for the victim. Whether his dad was abusive or delusional, he got cheated, badly. So parents, stop killing your kids because you think they’re the antichrist. They aren’t. Nor are they Zeus, Harry Potter, or Huckleberry Finn. Your kids might be cranky, they might need a nap, they might need a visit from Supernanny Jo Frost, but for crying out loud they aren’t the freakin antichrist.