Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Argument from Desire by C.S. Lewis

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis sought to reason his way to God’s existence by offering Christians his Argument from Desire. As he put it: 

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, "Hope")
Christian apologist Peter Kreeft explains that this argument can only be understood by first noting the difference between natural desires (for things like food, sex, and beauty) and artificial desires (for things like cars, political office, and the Land of Oz).[i] Kreeft also explains that “the natural desires come from within, from our nature, while the artificial ones come from without, from society, advertising or fiction.” He further points out that “the second difference is the reason for a third difference: the natural desires are found in all of us, but the artificial ones vary from person to person.”[ii] 

 Yet both Lewis and Kreeft overlook a number of fundamental problems with this argument. For example, they both fail to clarify whether our desire for “infinitely more” is a natural or artificial desire, and more importantly, whether such a desire is proof of a soul longing for Heaven or simply the stain of original sin that leads us to continually seek “infinitely more.” It was the latter, after all, that led to both the fall of Satan from Heaven and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Indeed, even old King David was a victim of his desires of always wanting more. 

Second, they overlook how Christianity often uses artificial desires to promise its customers an everlasting fulfillment of their natural desires. It does this by first creating its own version of the Land of Oz (i.e., Heaven) and then promising those who are fortunate enough to reach it (i.e. God’s “elect”), that all of their desires, “which no experience in this world can satisfy,” will be satisfied. There is no evidence to prove that such desires will be satisfied in Heaven, however, and plenty of evidence to suspect that they won’t.  Just look at the story of Satan and his minions, or the story of Adam and Eve. 

Satan was God’s original angelic all-star. In Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-15, for example, he is described as “an exceedingly beautiful angel,” and “likely the highest of all angels.” Yet despite being “the most beautiful of all of God's creations,” Satan was still “not content in his position” in Heaven.  So, like anyone who ever spent too much time in a middle management position, he tried to climb the corporate ladder.  He was rewarded for his efforts, so the story goes, by being summarily fired from the business of building a lesser world. And he wasn’t the only one. 

The ranks of Satan’s minions soon swelled with the mass exodus of angels who all seemed to regard Heaven as a kind of Egypt of Everlasting Servitude. And the fact that all of them choose to be roasted alive for all of eternity in a “lake of fire,” as it says in Revelation 20:10, rather than be forced to go back, may only demonstrate not how stubborn they were, but just how truly unsatisfying a place Heaven can sometimes be. And if so many angels, including “the highest of all angels,” failed to find satisfaction in Heaven, why is Lewis so sure that we lowly human beings would be able to find it there?  Indeed, Adam and Eve never did.

According to one interpretation of Genesis, Adam and Eve were both immortal and living in the equivalent of Heaven already, in the Garden of Eden. Yet despite the fact that their “immortal longings” were already satisfied[iii], they still had a “longing” to “experience” what it would be like to “be like God.” For if they were truly satisfied with their eternal paradise to begin with, then why did they eat the apple? Some people claim it was because they had “free will,” and with that free will, they impermissibly wanted to “become like God.” But the very act of wanting to become like God is itself an example of the desire for “infinitely more.” Although the choice may have been “free,” in other words, it was the desire for “infinitely more” that prompted it.

The third problem with this argument is that it provides a cure for the very desire it relies on. That is, it provides at least some satisfaction - through the ‘worldly experience’ of religious faith - to the very thing Lewis claims “no experience in this world can satisfy.” It does this by curing the longing for “infinitely more” with the religious belief that we will one day have “infinitely more,” once we get to Heaven and, as both Lewis and the Serpent in Eden put it, we “become like God.” 

Lastly, both Lewis and Kreeft fail to notice how the “natural desires” that we experience as mortals would all become “artificial desires” if we were immortals, because such desires would no longer be “natural” to an eternal soul. They similarly fail to notice how the “artificial desires,” for things like money and power, are actually the “natural desires” of entities like corporations, governments, and religions. Hence, a desire that is “artificial” to a single person is one that is often “natural” to a collection of people. As food is to the individual, in other words, so money is to a religion, political party, or even an empire.  That such entities can only acquire the one by first exploiting our desire for the other is probably why the existentialist philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich said that institutionalized religion is demonic. 

Contrary to what Lewis and Kreeft argue, however, our desire for “more” is not necessarily proof that we were made for an eternal afterlife. Instead, it may simply be the means by which nature compels the human species to propagate itself to a higher level of evolution. But whatever the case, the desire for “infinitely more” is certainly not proof that every single person on the planet wants to join the Cullen’s family and live forever on the blood of Christ. It only proves how a religious belief can profit from the ethos of Wall Street bankers by turning the dreams of avarice into the promises of Heaven. 

[ii] Id.
[iii] C.S. Lewis, “Heaven.” In The Problem of Pain, 148-159. 1940. (Reprint, New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001) 151

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Picnic with an Ant

I watched an ant today. It was crawling around on the side of the concrete stoop I was sitting on. It was alone, like I was, and aimlessly walking about. At least it certainly appeared to be aimlessly walking about, that is. It may have known full well where it was going, and been marching there with all the deliberateness of  Caesar crossing the Rubicon, for all I know.

Yet it looked as if it was frantically searching for something, like someone on a beach, looking for their car keys in a panic as the sun went down. Maybe it was just trying to figure out where it was (much like myself), or trying to figure out how it got there or where it should go from here (also much like myself ). Or maybe it was looking for something to eat. But what does an ant eat? If it was, in fact, looking for food, it was a good deal more motivated to find it than I was at that moment. There was a deli right across the street from where I was sitting, for example, that, despite the fact I had not had a bite to eat since the night before, I had no desire to visit.

It crawled on to my seat where it eventually discovered my iPhone and, after briefly surveying its curved edges, climbed aboard. How smooth the glass face of that phone must have felt to its touch, I thought, compared to the craggy stone bench upon which we sat. As I watched it, I wondered what it was wondering, or if it had ever wondered anything at all.  Perhaps this ant had scaled dozens of cell phones in its day, and been none too impressed with any of them. 

It took no notice of me, of course, as I hovered over it, watching its every move inquisitively, like a God looming over its creation (or should that be "Its"?). I thought about killing it, and for no other reason than just because I could.  Would it matter to anyone or anything in the universe if I did, after all, maybe even another ant somewhere, waiting for it to come home? Perhaps its mother, or its daughter, or maybe just a friend. All I knew was that if I did kill it, it would be of no consequence or concern to anyone in the whole world.  Indeed, even I would have forgotten about it just seconds after I had finished murdering it.

 It wandered off eventually, never realizing how close it had come to breathing its last breath for my mere midday amusement. Farewell my tiny friend, whose indifference to my existence endeared me to it all the more, for our paths will never cross again. After all, I will think no more about you when I abandon this stoop where we so briefly picnicked together, without a single bite of food to eat for either of us.

Then I looked up and saw the countless people mulling about like an army of penguins heading for a distant mouth of water somewhere, just so they could throw themselves in. And there they walked, as oblivious of me as I had been of them mere seconds before. And I wondered how close each of them, and indeed even I, was to breathing our last breath, without ever knowing it, much like that ant. Indeed, perhaps someone I watched walked by today is even now, already dead. And all for the amusement of a universe that had never thought of us before that moment, and upon our murder, would never shed a tear, or think of us again.

 Who knows - perhaps next time I encounter an ant, I'll have some food for the both of us. Or perhaps I'll just murder you for intruding upon my leisure, and never think of you again.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

McKinney or Just Another Day In America?

It should be no surprise to anyone that Texas is ranked as the third most racist state in America, right behind Mississippi and Alabama. After all, it has the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country, requires all of its political candidates to believe in the Christian God, and executes more people than any other state in the union. Seriously. Think of it this way: the reason terrorists like ISIS run around lopping off people's heads is because they want to turn the world into Texas.

The unfortunate reality of Texas race relations was put on full display recently when a police officer responded to a disturbance at a neighborhood pool party one afternoon. In the process, he transformed an affluent suburb of  Dallas into the Monday Night Raw of  American Racism.

About 75 percent of the residents of McKinney are white while nearly 11 percent are black. The police officer who put the city of McKinney on par with places like Ferguson and Baltimore was David Eric Casebolt. Casebolt became an overnight video sensation when he arrived at the pool party with an attitude that he never would've had with the Banditos and the Cossacks over in Waco. With that attitude, he proceeded to throw a girl to the sidewalk by her hair. He then twisted her arm behind her back and knelt with both knees on her back. She was 14 years old, by the way, wearing nothing but a bikini. And she was black.

The whole ugly affair was captured on video, of course, and played out across the internet like a scene from 12 Years a Slave. As the video clearly shows, Casebolt was so concerned with trying to control the situation that he eventually lost all control of himself (in the beginning of the video he is seen tumbling ass-over-elbows, for example).  He resigned from the McKinney City Police Dept just days later. Yet one has to wonder if that resignation was the result of a personal admission of racism, the recognition of a moment of professional incompetence, or simply the result of the public shaming that only a viral video of such actions can produce.

At a press conference that followed Casebolt's resignation, McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley said  that while "Officer David Eric Casebolt's actions were "indefensible," the other eleven officers who responded to the report of fights and a disturbance at the pool party at the Craig Ranch North Community Pool "performed according to their training." Casebolt, he added, did not.When I read that, the only thought that came to mind was, "Really?!"

If the other officers really did "perform according to their training," one has to wonder who is training them to be so accepting of a fellow officer's outright attack of a child. One can plainly see in the video, for example, that the other officers not only failed to "protect and serve" the 14 year old girl from Casebolt's excessive use of force, but at least one officer can be seen actively restraining other civilians from doing so as well. Indeed, Casebolt himself eventually went as far as drawing his firearm on two boys who likewise attempted to intervene on the girl's behalf.

What should be obvious by now, then, is that officer "training" needs to include the ability of one officer to know when to protect citizens from a fellow officer. If not, then who should people turn to for help when they seek protection from the police officers themselves? At what point, in other words, does the naked aggression of an overzealous cop warrant the response of a proportional level of self defense? And more to the point, what role does race play in determining how we answer such a question?

Take for example that fact that a number of Texans came out in defense of Casebolt's actions.  Yet if those same Texans had seen young white men trying to defend a bikini clad, 14 year old white girl, who was being similarly throttled by a black police officer, would they condemn those young men as troublemakers or applauded them as heroes?

But perhaps the real question we should be asking, however, is not what caused Casebolt to become so unglued, but whether his actions were an anomaly or just another day.  If no video had been taken of the event in the first place, in other words, and the only people talking about it were the black kids in Texas who were there, would white America even be talking about this at all? Or would what happened in McHinney be just another day in Ferguson, just another day in Baltimore, just another day in America?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

American Inequality: A Tale of Two Nations and a School House Divided

Recently, a number of conservatives have been trying to explain away America's income inequality problem. One of them is Niall Ferguson, professor of History at Harvard University. In short, Ferguson believes that incomes are distributed among two kinds of people: those of superior intelligence, whom he refers to as the "cognitive elites," and those of  inferior intelligence found among the lower class. For him, the growing  financial differences between these two groups is, to put it simply, a byproduct of good breeding. 

To support his claim that the biggest bank accounts belong to people with the biggest brains, Ferguson relies on a recent book by Charles Murray from the American Enterprise Institute. You may remember Murray from his previous book, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Published in 1994, it was highly controversial for its assertions about racial differences in intelligence and its broader implications. In short, Murray and his psychologist coauthor Richard J. Herrnstein, argued that our IQ is determined and limited by our genes. Hence, they claim that people are born with all the intellectual ability they will ever possess, and wealth distribution is simply evidence of this evolutionary process.

Naturally, dozens of studies, books, and papers, were produced in response to such claims. Some supported the claim that IQ was directly tied to both genetics and racial differences, while others demonstrated how such studies were not only racially motivated, but were based on scholarship that was “shockingly incomplete and biased.” Additionally, while some research has supported the idea that our IQ is affixed, other evidence showed that it wasn’t ( More can be found on such ideas here and here ).

Nevertheless, Ferguson claims that Murray’s latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, offers “by far the best available analysis of modern American Inequality.” And he explains why:

Like Disraeli, Murray sees two nations where there used to be just one: a new upper class or “cognitive elite”—to be precise, the top 5 percent of people in managerial occupations and the professions—and a new “lower class,” which he is too polite to give a name. The upper class has gotten rich mainly because the financial returns on brainpower have risen steeply since the 1960s. At the same time, elite universities like Harvard (where I teach and where Murray studied) have gotten better at attracting the smartest students. The fact that these students are very often the offspring of better-off families reflects the fact that (as Murray puts it) “the parents of the upper-middle class now produce a disproportionate number of the smartest children.” They do this because smart people tend to marry other smart people and produce smart children.[i] 

As Ferguson puts it, Murray believes America needs "a kind of civic Great Awakening - a return to the republic's original foundations of family, vocation, community, and faith." Aside from the unfortunate fact that such claims sound eerily similar to the book, My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding, by former Ku Klux Klansman, David Duke, what Murray fails to explain is  how "a return to ... family, vocation, community, and faith" will grant 90% of Americans admission to "elite universities like Harvard."  

What's more, Murray simply switches the effect of an education system that is designed to turn the majority of people into Prussian style worker bees, as John Taylor Gatto has pointed out, and turned it into the "cause" of income inequality. In truth, despite attempts by Ferguson and Murray to hoodwink people with their bait-and-switch style reasoning, such racist attempts to blame the victims of income inequality are simply their attempt to hide from people the fact that the real "cause" of what Murray points out, is a system "intelligently designed" to create and maximize such inequality in the first place.   

Instead, like creationism repacked as "intelligent design," Murray repackages income inequality in the intellectual Darwinism of “cognitive elites.” But new bottles can hardly sweeten the taste of the same old sour grapes, be they pseudo-religious or potentially racist. Although Ferguson and Murray don their ideas in the white lab coats of science, their claims are about as inconspicuous as a burning cross. Indeed, it is to explain income inequality in terms of a cognitive phrenology.  

One need not look far to find evidence that undermines such claims, however. For example, anyone who read The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis - the non-fiction book about the build-up of the housing and credit bubble during the 2000s, which spent 28 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list - knows that many of the people making the most money in America today hardly qualify as "cognitive elites." Nor would anyone confuse Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton for the likes of Socrates and Plato. 

What's more, Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence, directly challenges many of Murray's assumptions about the relationship between intelligence and financial success. As Goleman details extensively, researchers have discovered that the most important factor in determining a persons success is not their cognitive intelligence, contrary to what Ferguson and Murray claim, but rather their emotional intelligence.  

Murray likewise claims that "cognitive elites" tend to be people who have more religious "faith." Yet a number of research studies show that atheists tend to have IQ's that are at least 6 points higher than the that of "beleivers." Additionally, data collected for the Global Index of Religiosity & Atheism showed that, as they put it, "the richer you get, the less religious you define yourself."

Hence, “cognitive elites” are not necessarily the result of “smart people” being more religious or having children with superior intelligence, but are more likely the result of an America that suffers from at least as much inequality in its education system as it does in its distribution of wealth.  And if America is ever going to tackle the one, it must first deal with the other.


Murray is correct to notice the “two nations” emerging within America today, only the difference in “brainpower” between those nations is not necessarily a reflection of differences in genetic intelligence but in education. The “two nations” Murray refers to, in other words, are the product of what Lou Harris described as “a two-tiered public school system: one for the more affluent, who enjoy the privileges of a relatively healthy educational environment, and the other for the least privileged, who suffer an educational environment that virtually forecloses their chance of learning.”

In their book, Urban Schools: Crisis and Revolution, James Deneen and Carmen Catanese explained how such a system contributes to creating a new slave system in America:

During a recent education conference at Princeton University, one speaker referred to America’s urban schools as “a new form of slavery.” The great majority of Black and Latino students are trapped in schools that don’t provide the learning they need to lead dignified and productive lives. They are being equipped to perform society’s least desirable work at minimal wages, and condemned to lives of depending that can readily turn to bitterness and despair. It doesn’t seem an exaggeration to term this reality an enslavement of the majority of children in our impoverished major cities.[iii]

Such findings are not new. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, 2001-2002, for example, found that the U.S ranked “dead last among developed countries when it comes to the difference in the quality of schools available to rich vs. poor children.”

This fact has been long understood, and was illustrated in a study prepared for by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education: A Two-Tiered Education System. Among other things, that reported stated:

 The President’s Commission on Education Resource Equity declared in 2001, (that) long-standing gaps in access to educational resources exist, including disparities based on race and ethnicity. These economic reports are new, but the news is not. Thirty years ago, the Presidential Commission on School Finance found that disparities in educational resource distribution among public school districts resulted from a reliance on local district financing for educational revenues. Since that time, there have been lawsuits in forty-five states targeted at remedies for unequal and inadequate funding of public schools.[iv]

As the director of the Education Trust, Kati Haycock, put it, “The fact is, we have organized our education system in this country so that we take children who have less to begin with and then turn around and give them less in school, too. Indeed, we give these children less of all the things that both research and experience tell us make a difference.[v]

It is these differences, and not racial or genetic differences in intelligence, that have caused “two nations” to emerge within America. Indeed, such a conclusion had already been reached in 2002 by Harris, a nationally recognized pollster, after he had conducted a series of surveys “in California, New York, and Wisconsin on working conditions – the physical environment, resources, and professional atmosphere – that shape the quality of teaching and learning opportunities available in American schools.”[vi] In some ways, his conclusions, while stark in their own right, seem to be the bases from which Murray draws many of his own ideas. As Harris states:

It is perfectly obvious that the highest-at-risk students have the poorest, most rundown physical environments, the greatest instability of teachers coming and going, the fewest fully qualified teachers, a shortage of textbooks and instructional materials, far less availability of technology in the classroom, overcrowded classes, poor working conditions for the teachers, and fewer resources to teach students to pass tests that they have little chance of being properly prepared to take. To compare these schools with those serving the most affluent majority of students is akin to comparing a backward, emerging nation with a highly industrial nation. It is no contest.[vii] (Emphasis added)

Nor are these profound inequalities limited to grade schools and high schools around the country. We see such inequality in higher education as well.  


The April 2012 Center for Higher Education report reveals another level of education inequality.  In it, the author and Researcher Dr. Gary Rhodes observed a "complicated cascade effect." As explained on  by Betsy L. Angert, in her article, How America's 2-tiered Education System and Perceptions Perpetuate  Inequality:

Community colleges which serve 44 percent of current college enrollees, are chronically underfunded, just as their students before and after enrollment are under-served. Most of the money that supports higher education flows to elite research universities, not to the community colleges or the state schools that educate large numbers of Americans.  The divide might be most evident in the value diverential.   The direct and indirect help Princeton receives, including tax breaks, is near $54,000 a year per student in federal subsidies. "The College of New Jersey, a public institution a mere 12 miles away, receives a total of about $1,600 a year per student in federal and state subsidies."[viii]

Even Milton Friedman, the Nobel Laureate of Economics and darling of Conservatives everywhere, pointed out 20 years ago that America’s failing education system was creating “two nations” by directly contributing this country’s growing economic divide. As he put it:
If the widening of the wage differential is allowed to proceed unchecked, it threatens to create within our own country a social problem of major proportions. We shall not be willing to see a group of our population move into Third World conditions at the same time that another group of our population becomes increasingly well off. Such stratification is a recipe for social disaster.[ix]

The solution offered by conservatives like Friedman, however, is “quite predictably” privatization. The comments above, for example, appeared in an article written by Friedman for the Washington Post on February 19, 1995, entitled “Public Schools: Make Them Private.[x]  This push to privatize education (and pretty much everything else) is what the Executive Director of Better Education for Kids, Derrell Bradford described as the “national debate ... that involves powerful special interests and a struggle for control of public education that spends half a trillion dollars every year.”[xi]  

Yet rather than spending that half a trillion dollars on trying to eradicate education inequality, it has been used to seize control of America's education system overall. Where is all that money coming from in this massive push to privatize public schools? Yep, you guess it: the super-rich. They’re not doing it because they care so much about education. Instead, they’re interested in education because it’s the golden ticket to obtaining everything else.

As has been pointed out: "Much of the vast new wealth of the super-rich is being used for the purpose of educational 'reform.' Rupert Murdoch called K-12 "a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed." Forbes added, "The charter school movement [is] quickly becoming a backdoor for corporate profit." Most recently, the Wall Street Journal reported, "As states race to implement the Common Core academic standards, companies are fighting for a slice of the accompanying testing market, expected to be worth billions of dollars in coming years."' [xii]

In addition to the promise of untold billions of dollars that can be made in education, private education allows the “principle architects of policy” to design the kind of education system that will provide them with exactly the kind of worker bees they need. After all, this is what The Trilateral Commission, which was founded by oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller in 1973, sought to provide.  As Noam Chomsky out it:

  •  [The Trilateral Commission] was concerned with trying to induce what they called ‘more moderation in democracy’ – turn people back to passivity and obedience so they don’t put so many constraints on state power and so on. In particular they were worried about young people. They were concerned about the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young (that’s their phrase), meaning schools, universities, church and so on – they’re not doing their job, [the young are] not being sufficiently indoctrinated. They’re too free to pursue their own initiatives and concerns and you’ve got to control them better.[xiii]
And of course, there's no better way to "control" people then through education, or as they put it, "indoctrination." But indoctrination is the very opposite of education, as the latter aims to "enlighten" people so they can think for themselves, while the former is specifically designed to prevent such a thing from happening in the first place. In fact, indoctrination not only discourages people from thinking for themselves, it prevents them from questioning the systems they inhabit. On the contrary, it encourages and "teaches" people to think the way the system wants them to think. It does this so people will ultimately come to depend on and defend those systems, no matter how unjust they may be. And by privatizing education, teachers are transformed from educators into indoctrinators, as they become answerable solely to the very corporate powers that benefit the most from the system as it is.

 Today, that system is designed to maximize wealth for the very few at ever growing expense to a great many. And in a privatized education system, any teacher who dares to challenge or disagree with such a system, no matter how slight, could be summarily fired. Anyone who taught people to think for themselves, in other words, could be handled like Socrates, and forced to drink the hemlock of a pink slip.

 In such a system, free speech, which is the very lifeblood of democracy, becomes muted as "the market place of ideas" is subordinated to serve those who control the market place itself, like a child gripping his own mother by the throat and forbidding her from speaking against his every desire.  Indeed, such a person would certainly never be allowed to attend, let alone teach, at "elite Universities like Harvard."

But then again, what do I know. I've never even been to Boston. And I have the income to prove it. 

Niall Ferguson:

On the problems with The Bell Curve:

[iii] Urban Schools: Crisis and Revolution, by James Deneen, Carmen Catanese, page 1.
[iv] Fifty Years After. Brown v. Board of Education: A Two-Tiered Education System. Prepared for the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. Page 29.
[v] Haycock, K. (2004, May 12). A 50-state look at achievement, attainment, and opportunity gaps [press release]. Washington, DC: Education Trust. Available:
[vi] Fifty Years After. Brown v. Board of Education: A Two-Tiered Education System. Prepared for the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.
[vii] Harris, New York survey (July 2002), p.20.
[ix] Id.
[xi] Urban Schools: Crisis and Revolution, by James Deneen, Carmen Catanese, Preface.

Religion is a disease masquerading as it’s own cure.