Saturday, September 29, 2007


My last post took a shot at the U.S. senators from the Democratic Party for failing to stop funding our glorious war. Little did I know when I posted those comments that it would turn out to be the first of a two part series bashing my party’s senators. Unfortunately, they deserve to be bashed … and bashed again.

The source of my frustration is Senator Charles Schumer and his minions at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). That august body is charged with the job of electing more Democrats to the senate. It’s a worthy goal, in my view, but like all worthy ends, some means to that end are appropriate and some are not.

This week, Schumer sent around an e-mail to contacts across the nation that began as follows:

“I’ve been traveling the country since January on a single-minded quest: to recruit Democratic leaders who’ve got the smarts and fortitude to win Senate races in 2008. And let me tell you, we’ve got ‘em. Former Gov. Mark Warner in Virginia. State House Speaker Jeff Merkley in Oregon. Rep. Mark Udall in Colorado. Rep. Tom Allen in Maine. These are first-class candidates. And they can win. But not alone – not without your support now.”

The letter goes on to solicit donations of “$50, $75 or more” and adds that “for the next 5 days, your gift will be tripled by a group of Democratic senators.” Because, Schumer said, “we need your support now.”

What’s the rush? Schumer never said. But I’ll tell you.

Schumer sent out his solicitation on September 25th, five days before the end of the political quarter. When the quarter ends, all candidates for national office must publicly release the amount of campaign contributions raised during the quarter. If they can boast a relatively high number, this will help them substantially against any opponent they have in a contested Democratic primary.

Consider now the race in Oregon, a race that I have discussed before in this quadrant of cyberspace. As you might recall, my law school friend, Steve Novick, was the first Democrat to announce his candidacy to challenge the Republican incumbent, Gordon Smith. Novick is, by all accounts, brilliant, charismatic, honest, plainspoken, thoroughly steeped in policy knowledge, witty, and upbeat. He suffers from the disability of being born with one hand and without portions of his leg – making him 4’9” tall – and has the distinction of having matriculated at Harvard Law School at the age of 18, after having skipped high school altogether. At the law school, he was about as beloved as anyone in the class. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone speak ill of the man – which should not be surprising, given the above list of attributes.

Schumer claims to be progressive, as does his boy Merkley. Novick is a progressive. In fact, he has devoted his career to a series of progressive causes, including fighting environmental polluters (while as a lawyer for the DOJ) and working tirelessly for economic equity. Having come from no money himself, Novick is like John Edwards – without the 25,000 square foot house. He’s been too busy toiling for the public interest to feather his own nest. He is, in short, the real deal. As a U.S. Senator, he’d go on national news shows and explain to people, articulately and with passion, that it’s time for Democrats to stop playing defense and to go on the offense. In other words, it is time to stop blaming the Republicans for our inaction and to aggressively fight to implement honest to God progressive changes in Washington.

If you’re thinking that Novick is my favorite politician, you’re correct. I’m sure that many Oregonians would say the same, as would many other members of my law school class. But that view is obviously not shared by Charles Schumer. The Senior Senator from New York apparently took a look at Novick back when he announced his candidacy early this year, and decided that the Democrats needed another candidate in the race. So he approached some other folks – perhaps the Governor or U.S. Congressmen – and finally found a willing candidate in Jeff Merkley, Speaker of the Oregon House.

When Merkley agreed to run, I wasn’t at all disturbed. I figured that the Democrats’ best chance of beating the incumbent Republican is to have a contested Democratic primary in which both candidates explain why they can do the best job of campaigning and, ultimately, governing. If, after such a primary, the Oregonians should choose Merkley, so be it. He would have deserved the chance to challenge Gordon Smith.

What I didn’t count on was that Schumer and his fellow senators from the DSCC would try to rig the deck. I wasn’t so cynical as to believe that senators from other states would try to buy the primary for one so-called progressive who is running against another progressive, especially when the latter was the first to throw his hat in the ring.

Novick has a lot of support in Oregon. He is well liked by the media and experienced as an activist who gets things done on the local level. But Merkley is also well liked, including by Novick. When Merkley announced his candidacy, Novick quickly invited Merkley to make a series of joint appearances with him in which they would both take to the people their own positions as to why Gordon Smith should be defeated and why each of them is best suited to get the job done. I envisioned not so much Lincoln-Douglas, because they wouldn’t be debating each other, but a mutually supportive set of speeches in which each candidate would explain to voters all over Oregon why we need progressive policies and how precisely Gordon Smith has failed to work for those policies. What a wonderful way to take a state that is bluish-purple and turn it navy blue!

Merkley, not surprisingly, agreed to take Novick up on his offer. But that was a few months ago, and since then, we have seen no signs that Merkley was serious. Apparently, Schumer and the boys had a better idea. What if, instead of having to go face to face with Novick and prove to the people of Oregon that he is the better man, Merkley can hide behind the endorsements of professional politicians throughout the nation and let the political machine catapult him to the nomination? What if, instead of having to show that his personal charisma is at least one-tenth that of Novick’s, he can simply sit back and let Uncle Chuck do the heavy lifting?

True, if Merkley took that path, he wouldn’t have made much of a connection with the people of Oregon. And he would presumably be beholden to Schumer and the unnamed “group” of Democratic senators whom he can thank for his nomination. But hey, a win is a win, right?

I found out about Schumer’s e-mail solicitation because he sent it out to a wide range of people, including Kalyn Free, a woman who runs a political action committee created to advance the interests of Native American candidates ( Free, who lives in Oklahoma, wrote back to Schumer. Included in her response is the following:

“I am disappointed that you actively recruited a candidate to run in the Oregon primary against Steve Novick, months after Steve began his campaign to take out Gordon Smith. There is no candidate running in America who is more talented, capable, dedicated and most importantly, who would support the Democratic Party and represent ALL of America, and not merely a ‘D’ in party registration only.

“The fact that the DSCC has chosen to wade into this primary and ‘anoint’ our Party’s nominee is a perfect example of why too many of our elected officials lack the integrity and commitment to be our Party’s standard bearers, and why we, in middle America, [have] become disillusioned with the ‘system.’ Unfortunately, this type of ‘good old boy’ politics is what keeps excellent candidates from running for office and turns activists and progressives away from our party. And, [this] leaves Democrats like me unable to respond to the most cited criticism, from young and old, that ‘There is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans these days.’”

That pretty much says it all, if you ask me. One minute, the Democratic establishment is funding the war in Iraq, all the while continuing to place the blame for the war on the GOP. The next minute, the Democratic establishment is trying to keep their own party’s outspoken activists out of power – all in the name of “electability.” The fact of the matter is that Novick would be every bit as electable as Merkley, if only the party apparatchiks would wait until the primary season is over and simply support the winner. If Paul Wellstone could get elected, so too could Novick.

The real problem is that in the past 20 years, there has only been one Paul Wellstone – one unabashed progressive whose first reaction is to tell the truth, rather than to test the political winds. Wellstone is now deceased, however, and the hope was that Novick could replace him as the token non-politician politician in the Senate. Well, Schumer and his apparatchiks apparently have better ideas. They’d like to see another yawner of a politician enter the Senate and “fit in” as one of the boys. Merkley, while a good guy, is charisma-challenged; it is difficult to believe that he could shake things up in Washington even if he wanted to.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so indignant about all of this. After all, it’s just politics, right? But the problem is that we’re talking here about the Democratic Party, which was supposed to stand for things like the right of the common people to decide for themselves who they want to represent them and who they don’t. That approach is precisely what Novick was proposing and what Merkley originally pledged to honor. Schumer, by contrast, offers an approach based on centralizing political power among the elites in Washington. I have no doubt that Messrs. Jefferson and Lincoln, if they could read Chuck’s e-mail, would be rolling over in their graves.

Feel free to share this story. It needs to be told to every American whose politics have yet to be swallowed up 100% by cynicism.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


This being Yom Kippur weekend, I only have time for a relatively brief message. Unfortunately, it happens to be as sobering as it is short.

I was reflecting on the goings on in Iraq and the efforts of both parties to adjust to the facts on the ground. The GOP’s position is simple enough to understand. They’re going to support this invasion for as long as there is a mathematical chance that we can “win.” The alternative – losing the game while there’s still a chance – is simply unacceptable. Ask any football coach.

As for the Democrats, they’re a bit more puzzling. They claim that they oppose the war. And yet they continue to fund it, year after year after year. Now that they have the votes to stop the war by cutting off funding, they refuse to do it. Why?

The answer is quite simple. The Dems don’t want to be blamed for losing this war any more than the GOP does. If the Dems cut off the funding while the generals claim that the Fat Lady hasn’t sung yet, then this fiasco will be blamed on the Dems as much as the GOP. Why should the Dems risk letting that happen when they could score a clear victory by letting the GOP continue to bleed lives from now until the next election … and thereby hand the Dems the upper hand on a silver platter?

It makes me sick to type those words. I’d like to say that they are overly cynical. To be charitable, I’d like to think that maybe a number of the Dems truly want to give the surge a chance, and many more would like us to get out but very judiciously, so that we don’t make matters worse with a precipitous pullout. I’d like to think that, but I don’t.

It’s pretty obvious that, as long as the Dems fund the war, the GOP will continue to maintain more or less the same troop levels from now until their likely defeat next November. Reducing 25,000 won’t make that much difference. Thus, if and when the Dems take over in January 2009, we’ll still have a ton of troops in Iraq. So then what? According to every Democratic candidate, we will pretty quick pull out all our “combat” troops, leaving at most a rump group to guard against the creation of terrorist camps and the like. So if that’s the case, if it’s inevitable that we’re going to turn tail in a couple of years, why are we funding a massive war in the interim?

The real question is why the Democratic Party is playing politics with the lives of so many American heroes, and so many innocent Iraqis. Just as Hillary Clinton likes to blame President Bush for hoodwinking her into entering this war (not mentioning that she never bothered to take the time to read the intelligence reports), she and other Democrats are blaming Bush and the GOP for continuing the war. I’m not kidding folks. Just listen to TV and radio news shows and you will hear the Democratic leaders, one after another, hammering away at the GOP by blaming them for continuing to support the Iraq War.

Frankly, the Dems are the ones with the chutzpah. They truly are insulting our intelligence. At least the GOP has been consistent. They might actually believe in this war, and they want to make every effort possible to win this thing and establish an American colony in the Muslim world. Of course that’s crazy, but isn’t it somehow less offensive than what the Democrats are doing, treating this thing as just another political football?

I’m looking ahead to December of 2008, and assuming that the war is still going strong and the Democrats are poised to occupy the White House as well as the Congressional majority. Will the Democrats think then that all the killing will have been worth it? Will they really be proud of their victory?

Saturday, September 15, 2007


And yes, it is I. Here I was, five miles from Washington, D.C., on a Saturday when tens of thousands were expected to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and protest the Iraq War. My daughters were going. The weather was perfect. I didn’t have any pressing obligations. And yet, I stayed home.

Believe me, folks, I’m not bragging about my decision. I had made the last four or five marches that I knew about and vowed to continue to march as long as this God-forsaken war continues. But something was different this time. And no, I’m not referring to the testimony of General Petraeus.

I could certainly make excuses. My second novel was accepted for publication a week ago, and I’ve been happily spending my free time giving the manuscript one more read. So, when I could have been marching, I was removing commas and catching awkward word choices. Then again, I’m sure the other apathetic people who missed today’s march had things to do as well. Maybe it was watching their kid’s soccer game. Or going to Skyline Drive and communing with nature. Maybe it was paying bills, or finishing up that last-minute legal brief. Surely, there are always things to do. More pressing things, more enjoyable things … But are there more important things? That’s the question I asked myself. In the past, the answer was always “no.” Now, I’m not so sure.

The real difference between this march and the earlier ones was in my level of cynicism -- cynicism about the American people, and cynicism about our leaders. In the past, I’ve always felt that if our nation blundered seriously enough, the people would rise up in protest, and our statesmen would ultimately listen to the protest and fix the mess. That seemed to be one of the lessons of Vietnam: in a functioning democracy, major government screw-ups result in louder and louder protests until finally, the protesters’ prayers are answered. We did, ultimately, leave Vietnam. And surely, we will, ultimately, leave Iraq. But will I ever be alive to see that happen?

OK. So that’s hyperbole. I plan to be around until at least 2040, and this war had better be long gone by then. Increasingly, though, I’m having difficulty imagining how that will happen. No matter how many awful things happen “on the ground” in Iraq, the discomfort on Elm Street U.S.A. seems to be relatively muted. We’ve reached the point where there’s pretty much nothing that anyone can do in Washington to shake people up in Peoria. Sure, thousands of Americans are dying. Sure, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dying. Sure, we’re going to be spending more than a trillion dollars building up the infrastructure of a country halfway across the world, only to see that infrastructure torn apart by the legions of insurgents who don’t believe we have a right to be there in the first place. And sure, few of us – certainly not I – have any clue why we ever threw the first punch.

But for whatever reason, people don’t seem to care. At least that was the lesson that I took from the several peace marches I attended since the war began. For every war opponent who took to the streets, there were numerous others who were watching their kid’s soccer game, going to Skyline drive, paying bills, or whatever else they thought was in their own very narrowly defined self interest.

So yes, I had come to grips with societal apathy and the realization that the Vietnam War era was long, long gone. Yet I still protested. Until today. That’s because my newest batch of cynicism was directed not to the protesters but to the very idea that any of our politicians give a damn about what the protesters, even if there were any, have to say.

The latest circus, Cirque de Petraeus, would almost be funny if it weren’t so tragic. Just as Colin Powell was once brought on to sell the war itself to a clueless nation, now we bring on this other General to sell the surge. The pitch is amazing for its chutzpah. No, we’re not achieving all sorts of benchmarks that we set for ourselves, Petraeus admits, but that shouldn’t stop us from surging today, surging tomorrow, and surging for another nine or ten months. Then, next summer, a few months before the next election, we can stop the surge and go back to the blissful place we were at before the surge began – our equilibrium state -- when a mere 140,000 or so American troops will be patrolling our adopted nation of Iraq. Heck, those of you Pollyannas out there who want some really good news should take heart at the Secretary of Defense’s statement that, hopefully, we can cut troops to a mere 100,000 by the end of 2008. At that point, most likely, it will be some Democrat’s problem to reduce the number closer to zero. But does anyone really have confidence that this will happen? Will Hillary make it happen? Will she be willing to suffer the consequences to her reputation of all the awful reports that will come from the Middle East when America ultimately admits defeat and goes home?

When the Democrats won the election of 2006 based in large part on an anti-war platform, I truly believed that they would take some dramatic steps in favor of peace. Talk about being a Pollyanna. I should have remembered that the majority of Democrats in the Senate authorized our President to fight this war, and literally every member of that Senate who is now running for President – Dodd, Biden, Clinton and Edwards (not to mention the Democrats’ last nightmare, John “Swift Boat Me, See if I Care” Kerry) – hadn’t the guts to just say no to insanity. If they hadn’t the guts in 2002, why should we think they’ll have any guts today? I guess we shouldn’t.

Hillary loves to pass the buck to George Bush, as if he alone is responsible for this war. But believe me, she is also responsible – for not reading the intelligence reports before she voted to authorize the war, for being an outspoken cheerleader of the war at the time our mission was being “accomplished,” and later for funding the war even after it turned into an unmitigated disaster. Hillary, though, has been hardly alone in supporting this battle royale. Now that the Democrats are in the majority, they could stop it if they wanted to; they simply don’t want to. Nobody wants to be blamed for losing.

Think about it: Americans cheat, Americans steal, Americans kill, Americans colonize, Americans enslave … You name it; we do it – except for lose. We are, after all, God’s chosen people.

Before today, I could get on my high horse and blame everyone else for this war. But now I, too, am responsible. I apparently had “better things to do” than join with others and cry for an end to the madness. But at least I can assure you that I won’t blame all my cynicism and apathy on George Bush or Hillary Clinton. The fault is primarily my own. Especially during the High Holidays, there’s no excuse for cynicism or apathy.

For the last several months, a conservative friend of mine at work has been voicing a new mantra: “Give war a chance.” He still thinks the surge is working and that the war is winnable, if only our nation keeps its resolve. He intends to vote Republican in 2008 so that we can have a President who will stay the course and finish what President Bush has started. I’m not likely to follow suit, but I have to say – if the Democrats are going to keep funding this wild and crazy adventure, then why not vote for the GOP? After all, if we must have war, we might as well, as Hillary would say, be “in it to win it.”

Friday, September 07, 2007


A friend told me the other day that he had been compiling a series of suggestions that he would give to a 3rd year law student who was about to enter the legal profession. He got me to think about the question, so I decided to take a shot at the same task. As loyal readers of this blog know, I don’t typically talk about the law here (I try to separate my profession from my avocation). So now that I’m creating an exception to that principle, let me say that what follows does not represent the views of my employer, the U.S. Department of Justice. These are just my personal thoughts, which you can take or leave as you please.

1. Your credibility should be one of your trademark characteristics. There are lawyers, even “successful” lawyers, who survive without it because they trade on fear instead. But those lawyers are scumbags, and besides, their margin for error is very, very small.

By the way: to lie and to “merely” mislead are synonyms. If a lawyer tells you otherwise, that’s a person who lacks credibility.

2. As a young attorney, find two mentors. One should excel with “details”; the other with the “big picture.” Many lawyers are willing to swim in the weeds of their cases, but their judgment on big picture matters leaves a bit to be desired. Other good lawyers have excellent horse sense and a strong overall grasp of the issues, but they act like they’re above learning all the details of their cases. The truly excellent lawyers, however, excel both in their command of the details and their understanding of the big picture.

3. A legal career can be a great way to make a living – assuming that it doesn’t become the sole vessel for your intellectual or creative juices. Some legal jobs require so many hours of toil that you have little time for anything else other than relaxation. I’d avoid those jobs like the plague.

4. Training in law is a wonderful background for a lifelong interest in politics. To me, that’s one of the best bi-products of a law degree. Whether or not we run for elected office, we ought never to leave the political sphere altogether. Work on campaigns, work on the Hill, start your own blog … just get involved and stay involved.

As a lawyer, you will likely develop an instinctive appreciation for public policy issues. If our democracy is to function, people like you are going to have to step up and actively fulfill your duties as a citizen.

5. Find an area of the law about which you can be passionate. Some people are such overachievers that they can seemingly generate passion about anything, but that’s not the passion I’m talking about. I’m talking about visceral, honest-to-God passion, the kind that stems from doing something that grows organically from your upbringing and/or your intellectual interests. If you’re not authentically passionate about what you do, the results will be apparent in your work.

6. So what legal activities do you enjoy doing the most? Writing? Speaking? Figure that out, and then make that part of your avocation, not just your vocation. Lawyers deal with human drama, and they deal with language. That’s why so many of us get involved in non-legal writing, or in public speaking on non-legal topics. Stake out your own territory and go for it!

7. You can make a ton of money practicing law if you avoid public interest law jobs and government service. But before deciding on a life of extreme affluence, you might want to stop for a second and consider a life in public service. Those of us who have taken that path haven’t done so because we hate money, believe me. I, personally, would love to win Powerball. And yet I also love working on behalf of causes that matter to me. I love not having to convince myself that my client has the better argument, even if it doesn’t. In fact, I love not having to zealously advocate my client’s interests if those interests and the interests of justice don’t coincide. In other words, I love getting to use my discretion and to work, above all else, for the public good.

The pay is definitely worse in public service, but the hours are probably better. And when it’s all said and done, you might be a whole lot more satisfied with what you’ve accomplished.

8. Every profession has its occupational hazards. Lawyers tend to become even colder, more judgmental and more argumentative than they were when they entered law school. Watch these tendencies. We’re often as clueless about things as everyone else, but we convince ourselves that we’re right simply because we’re more facile with logic or rhetoric. Don’t confuse that facility with wisdom. And don’t confuse coldness with strength of character. People with the best characters are warm and loving, no matter what their profession might be.

9. Realize the absurdity of law school. It is designed essentially to prepare you to do appellate litigation (or become a professor). The fact is, though, that most of us who practice law rarely do appellate litigation. If you’re finding that law school doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea, worry not. You might find a number of ways to use a legal degree that have little to do with the stuff you’re learning in law school.

For example, in law school, your life involves remembering the holdings of zillions of cases and only a few basic facts relevant to each case. In district court litigation, by contrast, your job mostly involves learning the zillions of facts relevant to the particular cases on which you’re working, and “the law” remains important but secondary.

The best thing about a law degree is the wide variety of ways in which it can be used after you graduate. I can’t think of too many degrees that are more flexible.

10. The doctors have their Hippocratic Oath: do no harm. Can you imagine a lawyer having the guts to adopt that creed for herself? Everyone expects that we will do all sorts of harm. We’ll help a rapist-client get off on a loophole and then rape again; we’ll help a polluter-client figure out a way around the law so that he can pollute to his heart’s content; we’ll advise another client to soak her husband for all that he’s worth if we think she can get away with it in court. And in doing so, we’ll so often behave in a boorish, arrogant manner.

Maybe I’m a bit non-traditional here, but I’ve always applied the “do not harm” mantra to my own practice. I don’t ever want to be engaged in uncivil, dishonest or otherwise unethical behavior, and whenever possible, I want to work for causes I believe in. With that philosophy, I might not have as much impact as someone who is always looking for the highest profile case and willing to do whatever it takes to win. But then again, I’m not looking to maximize potential impact. I’m only looking to do a fair amount of good, and absolutely no harm.

I guess you can tell by now that my goals as a lawyer are: to have a life that allows me to pursue interests outside of the law as well as a make an impact in my profession; to become sufficiently expert at the craft of lawyering so that I can be effective in my job; to use my legal degree to work for the cause of justice; and, most importantly, to be able to look back when my career is over with a modicum of satisfaction.

I encourage you to enunciate your own goals and your own “creed” before entering the profession. If, after two or three years of practicing law, you feel like you’ve lost your soul, don’t hesitate to dust off the ol’ resume. Like I said, there are plenty of things to do with a law degree.

11. Don’t play games with your opposing counsel in an attempt to try to get him/her to commit malpractice. That’s called bad karma.

(P.S. -- I'll be out of town through the end of this weekend, so if you send me comments to this blog post, they won't be posted until next week. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Those of you familiar with my website beyond this blog know that when I find a book to be well written and provocative, I often post a review of it on The book I’m currently reading certainly falls into that category. And yet, no matter how well written and provocative it may be, it is also driving me crazy enough that I must blog about it. In other words, it’s making me need to vent.

The book I’m talking about is a best seller. While The Creed Room currently ranks at something like 148,000 on Amazon (trust me, it’s been a lot worse), the book I’m reading is at #77. Last year when it came out, it was in the top 10. For a book about God that isn’t the Bible, that’s pretty impressive.

The God Delusion was written by Richard Dawkins, the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. I bought it because I’m doing some research for a book of my own about divinity, but the one I have in mind will look at God as a concept we might want to embrace, at least in a form that we as individuals can select for ourselves. By contrast, Dawkins would like the concept of divinity to enter our species scrapheap. In 374 pages, he gives one reason after another why the “God hypothesis” is anything but true, religion is anything but good, and religious people are downright ugly.

By rights, I ought to praise Dawkins’ book, not simply for the quality of his writing but also for his generosity in including me within his club. After all, the first chapter of The God Delusion praises my beloved Spinozistic Pantheism as “sexed-up atheism.” So there! Dawkins has made me an honorary atheist. When, in a few weeks, I spend the entire Yom Kippur day engaged in prayer, I’ll try to keep in mind that I’m really just fooling myself; deep down, I’m really just a horny atheist. (Then again, aren’t we all?)

Seriously, though, what bothers me about Dawkins book is that it’s so darned popular. So are a number of other atheist rants that have been published in recent years, including Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and Letters to a Christian Nation. I can now picture an entire army of readers hatin’ religion with the same passion that was formerly the exclusive province of religion itself. Why criticize religion in a hundred words, they presumably think, when you can criticize it in 100,000? And why admit that there might possibly be something, anything valid to the religious impulse other than as an opiate to the masses, as Karl Marx – not exactly the baron of balance – once said.

I like to call Nietzsche the “great antithesizer” because his philosophy seemed primarily to be a powerful reaction against the metaphysical and ethical views that dominated mainstream thought for thousands of years. But I love Nietzsche nevertheless because he was not interested in scrapping religiosity altogether. He simply wanted to explain how it had been led astray.

Dawkins and his minions are different. They seem truly to want to oppose, oppose and oppose some more. The impression I get is that Dawkins is someone with a mind of an adult writing to a legion of fans who have the minds – and the hearts – of an adolescent. Adolescents tend not to live in a world of subtlety. They want to know which bands “rock,” and which bands “suck.” They want to know which girls are “hot” and which girls are … well, you remember all the words they have for “not hot” in that context. I suspect that Dawkins’ fans have similar black and white concepts when they think about religion. Atheism, they believe, is cool, and by “atheism” I don’t just mean non-belief, but macho, broad-shouldered, in-your-face atheism. “God,” on the other hand, is lampooned as a concept for idiots and fools.

Dawkins might see himself as a scientist and an intellectual but, to me he comes across as a preacher espousing just another organized religion. His religion, like most American faiths, is based on dogma. “God” for example, is given the dogmatic meaning of being a supernatural, anthropomorphic, personal deity, and anyone who employs another definition of God is accused of “misleading” the world by employing terminology that has lawfully been appropriated by troglodytes. (It’s funny, but I suspect he is a supporter of gay marriage who, like me, has no trouble re-defining “marriage” to suggest that it doesn’t have to involve a man and a woman; it’s not the re-defining of words that bothers Dawkins, it’s religion in all its manifestations.) While it is true that Dawkins’ disciples don’t build churches to support their views, they do get together in an increasing number of clubs all over America. And in those clubs, the mantra is very clear: our job isn’t to reform or modernize the idea of God. Our job is to kill God, over and over and over again. That, they claim, is the only way in which our species can regain hegemony over our planet.

Empathic Rationalism as a philosophy doesn’t shy away from expressing opinions, whether they’re popular or not. Empathic Rationalism also affirms the atheist’s agenda in exposing those aspects of traditional religious thought that are not only antiquated but are in fact dangerous. But must we merely attack? Isn’t there anything to preserve about religion? Indeed, isn’t there anything to revere?

My problem with modern atheism is the same as my problem with theism as it is conventionally practiced – it takes a domain that is wondrously complex and turns it into something that is stupidly simple. “Simple” sells. But “complex” enlightens. Complex elevates. Complex inspires. And one of the things it inspires is true religiosity.

As I read The God Delusion, I can’t help feeling the heartbeats of 19 year olds all over the country who are voicing the word “Amen, brother” after every anecdote about moronic Muslims, or every counter-argument against a Christian theologian. It’s the same “Amen,” that you hear in Fundamentalist churches whenever someone points out the “sins” of secular society or the poverty of a life without faith in Christ.

Fundamentalism is fundamentalism, regardless of its particular manifestation. You can be a fundamentalist who believes in God, but just as easily, you can be a fundamentalist who wants to throw out the baby (the concept of God, in all its potential variety) with the bathwater (religious orthodoxy).

Dawkins is surely correct in arguing that if America is to wake out of its slumber, we need to fight fundamentalism. But the fight needs to be joined in earnest. The Pat Robertsons of the world have thrown away the colors of the rainbow and replaced them with but a silly binary system of Biblical literalism (white) versus secular amorality (black). Dawkins has done more or less the same thing by pitting science (white) versus religion (black).

What do you say we find a third path, one born of the acceptance of subtlety and the ability to see multiple sides of an issue? It might not sell as many books, but there’s something to be said for following the truth wherever it leads, even if it leads us to sex-down our books. Publishers may want readers to turn the pages, not to cogitate, but cogitation is what’s needed if we hope to confront our world’s deepest problems as honest-to-God adults.