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The Descent of the Straw Man (evolution debate, latest targets - “fundies” & Catholic wife beaters)
NRO ^ | November 30, 2005 | Denis Boyles

Posted on 11/30/2005 6:57:46 PM PST by neverdem

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2:55 p.m.

The Descent of the Straw Man

In the Kansas evolution debate, the latest targets are “fundies” and Catholic wife beaters.

By Denis Boyles

The evolution debate seems made for liberals. It casts them as thoughtful and open-minded thinkers and conservatives as zealots and simpletons — or at least that’s how it looks through the media prism. It doesn’t matter how many times you remind people, as Jonah Goldberg once memorably did, “Your Darwin fish are safe,” the Left will still seize on the caricatures of that debate to pillory whatever other conservative initiatives are around, drowning out the rest of the conversation. It’s hard to argue the virtues of a complex issue such as school choice, for example, while all the shouting is about what a lousy science book the Bible makes.

It’s a trick as old as Scopes’s monkey. The famous 1925 Darrow-Bryan trial was a set-up, remember, an invention of the ACLU, who wanted to challenge a Tennessee law. So they found a willing “victim” in a part-time biology teacher in Dayton, a small town that volunteered to provide the venue for the famous monkey trial — until it became clear that the press was happy to make Dayton into the monkey. The case established a winning strategy forever after. It’s astonishing that conservatives still rise to the bait instead of taking the initiative to reform public education altogether.

Nevertheless, that’s what happened in Dover, Pennsylvania, and what’s happening now in Kansas. The evolution controversy has dominated the news here for months. Despite the fact that nothing the state Board of Education has done with its standards will change in the slightest what happens in Kansas schoolrooms, the ongoing controversy is giving a solid boost to the state’s “moderate” Republicans and Democrats on a wide range of issues, none of which have anything to do with evolution. The Left believes no other issue has the potential to turn this red state blue, which is why it rages on. It’s allowed the secularists to demean the religiously inclined with impunity — but also laid bare the thoughts of those who viciously revile those who hold those beliefs. The evolution debate makes anyone who touches it look terrible.

To find out how terrible, just go to Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, one of the two areas in the state to vote for Kerry over Bush. Wading into the evolution controversy, the university has announced “courses” — really, ‘60s-style teach-ins — designed to do nothing but ridicule the religious Right, each taught by a prof with an agenda.

Personally, I think it’s a good thing that universities are finally being used for satire rather than self-parody, and on this point I appear to agree with the chairman of KU’s religious-studies department, Paul Mirecki, and the campus group he mentors, the 120-member “Society of Open-minded Atheists and Agnostics” — a.k.a. SOMA.

Mirecki announced plans earlier this month to teach “the fundies” — as he referred to his theological enemies — a lesson by offering a course called “Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies.” The course announcement was instantly picked up by AP, CNN, and a bunch of daily papers and TV stations across the country. “The KU faculty has had enough,” Mirecki told reporters with gusto.

Conservatives were irate, of course, but universities — well, what can you do? The class would have passed into the archive of goofy courses all colleges offer for whatever reason. However, Mirecki had made the strategic error of using SOMA’s Yahoo usergroup to post his view that the purpose of the course was not education. It was theater:

To my fellow damned,” he wrote to the students, “Its [sic] true, the fundies have been wanting to get I.D. and creationism into the Kansas public schools, so I thought ‘why don’t I do it?’ I will teach the class with several other lefty KU professors…The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face…I expect it will draw much media attention. The university public relations office will have a press release on it in a few weeks, I also have contacts at several regional newspapers.

The forum post was forwarded to an ad-hoc group of conservative Kansas bloggers and writers led by John Altevogt, a former Kansas City Star columnist and a political activist. Altevogt blew the whistle and the embarrassing post caused KU chancellor Bob Hemenway — a fervent backer of the course — to blink. Calling voters “fundies” wasn’t helpful to a public university.

After nearly a week of backpedaling, Mirecki apologized for the statement: “I have always practiced my belief that there is no place for impertinence and name calling in a serious academic class,” he wrote. “My words in the email do not represent my teaching philosophy or the style I use in class.” The word “Mythologies” was dropped from the description. The chancellor said he would conducting a “review” of Mirecki’s e-mail. The university insisted the show would go on.

But the cat was out of the bag. As Hemenway was telling reporters the course was “serious,” Mirecki was telling readers of his SOMA list — at least until a few days ago apparently open to any who wished to join and read it — “This thing will be a hoot.” Conservatives had set about conducting a review of their own, sorting through and circulating the rest of Mirecki’s SOMA posts on the Internet, and they came away more concerned than ever. “These aren’t just lighthearted messages,” said Altevogt.

Mirecki seemed to enjoy adolescent outrageousness as much as the students. In one note, for example, a SOMA member suggests creating anti-Gideon pamphlets:

While the Gideons are distributing their propaganda, we would distribute a single folded page of the same height and width of a Gideon bible. The cover would contain wording on the order of "For complete assurance that your soul will be safe from the Fires of Hell..." The inside would continue ‘quit believing that FUCKING God and Jesus BULLSHIT. — Join us, the Society of Open Minded Atheist and Agnostics. "Our Bible is a quicker read.”
Mirecki’s response: “I think the language is a bit strong in what you suggest, but I still like the general idea…” and went on to offer his own version. In another, Mirecki explained to students that German Christians saw “Nazism as compatible (the fulfillment of?) Christianity [sic], with Hitler as final messiah.”

In a post he published to the list last May, he wrote, “I had my first Catholic ‘holy communion’ when I was a kid in Chicago and when I took the bread-wafer the first time, it stuck to the roof of my mouth, and as I was secretly trying to pry it off with my tongue as I was walking back to my pew with white clothes and with my hands folded, all I could think was that it was Jesus’ skin, and I started to puke, but I sucked it in and drank my own puke. That’s a big part of the Catholic experience. I don’t think most Catholics really know what they are supposed to believe, they just go home and use condoms and some of them beat their wives and husbands.” Mirecki went on to explain that he was going to meet with Monsignor Vince Krische, then at the university’s Catholic Center.

What did Msgr. Krische remember about the meeting? Not much. Although Mirecki claimed in his posts that the two were “very good friends,” Msgr. Krische tells me the two had met only twice, once at the Catholic Center and once at dinner. The priest could offer no explanation for the comments. “I just don’t know why he would say such a thing. I think this is a very offensive and irresponsible thing for him to say. What is it based on? Why would he say this?” Mirecki did not return a call asking for comment and clarification.

Maybe Mirecki didn’t understand how false the sense of privacy on the Internet is, or maybe it was meant to be a joke, although for Altevogt and many other conservatives, the controversy is no laughing matter. “Our concerns,” Altevogt tells me, “are simple and not related to one particular course, but to more general issues. First, we’re worried about the academic decline of the university under [Chancellor] Hemenway: KU has slipped seven places during his tenure and things like this may be one reason why. Second, we are concerned when an entire category of people — including the very students he is most likely to run into in his current assignment as an instructor teaching classes about religion — is maligned by the faculty sponsor of a university-sanctioned organization.” And third, Altevogt says, is a concern for the religious studies department itself, which, he said, has become “a hotbed of religious bigotry and intolerance.”

State Sen. Karin Brownlee says Mirecki’s SOMA comments were “consistent with the tone and attitude of his other remarks” concerning the course he wants to teach. “I think students look up to a professor, whether he’s an adviser or in a classroom…but as the head of a religion department he clearly has a disdain for those who have a Christian belief.”

When asked to comment on Mirecki’s comments regarding Catholics, a spokesman for the university simply directed me to a web posting of Mirecki’s apology for his previous remarks against Protestants.

Ask Ken Lay or Duke Cunningham why smart people do not-smart things. As a thoughtful scholar — as opposed to his new career as a polemicist — Mirecki has made valuable and important contributions to his field. Why the co-author of The Gospel of the Savior would indulge in witless Catholic-bashing — not to mention those poor Gideons! — seems mysterious, especially considering the collateral damage.

Altevogt and others, including some members of the legislature — the source of the university’s funding — are now concerned that even in red-state Kansas the university is so disconnected from the people who pay for it that somebody so apparently “lacking in respect [for religion],” as Brownlee put it, has been given charge of KU’s department of religious studies. As Altevogt notes, asking a man who believes — or is at least willing to casually write on a listserv germane to his profession — that Catholics “beat their wives” to run the religious-studies department has the feel of asking David Duke to oversee the African-American studies department.

Religious conservatives say they hope both Mirecki and Hemenway will retreat to doing what they were hired to do and leave political theater to the drama department. But the religious-studies department may not be the healthiest environment for any kind of retreat: “The majority of my colleagues here in the dept[ment] are agnostics or atheists, or they just don’t care,” Mirecki wrote in explaining, correctly, that it wasn’t the job of the department to make converts. “If any of [the other professors] are theists, it hasn’t been obvious to me in the 15 years I've been here.”

“Amen,” Altevogt says.

Denis Boyles is author of Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese. He is presently working on a book about midwestern politics

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; US: Kansas; US: Pennsylvania
KEYWORDS: academia; crevolist; highereducation; ku; mirecki; religion; scienceeducation

1 posted on 11/30/2005 6:57:49 PM PST by neverdem
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To: Coleus


2 posted on 11/30/2005 6:58:44 PM PST by neverdem (May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows that you're dead.)
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To: neverdem; PatrickHenry
===> Placemarker <===
3 posted on 11/30/2005 7:02:54 PM PST by Coyoteman (I love the sound of beta decay in the morning!)
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To: neverdem

"I don’t think most Catholics really know what they are supposed to believe, they just go home and use condoms and some of them beat their wives and husbands.”"

So, have you Freeper Catholics stopped beating your wives?

Yes or No.


(Sicko liberal puke...)

4 posted on 11/30/2005 7:08:51 PM PST by PetroniusMaximus
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To: neverdem

The have been trying to build an Oz theme park in Kansas, they already have one, all they need is a red brick road around it.

5 posted on 11/30/2005 7:08:56 PM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: neverdem

Inquiring minds want to know how such a flamimg ass could become department chairman, and in a department of religion no less ! ! !

Something is wrong in the corn belt, and it isn't corn blight - but it might be mind rot, though.

6 posted on 11/30/2005 7:17:33 PM PST by GladesGuru (In a society predicated upon Liberty, it is essential to examine principle)
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To: neverdem
“The majority of my colleagues here in the dept[ment] are agnostics or atheists, or they just don’t care,”

How bloody sad is that.

7 posted on 11/30/2005 7:20:57 PM PST by mware (That's Christmas with a C, not an X)
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To: neverdem
"....the chairman of KU’s religious-studies department, Paul Mirecki,...."

This guy is is the Chairman of Religious Studies ? He hates Christians with a passion, that is like putting The Klan Grand Wizard in charge of Race Realtions Studies.

8 posted on 11/30/2005 7:21:09 PM PST by GregoTX (The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.)
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To: Coyoteman; neverdem
We have a big thread on this already: Kansas Prof. Apologizes for E-Mail [referred to religious conservatives as "fundies" ....].
9 posted on 11/30/2005 7:23:56 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Expect no response if you're a troll, lunatic, dotard, common scold, or incurable ignoramus.)
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To: neverdem


10 posted on 11/30/2005 7:34:27 PM PST by LiteKeeper (Beware the secularization of America)
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To: GregoTX
Or like putting (1-month-old-infanticide supporting and sex-with-dogs promoting) Pete Singer into a position teaching ethics.

Oh wait, Princeton already did that.

11 posted on 11/30/2005 7:54:44 PM PST by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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To: grey_whiskers

"Or like putting (1-month-old-infanticide supporting and sex-with-dogs promoting) Pete Singer into a position teaching ethics."

Doesn't beer promote sex with dogs every Friday and Saturday night? ;-)

12 posted on 11/30/2005 8:20:07 PM PST by GladesGuru (In a society predicated upon Liberty, it is essential to examine principle)
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To: PetroniusMaximus

I elbow my husband in the ribs sometimes, when he's snoring.

13 posted on 12/01/2005 4:37:25 AM PST by Tax-chick ("You don't HAVE to be a fat pervert to speak out about eating too much and lack of morals." ~ LG)
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