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February 2009 Archives

February 8, 2009

Atheist Bus Ads--Skeel

My first impulse when I saw a picture of Richard Dawkins standing in front of a London bus emblazoned with an atheist ad--“ There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”—was to chuckle. My second was to skim through the article to see if he really had endorsed these words, which are an atheist response to the ads run by a Christian group.

It seemed surprising that Dawkins would say there’s “probably” rather than certainly no God. I’ve never been a big fan of Pascal’s wager (the eternal consequences of God’s existence are so great that if there’s any chance He exists, the only rational response is to believe). But the ad certainly invites this response. It turns out this wasn’t the atheists’ first choice of words. “Probably” was included because the people who handle ads for the bus system concluded the ad would be misleading otherwise.
The second half of the ad struck me as equally puzzling. Not only does the invitation to “stop worrying and enjoy your life” strike an odd chord in these difficult times. But the suggestion that taking it easy is the benefit for rejecting faith underscores, by their omission, all the things materialism finds so difficult to explain—our sense of beauty, sacrificial love, the deep conviction that there is a moral order to the universe.
The ads are fun but a little more clever, I think, than they were intended to be.

February 9, 2009


 My spouse and I are in the process of joining a Boston church; the church requires that would-be members give their testimony. Because my memory is lousy these days, I wrote mine out; it’s pasted below with a few minor edits. Some of this material, though not all of it, will be familiar to anyone who read this blog last spring. Here it is:

     I would have said I was a believer when I was a teenager, but I’m not sure that was really true. I now believe I became a Christian in my mid-20s—a few years after Ruth and I got married, while I was in law school and shortly afterward. Two things triggered my conversion. First, I started reading C.S. Lewis, and it blew me away. Before that, I never saw how unbelievably beautiful our faith is—like a love song that makes you weep every time you hear it. More than I believe in any set of abstract propositions, I believe in that love song. Abstract truth is often beyond our ability to grasp. (If you doubt that, spend some time trying to understand quantum mechanics.) But we were made to see beauty. Reading C.S. Lewis taught me that.

Continue reading "Testimony--Stuntz" »

February 15, 2009

Weekly Standard Article--Stuntz

I have an article in this week’s TWS. The link is here. The subject is the need for a policing “surge.”

Stimulus Spending--Stuntz

There is a lot of talk these days about America’s, and the world’s, lurch to the political left.  Seems to me, that talk gets things backward. Given the massive public debt that Congress is creating, in the near future—that is, before Obama’s first term is over—the federal government will be forced to cut spending massively. Tax hikes are coming, and substantial ones, but taxes alone will not be able to pare down the deficit to reasonable levels. Government is expanding today. Soon, government will shrink. Obama’s Administration may usher in not a new New Deal, but an era of Coolidge-style austerity. Life is full of ironies.

February 22, 2009

Penn Panel on the Financial Crisis--Skeel

Like just about every university, we recently had a  panel discussion about the financial crisis-- its apparent causes and possible implications.  The panel was moderated by the university president, Amy Gutmann, and I was one of five panelists.  For those who are interested, here is a link.  (For anyone who perseveres and actually watches, you'll notice that I'm at my best in the first ten minutes-- when I'm simply listening to the others, who know what they're talking about).

February 25, 2009

Brooks on Burke and Obama--Stuntz

 This column perfectly captures my own sentiments—both the hope that the new Administration would succeed, and the growing concern that its confidence is misplaced.

One unpleasant surprise in the Administration’s economic plans, at least to me, has been Obama’s lack of empiricism. When discussing stimulus packages, I expected the President to say something like: We will take this approach and, if it works, we’ll do more of it; if not, we’ll try something else. Instead, the new President usually exudes confidence that his experiments will succeed—all of them. Can he really believe that? If not, isn’t he setting himself up for failure? When he first took office, FDR promised “bold, persistent experimentation.” Obama promises that all our problems will be solved. The gap between those promises is worrisome.

More Films--Stuntz

 Every few months, the docs check my lungs and liver and assorted other places to see whether the cancer has returned. Today was my day to be filmed. Film days are usually easy, though sometimes unpleasant: I spent the minutes before heading to the radiology department ralphing in the parking lot. (I’ve always loved the verb “to ralph.” It’s a classic onomatopoeia. I wonder what the analogous term is in other languages—does it have the same sound? Weird the things I think about . . .)

These days, what strikes me as interesting about these periodic films is their utter routine-ness. A year ago, I’d have spent the time between the taking of the films and hearing my oncologist’s report worrying about the results. Now, I barely think about the issue. Not because I’m an optimist—I know well that, sometime soon, the news will likely be bad. The sensibility is a bit like living in a war zone, at least as I imagine that experience: You know the bombs will fall tonight, and you know that, while the odds are in your favor on any given night, if the bombing lasts long enough you’re likely to get hit. Nothing to be done about it, so you go about your business. Is this what it was like in London during the Blitz? I wonder.