The God Delusion

“The genie of religious fanaticism is rampant in present-day America, and the Founding Fathers would have been horrified,” so reports Richard Dawkins early on in his best-selling book, The God Delusion.

He also shares the following 1981 quote from the father of the USA conservative movement, Barry Goldwater: “There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this Supreme Being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of these political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who think it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I’m warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.” [Read more...]

Continuous Improvement at Just One Opinion

During the last fifteen years of my work life, I was a strong believer and fervent practitioner of Continuous Improvement as a business strategy. So earlier this year when I suggested to my friend John Hoyle that he consider using CI to make, a news Blog that we co-edit, a more informative, entertaining experience, and to offer a broader range of topics to its readers, he figured he had no choice in the matter and agreed to try it.

While it’s true that I made the initial suggestion and recommendations on how to accomplish this goal, I had no idea how excited and energized John would become with the process of CI. Ever since that discussion he has been a human dynamo in implementing new ideas and testing new techniques.  Now, after several months of trial and error, we are prepared to share our improvement plan with our readers.

Our first and most important move will be to add four, or possibly five, additional contributors to our writing staff. These men and women are all published authors who share a down-to-earth, common sense view of life.  Our common goal will be to share well-thought-out opinions on a broad range of interesting, relevant, and timely topics that each of us feel passionate about. [Read more...]

Corn-pone Opinions

Black PreacherOver fifty years ago, my grandfather shared some words of wisdom that are as relevant today as they were when I first heard them. And they were, “Dickie, you’ve got to read and reread Mark Twain’s ‘Corn-pone Opinions’ until you got it down pat.” This was a short, 1901 essay which I will paraphrase as follows:

As a boy of fifteen, Samuel Clemens had an acquaintance he was very fond of – a delightful young black man named Jerry – a slave – who had the daily habit of preaching sermons from the top of his master’s woodpile. He imitated the pulpit style of the clergymen of his day, and did it well. One of Jerry’s favorite texts was, “You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I’ll tell what his ‘pinions is.”

It seems that the black philosopher’s idea was that a man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter. If he was to prosper, he had to train with the majority; in matters like politics and religion, he had to think and feel with the bulk of his neighbors, or suffer damage in his social standing. In other words, he had to restrict himself to corn-pone opinions – at least on the surface. He must get his opinions from other people; he must reason out none for himself; he must have no first-hand views.

Mark Twain thought Jerry was right, in the main, but he did not go far enough. It was Twain’s belief that a man conforms to the majority view of his locality by calculation and intention; that a coldly-thought-out and independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or manners, or literature, or politics, or religion is a most rare thing – if indeed it ever existed. Basic human instinct moved one to conformity. It is man’s nature to conform; it is a force which not many can successfully resist. The cause is the inborn requirement of self-approval. And its source is the approval of other people.

We get our notions and habits and opinions from outside influences; we don’t study them. We are creatures of outside influences; as a rule we do not think, we only imitate.

The outside influences are always pouring in upon us, and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts. Morals, religions, politics, get their following from surrounding influences and atmospheres, almost entirely; not from study, not from thinking.

Why are Catholics, Catholics; Baptists, Baptists; Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jehovah’s Witnesses; Republicans, Republicans; and Democrats, Democrats? Mark Twain believed it is a matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination, that hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon religion or politics which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies. Broadly speaking, there is nothing but corn-pone opinions. And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for self-approval.

Men think they think upon great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently. They arrive at convictions, but they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand which is of no particular value.

We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it’s the Voice of God.

Now I don’t know if my awareness of corn-pone opinions is why I have no religious affiliation or why I can’t join a political party. But I’m not ashamed to admit that a lot of what I believe, I learned from Mark Twain. Like he said, “The trouble with the world is not that people know so little, but that they know so many things that ain’t so.”

Saylor’s Triangle

51qtmin0rwl__bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_.jpgEarlier this year, my publisher, Mike White, recommended that I meet Craig Bieber, as he thought we had a lot in common. While the subject venue of our first books is very different, Mike thought we might be able to help each other in marketing them.

I first met Craig at Frank’s, a breakfast dive to die for in the heart of Tucson. We ordered Mexican omelets, talked, licked our plates clean, and exchanged books. Craig seemed like a nice enough guy, but could he write? I had met several people during the past year that passed themselves off as writers. Unfortunately, many of them could not walk the talk.

In case you’re curious, my Amazon review in March, 2008, of Craig’s first book is as follows: “I just moments ago completed reading Craig Bieber’s fast-moving thriller, Saylor’s Triangle. And, I am still out of breath. The book is well-written, difficult to put down once you get started, and filled with non-stop, no-holds-barred action. However, be prepared to be tantalized and surprised by the unexpected. Bieber is a great story teller. For anyone who enjoys a good, exciting mystery, this book is a must read.”