Friday, November 01, 2013

Phil Zuckermans' Recipe for Secular Humanist Pizza

Typing out one of Dr. Phil Zuckerman's arguments for Secular Humanism, it occurred to me that it might also make good instructions for baking pizza.  So let me transcribe a portion of that argument -- which comes up in different forms later in the debate as well -- as follows.  I'll work those slight alterations to a recipe that make all the difference between a dish that gets wrapped in plastic and abandoned in the back of the fridge, and one that practically begs you to fold it greedily into your hungry mouth. 

Tis almost the Season again! 
(This one is from last year.)
How to make Secular Humanist Pizza. (Quick tip: for best results, do not add Bible verses.)

2013.  The following declaration was proclaimed.  Quote:

"Good pizza is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

Now that was not Richard Dawkins talking.  That was not Christopher Hitchens.  That was David Marshall, cooking pineapple, cilantro, pepperoni and mushroom pizza, on the evening of October 25th, 2013. 

Nor does any other skilled pizza maker that I know of use Bible verses in their pizzas. 

Think about bakers agreeing on anything unanimously!

Now you might say, "Oh, Phil, you know how bakers are, they add all kinds of secret ingredients -- they'll try anything!" 

That's actually not the case. 

That day in Seattle, 56 Christian bakers made pizzas.  And of those 56, not one included Bibles:
not leather-bound, not Living, not old family Bibles, not ancient parchments or scrolls, not the verses that the Swiss carve into wood and set over the entryways to their homes, not even pocket New Testaments!

Wow!  Pizza is not in any sense made from Bible verses!  And even Christian bakers agree on that, unanimously! 


I mean, it's kind of funny-- we're talking mostly about Christians!  I say mostly, but they are of varying hues.  Some are more Episcopalians, some go to Mars Hill Fellowship, some dance in aisles, some stake out hard-backed pews with faces as dour as if they were sitting on tacks. 

Why would a bunch of Christians creating pizzas do that?  On Sunday, they go to church and sing hymns and read the Bible.  And yet, once it's time to bake pizza -- OK, we're outta church, now we gotta cook dinner.  Now we're in the kitchen with the root beer or the home brew or whatever, now it's time to create a pizza. 

How often does that happen in the world?  Where people sit together -- usually nations create traditional cuisines over centuries in weird ways, bamboo shoots, flax seeds, fresh water shrimp or crawdads caught in traps in the swamp.  Here were people sitting at a table: "We're going to create a new pizza.  Us!  Let's do it." 

And what did they do?

They kept Christianity out of the pizza.  They kept it out of the crust, they kept it out of the toppings, they kept it out of the cheese.  And they declared, in their menu, that there were no Bible verses in their pizza. 

The recipe for the crust has no reference to Jesus.  No reference to the gospels.  No reference to Scripture. 

The sauce contains no reference to Jesus.  No reference to God.  No reference to the Scriptures.  Why?  Why would they do this? 

Well, for one thing, bakers know very well the damage that can come when you put paper in dough, then bake it at 420 in the oven. 

They remembered what happened in the Chicago fire.  They remember what happened in the Seattle fire. 

And that's just conflagrations in which Christians died.  You add all those millions who went homeless after fires in Japanese wooden homes . . .

So we get pizza recipes without any Bible verses in them. 

What did they want to establish? 

Tasty pizza. 

Pizza!  Pizza for and by the people!  Pizza by the consent of the diners! 

It's my argument tonight -- at least the first of them -- that dinner cannot be good, cannot be healthy, cannot be free, if it's not made from quality, non-ideological ingredients.

You can't have a good pizza in North Korea.  You couldn't buy, beg or steal a pizza in Stalinist Russia.  You couldn't even buy a decent pizza under fascism.  You must have human demand and free markets with spicy pepperoni!  It's a necessary condition of good pizza. 

We, the people.  We, the people!  You can't have a more secular assertion. 

It's just us!  No reference to a God.  No reference to a deity.  No reference to a devil.  We.  Us.  We the people.

Pizza is not taught in the Christian Scriptures.  Jesus does not tell his disciples how to make pizza.  Paul does not write out pizza recipes for his congregations in Asia Minor.  In fact, if I may -- sorry, hope it's OK if a heathen like myself quotes the Scriptures -- Jesus taught, "Take this cup and this bread."  Nothing about tomato sauce or spices! 

Clearly, Secular Humanism is the necessary foundation of all good pizza. 

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Postscript: I hate to ruin even a bad joke by explaining it, but maybe it would be wise to add six notes to clarify the points of this exercise in culinary non sequitur:

1. As Dr. Zuckerman himself pointed out, none of the men who signed the US Constitution appear to have been Secular Humanists.  As far as I know, they all believed in God, for one thing, the nonexistence of which is the first premise in Secular Humanism.  How can the accomplishment of people he describes as "Christians" or even "deists" (if any were the latter) demonstrate the beneficial effects of Secular Humanism? 

2. So as interesting, generous, and at times eloquent as it was, I did not hear much of a case for the beneficial effects of Secular Humanism in Phil's first talk. 

3. Phil also conflated government and society, I argued.  That Christianity has had a deep and abiding impact on western society, he generously conceded earlier in his opening statement.  But our debate was about society, not just government.  Even if a government is not directly founded on religious tenets, it does not follow that that religion is not  or should not be foundational to the society as a whole. 

4. It is not true that democracy is necessary for any healthy civil society, still less that it is sufficient.  Many non-democratic societies have been vibrant, such as (today) Singapore, and recently, South Korea and Taiwan, and in the past, many parts of Europe.  And many countries have stayed a mess after free elections, as the Arab Spring recently demonstrated so dramatically. 

5. Unlike my pizza analogy, biblical principles of course did play a role in shaping the mind, consciousness, and political thinking of the Founding Fathers.  How could they not have?  Historians trace many such lines of influence, some of which I noted in my opening talk. 

6.  So, of course, did experience in the "art of making pizzas" influence the political bakers of 1787.  Who claims that the Bible is a sufficient guide to every activity on Earth?  Jesus certainly didn't claim that -- he pointed out that people studied the skies to learn the weather, not the Book of Leviticus.  (Apologies to you Leviticus fans.)  On the other hand, everything that the Jewish people became was largely formed by the Torah, as Europe was deeply formed by the Bible.  Even Voltaire was educated by Jesuits, while John Locke grew up in a pious home.  Good government, like most of life, like making pizza, involves skills we learn, combined with assumptions that come to us through both Nature and Nurture.  Of course that was true of the Founding Fathers as well, and the various influences on them (Classical, Medieval, American, and pre-secular "Humanism") cannot be easily disentangled --- kind of like tomatoes and vinegar in a good sauce. 

But that there was a heck of a lot of Christianity in that mix, cannot reasonably be denied -- as John Adams, mentioned at other points in the evening, himself pointed out. 

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