Saturday, September 30, 2006

Choices

Stripping away all the detritus of theology, what Christianity comes down to is this - God, the Creator of the Andromeda Galaxy, the Master of prions and elephants - loved me so much as to sacrifice a part of the Divine majesty as a ransom for my own wretched life. I have repaid that sacrifice with dilatoriness, sloth, lust, pride, and pettiness. I live an undisciplined, haphazard life, floating through with no thought for anything but my own comfort, promoting my own non-existent gifts, desiring only to promote only myself.
There is little sense to the whole idea, of course. The Deists understood this in their own way, refusing to countenance a god who would care so much for creation as to become so intimately involved in the whole mess. Fundamentalists, too, refuse to countenance such an idea; thus their insistence that once saved, Christians flee the wrath that must surely come upon a world damned by its own desire for power. Secularists and atheists see the whole thing as a tale fit for children and fools, neither wise nor intelligible. They prefer "reality" to the possibility that such a closed loop merely leads them to gaze into their own rectums (yes, I am saying that most ahteists have their heads up their own asses). Most Christians take what they can, take what gives them comfort, and forget that the comfort is not for us, not to prop up our miserable, shallow, pathetic lives, but for those who have no comfort. We are to live for others, not comfort ourselves.
We face stark choices, once we face the truth head on. It would seem simple, of course. On the one hand, there's the God who loves creation so much, embodied in the man Jesus who knows more of death than we who fear it so. On the other, there are the enticements of ease, comfort, self-assurance and promotion, the wonderful desires of the belly and the gonads, the security of the hearth. The problem, of course, is that these enticements, these proddings and pullings of our life are illusions. Our bellies empty, we satisfy our lusts only for a moment or two, our homes too often are purchased at the sacrifice of any possibility of actually enjoying them. We promote ourselves only to find that there is actually nothing there to promote.
What does God offer us? We are promised suffering, self-abnegation and -sacrifice. We are promised to be despised, hated, hunted, killed by a world that seeks to silence the truth that love is more powerful than death. We are told that fear of death is the greatest motivator; yet what if death itself had lost any power? What if the greatest weapon the rulers of this world had were an illusion?
We face a choice, then, of following the path set before us - a path that promises to be lonely and hard, with many side-paths leading away to phantasms of comfort and ease - and achieving . . . what? Nothing for ourselves. There are no Pearly Gates, no St. Peter with a book, no winged Aryans blowing trumpets.
Perhaps, however, there is the possibility that, in the real end - not the end of fairy stories, not the end of the scientists and prophets of dust, but the end decreed by God before the world was - we shall stand once more, our voices raised in a chorus to make galaxies shake and Quasars dim, facing the throne of God, and hear forever both the true song of creation, and the response from the throne, a response whose contemplation even now makes my eyes tear with anticipation, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
I must admit, I wish to stand there. I wish to be a part of that choir. I have no desire for streets of gold, but rather a banquet table spread before us, with God not at the head, but seated beside each guest, laughing, refilling the glasses and plates, sharing in laughter. The road there, however, is dark, and I have no tools of myself to give me strength to make it. That is why I must surrender any confidence in my own abilities and hope and pray that any strength, any power, any cleverness, any discipline, comes from God. It is in God that my hope lies. It is in God that my faith rests. It is from God that love flows forth, filling all that is with true song.
This is a day of new beginnings
Time to remember and move on
Time to believe what love is bringing
Laying to rest the pain that's gone. . . .

Then let us, with the Spirit's daring,
Step from the past and leave behind
Our disappointment, guilt, and grieving,
Seeking new paths, and sure to find.
Brian Wren

Friday, September 29, 2006

Where I Stand (Another Big Blogging Day After Much Silence)

The truth is, I no longer put much stock in those who think they have it all figured out, faith-wise. I used to be such a person and am frankly ashamed of my own hubris and naivete. I have reached a point where my passion is no longer showing the world how clever I am; my passion is to discover the depths of God's love for the world, and to live out the life God calls me to. I understand at a depth i never before believed possible St. Thomas' comment on his retirement to a monastery. He looked back on his teaching career, his monumental writings (to which we still refer, even if most don't look for guidance there), and said, "It is all straw." Thus do we have a declaration of wisdom from a great learned man.
I have studied theology, philosophy (I am reading Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer currently), history, political science, and sociology. Yet it is the realization that none of that means anything if we do not love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and our neighbors as ourselves that forced me, like St. Paul, to count it all as loss for the sake of the Gospel. I have no interest anymore in proving myself correct. I only want to serve God by serving others. I no longer wish to be recognized, influential, a person of repute. I wish to be a quiet, anonymous toiler in the field of the Lord.
This does not mean that I feel we Christians have nothing to contribute to our society. It only means that we should not pretend that we can be, and certainly we should not pretend we should be, or are, the key to the salvation of our nation. Politics is about power; Christianity is about the repudiation of power. Politics is about control; Christianity is about the surrender of control. Politics is about death; Christianity is about life and love that is stronger than death.
This is just a first step, I suppose in a struggle I have been having since before I began this blog (which has changed in tone and content over the few months of its existence) but has heated up as I have been in contact with all the varieties of Christian voices out there. So far, my results have been negative to the extent that I know for sure only who and what I do not wish to be and become as a Christian.
This is only a beginning, as I said above, and not a very clear beginning at that.

Balmer Takes an Easy Shot

The article here is an example of what I think of as an easy shot. Noted Christian progressive Randall Balmer tells of his attempt to get a clarification from certain religious right groups on our current policies regarding torture, rendition, etc.. The two answers he receives are wholly supportive of Pres. Bush.
It's an easy shot because, rather than discuss issues, Balmer shows these groups up for hypocrites. Hey, Randall, I got news for you - WE'RE ALL HYPOCRITES, even you! You mock these groups for claiming to be arbiters of social morality, whn you are setting yourself up as the same thing, only from a different social and political perspective. My counter to your article is - what is your position on abortion? Have one and a half milliion abortions in this country every year for thirty-three years made us a better people? Has creating a right out of thin air, not to mention insisting that this one medical procedure be outside all the other medicall ethics guidelines (minors should have access without parental consent or previous consultation with physicians, without notification of various possible complications, to name two) made us a freer, more humane people?
I won't pretend to have answers to these question I have posed. Yet, neither will I pretend that I have a superior moral or ethical or political position because I am against torture and these benighted Christian conservatives who claim to speak for social morality support our current policies. I oppose torture for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are my commitments as a Christian.
THIS DOESN'T MAKE ME A BETTER CHRISTIAN OR HUMAN BEING, AND BY IMPLICATION IT DOESN'T MAKE THESE PEOPLE OR THE GROUPS THEY REPRESENT EVIL OR BAD CHRISTIANS. Torture is an evil act. There is no moral syllogism, however, that draws the conclusion that those who support terror, even Christians who do so, are therefore evil. They may be scared, or angry, or any of a variety of other adjectives. But human beings do evil things, and sometimes great numbers of ordinary human beings support the doing of evil. I refuse to sit in God's chair and judge these people, as, apparently, Randall Balmer has done.
Let us have good political discussions. Let us leave our penchant for judging others to one side.

Evolving Positions

I guess I have found, over the course of the past few months, my positions on the relationship between politics and Christian faith changing. I no longer simply view the Christian faith as an endorsement of certain policies and an opponent of others. I no longer view the Christian Right with disdain as heretics or misguided, benighted yahoos in need of proper theological education. I no longer see myself as part of some small, besieged vanguard of left-leaning Christians bearing the Truth to a world hungry for it.
All Christians of all political persuasions are moved by a combination of their faith and life-experiences, and none of us possess the Truth. We all have a small bit of truth with which we face a world hostile to our faith, and we attempt to live with something like integrity (for myself, I fail miserably), carrying the message of God's grace revealed in Jesus Christ to a world fallen and falling. We need to listen to one another, to learn from one another, to challenge one another, to hear the Word with fresh ears. We are all in need of renewal each day, each moment of each day, and never once claim anything like finality to our own way of being and living in the world. Exuberance, even militancy, in proclaiming the Gospel is one thing. Such in proclaiming our own interpretation of the faith as final and true is quite another.
Our world is hungry for more than simple answers. Our world is desperate for a new way of living - a way that may just save us from the brink of the abyss over which we hang, an abyss brought about not by religion, but by our own sinful insistence that our interpretation of religion has any authority over others. God is not the source of our dilemma; we are.
I seek a way that is truly humble - unaware, that is, of its own simplicity of life and humility - and truly loving. I seek a way that is unafraid, not of speaking the truth to power (as Noam Chomsky has observed, the powerful know the truth, which is why they try to suppress it), but of living the Christian life in a world that would seek to deny its very possibility. As N. T. Wright has observed, such will always have a political element, clashing with the powers that be that enforce the denial of the message of grace. This does not mean that the Christian faith is political at its core, only that, as I wrote below, there is an irreducible political element to the faith. We must live, and act, and be, never claiming finality for our lives, our beliefs, but unafraid to declare that, somehow through the miracle of grace, we are called to be the hands and feet and arms and mouth of God to a world that needs to be held and loved and spoken to in love.
I do not preach quietism. I only preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified and risen. Because the world always denies that possibility (as N. T. Wright has also observed) this may threaten our very lives. Yet, we already live in Christ, so what can the world do to us that we cannot overcome?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

God has no politics

As a reply of sorts (no one has read this blog in a while, so who knows who will see it) to Jim Wallis, I offer this basic critique of the whole idea that God has policy positions. First, God's goal, as testified to in Scripture and revealed in Jesus Christ, is the final reconciliation of fallen creation with the creator. To that end, we are to live as we were created to live - loving one another, living for one another, praising God through our words and deeds. As such, there is no inherent political program in the Christian faith.
On the other hand, there can be no doubt that there is an irreducible political element to the Christian faith. We avoid it at our peril, because we are tossed and torn by conflicting priorities demanding more and more of our time and energy. Through prayer and the the sustaining power of the sacraments, we renew our strength to move forward. And that moving inevitably leads to conflict with a world that does not share our sense that God's will, God's call, comes first. These conflicts, however, are not part and parcel of a particular political persuasion, position, or party. God neither endorses nor condemns democracy, monarchy, or even dictatorship. As are to live our lives as we are called by God, and in doing so, if that conflicts with the powers that be, so be it. There is no final answer, and certainly no final political answer this side of the eschaton. We must meet the challenges as they come, with no preconceptions about the source of those conflicts, and no plan for overcoming them.
Of course, there are also things that we are called to do - in loving and serving others, we are to pay special attention to those who are weakest, most vulnerable, most despised - that lead to repeated conflicts. These conflicts, in and of themselves, however, are not part and parcel of the Christian life, nor is their resolution a once and for all solution (just consider Civil Rights!). Rather, we must go on, never sure we are doing enough, or even doing right, but believing that God's will is being done when we sacrifice our own comfort and complacency to feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned and lonely, clothe the naked, and return hatred with love, evil words with prayer, and violence with the obstinate refusal to succumb to the wicked temptation of retribution.
That is what I believe, in general. Specifics would take too long to delineate.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

An Interesting Conversation and (I think) a Great Analogy

Yesterday, I participated in a comment-conversation here with some folks from Portugal concerning the events of 9/11 and the anniversary. It was a great conversation, with opinions being a rough mix of all sorts, all with sympathy for America as it remembered its honored dead.
In the midst of the conversation, I was trying to point out to one commenter who had said that at least the United States had done something about terrorism while Europe had done nothing that sometimes doing the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing. I used th following analogy from US history, even though i wonder how many were familiar enough with our history to understand the nuances involved:
It is April, 1861, and the South Carolina militia, following orders from the secessionist state government, shells Ft. Sumter. In response, not only to the military thraet, but to the political reality of a secessionist south, Lincoln, who has pledged to keep the Union entact, attacks Ohio because it harbors individuals who violate the federal Fugitive Slave Law. While clearly in violation of federal law, and a source of friction between the North and the South, my question is, how would history have seen such an attack, as other than pure insanity?

Moving Forward the Day After we Remebered

Taps has been played. Tears have been shed. We all shared where we were, what we were doing, how we coped, how we didn't cope. It is now time to return to the present, to do the work we must do if we are to honor our dead justly. It is now time to take up again the struggle for justice and peace - not war, vengeance, and coroporate profit - and seek with humility and in full awareness of our own faults and limits to move our country forward. We must take back what is ours by right, tradition, and law. We must never flag in our insistence that our dead are not avenged in a fruitless war and occupation. We must never cease shouting from the rooftops that we are losing ourselves as a people because we have sold our freedoms for the fake security of secret prisons, torture, humiliation, and the death of the Other. We must never stop weeping over the innocent dead at our own hand. We must use our grief, our righteous anger, our fierce love, to embrace those whom the powers that be would deem our enemy. We must love, and love more, and still give and give even when we are weary and we feel that no one listens (or reads) and we are blind leaders of a blind nation. We must never forget that our hope does not, in the end, lie in politics, in words or deeds or plans from our own cleverness. Our hope lies in the promise that God is in charge, knows what we need before we even ask it, and will lead us out of the wilderness through which we have wandered for all these years. That is where our faith rests, the source of our hope, and the reason for the courage to love. It seems, at times, a slender reed, because there is so little evidence for hope, for faith, or for love.
What else do we have?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Everyone else is doing it, why not me?

The morning of September 11, 2001 was the beginning of a week's vacation. I got off work at 7:00 am and headed home, looking forward to a good morning's sleep, then leaving the next day with my four-year-old daughter for a trip to my parent's house in upstate NY to celebrate my father's 80th birthday. I crawled into bed after kissing my wife and our three month old daughter.
I hadn't been asleep very long when my wife came bursting into the bedroom and screamed, "Geoffrey, wake up, we're under attack!"
My answer, out of the depths of my sleep and refusal to believe that any such thing could occur was, "No we're not."
My wife says I got up and wandered into the TV room to see the first tower fall, shrug my shoulders, then go back to bed. It is important to note I say "my wife says" I did these things because I have no memory of them whatsoever.
I woke up about 12:30 and wandered out to the TV room, saying to my wife, "Did you say something about us being under attack?" She recounted what had happened and I remember sitting in stunned silence as footage of the towers falling - with the uncomprehending newscasters gasped in the background - and a quick cut to the Pentagon burning. I was absolutely shocked. I sat for an hour, drinking cup after cup of coffee, watching the horror unfold in NYC. I watched people run from the dust of the rubble as the towers fell. I saw the 14th St. Bridge in the foreground - a bridge I used to drive over often when I lived in, then commuted to, Washington, DC right past the facade of the Pentagon that was struck - as the Pentagon burned. I wondered what the casualty count would be, convinced that 3000 was much too low. I even participated in a bit of a panic as locals rushed to fill their tanks and gas prices soared - even as I pumped! - on fears of what this would mean for the price of oil, as it became clear the attacks originated in the Middle East.
I called my parents to find out if the highways in NY were still open, as CNN had reported that Gov. Pataki contemplated closing all highways in NY as he had closed all roads in to and out fo Manhattan. I was assurred the roads would be open.
The drive from north central IL to upstate NY was surreal for two reasons. First, there was absolutely nothing on the radio but reports of what had happened, even though by the morning of September 12 it was clear we knew as little as we did on the morning of the 11th. I was just east of Toldeo, OH, listening to an AM station out of Detroit when the other thing hit me - there were no trucks on the highway! The station was taking calls from drivers stuck at the borders, stuck at rest areas, stuck at docks, just plain stuck because interstate commerce had ground to a halt. I had a pleasant, quick zip through Cleveland on I-90 at rush hour, and I teared up when my daughter asked, "Is this New York City, Daddy?"
I also remember Sen. Orrin Hatch opening his fat mouth on the evening of the 11th, letting the world know something most intelligence folks would have preferred kept quiet. I remember Bush flying back and forth and around the country. I remember his halting speech, hardly appropriate for the occasion. I remember the attack on the airport in Afghanistan as rebels took the initiative, knowing the Americans were coming. I remember wondering where we went from here.
Most of all, I remember a broken skyline, the images of people jumping from the towers, ghoulish camera operators following their descent, and all the unanswerable questions that are nontheless part and parcel of an event such as this - why? There was more than a moment when I thought Pres. Bush might lead us in a conversation about the differences between Muslims and terrorists. With his recent rantings about "Islamo-fascism" (taking a page from the nutty right), what tiny flicker of hope I had for him has burned out.
Five years later we are no more safe, we have lost as many as we did on September 11 in an illegal and stupid war and occupation, the President used the bodies of our honored dead as a platform to slash the taxes of the rich and enrigh his corporate sponsors, and we here the Pres. and the Republicans in COngress bleating "Stay the course!" Isn't that what one of the hijackers might have said to the pilot as it headed towards the World Trade Center?

. . . And then there's Jim Wallis

An article linked through Faith in Public Life.org takes two steps back as liberal and progressive Christians, evangelical and mainstream, struggle to make their voices heard. I feel particularly piqued at Wallis over this because, ahem, not too long ago in this very blog I was saying similar things (no, I won't tell you where, I am too embarassed by them now). I have come to realize over the past summer, as I have been contacted by other progressive Christians, and seen their comments and their own struggles, that we must move beyond the false "either/or" that lies behind much of the right. Openness and inclusivity, dialogue and growth require a surrender of the prideful thought that we may have a right answer or two where other, less-enlightened folks are misguided. I would rather try to talk to, and listen to, those with whom I disagree, than I would call them "bad Christians" and insist they have nothing worth hearing to bring to any table.
I may disagree with them, but so what? I certainly have no monopoly on truth, and it is long past time to call each other names. We need to find areas of common assent, places where we can reach out to the world, together, in faith and hope and love, together as children of God of Jesus Christ. Didn't Jesus die on the cross for Pat Robertson, too?

More Creative Evangelicals

A tip of the link to Michael Binder over at The Christian Left blog for this story from The Wshington Post. There are two things that struck me about the article, which I would urge you to read. First, at an attempt at "balance", the reporter, Caryle Murphy, managed to interview a conservative evangelical, Don Carson, from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School here in Illinois, who mentioned something in his remarks about "Chrisitian non-negotiables". As far as I know, the only non-negotiable item in the Christian faith is the belief that we are saved from separation from God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that this act and its salvific fruits are gracious acts, whose acceptance and rejection by us mere mortals are not necessary for them successding in their desired results; and that the Christian life is less about assuring our own place in some heavenly condo complex than it is sacrificing our own comforts, our own "lifestyles", our own lives if need be, to make sure that others know that they are loved. To me, while such dogmatic things as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and a certain ecclesio-centrism in teaching and holding fast to the teachings of the church are important, they are by no means "non-negotiable", and have never been in the history of Christianity, so I'm not sure what Professor Carson is complaining about.
Second, I thoroughly enjoyed the criticism of the mega-church movement, with its blandness, its sameness, its lack of risk and challenge, and its emphasis on numbers. It seems Rev. Mclaren has managed to achieve a nice-sized church without sacrificing that which makes a church the Church - the message of sacrificial love and hope and faith offered by God through Jesus. I am not saying he is the harbinger of the future, or a perfect representative of a Christian pastor, or that his theology and practice of ministry is perfect. Rather, I am saying that, by embodying a struggle with questions, rather than comforting himself (and others) with false answers, Rev. McLaren has managed to bring together a community that lives that struggle while never surrendering the faith and hope the Church has always represented.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Musical Promo

On this Sunday morning, I am sitting, listening to the rain, and am captivated by a recording of "St. Matthews Passion", by J. S. Bach. The recording is courtesy of the Musical Heritage Society, a great place for fantastic classical and jazz recordings (I got a double CD of Benny Goodmann's 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall, not a copy of the vinyl, but complete with songs that had gone missing, with great liner notes). If I could find a link to MHS, I would put it here, because for those who love great music, it is wonderful.
If you have a spare couple hours, I would urge anyone who might have it to sit in a quiet place and listen as Bach moves us to consider the death of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

UPDATE: The link is musicalheritage.com. A must for those who love music.

Election year Stupidity

Thanks to my new link comes this story that, among other things, would seem to disprove what I have said earlier concerning the theocracy threat. After all, a law that would limit damages in religious liberty suits does seem to be part of a larger plan to inch theocracy forward, doesn't it?
Except, of course, even if the law - part of a larger bill - passes the House (my guess is it will, but only on a voice vote, rather than a call for "yeas" and "nays"), it will die a slow death of indifference in the Senate. My guess is for two reasons. The legislative session before the elections is short, and there is a budget to pass, appropriations bills to pass, and other major overhauls to work on. The Senate, by rules and tradition, works much more slowly than the House.
The most important reason for the bill never reaching the President's desk is this - as a wedge issue, and a fringe wedge issue at that, it simply has no traction in this year od war, wrong directions for the country, high energy prices (notice how the price of gas is creeping down as we move closer to election day?), and general incompetence and malfeasance on the part of the Executive Branch and dereliction of cuty on the part of the Legislative Branch. Most people are much more concerned with the realities they face than the concoctions of the Republicans, and attempts to draw attention away from those realities seem only to draw the ire of the people rather than "rally the base", as it is designed to do.
Back in the 1980's Jessee Helms tried to remove religious liberty cases from the jurisdiction of the federal courts - perfectly acceptable Constitutionally. It died miserably and quite publicly, and Helms never tried such a move again. My guess is this little clause will meet the same fate. The sooner the better, of course.

New Link

To the right is a new link to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. The blog is full of articles and opinion that reflect a strong faith, a determined politics, and a wise sense of the limits of both. It is a site, like Faith in Public Life.org, I shall use often as a source for information and reflection. Click it and check it out for yourself.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Study reveals real world is not the media-created world

A recent Pew Center study, quoted and analyzed in part here reveals once again that the hype over the conservative-liberal divide in churches - the caricature of the fundy evangelical and the limousine liberal mainliner - is a bunch of hooey. As some of the most thoughtful and interesting religio-politiccal thought recently has emerged from evangelical thinkers wrestling with issues of environmental stewardship and economic justice, this study is one more piece in an emerging picture of the reality of the complexity of the interplay within American religious and political life.
Since the rise of the religious right as a force to be reckoned with, back in the late 1970's, and the confusion in the media over the differences between and among the variety of Protestant and Catholic religious groups and churches, more heat than light has been created by a media more concerned with easy explanations than with nuance and shades of meaning. As that picture continues to emerge from the fog of our recent past - along with much else - our religious and political dynamics, rhetorical, practical, and in terms of party affiliation, will continue to evolve. now is the time for journalists to come to grips with the complexities of American religion, and spurn the stereotypes and the easy soundbites from media-created "leaders" such as Falwell and Robertson, as well as such wannabes desiring attention as Jim Wallis.
This study should be a starting point for a long-term discussion over what kind of society we want, and the best ways to achieve it, rather than calling each other names and insisting that one confessional or other tradition is the sole possessor of truth. I think we are entering a great period in our collective religious and political life, one of vibrancy and invention, of a return to the realities of faith as a force for justice and social cohesion. The time of religion as a wedge issue is, I believe, just about over.

Friday, September 08, 2006

More on votes and values

From the AP, courtesy of Faith in Public Life.org, comes this story from the governor's race in Texas. I suppose if Republicans can insist that it is Christian faith that drives them to oppose abortion, a Democrat can claim that faith is a factor in supporting the minimum wage. Seeing it print like this, I am starting to wonder about Rorty's argument, outlined in my previous post. I wonder how using faith as a claim is, in fact, a conversation stopper.
I think this needs more thought.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Values, votes, and the fake theocracy threat

I am proud to link, and to be linked back by, Faith In Public Life.org. I am particularly taken with their reprints of news articles. I have offered one already today. Now, I offer this one from St. Paul, MN. It is a good discussion of an issue with which I have struggled, including here in this blog earlier this summer (click on the archive button because I can't remember exactly where; sorry to be such a lazy blogger). I have come down, usually, with those, such as Richard Rorty, who see religion and religious language in the public square as, in the words of Rorty's essay, a "conversation stopper". The argument is that once one says their political positions are based on faith - viz., "I hold this(insert a policy position) because I am a Christian" - there seems to be no way to have any further discussion. Indeed, if the sole basis of one's political views comes to rest on faith, the Bible, the Q'uran, or whatever particular religious beliefs one has, any attempt at any kind of public dialogue is at a standstill.
Yet, the article makes an articulate case that people of faith need not necessarily go beyond their faith as a basis for their political action. As one who sees in politics more than simple rational calculation, I accept that our "reasons" are often rationalizations for things that lie deeper than reason. Faith is one of those things (which is not to argue that faith does not have a rational component; it is merely to argue that rationality is only a part of religious life, a long argument for another day).
It also takes on the silly idea that religious people exercising their rights and privileges as Americans somehow represent a threat called "theocracy". This is an idea spawned from the fevered imaginations of those who are not religious, and have no idea of the complexity of the religious mind and imagination and motivations. While disagreeing with the Focus on the Family rep quoted in the article on most policy issues, I echo his calling out liberals for remaining silent on liberal religious activism. This is less from anti-Christian prejudice, however, and more from sheer ignorance. I am more and more convinced that our media and political elites are woefully ignorant of much of the reality of the country. They talk about diversity, but they not only do not understand it, they refuse to probe that it means that those whose opinions differ from theirs have a right to speak out and act. This is not the threat of theocracy, but good old American values at their best. I may not like the values or the politics, but I will fight to the death to make sure they and others continue to do so, and are not harassed by ignoramuses who yell "Theocracy!" in a crowded election season.

Who says there isn't good news out there?

The headline - "War turns southern women against GOP" - was too good to pass up. The opening quote, in which a southern lady compares George Bush to (gasp!) Ulysses Grant, made the whole article worthwhile.
I suppose this might trickle in to the MSM punditsphere as "worrying" or "troubling" for the GOP. In fact, it should have everyone from Ken Mehlman on down to the local precinct captain shaking in their boots. It is a sign of a healthy democracy, a healthy understanding of our current mess, and the options available for change. It is here, out in the hills and plains of Georgia, as well as here in corn country Illinois, that will trouble the sleep of the powerful in Washington. No amount of Inside-the-Beltway fear-mongering will change a fundamental truth: the time is just about up for this bunch in Washington.

Speaking the truth, even when it's complicated

Faith In Public Life.org has posted an article from Christianity Today that hits the nail on the head: the mix of Christianity and politics is neither simple nor simplistic, and too much of the discussion comes from ignorance on both sides - reporters who don't understand Christianity and take what they can get from media hacks; and Christians who are enthusiastic over certain issues, but ignore the wealth and depth and breadth of Christian history in an attempt to proclaim a "Christian position" on whatever issue. I believe their cautionary tale of the Jubilee is well said, although I also believe it is a good model to follow.
As one who is no fan of Jim Wallis, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, and others who add more heat than light, it is nice to see a thoughtful, careful, nuanced consideration of the realities of the interplay of the Christian faith and current American politics, especially from an evnagelical perspective. Precisely because evangelicals take the Bible seriously, they are chary of those who would use it prop up their pet perspective, whether it is liberal or conservative. That is the kind of Christian thinking I like.
It would do everyone well to take the time to read the article, and consider its implications for our changing political landscape. As the Christian right wanes, and more traditional evnagelical voices become louder and more powerful, we can expect a better-informed, more mature Christian perspective on politics, and if this article is any indication, there is much to be excited about. The time for fake Christians and their politics of horror is over; we are entering a time where real Christian values can exert an influence. Kudos to both FIPL and CT for the public service they have rendered in publishing such a grand article.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Langdon Gilkey as Prophet

I offer the following quote from Gilkey's monumental Reaping the Whirlwind: A Christian Interpretation of History, p.23:
[I]f we use our waning preponderance of power in a fit of anxiety, pride, and the lust to remain dominant and secure, we shall only bring down ourselves, our world, and the noble house of our traditional cultural life more quickly.

Does anything better encapsulate our current situation and the dangerous precipice on which we teeter?

On Silly Atheists

Over at Faith in Public Life.org, there is a reprint of an article by Newsweek reporter Jerry Adler on recent books attacking religion. I want to focus on Sam Harris, because I have heard him featured, and heard his arguments, which offer nothing new, rehashes of centuries-old so-called "rationalist" attacks on religion. I find it fascinating that a human phenomenon that transcends race, class, culture, time, and social and political organization can be the subject of such a furious attack by someone who reads the Bible the same way Jerry Falwell does. While he never acknowledges it, indeed (according to Adler's article) he includes attacks on moderates and (presumably) progressives as well, his real focus is on a very narrow, indeed "rationalistic" reading of at least the Christian scriptures that has little relevance to a serious, substantive study of the Bible.
I hate to sound dismissive, because there is some justice and substance to the complaint that religion has been, and continues to be, a source of human conflict and misery. So, however, do various secular political philosoophies, including Communism, Nazism, Fascism, and weird variants of totalitarianism such as that practiced in Uzbekistan, Myanmar, and Byelarus. The enemy, if it needs to be repeated, is the tendency to become addicted to power, and for that addiction to feed into paranoia, megalomania, which in turn create repression and violence. The anarchists have a point - government is the root of all evil. A just society, a fair society, an open society, are the goals, and there are many ways of thwarting those goals, and religioin happens to be one of them.
I call Harris silly because, (a), as a neurologist, he must admit there is little clinical evidence for a definition of "belief" and its sources, at least at an individual level, although its fruits, including better mental health have been substantiated time and time again; (b), his understanding of "religion" is limited to a literalist interpretation of the Bible and the Q'uran, when most adherents to these faiths do not read the books in these ways; and (c) his arguments are not original and deal not with any benefits that accrue from religious belief, but merely with the dangers of religion becoming a controlling influence in social life (a good American argument, if you ask me). The sad truth is, religion is a part of human individual and social life because it performs a variety of functions no other form offers. There may be individuals who can live without God, or Allah, or without paying homage to the ancestors; society, however, apparently (and this is deductive rather than inductive), needs the variety of props offered by religion in order to function. This does not preclude religion becoming a social danger. The occult, economics, and personal magnetism are also dangerous for society, yet Harris says little about them because an attack on fundamentalist religious beliefs is easier, and seems more straight forward.
In the end, I find such work nonsensical because it pretends to a high degree of rigor and concern for social health, but in fact ignores a multitude of social, cultural, political, and other factors that create situations where religions become dangerous, and do not treat religion with the kind of respect they demand their own field of study receive. Such a work is a discussion stopper, it offers nothing, it treats with disdain the varieties of experiences human beings have had throughout history and interpreted in religious terms, and offers little in its place but simple rationality that hardly covers the multiple needs of complex societies.

By the way, I would call him silly to his face if I had the opportunity, but he would dismiss me because I am a person of faith, and therefore not, according to him, rational.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Foregiveness & Justice in Uganda

I heard a story on BBC America late last night about the attempt by Lord's Resistance Army leaders to avoid extradition to the International Criminal Court through participation in a northern Ugandan ritual of foregiveness. Apparently, such rituals are a part of the regional culture, a way of creating a space for social peace after strife. Unfortunately, those who wish to participate in such rituals face two problems: if they show themselves for the rituals, they are likely to be arrested and shipped off for trial; the rituals themselves, while part of the local culture, are not recognized by the Ugandan government as a substitute for justice, especially in the face of the horrors perpetrated by the LRA in its 20 year struggle against the government (getting children to kill family members, gang rape, and disfiguring enemies are just a few of the terribel atrocities committed by the LRA).
In the course of the story, a retired Ugandan bishop (they did no identify which church he represented, but as his wife and daughter died as a result of the LRA, I assume he is not Roman Catholic), who is head of a coalition of church and other religious groups working hard for reconciliation in the wake of the end of the civil war, sees foregiveness as part of the national healing process, much the same way the Truth and Reconciliation Commission worked in South Africa after apartheid. I would agree with the bishop to a certain extent, except that even Christian foregiveness does not remove responsibility for wrongdoing. Indeed, it increases culpability, because extending foregiveness acknowledges the reality of the wrong done, thus placing responsibility squarely where it belongs. In order to heal, both traditional foregiveness ceremonies and the legal process, to which Uganda is bound by treaty obligation, should be followed. Foregive and forget are certainly a Christian reality. That does not mean the legal system does not have a role in placing responsibility and doling out punishment as well.

By the way, I tried to find a link over at the BBC, and could not. If someone finds it, let me know, and I'll insert it into the story.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

When is a civil war not a civil war?

In Iraq, it would seem it is when a United States general declares it to be so. Of course, I don't believe the generals speak from their own perspective, understanding, and experience. Rather, I think it is on orders from civilian commanders, i.e., the Bush Administration. The hilarious thing is, of course (if anything about what is happening is funny), that all week Bush, Rumsfeld, and others have been trying to convince us the war on terror is going to be long, hard, cost lots of money, lives, etc., but be we will win in the end. Except in Iraq, where the war is over and all we're doing is helping Iraq achieve a Jeffersonian democracy (without Jefferson, democracy, slaves, a vast frontier, small farms, and other features of Jeffersonian America). I hate to use the phrase "cognitive dissonance" because it is so pretentious, but the Bush Administration is one large, long example of cognitive dissonance.
Rumsfeld claims those who oppose the war are, essentially, weak and ignorant. Apparently most Americans are weak and ignorant. I offer a toast, then, to weakness and ignorance.

Friday, September 01, 2006

More Thoughts on Gay Rights (And More Offense, Too, I'm Afraid)

In thinking more and reading more about the issue about gay rights, some of what I recently wrote, some of the what I've recently read, etc., I've come to the conclusion that at the heart of the argument, where first principles lie as it were, there is a contradiction in the sexual minority community's argument concerning the status of LGBT in society. On the one hand, many people (myself included) argue that there is no way to tell, from outward appearance, whether or not an individual is a sexual minority. We are the same as you, they say; we are normal, average citizens, we are told; we pay taxes, pay mortgages, argue about money, etc., etc. It is what I call the "Hidden difference" argument, and there is much truth to it.
On the other hand, however, many both in academe and in the LBGT community argue that the differences are so fundamental, so essential (I use this term deliberately in the philosophical sense), that it effects the way LGBT think, read, respond to society, art, culture, politics, etc. Same-sex romantic orientation causes a difference that is more than just practical (who one falls in love with), but metaphysical (LBGT are different from everybody else). There is some truth to this as well, although I would chalk it up more to social realities than some mysterious, hidden ontological factor.
The problem, of course, is that, in the end, the only thing that matters, from a social standpoint, is that sexual minorities love differently. Because they love differently, however, many other life choices are effected. If you are gay, patriotic, and desire it, the military is open, although "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has created a culture of harassment. If you are lesbian and feel the call of God, and happen to be Baptist, you must church shop to find a church to ordain you; if you are Presbyterian, you might want to think about finding another denomination; if you are Catholic, Lutheran, or Church of Christ (Disciples), forget it. My own denomination, the United Methodist Church, does not ordain "slef-professed, practicing homosexual" - a legal term of art that allows those willing to compromise to serve as clergy. Yet, there is either enormous discipline or deception involved.
If you are gay but conservative in your politics - for a variety of reasons - being a Republican may seem natural, yet, how hospitable a home is the party when it seeks to deny your veyr existence legally?
In a world of complexities, contradicitons in fundamentals creates a situation where many talk past one another. In a world where the invisible differences create large differences in ways of life, how much is the talk of "gay lifestyle" reflective of a reality that is deeper than many would care to acknowledge? Does openly flaunting the "hidden difference" create a situation that may be worse rather than better? Is such hiding honest? I submit there are no easy answers, and they do not lie in legalizing same-sex unions, or even in creating a protected legal status for sexual minorities, although those are necessary for a more just society.