Democracy


This just in from the NYTimes.com:  Texas Conservatives Win Vote on Textbook Standards. Have mercy. We’re not just talking about adding Intelligent Design or the Flying Spaghetti Monster to the science curriculum, either; it’s the entire social studies curriculum. US History, World History, and Economics, in particular.

This is the last thing we need; clearly-defined ideologically based curricula at the state public education level. If you want that, there are plenty of options already; private Christian schools and homeschooling in particular. But to go beyond this and identify “Conservative” with “Christian” and “Christian” with “Republican” and interpret all of history in this light is way too dangerous.

I mean, just ignoring Jefferson? Arguing that the Enlightenment played only a small role in the US’ founding? That the US was established as a “Christian” Nation, based on a limited (and totally anachronistic) definition of “Christian”? Virtually leaving out the massive importance of Latinos in Texas’ history?

I’m emphasizing the seriously important role that Christianity has played in not only the founding of the US, but in the colonization of this continent in my US History course, but it is most definitely not along any particular party line because this is impossible. To recognize and emphasize the Christian influence is critical to understanding this country, but, as I tell my students, there were a LOT of different kinds of Christians between the 15th century and now, and to reify the term into a single concept yields a grossly inaccurate picture of US history. (Billy Graham’s or Francis Schaeffer’s version of neo-Evangelical Christianity, for example, has nothing to contribute to any discussion of the Christianity of the Fathers!)

This is anti-democratic at its core, in more ways than one.

Leaving the commentary on President Obama’s speech to more qualified individuals, I thought that the President fully recognized the trickle effect of the economic situation right now into the three areas of domestic affairs most desperately in need of reform. Obama realistically described the nasty circle between the need for credit and the success of small business, home owners, and so on, but he also, I think, seemed to tacitly acknowledge that an economy that depends on credit more than any other factor is unsustainable and offered us ways to keep money in the nation and local communities. Obama also laid out what some of us have known for years but what needs to be repeated ad nauseum, which is the connection between the economy and the energy industry; an unsustainable industry of energy consumption is the harbinger to a failed economy. And  correcting this starts with education, which starts – end ends! – at home, welcome words to those who homeschool.

It’s nice to take a break from the dissertation and the job search.

tartan_2007_10_23_09_44_35This would have been unthinkable when I was a student at Gordon College 17 years ago. The student paper, a staunchly evangelical publication still known as the Tartan, formally endorses Barack Obama. I can’t wait to see the post-election breakdown of the Hamilton-Wenham area, traditionally a pretty red region on account of the students and faculty at the College and Seminary.

Boston Globe’s Articles of Faith posted the full text of it. Check it out here, or just read it below.

“Over the past week, as we have collected responses and insights from students and faculty to put together this special Election Edition of the Tartan, we have heard some intriguing and thought-provoking arguments from republicans, democrats, and independents about why they are supporting their candidate of choice. After much serious consideration, the Tartan is pleased to offer its endorsement of Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States of America.

Last spring, when the Tartan endorsed Senator Obama for the Democratic nomination, it was because he “offers the unique opportunity to have a president who inspires the public imagination to envision what is possible and empowers its leaders and citizens to rise to the occasion.” In the months since then, Senator Obama has more than lived up to these words. He has offered strong, even-keeled leadership in the face of economic turmoil; he has remained calm, thoughtful, and articulate when discussing issues of healthcare, energy, and foreign policy; and he has inspired a grassroots movement – both at home and abroad – to support his candidacy. For these reasons and more, we believe that Senator Obama is most fit to lead America through these uncertain times and to begin the process of rebranding and reclaiming good standing in America’s foreign relations.

Furthermore, while we acknowledge Senator McCain’s long history of bi-partisanship, we believe that the manner in which he has managed his campaign has not reflected strong leadership and more importantly, has not demonstrated that he is capable of bringing about the changes necessary to move beyond petty partisan feuding and begin making real progress in Washington. While both candidates had ugly moments in their campaigning, Senator McCain’s advertisements and stump speeches were consistently negative – trying to tear down his opponent, rather than make a case for his own candidacy. This way of campaigning is in line with the Rovian tactics of the last administration – a type of campaigning that America would do well to leave behind moving into the future.

Likewise, we agree with Colin Powell, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, Christopher Buckley, Kathleen Parker, and many other well-respected conservatives, that Senator McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate was reckless and cynical. It has become very clear over the past few weeks that Governor Palin is grossly unfit for the job she is running for – much less, the job she would resume should something happen to Senator McCain. As recently as last week she was quoted as saying the role of vice-president was to “be in charge of the Senate.” This, in addition to her comments about the role of the vice president being left intentionally vague by the framers of the Constitution, reflect a lack of understanding of basic tenants of the position for which she is running. And in light of the secrecy and abuse of power in the last administration, Governor Palin’s “mix-ups” should be met with much harsher criticism.

The Tartan believes that Senator Obama possesses the necessary leadership skills, policy experience, and critical thinking ability to be an effective commander-in-chief. But more than this, he possesses these traits without a hint of cynicism. He is thoughtful and wise at a time when we need thoughtfulness and wisdom. And for this reason, we believe he is the ideal candidate for the presidency.”

Sure is refreshing to see this, particularly when it’s set against the Focus on the Family Letter from 2012 or the AFA’s voter’s guides.

Focus on the Family recently published a sixteen page hypothetical letter from “A Christian in 2012″ that “looks back” on the first four years of the Obama presidency. The whole thing reminds me of how ancient apocalyptic works, like the Book of Revelation; paint up a vision of the future that induces mass-panic with the express aim of persuading readers to resist to the end now, before it’s too late.

Like Revelation, the letter is written from the perspective that the author and those who stand with him are the only ones who knew/know the truth, and criticizes those Christians who voted for Obama as being blind or too young to seriously look at why Obama was going to be a dangerous president who would destroy America. How? Here are some examples about what the author of the letter (who apparently doesn’t want his true identity to be known, but here’s guessing it’s Dobson himself):

  • Terrorist attacks in 4 US cities;
  • Christian professionals fired or quitting en masse;
  • Iran nukes Tel Aviv
  • Porn freely displayed
  • violent crime out of control because to too-strict gun control
  • Russia occupies 4 more nations
  • Energy blackouts all over the US
  • Gas prices are over 7 bucks a gallon
  • Christian ministries and organizations, including schools close up
  • Bush officials imprisoned
  • Taliban overrun not only Afghanistan, but Iraq as well (!)
  • Home school families emigrate en masse to Australia and New Zealand (!)
  • And all of this is because Obama’s Supreme Court appointments create a 6-3 majority of liberal justices, thus ceding the “ultimate prize” of the Court to the “far left.”
  • And these justices then promptly ruled that homosexual marriage was now legal in all 50 states, creating a chain reaction of decisions that the letter describes as curtailments of American freedom. In other words, all problems can be traced back to American tolerance of homosexuality.

Unbelievable.

Focus on the Family’s anonymous piece trades on fear and preys on those who are afraid of change. This is, IMO, the worst piece of fear-mongering I’ve run across. It shows that the politics of fear run by the Bush administration has had its desired affect. Focus claims to represent Christians. It does no such thing. It doesn’t even represent all evangelical Christians; the letter even admits as much by blaming the “younger evangelicals” for the result of the 2008 election. All it represents is a “boomer” value system that held sway in the 50s-70s in the US, which is now just an element of cultural memory to a very specific (and increasingly diminishing) segment of the population.

And if this is what Christianity wants to become, then I’m checking out. Focus’ version of Christian ethics has become so one-dimensional, fundamentalist, dogmatic, and hatefully intolerant of dissension on what it considers non-negotiable that it misrepresents everything Christ stood for and in fact represents more of what he stood against. It completely misunderstands the First Amendment, and in fact has a “fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution,” to use Dobson’s own words from another context. Once upon a time Focus on the Family focused on …. families. Now, the focus is on fear, hate, intolerance, and sectarian politics. Is there anything more un-Christian and un-American?

The letter gets one assumption right. Obama’s America is not Focus on the Family’s America. And neither would McCain’s America. I’ve got half a mind to write a “Letter from 2012 from McCain’s America” in response.

If you’re reading this, and you’ve read the “Letter from 2012,” and you are as bothered by this as I am, write to Focus through their email at citizenlink@family.org and tell it to them straight.

Well, the time has come. I haven’t done a seriously political piece since my inaugural post. I was asked today why I support the Democratic Party and not the Republican one, and the question was basically qualified with the suggestion that “when you don’t like either candidate, vote for the Republican one” because that’s the more Christian and trustworthy party.

No. No no no no no no no no no no! I understand the sentiment; I was myself seduced by the 2000 Bush campaign’s “compassioniate conservatism” and voted for a regime that year that has proven to be anything but. I see very little that is Christian coming from the Republican party. Taken collectively as a whole, I don’t really see much of it coming from the Democratic side either.

But I do see it from individual candidates, and when the candidate in question is running for president, I am willing to take him or her as representative of their particular party. And of the two candidates remaining, I am convinced that Senator Obama exemplifies a far more biblical position on ethics, religion, and public policy than any candidate in the 2008 campaign. For me, that is why I support the Democratic party. I believe the overarching rule that guides Obama’s position on policies and issues (to the extent we’ve seen from previous writing, speeches he’s given over the last four years, and current campagining so far) is more biblical than any Republican campaign in recent memory, perhaps since Abraham Lincoln.

I do not say “more Christian.” That is deliberate. It is my studied opinion that, at least in politics, this label is more divisive than unifying. (See yesterday’s post for an example.) “Biblical” may not be any better, but this is at least something I’m willing to take a chance on.

Recently I watched the film Amazing Grace, which is the story of William Wilberforce’s career in the English parliament and in particular his crusade to end the slave trade in the British Empire. Gifted with oratory and strength of will, we see Wilberforce at the beginning of the film struggling with the decision to enter a career in politics or the ministry. Wilberforce’s erstwhile friend and future prime minister of England, William Pitt, convinces him that he can serve both God and the state by using his gifts to challenge the ethics of the empire with the ethics of the kingdom of God.

I see the Republican party as being rich in moralistic ideology, but ethically bankrupt. There is no William Wilberforce in the Republican party, or if there is, he or she has yet to reveal him or herself. Yet I do see a lot of Wilberforce in Senator Obama. While I have no idea if Obama has ever held any dreams of ordained ministry. his faith clearly informs both is private life and his public politics. I believe Senator Obama to be a model for how prophetic faith can speak to political influence, and in how political attentiveness to the Biblical tradition, shared to varying degrees by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, can help the state do a better job of aligning itself with the Kingdom of God, even though it cannot – and will never be – the Kingdom.

I contend that Obama knows this. Read his 2004 speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston. Read his 2006 Call to Renewal Speech. To accuse Obama of having a distorted view of the Bible, as James Dobson does, or to outright accuse him of not being a “real” Christian, as Alan Keyes did in 2004, is to reveal how shallow the conservative understanding of Christian faith is on the one hand and knowledge of the Bible is on the other. There is more to Christian faith than simply being “born again” (which Obama is, in the authentic experience of a life-changing conversion), and there is far more than abortion or gay marriage in the Bible (in fact, the Bible is completely silent on both issues).

So, using Obama’s own 2006 speech as a basis for how his faith and how his deep understanding of biblical ethics informs and influences his life and career, what do we see? (I’m not going to single out issues; I trust you to do your own homework…) IHow about these:

  • “The majority of great reformers in American history were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
  • “And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope” (A Call to Renewal).

    “But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”

  • “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”
  • “If we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice. Imagine Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address without reference to “the judgments of the Lord.” Or King’s I Have a Dream speech without references to “all of God’s children.” Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible, and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.”

Finally, in my conversation earlier, it came up that the Democrats place no value in the family, and that Obama hasn’t done anything to change that perception. This is simply not true; Obama has two young children himself and supports a traditional one-parent-staying-at-home environment, as well as families having the final right to determine what is best for their children. But more than that, Obama is on record in his support of the family as the fundamental social unit that will ever be the strength of the nation, and it is one that is similarly grounded in the biblical family ethic.

“Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation… But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it” — Father’s Day Speech, Apostolic Church.

I confess that I have been a fan of Obama since his Boston speech in July of 2004. I distinctly remember saying to myself “if this is what the Democratic party is about now, I’m in.” Not to say that I agree with all of Obama’s policies or even that i think he interprets individual details of the Bible the same way I do. But I do believe that his vision, like that of William Wilberforce 180 years ago, is more consistent with Biblical ethics and the Kingdom of God than the competition’s. Should the Republican party be able to trot out a Wilberforce or an Obama or another Abraham Lincoln, I will be more than willing to give the party a fair hearing. Until then, for this blogger faith and understanding lead me to break ranks with my evangelical brethren and cast my vote for the Democratic candidate for President. Barack Obama in 08.

Hollis Schoolhouse in New HampshireLast week I wrote a bit of my personal, experiential observations of our local homeschool coop. So tonight I’m looking to make good on the promise I made that I’d write a follow-up that was more analytical and reflective. So be warned: this is more of an essay than the last piece, but I think it’s a useful exercise for me and perhaps for others as well.

As a preface to my analysis of Homeschooling, I should state up front what I feel the business of education is, or perhaps more accurately, what I believe it ought to be, whether it is college and university education, graduate education, or grade-school education. At the end of the day, my evaluation of education draws most of its inspiration from Wendell Berry, who has not really written systematically about his educational philosophy (so far as I know), but who nevertheless has plenty to say about it scattered throughout his writings. My thoughts on it, likewise, are directly related to my work in the academy, which is to say that it influences what I do in my teaching on the one hand and that my subjects of study shape the reasons I teach at all.

Like Berry, I see the education of young people as being centered on developing the creativity of the individual person in a way that encourages responsible action in the local community and the larger society as a whole. Education needs to embrace a role that leads students develop their humanity in relation to other people and to the physical land where they live. What we teach should be somehow connected to where we are in life (geographically and otherwise) and to where students are. Berry would say that education’s primary role is to instill knowledge that is experiential, relational, creative and imaginative, democratic, local in its orientation, and fundamentally interactive with the natural ecology of where we live. Just so. To the extent that education is individual-centered, I maintain that this individualism (in the classic liberal sense of developing the full potential of the student) is, nevertheless, rooted in the local community in that the “potential” is precisely the ability of the student to contribute to the life of the community through his or her own gifts, place, and so on. Finally, the purposes of education needs to encompass the concepts of goodness and wholeness, which is to say that we need to teach our young people the ability to judge what is good and whole.

Wendell BerryMuch of contemporary education, however, focuses on the development of “skills” that will make people productive not in their own local community, wherever that may be, but in the global industrial and consumer-capitalist economy. I agree again, here, with Berry, who argues that schools – by which Berry means public schools – are “mind dominated” by outside forces (the global industrial/capitalist doctrine) that essentially dictate what students are to take away from their education. In my work in New Testament, Judaism, Greco-Roman religion, Early Christianity, and Islam, scholars know this kind of imposed “mind domination” by the terms of “cultural hegemony,” stemming from work of Antonio Gramsci. Cultural hegemony is the essentially the ability of those in power (from small communities to global industry and national governments) to package thoughts. It is the ability to control “knowledge production” by packaging the hegmonic power’s ideology into the distillation and dissemination of culture. (more…)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.