Absurdity


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.

And now this. Rev. Jay Scott Newman of Greenville S.C. has told his parishioners that if they voted for Barack Obama, they should not come forward for communion unless they’ve gone to confession first for participating in “intrinsic evil” by voting for a candidate who was pro-choice, “lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.”

Perhaps Rev. Newman didn’t see the debates; both candidates were (are) “pro-choice,” but they also distanced themselves from the old discourse on the issue. What to do? At least here, under Scott’s logic, this was “no-choice.” Communion, or the polls. If you voted for McCain, you also voted for a “pro-choice” candidate.

The fact of the matter is that both Obama and McCain deliberately tried to distance themselves from the issue, mostly because they knew that they were in substantial agreement on it. To wit: both said they won’t use Roe vs. Wade as the yardstick for determining justice appointments. They agreed with each other in that abortions are tragedies that are best dealt with by changing American cultural standards towards sex and pregnancy in general.

Obama: I think that abortion is a very difficult issue, and it is a moral issue and one that I think good people on both sides can disagree on…. This is an issue that — look, it divides us. And in some ways, it may be difficult to — to reconcile the two views. But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, “We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.” Those are all things that we put in the Democratic platform for the first time this year, and I think that’s where we can find some common ground, because nobody’s pro-abortion. I think it’s always a tragic situation. We should try to reduce these circumstances.

McCain: We have to change the culture of America. Those of us who are proudly pro-life understand that. And it’s got to be courage and compassion that we show to a young woman who’s facing this terribly difficult decision. … But that does not mean that we will cease to protect the rights of the unborn. Of course, we have to come together. Of course, we have to work together, and, of course, it’s vital that we do so and help these young women who are facing such a difficult decision, with a compassion, that we’ll help them with the adoptive services, with the courage to bring that child into this world and we’ll help take care of it.

Abortion is a stump topic. In the past, candidates have lived (and died) on this issue with conservatives, especially evangelicals and catholics. But not a single candidate has, after being elected, even attempted to do anything about it. At least this time around it was a lot more marginal and got only about 15 or so minutes of time in one debate. By and large, I think Americans have moved on, because I think we’re coming to the realization that someone who is “pro-choice” is NOT “pro-death” or “anti-life.” I think we’re gradually realizing that the goal should be to reduce it and eliminate the need for it. I think we’re also realizing that “pro-life” ought to be a lot more encompassing than simply abortion. It should include, for example, the gulf war.

Which brings me back to Newman: The Church’s position on the War is as clear as it is on abortion. It is a moral evil and must be ended.

It is obviously difficult to really disentangle the relationship between Religion and State. But how one votes should not be determining church membership, whether one can take communion, or especially whether one will spend the rest of eternity in damnation.

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.

Many of you may well have received an email that reputedly originated with Dr. John Tisdale, a popular biblical interpreter, that “interprets” Revelation 13 in such a way as to equate Barack Obama with the Beast of the Last Days/End Times. There’s not really any shortage of critical debunking of this foolishness, but since it’s come up again, and since some of my buds are actually using this whole situation as an example in a book they’re writing on the way religion is used and abused in this country, I need to take aim not only at “Tisdale’s” initial email, but at the reactions to it as well.

At the risk of perpetuating the myth, here is the email:

From: —
Subject: interesting
To: —
Date: Monday, October 20, 2008, 10:53 AM

If any of you are Obama supporters — this is not meant to offend just thought it was interesting. 🙂

Subject: Fw: Rev. 13- (about the beast)

This will make you re-think: A Trivia question in Sunday School:
How long is the beast allowed to have authority in Revelations?
Revelations Chapter 13 tells us it is 42 months, and you know what that is.
Almost a four-year term of a Presidency.
All I can say is ‘Lord, Have mercy on us!’
According to The Book of Revelations the anti-Christ is: The anti-Christ will
be a man, in his 40’s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with
persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal….the prophecy says
that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace,
and when he is in power, will destroy everything..
Do we recognize this description??
I STRONGLY URGE each one of you to post this as many times as
you can! Each opportunity that you have to send it to a friend or media outlet..do it!
I refuse to take a chance on this unknown candidate who came out of nowhere.
From: Dr. John Tisdale
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Dear Friends,
As I was listening to a news program last night, I watched in horror as Barack Obama made the statement with pride. . .’we are no longer a Christian nation; we are now a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, . . .’ As with so many other statements I’ve heard him (and his wife) make, I never thought I’d see the day that I’d hear something like that from a presidential candidate in this nation. To think our forefathers fought and died for the right for our nation to be a Christian nation–and to have this man say with pride that we are no longer that. How far this nation has come from what our founding fathers intended it to be.
I hope that each of you will do what I’m doing now–send your concerns, written simply and sincerely, to the Christians on your email list. With God’s help, and He is still in control of this nation and all else, we can show this man and the world in November that we are, indeed, still a Christian nation!
Please pray for our nation!

Ok. First off, there is a problem of perception that one of my friends has dubbed “apocalyptic narcissism,” as good a term as any for the idea that every generation of Christianity, including the first century of the New Testament and the events it describes, has believed that it is the one that will experience the events of the last days and the return of Christ. In fact, I’ve seen it now a couple of times in my life time, and I’m only 35 years old. No doubt I’ll see it a few more times, God willing I live long enough.

Here’s the point. Revelation is a prophetic book in the Jewish sense that it speaks to the current situation by use of metaphor and hyperbole. It is not a book that foretells the future, “prophecy” in the Christian sense. It is, however, a blistering critique of empire in the tradition of the prophetic “oracles against the nations.” If Revelation foretells anything, it is what “empire” always has coming, which is ultimately collapse and usually replacement. Revelation is better understood as a kind of psychedelic, Jack Kerouac-ian vision of the author’s present, which was around 90-100 AD/CE.

More importantly for Barack, though, is this business about the anti-Christ being in his 40’s and of Muslim descent and who will deceive the nations with smooth-talking. First of all, there’s nothing in Revelation that the anti-christ has to be in his 40’s. Secondly, Revelation does not predict Islam, let alone a Muslim anti-Christ. All of my studentsknow that Revelatio, as a text describing the end of the first century realities of early Christians, predates Islam by over 500 years. Islam is nowhere predicted in the Bible, although many Muslims hold that Muhammad is anticipated in the gospel of John (where the “spirit,” pneuma in Greek, is translated as “‘ahmad” in Arabic). the point is that there is no evidence at all in any book of the Bible that the Anti Christ will be a Muslim. Frankly, it angers me that this myth is gaining more and more steam, it seems. It needs to be debunked, and fast. There have been many anti-christs in western history, and I would venture to say that most of them have claimed to be Christian.

Here’s another point. I actually provided the link from which the initial respondant commented on about Barack “proudly” commenting that we are no longer a “Christian nation” in a blog earlier in the summer. As i tell my students, the country was never founded as a Christian nation. And whatever Christian principles influenced the Deist founders of the US were there, they were not the same discursive points of contemporary American evangelicalism, which is what this email assumes. Evangelicals may presume that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, a point that may well be the, but they also seem to have an assumption that Christianity is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, which is most definitely NOT the case. In any event, this quote actually misquotes (deliberately, probably) Barack in the Call to Renewal speech. I don’t know where the emailer gets the idea that Barack is “proud” of this. But Obama actually said that we are not only a Christian nation. This changes the meaning completely, and he is exactly right. In the 1700s, insofar as people were religiously diverse at all, it was all a variation of Christianity; Puritan, Catholic, Church of England, and so on. Obama’s point is that this is no longer the case, and in fact has not been the case for a long time. Read the actual speech for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

As another colleague of mine points out, concerning the idea of the US having any kind of official religion (which, Constitutionally, we do not), the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli expressly prohibits acts of hostility between the US and any Muslim nation. Note the first clause here:

“”Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

1797. Think about that. The Founding Fathers, who supposedly established a Christian nation, were still in the halls of Congress.

Barack Obama is not the Beast, he is not the Anti-Christ, and he is not the fulfillment of any biblical prophecy whatsoever.

James Dobson!

What, maybe you were expecting Bill Clinton? That is so yesterday.

On his Tuesday radio program, Dobson took time out from his no doubt very busy schedule as a professional Child Psychologist, complete with Ph.D, to address the masses with a blistering attack on Barack Obama. The target of his ire? Obama’s Christianity. Unbelievable. Some gems from this diatribe:

Barack Obama “deliberately distorts the Bible…”

Obama is “…dragging biblical understanding through the gutter…”

… in order to “wilfully confuse people…”

and who has a “fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, James Dobson, Biblical Scholar, Theologian, Lawyer, and Pontiff of American Evangelicalism!

In all seriousness, I suppose I should be grateful for the fact that I do not know by what authority Dobson believes he can go off like this. Certainly not on his authority as a child psychologist. He rightly claims he has no religious or theological credentials other than whe he himself believes. But the fact is that millions of Christians have listened to him promote his version of Christianity now for over 30 years. Among evangelicals, perhaps only Billy Graham has spent more time and exercised more evangelical influence in Washington than Dobson.

But Dobson is not a politician. Child psychologists, even if they exercise influence over a lot of people (primarily Boomers, from what I can tell… the largest voting bloc), don’t belong in partisan politics the way Dobson and so many other evangelicals with a little influence, a healthy dash of media savvy, and a lot of cash have done. Personally I don’t care what Dobson thinks politically. One of the great things about the US is exactly the freedom to disagree over politics, policy, religion, and so on, without fear of imperial repercussions. But I find it absolutely reprehensible that Dobson and others of his ilk attack Obama’s faith for what can only be interpreted as political dream of evangelical theocracy.

Dobson’s diatribe, in fact, says very little about Obama’s current campaign. Instead, Dobson and his henchman Tom Minnery go after Obama’s 2006 Call to Renewal Speech, which deserves to be in the canon of great American speeches. If Obama is distorting the Bible, as Dobson alleges (being the biblical expert and all that he seems to be), Dobson has distorted Obama’s Call to Renewal speech in such a way that strains credibility. (Maybe that will prove to be a good thing.)

And so it is with great disgust that I present the 2008 Just Shut Up! Award to Dr. James Dobson.

moses.jpgGood grief. I’d have to say that, after this article, I’m going to agree with the rabbi quoted at the end: “We have to fear not for the fate of the biblical Moses, but for the fate of science.” Indeed, if this is what scientists find to do with their time, then only God can save the planet after all.

Jon LesterI am a sports fan. Not simply a fan of my hometown Boston teams, which I am, but of the sports that these teams play. I love the games of baseball and football, and I’ve watched my fair share of the Celtics and Bruins in basketball and hockey while I was growing up. Sport inspires me, and occasionally you hear great stories of athletes who overcome incredible odds to do something they love. One of the most powerful moments for me last baseball season, for example, was the return of Jon Lester to the mound after beating cancer (at least for the time being). I remember Mario Lemieux’s triumphant return to the ice after his own battle with cancer. Josh Hamilton’s story is one of an all-world talent, drafted out of high school, who was led to the depths of potential suicide, only to make his major league debut on the baseball diamond for the Cincinnati Reds last season after battling demons of drugs and depression. This past football season, I watched on TV as Kevin Everett nearly lost his life on the football field and who was supposedly not ever going to be able to walk again, let alone play football. And it was only a few months later, in the same season, that Everett was able to walk onto the field at Giants Stadium, inspiring the Bills, the Gians, and football fans nationwide.

I am not alone here, of course. Millions of sports fans worldwide likely feel the same way. But here in America, our passion for sport has created a monster of idolatrous proportions. Here, right in our midst, is our very own golden statue, one that Nebuchadnezzar himself would have been proud of. And the ramifications of that statue’s presence is on full display today on Capitol Hill. One of my childhood idols, Roger Clemens, will almost certainly face perjury charges for lying under oath in a Congressional hearing over his reported use of performance enhancing drugs. Not far from this, Sen. Arlen Specter is grilling the commissioner of the National Football League over its handling of the now-notorious “Spygate” incident that involves my hometown New England Patriots. All this while the same government is passing new surveillance laws, is unable to do anything about healthcare, and is unable or unwilling to stand up against the Iraq war. But against cheating in professional sports? Call in the bastards! This is America! There’s no cheating or blackmarking our great pasttimes! They’re not going to get away with this!

The golden statue of American Sport is casting a very, very long shadow. For years, I have looked forward to spring training. It is a sign of hope, of forgiveness of the past, of looking to the future. But I’m finding it awfully hard to embrace the upcoming season. I wish that Roger Clemens would have just come clean, as so many other athletes are doing when caught using PEDs. His career would still be over. His reputation would still have taken a massive hit. Now, however, Clemens is adding his own shadow to that of the Golden Statue. Between the two of them, its getting hard to see the light from a game that many of us have loved our whole lives. A GAME.

Jayson Stark of ESPN notes that he thinks this is bigger than Watergate, of Oliver North, even of McCarthy hearings. Over GAMES.

The darkest shadow of all is that he may very well be right.

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