Politics


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.

Like a lot of us, I’m watching the Massachusetts special election for “The Kennedy Seat” with great interest. I grew up in the commonwealth, went to college there, got married there, went to seminary there, and worked there for a long time before moving to New York in 2005.  In some ways, I kind of wish I could sneak into the polls in West Stockbridge, just across the New York border, and cast a vote.

Many of my friends, family, and former high school buddies are seriously on the Scott Brown bandwagon. Most of them are on the South Shore (or grew up there), which is the only real Republican-leaning part of Massachusetts. Growing up, my parents joked that the South Shore should be its own state, since it does its own thing anyway. So I suspect that’s one reason for the Brown appeal for a lot of people I know who actually have a say in how it all turns out today.

As I see things, there are only two real issues that people really care much about in this election at the moment: Health Care and the Economy. (The Boston Globe has a little unofficial survey on the issues here.) Brown is repeatedly on record as being against health care reform, and has pledged to vote against it if he is elected. While this might not sound like much, if he follows through with this, it will be the 41st “nay” vote in the Senate, which will kill the bill at least as it is currently constituted. THIS, more than any other reason, is why the nation is so captivated with this election. It won’t just affect Massachusetts; it will impact the millions without coverage because they can’t afford it (which includes yours truly) nationwide. But this very issue is, I suspect, a very minor one for many who are voting for him, because Massachusetts has mandatory health coverage for every citizen anyway.  The most important Senate vote of our generation is coming down to this, and it’s in the hands of voters for whom this issue isn’t much of an issue.

Just for kicks, here’s the Globe’s take on where each candidate stands on issues that the candidates are stumping for in Massachusetts. If I still lived there, I’d have made a scorecard, which would look like this:  Coakley 3, Brown 1 (barely) and Undecided 1. I’d be in the booth for Coakley.

On behalf of all of us who have been screwed over by the current health care system, get out and vote. Preferably for Martha Coakley.

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.

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.

summumRan across this fascinating piece today. Apparently a very small religious sect that calls itself “Summum” (a Latin word that means summit or culmination) wants to erect a monument to their Seven Aphorisms similar to a 10 commandments monument that is already in the same park. The group believes that these Seven Aphorisms are actually the original commandments received by Moses on Sinai and then smashed. The Mayor of the town wants nothing to do with the monument, citing constitutional infringement of the first amendment; allowing the monument to be put up would violate the disestablishment clause. Summum, however, argues that refusal violates the free exercise clause and that there’s already a 10 Commandments monument there anyhow.

This is fascinating on a number of levels. On the surface, it seems like the same fight over 10 commandments monuments on public/government property. But there’s another variable here, and it’s one that is very familiar to “fringe” religious sects, and that is whether or not the religion itself is viable. At least the 10 commandments are a known quantity. I suspect that there would be less resistance to an additional monument if it were inscribed with Buddhism’s 4 Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path or even Jesus’ Beatitudes. The problem is similar to that faced by Santeria practitioners who seek to buy property to hold sacrificial worship services but who are legally fought with because, being so unknown and misunderstood, they are potentially a menace to the common good, and the government has an obligation to protect its citizens from anything, religious or otherwise, that threaten them. Erecting a monumental icon to be placed next to the 10 commandments would seem to imply that the government recognizes Summum to be safe, well-known, and so on. Summum seems to brand itself as a mixture of Judaism, Gnosticism, and ancient Egyptian religion. No doubt it would have been right at home in the third and fourth centuries in Egypt, just before ancient Jewish-Egyptian influenced Gnosticism went underground after the orthodox imperialization of Christianity.

Prediction: unless Summum just says “never mind,” the park will lose its 10 commandments monument in this process.

obama-globe

My first reaction to the announcement that Senator John McCain called Barack Obama with his congratulations and concession was to let out a primal scream of joy. Until I realized that it’s a little after 11 pm here and the wife and kids are sleeping. So I figured I’d do it here.

I have already seen blog posts, facebook status updates, reader comments, and so on that have basically said “to hell with America, it deserves what it gets” or “God will judge us now worse than he did Israel” and the like. I find this abysmally sad. Make no mistake; Obama is not a messiah, nor is he bringing the kingdom of God. For which we can only be thankful. But to a nation that is consumed with fear, Barack Obama provides a beacon of hope. John McCain might have been able to do the same. But his campaign, intimidated by the popularity of Obama’s politics of hope over a Rovian politics of fear, could not answer appropriately.

The age of politics of fear should be over. (If that’s what you want, I refer you to James Dobson and the remnants of the Religions Right.) It may well be that President Obama is unable to deliver all of the goods. I personally feel that it is unreasonable to expect him to. But there is all the difference between “hope” and “expectation.” Obama has consistently delivered hope, not expectation. Indeed, the only expectations have come from his opponents, which is an expecation of worst-case scenarios designed to play on the fears of those who can only see their disagreements with Obama.

I have never been more proud to be an American than I am this night. I have also never been more proud to be a Christian, and an evangelical one at that.

Benedict’s Scoreboard (Home Team in Blue…)

[clearspring_widget title=”Decision ’08 Presidential Results” wid=”48ff995c49a30ff2″ pid=”491105cefdd03a05″ width=”400″ height=”545″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

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, I just received an email from the head of an organization we’re part of.

Hello All:
Please view this attached video and send it to your church and family and
friends. It is nonpartisan and is legal for a church to show. It upholds our
countries values and is distributed by the AFA.
Thank you

This is kinda like the voters’ scorecard used in churches that I wrote about last January. The idea of these being non partisan is just ludicrous. But more to the point, it preys on those who think the only “values” in this country happen to be part of Republican-Religious Right discourse that most of us are sick of. On the page I was referred to, 7 of “our countries” values are listed, which are of course the values that are the most important to the AFA and the Religious Right. 4 are abortion related, and three are homosexuality related. The site even goes so far as to suggest that a certain candidate (you can guess which one they have in mind) actually supports infanticide. Un-freaking-believable. These are the exact same values espoused as the “official” Republican party values. (Insert chicken-and-egg question here.)

Here’s what I’d like to see. I’d like to see the AFA and other conservative church organizations realize that the country is moving forward. There are values besides these, and they’re more pressing and even more “biblical.” I can’t do much better than Jim Wallis’ list, so I’ll post it here:

  1. With more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about how we treat the poor and oppressed, I will examine the record, plans, policies, and promises made by the candidates on what they will do to overcome the scandal of extreme global poverty and the shame of such unnecessary domestic poverty in the richest nation in the world. Such a central theme of the Bible simply cannot be ignored at election time, as too many Christians have done for years. And any solution to the economic crisis that simply bails out the rich, and even the middle class, but ignores those at the bottom should simply be unacceptable to people of faith.
  2. From the biblical prophets to Jesus, there is, at least, a biblical presumption against war and the hope of beating our swords into instruments of peace. So I will choose the candidates who will be least likely to lead us into more disastrous wars and find better ways to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world and make us all safer. I will choose the candidates who seem to best understand that our security depends upon other people’s security (everyone having “their own vine and fig tree, so no one can make them afraid,” as the prophets say) more than upon how high we can build walls or a stockpile of weapons. Christians should never expect a pacifist president, but we can insist on one who views military force only as a very last resort, when all other diplomatic and economic measures have failed, and never as a preferred or habitual response to conflict.
  3. “Choosing life” is a constant biblical theme, so I will choose candidates who have the most consistent ethic of life, addressing all the threats to human life and dignity that we face — not just one. Thirty-thousand children dying globally each day of preventable hunger and disease is a life issue. The genocide in Darfur is a life issue. Health care is a life issue. War is a life issue. The death penalty is a life issue. And on abortion, I will choose candidates who have the best chance to pursue the practical and proven policies which could dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and therefore save precious unborn lives, rather than those who simply repeat the polarized legal debates and “pro-choice” and “pro-life” mantras from either side.
  4. God’s fragile creation is clearly under assault, and I will choose the candidates who will likely be most faithful in our care of the environment. In particular, I will choose the candidates who will most clearly take on the growing threat of climate change, and who have the strongest commitment to the conversion of our economy and way of life to a cleaner, safer, and more renewable energy future. And that choice could accomplish other key moral priorities like the redemption of a dangerous foreign policy built on Middle East oil dependence, and the great prospects of job creation and economic renewal from a new “green” economy built on more spiritual values of conservation, stewardship, sustainability, respect, responsibility, co-dependence, modesty, and even humility.
  5. Every human being is made in the image of God, so I will choose the candidates who are most likely to protect human rights and human dignity. Sexual and economic slavery is on the rise around the world, and an end to human trafficking must become a top priority. As many religious leaders have now said, torture is completely morally unacceptable, under any circumstances, and I will choose the candidates who are most committed to reversing American policy on the treatment of prisoners. And I will choose the candidates who understand that the immigration system is totally broken and needs comprehensive reform, but must be changed in ways that are compassionate, fair, just, and consistent with the biblical command to “welcome the stranger.”
  6. Healthy families are the foundation of our community life, and nothing is more important than how we are raising up the next generation. As the father of two young boys, I am deeply concerned about the values our leaders model in the midst of the cultural degeneracy assaulting our children. Which candidates will best exemplify and articulate strong family values, using the White House and other offices as bully pulpits to speak of sexual restraint and integrity, marital fidelity, strong parenting, and putting family values over economic values? And I will choose the candidates who promise to really deal with the enormous economic and cultural pressures that have made parenting such a “countercultural activity” in America today, rather than those who merely scapegoat gay people for the serious problems of heterosexual family breakdown.

That’s my wishlist as well, and a lot more “non-partisan” besides.

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.

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