February 27, 2005

Interesting essay on the issue of history and religion in America

The New York Times > Week in Review > Putting God Back Into American History

"Barton is a very hard-working researcher, but what I guess I worry about is the collapsing of historical distance, and the effort to make really anybody fit directly into the category of the early 21st century evangelicals," said Mark A. Noll, a prominent historian at Wheaton College, a prestigious evangelical school."

I have the utmost respect for Noll. He is a solid scholar and thoughtful Christian to boot, but I think he is being far too kind here. Barton's "research" is all flawed because he starts with a conclusion and only looks for evidence to bolster that conclusion. As Noll notes, there are certainly Ivy League historians who do the same thing from the other side, but that is no excuse for Barton. History is written with good questions in mind, not with conclusions. Barton assumes that our founders and good Americans along the line have all believed like him, and so he picks and chooses the quotes to justify that. He also ignores anything that works against him--something all historians have to battle with. But he doesn't even try. After all, like Bush, he believes that God is on his side. The rest of the historical profession doesn't have that luxury. Please stop calling Barton a historian. He is a propagandist.

"People care passionately about the founders because they want the founders to be like them," Mr. Brookhiser said. "So you get this from Christians, and you get it from secularists who say the founders are like them and want them to be 'closet deists.' " His own view: "They probably couldn't conceive that the country could ever change so much. But, look, if they wanted a Christian state they could have done it. They were writing the rules. They could have put God in the rules."

Great point and one that is often missed when people look at the past. People like to identify with these figures in history--either completely positive or completely negative. We appropriate these figures, remove them from history, and use them for our own purposes. And, as he notes, people on the left do it too. I don't deny that. But Barton and his crowd do it exclusively. That is history to him.

Building on that point, we have to recognize that people in the past are complicated and often contradictory. They say one thing, do another. It happens. They want one thing, and act for another. Both sides in this debate forget that. Can't we acknowledge that Christianity made a huge contribution to our nation's founding, but that contribution was both positive and negative? Christianity pushed for moral values in our nation, but also defended and fought for slavery and Indian eradication? Both are true.

"Sure, God shows up on the bad stuff," Mr. Barton said in an interview. "We don't hear much about the five revivals in American history, but we always hear about the Salem witch trials." Still, he said, he only sought to dust off the fact of the founders' Christianity, not to argue for or against it. "If we are arguing off the premise that we have to be secular today because we have always been secular," he said, "then we are arguing off the wrong premise."

Barton is the king of bad logic. As a culture, we have always been and continue to be quite religious. But it is also clear that many people feared combining that religion with our public policy. And the Salem remark makes me really think that Barton hasn't read much history. Many historians, certainly Boyer and Nissenbaum do not blame Christianity for Salem. They approach it as a community problem that has more to do with economic opportunity. Here is where Barton's lack of training shows up. He doesn't really know the past except for what he wants to know.

Unfortunately, a lot of people listen to him. That may be ultimately the fault of the professional historian crowd who don't know how to communicate to the public. But it also shows how the conservative church has distanced itself from intellectual debate--or at least decided it doesn't have to listen to intellectual debate it disagrees with. I think that might be the definition of anti-intellectualism.

To avoid ending this post on a bad note, let me suggest some good readings. Mark Noll, as noted above, is a very good historian. His Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is a must read, though it will likely be confronting for some. He has co-written another book on American religious history--Search for Christian America, and others. Nathan Hatch's Democratization of American Christianity is a great book, and I have already plugged Paul Boyer's Salem Possessed, but it is a great read. He also wrote a great book on the historical background of the Tim LaHaye view of end times. When Time Shall Be No More. Please don't just listen to David Barton. Read some of these books. And there are more. Leave any suggestions in the comments.

February 26, 2005

Why am I not in church?

JWS raised an excellent question yesterday when he asked about my view of the church. As he and Anglican remind me, there are a lot of people in "the" church who share my values. The Anglican church was not pro-war, and has been progressive on many issues I care about. The two here in town are active about poverty and social justice and are not just local meetings for the republican party, though I know some repubs attend both.

I too often refer to "the church" and really mean the conservative church. That is my past and I am trying to make sense of it. There is much positive there, and I am not badmouthing or dismissing the entire conservative church, but as my other posts reveal, I am annoyed with their political and social direction. JWS referred to it (perhaps tongue in cheek) as prophesying. I don't know about that, but I do see things that bother me about the conservative church.

Why don't I go to church? As in many things, this is a complicated question with a complicated answer. (You really didn't think I would answer this one simply, did you? :) ) I grew tired of church at some point. The last church I attended was SBC in Houston and it was actually everything I love and despise about church all in one building. This was an impressive church--one that refused to leave the inner city of Houston for the suburbs--that didn't have bowling alleys or health clubs or restaurants on their grounds (things that 1st and 2nd Baptist did). The church spent a lot of effort on helping the poor, and the sick. Before many in the SBC had figured this out, this church was active helping people with AIDS.

The pastor was a true intellectual. I went to meet with him and we discussed literature, history and philosophy. He had read widely and those references showed up in his sermons. He was one of those truly gifted speakers, who almost sang his sermons--weaving in thoughtful and in-depth insights not just on the Bible, but on other issues of the day.

He was a rarity in my mind, because one of the reasons I no longer attend a SBC church is the weight attached to the sermon. Greg reminds me that sermons have a place in our churches for people to speak prophetically. (That don't mean predicting the future, either, but speaking critically of the day). And I recognize that. I think, however, that centering a service around a 30+ minute sermon is, in most hands, mind numbing. And that was one of the reasons I stopped going. Listening to people drone on with largely redundant sermons started to really bug me. Only so much day dreaming I could do. I finally decided that I preferred my Sunday mornings a different way.

But what about the rest of church, you ask? Well, Sunday School as long as I can remember (with some exceptions) was more of a waste than church. I really would like to find the person who came up with the SS Quarterly and have a few words. That thing was pure crap. I never realized it growing up, but it is part and parcel of the dumbing down of the SBC church. No complex theology need apply, SS becomes like the Simpsons parodies it. Most questions can be answered with "love, Jesus," or possibly "Jesus loves."

Certainly along the way, there were some teachers who stepped outside that pabulum and taught interesting and engaging lessons, but those were the rarity. Even at this church in Houston, the ss class we first joined was about as mindless as possible. We loved all the other couples in the class and our teachers were so nice. But the class blew. I was just starting grad school at the time and was developing a short fuse for mindless talk. I finally found an alternative class where there were some real ideas bouncing around.

The other issue was political. Having always been a SBC person, we watched in horror as conservatives took over the SBC and proceeded to gut it. After talking to Bruce Prescott, I realize we were right at the epicenter of the resistance movement, but didn't realize it. When we left Houston, I had enough of that denomination and was right in the middle of grad school. At that point, I had lost interest and simply didn't have it in me to start again.

Ok, where am I now?

I have toyed with some local churches and most likely would be an Anglican if I were to attend. I am still trying to figure church out and determine what we are supposed to be or trying to do there. That is why I asked the worship question, and I am interested in what people think of prayer and even the purpose for church. I am not badmouthing those who go, but I haven't figured it out for me.

I think I will attend a church in the future. Let me say, however, that there are certain churches that need not apply (or visit).

1) not interested in a church that is built around a personality. I don't think that is the purpose of the church anyway, but when that person leaves, the church is usually hosed. This includes liberal churches. And while I am speaking on that, as much as I dislike most sermons, I want someone with theology training, not communication. This isn't a performance.

2) not interested in a church that is still arguing about the following things: women's equality, women pastors, or having men as head of the family. I am not saying you can't talk about those things, but I am done with it. I have spent far too much time around bright and thoughtful women (even married one) to tell women to submit or not speak. Like I said, if that is what you want, cool. But don't expect me to be interested. I don't want to change your church, but I won't be attending.

3) Likewise, if the discussion is still about innerrancy I am not interested.

4) I also don't really want to attend a church with the American flag next to the alter. I am a proud American (except when Bush speaks), but I don't like this combination. I think it is dangerous to both the church and our democracy. No pledge of allegiance, no pro-military celebrations, no Toby Keith (though I think that goes without saying).

5) while I am on a list of don'ts, here are a few more. No PowerPoint, no CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), no canned music, no crosses on rollers (really saw this in Texas).

In the meantime, I am still trying to figure out what Church is about. I have a pretty strong community around me--made all the stronger by the blogworld, I might add. I find contemplation in other areas, and can study theological issues on my own. I engage with other "believers" all the time. Like I said, I think I will be a part of a church in the future.

February 25, 2005

Comment and interesting question

JWS left an interesting comment on my selling out post and asks a damn good question. One that I fully intend to answer. Just not tonight.

Streak's Blog: Thoughts on selling out: "Which begs a question. Just how is it that you find yourself so disassociated from the Church? To wit, a body of believers, the Body of Christ? Or are you just speaking of the Church, the political institution that meets under the auspices of religiosity?

February 24, 2005

Thoughts on selling out

I have been thinking about what I said in that post and think that it deserves a little more thought. Yes, I think the church has sold out, but I don't think it has received what it thinks it has. "Bait and Switch," should be the cry. You have given what appears to be unquestioned loyalty to this Bush guy in return for..... what? A few smattering of phrases in speeches about faith and Jesus? Working in some hymn phrases in State of the Union speeches? That seems to be all you are getting unless you really value the wealthy more than the poor, and you truly think that the environment doesn't matter. If you are that easy to buy, think about who else will be willing to pay.

I know, I know. I am too hard on the conservative church. I easily fall into the same trap they do, demeaning well-intentioned opposition and dismissing their claims. It's hard not to when your Compassionate Christian Bush has a budget that cuts benefits for the poor while padding the pockets of the rich.

But I am redundant. I know you won't become Democrats, and I can respect that. Not only are there many problems with the DNC, but there is a long and worthy tradition of conservative thought in this country. (Remember I said that when you badmouth liberals, btw).

But, you in the church have become distracted by unsolvable or imaginary problems while ignoring real moral and social ills that can be helped. You need to stop this badmouthing of gays. You aren't stopping anyone from being gay--you are merely insuring that they will hate you. Is that really what you want? They laugh about you--how you talk about compassion and love, but are perfectly willing to badmouth them and their families. Stop it.

And you are easily distracted trying to convince the rest of us that a) America is a Christian nation, and b) that means that your views are superior. Everytime you load up busses of people to go support a fascist like Roy Moore, you look silly. When you organize protests about the "under God" phrase, you look silly.

Here is a radical thought. You want to prove that America is a Christian nation and that your view of Christianity is so very powerful? Do it. But not by rallying around televangelists and opportunists. Not by buying Tim LaHaye and Rick Warren books. Not by lionizing a nut like Mel Gibson.

Do it, as the kids say, "old school." Take as your challenge to America to dramatically reduce poverty and uninsured people in this country. Work with liberals and Catholics who are concerned about this and let your actions be your witness. Eradicate child poverty. Reduce the uninsured so the poor can attempt good health. Eradicate infant mortality. Investigate and act when corporations endanger the poor by dumping carcinogens into drinking water.

You say you want them to work? Fine. Don't confuse the work with deserving to live, but we all agree that work and some degree of autonomy is a good thing. Teach the poor to read and help them get jobs. Help them avoid the traps of consuming themselves into poor health or bankruptcy. Help them form sustainable businesses that make a difference to their community. Put pressure on Congress to force insurance companies to open up these pools to the poor and working poor.

All these things I just said? They are possible. And if these were your priorities, you would not only demonstrate Christ's love, you would validate yourselves as institutions across this land. You would not have to battle over whether we were a christian nation or not, because even non-Christians would respect you as doing good work.

Unless, of course, you prefer to be disliked. And if you do, maybe you need to talk to a therapist.

February 23, 2005

This is funny and sad all at the same time

"feed the rich. The other day I was walkin down the street an I saw another one. He was practically freezin in the bitter cold; all he had was a tin cup, a three-piece suit, and a limousine with no minibar. He had a sign that said WILL CHEAT EMPLOYEES OUT OF RETIREMENT PLANS FOR FOOD. It was another homeless CEO. "

read the whole thing here

Greg is shrill, and I like it!

the parish: Villagers! Pitchforks! Torches!: "We're entering into a new age of academic (and ecclesial) coercion. The Southern Baptist Convention has been at it for a while. I understand the Nazarene Church is considering a measure to subject theology and religion professors to examination by regional or district superintendents. Great! Guys with business degrees and D.Min.'s cross-examining theologians about theology. The conservative, evangelical churches are not going to be happy until this purity movement has eliminated all traces of 'liberalism.' That's a scary, scary way to do church, theology, and community. It squashes theological investigation, silences prophetic voices, and exalts a sort of theological mediocrity that coheres to least common denominator ecclesiology. When we all look like a Purpose Driven Church, when we all sound like Bill Hybels, when Krispy Kremes are available at every visitor information center, when the Bible is once again inerrant and infallible, when women will keep silent in churches and men will scream 'Maximus!' while fencing with the devil, and when the damn homosexuals and liberals are finally cast out of the churches, then the Al Mohlers and Boards of Regents and Presidents of universities and bishops of denominations can rest content that the kingdom has come. Maranatha, Hazel Motes."

Out of curiosity

I visited several of the religious right web sites curious to see how they were dealing with the Guckert/Gannon story. They are ignoring it. Completely.

Several commentators have made an excellent point. The gay prostitute angle is really distracting from a much more important and bigger question--one I might add that conservatives are avoiding like the plague. How did someone get a press pass (requires Secret Service clearance, mind you) under a false name? He could be a Bible salesman and this question would still be pressing.

Make no mistake, had this happened under Clinton, we would be hearing about impeachment at the very least. The outrage would be deafening. The right would be up in arms about liberals and their lax security--playfullness with the truth, etc. But when a conservative President is the one with the fake reporter having access to the highest office, mums the word. This administration is so arrogant, I would not be surprised to find more fake reporters. They hold the press and the public with such disdain, we are amazed.

Once again, I ask, will my conservative readers show half the outrage they mustered for Clinton? Will they consider how they would have responded to this had it happened to Clinton? Will they at least try to adjust that disparity?

Conservatives, you are the only ones who can stop your party from a complete hijacking. If you really care about moral values, then you are responsible for demanding that your party act that way.

February 22, 2005

One more on Gannon/Guckert

Wichita Eagle | 02/21/2005 | LEONARD PITTS: ALL THE NEWS THAT FITS THE REPUBLICAN LINE: "Three weeks later, I'm still waiting for a good explanation of what Jeff Gannon was doing in the White House. And for you to be upset about it."

Exactly. I was going to bed, but thinking about this bothered me so much. Not that the guy is a partisan hack. Not that he is gay and has worked as a gay prostitute (though the last is troubling--simply because it is so self-destructive) and it isn't even the connection to Karl Rove. I have long since been surprised when this guy does something sleezy.

No, my frustration is once again with my conservative friends. The same ones who were indignant with self-righteous anger when Clinton cavorted with Monica (and they were correct that his actions were immoral). Had this happened under Clinton (no pun intended) imagine the outcry. I can hear my conservative friends tsking, "Well, that is what you get with an immoral person like Clinton." and "What do you expect. He can't control his pants, has no morals and hangs around with liberals and lesbians." Hell, I heard on Christian radio that Hilary was gay (and a Marxist).

But for some reason King George continues to escape their outrage. I am beginning to think that they have turned their brains completely off. No need to even question Bush. No need to question Rove. No need. He is talking to God, afterall, unlike Clinton. Or Carter. Of course, Jimmy found a way to attend church--something this Bush is too busy to do. But he is talking to God. And God tells him to protect the rich and bomb other countries. And the evangelical community is silent and even approving.

That is horrible, horrible theology and even worse reasoning. I blogged once that Bush was the worst thing for evangelicals in recent memory because he had fooled them so much and lured them into being shills for a ruthless politician posing as a pius Christian. This most recent event just reinforces that thought. Bush could do just about anything except cheat on Laura and the Bushites would just nod and talk about how moral he is.

The evangelical church is done. Finished. It sold its soul to something far more earthly and base. Might as well start selling ad space next to the steeple. Hey, if you sell out, might as well sell out!

Violence not a good idea, but I feel for this guy

this is aberdeen - news, entertainment, jobs, homes and cars: "A disabled driver who lost his leg in a horrific motorbike smash today defended his decision to smash a teenage girl's car windscreen. "

It pisses me off when I see some fat ass park in the handicapped zone outside Starbucks, so I can imagine how this made this guy feel.

I will say this: people talk about the most important thing that kids should learn? I say compassion for other people should be number 1.

Doesn't impress me

Just curious. Do these people ask that Bush act like a Christian? Or just use some words? And one last thing. Were they praying for Clinton?

Let's just consider this: Compassion? Christian?

I am a bit churlish today. Stressed to the gills and annoyed with this administration. I continue to be stunned that people who wouldn't hang out with, respect, or support a man as arrogant and ruthless as GWB for PTA, continue to support and defend him as President.

But the thing that disappoints the most is the disconnect between what is supposedly moral and christian and what this administration does. This administration talks about being Christian, but doesn't act it. Consider this story about that budget. Jim Wallis is right, budgets are moral documents and this one is immoral.

We are cutting benefits for disabled poor people while increasing support for abstinence only programs that don't work and making tax cuts for already wealthy people permanent. Could someone please fill me in on the Christian morality here? Is there a verse that I am missing about teaching the disabled to beg while rewarding the wealthy? Is this really what Jesus would do?

The New York Times > New York Region > Bush Budget Proposes Halt in Housing Aid for Disabled: "With little fanfare, the Bush administration is proposing to stop financing the construction of new housing for the mentally ill and physically handicapped as part of a 50 percent cut in its housing budget for people with disabilities.

The proposal, which has been overshadowed by the administration's plans to shrink its community development programs, affects what is known as the Section 811 program. Since 1998, Section 811 has helped nonprofit developers produce more than 11,000 units of housing for low-income people with disabilities, including more than 700 in New York State."

And like I said the other day, I am expecting my conservative friends to speak out on this stuff. I don't expect you to become a liberal, but you should ask your representatives or President to act in ways that represent this faith. And this faith isn't to bolster the rich, is it? If it is, I am not interested.

But I don't think it is. This faith calls us all to make a difference in our world and that means reaching out like the Samaritan--not passing up the poor and needy. There is no passage that says "God helps those who help themselves," but there apparently is one that says "Let us help the Rich and leave the poor to their own misery."

This is wrong, and I think you all know it. if you want me to respect this faith, you have to show at least some concern for the poor--at least a portion of what you will show for Roy Moore's ridiculous 10 commandments idol or the "under god" phrase in the pledge. Those are all trivial items. The poor are not. We can disagree about my gay friends, and we can disagree about the best way to reduce abortions. But how do we, as the wealthiest country in the world, turn our backs on the poor?

And what is more troubling. We are doing that even as Christian talk is used in the highest offices in the land. I would prefer to be led by compassionate and thoughtful athiests any day than having to follow compassionless Christians.

Go Reggie

Blame America? When Necessary, Yes. : "However, as a critic of the president, I speak for a lot of people when I say that it's not simple partisanship that motivates us. Many of us believe that President Bush is doing great harm to the United States, and we're concerned about where our nation will stand four years from now."

Interesting column. Two points. One is that many people are writing that they are convinced that Bush is planning to invade Iran soon. Do my conservative readers still think that is a good idea? Will you really give Bush a free hand to do whatever he wants?

Second, as Reggie notes, the "blame America first " accusation is a weird one. Why can people bash the Clinton administration's policies, yet have a cow if someone criticizes Bush's policies? Why are our foreign policy decisions over the last 50 years off limits? Can't you suggest that some of our current problems have to do with bad decisions in the past without being assumed to be anti-American? Put it this way. People love to bash the New Deal. How do you do that and not be America bashing?

February 21, 2005

For my conservative readers

I know that my conservative readers are hardly to vote for a John Kerry. You just won't. You are conservative and I can accept that. So, I don't write this to urge you to switch parties, but merely to urge reasonable policy from your own.

Consider this. What would you do if your president said that there was some evidence that child immunizations were the cause of some medical problems and he was no longer funding them. In fact, he was providing more funding for "alternative" programs that pledged to keep kids safe from polio and rhubella sans immunization. What would you do?

I suspect that most conservatives would say that was dangerous public policy that flew in the face of accepted knowledge on disease and endangered children's lives.

The analogy is not perfect, but it points exactly to what the Bush administration is doing with sex ed. As Nicholas Kristof points out (thanks, btw, to Bad Catholic for the link):

"You see, for all the carnage in President Bush's budget, one program is being showered with additional cash - almost three times as much as it got in 2001. It's 'abstinence only' sex education, and the best research suggests that it will cost far more lives than the Clinton administration's much more notorious sex scandal."

The research shows that the abstinence only programs do not stop kids from having sex. It might be delayed a year, but they are still having sex. And they are far more likely to have unprotected sex when they do.

Make no mistake about it, this is not a wash. This is not just a different way of doing policy that conservatives have won by controlling all branches of government. It isn't just an academic or moral discussion about premarital sex. It is a policy that ignores evidence and puts kids at risk--just as much as if it were suggesting that these kids not be immunized. Or if they were telling parents to not buy car seats. Sure, the kids might be fine in their parent's arms, but the evidence says that the odds are in their favor in a well-made car seat. They might not contract polio, but the odds are in their favor if they are immunized.

They might not have premaritial sex, but the odds are in their favor if they have the tools in hand to make that decision understanding the risks and options of contraceptives.

But Bush is pushing this for his conservative evangelical supporters. Nevermind that he didn't follow that abstinence only program as a kid, understand that he is only pandering here. You can change that and still support him as president (as much as that thought boggles my mind.)

Write your rep and senator and urge them to oppose this. Write the President. Tell him you supported his war, that you voted for his reelection. And tell them you support abstinence and want kids to not be sexually active, but these ab only programs are dangerous and real children will die if we enact them. More than if we don't. It is really that serious.

Worship discussion continued

This post spurred some interesting discussion. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I am still a bit confused about worship. I liked many of the answers. Kevin seems to say that it is an act of respect? Maybe? That we practice worship, regardless of how we feel about ourselves or God at the time. Anonymous also suggests that it is an act that causes us to focus away from ourselves.

GirlGrace, Kathy and JoeG seemed to say that worship is something you experience--kind of that connection to the creator? I am probably misstating your beliefs here, but that is kind of what I heard. I liked Kathy's statement that it "bypasses the reasoning part of the mind and stops where wonder is born." JoeG suggested that it was something that transforms your own life and actually changes how you live. GirlGrace argued that worship is the demonstration God's love toward other people.

Very interesting and, again, I apologize if I misstated anyone's thoughts. Feel free to correct me. I am still unsure what form it takes, but think these are some good places to start. Like GirlGrace, I have experienced something like this outside the church setting, but as Kevin noted, I have found great meaning in church ritual.

I like all of these. Like I said myself in the comments, the one thing I distrust about the word is involved in things like "praise and worship" that, in my mind, manipulate the emotional state of people with music. I have been to enough concerts and even political rallies to know how easy that emotional state can be to create. It isn't a bad thing, mind you, but not necessarily something I would call worship.

I really liked one of GirlGrace's comments on the idea that God doesn't need to be told how great he is. Reminded me of this post from Micah McCarty on the subject.
"But one of the things that he said in the interview really stuck with me. I have had this problem with the whole worship movement of the past several years. I tend to think it is rather shallow and self-serving. Father Boyle seems to feel the same way. He was talking about how we are always singing songs about how good God is and how kind or forgiving or caring, etc. Father Boyle thinks Jesus just looks at us and laughs because He would rather us just be good ourselves and kind and forgiving and caring instead of singing about how He personifies those characteristics.

Therein lies my main problem with the whole worship movement thing. Doesn't it make sense that we are supposed to DO and BE these things instead of singing about how God does them or IS them? That seems to me to be the point of spiritual formation, you know, the whole becoming like Christ thing. But so often we are satisfied with just telling God that we recognize his goodness without ever letting his goodness transform us into being good ourselves. Maybe I'm crazy. I definitely don't think this is a popular idea in most current evangelical circles."

February 20, 2005


We are back from our weekend. A few quick observations.

*First night had dinner at an amazing Taos restaurant. I have tried to eat there before, but the wait was always a problem. Waited outside with a nice couple from South Carolina and then another couple from Denver. The first two were both women and watching them with each other was nice. Hard to observe people who clearly love each other that much and dismiss their experience. Anymore than the second couple who were straight. South Caroline must be a tough place to be gay.

*Texas sucks. During our day and a half in Taos, we ran into several people from Texas and they all annoyed us. (Sorry KL!:)
One of the guests at our B&B wore a UT sweatshirt to breakfast this morning. I made an OU joke, one that acknowledged that they had a better bowl season--she was still a bitch. UT sucks. One nearly ran us off the road pulling his snowmobiles. How obnoxious is that? Snowmobiles are obnoxious to begin with, and then towing them from Texas? Suck.

*Taos is amazing. Great ski hill and really nice town.

*New Mexico still has many racist elements. The entire I-40 drive showed us great old Native American symbols (used to sell trinkets and hats) like, Running Indian (complete with headdress and tomahawk). Horrible. Of course, given that Ann Coulter (tolerated by good Republicans everywhere) wrote an anti-Ward Churchill essay entitled "Little Injun that could", we should not be that surprised. Think of all the analogous references for African Americans or Jews or Italians and then ask if those would be used in a column. Native Americans aren't mascots or punching bags--they are people. I wish that Ann Coulter was.

*Still a great trip. Met some really nice people. Glad to be back.

February 18, 2005

Light Blogging

I will be offline for a bit. Keep coming with the worship definitions. Hah, I gave blog homework.

February 16, 2005

Uh, guys, what the hell is going on?

This from Alternet and found on Kevin's site deserves a hearty, What the hell?

This really speaks to what I have been saying to my conservative evangelical brethren (loosely speaking). You believe in serious stuff. I know that and don't agree with all of it. But the scary part are the people you support and vote for and defend: they don't believe what you believe. They are honoring people like the "Reverend" Moon--people you know are wack jobs and cultists. In a different context, you would be calling for Moon's deportation, which, oddly enough, Jerry Falwell called for prior to the Wackjob Reverend rescuing of Falwell's "college."

But read this story. Has to do with a movement to remove crosses from churches. Not schools. Not courthouses, but churches.

You guys need to start defending your faith.

Soundtrack of my life

Brandon had a nice post on his soundtrack, a soundtrack that includes Patty Griffin which made me happy. Those of you who haven't heard her stuff should. It is good stuff.

I grew up with two older brothers who introduced me to a lot of music that was, well, older than most of the crap my contemporaries listened to. I listened to Pure Prairie League, Fleetwood Mac, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, while my friends were listening to disco. I won.

No one in my family seemed to like loud music or electric guitars, so I was pretty convinced that I only liked folk or country music. In high school, I listened to a lot of stuff that makes me wince now. Def Leppard (though the first album was decent) Rush and a few others. After high school, I returned to my folky roots and listened to Bonnie Raitt, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and others.

My experience with the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) occurred really in college. I was an Amy Grant fan and saw her in concert a few times. I still like her voice, and we listen to her Christmas album every year. I liked Wayne Watson's voice and really liked him until I met him at a Christian Music camp in Estes Park. What an ass! Michael Card was another one I listened to a lot until I saw him in concert and listened to a 20-25 minute sermon. He wasn't a bad guy, just got on my nerves a bit. Don Franscisco still stands out as one of the few folky Christian writers that I kind of liked.

Ken Medema came to our church in Houston and just blew me away. His music was fine, but it was his frustration with contemporary Christian music and discussion that really spoke to me. He talked about the pabulum of churchese and I knew exactly what he was talking about.

I stopped listening to CCM pretty much in the late 80s. My music stagnated a bit, really. I added Neil Young's vast repertoire to my collection (or much of it) and his Freedom album helped me survive doctoral exams. In the last few years, I have discovered so much great music that really keeps me going. So, what is playing in the soundtrack now?

Steve Earle is my muse. His politics are as liberal as mine, and his writing is great. Plus, he works in the mandolin in some amazing ways. Transcendental Blues is one of my top 10 albums, and usually the album I reach for when things feel out of control and frantic. I am not sure why, but it helps. (If anyone is interested, there is a dvd of this album that includes an amazing live version of Copperhead Road. I am trying to learn that on mandolin right now.)

Kasey Chambers. Perhaps the most unique voice in country today, I am in love with her albums. We recently purchased Wayward Angel and it is playing in our car constantly.

Scott Miller and the Commonwealth. This guy is Southern, and probably conservative (or more so than myself) but what a great voice and talent. He was in a band called the V-Roys and their stuff is great as well.

Ryan Adams. What can I say. I suspect this guy is a real tool in person, but that voice! His voice can soothe me in a way that others cannot. Amazing stuff, as is his old band, Whiskeytown.

Wilco. This may be one of the best bands that I have ever heard. Jeff Tweedy was originally in a band called Uncle Tupelo, and Wilco is his second band. What a band! From the poppy sound of A.M., to the really interesting rhythms of Summer Teeth and Being There, or the thoughtful and political Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, or personal and reflective A Ghost is Born. It is all great.

The Jayhawks, Old 97s and Slaid Cleaves round out the soundtrack, at least for now. There are others: Chris Smither and Keb Mo for blues, Alison Krauss and Tim O'Brien for bluegrass, and Emmylou is one of the constants over the years. I still love U2 and REM, and have been listening to Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City" recently.

Everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty and
meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Inner voices

Thinking about inner voices lately. Today they seem loud and annoying.

You aren't as smart as you think you are.
You are going to be found out.
Everyone will know you are unremarkable.
You are a fraud!

Those voices were a big part of my dissertation writing process. I customized my home page to greet me with the simple statement: "Inner Voices Lie." That helped some.

But those voices are back today. The snakes are out of their cages.

I know more about them now. I know they can be managed and compartmentalized.

They lie. And they need to shut up.

February 15, 2005

Serious topic: worship

I am serious now. No longer mocking Arkansas.

What is worship? I want to know what you think. Anonymous or not. What is worship? What isn't worship?

Or else I will continue to mock Arkansas marriage.

Brief Blognouncement: Streak's Friend and I in inferior marriage

We watched the Daily Show tonight only to discover that Arkansas Governor Huckabee and his wife "upgraded" their regular marriage to a "covenant" marriage.

Streak's friend and I are now concerned that our marriage is insufficient and possibly obsolete. Perhaps it will no longer be supported and will be phased out by the newer versions. Those vows seemed real, but now I see that they weren't.

Instead of "I take thee," it is now "I really take thee and mean it"...."no, I am serious this time"..."starting now!"

Does this mean that people have to check forms differently, or correct people? "Are you married?" "No, we are covenant married!"

And the ultimate irony. Our marriage now in question if we visit Arkansas? Begs the joke, does the covenant marriage include those related before marriage? "I take thee my cousin in holy covenant matrimony, to share a still or not a still, to kill frogs with pointed sticks or not to."

Come on! It is Arkansas. You all made fun of it when it was the Clintons!

It's a world gone mad. Arkansas is now looking down on the rest of the country for inferior marital habits!

February 14, 2005

One more tonight

Brandon has a funny post on the different types of Bibles for sale. I think he forgot the American Flag emblazoned one, but all good stuff. The marketing of the faith may not be new, but it appears to be bolder. I expect Passion of the Christ Bibles (with forward by Mel Gibson) or the companion Bible to the hit tv series, The Bachelor. This (found at the Revealer blog) story on the National Religious Broadcaster's convention makes you wonder if everything is for sale? Will we see Christ on the Cross selling painkillers? Or worse?

Embrace the New, Christian Media Conferees Learn : "While some perused brochures for Christian insurance companies featuring 'affordable, Biblical healthcare,' others entered to win what one production company said was a 4,000-year-old, museum-quality piece of brimstone from the original sin city: Gomorrah."

Blue Like Jazz

Blogging might be light for the next few weeks. I have a couple of deadlines--one huge one--that will take a lot of my time and energy. Hopefully, on the other side, I can talk about those deadlines.

But in the meantime, I am reading yet another book. Yeah, I know. I am reading Helen Prejean's book and Bruce Bawer's Stealing Jesus, but both of those are preaching to the choir. I know the death penalty is an obscenity, and I also know that fundamentalists have stolen my faith.

But Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz is interesting. Anglican and Jape will appreciate what he has to say about Jazz. He never liked it because it doesn't resolve, until he stood outside a theater and watched a guy play jazz. "I stood there for 15 minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that, I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself."

I still don't like jazz, but I have always suspected that I didn't understand it. Maybe that will come.

I still have a lot to read in this book, but he has a chapter titled "How to really love other people" that was confronting and interesting. Miller grew up in Houston as a Southern Baptist, so when he writes about hanging out with hippies in Oregon, it sounds odd. But he says that those hippies taught him about love--taught him about acceptance.

He points out that so much of what passes for Christian love is conditional. It is talked about as being unconditional, but it is conditional. And many of us do it. I do. We love people as long as they don't ask the wrong questions, or believe the wrong stuff, or suggest the wrong answers. Miller relates something I understand; that he was taught in church that "there were bad people in teh world and good people in the world.... Christianity was always right."

His breakthrough came when listening to a professor (yeah, that's right) talk about metaphors. People use metaphors to describe certain things. Cancer, for example, invites war metaphors--fighting, battling, etc. Yet, most people survive their disease, and that metaphor invites a much harsher belief. Likewise, he pointed out that people use economic metaphors to describe relationships. We value people, we invest in people, people are priceless. We use love as a commodity: like money. "I use love like money, but love doesn't work like money. It is not a commodity. When we barter with it, we all lose."

Anyway, this book has me thinking. I use those kinds of metaphors all the time. I talk about personal capital (at least that one is consciously economic) and others. My love for people is often based on reciprocity.

I don't want to see love as money. Money is cold.

This is what I am talking about

The Revealer: Threat Logic: "Hired gunmen shot an American nun, 74-year-old Dorothy Stang of Ohio, in the face three times on Saturday. Stang, a member of the Catholic Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, had been helping Brazilian peasants fight (legally) the expropriation of their land by ranching and logging interests. So far, the conservative Catholic blogosphere seems disinterested. Maybe the dissonance -- 'free markets' vs. nun-shooting -- is just too great. Does not compute. Must continue fight against foe more dangerous than gun-toting nun killers: gay marriage. "

I blogged recently about sharing the concern for "life" with my conservative evangelical friends. But as I noted, that concern cannot stop simply with a fetus and ignore other lives.

One of the issues where I am the most frustrated with conservative evangelicals is their prioritizing of "moral values." Again, this is something we share, if in name only. Moral values are a good thing, yet I am not convinced they are only concerns of sexuality.

This story is a great example. American Christians can muster phone banks, letter writing campaigns, and bussing people to Alabama to protest that moron Roy Moore's idol worship, but cannot come up with any outrage for global poverty, 50 million uninsured Americans or this Catholic nun's murder.

We participate in all of it. We enjoy reduced living costs because of the people who killed Dorothy Stang. We benefit from child labor overseas. But our moral values are more concerned about the use of the "f-word" and sex on tv. When you are more concerned about a ten commandments statue than the lives of people, what do you stand for?

Need I remind you that this nun's murder is just the most recent in a long line of these kinds of crimes? Yet, even the comments at the Revealer include someone who dismisses the Sister for being a socialist. Think about that. A segment of our society that likes to talk about life has decided that a nun's life is not important because she advocated some kind of land reform.


Guys, do you see how the world sees this combination of Christianity and power?

Here we have it all. The patriotic chest thumping; turning the cross into a weapon; and George W. Bush--the man who has combined faith, hatred, and aggression in one horrible mess. (thanks, Carlos)

Very interesting post on history and the Bible

The argument here is that Christians had to set aside the Bible to oppose slavery, not turn to it. I met a young grad student who was working on this very topic. He made the argument (as someone who had grown up fundamentalist) that the pro-slavery people had far more biblical support than those opposing. Those who opposed had to appeal to broad themes of what Jesus stood for, but those who supported it could pull out numerous verses supporting this institution. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Many conservative Christians like to see the Bible as all-knowing and infallible, but the Bible does not transcend time and place. It is read through a lens of cultural and personal experience. People in the 18th and 19th century read it to justify all manner of racism, just as Southern evangelicals found Biblical support to oppose desegregation or inter-racial marriage. Those who are so adamant that their reading is clear on the homosexual issue might keep that in mind.

whatskeezelblogging: The Right Reverends Sherman and Grant: "In the 1850s we find America as this bustling, Protestant country, having experienced phenomenal church growth since the revolution, church growth built on a literal biblical POV. Americans were into their churches – attendance at church was remarkable by today’s standards.

We find a nation really cranking up an argument over slavery – an argument that readily spilled into the churches. Clergy on both sides of the issue went full bore to back up their worldview. At first blush, it probably seems unseemly to think of ordained clergy trying to back up a justification for slavery with the Bible. But yeah, they justified slavery with the Bible. And here’s the thing – the slavers had the stronger biblical argument. The texts that endorse slavery are very clear:

The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that if you are an Israelite, you may beat your slaves as long as you didn't damage the teeth or eyes of the slave. You could also beat them to death – as long as it took at least 24 hours for the slave to die from the beating. We learn that Hebrew slaves will be set free in six years – but if you gave the slave a wife – then the wife and any children of the union remain your property. You may have consensual sex or even rape any female slave that is not engaged. If she is engaged then you must make an offering at the temple to atone for your actions – she will be whipped.

Lest you think slavery was just one of those cranky, Old Testament deals – the Christian Scriptures make no attempt to condemn the practice either. Jesus instructs slave owners on the proper amount of lashings one may administer to a slave for misbehavior. Paul tells slaves more than once to be obedient to their masters. Interestingly, the Bible relates a Hebrew law that instructs Israelites to protect escaped slaves – to allow them freedom. Paul – the new Christian – does the opposite and returns an escaped slave to his master.

For the abolitionists, any condemnation of slavery must be arrived at through biblical interpretation – not through straight readings of the text. Bottom line – the Bible never condemns outright the institution of slavery. The slavers had the much easier job in the pulpit than the abolitionists. As the debate raged, European Catholics pointed out smugly that what these American Protestants needed was a pope to settle the issue. Well, we didn’t get a pope – we got the theological hammer of Sherman and Grant to settle the issue.

And thus, one of the great casualties of the Civil War became Biblical Authority…"

February 13, 2005

Sad Tonight

I lost a friend last week. We played softball together for ~3 years. He wasn't the best player in the world, but neither was I.

I didn't realize at the time that he was fighting a lot of demons. I hadn't seen him since we last played. Since then he lost his job, his marriage, and his health was failing. In and out of rehab--fighting those demons--he lost the battle last week.

He was always quick with a smile. He liked to argue with me on any subject. Any at all. He was a good guy. One of those lights who brightened our day.

We said goodbye tonight at a family memorial. It was really nice to see so many people who cared about him. We laughed about his intensity, his argumentativeness and his golf swing. We grieved his passing.

I will miss him.

From Philocrites

Philocrites: Matthew 25 as applied to today's GOP.: "In a letter to the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, a reader wrote: “I was sick and you privatized medicine; I was homeless and you built sports stadiums; I was thirsty and you polluted the lakes; I was hungry and you gave control of the food chain to multinational corporations” (quoted in Expository Times, December)."

So what do I want?

I hammer the church on a regular basis in this little space. I think it is deserved with a church that seems to be more in line with the wealthiest Americans than those left out of the system. I started reading Bruce Bawer's Stealing Jesus and he made a great point about Jesus pointint to loving your neighbor as the greatest of the comandments. Wow. If I thought Roy Moore's impulse was anything close to that, I might support him instead of thinking he is a raving lunatic. Likewise if I saw a hint of loving your neighbor from this administration, I would not be nearly as harsh. But I don't. I see love for wealth and power--and half-assed thoughts about self-sufficiency to cover for reducing wealthy individuals responsibility to their fellow man.

So, what do I want? Starting with that first paragraph is a good place. What else? Do we agree on anything? Sure. I like life and moral values.

Let's start with life. I respect the right for claiming to value life. I puzzle with forcing a woman to give birth, but respect the impulse to protect and save life. I would like it even more if it continued after birth with a dedicated support to reducing infant mortality in our poorest neighborhoods. (Speaking of that, some attention to the environmental problems that poor people experience more than the wealthy would be a good thing.)

Ok, so we agree that we don't like abortion. I don't think you can do that and stand behind this administration's assinine "abstinence only" policy. Study after study proves it doesn't work, and only makes those kids more susceptible to unwanted pregnancies or disease. You want to encourage kids to abstain? Fine, but do it with your head up and the realization that kids are going to, and have always had sex. Not everyone, but many. Stating that abstinence is the only way to make sure is fine, but good sex ed and awareness about contraceptives is necessary as well. And conservative evangelicals? You aren't doing this. You are fighting sex ed and contraceptive programs everywhere despite the evidence. For us to move forward, you are going to have to compromise.

Speaking of compromise and a dedication to life, this capital punishment idiocy has to stop. Everywhere you see evidence that we are executing people on racist and class-based grounds. DNA evidence suggests heavily that we have executed innocent people in the past and continue to convict people using the worst circumstantial evidence. Your fears of criminals are understandable, but you can't claim to value life and casually accept this horrific system. Stand up, dammit, and acknowledge that whatever mythical moral grounds you are using here, we are not executing people in a perfect system. And the consequences are too dire. In your attempt to send a message that life is sacred, you actually trivialize life.

And lastly, but back to life. If you believe in life and creation, you have to show more concern for our enemies than you do right now. Talking about this as a spiritual battle between God and Satan (thank you General Boykin) is irrelevant to the reality of innocent lives lost at our hand. As people who, again, trumpet the "culture of life," it sounds incredibly hollow when you ignore 100,000 possible Iraqi deaths, or justify torturing these enemies on some trumped up Biblical world view.

And btw, you liked to sell and buy the WWJD bracelets and shirts, right? Let's actually ask that question and mean it. Who Would Jesus Bomb? Who Would Jesus Torture? Who Would Jesus sentence to Death and then Mock?

More literature references

Orwell has been used in reference to this administration in this blog and others. I was thinking about this the other day when Bruce Prescott over at Mainstream Baptist noted that the SBC publication had referred to SS as something close to socialism. Creeping socialism and loss of freedom have been dominant American themes for sometime.

Of course, many of those fears were legitimate. No one who observed the Soviet Union's purges or crackdowns on personal freedom could speak casually about communism. The funny thing is that I think we are closer to what we fear with a right wing President than anyone on the left.

Think about it. When people in this country refer to socialism, they mean the loss of freedom. Thought police; sending dissidents to gulags; and national id cards. Our president is taking us closer to this than anyone on the left in this country ever even considered. The Patriot Act has strengthened the power of police to impose on personal liberty--often without having to justify or even notify the person. We now have these obscenities called "free speech zones." The running joke is that the entire country used to be a "free speech zone." No more. Hell, the only thing that was good about socialism was the reduction in abject poverty. That came at a huge cost and I am not lauding it--but that is the only part of what we identify with socialism that we don't have now. We have the incroaching state--the removal of freedoms--the constant Orwellian language that reverses meaning--but by God, we will get rid of our safety nets and let the poor die in the streets.

And there is Orwell again. In one of the Star Trek films, Spock says that "only Nixon could go to China" meaning that only a conservative could engage with the communists. For some reason that has been bouncing around my head. Conservatives saw Orwell's novels as warnings about "creeping socialism" and the problems that came with them. They have been so trained to look to the left for danger signs, that they don't even see it when it happens. The biggest threat to individual liberty in the last 50 years is a Republican (though some would question his Republican credentials). What do conservatives do? Focus on abortion and gay people.

I am telling you. Bush and Rove quote Christ on camera, but they are reading Gramschi, Machiavelli, and Orwell off camera. Well, not Bush. He doesn't read. But his actions are more in line with those last three than the first. Time for the Church to stand up and demand that the President act his faith or shut up about it.

Hey, Blog world, way to go!

As this blog from the Guardian notes, it was our fellow lefty bloggers who realized that Jeff Gannon's questions were unbelievable. I say about time, given that Bush has been posed with such tough questions as "has your faith helped you during this time (the lead in to war)?"

Guardian Unlimited | Newsblog | Question time: "Soft questions are part of the British parliamentary tradition ('Would the prime minister agree with me that the opposition benches are filled with no hopers?') but when a White House reporter asked George Bush how he could work with Senate Democratic leaders 'who seem to have divorced themselves from reality', liberal bloggers became suspicious."

And it is completely ridiculous for conservatives to badmouth Clintonian campaign-style leadership when their "Christian" President has paid for shill journalists, and now allowed a fake journalist to ask him a leading question. This is show biz, pure and simple.

February 12, 2005

Small Glimpses and a great comment

Biased I know. but I appreciate this particular comment very much. One of the drawbacks with Blogger is that comments can get buried in older posts. Anyway, here is part:

Streak's Blog: More on righteous anger and the feeling that Bush stealing the faith: "The bible teacher asked another question. She asked us to suggest ways we can turn away from 'profane' or 'godless chatter' in some examples she posed. One was 'Your boss uses profanity when he or she talks to you'. My answer was this 'Honestly, this doesn't bother me. I'm much more concerned that my boss make right decision that respect employees (their contributions, thoughts, and observations) above financial opportunism.'"

I think Small Glimpses is too kind, but I appreciate the compliments. And I agree with her take on this. I am so tired of people prioritizing bad words over bad actions. Words matter, I don't deny that. But aren't we all acutely aware of the difference? A CEO who swears but takes care of his workers v. a boss who quotes scripture but lays off the lower paid workers while rewarding the already wealthy? Which would you prefer?

I know where my vote is. Thanks SG.

February 11, 2005

On Helen Prejean's new book

Greg has a good post on the good Sister's new book. I recently purchased "The Death of Innocents" and have been working on it. It is so grim, however, that I struggle. I wonder about those people in the prison system who are tasked with the actual killing and wonder what cost we are taking from them. I wonder about the families of the executed and how awful their experience must be. Yes, I share the grief of the victim's family and know their grief is monstrous. I simply reject the idea that somehow more death will help them in anyway.

"I suppose you could read this book and come away thinking, 'Bah, she's a damned liberal. Fry those bastards.' I don't know how, but I've learned that evidence isn't often convincing to those who are already inclined to believe something else. What you should come away with, at least, is a deep skepticism about our nation's ability to ever make the death penalty 'fair.' She is very hard on W and our new Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who was Bush's legal counsel while he was Governor of Texas, a position he used to preside over the most executions by a governor in modern history. Those who want to hold forth about Bush's Christian pedigree need to read that section very closely."

I am struck by how common it is among conservative Christians to support this flawed, racist and class biased system. We see more and more evidence that the system is flawed, yet people still support it and punish politicians who dare to speak out against it. I understand that many of these criminals are deeply evil people. I know they are hard to sympathize with. But isn't that the call to the Church? To love the unlovable? To speak for those left out of the system? It is easy to love the cute child. Much harder to extend that to the hardened criminal.

February 10, 2005

Purloined Country

Ok, one more. See, that makes my previous post a lie. Right out there in the open.

Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first to write the mystery novel, or in this case, short story. The Purloined Letter was and is a masterpiece. The story, as I remember, revolves around a detective trying to find a stolen letter in the suspect's house. The cops tore through the house looking for hiding places. The detective found it in the most obvious place--right in with the regular mail.

People who support Bush seem to be waiting for some huge shoe to drop; some hidden secret or scandal. But they are avoiding the incredibly obvious lies that the administration does every day. As per my last post, remember that Bush swore during the election that he wouldn't touch Social Security, but now that is the cornerpiece of his second term. Right out in public. In the most obvious place. My friend from Texas keeps telling me that Bush is fine, that I am too cynical, that there is nothing to my fears. He says that Bush cannot be as bad as I say--mostly because Bush can't be as bad as I say. Yet he seems to be waiting for some giant conspiracy and ignoring the daily and obvious lies. Social Security is now on his agenda. During the election, it wasn't.

What else? Remember that the White House has hired journalists to shill for their agenda. Paying them money to act like independent journalists and yet push their agenda. As if that wasn't enough, now this administration, the very same one who has managed every aspect of communication in the White House, allowed a fake reporter to attend news conferences, and this President, the very same one who hates press conferences, called on him. Yet we are to believe that this Administration had nothing to do with it.

See, I lied tonight when I said it was my last post on Bush tonight. When I lied, I didn't realize it. I was still mulling over Bush and fully intended to drop the subject. Oh how I wish Bush's lies were similar. But they are not. And they are out in plain site, in with the regular mail. And the Bush supporters are ignoring the obvious.

Seems like we are back to the situation where either the President's people are so arrogant to put a fake reporter in our midst in an arrogant attempt to manipulate our opinions, or one who is so incompetent in a post 9-11 environment that they allowed a fake reporter inside the White House without a background check.

Which is worse? I want my country back.

One more comment on Bush--well, for tonight

Reading the news and listening to NPR today--all the while thinking about that article on Bush's misuse of faith has me thinking. You read that Rove likes Machiavelli and Gramschi, yet Bush proclaims he follows Jesus. The first two are about power and manipulation--the last about peace and submission. Jesus spoke about turning the other cheek, about the poor, about peace. Bush only uses those words when they suit his cause. And I ultimately fear that his administration is the most corrupt and ruthless one in history--and that includes Nixon.

These guys are the best at using language I have ever seen. The God talk works for some, but the actions are opposite--and we have seen that with everything. "Clear skies" means more pollution. "Healthy forests" means fewer trees. "I won't mess with Social Security" during the election cycle means "Hell yes I will gut Social Security if you are stupid enough to reelect me."

Social Security will be a test study for years to come. Think about it. SS has been the "third rail" of politics for years. Popular on both sides of the aisle and relied on by many--rich and poor, white and black, men and women. How can you gut it? You have to declare it already dead. And that is what Bush is saying. SS will be gone in 13 years if we do nothing (an outright lie) and taking money out of the system to put into personal accounts will somehow help it remain solvent. Bullshit.

But it is even worse than that. Consider all the problems that we face. Do you really think that SS is at the top? We have 45 million Americans that are uninsured. Have no health insurance. How many of those are children? We saw last week that somewhere around half of all bankruptcies are due to medical costs--and many of these occur in families that have some health insurance.

What does our President talk about? SS and gay marriage. Are you kidding me? How do Americans tolerate this kind of insanity?

I truly hope that the church recognizes that this administration is full of shit. They better start saving, because if the Bushies get their way, the only help that the elderly, the disabled, and the poor will have will be the church. Bush will have that SS fund helping his Enron buddies retire wealthy.

And that isn't right. It isn't moral. It isn't Christian. Good God! Can you imagine Jesus voting for such policies?

I can't.

More from Seattle Weekly on Bush theology

The entire article is interesting--including a dissection of the Left Behind theology and its origins. I also recommend the Paul Boyer book, When Time Shall Be No More for those interested in this topic.

Anyway, here is a good take on what some of us see as the use of moral language with pretty Machiavelian actions. A friend told me recently that Karl Rove is not only a fan of Machiavelli, but also Antonio Gramschi. That is very interesting, given that I suspect that most of Bush's supporters would not see themselves in that category.

Seattle Weekly: "In this sense, the Bush church is Antichristlike indeed. It is institutionalized deception, anti-American ugliness with a beguiling face, a neocon job. Only when necessary does it employ the perilous bald-faced lie, the outrageously transparent duplicity—the political equivalent of Robertson arguing that 'Do unto others' indicates Christ's support of capitalist selfishness. More often, a smoothly dissembling surface is preferred. Rove notoriously emulates Machiavelli; the Christian right is a stealth movement, infiltrating school boards and mainstream churches and every institution of democracy like a thief in the night—in order to undermine, overthrow, and replace democracy with theocracy. Bush is the father of lies. The Union of Concerned Scientists proclaims Bush's lies about science 'unprecedented.' In With God on Their Side, Kaplan concludes, on mountainous evidence, 'The goal is not to engage your opponents in the public square, but to kneecap them, or send them into exile.'

'It is a conspiracy in the sense that they have not been public and accountable to their ideology,' says Lang. 'Follow the money! The same filthy-rich foundations that have funded the rise of neocons are funding the rise of the religious right.' He suggests that you check out the exposé Web site www.yuricareport.com for the terrifying particulars."

Why do I swear so much?

Seems like every one of my blogger friends has written on this. Hell, even I have. Looking back through the archives I find this post that addressed how I see the problem of seeing words as magical. I would add to that this where I addressed the issue of the ten commandments and taking the Lord's name in vain:
Streak's Blog: "He said that people who use God or Christianity just to make money were violating the 'using the Lord's name in Vain' commandment. That, he said, was not about saying 'Jesus' inappropriately, but misusing the identity of God. Agreed, brother. I would add to that daring to speak for God, but we both agree that some outburst of anger is not what the commandment was about."

And finally, here is one of my favorite posts on the subject.

More can be said. There are certain words I don't like. I don't like swear words that are racial, gender, or sexual slurs. I don't generally direct my words as a weapon towards an individual. I don't for example, tell people to "go to hell" or to "go f themselves." For me, swearing is at least half humor. I think many of these words are just funny, and put in the proper order--hilarious.

I also understand that some people don't like these words. A Texas friend of mine pointed out that my swear words probably cause some people to miss my broader points. He suggested that if I was really trying to reach people or change their minds, swearing was not the way to go. That is only true if I am blogging with that in mind. The fact that others read my blog is cool, but it isn't the only reason I do it. I write this stuff for me. And I really like the swearing! :)

More on righteous anger and the feeling that Bush stealing the faith

Thanks to everyone who has added comments to my previous post. Carlos posted this sometime ago on the conflict within the Christian community over Bush and Bush's followers. Some really, really interesting points. I have pulled out a few:

Seattle Weekly: "Yet the more love-thy-neighbor-advocating mainstream church is not dead. In The American Prospect magazine, Baptist Sunday school teacher Jimmy Carter charges the fundamentalists with 'the abandonment of some of the basic principles of Christianity.' And in his brilliant 1997 book, Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity, author Bruce Bawer accuses fundamentalism of replacing Christ's Church of Love with a Church of Law, lamenting 'the horrible monster that 20th-century legalistic Christians have made out of their God and Savior and the hateful institution that they have made out of his church.' He notes acidly that the movement got its biggest boost in reaction not to the Supreme Court's 1963 school-prayer ban but to the Carter-era IRS crackdown on segregated Christian schools. 'The Religious Right didn't grow out of a love of God and one's neighbor—it grew out of racism, pure and simple.'

The Right's savaging of Carter has been one of its darker moments. I saw Carter on tv recently and was reminded of what I liked about him and that Christian view. That legacy of racism is one of the others that continues to bug me. Everytime I hear Richard Land brag about racial reconciliation and the "apology" from the mid 90s for Baptist involvement in segregation and slavery, I want to wretch. When it was on the line--when people were dying for civil rights--the Church was on the wrong side. So, it does not surprise me that they might have pulled momentum in opposition to racial justice.

'Kids growing up in Church of Law families nowadays think that the only two sins, or at least the only two really, really important ones, are having an abortion and having gay sex,' Bawer told Seattle Weekly. 'The notion that love, tolerance, and inclusiveness are moral values has been dropped down the memory hole.'

Add "greed" to this mix and I am in total agreement. The differing responses to Bush and Clinton are instructive. Clinton's sins were sexual and became, for the church, unforgivable. Bush's sins are those of greed, arrogance, pride, vindictiveness, and lacking compassion for anyone not born into wealth. The church doesn't see those as sins. Even when Bush spread the rumor that McCain had fathered a black baby out of wedlock. This relates to the point above: had the church proper outrage and perspective, they would have rejected Bush at that moment and said that politics was one thing, but this was horrible. Instead, they looked the other way and clapped when Bush said that his favorite philosopher was Jesus. Really? Hard to imagine Jesus doing that.

A soldier in the U.S. Army e-mailed Seattle Weekly, 'I'm just a citizen who was raised in a Christian community and is tired of having my values hijacked by a conservative movement that only applies them selectively at home and hardly at all overseas.' The soldier asks to remain anonymous.

Perversion of Christian Faith?

'Bush is one of the key figures leading the church away from Jesus,' says Christian author Don Miller, who wrote the nonbluenose Christian best seller Blue Like Jazz. Miller is no pantywaist—he had the balls to run a ministry at Reed College in Portland, Ore., which is so godless that its soccer team is said in campus legend to have once staged a halftime crucifixion in a game against a Christian school. But he couldn't stomach it when, for instance, Texas Gov. Bush not only allowed the execution of his fellow born-again Christian, the penitent ax murderer Karla Faye Tucker, but made vicious fun of her ('Please don't kill me!' Bush said, mocking her prayerful plea for God's mercy). Miller classifies Bush Christians as modern Pharisees—the allegedly proud, rigid, legalistic hypocrites John the Baptist called 'a generation of vipers.' 'The worst condemnation that Jesus has for anybody, I mean the worst, is for Pharisees,' says Miller. 'If you asked Jerry Falwell who the Pharisees are in our society, they can't point anybody out.' There are no mirrors in Bush's church."

All key points. Christians talk about moral values, but are only concerned about missionary numbers over seas--not values or lives. Bush's interview with Tucker Carlson where he mocked Karla Faye Tucker is another one of those pivotal moments where the church had the opportunity to chide him. Think what you will about the death penalty (and I hate it), but there is no excuse for mocking a condemned person--and I am amazed that anyone could read about that and not be filled with disgust. Bush has yet to demonstrate what he said--that Jesus changed his heart--and has provided ample evidence of acting more like Machiavelli than Christ. Everytime Christians tell me he is a good Christian man, they lose a little more credibility.

February 9, 2005

Angry at God?

I received an offline question about why I am so angry at God. I know, it is a leading question, but essentially asking if I am angry at God and if so, why?

Am I angry at God?

I don't think so. I don't blame God for the problems in the world. I understand those are a product of human choice.

Am I an angry person?

That one is a more difficult question. Anger is a funny thing. When viewing injustice, it is a proper response, no? When frustrated at not getting your way, probably not.

I think the question gets to the heart of why I blog. As the other bloggers here know, this is a curious process. It is both private and incredibly public journaling. We write about our most inner thoughts and fears and people all around the world read them. Some read them and find commonality. Some find them objectionable. Some keep returning to read them.

Blogging is the most democratic (small "d") thing going on out there. We write about what we care about, and if people find it worth reading, they return. If they don't, they move on to other blogs.

So, why do I blog? I am a passionate person. I feel things deeply, and always have. As a younger man, I internalized much of that passion. I had ulcers and other problems that, while not exclusively emotional in nature, were certainly exacerbated by emotion and stress. Anger can be an expression of passion. It can also be a destructive force. I certainly see mine as passionate.

I do a better job now of recognizing the difference between those things I can control and those I can't. The blog helps tremendously. I can rant, and vent, and excoriate the Bush administration and it helps. It is something I can't do verbally at work. It isn't appropriate and my coworkers wouldn't welcome it. But the blog is mine.

Different people blog differently. For some, like the RLP, it is often essays that are edited and cultured before publication. I tend to blog in an emotional way. It usually represents where I am at that very moment. My best posts are those (in my opinion) where I am most visceral and raw. But I don't do that in real life. I would be in a rubber room or a televangelist (little joke).

But my blog is more than an emotional release. It is my observation on culture, politics, and religion. I see problems in the world today, and I comment on them. I see conflict between the christian world view and the Bush administration, and I enjoy commenting on that. Sometimes it helps me make sense of those things I cannot control. I feel better after.

So, am I angry at God? I don't think so. I don't hold God responsible for George Bush or environmental problems, racism, or global poverty. Personally, I think God would prefer that we humans act better toward each other and the planet.

Am I angry at many of his followers? Yeah. I don't like it when people claim to speak for God and then use such hateful language. Everytime Pat Robertson opens his mouth, I wince a bit. Everytime Jerry Falwell proclaims God's views on politics, I groan. That makes me angry. So does a Christian faith that seems to love capitalism and wealth more than justice. So I talk about it. I get that out there. Through this blog I have found people who share my view. Other people who care about God, believe in Jesus and yet have walked away from church in disgust.

Why do I swear so much? That will have to wait for another post.

February 8, 2005

More on Christian budget

The Revealer: A Compassionate Budget: "A Compassionate Budget
08 February 2005
While President Bush's proposed budget is making headlines for its hidden surprises and its suggested cuts to more than 150 traditional social service programs -- including health care, veterans' prescriptions, food stamps, and housing benefits for the poor or disabled -- it's found the odd hundreds of millions of dollars to increase federal funding to faith-based programs that promote abstinence, marriage, religion-based mentoring, and other priorities of the 'compassion agenda.' Jim Towey, director of the White House faith-based initiatives program, defended the budget, explaining that Bush believes that ''America's armies of compassion mean a lot in the lives of the poor.'' Critics say the faith-based increases are simply a means to fund a clear, conservative social agenda. But Wade F. Horn, who heads abstinence and marriage initiatives for the Department of Health and Human Services -- some of the few programs in the HHS that would receive increases rather than cuts -- offers this consolation: at the end of the day, teens will have one more person telling them to wait to have sex."

Nevermind that every study has shown that the abstinence only programs don't work! We should just keep doing it even though those kids are simply robbed of any decent discussion about safe sex. Hell, I am sure those unwanted pregnancies will be dealt with just fine. It is most important that we stand on irrational and unreasonable principle dogma. After all, Science is only useful when it shows that prayer works, or that there might be some aspects of evolution that are unclear. Any other "science" is simply secular humanist propaganda.

Well, it is clear. A country this stupid deserves an equally stupid president. And yes, still angry.

Streak's Blog: ticked off this morning--redux

A commentator from Instapunk had some justifications for our budget.

Streak's Blog: ticked off this morning: "Well, the govenment got involved. Now, all God's people are kicking in $2 billion of their $9.5 billion in income, or 21% -- just at the Federal level. Figure an additional 5 to 10 percent to their State governments and you can see that a household must be run on about 65% or 70% of earnings. Of course, individual cases will be better or worse than this calculation but the squeeze is on and the Church is stuck raising money for a new roof on the Church house."

Never mind that I don't buy their numbers. I would if those tax cuts had been aimed at the people on the bottom of the economic scale, but most of it went to people who spend their extra money on second homes and European vacations. Meanwhile, Bush cuts veteran benefits and reduces access to college education. After all, he didn't need a Pell grant or assistance, did he?

The more I think about this, the more angry I become. Repubs enact irresponsible tax cuts and then say "hey, we have to make some cuts. Sorry about the poor and the environment--screw the veterans. But we have to make some cuts." That's right, you have to make cuts because you purposely starved the government of income at the same time saddling us with a war of choice. Oh, and remember, that budget that Bush sent to Congress doesn't include any increased money to Iraq or Afghanistan.

You want to reduce government? You want to reduce spending? How about we start with those who need government largesse the least? Sugar manufacturers? Or perhaps the huge agribusiness conglomerates who profit off America's misguided adoration of the family farm? How about Dick's friends at Haliburton who could stand to pay their taxes rather than weasel out?

I am a pragmatist at heart. I like a strong military and like spending money on security. I have no problem with that. But keep this in mind, all of these cuts simply shift costs elsewhere. Nothing is really saved. The poor become a bigger burden on our already burdened health care system. Environmental cleanup is delayed and people's health (mostly poor and non-white) are endangered by existing and future pollution. Those tax cuts? How much are they going to help when your local fees and taxes go up. They will have to. This assholish administration doesn't even want to pay for Homeland Security at the local level. Firehouses are hurting, but hey, they are only part of our vaunted first-responders. Who needs them when we can have $300 more dollars! To say nothing of all these families with their paltry tax break saving to send their 3.5 kids to colleges with skyrocketing tuition. But they can apply for grants and ..... oops.

Oh, and God's people? They are flocking in huge numbers to churches like Joel Osteen's new Compaq Center "church." They continue to buy SUVs because they think that there is no connection between terrorism and oil, and they think that pollution and environmental problems are a product of the recent past. God's people are buying Rick Warren and Tim Lahaye's schlock in huge numbers.

I know I am exceptionally angry today. Probably even less reasonable. But I don't want to hear one more Repub ever lecture me on moral values again.

Ok, I am done. Unless I find the energy to post a new President Jesus post. This budget is just calling for one!


Even the dolls have to be suburbanites

This from a very interesting blogger from the Bay area. She also wrote a great piece in Alternet about the indignity of our new AG. But in this post, she addresses the subtle racism of the dolls.

Sensory Overload: "American Girl" ~ Que Va?: "Man, talk about stereotyping ~ even our dolls have to flee their 'dangerous' city communities to pursue the American Dream in the 'burbs!  Check out the new Mexican 'American Girl' doll"

This has historical roots. Many minorities have extended community and kinship connections. Those that are successful are asked to choose between those connections and the allure of middle class affluence with a nuclear (sorry, nukular) family. Then whites lament the poverty in the neighborhood and pat themselves on the back for their family values.

ticked off this morning

Guess it is time for another rant. This started yesterday when I read about Bush's proposed budget. As Natalie reminded me on her blog , budgets, as Jim Wallis notes, are moral documents. They reveal much about our priorities.

This budget has me asking the same old question. Where the hell is the church? Where are the supposedly moral Christians when their supposedly Christian President is willing to fund tax cuts by cutting veterans fucking benefits? So, you support this invasion of Iraq? Fine. But don't even you think we should reward those who put their lives on the line?

And the Immoral Budget doesn't stop there. As we have noted several times, the only people not asked to sacrifice by King Bush are the rich. Poor people trying to attend college? Who cares. Veterans who risked life and limb for immoral war? Screw em! The environment? As Tim Lahaye said, my air is cleaner and humans are more important than the environment. Make that wealthy humans. They have less exposure to those environmental problems.

But the modern Christian church doesn't give a shit about the powerless and the poor. Somehow they have morphed Christ from an itinerant rebel preacher who challenged the rich and powerful and reached out to the poor into White, Wealthy, and living in a Gated Community where he Votes against the poor, gay, and minorities, Supports Torture, and Arrogance, drives a Hummer and Scoffs at Nature.

Sorry, guys. I don't even recognize this Christ. Thanks for turning the church into the defense of the powerful and the arrogant. I am trying to find that in the Bible, but no luck. But have no fear, you will save me from the gays and the terrorists. You will demonize the gays and look the other way while we either torture every suspect we can find or send them to a country that will do our torture for us.

My country sickens me right now. But more so I am sickened by the supposedly moral Christians who have turned Christian morality into a joke. I think I understand it now. They are so enamored with Bush as Christian, and so cheap to buy off with a $300 check that principles and morality really mean very little.

February 7, 2005

Wow, never saw this coming

Yahoo! News - Bush's $2.57T Budget Plan Seeks Steep Cuts: "WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) sent Congress a $2.57 trillion budget plan Monday that would boost spending on the military and homeland security but seeks spending cuts across a wide swath of other government programs. Bush's budget would reduce subsidies paid to farmers, cut health programs for poor people and veterans and trim spending on the environment and education."

Hmm. What have I been saying? Tax cuts eventually have to be paid for. Guess who is paying the tab? Veterans, poor people and the environment. Wow, that is a shock.

Are these really your priorities, Bush supporter?

Born again Bush

I was thinking about my previous post, the one I found at Cookie's blog, that alleges that Bush's former prof says that not only did Bush admit to using connections to get out of VN, but also argued that people are poor because they are lazy.

I have been thinking about that allegation. What if it is true? Most of us on the left believe it immediately, because this matches the Bush we see every day. He has shown a ruthlessness toward the powerless and a willingness to use his political power to help his already wealthy friends. The VN story is clearly true. He clearly got out of service and then got out of that Guard duty in a way that others--those without connections did not.

But so what? Haven't people known about this stuff for a long time? Why do my conservative Christian friends still vote for this man? I think it all hinges on his supposed conversion. I say "supposed" because, who knows?

Think about it. His youth and adulthood are everything we don't like in this society. He is his generation's Paris Hilton--drinking and philandering his way through college and adulthood. He uses his privileged upbringing to get out of VN and then later to start failed business after failed business. He is a drain on society--especially compared to some of his class mates or people his age. Kerry, Clinton, others--all made contributions to their society in a way that this guy didn't.

So, why the adulation? It has to be that his conversion erased all that. I think that there are enough people who understand the language of evangelical Christianity in this country, and most of them respond to that "born again" idea. Marvin Olasky, one of Bush's really weird religious mentors, even says it that way. He said that Kerry's problem was that he was "once-born" while Bush had been "born again." This somehow allows Bush to escape his worthless youth--and allow conservatives who resent such youths to vote for him several times.

I am not saying that there is no such thing as conversion or that people cannot change their lives. I believe in the redemptive qualities of Christianity, but I don't think they are magical. I don't believe that God just reaches down, snaps his finger, and "bam" a drunk is no longer a drunk. Not saying that God doesn't help people change. I just don't believe it is like flipping a light switch.

People who change bad behavior--abuse, alcohol, etc--have to do a lot of hard work. There is no evidence that Bush has done any of that. Nor has he demonstrated a transformative effect--except that he no longer drinks. That might be an improvement, but a lot of us fear that if you don't address the reasons behind your drinking, you will just turn that behavior elsewhere.

But back to the "born again" reference. I think that language has bought Bush a tremendous amount of blindness among conservative Christians, and I really resent that. The same people who were hyper critical of Clinton's character can now only praise Bush. With that level of discernment, it is no wonder that we are headed toward a country with huge gaps between the rich and poor; a science community gutted by anti-evolution nonsense; an environmental wasteland; and a morality dominated by concerns about nudity and homosexuality. Christians can do better. And should.

February 6, 2005

Sure glad that the Repubs respect our system so much

Saw this at the end of the Supersize Me film. This from last year, just another example of Republicans saying that the market will self-correct, except when it is done through lawsuits. Personal responsibility is good, but what about corporate? What about political?

BBC NEWS | Americas | US approves 'Cheeseburger bill'
: "The so-called Cheeseburger Bill bans frivolous lawsuits against producers and sellers of food and non-alcoholic drinks arising from obesity claims.

The bill supporters say consumers have to realise they cannot blame others for the consequences of their actions.

Critics say the food industry now does not have to worry about public health.

The vote came a day after a new study said obesity was likely to become the nation's biggest preventable killer, overtaking smoking."