“The question that simply won’t go away”

August 27, 2007, 2:43 pm | Posted by

Yesterday I appeared on Air America’s State of Belief with Welton Gaddy to discuss the news media’s handling of questions about presidential candidates’ religious faiths, which I blogged about last week.

Rev. Gaddy did a good job of pushing me to explain why I was glad last week’s Iowa debate featured a question on the candidates’ beliefs about the power of prayer. In defense of the validity of asking personal questions about candidates’ faiths, I said

People aren’t electing platforms, they’re electing other human beings, and they really want to get a sense of who these human beings are. Identity is a very significant component of political campaigns, and this is one manifestation of that.

I stand by that, but at this early stage of the presidential campaign, the media and the electorate haven’t quite defined the role of religion and the proper way in which to discuss it, and you don’t have to look very hard for divergent opinions.

In Saturday’s Boston Herald, Scripps Howard columnist Bonnie Erbe said

If the Democrats are going to make “running against Bush” a hallmark of the ’08 campaign, they must promise to rebuild the now-wrecked wall between church and state. They must also pledge to keep their own religious beliefs out of government policy-making.

Dismayingly, Sunday’s debate showed some Democratic front-runners still feel the need to cater to the religious right.[emphasis added]

Erbe then critiques the candidates’ responses to the question about whether they believed prayer could prevent natural disasters. She had kind words only for Edwards and Richardson, calling Edwards “a deeply religious man, so confident in the power of his convictions that he can separate them from his role as a government official,” and Richardson courageous and “surprisingly impressive.”

But Richardson said his sense of social justice is rooted in his Roman Catholic faith. So does Erbe not believe Richardson should allow his sense of social justice to influence his policy positions? I’d think not and hope not. She probably didn’t mean to say that, but it’s a clear implication.

Erbe’s column is important because it’s a great example of the consequences of the religious right’s polarization of America. After seven years of an administration guided by a messianic foreign policy and a fundamentalist-influenced domestic agenda, she says that “a national leader’s belief that his (or her) policies are underwritten by God should be viewed in the same ominous light as a cross on fire.” The problem is her unspoken assumption that because religious motivation lay behind the Bush administration’s destructive policies, religiously motivated policies are inherently bad.

The negative results of Bush’s conservative religious convictions does not preclude the possibility that a future president’s progressive religious beliefs could inspire him or her to advance an agenda for the common good that leaves our nation and our world a better place. It’s tragic that Erbe sees “running against Bush” not as running against war, division, and pollution, but as running away from faith. It doesn’t have to be that way, and we need to talk about faith in order to reclaim it.

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View God’s Christian Warriors

August 27, 2007, 2:13 pm | Posted by

In case you missed it, feel free to watch Christiane Amanpour’s CNN documentary, God’s Christian Warriors below:

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God’s Compromised Warriors

August 27, 2007, 12:40 pm | Posted by

Soon I’ll have the full installment of CNN’s God’s Christian Warriors up, but I wanted to point out — in a quick montage below — a theme that ties all three the Jewish, Muslim and Christian right together: the repeated compromise of morality for MORALITY.

Of course compromise is the mechanism of democratic politics and leads to the natural dilution of power among interest groups. But on the religious right among the three monotheistic religions, the desire to not compromise like the rest of the “world” leads to an interesting pattern of internal compromises of personal theology over personal morality. Lying to build settlements, blowing up people to stop the violence, advocating war while believing in the Prince of Peace.

This is classic ends-over-means morality.

And, of course, this sort of ethical compromise is not news to anyone who’s followed the rise of the religious right, but now the question is: how do we turn the rubberneck of the media away from this religious wreckage and back to the growing movement of Jews, Muslims and Christians who know how to get to the voting booth without c(r)ashing in their values?

In this eight minute montage, the news is not that the violent rhetoric of fundamentalism leads to both state-sponsored violence (Iraq war and ’67) and terrorism, but how, in political acts, True Believers can lose their morality to their theology. See for instance, the early juxtaposition of Sunday-school teaching Jimmy Carter with barely church-attending Ronald Reagan. From there onward, the rhetoric of war, of no compromise, leads repeatedly to an Abramoff-esque morality of saving and then selling out souls for personal gain.

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Common Ground Isn’t Always on the Right

August 24, 2007, 5:55 pm | Posted by

A recent Mother Jones article (not yet online) about Hillary Clinton’s membership in the secretive Fellowship prayer group and the relationship between her faith and her politics makes some fair observations, but it is also laden with misunderstanding and insinuation.

A conspicuous example is the contention that when the Fellowship “convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics…the politics always move rightward.”

By its very nature, a politics that transcends left and right requires an ideological flexibility and innovative mindset that enables us to find common ground. This can incorporate several dynamics: liberals moving right, conservatives moving left, finding original solutions, recognizing shared ideals, or any combination of these. To say that among Senate coreligionists the politics always moves rightward ignores not only these other possibilities, but also the recent record of distinctly leftward shifts.

Take health care. Conservatives will always stick to their rhetorical guns about health savings accounts, consumer choice and such, but look at their votes. Shortly before the August recess, 18 Republicans voted for a Democratic program to spend $35 billion to cover 9 million uninsured children, not with tax credits or subsidized health savings accounts, but at the full expense of federal and state governments. That is a leftward swing, even if it’s not universal healthcare.

Take global warming. While we don’t yet have greenhouse gas emission caps or a carbon tax, religious groups and scientific consensus are pressing Republican Senators leftward into the realm of reality. James Inhofe is a stalwart of climate change denial, but only a few years ago his was considered a mainstream conservative position. Talk is cheap, but it’s hard to say there’s been a rightward swing when their entire frame on the most pressing and financially consequential issue of our era has been discredited.

It is certainly possible for a shadowy religious group to exert rightward pressure on liberal members who seek common ground solutions. The Mother Jones article even provides a couple of examples. However, to say that these liberals bridge builders always become more conservative is to ignore the fact that the common ground isn’t always found on the right.

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God’s Jewish Warriors and the problem with pragmatism

August 22, 2007, 1:05 pm | Posted by

Like many Americans, my heart’s an idealist and my head’s a pragmatist on things religious and political. I often search for ways to split the difference between these two all too often separate states of being. However, last night Christiane Amanpour showed the danger that occurs when religious idealism and political pragmatism substitute soul above everything else. It’s clear in the people that she interviews who participate in the Israeli occupation that when a humans lie, preemptively attack, and occupy, they lose their head and their heart in the process.

She set it up with this contrast of two warriors on the same side in 1967. . .

But it goes beyond the personal, to explore the last four decade of Jewish history that these individuals influenced — in part — through their Godly warring. During the interviews with the settlers, one cannot miss the struggle in the faithful as they admit that they lied and killed in a pragmatic pact with their ideals. As the Times noted, the most interesting aspect of this is the footage of the fund raising in America that support this cultural war. The mix of money and religio-political strategy should give folks of any faith — liberal or conservative — pause at the cost to morality and dignity that comes with the territory.

As evangelical blogger Peace and Piety writes: “Watching this, I found myself engulfed in disbelief, awe and amazement at what faith can accomplish. When faith is used to try and transform the masses, it destroys civilizations, neighborhoods, homes, cities, kills children and demolishes peace- to say the very least.”

Yale student Baptist Like Me notes that as a part of the God’s Warriors documentary Madeline Albright gave an interview, titled here as On Religion in Politics: Ignore It “At Our Peril.’ She adds, “I’m not really a partisan person, and even though I would never have voted for her Baptist boss and I long for a compelling, ethical pro-life voice to emerge in her party, I didn’t boycott or picket Madeleine Albright when she came to Yale a few years ago. I really admire the Secratary (sic) for many reasons, and I think this new interview, part of CNN’s “God’s Warriors” series, is a very good read.”

Methodist seminarian Facilitating Paradox found the topics covered to be evocative of other less prime time work on the Middle East, writing:

her documentary reminded me of the similar reporting of Bill Moyers and others on the subject. I’ve heard of AIPAC before, heard of its power, and knew that illegal settlements were the persistent problem in any Middle East peace process. I’ve read and heard enough Rabbi Michael Lerner to know that Israelis are just as much in the wrong as any Palestinian. I have a good deal of respect for President Jimmy Carter and his analysis of the situation. But how many other people are already aware of these things? This was the surprise to me: that I was watching this on CNN on primetime. How many people would have their eyes opened? How many people saw these things and heard these stories for the first time? Hopefully millions.

The Two State Peace Plan promotin’ OneVoice blog got to

“thinking about how many people there are in the world NOT engaged in violence and enmeshed in “holy wars,” but are actually working to make things better.Extremists make a lot of noise and carry out their initiatives with a kind of unmatched zeal, dedication, and persistence. They make so much noise, in fact, that they very easily drown out the voices of those calling for tolerance, moderation, nonviolence, and pragmatic steps toward a less conflict-driven and conflict-ridden world.

Thus, we come back to pragmatism. But perhaps a different kind, not the sort where the ends justify the means, rather the ideal of a pragmatism deployed which finds hope in ethnic and metaphysical difference and always negotiates to keep heads cool and hearts beating on. Because as that old Federalist “blogger” James Madison wrote in famous paper number ten:

“Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time, must be prevented; or the majority, having such co-existent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression. If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. They are not found to be such on the injustice and violence of individuals, and lose their efficacy in proportion to the number combined together. . . .”

Although the embed has been disabled, you can still watch the whole first night: God’s Jewish Warriors here.

And if you’re watching tonight’s installment, let us know what you think of God’s Warriors and the issues raised.

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