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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Candidates probed on the power of prayer at debate

August 21, 2007, 4:02 pm | Posted by

On Sunday’s edition of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos the Democratic candidates answered a viewer’s emailed question about their faith: “My question is to understand each candidate’s view of a personal God. Do they believe that, through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could have been prevented or lessened?”

Interesting that the viewer — and the moderator — chose to ask this question. It’s not about how faith informs policy or civic values. Instead it concerns what I would consider a more private aspect of faith (I am not an evangelical). This was not the first time the Democratic candidates have been asked such a personal, audience-submitted question. It reflects a desire to know not just what the candidates would do in trying situations, but also who they are.

Notice how all the candidates (well, at least the ones who actually answered the question) essentially answered “no.” I’d like to think the American people want a president who will make sure the levees are manned instead of only praying while a hurricane is bearing down.

But even if the questioner wanted to hear otherwise, I’m glad sure he asked the question. Are you? Do questions like this help give you a better idea of WHO these candidates who are bidding to be your president ARE? Or is this kind of information irrelevant to your vote?

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God’s Warriors Today

August 21, 2007, 1:09 am | Posted by

Reflecting on this week’s six-hour prime time series, God’s Warriors, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour says, “I did come away with a sense that we — or those people who don’t want to see religion in politics and culture — if we don’t look into it and see what is going on, we’re in danger of missing it and not be able to react to it properly.”

Last night I attended a dinner party, packed mostly with graduate students in religion. One student mentioned an article that he was writing on the recent spate of New Atheism. A budding scholar of the Early Modern period, the question he seeks to answer is, why now? Atheists have been around to a louder or softer degree for centuries. And the title of the article hints at his answer: Religion after 9/11.

As has happened in other times of national, even international crises, the metaphysical battle lines between good and bad become more political than pious. (See the Lisbon earthquake, the Spanish Armada, the Thirty Years War.) Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism gets at this human habit to see in times of trouble a Time of Trouble. If there’s one thing that al Qaeda, Likud, and the Patriot Pastors of Ohio agree upon, it’s that they are on the good side of a Big War.

Christiane Amanpour sets out to explore this religious warrior mentality and examine ” the intersection between religion and politics and the effects of Christianity, Islam and Judaism on politics, culture and public life.” In this preview, Amanpour talks with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell shortly before his passing, about his fight against abortion and confronts him on his disgusting claim that 9/11 was caused by America’s tolerance of homosexuals. It also looks at other Christian zealots who have bombed abortion clinics and murder doctors who perform them in the name of religion.”

The documentaries will air beginning Tuesday, August 21 through Thursday, August 23, at 9 p.m. ET.

Oh, and the dinner? Some pro-life Catholics argued over the Supreme Court with some pro-choice Protestants and everyone declared that the desert brownies were divine.

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Elvira Arellano: mother, activist, deportee

August 20, 2007, 4:13 pm | Posted by

On Sunday the U.S. government deported Elvira Arellano, 32-year-old undocumented immigrant, separating her from 8-year-old son Saul, who is a U.S. citizen. He’s now staying with his family’s pastor in Chicago.

Elvira is an iconic advocate of immigrant parents’ rights who had taken sanctuary openly in a Chicago Methodist church for the past year. Last week she held a news conference to announce that she was leaving the church that had granted her safe harbor, and on Sunday she spoke at a rally in Los Angeles before Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took her to Tijuana.

She was forceful enough and brave enough to stand up and demand notice. That’s the only reason her deportation was newsworthy. The uncounted masses of families pulled apart by deportation don’t makes headlines and are invisible to most of us. Perhaps that’s why we tolerate it.

Saul Arellano is a U.S. citizen, and his government took his mom away, even though she had worked hard, supported her young son, stolen nothing, and hurt no one. This is the status quo, and it is intolerable. Failing to establish a pathway to inclusion for America’s 12 million undocumented immigrants is endorsing the breakup of millions of families. This is an essential fact of immigration policy, and no amount of rhetoric will change it. I don’t know Saul, but I know he wants his mom back. And I know he deserves her.

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