While I was away in Louisville last week I saw this clip on Leno. It is Clinton being interviewed by a young Nickelodeon correspondent. I love it!
Greg Mankiw had a post yesterday called How indebted is the U.S. government? that makes reference to a report from the Economic Council of Advisors. The report contained three charts that I thought were interesting. The first two compare employee compensation with productivity. The third show publicly owned debt as a percentage of GDP.
I thought this last one was particularly interesting because it shows our debt at almost half that of the other seven G8 nations and it is right at the 40 year average. However, as Mankiw points out, it is the years just beyond this chart that are worrisome because of rising entitlements like social security.
[I am away at the General Assembly Council Meetings of the PCUSA with little time to write. So here here is a rerun from December 14, 2005. I should also point that by indentifying myself as a theistic evolutionist in my post yesterday, I probably annoyed some of my conservative friends. This article is my effort to alienate my more politically liberal readers. :) ]
Jim Wallis published a book earlier this year called God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. I loved the title. I bought it back in February but only got around to reading it a few weeks ago.
I have followed the workings of Jim Wallis and Sojourners from afar over the years. They are a community that takes their faith seriously. They have advocated for the poor in Washington DC where they are located. They have sought solutions to national and international social justice issues as well. I don’t think anyone can cast doubt on their commitment to the good news of Jesus Christ.
That said, I was disappointed with book. I expected something more innovative but this is the same well worn ideas I have been reading from the Evangelical left for a quarter century. The sudden rise in Wallis’ popularity and for the book has less to do with something new being said than it does with a media that is so ignorant of the complexities of religious life in America that they have never “found” Wallis before.
The book is 374 pages and I am not going to address every argument he makes. I share many of Wallis’ concerns about the poor, race relations, and the dangers of an “American Empire” mindset. Republicans have been largely absent without leave on the first two and are always vulnerable to the later. I think President Bush was struggling to find innovative solutions through faith-based and government partnerships but the devil was in the details. When it became difficult, Republicans disappeared again. What I want to do here is address what I believe are fatal flaws in Wallis’ perspective that will prohibit the development a new way forward in Christian witness.
Conservative Christians are frequently criticized (and rightly so) for reading into scripture what they want to read out of it. This following passage by Wallis is a textbook example of how the religious left does the same thing:
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor,” and opened up his own ministry by proclaiming, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (which was a direct reference to the Jubilee Year in the Hebrew Scriptures where, periodically, the debts of the poor were cancelled, slaves were set free, and land was redistributed for the sake of equity.) (15-16)
Wallis is referring to the jubilee code in Leviticus 25. All three claims in his parenthetical statement are wrong.
“The debts of the poor were cancelled” – There were no debts to be cancelled. Leviticus 25:13-16:
13 In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. 14 When you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not cheat one another. 15 When you buy from your neighbor, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop years. 16 If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. (NRSV)
The effect of the jubilee code was to place a limit on lending and borrowing. If an Israelite fell on hard times they could essentially lease their land and their labor to another Israelite. The amount of the "lease" (not loan) could not exceed the amount of crops to be harvested between the time of the loan and the next jubilee. Labor was leased out in a similar way (Lev. 25:50) Thus, when the jubilee came around every forty-nine years the land and labor leases expired. (I wrote several posts on the jubilee code starting on August 2 if you want to read more.) There was no lending or debt involved here.
“Slaves were set free” – Israelites were not permitted to buy and sell each other into slavery. They could only take slaves from non-Israelite peoples. These slaves were not subject to the jubilee code. Leviticus 25:39-42:
39 If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. 40 They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. (NRSV)
“Land was redistributed for the sake of equity.” – The jubilee code says nothing about a redistribution of land for sake of equity. Scripture declares that God is the ultimate owner of all there is. It was his desire that each Israelite family have a share in the inheritance God was giving the nation. For that reason the land could not be sold into perpetuity. It could only be leased for a fixed period of time between jubilees.
Land and labor were the two means of production for the Israelites. The jubilee code ensured that despite hard times or personal failure no family would permanently be disposed of their means of production. There was no redistribution of livestock from one who had produced much to those who had produced little. There was no redistribution of crops from one who had produced many to those who had produced few. There was no redistribution of property witihing cities.
Many cite the prophet’s condemnation of the wealthy as a sign that there should be equality of material goods. What the prophets railed against was ill gotten wealth combined with callousness to the poor. The wealthy joined “house to house and field to field” disposing fellow Israelites of their land, essentially making them sharecroppers. (Isaiah 5:8) This was in direct violation of how God said he wanted each Isrealite to share in the inheritance, not a redistribution of wealth because of inequality.
Wallis accuses the religious right of selective use and misuse of scripture. I agree and I find it appalling. However, I find it no less appalling when the religious left reads into scripture what they want to get out of it. If we are truly to move beyond left and right to a unified Christian witness we have to start with the authority of scripture and be willing to bring ideology into conformity. Any other use is a denial of scripture’s authority.
Tax Cuts for the Rich
Concerning the Bush tax cuts, Wallis writes,
An economic stimulus package should have had as its goal to immediately “stimulate” the economy by providing emergency assistance for those families in greatest jeopardy – who, in fact, are most likely to spend the money. Instead, 80 percent of the House package benefited corporations and the wealthiest taxpayers, who are in least jeopardy and least likely to spend the money. That failed the tests of both common sense and unity. (102)
Wallis explicit assumption here is that redistributing money from the wealthy to the poor will enable the poor to spend more and thus stimulate the economy. Two things need to be separated here: Helping the poor and stimulating the economy.
When people at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder experience hard times, a compassionate society will address their material needs. Redistribution of income to lower income people in crisis may be the best way to assist people in crisis. However, redistributing income to the poor has minimal impact on a recessionary economy.
The Great Depression of the 1930s was the biggest economic collapse in the nation’s history. President Hoover raised marginal tax rates for the highest tax brackets from 25% to 63%. President Roosevelt continued the trend by elevating the rate to 79% a few years later and to 91% in the early 1940s. Many credit Roosevelt’s works programs for reviving the American economy. The fact is that the economy of 1941 was only marginally better than the economy of 1933 and tax revenues were still 10% less, despite massive redistributions of wealth and government spending. The economy actually recovered during World War II. What happened?
When people at the bottom of the economic ladder get increased income, how do they spend it? They usually spend it on food, shelter, clothing, utilities and other basic necessities of life. They don’t buy big ticket items, industrial equipment or build new factories. Where does the money the poor receive come from? It comes from the wealthy via government taxation. A substantial amount of the money appropriated from the wealthy is consumed by government bureaucracy and overhead before it ever it gets to the poor .
What do wealthy people do with “extra” money? Put under a pillow? Bury it in a hole in the backyard? No. They invest it. They buy stock in companies or they lend it by purchasing bonds or putting money on deposit at a lending institution. If you decrease the amount of money for buying stocks, corporations find it hard to raise money for capital improvements (i.e., state-of-the-art equipment, better facilities, new processes, etc.) Similarly, less money at lending institutions means the same number of corporations will be chasing a shrinking pool of dollars. That competition drives interest rates higher making many corporations less likely to borrow. Corporations conclude it is more profitable (at least in the short run) not to expand or improve, but just keep running deteriorating old equipment and facilities beyond their productive lives. In fact, it could be more profitable to run facilities to the point of obsolescence and then cease production. It might not be profitable to either raise or borrow the capital for improvements.
During the 1930s, the government took money out of the hands of the wealthy which is the same as saying government increased the cost of raising capital. Money was given to the less wealthy in order to stimulate the economy. Manufacturers found it was more profitable to use existing equipment well beyond its intended life. There was little demand for new equipment or facilities leaving those industries that produced big ticket items, and the industries that support them, without demand for goods and services. Roosevelt kept redistributing money to the government and the poor expecting that government purchases and spending by the poor (as opposed to wealthy as Wallis notes who are “the least likely to spend money”) would stimulate the economy. It didn’t.
What saved the economy was the impact of World War II. The government began buying munitions for allies and eventually its own soldiers. This meant radical expansion and improvement in the American industrial capacity. It necessitated expansion of the labor force giving many people, including women, jobs. However, since so much capacity was needed for war production there was very little available for consumer goods. With more people making money and with fewer things to spend money on, many people bought bonds and put money on deposit at lending institutions. When the war ended, there was a dramatically improved industrial infrastructure, interest rates were low because of so much money on deposit, and there was a glut of experienced labor (returning soldiers) ready to meet the deferred demand for consumer goods. Improved capacity, lower capital rates, consumer demand, and low labor costs set an economic boom in motion. Redistribution of wealth from the wealthy to the poor had minimal or no impact on stimulating the economy.
Whether we look at the tax cuts for the highest earners by Harding and Coolidge in the 1920s (56%-25%), Kennedy and Johnson in 1960s (91%-70%), Ronald Reagan in the 1980s (70%-28%), or George W. Bush in 2001 (39.6%-33%), the economy grew in the following years. Many fault the Reagan tax cuts for the growing inequality in the US. However, the growth in inequality started at least by the mid-1970s well before the tax cuts. And inequality has remained relatively constant since the Bush tax cuts four years ago. There is not a clear connection between tax cuts and inequality. (Click for more on income inequality.) However, each recent tax cut has increased the percentage of the tax burden paid by the top 1% of earners. The top 1% paid 19.3% of income taxes in 1980 but pay 34.3% in 2003. Similar results have been seen in other countries (Click for more about top payers.)
Even though there are sound reasons to believe that high tax rates on the wealthy weaken the economy, and therefore the prosperity of all, the political left often derides low tax advocates as apologists for greed. They also seem to have an implicit zero-sum-game mentality that says wealth only comes at someone else’s expense. (I find this particularly true of the seminary trained who fail to appreciate that zero-sum economics was the default assumption of cultures, including biblical ones, until just the past few centuries.) Economics is an imperfect science and I think we always need to be cautious not to read what suits us into our analysis, but greed and envy are not confined to the wealthy. It is just as possible that many who want high taxes for the wealthy envy their success. I get the sense that many who would raise taxes have little concern about the poor and great interest in punitive actions toward the wealthy, even if it damages the economy and harms the poor!
Anyone who has studied American history understands our checkered past. From slavery, to extermination of Indian peoples, to the imperialism of Teddy Roosevelt, to countless uses of military force in support of repressive “allies” throughout the Twentieth Century, we have had our share of shameful interventions with other cultures. Our intentions in these events have varied from noble to despicable. We have to be ever vigilant against future transgressions.
We also have to acknowledge that their have been some noble American interventions on the world stage. World War I, defeat of fascism, defense of South Korea, defeat of global communism, and several smaller interventions like Grenada or Kuwait, testify to more noble uses of military power.
President Bush and his administration have repeatedly said the fact that the principal argument for going to war with Iraq has turned out to be false doesn’t matter. There was not “imminent” or “urgent” threat from chemical or biological weapons, and Iraq wasn’t developing a nuclear threat, as was clearly claimed before the war.
The best explanation is that intelligence was manipulated and selectively reported to justify a worst-case scenario that had previously been arrived at on political grounds. The worst explanation is that the case was fabricated. Either way, the president of the United States misled the American people into going to war. 122
I find passages like this throughout the book a disappointing acquiescence to a political strategy of discrediting the president, not an honest analysis of the events.
The president did not say the primary reason for going to war was weapons of mass destruction. Nor did he say that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks. He said that Iraq was an aggressive player in the training and support of terrorism who had not complied with the Gulf War ceasefire. It was Iraq who ended the ceasefire not the United States. The (apparently mistaken) evidence of nuclear weapons emphasized the determination of Hussein to inflict terror. Nuclear weapons or not, that determination was real and unchecked because of UN inability to achieve compliance with ceasefire terms. Because of 9/11, the President maintained tolerance of terrorism had to be curtailed.
We may differ about whether the US should have taken the action it did in the way it did. We may differ about what truly constitutes a just war or if there is such a thing as just war. Fine. Let’s have that conversation. But let’s be honest about events surrounding what has happened.
I especially find the statements like the second paragraph above revealing. With all do respect, the best explanation is that the president and his advisors looked at the intelligence in front of them and concluded as did every other major player on the world stage (including opponents France, Germany and Russia) that Iraq was a major player in terrorism and badly wanted WMDs if they did not already have them; That the president and his advisors acting on incomplete and conflicting information (as is true every time such decisions have to be made) did what they thought was in the best interest of the American people, and ultimately the world, including Iraq. That Wallis is unwilling to allow for this assumption says more about his bias than it does about the events. (Sojo News releases which I have received also indicate that Wallis and friends have been more than eager to join the “Bush Lied” bandwagon, which may energize some followers but I believe will ultimately ghettoize their influence and diminish their prophetic voice.)
Wallis’ best long term solution to future crises like the one with Iraq? Quoting John Howard Yoder, Wallis suggests an international police force:
In the police function, the violence or threat thereof is applied only to the offending party. The use of violence by the agent of the police is subject to review of higher authorities. The police officer applies power within the limits of a state whose legislation even the criminal knows to be applicable to him. 165.
He goes on to suggest the world needs a “police force” to intervene in such crises and all nations including the US should be subject to those police powers. Who would the police force’s actions be subject to? Clearly Wallis has in mind the UN.
Wallis is repeatedly critical of US intentions and actions but absolutely uncritical of the United Nations. He is silent about the hopelessly corrupt “Oil for Food” program. He is silent about Security Council members France and Russia who were making billions of dollars off Iraqi contracts in violation of international law (and may have opposed action in Iraq for these very reasons.) He is silent to the fact that a great many of the nations who make up the United Nations have little respect for democracy and rule of law. Yet so low is Wallis’ estimation of American democracy and values, that UN authority is preferable to American sovereignty.
There is no doubt that there is much cooperative work that can be done, and is being done, through UN entities. It is also clear that American power has been abused and likely will be again. But there is not one shred of evidence that the UN can be trusted with the kind of authority he suggests and much evidence to suggest the contrary.
If you are looking for a good summary of political thought from the Evangelical left, this is the book for you. If you are looking for a new way forward in how to think as Christian about emerging social policy issues, I would look elsewhere. Jim Wallis is a man of conviction and action as evidenced by his years of leadership with the Sojourners community. He documents his attempts to find alternative solutions to the Iraq War before it happened. I salute his efforts to live with integrity what he preaches. Still, I find his biblical analysis deeply flawed, his economics confused, and his solutions utopian. For that reason, I will be looking elsewhere for new ways forward.
From the Christian Science Monitor: Race to make clean, fuel-sipping cars revs up
A global competition to build cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars is moving into a new and serious phase. In the past two weeks:
- Honda announced a new-generation diesel engine with so few emissions that it meets even California's tough clean-air standards, while getting 30 percent better mileage than an equivalent gasoline- powered vehicle. It plans to sell it in the US in 2009.
- General Motors said it would lease more than 100 hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles by next fall and sell them in volume by 2011.
- Daimler-Chrysler's Chrysler group said it would shift its emphasis from brawny truck-based vehicles to small cars, including 10 new fuel-sipping models.
"What we're seeing is a race that's been going on for a while, but is really heating up now," says Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of the Green Car Journal in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "All the automakers are vying to bring out technology that is much cleaner and gets much better mileage."
The push for cleaner, more efficient cars is powered by two forces: the rise in gasoline prices, of course, and new emissions regulations.
So what are we to make of Christianity and science? I think a helpful analogy would be to think in terms of two books from God: scripture and nature. Scripture is testimony of God’s involvement in the world and reveals his plan for creation, including us. Nature is physical evidence of God’s work in the world.
Without getting too metaphysical, I think it is important to ask what the difference is between the natural and the supernatural. When we say “natural” we usually mean something that we see repeatedly and consistently. When we say “supernatural” or “miracle,” we refer to something that seems inconsistent with what usually happens for which we have no explanation. For instance, people coming back to life is supernatural… or is it?
What if God suddenly raised everyone from the dead and then began bringing people back from the dead right after they died? We might not be able to explain what was happening but if it continued over time we would no longer call it supernatural. It happens every time and therefore it is natural. What if gravity is actually supernatural, but because it happens all the time, we call it natural? Supernatural is simply extraordinary events that we can’t explain. Does that make the natural any less permeated with God’s presence?
We have received divine revelation in scripture about God and his plans for humanity. We also have before us the wondrous handiwork of God in the physical world. We know God exists and is involved, but science is the study of the physical evidence of how God works in the world. Revelation does not tell us how the physical realities of the world work and science does not tell us about God’s purposes or operations beyond physical realities. So precisely how do the two interact? Why not ask how Jesus could be fully God and fully human? How can God be three in one? It is a paradox.
The drive of the Modernist era has been to force an “either or” solution. For finite beings with limited mental capacity and perceptive abilities, to believe that we can grasp how an infinite and omniscient God interacts with creation is more than a little arrogant. To conclude that because science cannot measure God that God is not present is the height of arrogance. It doesn’t mean that these topics shouldn’t be probed, but a considerable dose of humility is in order.
For centuries, the Church stifled learning and understanding of the physical world because of its unexamined iconoclastic presumptions about how the world works. As many of those presumptions were proved false, the church resorted to threats and inquisitions to retain power and authority. The Church discredited itself before much of the world. The Church succumbed to its own hubris.
Meanwhile, the Enlightenment, flamed by the recalcitrance of the Church, gave birth to a new type of hubris. As science broke free from the prison of Church influence it began to quickly gain authority. Scientists made remarkable breakthroughs that dramatically improved the lives of everyday people. By the 19th Century, philosophers like Auguste Comte (1798-1857) touted positivism, and the new science of sociology, as the future religion of humankind. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) championed the concept of Social Darwinism. (It was Spencer, not Darwin, who coined the phrase “the survival of the fittest.”) This trajectory in social scientific thinking led to the Eugenics Movement in the United States and Germany during the first half of the 20th Century. However, the most notorious of this band of intellectuals has to be Karl Marx (1818-1883).
Marxism is essentially a Christian heresy. It promises a coming utopia. It views humanity as moving toward an unstoppable conclusion. It demands complete loyalty. It views the people as the “body,” except instead of having Christ as head, impersonal market and evolutionary forces are taking the “body” to completion. Of course, as we have seen, the individual counted for very little.
Science is not an institution in the same sense as the Church. Scientists can not achieve the same level of tyranny the Church achieved. Yet, from the mid-19th Century (at least) leading scientists, scientific communities, and social thinkers have championed science as the final authority on all matters and legitimized some of the most horrific events in human history.
Evolution played a part in many of the destructive ideologies of the 20th Century. So is evolution the culprit? If I want to make a counterfeit $20 bill, I would be well advised to use a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the center that looks as close to the real thing as possible. If I want to create a counterfeit religion, wouldn’t I want it to look as much like the real thing as possible? Scientific research points overwhelmingly toward evolution as process in the book that God has given us about the physical world. Would it not make sense to incorporate this mindset into any godless counterfeit ideology I develop? This doesn’t make evolution wrong or evil.
It seems to me that the answer lies in embracing the paradox of the two books God has given us. Scripture, apart from science, leads to a stagnate culture. Science, apart from scripture, can lead to a host of horrifying consequences for humanity corporately and individually. Science, and its application through technology, is coming to be seen less as a savior and more as a tool that can either enhance life or destroy it. Its luster as the high priest of knowledge is beginning to fade.
One of the things I see today as a minor theme within the Emergent Church movement is hostility toward reason and science. This strikes me as an over reaction. The answer to an over inflated esteeming of science is not its trivialization. In fact, the scientists I know are among the most awestruck, humbled, and mystical people around. The answer is to bring the study of the physical world back into balance with the personal word God has given us in scripture, incarnated in Jesus Christ, and attested to us by the Holy Spirit.
From Christian Century: Democrats seen as failing in outreach
After varied efforts by Democratic leaders to convince mainstream churchgoers that they share common moral values, a Baptist ethicist has suggested that the Democrats focus instead on core biblical issues of compassion and begin long-term contacts with centrist clergy at local levels.
"The Democratic Party simply doesn't have messengers who are preachers of big-steeple churches," writes Robert Parham, whose online column EthicsDaily.com is the frank voice of the independent Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville.
Parham, who holds a doctorate from Baylor University, often critiques fundamentalist Southern Baptist leaders but tosses political barbs as well. He rapped President Bush for confiding recently to conservative journalists that he thinks America is in a revivalist Third Great Awakening. By portraying the Iraq war as one between good and evil, the president "diminishes his credibility" in using religion "to rally political support," Parham wrote.
But Democratic leaders were panned in his September 8 essay. Despite new Web sites such as FaithfulDemocrats.com, a flurry of books in the past year excoriating the religious right, and hope-filled gatherings of religious progressives in Washington, D.C., Parham argued that Democrats' outreach is not working.
From the Prebyterian News Service: Turning mazes into labyrinths. The joint session between the General Assembly Council and the Middle Governing Bodies has finished. I felt it was a useful and productive time even if it was a bit overwhelmng. The artile linked here is from the Presbyterian News Service and gives an overview. Perhaps I can write more later but now GAC is getting ready to meet.
From Greg Mankiw's blog: Truthiness.
It is always fascinating to hear when "facts" turn out to be otherwise. Here is a "fact" from psychiatrist Louann Brizendine, author of the best-selling new book The Female Brain:
A woman uses 20,000 words per day, while a man uses only 7,000.
That is an amazing "fact," and I remember being quite struck by it when I first read it several weeks ago in an article on Brizendine.
But is it true? ....
[Mark] Liberman says Brizendine's "fact" is urban legend.
Update: A reliable source tells me that this "fact" is indeed wrong and that the book will be corrected. He describes Brizendine as "a pretty responsible scientist who lept at a few things which seemed to quantify her basic thesis in journalistic shorthand."
From Real Clear Politics: Our Growing Inequality Problems by economist Robert Samuelson.
The bottom line: Productivity gains (improvements in efficiency) are going disproportionately to those at the top. We do not really understand why. Globalization, weaker unions, increasingly skilled jobs, the frozen minimum wage and the "winner-take-all society'' (CEOs, sports stars and movie celebrities getting big payouts) have all been cited as reasons. Costly employer-provided health insurance is also squeezing take-home pay in the middle.
What might government do? The Bush administration's enthusiasm for tax cuts for the rich could be tempered; to reduce the budget deficit, their taxes could be raised without dulling economic incentives. (For the record: I supported the first Bush tax cut and opposed his cuts on capital gains and dividends.) Equally, liberals and others who support lax immigration policies across our Southern border should understand that these policies deepen U.S. inequality.
But many familiar proposals would be mostly symbolic or hurtful. Raising the minimum wage might directly affect only about 5 percent of workers and might destroy some jobs. Protectionism might save a few well-paid jobs but would inflict higher prices on those least able to afford them. Still, no one should be happy with today's growing economic inequality. It threatens America's social compact, which depends on a shared sense of well-being.
[I am at PCUSA General Assembly Council meetings right now with little time to write. So here is a rerun originally posted December 12, 2005.]
I am not the most rabid sports fan in the world but I do like watching the occasional game. I like cheering for the hometown team and I like cheering for the underdog. Of course, if you live in Kansas City like I do, cheering for the howetown teams usually means cheering for the underdog. Still, there is something inspirational about seeing “David defeat Goliath” when it does happen. I think it speaks to something deep inside us, maybe even at a spiritual level.
There have been several movies recently about amazing sports underdogs. There was The Rookie in 2002 about baseball pitcher Jim Morris. He injured his arm in the minor leagues and went on to become a high school coach. Coaching a team in his late thirties he made a deal with his team that he would try out for the major leagues if the high school team made it to the play off. They did, he did, and he made the major leagues in 1999.
Seabiscuit was released in 2002, about a 1930s era castoff horse and the people who owned, trained and rode him. Seabiscuit went on to beat War Admiral in a head-to-head race in 1938, and became a national symbol for the downtrodden in overcoming the odds. Similarly, Cinderella Man was released this year. It is the story of Jim Braddock, a Depression era boxer who rose from out of nowhere to defeat world champion Max Baer. Both of these movies gave you a real sense of the times.
My favorite movie of this genre has to be Miracle, released in 2004. Miracle is about the 1980 US Hockey team defeating the Soviet Union in the Olympics and then winning the gold medal. From the beginning, the movie had its hooks in me. The opening credits gives a retrospective of national and world events in the 1970s up to the summer of 1979 when the team was formed. During the course of the movie, the Soviets invade Afghanistan and hostages are taken at the US Embassy in Iran. The movie includes portions of Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” speech where he observed the for the first time in US history majority of Americans believed the next five years would be worse than the previous five years.
These events hooked me because they are a summary of my formative years. I turned ten in 1969 and the events chronicled are among some of my earliest memories of life beyond my personal world. I also connected with the movie because the average age of the players on the team was twenty-one. I turned twenty-one just a month or two after the Olympics.
The main reason I connected with these events was I remember watching the game against the Soviets with a group of friends from college. The Soviets were like a machine. They had won more than fifty consecutive games. They easily defeated the NHL all stars and they had beaten the American Olympic team in an exhibition game just before the Olympics by some lopsided score like 10-3. No one really gave team USA much hope but they stunned the fans by beating Czechoslovakia (the second best team in the world) to advance to the semifinals against the Soviets. Could they possibly pull it off?
The movie covers a seven month period from the formation of the team to the 1980 Winter Olympics. It centers on the coach Herb Brooks, who selected the team with the sole purpose of beating the Soviets. It tells the story of undisciplined young men who truly become a team. The game against the Soviets occupies the last twenty or so minutes of the movie. The Soviets scored first but Team USA tied it up. The Soviets scored again and Team USA tied it again at the buzzer of the first period. The Soviets went ahead yet again in the second period. The USA tied it again in the third period. Then, with ten minutes left in the game, Mike Erouzione scored for Team USA, putting the USA on top 4-3. The roof just about came down.
The movie captures well the nerve racking battle of the Soviets throwing everything they had against Team USA for ten solid minutes, as the Soviets became more flustered and desperate. During the last couple of minutes of the game the crowd was on their feet screaming. (By that time, no one I was watching with in 1980 was sitting either.) With seconds left, the teams were scrambling for the puck. Then came the words of sportscaster Al Michaels, his voice ever more frantic, “Five seconds left! in the game. Do you believe in miracles?... [buzzer] YES!!!” To this day, sports list fanatics rank that game as the greatest upset of all time. Two days later, team USA beat Finland and won the Gold Medal.
The movie ends with a voiceover of Herb Brooks as scenes play from the end of the medal round and from the medal ceremony, where all twenty players jumped up on the top platform to celebrate the accomplishment. The voiceover has Brooks saying,
I’ve been asked in the years since Lake Placid, what was the best moment for me. Well, it was here [medal ceremony]. The sight of twenty young men of such differing backgrounds now standing as one. Young men willing to sacrifice so much of themselves, all for an unknown.
A few years later the US began using professional athletes in the games. “Dream Teams.” I always found that term ironic because now that we have dream teams, we seldom get the chance to dream. But on one weekend, as America and the world watched, a group of remarkable young men gave the nation what it needed most; A chance for one night, not only to dream, but a chance, once again, …to believe.
The story is truly amazing and inspiring. Yet each time I watch it I find it is connecting with me at some spiritual level. Brooks talks of differing people becoming one through sacrifice. These people have a common dream. That dream comes down to one apocalyptic moment where the miracle becomes a reality. The mighty are toppled and the lowly lifted up. It is in many ways a metaphor for the Church. Where the metaphor breaks down is that the team’s faith is not radical enough!
Al Michaels asked “Do you believe in miracles?” with five seconds left in the game when it was a forgone conclusion. After the buzzer, there was pandemonium. What if instead, on a summer day in 1979, seven months before the Olympics, Coach Brooks announced to his newly assembled team that the Soviets are already defeated and all they had to do was play? What if he and the team had broken out in wild celebration of victory? You and I would think they were crazy. Yet this is exactly what the Church is called to do!
With the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has declared that evil is defeated. We are told to celebrate this victory in front of a world as sign of the dream that is going to be fulfilled:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:1-4, NRSV)
As we find ourselves in advent of 2005, I don’t know how long it is before the dream comes true. Are we celebrating? I know that angels came to Shepherds two thousand years ago in the night and celebrated the victory of God. I do know that we have been called to celebrate that victory as well, before a world that wants to dream but doesn’t know how. There may be five seconds, five years, five centuries or five millennia left on the clock, but the same question keeps ringing down through the ages. “Do you believe in miracles?”
As a preface, I never said I was the most timely person in the world. While surfing Mike McLoughlin's Faith at Work blog, I just came across his post back in April called Richard Mouw on our Calling to Holy Worldliness. I loved the close of Mike's post.
I asked Dr. Mouw a question similar to a question I had asked Miroslav Volf speaking on God at Work at the Yale Divinity School during last year’s consultation. If God cares for our work, how do you respond to those who place more value on certain types of work and less value on other types of work. I used Rick Warren’s comment in the Purpose Driven Life as an example. (See this post for the exact quote.) Warren states, our mission is forever, our job is only temporary, in referring to the work of mission in the workplace.
Mouw answered, “How people handle life has eternal significance. I worry about that polarized notion of time verse eternity that makes the stuff we do in church the important work and other work is just to pay the way. I think that’s wrong. I’m not saying that’s what Rick means. I think there is a danger that that can reinforce all the wrong thinking by following that course.
Farming has profound theological significance. I attended a meeting of the Christian Farmer’s meeting where they talked about a Christian egg policy for Canada. These were not theologically trained Christians but believers who cared deeply about God’s creation… at one point a farmer stood up and said with a Dutch accent. ‘Colonel Sanders wants us to treat our chickens like little packages of meat that can be bought or sold, but I think CHICKENS ARE CHICKENS! God wants chickens to be able to strut their stuff in front of other chickens!” He was saying, there is a certain dignity to the creation that has to be treated as having a dignity of its own. You just can’t do anything you want to chickens in order to sell them. It has implications to your relationship to the eternal God. He asks us to manage creation, to be earth keeping, in accordance with the will of God.”
So there you have it on the authority of the President of Fuller Seminary, “Chickens are Chickens!” Which means there is eternal value to the work we do because it is done in service to the Creator God. Well said, Dr. Mouw!
From Christian Century: Emerging model: A visit to Jacob's Well. Back in 1998, a close friend of mine told me that a small core group of people were wanting to start a church in the neighborhood where I lived and worshiped. Melissa and I a were attending a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation (Roanoke Presbyterian Church) at the time and working to creat a vital place of ministry in the neighborhood. I told him that the third floor of our church was available. To make a long story short the congreation grew to be Jacob's Well.
Our Presbyterian congregation worked along side their's in the same building for almost five years. Then, to due to a number of issues I won't bore you with here, the PCUSA congregation voted to sell the building to Jacob's Well and close the PCUSA congregation. I still visit JW occasionally and I have several friends who are actively involved there. I am still in the neighborhood and it is truly a wonderful thing that God is doing.
The Westport neighborhood of midtown Kansas City, Missouri, is a mix of avant-garde youth and aging hippies. If bumper stickers are any indication, political views range from the muscular left ("Veterans for Kerry") to the forthrightly left ("Peace is patriotic") to the crudely left ("Dump the son of a Bush!"). The first man I passed on the street had his shirt off and displayed pierced nipples. No doubt he was on his way to one of the area's many wine bars or tattoo parlors.
This neighborhood is also home to a thriving church called Jacob's Well, which attracts about 1,000 people each week to its various services. The church is led by Tim Keel, who, along with author Brian McLaren, is a founder of the Emergent movement. I went to JW hoping that it could help me understand a phenomenon that remains elusive—the Emergent church.
The innovative JW is housed, ironically, in a classic church building that Presbyterians erected in 1930. The building is the envy of the numerous congregations in the neighborhood, including two that have exchanged their denominational labels for more jazzy names and logos—one Southern Baptist (now River City Church) and one Evangelical Covenant (now City Church).
The classical space and biblically resonant name suit JW just fine, and they also say something about the Emergent movement. If yesteryear's evangelical church was the equivalent of a starter castle in the exurbs, JW is more akin to a rehabilitated loft in a gentrifying city. Whereas evangelical churches (and increasing numbers of mainline ones) seek to attract young people by designing spaces stripped of Christian symbols or tradition, JW people seem to like the traditional feel of the sanctuary, with its dark wood, stained glass and high ceilings. While other churches would be thrilled by the numerical growth—1,000 attenders after seven years of existence—JW worries that the growth means it may not be intimate enough to nurture community and friendship. A recent sermon on stewardship insisted, apparently in all seriousness, that the church didn't need any more money or volunteers, so giving of time or money should come only out of genuine gratitude.
In short, JW is a rebuke to those churches that, in imitation of cutting-edge 1970s evangelicalism, deliberately strip themselves of historical symbols, creeds and practices in an effort to grow. JW is succeeding by moving in precisely the opposite direction....
From the Acton PowerBlog: A Change of Climate at The Economist by Jordan Ballor. This is an excellent reponse to the a special issue of the Economist (Sep. 9) dealing with the environment and global warming (which unfortunately is not available for free on line.) I wrote a brief post earlier pointing to the Economist article but Jordan gives a much more complete response and I agree almost word for word with everything he wrote.
At the request of Andy Crouch, who is among other things editorial director for The Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today, I have taken a look at the editorial from The Economist’s special issue from Sept. 9.
To recap, Andy asked me, “what are your thoughts about The Economist’s special report on climate change last week, in which they conclude that the risks of climate change, and the likely manageable cost of mitigation, warrant the world, and especially the US, taking prompt action?”
He continues, “This is, obviously, a magazine with impeccable liberal economic (not to mention journalistic) credentials, and one of the sponsors of the Copenhagen Consensus that raised questions about the wisdom of prioritizing climate change. I believe they would not have taken this editorial position five years ago. Do you think they are mistaken in doing so now? What do you see as the salient evidence they missed, if so?”
I’m not as optimistic as the editorial about the size of the economic costs for these significant carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes. And having attended Tom Ackerman’s lecture, “Global Warming: Fact or Fiction,” I have seen first hand the rhetorical power of the infamous “hockey stick,” the legitimacy of which has come under increasing scrutiny. If the temperature record is only reliable up to 500 years, I’m not convinced that this is enough of a data set to responsibly make such huge predictions. So, in general, I don’t agree with, or at least remain agnostic about, The Economist’s conclusions on the economic viability or the environmental urgency of climate change.
I do think, however, and have written before, that there are plenty of compelling reasons other than the potential threat of climate change for petroleum-based economies to move toward renewable and sustainable sources of energy. In this, I might venture to guess that Andy and I are in broad agreement.
The disagreement may come in with respect to our views of the acceptable time horizon for what I’ve called the transcendence and obsolescence of petroleum (my timeline being somewhat more elastic than Andy’s). This presumably manifests itself in Andy’s emphasis on the necessity for government action while I am less inclined to resort to coercive legislation.
From TCS Daily: The Pen, the Sword and the Pontiff by Lee Harris. Great article.
[Harris quoting Madeleine Bunting] "An elderly Catholic nun has already been killed in Somalia, perhaps in retaliation for the pope's remarks; churches have been attacked in the West Bank. How is this papal stupidity going to play out in countries such as Nigeria, where the tensions between Catholics and Muslims frequently flare into riots and deaths? Or other countries such as Pakistan, where tiny Catholic communities are already beleaguered?"
"Papal stupidity" is strong language. But a few paragraphs before this harsh phrase, Madeleine Bunting has prepared us for it by arguing that "even the most cursory knowledge of dialogue with Islam teaches...that reverence for the Prophet is non-negotiable. What unites all Muslims is a passionate devotion and commitment to protecting the honor of Mohammed." A Pope who did not know that "reverence for the Prophet is non-negotiable" must, therefore, be guilty of egregious stupidity.
The argument underlying this attack may be summarized as follows: Morally responsible speech or writing must take into account the consequences that such speech or writing may have on others. If it is bound to inflame certain groups, to cause the death of innocent people, to increase tensions, and to endanger whole communities, then it is morally wrong to engage in such speech or writing, and anyone who does so deserves to be attacked by all morally responsible people.
This leads me to the question that I would like to pose to Madeleine Bunting and all those who have attacked Benedict for his lack of moral responsibility in making the Regensburg address. Suppose that the eminent English biologist Richard Dawkins delivered a speech at the University of Regensburg in which he attacked supporters of Creationism and Intelligent Design theory as "ignorant boobs" -- words that he has already applied in them in a written article. Now, let us imagine that Christian fundamentalists all over the United States, outraged by this inflammatory language, went on a violent rampage. Suppose that they lynched an elderly professor of biology, and attacked biology departments at several universities. Suppose that teachers of high school biology went about in fear of their lives, while many simply quit their jobs.
What kind of article would Madeleine Bunting write about such a hypothetical incident? Do you think she would violently condemn Richard Dawkins, writing something along the lines of:
"Even the most cursory knowledge of dialogue with Creationists teaches...that reverence for the Biblical account of man's creation is non-negotiable. What unites all Christian fundamentalists is a passionate devotion and commitment to the inerrancy of the Holy Bible."
Would Madeleine Bunting refer to Dawkins' speech as illustrating professorial stupidity? Would she imply that he was personally responsible for the death of the elderly American professor of biology, and describe the brutal murder as having been done "in retaliation" for Dawkins' remarks?
What fools the American Creationists have been to write books, give speeches, and attend the tedious meetings of School Boards, when by rioting, murdering, and running amok, they could have earned the sympathy and respect of enlightened intellectuals like Madeleine Bunting. ...
From the Christian Science Monitor: Among 'the Disciple Generation,' fervor and diversity
Welcome to the Evangelical youth movement. Or what Lauren Sandler calls "the Disciple Generation" - an ever-growing population of young Evangelicals, ages 15 to 35, "who are equally obsessed with Christ and with culture as a means to an Evangelical end."
Formerly a reporter for National Public Radio, Ms. Sandler had encountered many Christian groups during her travels. But as Evangelicals became more influential in politics, she set out to scout in depth the evolving youth movement. What she found surprised and disturbed her, an avowed secularist and nonbeliever who was barely 30 herself.
Her first book not only presents vivid, spirited sketches of a burgeoning subculture, but also a plea to fellow secularists to wake up and proffer an alternative.
In Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, Sandler explores a movement of astonishing diversity in which "dreadlocks ally with buzz cuts," three-piece suits with punk rockers, Mohawks with computer nerds, all "organizing against anything that challenges the perceived literal perfection of the Bible."
For a link to the Amazon listing click here.
[I am at PCUSA General Assembly Council right now with no time to write. So here is a rerun originally posted January 27, 2006.]
Evangelium in Evangelio means the gospel within the gospel. It refers to the Luke 15: 11-32, the passage traditionally known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, although more accurately it is the Parable of the Compassionate Father. I recently completed a series of posts on Kenneth Bailey’s study of Luke 15. There is so much rich information that it is easy to get lost in the details. I wanted to find some way to present the Parable of the Compassionate Father without having to flip back and forth between the scripture and commentary. It occurred to me that one way to communicate the richness of the parables would be to write them in narrative but a.) make explicit the implicit cultural assumptions and b.) amplify important linguistic issues. So here is my attempt to translate Bailey's work into one continuous flow and I hope have not misrepresented any of his work. If you want the documented details behind this I highly recommend Kenneth E. Bailey's Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15.
The setting for the story is Jesus breaking bread with tax collectors and sinners. The scribes and Pharisees are deeply critical of his behavior. Jesus has just told them the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin just prior to telling this parable. (I have highlighted the actual NRSV scripture in bold.)
The Parable of the Compassionate Father.
There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father something outrageously insulting; “Father, give me the share of property that will belong to me.” No son asks this of his father. It is the same as wishing his father dead! Astonishingly, instead of responding in furious outrage, the father was willing to grant the son's request. So he divided his property between them. How curious also that the older son, who should have stepped in as mediator between his younger brother and father, is silent. He simply accepts his portion of the estate. While the sons now own the estate, the father still has a right to live off of the estate, using its profits for his own sustenance.
A few days later, the younger son gathered all he had and for good reason. As soon as the village discovers the outrage of asking for his inheritance, they will likely perform a ceremony that would ostracize him from village life. Even though it often took months to settle an estate, the younger son sold his estate for what he could quickly get and left town. He took his wealth and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. His behavior was not particularly disreputable. He simply was irresponsible in keeping track of his money. Unfortunately for him, when he had spent everything, a great famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. The citizen upheld the tradition of hospitality which made it uncharitable to refuse assistance. However, the citizen also used the culturally approved method to get rid of such people. He gave him a job he knew he would despise, thus encouraging him to move on. What could be more despicable for a Jew than feeding pigs? Nevertheless, the young man was in need and he would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating. These pods were of no nutritional value to human beings. He was a Jew wishing he were a pig! His situation was truly desperate and no one gave him anything.
The young man had been in denial about the hopelessness of his situation but when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!” This gave him an idea. He said to himself, “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy at this time to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” Maybe if he admitted his mistake, his father would have pity on him and take him in as a craftsman (not a slave or servant.) He could earn his way back to respectability. The odds are stacked against him. He had disrespected his father. Then he went and squandered his estate with gentiles! The village will jeer him mercilessly if he returns and he will almost certainly be ostracized. Furthermore, his older brother now owns the estate. What will his reaction be? But what other choice does he have? He knew what he had to do so he set off and went to his father.
But while he was still far off, both in geography and understanding, his father saw him. The father is a man of means and lives at the center of the village where all such people of wealth live. To see his son, he would have had to look out across the village to the road leading from the fields into the village. Being the man of means he was, he was no doubt attired in long robes that covered him to his ankles. He moved about with great dignity and purpose. He would not be caught dead running in public. To run, or even to show his ankles in public, would be a great humiliation. But this was no ordinary father. He does the unthinkable. He saw his son and was filled with compassion. Gathering up his robes, he ran through the village to greet him and put his arms around him and kissed him! A son in good standing with his father would approach, kneel and kiss his hand. A wayward son would fall face down in the dirt and kiss his father’s feet. This father grabs his son and kisses he repeatedly on the neck indicating total acceptance before the son can make a move. We might expect this from a mother, but not a man of this status.
The son is in stunned disbelief. At last he sees that money was never the issue. It was about a relationship, and he had broken that relationship. There was nothing he could do to "earn his way back." So then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. The son dropped off the last part of his speech because he could now see it was pointless. The father's grace brought the son to true repentance and he recognized his unworthy state. But the father said to his slaves, “Quick, bring out a robe – the best one - and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. The slaves had raced after the father wondering what the spectacle was. Most of the village was witnessing these events as well. The robe the father requested would be his own robe and would communicate to the entire community the father’s total acceptance of his son. The ring was likely the father’s signet ring and would symbolize that the son now shared his father’s authority. The sandals indicated freedom, as only free people were permitted to wear sandals.
Furthermore, the father told his slaves to go “and get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” This was to be a "king" sized celebration as fatted calves were killed only in honor of visiting royalty and dignitaries. There was no freezer for the leftovers and the fatted calf could probably feed the whole village. The father is ready to celebrate his recovery of his son. It is true that his son has physically returned, but because of the tremendous grace the father has shown to his son, the son has repented and entered genuine relationship with his father. There is now shalom between father, son and the village. It is this that the father intends to celebrate. The community gathered and they began to celebrate.
Now the elder son was in the field out beyond the village; and when he came from afar off (probably down the same road as his brother), and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. The father’s house was likely a walled in villa, similar to many of the homes in southern Europe or Latin America today, with rooms built around the edges and an open courtyard in the middle. Children would not have been allowed into the house for celebrations so they did their celebrating in the courtyard. They would likely be the first people the older son encountered. Curiously, rather than simply entering the house to see what is happening, the older son stops along the way to gather some intelligence. He called one of the [young boys] and asked him what was going on. Repeating the buzz he had heard from the adults, he replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.”
At such a grand celebration the older son would be expected to immediately enter and greet everyone. And then, possibly after a change of clothes, he would return and play the role of host, making certain everyone was having a good time. Instead this older son heard what had happened and then became angry and refused to go in, right in front of the whole village! His behavior was totally humiliating to his father. A typical father of his status would have instructed his servants to come and take the son away. He would lock him up to be dealt with later. But as we have seen, this was no typical father.
To the astonishment of everyone present, accept possibly the older son, his father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, with out even respectfully addressing him as “father,” saying, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command.” Does this father sound like the kind of man someone would have to “slave” for? The older son says he never disobeyed commands, but isn’t this the same son who abdicated his responsibility as an older brother and accepted his inheritance without protest with no attempt to bring reconciliation? He sees his father as an onerous burden. Continuing his invective, “Yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.” His father’s presence keeps him from freely using the assets the way he desires. The older son wishes his father dead every bit as much as his brother had. Yet in this case, he is wishing his father dead in front of the whole community! This was a grievous insult of greater magnitude then that of the younger son's offense.
Still not finished, the older son says, “But when this son of yours (who I refuse to acknowledge as my brother) came back, who has devoured your property with gentile prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Didn’t the older brother just come in from the field? How would he know what had happened to his brother’s wealth? He doesn’t. But he does know that if he can make such an accusation stick, no one in the village will give their daughter in marriage to the younger son. He will become an outcast. His intention is to drive a wedge that separates his brother from the community and destroys the shalom the father has restored. He is beside himself in anger that his father has not required hard penance for his brother's behavior. Furthermore, he has missed the point of the celebration. The celebration is not for the younger son. It is for the father in celebration of winning back his son.
Surely, now it is obvious that this older son is no good. Surely, the father will now show his outrage. We are overwhelmed once again by the father’s response because then the father said to him “My precious beloved son (teknon), you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. The estate is yours and nothing of yours is being taken. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours (and he is your brother) was dead and has come to life; he was lost and because of my sacrificial grace has been found. The father absorbs the scurrilous behavior of his son and extends to him costly grace in the hopes he may get his older son back as well.
The Missing Ending
Jesus gives no end to the story. He leaves that it to the scribes and Pharisees to “write” the end with their response.
The two brothers symbolize the rebellious law-breaker and the rebellious law-keeper. The inclination of most readers is to identify with the younger son. But how often do we resemble the older son? The invitation to write an ending to the story may not be to the scribes and Pharisees alone.
In the end, Jesus is not calling us to identify with either brother. The call is to model the father.
From the Rocky Mountain News: Environmentalists are new foes of some of the world's poorest, Opinion by Phelim McaLeer. Greate article. I hope his movie makes it to Kansas City. (HT: Presbyweb)
Colorado's miners have struggled long and hard for the right to organize and have safe working conditions.
Many have paid with their lives in this struggle.
Some were the victims of the poor safety standards that used to characterize the industry, while others died in bloody confrontations when mine owners were quick to hire private armies to confront troublesome workers.
As a liberal European journalist, I was familiar with these stories and also knew about how Europe's miners faced similar battles to improve their working lives. These struggles meant that miners have always had a special status for us left-wingers. They were a superior breed who fought for themselves and the rights of all workers.
However in my more recent journalism, I have discovered there is a new threat to miners, their families and their wider communities.
This threat is not from cigar-sucking, champagne-swilling robber barons. Mining is now one of the most regulated businesses in the world. Banks will not lend to, insurance companies will not cover and governments will not give licenses to companies that want to open unsafe or polluting mines.
Instead I have discovered that the biggest threat to miners and their families comes from upper-class Western environmentalists.
Rosia Montana [Romania] was already a heavily polluted village because of the 2,000 years of mining in the area. The mining company actually planned to clean up the existing mess.
And the locals, rather than being forcibly resettled as the environmentalists claimed, were queuing up to sell their decrepit houses to the company which was paying well over the market rate.
It was surprising that environmentalists would lie, but the most shocking part was yet to come. As I spoke to the Western environmentalists it quickly emerged that they wanted to stop the mine because they felt that development and prosperity will ruin the rural "idyllic" lifestyle of these happy peasants.
I gathered up extra funding and the documentary Mine Your Own Business premieres Tuesday at the Denver Gold Forum at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Denver. The film will shock and upset those who, like myself, unquestioningly believed environmentalists were a force for good in the world.
For Mine your Own Business I started looking beyond Romania and found a similar pattern in very different villages in Africa and South America.
It is sad that my fellow left-wingers and environmentalists who often come from the most developed countries are now so opposed to development.
From the Seattle Times: A nagging compulsion to move up or get left behind (HT: Presbyweb)
The richest girl I knew growing up lived in a house with a swimming pool out back. This was a notable luxury in a small Snohomish County town full of modest homes, with backyards more likely to sport a dog on a chain than a shimmering, tiled pool.
This pool opened my mind to the idea of disposable income, of buying things you don't need and your neighbors can't afford. It was like meeting the devil himself, in a swimsuit and a smile.
I've been running from that devil ever since. He's not impressed by swimming pools anymore. And as wealthy people find new ways to stretch my imagination, neither am I.
[This post was originally posted March 16, 2006, as part of my Theology and Economics series.]
Some of the most controversial passages in scripture deal with the “household codes” in the New Testament epistles. Most prominent among these are Ephesians 5:18-6:9 and Colossians 3:18-4:1. Some scholars regard Ephesians and Colossians as deutero-Pauline epistles written after Paul’s death. Part of the case against Pauline authorship is their inclusion of the household codes and their “culturally accommodating” nature. I find the deutero-Pauline view unpersuasive but this issue is not central for our purposes here. What is central is the household codes. Far from being “accommodating,” I think they are radically subversive of the Roman Empire. I am going to direct my attention specifically to the household code in Ephesians 5:18-6:9. We can not appreciate the impact of this scripture without cultural context.
Writing instructions for the proper household management was a common practice of Greek social philosophers. These “household codes” usually instructed the father in the household to “rule” over his household wisely. Instructions were not given to the wife, children, and slaves. The husband/father/master was exhorted to bring his wife, children and slaves into submission as his duty in preserving the social order. (1)
The Roman household (familia) structure was very similar to the Greek household structure. The ruler of the Roman household was called the paterfamilias. His wife, children and slaves were subject to him until his death. It is important to understand that the household code in Ephesians is not referring to three separate sets of relationships. (husband and wife, father and children, master and slaves) It is referring to the relationship of one person, the paterfamilias, to the rest of the household. (2)
The archetypical Roman household was the villa in the Roman countryside. These were self-sufficient plantations. The paterfamilias might live at the villa only part of the year. Indeed, he might have had more than one villa and a residence in the city. Wealth through agriculture was the epitome of social status while wealth gained through merchant trade was unseemly to the Roman hierarchy (although trading was widely practiced.) (3)
Unlike our use of the term “household” to refer to a family’s residence, the Roman household was an estate with land. Most people in the empire did not live in households. Most people by the New Testament era lived in multistory apartment buildings (insulae) that had small shops on the ground floor where the residents worked. A “deluxe” apartment might be on the first floor behind the shops occupied by those with more wealth. Only the very wealthy had stand-alone homes in the city. (4)
In the age preceding Jesus’ birth, the paterfamilias essentially had the power of life and death over the members of the household. There is evidence that authoritarian household rule was lessening in the First Century C.E. Woman were enjoying more freedom and slave manumission had become so prevalent that the Roman establishment feared a dilution of Roman citizenship. (5) Caesar Augustus decreed in 4 C.E. that emancipation was prohibited before the age of thirty and he placed limits on the total emancipations each year. (6) This degree of social change made those with power in First Century Rome more apprehensive about threats to the social order.
Worship and Voluntary Associations
Worship of the Roman gods was considered essential to the reinforcement of Roman social values. Failure to participate in this worship made one suspect. Households were expected to worship the deity worshiped by the paterfamilias as well as honor the festivals to other deities throughout the year. In the century preceding Jesus’ birth, the Jews had been granted an exemption from worshiping the Roman deities and from engaging in emperor worship. Christians were viewed as a Jewish sect until about 64 C.E., when Nero singled out Christians as responsible for a massive fire in Rome. Until that time, Christians were exempt from the Roman worship requirements as well. The Jewish rebellion in the late 60s C.E. ended the worship exemptions. (7)
Public assemblies were forbidden by Rome except for gatherings of approved voluntary associations of which there were four types by the First Century C.E.: professional, religious, burial and household. Professional associations met to deal with issues related to their trade. Religious associations met to honor and worship a deity. Since the Jews had permission to worship their god, they were permitted to erect synagogues in Roman cities. Burial associations usually consisted of people wanting to provide a decent burial for themselves and their relatives. They usually consisted of the poor, ex-slaves and slaves without wealthy patrons. By paying an initiation fee, paying monthly dues, and participating in the burial of others, members could ensure a decent burial for themselves. Household associations were made up of members of a household plus those free and slave individuals associated with the household. (8)
Initially churches formed in synagogues but as the fracture between Judaism and Christianity widened, Christians were no longer welcomed in the synagogues. We can tell from Paul’s letters that some churches become household associations sponsored by a wealthy patron. Scholar James Jeffers also believes that some of the churches may have met as burial associations based on certain hints in Paul’s letters. The burial associations were the least formal of the associations and required only the submission of a list of members to the authorities. This would likely have been the best option for a church of poor members without a patron. (9)
What is especially innovative about the “household of God” language used by Paul is that it envisions a connection of the individual associations to each other as one household with Christ as the paterfamilias. This appears to have been true from the beginning. Roman associations had no such connectedness. (10) But this was a minimal difference compared to other distinctions. As Jeffers observes, to the Romans, “the Christians were a mysterious combination of Jews, Gentiles and Romans. They acted like a single people, even though they represented many nations. To the Romans this clearly was unnatural.” (11) Furthermore, the Christians didn’t worship the Roman gods but instead worshiped a figure from the backwaters of the Empire who had been crucified, the most shameful form of execution the Romans could imagine. (12) Christians were frequently accused of being everything from atheists to cannibals (i.e. “eating the body of Christ”) who were a potential threat to the social order of the Empire.
The “Head” metaphor
English speaking people today use “heart” and “head” as metaphors for “emotion” and “intellect” respectively. Additionally, we also use “head” to mean “authority,” “starting point,” “first in order” and “prominence.” In fact, Webster’s unabridged dictionary lists 85 different connotations for the word “head!”
For the ancient Greeks, the heart was associated with emotion, mind, intellect, will, and spirit. For example, Jesus said,
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:18-19)
Kephale is the Greek word for head. The traditional English connotation assumed of the head metaphor in scripture has been to use it as synonym for “in authority over.” Some Greek lexicons include authority as a possible interpretation. However, closer examination using more recent scholarship indicates more nuance with this metaphor.
Kephale comes from the root word kapto which means “seize,” in the sense of “grabbing a hold of” the most readily taken hold of body part. Word studies of the ancient Greek manuscripts have turned up more than 2,300 instances of the word but only 49 cases are metaphorical, including 12 instances in the New Testament (13). Interpretation of these 49 metaphorical uses is hotly contested. Southern Baptist Wayne Grudem and many fundamentalists are quick to demonize as radical feminists anyone who departs from interpreting “head” as authority in scripture. Furthermore, there is not complete unanimity about the word’s meaning among those who discount the authority interpretation. (14)
Paul refers to Christ as “Lord” all throughout his letters. Christ is Lord of the Church. Yet, in just a handful of references, Paul also describes Christ as head of the Church. He never uses head in reference to any worldly authority. Why use this metaphor? What nuance was Paul intending to communicate?
Let us first look at Paul’s exhortations in Colossians 2:18-19 and Ephesians 4:15-16 about remaining grounded in Christ:
18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:18-19)
15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
Just like a plant grows out of a root, the Greeks had the idea that the body grew out of the head. This makes good sense if you consider that most inputs to the body enter through the head: food, water, air, sight and hearing.
Paul also uses the connotation of prominence or preeminence, in Colossians 1:18:
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
Now turn to Ephesians 1:20-23 where many would say there is a clear use of “head” as authority.
20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Notice that in verses 20-22 through the word "feet" there is a description of Christ assuming Lordship status over every power. Next comes "and" suggesting that something in addition to becoming ruler has happened.
...and has made him the head (over/of) all things for the church …
… which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
To be the animating life source who fills the entire body! (15)
The Household Code: Ephesians 5:18-6:9
There are at lest two astonishing aspects to this passage when we keep in mind the social context and language issues. First is the fact that Paul addresses the subordinate participants in the household, not just the paterfamilias. This elevates them to full participants in the life of the household, not just inferiors to be ruled over. (16) They are to do their duties not out of submission to the natural order but as a service to God in mutual submission.
Second, if Paul were to imitate Plato or Aristotle, Paul would have used the Greek exousia (privilege or authority) to describe the paterfamilias relationship to his wife and those in the household. No where does Paul tell the paterfamilias to either be in authority or to “be the head!” The “head” language is used in reference to his wife.
22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, … 33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-25, 33)
Plato or Aristotle could not have fathomed giving such instructions to a woman. Like children and slaves, they were subject. Period! No need to give a reason. Yet Paul feels compelled to give reasons. Submission by the wife is not given to the paterfamilias because he is the ruler of the household. It is no longer about status and male superiority as with the Greeks and Romans. Submission is given to a husband out of appreciation for the life giving sustenance and resources he provides to the household out of service to Christ; just as Christ is the animating source for his body, the church. The paterfamilias is the patron for his household subjects and in Roman culture that commands respect and service. To not be “subject” to him would have been absolutely scandalous in the eyes of the Romans who already saw scandal among the Christians where there was none. It would have severely discredited the gospel.
For those of us living in 21st Century democracies with a range of options for how to govern our social institutions, it is hard to appreciate just how unalterable social structures must have seemed to Paul, at least until Christ returned. Social structures were not on Paul’s radar. What Paul was concerned about was how we live within the given structures. If people lived in genuine submission to each other, then the power inequities of the structures would be rendered meaningless. Key to his teaching is how the ones with power choose to live; in this case the paterfamilias. The most stunning aspect of Paul’s household code is the absence of an exhortation to rule. Instead, he told the paterfamilias to live as servants to those in his household, even to the point of death, just as Christ, the ultimate “head,” had done in order to give life to his body the church. (17)
This ethic fully realized would no doubt transform any social structure. Indeed, after the collapse of the Roman Empire the church continued its practice of baptizing slaves, based largely on the ethics taught in passages like this. Eventually, edicts were passed prohibiting Christians from holding other Christians as slaves. Slavery was effectively abolished in Europe by the turn of the first millennium (at least until Spain resurrected it against the Church’s wishes in the 15th Century.) (18)
It is impossible to know the impact Paul anticipated his subversive strategy of other-centeredness would actually have on social structures. It was Paul who wrote “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) What we do know is that it was a direct extension to having the mind and heart of Christ as he fills the earth with his eikons, giving witness of the coming age of shalom.
(1) James S. Jeffers. “The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity.” Downers Grove, IL: 1999. 86-87, 105-107.
(2) Jeffers, 86-87.
(3) Jeffers, 184.
(4) Jeffers, 55-56.
(5) Concerning the role of women see, David C. Verner. “The Household of God: The Social World of the Pastoral Epistles.” Society of Biblical Literature, Dissertation Series; no. 71. Chico, CA: Scholar Press, 1983. 64-65. And, David A. deSilva. “Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture.” Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000. 180-183. On slavery see Jeffers, 242.
(6) Jeffers, 230.
(7) Jeffers, 102, 105.
(8) Jeffers, 72-77.
(9) Jeffers, 76-77.
(10) Jeffers, 84.
(11) Jeffers, 108.
(12) deSilva, 44-50.
(13) Richard S. Cervin, "Does Kephale Mean 'Source' or 'Authority' in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal," Trinity Journal 10 NS (1989), 85-112. 85.
(14) I. Howard Marshall. “Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-33.” An essay in, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. “Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy.” Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2004, pages 186-204. 198.
(15) Gilbert Bilezikian, “I Believe in Male Headship.” Article at Christians for Biblical Equality website. Accessed March 16, 2005. www.cbeinternational.org/new/free_articles/male_headship.shtml.
(16) Jeffers, 86.
(17) Gordon D. Fee. “The Cultural Context of Ephesians 5:18-6:9.” Priscilla Papers. 16:1 (Winter, 2002), 3-8. Online here.
(18) Rodney Stark, “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.” New York: Random House, 2005. 200-202.
Update: Rodger Sellers sent me a link that diagrams the Ephesians 5:18-22. You can see what he had to say in the comments but I thought I would link it here: Ephesians 5:18-22
Sunday afternoon I head out for some cat herding in Louisville, KY. (Otherwise know as the General Assembly Council meetings of the Presbyterian Church (USA).) I have noticed during past GAC meetings that my blog hits go into significant decline. I take that to mean I am boring my readers. This time I am going to post one "re-run" each day from earlier blogging in addition to some occasional notes about what is happening at GAC.
I hope you will keep the GACers in your prayers this week. For your etertainment I thought I would also leave you with this clip that is symbolic of past GAC meetings.
Posted at 10:48 PM in Humor, Presbyterian Mission Agency (formerly General Assembly Mission Council) | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
You will notice that some of my recent posts have focused on the David Ray Griffin's Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11, published by Westminster John Knox Press, an imprint of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. The book exposes how the events of 9/11 were actually an elaborate conspiracy by the Bush Administration, a "false-flag" operation, to give diabolical Neoconservatives an excuse for taking over the world.
So wildly successful has this publication been that the PPC is inaugurating a new imprint: Roswell. Their first book is to be released this fall.
In Christian Faith and the Truth Behind Britney Spears Dr. Sophia Achamoth gives a scholarly examination of the facts and shows that the story of the Bible is actually a conspiracy perpetrated on the world by ancient Neoconservatives. Eve was actually formed first and was the true repository of all knowledge. Adam (a Neoconservative), using a false-flag deception, ate of the apple and then framed Eve with taking the first bite. Furthermore, it was not Yahweh who formed the world but Sophia. Yahweh (another Neoconservative) conspired with Adam to cover up the true facts in the case.
But the Goddess Sophia determined not to let this lie endure forever and foretold of time when the truth would be revealed to two tribes of Christians: The Episcopal tribe and the Presbyterians. The truth would be revealed, the tribes would be united, and a new Sophia Pope would be established so that all humanity may be shown the truth. She also promised she would give us a sign just prior to the Pope's arrival.
Perhaps you have seen this advertising campaign:
If you rearrange the letters of Pepsi-Cola they spell Episcopal. If you rearrange the letters of Britney Spears they spell Presbyterians. This is irrefutable evidence that Britney Spears is ordained to be the long promised Sophia Pope.
There is a tendency among those who accept the official account to call all people who suspect a conspiracy “conspiracy theorists.” But only the closed minded can ignore the overwhelming evidence so meticulously footnoted in this volume. It is a must read for all who want to now the real truth behind our existence. Be sure to look for it in a book store near year this fall.
(Also be looking for this forthcoming title next spring: Big Foot was on the Grassy Knoll)
Economist Greg Mankiw has post at his blog to taday called Ip is caught framing that shows how reporters sometimes spin economic news. He quotes Greg Ip:
The data show that the average tax rate for all taxpayers was 12.1% [in 2004], up slightly from 11.9% in 2003 but down from 15.3% in 2000, due in part to the Bush tax cuts. Rates fell most for those at the top. The tax rate of the richest 1% fell to 23.5% from 24.3% in 2003 and 27.5% in 2000. For the bottom 50%, the 2004 tax rate was 3%, unchanged from 2003 and down from 4.6% in 2000. [Emphasis Mankiw's]
Mankiw's offering of another way to present the data:
From 2000 to 2004, the average tax rate for all taxpayers fell from 15.3% to 12.1%, representing 21% tax cut. The tax rate of the richest 1% fell from 27.5% to 23.5%, a 15% tax cut. For the bottom 50%, the tax rate fell from 4.6% to 3%, a 35% tax cut. As a result of these changes, the top 1% paid a larger share of the tax burden in 2004 than it did four years earlier, and the bottom 50 percent paid a smaller share.
Mankiw points out that both of these are spin but had Ip left out the bolded it sentence it would have been accurate without spin.
On the issue of tax cuts, the rarely reported story is that Bush tax cuts have shifted a greater portion of total taxes paid to the wealthy and away from the poor. This is what has typically happened with past with tax cuts. Yet the Left likes to demagogue the absolute amount of tax cuts bemoaning that a wealthy person gets thousands while a poorer person gets a few hundred. Yet they refuse to acknowledge the proportion of taxes paid shifts to wealthier people. See my post from last December: Tax Cuts for the Wealthy: Appearances v. Reality. The closing paragraph reads:
"At some point, those on the left must decide what really matters to them -- the appearance of soaking the rich by imposing high statutory tax rates that may cause actual tax payments by the wealthy to fall, or lower rates that may bring in more revenue that can pay for government programs to aid the poor? Sadly, the left nearly always votes for appearances over reality, favoring high rates that bring in little revenue even when lower rates would bring in more."
From the Acton PowerBlog: The Green Old Party
The old saws that ecology must come at a price (jobs, taxes, etc) aren’t overcome by ignoring them, but rather by confronting them with green business models and reasonable legislation that balance environmental, human and economic needs. If the GOP wants to survive in the 21st century, it will have to do what the rest of industry (politics, etc) is already doing and green up.
After two years on the General Assembly Council, I have come to a conclusion. It is time for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to sever its relationship with the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) and take back the Presbyterian name. The PPC has effectively demonstrated that they are not capable of make sound decisions that honor the denomination. I will present two episodes to illustrate why I believe this to be the case. (Note: The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation is an entity of the General Assembly. No funds are provided to the PPC by the denomination and the denomination has no editorial authority over their publishing decisions. The institutional linkage is through the nomination and election of board members by the General Assembly.)
Episode 1: The Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love
During the last two years the General Assembly Council began a practice of reading a book in advance of our stated meetings and setting aside time for discussion when we gathered. Prior to our September meeting of 2005, the PPC was invited to offer a book for discussion at our next meeting. When I received the book I erroneously understood the book to have come from the General Assembly Council leadership. I learned later that the PPC had mailed the book without any consultation.
The book chosen was The Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case For Religious Diversity by W. Eugene March. As I offer a few quotes to you from March’s book, keep in mind that this was happening just three years after a contentious debate about Christology within the denomination. The 214th General Assembly (2002) affirmed and commended to the church a document called Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ by a vote of 497-11-5. It was an exceptional document that contained the following statement.
Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope, and love in him. No one is saved by virtue of inherent goodness or admirable living, for "by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" [Eph. 2:8]. No one is saved apart from God's gracious redemption in Jesus Christ. Yet we do not presume to limit the sovereign freedom of "God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" [1 Tim. 2:4]. Thus, we neither restrict the grace of God to those who profess explicit faith in Christ nor assume that all people are saved regardless of faith. Grace, love, and communion belong to God, and are not ours to determine. (Emphasis mine.)
March’s book is a direct refutation of this theological affirmation. He admits within the book that he departs from orthodox Christianity.
Christians do have a special calling, but it is not to lord it over others or to deny the validity of the beliefs and experiences of others. We will turn to this important subject later. But for now it is crucial to affirm that other religions have an equally important place in God’s world. Sikhs and Taoists are part of God’s divine handiwork. Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists offer significant contributions to understanding the diversity of religious experience. These expressions of religion are precious to God and thus should be honored by all who call themselves religious.
Be under no illusion. This alternative view is not the position of most Christians, at least at present. But it is legitimate interpretation based on a significant number of biblical passages.” (21)
March concluded describes three positions in his book.
Exclusive – Christianity is the only valid religion.
Inclusive – Christianity is the best religion but allows that others could be saved.
Pluralist – Christianity is one valid religion among other more or less equally valid religions.
Fewer people who are actively engaged in a faith community [compared to those who are not] tend to adopt the pluralist position. By reason of their involvement in a particular faith they tend to assume that their religion alone is valid (exclusive) or that among all the other possibilities it is the best (inclusive). But a growing number of people who have carefully studied the religions of the world find the pluralist position the most honest in light of the evidence. (28)
What then, some will ask, is the advantage of being a Christian? None, except having a God-given license to love one another freely and with abandon to talk about it. (138)
I wrote a lengthy response to this book a few weeks before the GAC meeting laying out my dissatisfaction with the selection of this book as a topic for the governing board of the denomination to use in official deliberations. My summation of the book in the analysis I did was:
Repent of “Jesus as Lord of all” thinking. View Christianity as a valid option among many that, like the other religions, teaches us to observe universal ethical values like the Golden Rule. All religions were created more or less equal and should be valued as such.
The book discussion was changed to an optional side event for a Friday evening and was not used as part of GAC deliberations. But what struck me about this whole episode was the seeming lack of good judgment on the part of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. With the advantage of hindsight and the release of another book this summer it appears to me that the episode was more likely a well calculated strategy.
Episode 2: Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11.
In July of this year, just two months prior to the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation published Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11 by David Ray Griffin under the Westminster John Knox imprint. Griffin is a process theologian and a retired professor from Claremont School of Theology. He is also key member of a network of writers know as the 9/11 Truth Movement. At the heart of this loose network of conspiracy theorists is the belief the events of 9/11 were perpetrated by the Bush administration as a false flag operation. A false flag operation is where one entity stages an attack on themselves and frames their enemy, thus justifying retaliation and the execution of a pre-existing agenda. According to the conspiracy, al-Qaeda had nothing to do with 9/11. Planes were flow into buildings by remote control or some other means. Demolition explosives were set inside the trade towers. The pentagon was hit by a cruise missile not an airplane. The bottom line is that the Bush Administration conducted a false flag operation involving the premeditated deaths of the thousands of people in order to initiate a Neoconservative move for world domination.
Griffin gives a brief synopsis in the book of processes theology and offers a discussion of the divine and the demonic. He turns this analysis on the United States claiming that the nation is the most demonic empire that has ever existed. The US is worse than the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany because the US is responsible for 180 million poverty-related deaths each decade.
It is a free country and Dr. Griffin is free to write and publish whatever he wants but the decision of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation to publish this book is utterly irresponsible. This book isn’t scholarship. While I disagree with Griffin’s chapters dealing with process theology and Griffin’s assessment of America’s place in the world, they are within the bounds of scholarly discussion. However, his chapters on the false flag conspiracy are anything but scholarly. Having a “Dr.” in front of a name and including lots of sources does not make a work scholarly. As the adage says, “We are each entitled to our own opinions but we are not entitled to our own facts.” The selective use of data and tortured reasoning used to achieve predetermined conclusions is as transparent as it can be.
The consequences of the PPC publishing this book are not trivial. First, by publishing this book, the PPC has certified this book as a credible presentation of the issues it addresses. This book is a slanderous defaming critique that accuses the President of the United States and high government officials of treason and coldly calculated mass murder. There is no question that Christians are called to question government authority and to speak out against injustice when it is identified but when we do so we should do so with rigorous scrutiny of the issues. To suggest that this book is that rigorous scrutiny is beyond laughable.
The publication of the book destroys the credibility of the Presbyterian name in the eyes of those who are looking for direction on how to be the faithful people of God in the world. But more sinisterly, it gives credibility to anti-Semitic and anti-American propagandist in other nations who are fomenting hate and destruction. (I include anti-Semitic because some in the 9/11 Truth Movement identify Israel as a con-conspirator in the 9/11 events.)
Second, this book decimates the good will between the denominational national offices and the members of our denomination. The PPC likes to draw distinctions about the various missions of their imprints and about their carefully delineated status within the denomination. That is irrelevant in the life of the church. The typical PCUSA member, much less those outside the denomination, makes no such delicate distinctions. All they know is that the PCUSA published a book calling their president a mass murderer.
Third, from April of last year to April of this year I estimate that I spent more than a month attending GAC meetings, Mission Work Plan meetings and doing other GAC related work. (Next week I go to spend five more days for another GAC meeting.) I have written at my blog and elsewhere attempting to interpret the new vision emerging for the GAC and trying to build good will for the denomination. I have traveled and spoken to presbyteries to accomplish these same ends. Now multiply my story by a few dozen other GAC elected members. Add to that the hard work of dedicated GAC staff people working under conditions of enormous upheaval and stress as the try to live into a new way of being the Church. With all that, now guess what question I have most frequently gotten over the past couple of months when the topic of the PCUSA comes up (inside and outside the denomination)? “How could you allow the publication of such a book?” Discussions of imprints and denominational organizational charts have not been persuasive.
What is the upside to episodes like these two books? The PPC made a few bucks.
The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation either is clueless about its impact within the life of the church or is quite aware of its role and doesn’t care. The episodes I have related here with the March and Griffin books suggest to me that the PPC is focused on the controversial and the sensational. They seek a profit by trading on the credibility of the denominational name and, in the case of this last book, of the misery and death of thousands of people. Our denominational structures exist in service to synods, presbyteries, congregations and individuals as they seek to be the body of Christ in the world and that mission seems to be lost on the PPC.
What can we do? Very little at the moment. The only source of accountability we have is through the board members of the PPC whose names (as of 2005 year end) you can find at the bottom of this page. In the short term, I think it is a matter of making our dissatisfaction known to denominational leaders.
Yesterday, September 21st, former moderator of the GAC, Jeff Bridgeman (2001-2002), wrote a letter to Presbyweb suggesting that we spin off the PPC and take back our name. I endorse that solution. The good that is done by the PPC can be accomplished by other means. While it can not be accomplished until the General Assembly in 2008, it is time to drop “Presbyterian” from the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
Quotidian Grace has a post today that adds to my observations: A Call To Spin Off the PPC
From the Economist: Misbegotten Sons about Richard Dawkins new book "The God of Delusion."
“THE GOD DELUSION” is an irreverent book. The author, Richard Dawkins, accuses Jesus of having “dodgy family values”. And don't get him started on the God of the Old Testament, “a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”.
Mr Dawkins is an atheist, an evolutionary biologist and an eloquent communicator about science, three passions that have allowed him to construct a particularly comprehensive case against religion. Everyone should read it. Atheists will love Mr Dawkins's incisive logic and rapier wit and theists will find few better tests of the robustness of their faith. Even agnostics, who claim to have no opinion on God, may be persuaded that their position is an untenable waffle.
It is easy to denounce such deluded zealots [9/11 hijackers], but what relation do they have to ordinary, “sensible” religious people? The problem, as Mr Dawkins sees it, is that religious moderates make the world safe for fundamentalists, by promoting faith as a virtue and by enforcing an overly pious respect for religion. (Why is it easier for a Quaker to avoid combat duty as a conscientious objector than someone who simply deplores violence?) Furthermore, the argument goes, any positive aspects of religion can be replaced by equally beneficial non-religious substitutes.
The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) caused an uproar this summer when it published Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11, by David Ray Griffin under the Westminster John Knox Press imprint. Being in an elected leadership position of the PCUSA, I decided I would read the book and see what it was about. I expected I might right a review but something happened on my way through this book.
As I read this book, I kept thinking to myself “this feels familiar.” By the time I finished the book that feeling was even stronger. It wasn’t the specific content I was reacting to. It was something about the mindset of the book. I have sense identified why this book feels familiar to me but before I go there I need to give considerable background.
David Ray Griffin is one of a network of writers who belongs to the 9/11 Truth Movement. His book has ten chapters divided into two sections. In the first part of the book, Griffin makes his case for understanding the events of 9/11 as a “false flag” operation by the Bush Administration. A false flag operation is where one entity stages an attack by its enemy and then uses that as pretext for executing aggressive action in support of some pre-existing agenda. Among other things, Griffin believes al-Qaeda had nothing to do with the events and did not pilot the commandeered planes. He believes the Bush administration planted demolition like explosives to bring down the buildings after the planes hit. The entire event was staged by Neoconservative masterminds as false flag operation to initiate their plan to build an imperial American empire.
In the second part of the book, Griffin lays out his process theology perspective. Central to his theology is the rejection of an omnipotent God. God works persuasively to bring about his ends in the world but he is not truly in control of events in the universe. Griffin moves on to talk about the demonic in the world and how we all participate in the creation of the divine and the demonic. Rome is the model of demonic global imperialism. Toward the end of the book he makes his case that the United States is a demonic global empire on a much grander scale. He observes that:
There is no reason to expect a world with an American “uni” [unipolar leadership role] to be much if any better than a world with a German, a Chinese, a Japanese, or a Russian “uni.” (176)
In the next paragraph, he goes on to place Third World poverty directly at the feet of the United States blaming the United States for 180 million deaths each decade due to poverty related causes. Thus, the US is far more evil than anything the Soviets or the Nazi’s ever aspired two.
The second half of the book held little surprise for me. Process theology has been around for several decades. The myopic Marxist/Neo-Marxist critique of the US held little surprise for me either. Mainline seminaries are some of the last bastions of this ideology and Griffin's presentation is the same tired propaganda commonly espoused by people from such institutions. What I found novel was Griffin’s linking of this radical left critique with such a wild eyed conspiracy theory. Yet more intriguing is the publication of the book by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, the publishing house of a mainline denomination, and believing that the publication of this book is an exercise of bold and cutting edge leadership.
I am not going to provide endless documentation countering the ludicrous allegations made in Griffin’s book. As Edward Feser pointed out in an article yesterday:
If the aim of the conspirators was to motivate the American people to go to war, why wouldn't the crashing of airplanes into the World Trade Center suffice? What was the point of secretly placing explosives throughout the towers - no small task - and thereby risking exposure? If the government was really willing and able to orchestrate such a massive conspiracy here at home, why couldn't or wouldn't it also carry out the far easier task of planting evidence of WMD in faraway Iraq? If the cell phone calls made from the hijacked planes were faked, how did the government find people capable of so perfectly mimicking the voices of the victims, and how did they acquire the detailed knowledge of their personal lives that would enable the hoaxers to deceive so many of the victims' loved ones and friends? If it was really a cruise missile that hit the Pentagon, why do so many eyewitnesses report having seen an airplane crashing into it? If it was also really a missile, and not an airplane, that crashed in Pennsylvania, then why did eyewitnesses report seeing an airplane in that case too? And what really happened to the airplanes in question and their passengers? If even a third rate burglary like the one committed at the Watergate hotel couldn't be kept secret, why hasn't someone, anyone involved in this massive plot, or with knowledge of those who were involved, come forward to reveal what he knows? And so on and on.
Feser goes on to say:
Everything that happened that day has a ready explanation in terms of bin Ladenist aggression together with two implacable forces of nature: government incompetence and the laws of physics. (Check out the recent book Debunking 9/11 Myths, or this useful website, if you really have any doubts.)
In addition to the sites linked, there are countless other websites and books you can access if the details are of interest to you. My bigger question is where did this surreal state of affairs come from? I think there are at least two dynamics driving these developments.
Where Did This Come From?
Enlightenment on Steroids
The first of my two dynamics comes from the Feser article I referenced above. I call it, “the Enlightenment on steroids.” As Feser writes in his article
The core of the Enlightenment narrative - you might call it the "official story" - is that the Western world languished for centuries in a superstitious and authoritarian darkness, in thrall to a corrupt and power-hungry Church which stifled free inquiry. Then came Science, whose brave practitioners "spoke truth to power," liberating us from the dead hand of ecclesiastical authority and exposing the falsity of its outmoded dogmas. Ever since, all has been progress, freedom, smiles and good cheer.
As Feser points out, this narrative is a fabrication. The “Dark Ages” weren’t dark at all but rather a time of tremendous growth and learning. The Enlightenment narrative was designed to discredit authority and common sense. Autonomous reason was to take their place. Yes, there were some notable cases of authorities holding to utterly erroneous conceptions on issues that are distant and abstract from our daily existence. The movement of planets or the functioning of particles not visible to the human eye would be just two examples. But almost all change as it touches on the matters of day to day life have come to us through evolving paradigms, each one being rooted in the one before it. They were evolutions not revolutions. It has not come from unrestrained free thinkers set free from the bondage of past thinking. Scientific historian Thomas Kuhn has demonstrated this is true for discoveries in the physical sciences as well.
The consequence of this Enlightenment narrative is that a hermeneutic of suspicion pervades all that is examined in our time. The seer and the prophet are the exalted sages of the age. However, these sages are informed by rationalism instead of being informed by revelation. In religious circles this has translated into seers using their superior autonomous perceptive abilities to pierce the veil that blinds the great unwashed. This hermeneutic of suspicion manifests itself in many shapes and ranges across the whole spectrum of political and theological persuasions.
The most extreme form of this hermeneutic of suspicion grounded in autonomous reason is the conspiracy theory. The seer objectively distances himself or herself from authority and conventional wisdom. Doing so, they are able to see what no one else is able to see, except maybe for a few other elite seers. Descending from Sinai, they reveal to the common masses the hidden reality behind their existence. Pretty heady stuff!
Thomas Kuhn certainly had his deficiencies as a philosopher, but he was a good historian of science, and his famous description of "normal science" - on which ordinary scientific practice is in fact very conservative, with scientists working within and developing a general theoretical picture of the world that they have inherited from their teachers and rarely think to challenge - is surely correct. Indeed, it has to be correct, since it is really just not possible to treat authority, tradition, and common sense as if they were in general and in principle likely to be wrong. For in forming our beliefs we must always start somewhere, and have nowhere else to start except the general picture of the world we have inherited from our parents, society, and people who due to special experience or study have more knowledge of a subject matter than we do. Of course, we can and do often criticize some particular part of this picture, but the very criteria we appeal to in order to do so typically derive from other parts of it. What we cannot coherently do is question the inherited picture as a whole, or regard it as if there were a general presumption against it.
Even the conspiracy theorists must ultimately point to the same types of sources (ex. interviews, government documents, physical evidence, logic, etc.) as the conspirators, and veracity must be taken on faith. What is the consequence of this “Enlightenment on steroids?”
Authority, tradition, and common sense come to be regarded as something to be constantly unmasked and undercut rather than consulted as necessary, though fallible, sources of wisdom. Indeed, they come to be regarded as something positively hateful and oppressive, from which we must always feel alienated. (Feser)
Scratch most claims to “speaking prophetically” and “speaking truth to power” in mainline Christian circles these days and more often than not what you find are Enlightenment schooled “prophets” placing their autonomous conclusions above both the community and common sense. The conspiracy theorist is merely exhibiting this in the extreme.
The “Enlightenment on Steroids” factor helps explain the environment in which a book like Griffin’s emerges. But why here and now? I began this piece noting that I had a persistent feeling of familiarity while reading this book. As I have reflected on this feeling a small epiphany occurred.
Years ago, while in college and in graduate school, I did considerable reading on social and religious movements. One area I focused on was the Church-Sect Typology from the sociology of religion. It was first introduced by Max Weber almost a century ago and has been modified several times over the last century. It became a central part of my graduate thesis. The typology offers an interpretation to the seemingly endless process in our culture of religious splinter groups emerging to restore the “true” faith, going through a process of cultural accommodation and then giving rise to new splinter groups. But it is not the typology itself that I have in mind.
While doing background reading on the Church-Sect Typology, I read about the rise of Evangelicalism in the late nineteenth century as it rose to prominence in the early years of the twentieth century. It was during this time that Modernist/Liberal theology began to make headway on the American scene and make its presence felt. The early decades saw rapid urbanization, massive immigration, a global war, the rise and fall of Prohibition, women’s suffrage, the Red Scare, increased mobility via the automobile, and economic collapse, to name just a few changes. The disorienting rate and degree of change combined with the rise of Modernist theology put Evangelicalism on its heels. The symbolic humiliation of fundamentalism at the Scopes Monkey trial in 1925 and the inability of conservatives to protect what they maintained were the fundamental tenets of the faith in the Presbyterian Church created considerable disillusionment.
The descent into marginality from positions of cultural power and prestige creates what social scientists call cognitive dissonance: holding two conflicting realities to be true at the same time. In this case, Evangelicals subscribed to one reality as normative yet the culture, ecclesiastical institutions, and everything around them were reflecting a picture that was to the contrary. It is an untenable position that can not be sustained. It presses people experiencing it to find a resolution. For some, the answer was to become part of the new establishment. Some became reclusive and inward focused. Others formed militant groups with a “fight to the death” agenda to regain lost power and influence. All of these are classic responses to cognitive dissonance.
But more to the point for this discussion was the emergence of conspiracy theories. In the wider culture, fear of Bolshevism and the Red Scare emerged at the end of World War I. The Ku Klux Klan reached its zenith in the mid-1920s as a “civic” organization to combat a host of “conspiracies” allegedly perpetrated by African-Americans, Jews and Catholics. Dispensational theology began to have a profound influence on conservative Christianity with its vision of a world sinking into chaos and the faithful being rescued from impending doom. A major piece of this theology was dissection of the Bible for clues about the “conspirator of conspirators,” the anti-Christ, about his reign and about evidence that his reign was present or very near. By the 1930s, with economic collapse and the rise of FDR federalism, conservative Christianity became a hotbed for conspiratorial perspectives that echo down to this day in the wildly popular Left Behind books and movies.
What replaced the old Evangelicalism from the 1930s until the late into the twentieth century was mainline Christianity (Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, Christian Church, American Baptist, Lutheran, etc.) grounded in liberal foundationalism. Liberal foundationalism has had at its heart the belief that there is some experience of the transcendent common to all humanity. This commonality is buried underneath the differing layers of culture built by human beings through the millennia. If we can all just be tolerant and accepting of each other we can penetrate the thick veils that separate us. People are good at the core and that virtue will blossom if oppressive cultural restrictions are removed.
The primary obstacle in this narrative has been orthodox Christianity with its dogmatic insistence on the nature of God and the person of Jesus Christ. These stand in the way of dialog. Therefore, from their “enlightened” state of being at the end of the second millennium, liberal Christianity undertook the deconstruction of orthodox Christianity. By removing the exclusive doctrinal boundaries they believed they were creating an environment where universal transcendence could emerge, denominational differences would be resolved and world harmony would ensue. From at least as early as the 1960s on, this narrative has been wedded to a Marxist/Neo-Marxist analysis of world.
The reality is that the mainline perspective reached its zenith in the late 1960s when it began a slow steady decline to the point where it has become one shrinking voice in the midst of the ascendancy of other voices. At the same time, political liberalism has been on the wane and the two have been very closely linked. A very telling event was in 1998 when President Bill Clinton, seemingly a natural ally to the mainline crowd, took religious leaders with him on a diplomatic mission to China. He took a Roman Catholic archbishop, a rabbi and two leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals. No one from the mainline denominations or the National Council of Churches was invited even after lobbying for inclusion.
The elections over the last decade have elected a president and congress that many liberal mainliners see as anathema to the agenda they have championed over the years. We have seen the emergence of a virulent form of Islam that has no interest in the liberal foundationalist take on the world. In the midst of this, there has been internal denominational turmoil and acceleration in the rate of membership decline. The world of liberal foundationalists is coming apart. They are becoming increasingly marginalized. Just like the Evangelicals of the late 1920s and 1930s the cognitive dissonance is at a fever pitch.
The feeling that felt so familiar to me about Griffin’s book was the feeling I got from reading the perspectives of Evangelicals in their descent from prominence in another era. There is the denial of basic realities combined with the construction of the most convoluted conspiracies to retain the validity of an old paradigm and explain why others aren’t seeing “the truth.” I take Griffin’s book, and the enthusiastic publication of it by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, as evidence that the liberal foundationalism of the Modernist era is “flaming out” but by no means dead.
This “flame out” should not be viewed as a triumph of, or for, conservative/orthodox Christianity. Conservative Christianity has its foundational baggage it is wrestling with as well. Neither should the success of conservative politics in this decade be viewed as the long term trajectory for the future. It is merely to say that the hegemony of liberal foundationalism within American Christianity is facing the setting sun. That is what I took from Griffin’s book and the events surrounding its publication.
From TCS Daily: We the Sheeple? Why Conspiracy Theories Persist is a very good (if somewhat polemic) article by Edward Feser. He links it the persistence of conspiracy theories to Enlightenment disdain for both authority and common sense.
Conspiracy theorists allege that the events of 9/11 are not adequately explained by the "official story" fingering Osama bin Laden and his network as the culprits. What really needs explaining, though, is not 9/11, but the existence of such conspiracy theorists themselves, whose by now well-known speculations about what "really happened" that day are - not to put too fine a point on it - so mind-numbingly stupid that it is mystifying how anyone with a functioning cerebrum could take them seriously even for a moment.
The problems with such theories have been pretty thoroughly exposed by now. Here is just a sample: If the aim of the conspirators was to motivate the American people to go to war, why wouldn't the crashing of airplanes into the World Trade Center suffice? What was the point of secretly placing explosives throughout the towers - no small task - and thereby risking exposure? If the government was really willing and able to orchestrate such a massive conspiracy here at home, why couldn't or wouldn't it also carry out the far easier task of planting evidence of WMD in faraway Iraq? If the cell phone calls made from the hijacked planes were faked, how did the government find people capable of so perfectly mimicking the voices of the victims, and how did they acquire the detailed knowledge of their personal lives that would enable the hoaxers to deceive so many of the victims' loved ones and friends? If it was really a cruise missile that hit the Pentagon, why do so many eyewitnesses report having seen an airplane crashing into it? If it was also really a missile, and not an airplane, that crashed in Pennsylvania, then why did eyewitnesses report seeing an airplane in that case too? And what really happened to the airplanes in question and their passengers? If even a third rate burglary like the one committed at the Watergate hotel couldn't be kept secret, why hasn't someone, anyone involved in this massive plot, or with knowledge of those who were involved, come forward to reveal what he knows? And so on and on.
Of course, conspiracy theorists have tried to provide answers to some of these difficulties for their case, but the "answers" are even more ridiculously far-fetched and unfounded than the original theories themselves. Nor do they have any good answer to the central problem with all 9/11 conspiracy theories, which is this: Everything that happened that day has a ready explanation in terms of bin Ladenist aggression together with two implacable forces of nature: government incompetence and the laws of physics. (Check out the recent book Debunking 9/11 Myths, or this useful website, if you really have any doubts.) There is simply no need to posit a government conspiracy in order to explain the evidence. Meanwhile, the conspiracy theories themselves face all sorts of difficulties, as we have seen. So why even bother with them in the first place? Haven't these people (a few of whom are philosophy professors and scientists) ever heard of Occam's razor? Haven't the less learned among them - mouth-breathers of the sort who, while they could never understand a word of Noam Chomsky's serious scientific and philosophical work, still think he's "cool" and enjoy reading about him in the liner notes of Rage Against the Machine albums - at least seen this?
The standard view of pop psychologists is that the reason people are attracted to conspiracy theories is that such theories provide reassurance that catastrophic events never happen for trivial reasons. Hence (it is said) the reason so many people think Oswald didn't act alone in the Kennedy assassination is that they just don't want to believe that JFK was murdered by some lone nutcase; it had to be part of something bigger and more meaningful. Similarly, we are told, 9/11 conspiracy theorists are just sensitive souls who can't face the awful truth that a guy in a cave somewhere was able to bring down the twin towers and set the Pentagon ablaze.
I think this sort of explanation is, in the present case anyway, pretty obviously false. Al-Qaeda, not to mention the global Islamist movement of which it is a part, is far more than a guy in a cave. It is (or at any rate was in 2001, before being seriously degraded by American military action and anti-terrorism measures) a vast and well-funded international network led by intelligent and sinister ideologues with a flair for the dramatic, and who see themselves as part of a centuries-old jihadist tradition. If you want a grand conspiracy led by James-Bond-movie-style bad guys, look no further. And yet the 9/11 conspiracy theorists will hear none of it. The reason they reject the "official story," then, cannot be because they'd rather believe that something big was behind 9/11, because the "official story" just is that something big was behind 9/11.
I would suggest, then, that the post-Enlightenment pretense of hostility to authority, tradition, and common sense as such, and especially the extreme form of it represented by the likes of Marx and Nietzsche, is what really underlies the popularity of conspiracy theories, particularly those involving 9/11. The absurd idea that to be intelligent, scientific, and intellectually honest requires a distrust for all authority per se and a contempt for the opinions of the average person, has so deeply permeated the modern Western consciousness that conspiratorial thinking has for many people come to seem the rational default position. And it also explains why even mainstream outlets like Time and Vanity Fair, while by no means endorsing the views of the conspiracy theorists, have tended to treat them with kid gloves, as if they were harmless and well-meaning eccentrics instead of shrill and hate-filled crackpots. The belief that extremism in the attack on authority is no vice has a powerful appeal even for suit-wearing journalists and media executives (especially if they are liberals), even if they have too much sense to follow it out consistently.
Yet no civilization can be healthy which nurtures such delusions, for they strike at the very heart of a society's core institutions - family, religion, schools, political institutions, and so forth - and replace the (sometimes critical) allegiance we should feel for them with a corrosive skepticism. Conspiracy theories are only the most extreme symptom of this disease. Less dramatic, but in the long run more dangerous, is the relentless tendency of the Western intelligentsia to denigrate the Western past and present, massively exaggerating the vices of their own civilization and the virtues of its competitors, and putting the worst possible spin on the motives and policies of its current leaders while minimizing or excusing the crimes of its enemies. This would be dangerous under the best of circumstances. It is doubly so while we are at war with enemies who know no such self-doubt and self-hatred.
This clip comes from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It gives Clinton's take on his Clinton Global Initiative in his own words. I don't miss some of his policies and find his persona a little too slick for my tastes but it is nice to hear a president who can say words like " nu-cle-ar."
From the LA Times: Head-in-the-Sand Liberals by Sam Harris. This an exceptional article. Here are a few excerpts:
TWO YEARS AGO I published a book highly critical of religion, "The End of Faith." In it, I argued that the world's major religions are genuinely incompatible, inevitably cause conflict and now prevent the emergence of a viable, global civilization. In response, I have received many thousands of letters and e-mails from priests, journalists, scientists, politicians, soldiers, rabbis, actors, aid workers, students — from people young and old who occupy every point on the spectrum of belief and nonbelief.
This has offered me a special opportunity to see how people of all creeds and political persuasions react when religion is criticized. I am here to report that liberals and conservatives respond very differently to the notion that religion can be a direct cause of human conflict.
This difference does not bode well for the future of liberalism.
Perhaps I should establish my liberal bone fides at the outset. I'd like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry. I also think that the Bush administration deserves most of the criticism it has received in the last six years — especially with respect to its waging of the war in Iraq, its scuttling of science and its fiscal irresponsibility.
But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.
On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.
At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government "assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;" 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.
Such an astonishing eruption of masochistic unreason could well mark the decline of liberalism, if not the decline of Western civilization. There are books, films and conferences organized around this phantasmagoria, and they offer an unusually clear view of the debilitating dogma that lurks at the heart of liberalism: Western power is utterly malevolent, while the powerless people of the Earth can be counted on to embrace reason and tolerance, if only given sufficient economic opportunities.
Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration — especially its mishandling of the war in Iraq — liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are.
From the Kansas City Star via the New York Times: In Right Hands, Capitalism Can Also Be Altruistic
Compassionate conservatism has been an expensive bust in Washington. But an intriguing alternative is emerging around the country: compassionate capitalism.
Tycoons have traditionally discovered their inner saint only after exorcising the inner capitalist. Carnegie, Ford and Gates made their money and then gave it away.
But Google’s young founders are already taking on poverty, disease and global warming, and they’re not just dispensing cash. They’ve set up their philanthropy as a for-profit organization.
“Corporations are lifting billions of people out of poverty,” he says. “Why are they so hated?”
Mackey’s answer is that capitalism has a branding problem: Its practitioners are experts at marketing everything except their own system. They justify corporate philanthropy, like donating to the United Way, not because it’s virtuous but because it buys public good will and thus contributes to the company’s bottom line.
To hard-core free marketeers, the corporation’s only mission is to generate profits for shareholders.
To Mackey, that’s too narrow a vision. He thinks that socially conscious companies like Whole Foods have flourished because their founders, employees and customers want a corporation to have grander goals than enriching shareholders.
It’s smart of Google’s founders to try using capitalist tools to save the planet; the market’s discipline should keep their philanthropy from backing too many lost causes. Still, whatever Google.org accomplishes, I’d bet that it will pale next to the social good accomplished by Google.com.
In light of the uproar over the Pope's comments I tought the following might be of interest.
From The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by Rodney Stark (Pages 8-9).
Judaism and Islam also embrace an image of God sufficient to sustain theology, but their scholars have tended not to pursue such matters. Rather, traditional Jews and Muslims incline toward strict constructionism and approach scripture as law to be understood and applied, not as the basis for inquiry about questions of ultimate meaning. For this reason scholars often refer to Judaism and Islam as “orthoprax” religions, concerned with correct (ortho) practice (praxis) and therefore placing their “fundamental emphasis on law and regulation of community life.” In contrast, scholars describe Christianity as an “orthodox” religion because it stresses correct (ortho) opinion (doxa), placing “greater emphasis on belief and its intellectual structuring of creeds, catechisms, and theologies.” Typical intellectual controversies among Jewish and Muslim religious thinkers involve whether some activity or innovation (such as reproducing holy scripture on a printing press) is consistent with established law. Christian controversies typically are doctrinal, over matters such as the Holy Trinity or the perpetual virginity of Mary.
Of course, some leading Christian thinkers have concentrated on law and some Jewish and Muslim scholars have devoted themselves to theological issues. But the primary thrust of the three faiths has differed in this respect and with very significant consequences. Legal interpretation rests on precedent and therefore is anchored in the past, while efforts to better understand the nature of God assume the possibility of progress. And it is the assumption of progress that may be the most critical difference between Christianity and all other religions. With the exception of Judaism, the other great faiths have conceived of history as either an endlessly repeated cycle or inevitable decline—Muhammad is reported to have said, “The best generation is my generation, then the one that follows it, and then the ones that follow that.” In contrast, Judaism and Christianity have sustained a directional conception of history, culminating in the Millennium. However, the Jewish idea of history stresses not progress but only procession, while the idea of progress is profoundly manifest in Christianity. As John Macmurray put it, “That we think of progress at all shows the extent of the influence of Christianity upon us.”
Things might have been different had Jesus left a written scripture. But unlike Muhammad or Moses, whose texts were accepted as divine transmissions and therefore have encouraged literalism, Jesus wrote nothing, and from the very start the church fathers were forced to reason as to the implications of a collection of his remembered sayings—the New Testament is not a unified scripture but an anthology. Consequently, the precedent for a theology of deduction and inference and for the idea of theological progress began with Paul: “For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesy is imperfect.” Contrast this with the second verse of the Qur’an, which proclaims itself to be “the Scripture whereof there is no doubt.”
Kansas City's fledgling Emergent Cohort is gearing up again. Here is the info on the next event from the new KC Emergent Cohort blog .
We will be meeting on Thursday, September 21.
Time: 9:00pm till whenever
Where: Keystone Coffeehouse located in the Broadway Methodist Church at 74th and Wornall. You can enter at the door under the blue awning. Parking is on the street or in the parking lot directly across 74th.
We will jump start some conversation by talking about Walter Brueggemann’s 19 Theses that he presented at the Emergent Theological Dialogue in ’04.
I am neither an activist, politician or partisan, nor an ideologue of any stripe. What I am is a writer who takes his job very seriously, as do most of my colleagues: Also, one who recently took on the most distressing and important story it will ever fall to me to tell. I considered it a privilege when asked to write the script for "The Path to 9/11." I felt duty-bound from the outset to focus on a single goal--to represent our recent pre-9/11 history as the evidence revealed it to be. The American people deserve to know that history: They have paid for it in blood. Like all Americans, I wish it were not so. I wish there were no terrorists. I wish there had been no 9/11. I wish we could squabble among ourselves in assured security. But wishes avail nothing.
My Iranian parents fled tyranny and oppression. I know and appreciate deeply the sanctuary America has offered. Only in this country could a person such as I have had the life, liberty and opportunity that I have had. No one needs to remind me of this--I know it every single day. I know, too, as does everyone involved in the production, that we kept uppermost in our minds the need for due diligence in the delivery of this history. Fact-checkers and lawyers scrutinized every detail, every line, every scene. There were hundreds of pages of annotations. We were informed by multiple advisers and interviews with people involved in the events--and books, including in a most important way the 9/11 Commission Report.
It would have been good to be able to report due diligence on the part of those who judged the film, the ones who held forth on it before watching a moment of it. Instead, in the rush to judgment, and the effort to portray the series as the work of a right-wing zealot, much was made of my "friendship" with Rush Limbaugh (a connection limited to two social encounters), but nothing of any acquaintance with well-known names on the other side of the political spectrum. No reference to Abby Mann, for instance, with whom I worked on "10,000 Black Men Named George" (whose hero is an African-American communist) or Oliver Stone, producer of "The Day Reagan Was Shot," a film I wrote and directed. Clearly, those enraged that a film would criticize the Clinton administration's antiterrorism policies--though critical of its successor as well--were willing to embrace only one scenario: The writer was a conservative hatchetman.
It's good to have come to something approaching the end of this saga, whose lessons are worth remembering. It gave us, for one thing, a heartening glimpse (these things don't come along every day) of corporate backbone in the face of phenomenal pressure--and an infinitely more chilling one testifying to the power and reach of politically driven hysteria. A ripe subject for a miniseries, if ever there was one.
From TCS Daily: A Shot Across Many Bows
In turn, he [The Pope] argued, relativism leads ineluctably to the "refusal to identify the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth with the very reality of God, the living God."
Some of Benedict's predecessors -- arguably including his immediate predecessor John Paul II, who is otherwise well-deserving of his fast track to sainthood -- downplayed this aspect of Christian theology in order to promote inter-faith dialogue. In contrast, it is a core part of Benedict's faith and is rapidly becoming a major theme of his pontificate.
If Islamic leaders expect Pope Benedict to treat Islam as an "equally valid" "road to salvation," they are thus sure to be disappointed.
If rejecting the relativism constitutes a shot across Islam's bow, that shot also crosses any number of other bows. In the Regensburg speech, the Pope staked out a set of claims about the relationship of man and God that stand in opposition not only to the Islam of Ibn Hazn, but also that of the Protestant Reformers, the Jesus of History crowd, and (an area of particular concern for this pope) post-Christian Europe. The Pope renewed the claims of the Church Universal to have a truth that is transcendent, rather than culturally-bound:
"True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself."
Having said that, of course, I concede that the Pope does seem to have the problem of religiously motivated terror in mind. Even so, Islam was not his only target. He said:
"A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."
I read that line as a shot across the bow of post-Christian Europe -- a warning that Europe increasingly lacks the tools demanded to meet the threats of the day. Hence, the speech implicitly recalls what may be the ultimate goal of Benedict's pontificate; namely, calling Europe back to Christ.
From the London Times: Al-Qaeda threatens jihad over Pope's remarks
An Iraqi militant group led by al-Qaeda has threatened to massacre Christians in response to remarks about Islam by Pope Benedict XVI that have caused offence across the Muslim world.
Today an internet statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council, an umbrella group led by Iraq’s branch of al Qaeda, threatened reprisals against "worshippers of the cross" for the Pope's remarks.
"We shall break the cross and spill the wine. ... (you will have no choice but) Islam or death," said the statement, citing a hadith (saying of the Prophet Mohammed) promising Muslims that they would "conquer Rome... as they conquered Constantinople".
"We tell the worshipper of the cross (the Pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya. God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the Mujahideen."
Another militant group in Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah, today also vowed to fight Christians in retaliation.
"You will only see our swords until you go back to God’s true faith Islam," it said in a separate statement, which called the Pope "Satan’s hellhound in the Vatican", saying he was "proud today of his hatred towards Muslims".
"The day is coming when the armies of Islam will destroy the ramparts of Rome," it added in the statement addressed to "Crusaders."
So what started this? The Pope mentioned a quote by Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus from seven hundred years ago.
“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and then you shall find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
So actually the headline could be expanded to read, "Al-Qaeda threatens jihad over Pope's remarks about Muhammad's command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Am I the only one who sees the sick irony in all of this? Apparently not.
Hasyim Muzadi, the leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, agreed. "The apology has already been conveyed, that is enough," he said. "If we continue to be angry, then people will think the Pope was right."
From the Economist: Sweden's Moderate revolution
THE outcome of Sweden’s cliffhanger election was in doubt until late on Sunday September 17th. But the opposition centre-right alliance under Fredrik Reinfeldt, leader of the Moderate Party, eventually emerged with a small but clear victory. The four parties in the alliance took an overall vote of 48.1%, compared with 46.2% for the ruling Social Democrats and their allies. After the tiny parties that failed to cross the 4% threshold are eliminated, that will give the centre-right a seven-seat majority in the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament.
Why did the Social Democrats lose? The Swedish economy has recently been the envy of Europe, with good growth, strong exports, a bouncy high-tech sector and relatively low unemployment. In the second quarter of this year, GDP growth hit a racy 5.6% at an annual rate. And all this has been combined with a high level of social protection and a generous welfare state.
But at home there has been mounting dissatisfaction. Many voters were simply fed up with the prime minister, Goran Persson, who has been in office for ten years. A series of minor scandals has tarnished the Social Democrats’ reputation for integrity and incorruptibility. And for all the praise heaped on the country’s welfare system, disguised unemployment in Sweden remains high. Youth unemployment, for example, is among the worst in Europe. The election result suggests that all is not well with the Swedish model.
It also helped that voters found Mr Reinfeldt to be charming, reasonable and, not least, young (he is 41). His party lost badly in 2002, and he drew the conclusion that it should shift to the centre, jettisoning fierce talk of slashing taxes and dismantling the welfare state. In a conscious imitation of Tony Blair in the 1990s, he even rechristened the party the New Moderates, and has promised to rule as such. ...
From the Christian Science Monitor: How to build a better safety net
The social safety net in the United States has gradually frayed. People have less protection against financial shocks, such as job loss or huge medical bills. Economist Jared Bernstein sees the resulting shift to greater economic insecurity as creating "you're on your own economics."
Economist Peter Orszag would like to bridge this policy gap between conservatives and liberals. He's director of the Hamilton Project, an initiative of the Brookings Institution in Washington, aimed at rebuilding the safety net in a way that doesn't harm free-market incentives that stimulate output and efficiency.
His thesis is that "long-term prosperity is best achieved by making economic growth broad-based, by enhancing individual economic security, and by embracing a role for effective government in making needed public investments."
In other words, Mr. Orszag holds that if Americans are less fearful for their economic safety, they are more likely to make investments in education or business that may involve considerable personal risk but can also enhance their own - and the economy's - prosperity.
I haven't read of Orszag specifics but his general thesis seems sound. The devil is always in the details.
Some bloggers have been making comparisons between Star Wars and the struggles within the PCUSA. (ex. Classical Presbyterian) Therefore, I thought I should reprise a post I came across last summer.
Apparently someone made a pirated a copy of “Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” and translated it into Chinese. Someone in turn took that Chinese translation and added English subtitles gleaned from the Chinese. The double translation led to some "interesting" subtitles. In June of last year, a blogger named Jeremy snapped some video pics that illustrated some of the translations. You can find his entire post here: Episode III, The Backstroke of the West. (Caution: Some may find the language in a few of the translations offensive.)
There are two clips that were of particular interest to me.
I love the valley speak Emperor and these clips confirm what I always suspected: Darth Vader is a product of the PCUSA.
General Assembly Council is next week. I have been in the backyard practicing my light saber moves and levitating the Mazda. I have also been practicing my Jedi mind tricks on the cat. That part isn’t going so well.
As I noted yesterday, Melissa I were off to the Royals game yesterday with the Denis Hancock (Reformed Angler) and family. The Royals won! They beat the Mariners 7-4 and Redman went 8 2/3 innings. Denis got some great pictures at the game, although the last picture looks like a bunch of druggies. With this win, the Royals officially moved one half game out of the Major League cellar. The weather was great and the Royals actually won. Can't ask for much more. The ticket above is a keeper.
From Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con: The despicable New York Times (About the Pope's Remarks)
What, not the least concern over the disturbing fact that Muslim mobs around the world have taken to the streets in full-throated protest against the mere words of the Pope in a long, scholarly lecture spent mostly castigating the West? If Muslims overreact to the least little thing that offends their sense of religious dignity, that's fine with the Times, because it's the fault of anyone in the West who dares to criticize them? If Christians reacted in the same way to the constant insults and degradations of our religion in this culture, the Times would go nuclear, and shriek about the dark night of theofascism threatening to descend upon us, silencing free speech &c. But when actual theofascism shows itself among Muslims, then the Times seems to think it's the fault of those who have the nerve to exercise their right to free speech.
This eveing, Melissa and I are meeting up with the Reformed Angler and family to take in a Royals game at the K. The picture to the right should be our approximate vantage point.
As I noted in an earlier post, the Royals are locked in a four way battle for sole possession of last place in the Majors. Here are the current standings with record, losing percentage and games back, as of this morning.
Kansas City Royals 57-91 .615 --
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 57-90 .612 0.5
Chicago Cubs 59-89 .601 2.0
Pittsburgh Pirates 61-87 .588 4.0
The Royals have already blown their chance to have their worst season ever since they can no longer top the 105 loses from last year. As you can see, their nearly season long grip on last place is at risk as well.
When I was a kid, Mom used to say, "It won't kill you to eat some spinach." But now we have this story from Reuters, Spinach recall over E. coli cases.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The nation's largest grower of organic produce said on Friday it had voluntarily recalled fresh spinach products sold in the United States, Mexico and Canada after the U.S. government said they could be linked to a deadly and worsening E. coli outbreak.
I'm sticking to safe foods like Big Macs and cream filled chocoalte covered long johns. :)
From the Washington Post: Democrats Vs. Wal-Mart
The median household income of Wal-Mart shoppers is under $40,000. Wal-Mart, the most prodigious job-creator in the history of the private sector in this galaxy, has almost as many employees (1.3 million) as the U.S. military has uniformed personnel. A McKinsey company study concluded that Wal-Mart accounted for 13 percent of the nation's productivity gains in the second half of the 1990s, which probably made Wal-Mart about as important as the Federal Reserve in holding down inflation. By lowering consumer prices, Wal-Mart costs about 50 retail jobs among competitors for every 100 jobs Wal-Mart creates . Wal-Mart and its effects save shoppers more than $200 billion a year, dwarfing such government programs as food stamps ($28.6 billion) and the earned-income tax credit ($34.6 billion).
People who buy their groceries from Wal-Mart -- it has one-fifth of the nation's grocery business -- save at least 17 percent. But because unions are strong in many grocery stores trying to compete with Wal-Mart, unions are yanking on the Democratic Party's leash, demanding laws to force Wal-Mart to pay wages and benefits higher than those that already are high enough to attract 77 times as many applicants than there were jobs at this store.
From Greg Mankiws's blog: Greenspan on the Minimum Wage
Larry Mishel, President of the Economic Policy Institute, sent me an email today, asking me to sign a letter of economists endorsing an increase in the minimum wage. Apparently, he already has some high-profile signers, including my undergraduate thesis adviser Alan Blinder and my current Harvard colleague Larry Katz. Despite my fondness and respect for Alan and Larry, I declined.
Alan Greenspan will, I predict, decline as well--a forecast I make based on this old article from the files. ...
From the Christian Science Monitor: Pope Benedict creates international furor with remarks on Islam. The article has links to a number of stories.
Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI returned to Rome Thursday from his home country of Germany, and was greeted an increasing international furor over remarks he made about "historical Muslim violence." The Times of London reports that Muslim clerics and community leaders around the world condemned his remarks, accusing the pope of displaying "of displaying ignorance and bigotry."
From the Christian Science Monitor: US to cut funds for two renewable energy sources
But renewable energy advocates may have to kiss goodbye those and other research projects. The US Department of Energy (DOE) is quitting the hydropower and geothermal power research business - if Congress will let it.
Declaring them "mature technologies" that need no further funding, the Bush administration in its FY 2007 budget request eliminates hydropower and geothermal research, venerable programs with roots in the energy crises of the 1970s.
"What we do well is research and funding of new, novel technologies," says Craig Stevens, chief spokesman for the DOE. "From a policy perspective, geothermal and hydro are mature technologies. We believe the market can take the lead on this at this point."
From the Christian Science Monitor: Germans Reconsider Religion
BERLIN – This is the continent where some leading thinkers are talking about a "post-Christian Europe." And this is the country of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who infamously quipped, "God is dead."
So some may be surprised at the receptivity in Germany this week to visiting Pope Benedict XVI's message: Europe needs to rethink the thesis that secularism and economic progress go hand in hand. Coincidentally, some of Europe's stalwart secularists are challenging the idea that religious reasoning inevitably retreats from the public sphere as countries modernize.
- Head of state Angela Merkel - the daughter of a Protestant minister - this month renewed calls to include a specific reference in the EU constitution to Europe's Christian heritage.
- There are more theologians in the German parliament than in any other Western parliament, including the US Congress. And when the last government cabinet was sworn in, nearly every member - instead of the usual 50 percent - opted for the religious version of the inaugural oath, according to Karsten Voigt, coordinator of German-American relations at the foreign ministry.
- In a recent survey gauging the perceived credibility of different professions, pastors were ranked in the Top 5.
- German students must take either ethics or religion classes, though Berlin recently made ethics compulsory, and religion optional. Mr. Voigt reports that "more and more" high schoolers in the state of Brandenburg are opting for religion too.
- Church attendance is no longer declining, and in one state the number of young churchgoers is going up, says Voigt.
From Jordan Bailor at the Acton PowerBlog: Pascal and Climate Change
He [Gerard Baker] sums it up this way: “If we believe in global warming and do something about it and it turns out we’re right, then we’re, climatologically speaking, redeemed — if not for ever, at least until some other threat to our existence comes along. If we’re wrong about it, what is the ultimate cost? A world with improved energy efficiency and quite a lot of ugly windmills.”
I responded to Crouch then that “Pascal’s wager is only valid when placed within the context of the eternal and the ultimate. When it is applied to everyday issues, it quickly loses its persuasive power. Crouch’s contention that ‘we have little to lose’ if we exaggerate the threat of global warming displays no recognition of the reality of the future impact of unduly restrictive political policies and environmental regulations.”
Scot McKnight has a great post today about his fourteen year old Bichon Frise, Webster, complete with very cute mischievous mug shot. However, McKnight remarks "Don’t know if your dogs (I assume cats have no such creativities) do this" talking Webster's devious trash can raids.
Earlier this week my mother-in-law sent me a link to the following clip. So in an effort to prove that felines can be just as creative, I submit the following link as evidence.
Our fourteen year old tabby understands the concept of doorknobs and latches. He stands up on his back legs, braces himself with one front paw and then tries to cup his other paw around the doorknob to turn it. (Not having the opposing thumb can be a real bummer.) Some of the door knobs are simply too tight for him but he can open some doors. Thankfully, he is not fond of water so I don't worry about the toilet thing much.