Sunday, August 31, 2003
How are women's rights faring in Iraq? Lauren Sandler writes in the Boston Globe that the last twenty years have been rough. A small women's rights movement has emerged again since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, but "basic questions of safety and economic security eclipse talk of politics most days."
"I used to think in terms of political reform," says Hanaa Edwards, a veteran of the 1960s student movement who leads a women's organization headquartered in the more liberal Kurdish North. "But now, humanitarian assistance is what's important. We used to talk about equality. Now it's just this desperate push for improvement."
("Veiled interests." Lauren Sandler. Boston Globe 8.31.03)
Mark C. Taylor, author of Erring: A Postmodern A/Theology, "claims he will no longer teach students the paralyzing deconstructive conceit that 'all they have to look forward to is the endless struggle to undo systems and structures that cannot be undone.' Deconstruction, an unregenerate product of the Cold War, is addicted to futility, Taylor writes." ("The unbearable complexity of being." Joshua Glenn. Boston Globe 8.31.03.)
That's right, folks: The New Testament has been turned into a fashion magazine for girls. Revolve comes "replete with images of stylish, smiling young women, quizzes and celebrity birthdays (sorry, no horoscopes)," says this Los Angeles Times article (reg req'd; thanks, onReligion!). Features include "Are You Dating a Godly Guy?" A sixteen-year-old told David Crumm, "You wouldn't look completely ridiculous pulling this out at lunch. It's not like some big, black Holy Bible you're pulling out. It's a magazine. A lot of people read magazines." Here's a selection, quoted in a Philadelphia Inquirer article:
As you apply sunscreen, use that time to talk to God. Tell him how grateful you are for how he made you. Soon, you'll be so used to talking to him, it might become as regular and familiar as shrinking your pores.
It's anything but liberal, of course: "Elsewhere, it says homosexuality 'is clearly sinful,' premarital sexual abstinence 'is commanded by God and is a liberating lifestyle choice,' and 'dating a nonbeliever is like playing with fire.'"
Update: Mrs Philocrites adds: "It's a good thing Jesus has been raised, or he'd be revolving in his grave!" And I wonder what a Book-of-Mormon glam-mag might look like . . .
Saturday, August 30, 2003
Opinions in Salt Lake City about the ongoing dispute about First Amendment rights on a section of Main Street that the city sold to the Mormon Church divide sharply by religion — of course: 90 percent of Mormons oppose the new ACLU suit about the city's solution to the Main Street plaza, but 58 percent of non-Mormons support it.
Meanwhile . . . Also in Salt Lake City, the state's largest synagogue welcomes its new rabbi, who happens to be a lesbian. See, that's the amazing thing about Salt Lake: If you're on the non-Mormon side (where even Jews are considered "gentiles"), you're in a surprisingly liberal milieu. But, sadly, Mormons rarely visit.
Peter Beinart writes about conservative Republican Gov. Bob Riley's campaign to fix Alabama's cruelly regressive tax system: "Riley, who couches his reforms in biblical language about the obligation to 'take care of the least among us,' is one of the few white politicians in recent history to try to use religion on behalf of social justice. He's won significant white evangelical backing, and, if his plan passes, it could upend conventional wisdom about what is politically, and morally, possible in the South." Beinart also wonders why the civil rights establishment and other liberal groups haven't made this campaign a focal point. ("Eyes on the Prize," New Republic 9.8.03.) Matthew Yglesias suggests we may have been too preoccupied with Judge Moore.
Two conventions in the same city this weekend for America's two key Muslim groups: the largely black American Society of Muslims and the largely immigrant Islamic Society of North America. The AP reports: "Many efforts have been made to improve relations between immigrant and black Muslims, but deep differences remain, rooted partly in how Islam spread among American blacks."
Most came to the religion through black nationalist movements and the Nation of Islam, which had taught that its founder, Wallace D. Fard, had divine status and his successor, Elijah Muhammad, was a prophet. Mainstream Islam teaches that there is only one God and no prophets came after Muhammad. For that and other reasons, many immigrant Muslims consider the Nation of Islam a cult.
But Imam W. Deen Mohammed, the son of Elijah Muhammad, transformed the movement after taking it over in the 1970s. He gradually moved his thousands of followers toward mainstream Islam, while Louis Farrakhan revived the old Nation of Islam under his leadership.
("Separate conventions show divide between immigrant, American-black Muslims." Rachel Zoll [AP]. Detroit News 8.30.03.)
"I blame the Puritans for creating a certain strain of Red Sox fan," writes Michael P. Quinlin in this morning's Boston Globe.
The dire fatalists who founded Boston in 1630 were righteous zealots, to put it mildly. Theirs was a devotion gone awry, a lifelong preparation for salvation that never arrived, at least not in this lifetime. Cotton Mather, their chief mouthpiece, was opposed to dancing. He didn't believe in celebrating Christmas. Talk about being out in left field.
Fact I had forgotten: "For a short time the Red Sox were even called the Puritans. It's true. After the Boston Pilgrims won the first World Series in 1903, the team was renamed the Puritans in 1905 and 1906." Now there was a fatal miscalculation.
The Dallas Morning News discovers religion blogs (reg req'd), and mentions Holy Weblog! (good choice) and A Religious Liberal Blog (but using Dwight's old address — oops!). The article is a great example of how a newspaper doesn't know how to use the Internet, though: none of the sites mentioned is hyperlinked. (Thanks to the revived onReligion, by UU World contributor John A. Rakestraw Jr., for the tip!)
"Some alto parts go beyond mere boredom into active inanity. But some alto parts you couldn't make interesting if you sung them while performing the Dance of the Seven Veils in an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with two tons of lemon Jell-O." (Baraita, courtesy of Mechaieh.) When scoring my own hymns, I came to appreciate just how difficult it is to improve the lives of altos: I wrote this tune partly to give them something more interesting to do — with or without the Jell-O.
Friday, August 29, 2003
Romanesko mentions the following two stories back to back: "Sorry, but Atty. Gen. Ashcroft isn't talking to print people" [#] and "California TV newsroom outlaws use of 'gubernatorial'" [#]. A government intent on speaking only to the cameras — and TV journalists intent on addressing everyone as fourth-graders! Maybe Matthew Yglesias is right: It's time to let children vote.
Can a secular Israeli psychologist teach the Orthodox how to draw closer to God? And why would a modern psychologist bother with the Bible? (Hasn't he heard of evolutionary psychology? Or perhaps he shares Chutney's sense that the best way to approach theology is to ask, "Does anybody have any new ideas about what we human beings might make of ourselves in light of this god question?")
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Richard Land says the Alabama chief justice and loose cannon Roy Moore has divided Evangelicals by mixing up two very different campaigns:
The first issue involves whether or not the Ten Commandments in particular, and acknowledgment of God in general, are permissible in public buildings in the United States. On that issue, I, like most evangelical Christians and many other Americans, agree with Judge Roy Moore’s position. . .
However, we are a government committed to the rule of law. That is the second issue in the Ten Commandments-Judge Moore controversy. Do evangelical Christians really want to say that this United States government is no longer a legitimate government and that we are no longer obligated to obey its courts when we disagree with their rulings? If so, let us understand it for what it is. It is insurrection.
A helpful reminder that there's a big difference between a conservative and a religious revolutionary. So which side of this divide will the Republicans pander to?
Chutney at My Irony has been thinking a lot about ways Richard Rorty's pragmatism might help us do theology in our post-modern age:
It should go without saying that theology is not a science (and should not be). But like all other humanities, theology has been crept upon by the social sciences. The social sciences aid theology by describing religious persons and organizations, but they cannot tell theology where to go or how to get there—they're not built for that. The social sciences can help identify sites for new hearings, but they cannot write the script. The prime question of god-talk must remain the god question, not the questions of management theory, psychology, or the new sciences.
. . . [T]he question for a humanities-based theology must be "Does anybody have any new ideas about what we human beings might make of ourselves in light of this god question?" Framed that way, god-talk opens up to the wealth of human experiences—religious and not—which theology has at most remotely concerned itself with. "What could this experience improve my god-talk?" ends up being a better question than "Who is god?" or "How might I be saved?"
He takes this question in directions you might not expect.
Update 8.28.03: Dwight posts a followup at A Religious Liberal Blog, including this insight:
In some sense, God talk is periphereal, salvation is paramount. Sometimes it can be the case, it seems more often then not, that God talk can pull us away from what saves in the world. It can operate as a banner or rallying cry for one's own group, one's own tradition, one's own current set of practices. So to a certain extent, the question of God can dwarf to what I'd argue should be the reality to which the word God should be pointing to.
There's more on the liberal theologian Henry Nelson Wieman, too.
The Christian Century candidly acknowledges what lurks behind all the fuss over homosexuality in the church:
One of the unresolved issues made glaringly obvious by Robinson's election is the need for clarity on the church's teaching on sexual activity outside marriage. In confirming Robinson, who lives with his male partner of 13 years, the church implicitly endorsed sexual activity outside marriage. Is the next logical step an endorsement of marriage for gays, in order to conform to the church's longstanding teaching that sexual activity is reserved for marriage? Or is a "committed" gay relationship an alternative to marriage? In that case, how are such relationships to be defined and recognized by the church? The meaning and practice of "blessing" same-sex unions, which the convention left as a local option, cannot be an afterthought to such discussion. ("Episcopal decision" [editorial], Christian Century 8.23.03: 5)
But since sex outside of marriage touches so many more lives than homosexuality — for why else would Evangelicals be promoting "re-virginization"? — many in the church have found it easier to fight over the sex lives of sexual minorities. That's unjust as well as dishonest.
An Egyptian law professor wants to sue the Jews "over gold allegedly stolen in biblical times during the Jewish exodus from Egypt," according to The Forward, plus 5,758 years of interest. (Thanks, Beliefnet!)
Catching up on my reading, I came across Catholic biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson's extraordinary essay in Commonweal (sadly, not on-line), "Sex, women, and the church: The need for prophetic change." Johnson makes the important point that conservative Catholics "argue that the crisis demands no fundamental change in church teaching or structure. They deal with the crisis by isolating it. They see it involves both sex and power, but they connect them only superficially. Nowhere in Neuhaus's and Weigel's writing on the crisis, for instance is there any awareness that God may be calling the church through the cataclysmic changes of recent decades to a more fundamental consideration of what fidelity really means." Amen to that.
Late in the article, which will challenge liberal attitudes as well as conservative ones, Johnson writes four extraordinary paragraphs:
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
"[I]t's easier than you'd think to become science fabulous." ("Science eye for the non-science guy," Agnieszka Biskup, Boston Globe 8.26.03)
Monday, August 25, 2003
"Last Tuesday night, for the first time, a suicide bomber was an imam from one of Hebron's largest mosques, a religious 29-year-old man who had memorized the Koran by age 16. He was also a married man, the father of two young children . . ." ("The terror industry fields its ultimate weapon," Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times 8.24.03, reg req'd)
But not unstoppable. Fareed Zakaria explains. (Newsweek 8.25.03)
"[T]he success story of American yoga really begins in New England more than a hundred years ago, with a remarkable generation of independent women. . . [who] risked being branded an affront to Christian domesticity, members of a dangerous cult, and quite possibly insane." (Stefanie Syman,"Boston Brahma: How a group of turn-of-the-century Cambridge women made America safe for yoga," Boston Globe 8.24.03)
"While blacks led the way, Asians, Hispanics, women, gays, and the disabled benefited just as much from the civil rights movement. But if African-Americans could rely on powerful leaders and mass activism, the groups that followed in their footsteps won their powerful new rights not in the streets but through the work of bureaucrats, lawyers, and judges." (David L. Kirp, "The other civil rights movement," Boston Globe 8.24.03)
Saturday, August 23, 2003
Paul Berman writes about Bayard Rustin, the black labor activist who organized the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington — and whose homosexuality forced him into the background of the civil rights movement. Two intriguing aspects of Berman's article: He describes how the 1963 march inspired other "rights" movements that continue to grow today — including especially the movement for gay rights — and explores the strange fact that while the story of Rustin's homosexuality can now find a sympathetic hearing, his socialism and labor activism cannot.
Today it can be said with only slight exaggeration that homosexuality has become a perfectly proper topic for public conversation, even with schoolchildren, while the very concept of a redistribution of wealth in America has somehow morphed into the great unmentionable.
Talk about ironies in the life of Bayard Rustin!
For even now, when the most painful of Rustin's secrets have come into the open, some last aspect of the March on Washington remains, in spite of everything, unremembered and undiscussed. It is the aspect that in 1963 went under the slogan "Jobs," which meant economic equality for all Americans — which is what people like Randolph and Rustin used to call, in an antique rhetoric that hardly anyone understands today, "socialism."
("Hidden sides, hushed ideals of a civil rights strategist," Paul Berman, New York Times 8.23.03, reg req'd)
Friday, August 22, 2003
The sky in Boston right now is a glowing gray-yellow — not just over toward the west, but everywhere. After terrific humidity all day, a spectacular thunderstorm, and now the sunlight seems to be spread almost omnidirectionally through the haze. A very odd sunset.
Update 7:44pm. The sky is now plum-purple to the south and lilac to the east and west. Amazing!
David Rieff offers the pessimistic assessment that "whatever else it may eventually accomplish, the war in Iraq seems to have put the final nail in the coffin of the dream of global citizenship that began more than half a century ago with the founding of the United Nations" ("Goodbye, New World Order," Mother Jones Jul-Aug 2003).
Many of us may still aspire to the idea of global citizenship and long for the day when the words "international community" would not be cause for a bitter smile or a sardonic shrug. But it is important to understand how far we are from that day and to act accordingly. . .
However paradoxical this may seem, it is precisely those committed to struggling for a better world in these dark times who stand most desperately in need of abandoning the fantasy of an idealized, law-based international system. In this sense, the profound disenchantment occasioned by the war in Iraq may actually be an opportunity to rethink realism. . .
People, and nations, are not altruism machines — never have been, never will be — and it is about time activists learned to live with this fact rather than endlessly, generation after generation, trying to ignore it or wish it away. To say this is in no way to disparage activists. Without them the world would be even more savage and cruel than it already is. But most people commit their lives to their families and, at most, can be mobilized only occasionally in the name of some ideal. They are quite comfortable seeing themselves as citizens of a specific locality, not as global citizens. The idealist dream — whether it is Christians or Muslims proselytizing among the unbelievers, Che Guevara dreaming of creating what he called, to my ears chillingly, a "New Man," or, perhaps, Paul Wolfowitz imagining that he can democratize the Middle East — is that this can be changed.
In contrast, the realist is anti-utopian, skeptical, and, while in no sense passive, acts from the conviction that while there are many wrongs that do indeed need to be righted, and many causes worth defending, not everything is possible, least of all, to paraphrase the slogan of the anti-globalization movement, "another" world.
Is it time to abandon "an idealized, law-based international system"? Is Rieff's liberal realism compatible with a religious vision of the world? Does his anti-utopian liberalism betray a fundamental liberal commitment, or has he stripped away a delusion so that we can revive a functional liberal approach to international conflict?
I first read the essay back in June, and only discovered that it was on-line earlier this week. I'm still unsettled by it, but think that some variety of liberal realism is necessary to counteract the hapless sentimentality of what so often passes for Unitarian Universalist commentary on world affairs.
Leon Wieseltier examines the President's favorite devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, "an extended assault on the legitimacy of doubt" (New Republic 8.18.03, sub req'd). And he offers a few observations about our theologian in chief:
Bush's faith is emphatically not a religion of reason. Indeed, his style of piety has the consequence of making religion look stupid. In his address of consolation after the destruction of the space shuttle, the president said that "the crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to earth, yet we can pray that they are all safely home." There was no mention of a celestial old man with a great white beard, but the coarseness of the conception was evident. Bush's most embarrassing quality is his derision of doubt. ("If we are wrong ...": What a relief it was to hear Tony Blair pronounce those words in this city!) A contempt for doubt is a contempt for thought, and a strange humility. And in his comment against gay marriage, Bush again exposed the limitations of his religious idiom. "Yeah, I am mindful that we are all sinners," he said in a spirit of inclusion—but those are not sinning Americans, those are gay Americans. The Constitution does not know sinners. And the religious vocabulary of inclusion frequently excludes. The defense of the strictly heterosexual construction of marriage is looking more and more like a defense of the sanctifying power of the state, which is ludicrous. I can grasp why the president of the United States seeks the support of Jesus, but I cannot grasp why Jesus seeks the support of the president of the United States.
And then there's the edifying spectacle of Chief Justice Roy Moore, who points out that his devotion to the Alabama Decalogue "is not about a monument. It's not about politics or religion. It's about the acknowledgment of God." Ah.
Thursday, August 21, 2003
The New Yorker interviews Katherine Boo about the months she spent researching the government's plan to lift people out of poverty by their wedding rings. Boo says, "Marriage is probably the most cost-efficient antipoverty instrument a society possesses." But she also observes:
It was hard not to notice that, as the government aggressively attempted to address one kind of isolation—singleness—the women’s lives were altered by other varieties, with which government was far less preoccupied. Kim struggled to find the transportation that would help her get out of the projects by way of a job. Corean struggled to find the information and resources that would help her son get out of the projects by way of a college education. Both women were energetic and imaginative in trying to solve the problems they faced. But the eight hours I spent with Kim trying to do something quite simple—take a bus to and from a shopping mall to search for a job—reminded me again that there are many things besides being single that make it blisteringly difficult to bootstrap oneself up from places like Sooner Haven.
Plus, Boo concludes the interview with a lengthy thought-experiment from John Rawls.
What a draw Kimberly Devlin is! The 22-year-old Massachusetts husband-seeker doesn't seem to have a picture on the Internet yet (nope, that's not her), although lots of people have stopped by Philocrites hoping there might be. Happily, she'll soon be on TV with Sharon Osbourne, so keep your hopes up! As a Boston Globe subscriber, I've seen three pictures — and yes, she's very cute. Too bad this is a text-only site. Thanks for stopping by — I've never seen such traffic.
A bit of a boom in the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere: Tom Schade sets up shop at Prophet Motive and has answered my first request before I had a chance to type it out — he has posted the full text of his provocative paper, "The present moment: The crisis in the political theology of liberal religion", an excerpt of which appeared earlier this summer in the UU Voice.
Lest you think blogging only offers rewards to those of us who want a soapbox, one district president has embraced blogging as a professional leadership tool, and Sheldon Bennett is blogging to his congregation while on sabbatical.
Salam Pax writes from Baghdad:
Maybe we Iraqis did expect too much from the American invasion, we did hope there is going to be an easy way. Get rid of Saddam and have the Americans help us rebuild. I don't think like that anymore. I am starting to believe that the chaos we will go thru the next 5 or 10 years is part of the price we will *have* to pay to have our freedom. This Beirut-ification is the way to learn how we should live as a free country and respect each other; it is just too painful to admit.
And Jessica Stern writes in the New York Times (reg req'd):
America has created — not through malevolence but through negligence — precisely the situation the Bush administration has described as a breeding ground for terrorists: a state unable to control its borders or provide for its citizens' rudimentary needs.
Way to help out, Dubya!
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Traditional approaches such as showing Jesus on the cross and Bible quotations are a turn-off to non-churchgoers, according to one of two suggested advertising campaigns drawn up by agencies.
Instead, advertisers say churches should highlight their community life, the chance to have a good sing, hear a good sermon and have a heart-to-heart chat.
I don't know. Sounds bland, true, and strangely familiar. (Although I have to admit that I have decided for or against several congregations based on whether I like to sing there.)
And speaking of reasons to go to church, I meant to put in a good word for Matthew Gatheringwater's insight that "the search for religious community began with the recognition that I couldn't very well be a congregation of one" (8.18.03).
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
My wife is taking a break from the secular life this week, enjoying a retreat with the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an Episcopal order of monks with a monastery in Harvard Square and a country house in Newbury. (The bishop of Massachusetts is a brother in the order; we sometimes ride into Boston on the same subway car.) So I am reverting to my bachelor ways and listening to loud music. Someday maybe I should try meditation, too. . .
People often ask how Mr and Mrs Philocrites manage their interfaith relationship. We like to say that it's really more of an ecumenical affair, since I tend toward the high-church end of Unitarian Universalism. But it is also true that she and I gravitate to very different aspects of the Christian tradition, which keeps our conversations really interesting. I like the modernists; she loves the medievalists. I learned Greek; she learned Latin. It makes for a funny picture on the couch, as I struggle to understand Science, Truth, and Democracy and she plows through The Brotherhood of the Common Life and Its Influence. When we just can't take it anymore, we watch "King of the Hill." It's a strange marriage, but we say it's what you get from your typical Ukrainian-Italian Episcopalian-Utah Mormon-Unitarian wedding.
But it pains me to tell you that Mrs Philocrites doesn't read the blog. ("What restraint!" I imagine you saying. "What wisdom!" I know you're thinking.) But I have decided to lure her back by adding "Mrs Philocrites' corner" to the menu on the right, featuring some of her favorite sites. Check them out — and tell her you saw them here first!
Katherine Boo's long New Yorker article in the August 18-25 issue, "The Marriage Cure," profiles two women in an Oklahoma City housing project who are trying to find husbands and a way out of poverty. It may be the most devastating feature story I've read.
Scott Wells has capitalized on a brilliant idea: a group blog as blog-incubator for his fellow Unitarian Universalist Christians. The new group effort, Fish Bowl, already includes four writers I'll be eager to follow. And while I hate to appear partial, I am especially happy to see Tom Schade joining the blogosphere. He suggests that Unitarian Universalism is not so much afflicted with its own orthodoxy or even "orthopraxy" (a favorite neologism among seminarians), but that it is tilting heavily toward "orthopatheia", a fixation on feeling the right things.
And I wonder: Could group blogging offer a way to revive First Days Record or to bring a periodical like the Unitarian Universalist Voice to a wider audience? (The Voice is a quarterly; P.O. Box 3104, St. Louis MO 63130; $25, $15 students.)
If you are blogging about Unitarian Universalism or liberal religion, or have comments about this site, I'd love to hear from you.
In the current issue of the Boston Review, Susie Linfield has written an exceptionally provocative review of Avishai Margalit's The Ethics of Memory and W.G. Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction, holding both writers up against the stark moral witness of Holocaust survivor Jean Améry. It's a fine, bracing piece of critical prose.
The first four paragraphs present an important left-liberal critique of a flaw in a lot of left-wing activism today:
It was the fourth day of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and unlike several of my friends, I was not in the streets demonstrating. Despite that, or because of it, two small items—details, really—in a New York Times article about the antiwar protests stopped me short. The first: At a demonstration in Berlin, our German comrades (I do not use the word facetiously, only sadly) hoisted a placard reading, “Dresden 1945, Baghdad 2003: the same crime.” The second quoted a Spanish protester named Juan Antonio Diaz, who told the Times, “I feel even more anger than on the first day because of the images we have seen on television of Baghdad burning, the same thing that happened to Madrid, the city I live in, during the Spanish Civil War.”
Was Baghdad burning? According to the BBC website, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, from which I got most of the news, parts of it certainly were. But throughout the course of the war, the American bombing was clearly aimed almost exclusively at Saddam’s presidential palace compounds and other government-related buildings. The city was not, by any conceivable stretch of the imagination, razed, and great care was taken (whether for humanitarian or political motives) to avoid civilian casualties. Of course there were fatalities, and appalling mutilations, and fear and anguish among Baghdad’s citizens; this was a war. And like all wars, one could argue that it was wrong in principle, which is to say on political grounds. But one could not plausibly—that is, truthfully—argue that the American bombing campaign represented the desire to terrorize or decimate a civilian population. From a military, political, and moral standpoint, the U.S. attack on Baghdad resembled neither the Allied firebombing of Dresden nor the Fascist assault on Madrid. In fact, I can think of few worse analogies.
And yet that analogy and others like it remained, shouted (and, more alarmingly, written) with passionate intensity by reasonable, well-meaning, and well-educated people throughout the world. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that argument-by-historic-analogy has become a prime mode of political discourse, especially among those who consider themselves intellectuals and leftists. (Think of, say, Portuguese novelist José Saramago, a Nobel laureate, comparing the Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat’s compound to “a crime comparable to Auschwitz” in the pages of El Pais last year.) This is a problem not of exaggeration or laziness or stupidity, but of epistemology and understanding and intellectual courage.
The propagators of such analogies would say they are using historic knowledge to heighten moral awareness and thus prevent the commission of present and future horrors. But I fear that the opposite is true: The reliance on historic analogies is an evasion of the particular, indeed novel, political complexities that face us now, complexities that have emerged since (but are not solely the result of) September 11. Like photographs of starving children or grieving mothers or blasted buildings, such analogies create instant, Pavlovian moral equivalencies. They shut down critical thought and ultimately, therefore, stifle moral acuity.They simplify both the present and the past. They erase the specific in favor of the generic, and the sharp reality in favor of the fuzzy image. They create fear, confusion and especially guilt (and are designed to do so). Most dangerously, they seduce us into thinking that history is essentially a story of repetition—“the same crime” eternally played out. (The motto of the analogists might be: “Always again.”) And so the brave banner in Berlin and the angry demonstrator in Madrid lead me to a question I don’t usually ask: Is memory—historic memory—a good thing?
If you find the question provocative, read the rest of Linfield's review.
Twenty-two-year-old Kimberly Devlin's mother decided that the young woman was unlucky in love — and that television has a thing or two to teach us. Inspired by the current crop of dating-and-marriage "reality" shows, her mother decided to hold auditions for her daughter's hand in marriage. ("Who wants to marry my daughter? Peter DeMarco, Boston Globe 8.17.03.)
And how did the auditions go? Ten men showed up. But the family may have gone a bit overboard in mimicking television:
Still, few bachelors were prepared for television cameras recording their every word, or for their answers being broadcast on a sound system so the whole neighborhood could hear.
"I never thought it would be like this," said one overwhelmed suitor. "I think I might have to vote myself off the island, you know what I mean?"
Today's update — of course I've been following the story closely — marks a turn for the worse. The national media have discovered Kimberly Devlin, and now we can look forward to a reality show inspired by real life inspired by reality television. Somehow I think Kimberly would have had better luck finding love if the story had been confined to print and radio, but perhaps she was really angling for a spot on TV.
Sunday, August 17, 2003
I became so fascinated by Avishai Margalit's book The Ethics of Memory [Powells] that I didn't bother blogging for several days. And since I finished reading the book before I remembered to hawk it over on the bookshelf to the right, I thought I ought to give it a prominent mention over here instead. To my friends who weigh a book solely on its potential to generate a sermon, may I suggest reading chapter six, "Forgiving and Forgetting," which presents a humanistic discussion of what forgiveness is and is not that I think Unitarian Universalists might find especially helpful. The entire book is packed with powerful insights, but I can imagine ministers concentrating on chapters one (with an illuminating discussion of the Good Samaritan), two (with a discussion of Christian and Jewish approaches to memory, tradition, and the formation of the ethical community), and six (on forgiveness).
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
I had never come across a Unitarian ad on Google until this afternoon. But now that I've scouted out the Biblical Unitarian Web site (apparently launched earlier this week) and its parent, Christian Educational Services, I am here to tell you that you can be a unitarian and a fundamentalist at the same time! (But you'll have to believe these doctrines.)
(They're not the first, however. The Jehovah's Witnesses have already managed the trick — as I realized from reading a copy of the Watchtower a year or two ago that featured Francis David and the court of King John Sigismund in Transylvania. Talk about two groups you never quite expected to claim shared roots . . .)
Which leads us to ask what distinguished Unitarian Christianity circa 1819 (the historic Unitarian tradition) from the biblical unitarianism of our fundamentalist friends. I find a theme or pattern in much early American Unitarian writing that one can call "liberal" or "modernist" or some other term that locates a significant degree of revelation in the contemporary world and in the exercise of human thought. That notion appears to be missing from "biblical unitarianism," but it has been cultivated (and occasionally perverted) into the defining feature of Unitarian Universalism.
The Biblical Unitarians are not a variety of "classical Unitarianism." Their perspective is a variety of bibliolatry. But do check it out.
Update 8.14.03. Wait, you say, wasn't William Ellery Channing a biblical inerrantist? And how did nineteenth-century Unitarians interpret the Bible, anyway? Some selections from the Philocrites archives . . .
The opponents of Bishop Robinson's confirmation who quoted Bible verses during the discussion in Minneapolis must have known they had a weak case. The same word, usually translated as "abomination," which in the Hebrew Scriptures is frequently applied to certain homosexual acts, is also used to condemn eating any pork product or even touching the skin of a pig. Those who enjoy crisp bacon with their fried eggs or a game of touch football on the beach should take notice.
The trouble with flinging out texts is that everyone is selective about what to quote and what not to. Not only did St. Paul tell women to be silent in the churches, he also told slaves to obey their masters. Opponents of emancipation and of women's ordination often cited these verses, but this only illustrates clearly that we need to rely not just on the biblical text itself but also, as we do in constitutional law, on the history of its interpretation. ("A Schism Averted," 8.12.03, A12)
Amen to that.
Update 8.17.03. The full text of Cox's op-ed is on the Harvard Divinity School Web site.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Sometimes, while reading on one topic, you stumble onto something you didn't expect but have always wanted to know. I have always wanted a good, simple way to describe the difference between morality and ethics, and now that I have started reading Avishai Margalit's The Ethics of Memory, I finally have one!
[T]he distinction between ethics and morality . . . is based on a distinction between two types of human relations: thick ones and thin ones. Thick relations are grounded in attributes such as parent, friend, lover, fellow-countryman. Thick relations are anchored in a shared past or moored in shared memory. Thin relations, on the other hand, are backed by the attribute of being human. Thin relations rely also on some aspects of being human, such as being a woman or being sick. Thick relations are in general our relation to the near and dear. Thin relations are in general our relations to the stranger and the remote. . . . Ethics, in the way I use the term, tells us how we should regulate our thick relations; morality tells us how we should regulate our thin relations. (The Ethics of Memory, Harvard UP: 2003, 7-8)
Or this even pithier statement:
Because it encompasses all humanity, morality is long on geography and short on memory. Ethics is typically short on geography and long on memory. Memory is the cement that holds thick relations together, and communities of memory are the obvious habitat for thick relations and thus for ethics. (8)
Monday, August 11, 2003
"Terms you didn't learn in seminary: Exebegesis: textual interpretation that scares the pants off you. Hypocrypha: extracanonical documents that pretend to be part of the apocrypha but aren't. Par-ooz-sia: a divine appearance bringing about the end of the world in a slow, icky way. Kantikle of Kanticles [sic]: seldom-sung love song based on Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason."
(From "Theological Terms from the Esoteric Dictionary of Quasi-Spiritual Mistaken Knowledge" in the Door Magazine, July-August, quoted in the August 9 Christian Century.)
There's more! Including Trini-tini-tarianism, a belief in a miniscule but three-personed God! The whole list is on-line.
Sunday, August 10, 2003
Lisa's Simple Essentials to Philocrites' UU Blog roster. A Canadian Unitarian and mother, she muses on being Officer Mom — and has set up a special blog ring just for UU mothers. Plus, she's got great blog design sense.
"I've been writing for a long time about how tolerant Americans are, and how the culture has changed, yet gay marriage is the line," said Alan Wolfe, a Boston College professor of political science and an authority on cultural and religious issues in American politics. "Marriage is the one institution that touches on everything that Americans really care deeply about." ("Why America has gay marriage jitters." Elisabeth Bumiller. New York Times 8.10.03)
"[W]hen word of her choice of a major reached state officials, they wrote her a new letter. 'Students enrolled in a course of study leading to a degree in theology, divinity or religious education are not eligible to receive an award,' it said, paraphrasing a state law. 'Your award has changed from $2,750.00 to $0.00.'" ("Courts weighing rights of states to curb aid for religion majors." Adam Liptak. New York Times 8.10.03, reg req'd)
Mennonites in Paraguay!
Who knew? (reg req'd)
The Unitarian Universalist Association's "vocabulary of reverence" debate is back in the news, although I'm a week late in noticing. The San Antonio Express-News talked to UUA President Bill Sinkford about the controversy last weekend; Sinkford is speaking this morning at the First Unitarian Universalist Church at the close of the Continental Conference of the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network.
The Principles and Purposes welcome ["liberal Christians, humanists and a whole range of people in between"] by using language that Sinkford describes as a "lowest common denominator," but it has left members without adequate language to name the holy, Sinkford said this week in a telephone interview.
"God" is an essential word in most religious traditions, but many older Unitarian Universalists are uncomfortable with it because it sounds too creedal or dogmatic.
Those who have left more traditional religious backgrounds — mostly Christian ones — often have painful memories and remain uncomfortable with traditional religious language.
Sinkford wasn't suggesting a creed or a more Christian formulation of faith.
He said he was attempting to start a conversation among church members about how to speak more deeply about the spiritual.
"There's a tremendous willingness — almost a longing — to have this conversation," he said. "In many congregations, it's already started."
Most enthusiastic are younger members of the church, many of whom come from "unchurched" backgrounds; that is, they had no previous religious affiliation. ("Unitarian likes 'holy' debate." J. Michael Parker. San Antonio Express-News 8.2.03)
Saturday, August 9, 2003
Dwight's A Religious Liberal Blog is unimaginatively but candidly named. He was at the Episcopal Church's General Convention, and I've appreciated his commentary and links about it and other topics. But Blogspot has not been cooperating, so he has set up a new, barebones home. Check out his collection of positive statements about the election of the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church — especially the reaction of the Anglican archbishop of South Africa, who bucks the third-world trend of reacting with dismay and talk of schism.
Selections from "Tips for Talking about President Bush with Your Children," a helpful parents' guide to making sense of the president's tendency to stray from the truth:
Think about your values as they relate to this situation. What are your family's values about telling the truth? What would you do if your child lied to you and when you scolded him or her, he or she replied: ''I am not a fact-checker.'' Or added, ''Isn't it time to move on?'' Ask your children to tell you what words mean to them. Explain that words have consequences and lies can come in two, six or 16 words. Clarify facts. Give short, age-appropriate answers. Explain that shifting strategies at damage control only lead to more unanswered questions. Make clear that even if facts are malleable for President Bush, they're not malleable in your home. Explain that even though the White House strategy may be to say whatever is necessary, even if they have to admit later that what they said the first time wasn't exactly true, you don't do it that way yourself. Use these talks with your child to encourage good decision-making. Let them know that if they grow up to become president and lead a nation into war, the right thing to do is take responsibility for their words and acts. (This is a good opportunity to explain what the saying ''the buck stops here'' means.) Use television news as a springboard for discussion. However, do not let children younger than 13 watch this coverage alone. It can be ugly and disturbing for children to watch the president and his aides scapegoat their subordinates with so little compunction.
(Katrina vanden Heuvel, "Kids, lies, and President Bush," Boston Globe 8.9.03)
"A young cleric just out of a seminary often looks out from the pulpit during that first sermon and sees a flock that looks to be the age of parents and grandparents. The congregants looking back often see a person the age of someone they used to bounce on their knee." Can you relate? ("New clerics seeks ways to reach aging flocks." Marek Fuchs. New York Times 8.9.03, reg req'd)
Judaism by the books.
Nextbook is a great Web site — you can find it down among my "Arts and Ideas" links — but it's a lot more, too, including a publishing and library outreach program. It's the literary-intellectual portal to Jewish culture. Julie Salamon explains in the Times. (8.9.03, reg req'd)
After conservative Episcopalians discovered links to erotic photographs only six clicks away from a site with the same name as a youth outreach program that the Rev. V. Gene Robinson had helped start seven years ago — gasp! the scandal! — enterprising Web surfers have wondered what other dangers lurk nearby. Bruce Kluger reports, for instance, that one can stumble onto "SpongeBob's KaRahTay Contest" only five clicks away from the White House site (probably in a British intelligence dossier). (reg req'd)
Friday, August 8, 2003
Dan Kennedy — senior writer for the Boston Phoenix, author of the paper's widely read Media Log, and contributor to UU World — offers a blistering critique of the Pope's attack on gay rights. He dives right in:
Overseen by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the right-hand man to Pope John Paul II (and, for all we know, the acting pope in these final days of John Paul’s papacy), the document is an incomparable mix of hate, smug self-righteousness, and finger-wagging by out-of-touch, sex-obsessed old men who have long since lost the right to wag their fingers at anyone.
In addition to the heat you may sense coming off your screen, there's also a lot of light in the piece — especially about the political implications of the church's statement. And you'll want to be sure to read the second page, too, because Kennedy describes why the Catholic statement is also an attack on his religion: Unitarian Universalism.
One small quibble with a strong and important essay: Kennedy attacks the notion of "natural law," which conservative Catholics have been deploying with special vigor lately. But, believe it or not, there are also liberal "natural law" traditions — including the Declaration of Independence, or the phrase "inherent worth and dignity," or several approaches to the notion of human rights. I oppose the way natural law is invoked by conservatives, too — and for most of the reasons Kennedy names — but I won't throw out the whole notion entirely. If there are not moral claims that one can make beyond one's own religious or cultural tradition, or claims one can appeal to when trying to find some ethical consensus with people who have other religious or cultural traditions, then we're in a bit of bind.
James Luther Adams was an advocate of natural law doctrine for liberal ends — and it may be fair to regard Martha Nussbaum's "empirical universalism" (which I first encountered in her book Sex and Social Justice) as a kind of natural law doctrine, too.
You no doubt are wondering what has been happening in Alabama, where conservative Republican Gov. Bob Riley has been trying to modify the state's deeply regressive tax laws. Using Protestant language, he has been promoting what Catholic and liberation theologians call the "preferential option for the poor." (You know: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.") Naturally, the governor is opposed by the state's powerful property owners — and by the Christian Coalition.
That much of the story I had gleaned from the New York Times and Boston Globe. But Alabama blogger Michael Bowen called my attention to this intriguing twist in the story: The state Christian Coalition adamantly opposes the governor's plan, but the national Christian Coalition has just taken the governor's side! Check out A Minority of One for all the twists and turns.
The Mormon Church doesn't like its critics. (To be fair, many of them are gratingly obnoxious. They really don't like the Mormon Church.) And so an important element in the three-year-old battle over Salt Lake City's sale of part of Main Street to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is precisely this: The church wanted to link its two most visited pieces of property — Temple Square and the church's administration complexes — with a plaza that its critics wouldn't be free to roam. The church wanted a two-block piece of private property where it set its own rules. Makes sense to me.
But the city goofed. Salt Lake's mayor and city council somehow imagined that the sale of a city street to a private corporation could be presented to the voters as a "public park." And they were foolish enough to require the church to maintain an "easement" through what would in every other respect be private property. The city got millions of dollars in the deal — and the plaza is very lovely — but the church and the city fully deserved the lawsuit that pointed out that a public thoroughfare is precisely where we exercise our First Amendment (and several other) rights. That's what public space is for.
Ever since the courts said the church can't control behavior and expression on its plaza so long as an easement exists, the city and church have been trying to find a way either to provide "free assembly" areas in the plaza — a version of the "put your soapbox here and nowhere else" strategy several college campuses have recently tried — or to sell the easement outright. That last option would make the plaza fully private property, and in the end this is what the city is going to have to do.
But here is where the story gets interesting.
Wednesday, August 6, 2003
Eileen McNamara writes in this morning's Boston Globe about the allegations that delayed the final approval of the Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. She asks an important question:
Don't our visceral political sympathies — whatever they are — dictate our initial reactions to charges like these? Robinson's critics immediately saw a smoking gun; his champions just as instantly saw dirty politics.
And so I have had to ask whether my own reaction was unfair. (And I think it's only fair to ask whether Fred Barnes will take back some of his comments.) By yesterday afternoon, it was clear that David Lewis, the Vermont man who complained on Sunday night about Robinson's physical contact at a church conference in 1999, probably had no idea what kind of response his e-mail would provoke and was almost certainly not part of an organized campaign. (His e-mail, for one thing, supports the development of blessing liturgies for gay and lesbian couples.) He clearly overreacted, but he didn't intend to launch a sexual harassment probe, and I respect him for resolving his complaint.
The "pornography" charge, however, was passed around by conservative bishops and others who were organized against Robinson's candidacy. They should have known better. They should be ashamed of themselves. I still think their tactics here constitute "desperate measures."
So here's my self-assessment. I went farther than I should have in asking: "But was the adult man so traumatized for the past two years — or somehow completely unaware of Robinson's candidacy — that he didn't bother raising his concerns until 8:54 last night?" I appreciate the restraint and concern the Episcopal Church showed in its response to Lewis. The bishops provided the pastoral response he seems to have needed but never expected — and they were able to go forward with the proper decision about Robinson's election.
Tuesday, August 5, 2003
My friends in Salt Lake City won First Unitarian Church v. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the ACLU lawsuit protesting the city's sale of a section of Main Street to the Mormons. (Their complaint was that the city had kept an easement through the property, but was allowing the Mormon Church to set limits on First Amendment rights in spite of the right of public access. The courts quite rightly sided with the ACLU.) Now they've signed on for a new ACLU lawsuit, this time protesting the city's attempt to resolve the first case.
The mayor, a liberal Democrat, isn't happy with the Unitarians, of course. "Anderson said Monday he thought the Rev. Tom Goldsmith and his congregation — in an effort to heal the city's continuing religious divide — would stand against further plaza litigation," according to the LDS Church-owned Deseret News. "But following a 81-23 Sunday vote in favor of further legal action, Anderson realized he was wrong and now thinks the Unitarians are being divisive."
I love my church, but I would have been number 24. The Unitarians already won the symbolic victory; I say quit while you're ahead and use your publicity to build some bridges. But then, since no one in Utah is a moderate, the logic behind further litigation is that it taps into the grievances of non-Mormons (who always feel shut out) and makes for great press. Of course it stands no chance of closing down the Mormon Church's expensive new plaza, but a new lawsuit sure will give non-Mormons something to cheer for.
Update: I've modified the opening paragraph of this entry.
When operating a smear campaign, it helps to have friends in high places — like Fred Barnes, executive editor of the neoconservative Washington magazine, The Weekly Standard. (He's also on the board of an Episcopal organization that just happens to oppose gay marriage.) What a surprise that Barnes was so prompt in sharing the good news of the pornography and "sexual harassment" allegations about the Rev. Gene Robinson at 2:48 yesterday afternoon. But The American Prospect's Tapped dishes it right back:
The controversial heterosexual Episcopal journalist is co-founder of The Weekly Standard, a conservative political magazine. The Standard's website includes links to the web magazine Salon, which posts pornographic material, including pictures of nude heterosexual couples. Barnes was reported to have denied any knowledge of the link. But he has made no secret of his connection with The Standard. Barnes has said his aim is not to be a "straight journalist," but his connection to the Standard and his public appearances with his wife may make that label unavoidable.
Meanwhile, though, the Episcopal Church has completed its preliminary investigation of Robinson and says the bishops' vote on his election will go forward. "James Solheim, a church spokesman, said the vote would not have been rescheduled if Robinson hadn't been cleared of the allegations," according to the Associated Press. Someone should inform Barnes.
The horror: "David Lewis, layman from Manchester, Vt., made the allegations in a series of emails Sunday night with Vermont Bishop Tom Ely. Ely then had a 45-minute conversation with Lewis, who is a member of the conservative Zion Episcopal Church in Manchester Center, Vt., in which Lewis said the contact from Robinson was to his bicep, shoulder and upper back." Plus: Find out what "surprises" the conservatives were really planning.
And shouldn't we all come up with a new "six degrees of separation" game? Turns out the conservatives were shocked — shocked! — that it only took six links to get from an Episcopal church Web site to a site offering pornography. Holy Google, Batman! Earth to Ft. Worth: Your children figured this out a long time ago. If they want nasty pictures, they'll find them a lot faster than six links. Makes you wonder, though: Which of my links could lead you down the primrose path the fastest?
Monday, August 4, 2003
Pardon me for asking, but what would motivate the Rev. Gene Robinson's opponents to hold on to their titillating — and probably trivial — allegations about the Episcopal bishop-elect's "boundary issues" until the day of the final vote on his candidacy? Apparently fasting and prayer didn't work, so somebody decided to try mud.
Reuters names the alleged victim of Robinson's "fondling". Okay. Could be true. Could be a homophobic overreaction to a hug. Who knows? But was the adult man so traumatized for the past two years — or somehow completely unaware of Robinson's candidacy — that he didn't bother raising his concerns until 8:54 last night? (The NPR report [RealAudio] quotes one church leader who considers the timing of the allegations "curious." Indeed.) It seems just as likely that his concerns were rather more recently amplified into just what the conservatives most desperately needed today.
CNN adds that another allegation has tried to link Robinson to a Web site that links to another site featuring "erotic photographs." The pornography charge (which the delegates already knew about and disregarded before they approved Robinson yesterday) is clearly silly since Robinson hasn't had anything to do with the Web site since its founding. The news stories today connect the bishops' delay only to the more serious allegations of possible misconduct, which the New Hampshire diocese itself asked for time to investigate.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold appointed Bishop Gorton Scruton of Western Massachusetts to investigate allegations that Robinson has "inappropriately touched" a man from the Diocese of Vermont during a provincial meeting some years ago.
Scruton will also investigate an allegation that Robinson is affiliated with a Web site — Outright.org — that offers links to pornographic sites. According to convention officials, these allegations appear unfounded.
Under the church's Title IV disciplinary canons, the victim's "credibility is assumed as soon as an allegation is made," said Hopkins. "That is how we do things because we take these things seriously."
The church's approach seems just right, but in the end the allegations will amount to a stalling tactic, not a permanent derailment of Robinson's election.
The Unitarian Universalists who chat it up at Beliefnet are discussing the new Humanist Manifesto. It's an unusually good discussion.
Sunday, August 3, 2003
An intriguing argument from the Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler in favor of blessing same-sex partnerships in the Episcopal Church:
Let the state do what it wants! Let the followers of natural law do what they want! The Christian Church makes another kind of claim altogether: that we are saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The Church blesses faithfulness. The Church blesses those relationships and institutions which symbolize, represent, and point to, a new creation, a new order. In that new creation, grace overcomes what we think we know by nature. (This is what Galatians 3.28 means; in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female.)
His basic argument is that the church recognizes a quality — grace, God's covenant-making activity — in a variety of relationships and institutions, and blesses them for exemplifying that divine quality. This strikes me as very sound theology. Candler adds: "Relationships that glorify God bear fruit, what St. Paul called the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22-23)." These spiritual fruits are found not only in many male-female commitments, but in many same-sex commitments as well, as more and more of us are coming to recognize. (From the liberal Episcopalian "Every Voice Network" 8.1.03.)
Frank Rich writes about Mel Gibson's made-for-p.r. Passion controversy (reg req'd):
His game from the start has been to foment the old-as-Hollywood canard that the "entertainment elite" (which just happens to be Jewish) is gunning for his Christian movie. But based on what? According to databank searches, not a single person, Jewish or otherwise, had criticized "The Passion" when Mr. Gibson went on Bill O'Reilly's show on Jan. 14 to defend himself against "any Jewish people" who might attack the film. Nor had anyone yet publicly criticized "The Passion" or Mr. Gibson by March 7, when The Wall Street Journal ran the interview in which the star again defended himself against Jewish critics who didn't yet exist. (Even now, no one has called for censorship of the film — only for the right to see it and, if necessary, debate its content.)
Whether the movie holds Jews of two millenniums ago accountable for killing Christ or not, the star's pre-emptive strategy is to portray contemporary Jews as crucifying Mel Gibson.
("Mel Gibson's Martyrdom Complex," Frank Rich, New York Times 8.3.03)
Saturday, August 2, 2003
The front page of the Boston Herald picked up on something I couldn't find anywhere in today's Globe:
Bluntly telling the Vatican to stay out of American politics, U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry yesterday said Pope John Paul II "crossed the line" by instructing pols to block legalization of gay marriage. . . . "It is important not to have the church instructing politicians. That is an inappropriate crossing of the line in this country," Kerry said. "President Kennedy drew that line very clearly in 1960 and I believe we need to stand up for that line today."
Good for him!
"Nothing mitigates Genesis's skepticism about the nature of humanity. As a religious book Genesis is dark and troubling. Its skepticism, common to many religious traditions, also gives religion a peculiar place in modern societies. It can seem illiberal and threatening: it sees limits on humanity's abilities to perfect itself through the use of reason alone," writes Edward Rothstein (reg req'd) about Leon R. Kass's new book, The beginning of wisdom: Reading Genesis.
I've never bought the humanist line on human perfectability — I can't sing "Wonders still the world shall witness" without wanting to laugh — but I think there are liberal ways to acknowledge limits on human perfectability. Of course, you have to abandon the notion of utopia and may need to embrace "agonistic pluralism," ala Isaiah Berlin. The humanistic starting point might be: "I am a human being; nothing human is alien to me" — a truly humbling doctrine when you take off your rose-colored spectacles. More on this idea over the next two weeks, I promise . . .
Update 8.4.03: Speaking of "wonders still the world shall witness," whatever happened to the miraculous future we were predicted to be living in by now? Calpundit provides a score-card!
Quick: Find the variable in this equation! Why should you be suspicious of Jon Krakauer's premise in Under the banner of heaven: A Story of violent faith?
Peter Steinfels looks into some of the unreported findings from the big religion and politics poll released last month. My favorite: The people with the biggest negative shift in their assessment of Islam aren't Evangelicals. They're "seculars," who Steinfels notes are "not the sort to be captivated by Pat Robertson or the Rev. Jerry Falwell" (New York Times 8.2.03, reg req'd). But of course, they are the folks most likely to adopt a negative attitude toward religion generally.
I.e., Boston Globe headline writer seeks work with satirical newspaper.
"The White House, like the Democrats, has far more to lose than to gain by getting tangled up in the debate [over gay marriage]," writes Elisabeth Bumiller in the Times (reg req'd). "But both sides are being forced into taking positions by the vocal edges of their parties." She quotes a strategist for a leading Democratic presidential candidate, who says, "I think we can get people rights in this generation if we don't take on a cultural, religious icon."
Friday, August 1, 2003
Let's say you have the President and the Pope on one side of an issue. Who do you need on the other side to win — and how will you get them there? That's the basic question for liberal supporters of same-sex couples who are seeking legal recognition for their unions.