Sunday, November 30, 2003
We zoomed through November with 6402 visits and 2912 unique visitors. (In October, those numbers — which I've now figured out how to extract from my host — were 5426 visits and 2753 unique visitors.) Thank you, everybody — and I especially appreciate your comments.
People are still inexplicably drawn to my essays about Max Weber and early Unitarian interest in Hinduism; the most popular blog entry was about poor old Henry VIII (from September); and the spam robots from Belize boosted their country into first place among foreign top-level domains with 890 visits — but I appreciate much more the visits from Germany (70) and the UK (69) by actual human beings.
More recommended reading by Matthew Gatheringwater:
I don't think calls to ministry come only from some kind of happy place, some denominational cheerleading section of the soul, or something that can easily be cut and pasted onto a resume. If it were that easy, it wouldn't be ministry; it would just be a job.
What follows is really good. Especially this:
[T]here are deep wellsprings of life pent up all around us, trapped under rocks, condensed into clouds, frozen in the ice. And what I worship cleaves the rock and makes the rain and melts the snow. It is a god of transformation: changing tragedy into humor, water into wine, life into death and life yet again. It never stops calling and I think it calls to you every bit as much as it calls to me.
I support legal recognition of committed same-sex couples, and I am proud of my own denomination's practice of performing commitment ceremonies and services of union for same-sex partners.
I am having a hard time, however, wrapping my head around at least one aspect of the gay marriage debate: I don't understand why some people are downplaying any meaningful distinction between male-female marriage and same-sex marriage. Case in point: In today's Boston Globe, Michael Paulson describes efforts by Protestant denominations in Massachusetts to prepare for the likely flurry of gay weddings next summer. My colleage, the Rev. Keith Kron of the UUA's Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns, is quoted in the story.
Kron said that most Unitarian Universalist ministers use the words "spouse and spouse" rather than "husband and wife," and that few other changes to the traditional wedding rites are necessary.
Really? How did I miss this? I'm sorry to say that the weddings I've performed included the dread words "husband" and "wife." (I also signed the wedding licenses, by the way, which makes me less holy than some UU ministers but at least as honorable as a justice of the peace.) My wife and I actually do talk about each other as "husband" and "wife." Are we anachronisms? Or are we simply being candid about the cultural baggage that we have taken on, for better and for worse, as a man and a woman who signed up for the "institution of marriage"?
I see a significant analogy between male-female marriage and same-sex marriage, but I don't see an equivalency between them. Gay marriages strike me as a good thing — and as a new thing. Straight couples may now enjoy a "marriage of equals" more than ever before, but marriage is hardly gender-neutral even for the most progressive couples. Our species is sexually dimorphous — the symbolism of "male" and "female" as sexually generative is rather primordially a part of the idea of marriage, don't you think? This symbolism isn't accidental or incidental, even though having children isn't a necessary part of marriage. My hunch is that a lot of the difference in public support for civil unions versus gay marriage is due to most people's sense that, while a lot of things are the same for same-sex and male-female couples, the reality of gender difference within a marriage is a fundamental aspect of what we have meant by marriage. Liberal that I am, I'm stumbling over this symbol when I consider redefining marriage.
I would like to see the development of appropriate symbolism for the distinctive virtues of same-gender couples. I would like to see liturgical language that celebrates those virtues. I would like to see religious communities and civic communities identify the qualities that make same-gender as well as male-female marriages vital to civic health. But I don't think we're going to get very far by taking gender out of marriage entirely, or by discounting the differences between one form of partnership and another.
I'd like to hear your thoughts, naturally. Is it "spouse and spouse" for everyone? Or can we celebrate and encourage committed gay and straight couples in distinctive ways without also setting up a "separate but equal" institution for same-sex couples?
A good cover story in the Boston Globe Magazine about the evangelical trend among MIT and Harvard undergraduates. (It's a trend I think about often when riding the Red Line downtown to attend King's Chapel on Sunday mornings. I get off at Park Street with countless young people, who all walk up the steps to the Park Street Church. At the Unitarian King's Chapel, there may be five people under 40.) Best line:
"It's very chic to be a believer now," says [Harvard University professor and minister of Harvard's Memorial Church Peter J.] Gomes. "In a place which is so dispassionate, so rational, and in many ways so conformist intellectually, if you want to break out of the pack, you say your prayers in public."
Lots of good stuff about the culture clash between Campus Crusade and the Ivy League — especially about homosexuality.
("God on the Quad," Neil Swidey. Boston Globe Magazine 11.30.03)
Mary Leonard writes in a front-page Boston Globe article that President Bush's faith-based initiatives might have the surprising side-effect — yes, you could put quotes around "surprising" and "side-effect" — of picking up a few more votes and helping attract some diversity to the Republican base. And, while the Christian Right is squawking about the dangers of "judicial legislating" on gay marriage, it's interesting to note how the president is busy doing some "executive legislating" with faith-based pork:
Through executive orders, an aggressive wooing of religious groups, and his unflagging commitment to use the bully pulpit, President Bush has bypassed a reluctant Congress and is fulfilling his inaugural promise to bridge the historic separation of church and state and make his administration the most faith-friendly in memory.
("Bush presses funding for faith groups," Mary Leonard, Boston Globe 11.30.03)
Saturday, November 29, 2003
Friday, November 28, 2003
Even the neoconservative Weekly Standard is getting tired of meaningless cheerleading about our "successes" in Iraq. Here's Matt Labash:
Now, the most fashionable pre-fab rationalization to use when the news isn't going as swimmingly as we want it to, is to select a place in Iraq, then a corresponding place in America. If the two places start with the same letter, all the better. Next, state baldly that no matter how lousy things are going, you'd rather fight the terrorists / Baathists / whoever-it-is-we're-fighting in the first location, rather than the second. Lastly, sit back with a self-satisfied smile, as if that settles the matter. . . .
The Boston Herald, for instance, wants to fight in Baghdad, "rather than mopping up after mayhem in Boston." A Fox commentator prefers "the Middle East so you won't have to fight them in the Midwest." New York governor George Pataki wants our troops fighting the terrorists "on the streets of Baghdad," rather than our firefighters fighting them "on the streets of Brooklyn." Representative J.D. Hayworth would rather "see the fight in Tikrit than in Tucson or Tacoma." And Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld scores a fighting hat trick, since he'd prefer the fight to go down in Baghdad rather than "in Boston or in Baltimore or Boise."
I'm partial to self-critical liberals, but I'm also happy to praise self-critical conservatives. Labash to all the "fair and balanced" crowd: "It's simple really, to know where you'd rather fight the terrorists. It's considerably harder to fight them." Amen.
Thursday, November 27, 2003
Heather Janules reports on a day spent with the world religions scholar Huston Smith (whose wife is a Unitarian Universalist).
I appreciated how Huston spoke of the essence of Christianity: “We are in good hands. Out of gratitude, we are called to relieve each other’s burdens.” And the gift that Christianity offers? Forgiveness. Quoting Nelson Mandela, “there is no future without forgiveness.”
On Unitarian Universalism, "Smith celebrated our ways of building community and our social-justice work, but challenged us to abandon our resistance to 'transcendence.'" Good stuff at Chrysalis.
Outstanding commentary by UCLA political philosopher Andrew Sabl, who writes that his support for Wesley Clark "did not come naturally." After reading Clark's book, Winning Modern Wars, Sabl concludes the following about Clark:
Clark is an intensely patriotic internationalist. . . Clark is essentially a pre-Sixties Democrat. . . Clark believes in fighting the war on terrorism — hard, continually, smart, and to win. And he makes an excellent case that Bush's policies are guaranteed to fail at this. . . Clark clearly casts himself as the person making policy, not one of the people debating it. . . Clark doesn't think the personal is political. . .
His summary of "American virtues" is "tolerance, freedom, and fairness" — about as good a slogan for the Democratic Party as I can think of. His book exudes a welcome politics of "live and let live" rather than "endorse my pain." This is the kind of liberalism that could actually be popular. . .
[T]he Army is Biosphere II: a piece of Sweden stuck inside a country that's becoming Brazil. [I.e., the Army's social service programs have important lessons for U.S. domestic policy.] . . .
See also Kevin Drum's reviews of recent profiles of Wesley Clark, where I learned about Sabl's essay. The comments in response to both posts are well worth reading.
I find the story of Wesley Clark's religious odyssey pretty fascinating. He tells Beliefnet:
I'm spiritual. I'm religious. I'm a strong Christian and I'm a Catholic but I go to Presbyterian Church. Occasionally I go to the Catholic church too. I take communion. I haven't transferred my membership or anything. My wife I consider ourselves—-she considers herself a Catholic.
The Boston Globe's profile of Clark includes this description of his conversion from southern Baptist to Roman Catholic during the Vietnam War:
Perhaps the most bitter experience for Clark at Oxford occurred when he went to church. As a southern Baptist, he attended Protestant services, where he felt under attack.
"When I went to Protestant services in England, there was a tremendous passion against America's [involvement] in Vietnam," Clark said. "It became personal against the men in the armed services. It wasn't just the policy. It was the people. To me, that wasn't an atmosphere in which I felt comfortable."
By contrast, the Catholic church, in which Gertrude was a member, was a refuge, Clark believed. "It was reasoned, structured, ordered consistency," Clark said, qualities that he valued. After abiding by rules that Clark said required him to remain a bachelor for the first year of his Rhodes scholarship, Clark married Gertrude and embraced Catholicism, converting more than a year later in Vietnam.
In the Beliefnet interview, Clark adds:
What had happened to me was, I had tried to go the Protestant churches in England and I had sought out a Baptist church and a Methodist church. And that was during the Vietnam War and in both cases the sermons were anti- the American military and full of wildly overstated claims about how bad the American military was. My West Point classmates — my roommate was serving over there — he was killed during that period.
I wasn't about to go to church like that who didn't respect my friends who believed they were praying to the same God and serving their country.
We always believed in the 12th chapter of the book of Mark. That's what we were taught at West Point where Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and they try to trick him and say "You say we're supposed to be loyal to God but you're being a traitor to Caesar." And he said, "Bring me the coin" and said, "Who's face [is] in this coin?" And the Pharisees say, "Well, Caesar of course." And Jesus says "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's."
That's the way we lived. That's what I believed. And when I saw and felt this animus out of these Protestant churches in England during the Vietnam war, it just turned me off.
The Catholic priest at the time was a guy named Michael Hollings. (He fought in WWII). He was a captain, a battalion adjutant. He was from one of the original Catholic families who had disobeyed Henry VIII's order to renounce the Roman Catholic faith. And he was just an incredibly educated, literate, bright, insightful, experienced man—a real leader.
Clark's deep appreciation for structure and discipline — the values he embraced so strongly in the military, and came to recognize in Catholicism — are quite fascinating to me. He seems intellectual but basically non-speculative when it comes to religion: In the Beliefnet interview he says, for example, that doubt and "spiritual low points" haven't really been part of his religious experience, and he doesn't seem particularly interested in the theological differences between the Baptist church of his childhood, the Catholicism he embraced as a convert, and the Presbyterian church he and his wife attend today. (He sounds, in other words, like your typical American church-goer.)
I always find it instructive to hear a person describe the characteristics of the people they admire. The priest who made such an impression on Clark while he was in England was "an incredibly educated, literate, bright, insightful, experienced man—a real leader." Mid-century Protestant anti-Catholicism sure hadn't taken hold of him.
But it's also illuminating to see how the politics of both the mainline Protestant and post-Vatican II Catholic churches have put American soldiers in an awkward spot. Perhaps the churches need more encouragement to think through the question of a citizen's obligations to the state — a way of honoring the role of the military in a liberal society, for example, rather than wishing it away. Perhaps because Clark is an intellectual, a soldier, and a religious person who sees no contradictions in these loyalties, Americans might see in his story a new way to be an American: liberal in thought, disciplined and loyal in practice, devoted and small-c catholic in faith. That would be refreshing to me.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
We give thanks for the earth and its creatures and are grateful from A to Z:
For alligators, apricots, acorns and apple trees;
For bumblebees, bananas, blueberries and beagles;
Coconuts, crawdads, cornfields and coffee;
Daisies, elephants, and flying fish;
For groundhog, glaciers and grasslands;
Hippos and hazelnuts, icicles and iguanas . . .
Make sure you read at least as far as Q. Happy Thanksgiving!
First, a round of applause for the 100th comment left on this site — by new commenter Molly regarding Desert island hymns:
At my congregation's recent auction, a bidding war ensued when the congregation had the opportunity to bid on banning a hymn for 3 months. Turns out that every bidder wanted to ban the same hymn... "We Would Be One."
Hooray! (A congregation with good sense...) Comments have added a wonderfully interactive quality to the site, and I'm happy to announce that new comments — even on old posts — will appear on the sidebar of the main page as you post them.
In other sidebar developments, I decided that the monthly archives weren't the best way to introduce new readers to the site. So I've added links to a dozen or so key posts instead. Think of them as Philocrites' Selected Works. (Whatever was I thinking a year ago? Now you'll know!) The archives haven't gone away, though: I've updated my Notebook, where you can find a list of everything posted to the blog along with links to the monthly archives and the search engine. Hopefully, this will make it easy for you (and me) to find what I've posted.
A new feature in the Unitarian Universalism links is Google News: Click it, and get the latest news stories with "Unitarian" or "Universalist" in them — minus calendar items, notices about AA meetings, that kind of thing. As always, let me know if you have suggestions or complaints.
Congratulations to journalist and Unitarian Universalist Dan Kennedy on the publication of his book — and the elevation of his blog for the Boston Phoenix, Media Log, to the ranks of Blogger.com's "Blogs of Note." Wow!
Recent additions to my Unitarian Universalist blog roll:
Also worth noting:
Saturday, November 22, 2003
In today's New York Times, Peter Steinfels introduces four categorizes that may be more accurate than "liberal" and "conservative" when describing different perspectives in contemporary religion. The categories were developed by John L. Allen Jr., who writes for the National Catholic Reporter, to describe the various perspectives of Catholic cardinals:
The Border Patrol: Doctrinal conservatives worried about secularization, relativism and the loss of Catholic identity;
The Reform Party: Doctrinal moderates seeking to continue the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) on issues such as decentralization, ecumenism and the role of the laity;
The Social Justice Party: Cardinals concerned with issues outside the church, such as debt relief, H.I.V./AIDS, the environment, capital punishment, war and peace, and globalization; and
The Integralists: Cultural conservatives who want church teaching written into the civil law, especially on issues such as abortion, divorce and homosexuality.
How fascinating! Steinfels points out that some Catholic leaders — like the pope — mix at least two of these perspectives in a way that confounds our habitual "liberal-or-conservative" approach: "A lot of observers would put John Paul II, for example, primarily in the Border Patrol and the Social Justice Party."
("The Pigeonholing of Religious Combatants," Peter Steinfels, New York Times 11.22.03, reg req'd)
So, what I really want to know is, Which trends in liberal religion fall into these four categories? Who are Unitarian Universalism's "border patrol," for instance? Who are its "reform party"? We all know who the social justice party members are. But who are the "integralists"? Or do we need some other labels? I have some thoughts — but I'll solicit your opinions while I finish thinking my own.
The Right Christians — daily reading for me — profiles the leaders of the Christian Right in the U.S. today. Forget Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer; Allen says that Albert Mohler, Roberta Combs, Tony Perkins, and Fr. John McCloskey are the people to keep an eye on.
One of them, Roberta Combs, was interviewed last week in the New York Times Magazine. Combs hypocritically believes that women ought to be content staying at home — although, of course, she doesn't mean to include herself:
Would you like to see American products like television shows flourish in Baghdad as well?
Oh, no. I hope they don't show ''The Osbournes'' over there. The Osbournes are definitely not a typical American family. Their language is so offensive. Shows like that wouldn't exist if mothers stayed home with their kids and supervised what they watched.
But you yourself are a working mother. Do you think you could have been happy as a full-time housewife?
Probably not. Probably it would not have been enough for me. I always had a desire to make a difference. That is why I love the legislative process, where you can make a difference. One voice and one vote can make all the difference in the world.
Whoa! So which is it?
("A New Moral Majority," interview by Deborah Solomon, New York Times Magazine 11.16.03)
Matthew Gatheringwater received 98 responses to his poll about whether Unitarian Universalism is a distinctive religion. Last night he posted the fascinating definitions people sent him in response.
Friday, November 21, 2003
Our first Philocrites discussion topic, interfaith marriage, started slowly — but it turned into a great conversation. Thanks to everyone who participated!
And now it's time to brainstorm the next discussion topic, which will get its own link up in the top right corner of the main page and will stay active for at least a few weeks. Unitarian Universalist theologies of marriage might be an especially interesting topic in light of the Massachusetts court decision opening the way to gay marriages in the state. Earlier, I had suggested taking up Matthew Gatheringwater's question, "What doesn't a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person support . . .?" Or, we could go in any number of a million other directions — and they don't need to be limited to Unitarian Universalism, since I'm absolutely delighted to have such an ecumenical readership.
Leave your suggestions in the comments, or e-mail me.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
If I thought Howard Dean — whose campaign has generated such remarkable energy and enthusiasm — could make a compelling case for a pro-active American foreign policy and not simply come across as the electable peacenik, I just might sign up. At the moment, I think it's more likely that Wesley Clark will attract similar energy and enthusiasm. But it's appealing to imagine Dean-the-nominee's "Sister Souljah" moment, as Robert Kagan forecasts it. (See "No George McGovern", Washington Post 11.17.03.)
The New Republic's blog sums up the basic argument:
Unlike the contingent of commentators screaming that Dean is the second-coming of George McGovern, Kagan recognizes that Dean is neither a radical nor, for that matter, particularly dovish. Dean has been talking tough about such foreign policy problems as terrorism and WMD proliferation for well over a year now. Unlike most of the other Democrats in the field (with the admirable exception of Joe Lieberman), he actually supported the first Gulf war. It's entirely possible, as Kagan notes, that Dean will attack Bush from the right on foreign policy—on things like the failure to use ground troops in Tora Bora, and the administration's astonishingly soft treatment of the Saudis—should he win the nomination.
In fact, we'd even go one step further. Knowing Dean and campaign manager/chief strategist Joe Trippi, we'd be surprised if Dean didn't make a fairly dramatic gesture to establish his moderate foreign policy bona fides shortly after winning the nomination—a kind of Sister Souljah strategy for the post-9/11 world. One can imagine Dean, for example, laying into some fringe antiwar group, whose views, he might explain, were toxic to the debate over foreign policy and ultimately unhelpful to the cause of stabilizing Iraq (now that we're there) and winning the larger war on terror.
Dean even foreshadowed such a move in an interview Kagan alludes to in his piece. "There are two groups of people who support me because of the war," Dean told NPR's Mara Liasson earlier this year. "One are the people who always oppose every war, and in the end I think I probably won't get all of those people." (Dean went on to say that the other group consisted of people who, like him, thought this particular war was misguided.)
What would happen if Dean spurned the affections of the left-most regions of the party? Would moderates and independents warm to him as quickly as left-liberals abandoned him for a Kucinich write-in campaign, a Nader campaign, or whatever it is they'd flee the Democratic party for?
And wouldn't it be simpler to just go with Clark?
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Here's a puzzle for you tech-savvy readers: The number of "visitors" to this site from Belize has soared recently — and I don't think it's coincidental that my junk e-mail has, too. How can I learn more about the following hosts?
I could block the IP addresses for these sites, but I don't know what they are. Or do I simply have almost 750 pages of really great reading for the people of Belize? (If you're reading from Belize, drop me a line: I know nothing about your country!)
Bless their hearts, the editors of Anglicans Online are soliciting readers' all-time favorite hymns. They invite you to nominate the single hymn you'd take with you to a desert island. Hmm. A hymn is awfully portable — you don't need an organ or piano if you can hum the tune, you don't need a hymnal to recall your favorite words, and I'd bet that those of us who attend church services regularly would be hard pressed to forget even some of the lesser hymns we carry around in our worshipful heads. So how could you take just one?
But let's play anyway. I'd like to solicit Unitarian Universalists' all-time favorite hymns. (And, since contrariness is next to Godliness, please feel free to nominate your least favorite UU hymn, too.) Nominations may come from any hymnal in use in a Unitarian Universalist church — Singing the Living Tradition, Hymns for the Celebration of Life, Hymns of the Spirit, etc. — but the hymn does not need to have been written by a UU.
My two favorites are probably Fred Pratt Green's "When in our music God is glorified" (#36 in SLT) and the old Quaker hymn "My life flows on in endless song" (#108). Worst hymn? I'll have to think about that one. Feel free to add your favorites and least favorites in the comments line. (Thanks to BITB and Mrs P for the near-simultaneous tip about Anglicans Online!)
Oh, and sorry about the scarcity of posts lately. Work is all-consuming this week. I've barely read a word about the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling — more on that soon, I hope!
Sunday, November 16, 2003
Matthew Gatheringwater, in A plea and a promise, writes:
When planning to study at Meadville Lombard, I imagined that I was somehow getting closer to the heart of Unitarian Universalism. I saved the unanswered questions and doubts I discovered in my home congregation and brought them with me to Chicago, where I fully expected I would meet with wise professors and experienced ministers at whose feet I could sit and learn. The reality is that most of the people I've hoped would help me understand Unitarian Universalism appear to share much of my own confusion and ambivalence. Even this disappointment, however, is better than the apprehension I feel at meeting a few who seem convinced their personal vision of UUism (which I believe would be almost unrecognizable to the Unitarians whose writings first persuaded me to this religious tradition) is supposed to be the defining standard of faith.
I wish I had the time and energy now to come up with something fresh to say in response, but since I'm rushing a magazine toward its deadline, I'll instead dig up something I've been meaning to put on-line for more than a year. The essay that follows — "Unitarian Universalism in the Reference Room" — reviews the descriptions of "Unitarian Universalism" from academic reference works on religious movements. It's an omnium gatherum of definitions, which I found helpful as I tried to refine my own definition. I wrote the essay for the Autumn 1998 issue of Aspire, the journal of the Unitarian Universalist Ministerial Students and Candidates Network, which I was editing at the time.
Unitarian Universalism in the Reference Room
What is Unitarian Universalism? Those of us preparing to meet the UUA's Ministerial Fellowship Committee have composed various pithy responses (suitable for elevator rides), but I wondered what contemporary academic reference books on religion have to say about Unitarian Universalism. Here is a sample of contemporary scholarly descriptions of Unitarian Universalism from assorted general reference works on religion, selected from the Reference Room at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library. Do you recognize the tradition they attempt to describe?
Scholars wrestle, just as we do, with attempts to define — or at least to describe — a liberal tradition that struggles to be clear about its own definition. Perhaps in seeing how difficult it has become to describe Unitarian Universalism we may commit ourselves to the theological, historical, and ecclesiastical work of clarification — for ourselves, for our congregations, and for the future of liberal religion. Do we really share a living tradition? As critics accuse us of becoming a religious smorgasbord or salad bar, or of worshiping the “pale negations” of religion, how shall we refine and grow deeper in a liberal faith that is worth a life’s commitment? I will not present answers to these questions in this review, but I will share with you the attempts of religious scholars to understand us.
Saturday, November 15, 2003
Here's a resource poetry lovers, ministers, and thoughtful religious people will love: Vespers: Contemporary American Poems of Religion and Spirituality edited by Virgil Suárez and Ryan G. Van Cleave (U of Iowa P, 2003). I recognized Stephen Dunn and Martín Espada (whose new collection, Alabanza, I highly recommend), but almost every other contributor was new to me. There's no sentimentality here, but there are dozens of fine poems — most of them especially well-suited to reading aloud. Where does poetry and religion intersect? The editors offer a good answer:
At the root of every religion is the premise that an individual can connect profoundly with a reality that's somehow beyond the personal, limited self and yet part of it as well.
Unitarian Universalists: Take note especially of Stephen Dunn's prose poem "Religion" (page 45), which includes these lines:
Indulge, become capacious, give up nothing, Jack my corner grocer said. He was pushing the portobellos, but I was listening with that other, my neediest ear.
And if sometimes the untethered relativism of a certain sort of "independent thinker" just bugs the hell out of you, you may find bitter comfort in Charles Harper Webb's "What We Believe" (page 132), a creed for the creedless and everyone who believes that "Religions are all superstitions except ours." Sometimes a bitter poem is just the pill I need.
Mrs Philocrites was alarmed by Peter Boyer's negative New Yorker profile of Wesley Clark. She described to me the salient points — Clark was gung-ho as a military analyst for CNN and was arrogant and trigger-happy as NATO's top general during the war with Kosovo — so I promptly sat down to read it, too. Whoa, David Remnick! What happened to balanced coverage?
Boyer is way off. Fred Kaplan explains how Boyer misrepresents the Kosovo war, Clark's role in promoting U.S. and NATO military intervention there, and the politics surrounding Clark's firing:
Boyer also distorts the war itself, mischaracterizing it as a senseless adventure. . . Thousands of Bosnians were dying in a war that U.S. military power could have ended. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans had recently been massacred in a civil war to which neither the United States nor the United Nations raised a finger, much less a fighter plane, in protest. Many of those pushing for intervention—and they included not just Clark but some of the most liberal, customarily antiwar politicians and columnists—wanted above all to avert another massacre. A case could be made—and the chiefs [of staff] made it—that the United States shouldn't get involved in such messes where our own national security wasn't threatened. But it is false to attribute Clark's passionate lobbying, as Boyer pretty much does, to mere stubbornness. . .
Under Clark's command, Boyer laments, the United States "could only wage war by committee; the process was so unwieldy that it became, to future American Defense officials, an object lesson in how not to fight a war."
Maybe. But is there much doubt today that Clark was correct in this choice? Does anyone care to argue that intervening in Kosovo was a bad idea, that the Western alliance wasn't (at least for a brief spell) strengthened as a result, or that the war was unsuccessful? Milosevic surrendered, was captured, and is standing trial for war crimes in a court of international law—which is more than can be said of Saddam Hussein. The Serbian defeat was total, unchallenged, and internationally imposed, which may explain why the (truly multinational) postwar peacekeeping forces have suffered minimal casualties in the intervening years.
Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias at The American Prospect Online asks, "Who is this Peter Boyer fellow?" In a nutshell: "Boyer appears to have made something of a career for himself as a conservative interloper at otherwise liberal media outlets."
Full disclosure: I can't quite make sense out of Clark's proposal to bring the Saudis along [pdf] to patrol the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the search for Osama bin Laden, but I appreciate bringing attention to the fact that al Qaeda is largely Saudi Arabia's gift to the world. And if I were answering an opinion survey rather than running for president, I would have picked a different answer about a flag-burning amendment. But aside from that, Clark looks like the best Democratic candidate to me. I sent his campaign my first donation last week, and plan to attend the Dec. 1 Meetup in Cambridge.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
Yesterday's Boston Globe brings us the Republicans' strategy for re-electing Bush:
Faced with growing public uneasiness over Iraq, Republican Party officials intend to change the terms of the political debate heading into next year's election by focusing on the "doctrine of preemption," portraying President Bush as a visionary acting to prevent future terrorist attacks on US soil despite the costs and casualties involved overseas.
The strategy will involve the dismissal of Democrats as the party of "protests, pessimism and political hate speech," Ed Gillespie, Republican National Committee chairman, wrote in a recent memo to party officials — a move designed to shift attention toward Bush's broader foreign policy objectives rather than the accounts of bloodshed. Republicans hope to convince voters that Democrats are too indecisive and faint-hearted — and perhaps unpatriotic — to protect US interests, arguing that inaction during the Clinton years led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The president's critics are adopting a policy that will make us more vulnerable in a dangerous world," Gillespie wrote. "Specifically, they now reject the policy of pre-emptive self-defense and would return us to a policy of reacting to terrorism in its aftermath."
Do you feel safer with Bush in the White House? I've signed up for the Boston-area Wesley Clark MeetUp in December — hope to see you there! I'd love to watch the president try to paint General Clark as a "protest, pessimism, and political hate speech" kind of guy.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
A passage from an underappreciated 20th-century liberal theologian, James W. Woelfel, from an essay entitled "The future of American liberal religious thought: A critical perspective":
Creatureliness as a foundation for theological reflection will require liberal religious thought to deal fully with human existence in inextricable relationship to its planetary and cosmic ecology, and thus with God as inescapably bound up with nature as well as with us . . .
[Freedom.] In both its personal and its social dimensions human life is at best a fruitful interdependence and at worst a vicious bondage . . . American liberal religious thought, with its own legacy of optimism, must in a future that is at least as much a source of apprehension as of hope come more radically and seriously to grips than ever before with the depths of human bondage . . .
Hope has become a central category in contemporary theology . . . Insofar as American liberal religious thought views the human situation entirely within the boundaries of birth and death, it will as it looks to its own future have to deal much more seriously than it has with the question: What does liberal religion have to say to people whose situation is hopeless? Does it have anything at all to say? Is it so fixated on hope and future that it cannot affirm the meaningfulness of human life without hope? (James W. Woelfel, The Agnostic Spirit as a Common Motif in Liberal Theology and Liberal Skepticism. San Francisco: Mellen Research UP, 1990: 55-60.)
Great questions! Woelfel is also the author of Borderland Christianity: Critical Reason and Christian Love (Abingdon P, 1973), which I found to be more elegantly written. Since neither book was ever even remotely a best-seller, interlibrary loans is probably the way to go to find a copy.
Sunday, November 9, 2003
It's been a while since I've rounded up the most interesting posts from the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere. From the last week or so:
Matthew Gatheringwater discusses the latest in liberal religious orthodoxy (see November 3, "The First Principle Isn't Enough"), and asks: "What doesn't a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person support . . .?" I may take this up as the next Philocrites discussion topic later this month.
Tom Schade ("Prophet Motive") wonders why the UUA is spending energy on rooting "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance: "The effort has become absolutist — seeking to make living organic societies and cultures adhere to disembodied abstractions." Bingo.
Richard Hurst ("Universalist Sundays") writes a thank-you letter to Dr. Laura about her helpful advice regarding homosexuality. He has some follow-up questions, though, including these:
1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day & age, what do you think would be a fair price for her? . . .
We should probably pose these questions to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Anglican Church in Nigeria, now that I think about it.
Heather Janules ("The Chrysalis") writes a letter to the editor of UU World — which raises the interesting question of whether I should actually wait to read it in the office! — and poses this riddle:
I am hopeful and confident that the United States will recognize same-sex unions as marriages within my lifetime. However, it is my hope that in the longer arc of history, there comes a time when "marriage" is defined only by the covenant made between those professing love and commitment to one another and not by the State.
This strikes me as wanting it both ways.
Finally, Warren Thompson ("Reflections") does nothing on his site but collect inspiring quotations. Check it out!
I am now maintaining an annotated directory of Unitarian Universalist bloggers.
Saturday, November 8, 2003
I can't help but pull this quote — from anti-gay activist Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America — out of context:
"Republicans aren't quite ready to take the plunge, so it is our job to push them off the cliff."
Would you? Please?
("GOP sees '04 issue in gay marriage," Mary Leonard, Boston Globe 11.7.03)
It started slow, but our first Philocrites discussion topic — interfaith marriages — is generating some good conversation. What are the challenges and blessings of marrying someone from another (or no) religious tradition? Share your personal observations — no rants, lectures, or sermons, please! — in the comments string. (If you want to suggest a topic for the next discussion, click the Suggestion Box.)
I'm particularly interested in how Unitarian Universalists deal with interfaith marriage, but I've discovered that many or most of my readers aren't "UUs." If you want to join in the conversation, no matter what your own religious background is, please do!
Thursday, November 6, 2003
Progressive Protestant writes:
Christians are terrible at marketing. Crest doesn't advertise its toothpaste with the slogan, "All Colgate-using infidels will lose their teeth for betraying the True Toothpaste."
And he puts in a good word for The Center for Progressive Christianity, which I'll second. Now brush your teeth; anything with flouride will do.
Update: And head over to The Right Christians for much more on The Center's great work.
Wesley Clark writes in the Boston Globe:
Retreat is not an option. Withdrawal would be a disaster for America, a tragedy for Iraq, and a crisis for the world. It would destroy our credibility, give terrorists a new haven, and throw the Middle East into greater turmoil. No matter how difficult it will be, we need a "success strategy."
Success won't be easy, but only success can honor the sacrifice of our soldiers and allow the troops to come home. Success means that Iraq is strong enough to sustain itself without outside forces. Success means that representative government has taken root. Success means that Iraq's economy and civil society are healthy again.
Congress just gave the administration an $87 billion check to continue down the path that we're on. But President Bush still has no strategy to succeed. I do.
("A new course needed in Iraq," Wesley Clark, Boston Globe 11.6.03)
An important op-ed in yesterday's Boston Globe by John Shattuck:
Human rights hawks are glad that Saddam Hussein is no longer murdering his citizens. Why, then, are we upset over President Bush's Iraq policy? Because it ignores the lessons of earlier human rights wars, is failing to stabilize the country, and risks doing more harm than good.
Since the end of the Cold War, violent political, ethnic, and religious conflict, compounded by brutal repression and state failure, has created a climate of global insecurity. Over the past decade, human rights wars have engulfed the people of Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chechnya, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other failed states, to say nothing of the Middle East, killing more than 6 million civilians and forcing more than 40 million more to become refugees. These wars are rooted in the same deadly environment in which terrorism thrives, as Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attackers showed by using Afghanistan and Sudan as training bases.
International security depends on containing these conflicts, and doing so requires clear rules about whether, when, and what type of ''humanitarian intervention'' may be justified to protect human rights. Here are four:
First, large-scale genocide or crimes against humanity are being committed. Second, the conflict is creating major regional instability, which the neighboring countries want to contain by supporting a multilateral intervention sanctioned by the United Nations or a regional organization like NATO. Third, intervention is not likely to lead to wider conflict — for example, by stimulating increased terrorism or provoking other countries to enter into the hostilities. Fourth, the planned scale, duration, and intensity of the intervention are sufficient to achieve the objective of saving lives and rebuilding the country.
Shattuck goes on to explain how Bush has failed to meet any of these requirements.
("In Iraq, US ignores human rights lessons", John Shattuck, Boston Globe 11.5.03)
Wednesday, November 5, 2003
Writing in American Scientist, Michael Ruse compares Richard Dawkins's collection of ephemera, A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love, to second-rate wine. "How often has one had a wonderful, local wine in a little restaurant in Spain or Italy, and on bringing a bottle home been amazed at how thin and sour it tastes when served up proudly to one's friends? It is much this way with the contents of A Devil's Chaplain."
Some of Ruse's criticism parallels my own quarrel with Dawkins's anti-religion crusade. Ruse writes:
In recent years, his attention has swung from writing about science for a popular audience to waging an all-out attack on Christianity. In the name of Darwinism, he has become the scourge of the religious, the atheist's answer to Billy Graham. At every opportunity, he preaches the hard truth—there is no God, religion is superstition, and Darwin proves just this. Essentially, what ties this volume together is the crusade of nonbelief, for just about every piece carries this same message.
Ruse isn't religious himself, but he recognizes where Dawkins has ceased to think critically and turned into a zealot:
I would like to see Dawkins take Christianity as seriously as he undoubtedly expects Christianity to take Darwinism. I would also like to see him spell out fully the arguments as to the incompatibility of science (Darwinism especially) and religion (Christianity especially). So long as his understanding of Christianity remains at the sophomoric level, Dawkins does not deserve full attention.
Science deserves a better champion.
(Thanks for the tip, Kenneth!)
Thanks to everyone who keeps Philocrites in their blogroll! Recent additions include: Paula's House of Toast (good religious poetry!), Progressive Protestant (liberal Lutheran undergrad, gonna join me for Clark soon), Public Domain Progress (politics to my left), and Red Ted Keeps a Diary (chatty historian and fellow red-head!).
Thanks for the notice!
Tuesday, November 4, 2003
Guess who is being interviewed here:
Have you considered leaving the United States permanently?
No. This is the best country in the world.
Noam Chomsky! ("The Professorial Provacateur," Deborah Solomon, New York Times Magazine 11.2.03, reg req'd)
Monday, November 3, 2003
Sadly, The Christian Century still has an underwhelming Web presence, and the magazine hasn't been redesigned — but it does have a new motto on the cover, which I salute:
Thinking critically, living faithfully.
Why, that's a theme you could preach!
Do you have an opinion about the redesign of UU World? Some people are discussing it at Beliefnet.
Is it just me, or is there a weird pining for the British Empire in some of the lamentations of angry Anglicans over Gene Robinson's consecration? Here's the primate of the Southern Cone of America (an Anglican province with slightly more members than the Diocese of New Hampshire!):
"The United States have declared independence," said Archbishop Greg Venables, the Anglican leader of South America.
Yes, Archbishop Venables, yes they have. Back in 1776.
Or how about this odd angle in Bishop of Pittsburgh Robert Duncan's speech at the American Anglican Council pow-wow in Dallas?
"For Rowan Williams, the last British Empire is his to lose."
The queen, no doubt, appreciates the prayers of Her Majesty's people in Pittsburgh.
The decline and fall of the Empire is a tried-and-true conservative motif, but it generates some awkward dissonances with the newly-discovered anti-imperialist, identity-politics conservatism — you know, the one in which the West is trying to export its parochial liberalism on the differently-cultured South, where treating homosexuals as animals, for example, is just another "cultural lens" worth celebrating in the right-wing version of post-modern multiculturalism.
I wish I were going to be in Virginia on Friday for the University of Virginia's Levinson Lectures on "Religion, Justice, and Violence." René Girard, Mark Juergensmeyer, Khalel Abou El-Fadl, and Daničle Hervieu-Leger are the featured speakers. I don't know Hervieu-Leger's work, but Girard is extraordinary, and I've reviewed Juergensmeyer's book Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (scroll to the bottom) and Abou El-Fadl's essay "The place of tolerance in Islam" in UU World. If you're in the area, this all-day forum would be well worth your time.
Sympathetic play-by-play of the consecration of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson (courtesy of wired Episcopalians and night-owl Anglicans) is at Beliefnet. Much of the conversation, of course, centers on the Rev. Earle "Prurience" Fox of Pittsburgh, who regaled the congregation with a litany of sexual behaviors. Post #12 asks: "Does everyone in Pittsburgh stick to the missionary position?" Fox's quixotic ministry is here and here.
The other two formal objections are here. The BBC concentrates on the international angle; the Boston Globe has good coverage of the ceremony, the conservatives, and the University of New Hampshire students' reactions
Sunday, November 2, 2003
Lee Siegel finds a liturgical function in "Good Morning, America" and the other morning TV shows:
It may be that Katie and Matt, Diane and Charles, Harry and Julie and René and Hannah, have proved Hegel right. Yes, Hegel. He said that the modern person's daily prayer was reading the newspaper. Nowadays it's the well-scrubbed, early rising, upto-the-minute, endlessly knowing and smiling anchorpeople who preside over matins and lead you, if you so desire, through the crosses and contradictions you may meet in the course of the day, and out of the dangers and the perils of the night before.
And what do our national morning prayers do, pop-liturgy-wise?
[I]n these morning times before the complicated day begins, as the mind is just beginning to grasp what lies ahead and what still lies behind, we are finally meant to notice that the anchors are feigning pity or compassion or happiness or reverence. We are meant to see the mental intention struggling to complete itself as an authentic feeling. We are meant to see that they are working at something, which isn't easy; that they are trying to satisfy the expectations of their bosses and of their audience, which isn't easy; that they are trying to conform their inner states to the social situation, which isn't easy—in other words, they are trying, so transparently, so deliberately, to do what most of us have to do every day.
This playacting is for our cathartic benefit. It gets interwoven through deftly chosen and balanced stories about death, and about survivors, who often thank God for preserving them and for keeping them sane through the destruction of others. Those are the crosses that have to be borne, and the perils from the night before (a lot of these things happened while we were sleeping). Then there are the contradictions: drugs that might or might not work; politicians who might or might not have failed the public trust; parents who refuse to condemn their overweight hacker son, who has nearly brought down an entire industry, and who may or may not be guilty, but still deserves his parents' love. And then, too, are the redemptions. Just about every morning show has, at one point or another, a story about newborn babies or young children, and each day's show often includes at least a reference to weddings.
In this subtle and wholly uncalculated way, the shows portray life's dangers, conundrums, confusions. They enumerate life's blessings. And like all morning prayers, which end with a direct appeal for protection to the divinity, the morning shows finish with our own version of perfect happiness: since Possibility is the American god, they conclude with an interview with a celebrity. Harmless and comforting and diverting inanity without end.
("Rise and shine," Lee Siegel, New Republic 11.10.03, sub req'd)
I shudder to think what we morning-time Protestants — we who abstain from the pageantry and pomp of morning TV — are doing, pop-liturgy-wise, with our RSS feeds and blogs and Art & Letters Daily and Poetry Daily . . . Are we the Puritans of this vast cult?
Elizabeth Drew has written a great review of the three charges opponents of Wesley Clark like to trot out: that he was relieved of his post as Supreme Allied Commander for Europe for "integrity and character issues," that he is disliked in the military, and that he nearly provoked World War III. Not everyone is content simply to take Gen. Hugh Shelton at his unsubstantiated word:
Several people who are well informed about military politics or who worked with Clark during the Kosovo war believe that his enemies were largely motivated by professional jealousy of a US general who rose so quickly and also got international attention for a war unpopular with many of his colleagues . . .
I spoke recently with retired General Walter Kross, a former four-star Air Force general under whom Clark served on the staff of the Joint Chiefs in the mid-1990s. For two years Kross worked with Clark from 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night six days a week, and sometimes on Sundays. He disagrees strongly with Shelton and Cohen about Clark's abilities and character. When I asked him why Clark was disliked by some military officers, Kross replied,He's not the army general officer from central casting. He's the extra-ordinary senior officer who can do extra-ordinary work on the entire range of challenges senior officers have to face—including Kosovo and the Dayton Accords, on which he worked himself into exhaustion. No army officer from central casting can do that work, but Wes did.
He added, "Some senior officers misinterpret drive, energy, and enthusiasm for overambition...he is outside the mold and that makes some other officers uncomfortable."
("Waiting for the General," Elizabeth Drew, New York Review of Books 11.20.03)