Saturday, January 31, 2004
3,840 3,921 unique visitors to this site, up almost just over 500 from last month. Top posts: Parts one and two of our ongoing discussion of the fastest-growing Unitarian Universalist congregations (with 506 and 253 views, respectively); Wesley Clark's faith (201 views); my new and expanding Guide to UU blogs (165 views); brief posts about Eli Pariser and the word "Guugle" (159 and 106); and, much to my delight, an old post about The ethic of morality and the ethic of vocation (one way to describe the difference between Quakers and Puritans) has 88 views this month. My essays about Max Weber and early American responses to Hinduism had 67 and 59 views.
New links to this site this month include: Prairie Point ("Viewing the world from a North Texas garden on the Blackland Prairie"), Kensho Godchaser ("A daily blog on pagan, goddess, and integral spirituality"), and The Sick Soul ("A crypto-Anabaptist who found peace as a Lutheran"). Thanks to you all — and I hope you've signed up with the Blogging Ecosystem (where I'm currently a "slithering reptile", alongside fellow UU blogs My Irony and Debitage) and Technorati, which I find extremely helpful in finding out who is writing about whatever I'm reading.
Finally, my favorite Google search string this month: "Is Wesley Clark married?" Yes, yes he is.
Aside from its astonishingly condescending headline — "Come back, little Deaniacs" — the New York Times editorial is right to point to the way Howard Dean's campaign brought thousands of young voters into fully-engaged political activity. But this is a lame conclusion:
If the product of the Dean movement is thousands of young people who are slightly hardened to the lure of a charismatic candidate, but determined to keep on fighting for a better world, it will have been a success no matter what happens to the former governor of Vermont.
The novelty of the Dean movement wasn't that it converted apathetic young people into activists or civic-minded adults. Almost all of the Dean supporters I've encountered are anything but apathetic — most already thought of themselves as "fighting for a better world" — they just haven't been involved in electoral politics. The real achievement of Dean's campaign — and the reason I'm sorry to watch it implode — is that it has shown lots of people how to work the system who might otherwise have been inclined simply to volunteer for Americorps or rally against globalization or boycott something. Knowing how to work the phones, get out the vote, and try to communicate with someone radically unlike yourself: Things like that are Howard Dean's gift to a new generation of voters. He has been running an amazing civics course, and for that I salute him.
Friday, January 30, 2004
Question: What does a Roman Catholic priest do with 4.5 million barrels of Iraqi oil? Apparently, he sets up meetings between Tariq Aziz and Pope John Paul II.
Brian Ross of ABC News reports that a list has been found in Iraq's oil ministry that names "270 prominent individuals, political parties or corporations in 47 countries" who were "given Iraq oil contracts instantly worth millions of dollars" — apparently in exchange for helping Saddam Hussein's government.
Let's focus on one individual listed under "Italy" in the ABC News list: Fr. Jean-Marie Benjamin of Assisi. (The Australian Broadcasting Corporation called him "A priest for peace".) Eleven months ago, Fr. Benjamin set up a meeting between Saddam's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, and the pope. He also brought Aziz to the tomb of St. Francis. According to the National Catholic Reporter:
Aziz's Feb. 13-16 trip to Italy was arranged by Fr. Jean Marie Benjamin, 56, a French priest living in Italy who has written books [Irak, l'apocalypse, Irak, ce que Bush ne dit pas], produced documentary films ["Iraq: The Journey to the Forbidden Kingdom" and "Iraq: The Birth of Time"], and recorded songs against the U.N.-imposed sanctions in Iraq as well as against a possible war ["Mr President" and "Un giorno nuovo," on CD and DVD here].
Benjamin, who has known Aziz since 1998 and describes himself as a friend, spoke Feb. 17 in an exclusive interview with NCR.
A former U.N. official and classical music composer, Benjamin told NCR that he wrote on Jan. 12 to Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the pope's foreign minister, asking if the pope would receive Aziz if he came to Rome. Tauran sent a reply by fax 48 hours later, Benjamin said, indicating that if a request came from Iraq's embassy to the Holy See, it would receive a favorable reply.
It appears that Benjamin also benefitted handsomely from his advocacy on behalf of Iraq's government. But doesn't that make him a lobbyist rather than an activist? I have a bit of a problem with the idea of a priest to whom Caesar renders a little kickback.
ABC News explains what 4.5 million barrels translates into:
"You are looking at a political slush fund that was buying political support for the regime of Saddam Hussein for the last six or seven years," said financial investigator John Fawcett.
Investigators say none of the people involved would have actually taken possession of oil, but rather just the right to buy the oil at a discounted price, which could be resold to a legitimate broker or oil company, at an average profit of about 50 cents a barrel.
That would amount to at least $2 million. Tariq Aziz was apparently a very generous friend.
(Via Andy at Mycelium Network)
The Associated Press reports Fr. Benjamin's denial:
"After having dedicated a number of years to dangerous and tiring work to support the Iraqi people, ... to be denigrated in such a fashion, with such vulgar slanders, shows once more how infinite is the wickedness of those who in truth are now interested in Iraqi oil," Father Benjamin said.
The report also indicates that the list of 270 recipients of Iraqi oil rights has not been fully corroborated, which leaves open the real possibility that the list could be spurious. To be continued . . .
Thursday, January 29, 2004
I had such fun standing outside a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, polling place on Tuesday — wow! such cold! I had no idea I was slowly dehydrating — and at the Clark campaign party afterwards — yup, shook Wesley Clark's hand, waved the red and blue pom poms, carried on like a convert and shouted myself hoarse when we finally passed John Edwards in the tight race for third (woohoo!) — all without eating a bite, mind you — that I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a migraine knocked me right off my feet yesterday. But I'm back. We should resume regular programming shortly.
Sunday, January 25, 2004
While we're continuing our conversation about fast-growing Unitarian Universalist congregations — here and here — I need to point out the yeoman's work that Scott Wells is doing. In a series of posts, he has been tracking the latest membership figures as congregations report them to the UUA for their annual credentials. (This as-it-happens statistical tracking is made possible by a new, on-line reporting process. Take a peek at this year's figures. To figure out which ones are growing, however, you'll need the printed UUA Directory for last year's numbers.) With 400 of the 1,000+ churches reporting, Scott notes that we're at 1% growth — as we've been for a decade. Sigh. Meanwhile, there's more conversation about growth on the UUA's public relations e-mail list.
Connect the dots: Chief executives of America's largest corporations make, on average, 531 times as much as their hourly employees. (We know they certainly work that much harder, often locked in over night, without benefits, etc.) Meanwhile, that tiny sliver of the population is throwing unbelievable amounts of money to the Bush campaign. For example:
Through late November, employees of securities industry firms had given at least $4 million to the Bush campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That number will rise significantly — probably to well over $7 million — when figures for the full year are reported at the end of this month. As of late November, no Democrat had raised more than $1 million from the industry.
Are you surprised that the rising tide of our economy has lifted some boats a lot higher than others?
The millions of immigrants who have entered the country in recent decades have indeed made inequality look larger than it otherwise would. But even among households headed by native-born Americans, the rich have done far better than others over the past 20 years — as well as over the past 30, 40 or 50 years, according to government statistics and the economists who study them. . . .
Less than half of the rise in pay among lower-income households comes from actual wage increases. Most of the rise is a result of families putting in more hours on the job as many women have joined the work force. This has obvious benefits, giving today's women economic freedom that their grandmothers did not have, but it also leaves less time for children, aging parents and everything else outside the office.
The pay increases for upper-middle-class and wealthy households, on the other hand, stem largely from healthy jumps in how much they earn each hour. Over all, a native family at the 90th percentile — earning more than 9 in 10 others — made 68 percent more in 1999 than in 1969, after adjusting for inflation, according to an examination of census numbers by the Public Policy Institute of California. At the 20th percentile, the increase was 30 percent.
Democratic complaints that Wesley Clark voted for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan ought to strike reasonable people as bizarre. Lots of Democrats voted for the Republican in those elections — and the Democratic candidate lost. Clark ought to say this up front: He is bringing people like him back to the Democratic Party. One of Clark's strengths is that he understands and shares many of the commitments that have led many Americans to vote for Republicans even when their economic interests lie with the Democrats. These people are the swing voters the Democrats need in 2004. Blasting Clark for not having voted for George McGovern or Walter Mondale strikes me as a perverse sort of liberal defeatism.
Saturday, January 24, 2004
The Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, writes in the Boston Globe about Howard Dean's much-discussed "Congregationalism," and how the denomination's diversity offers an important model for our civic life. (The first paragraph below is factual, and explains why New England members of the United Church of Christ tend to call themselves "Congregationalists.")
So, what does being a congregationalist say about Dean and how his faith might inform his political judgments? To be accurate, Dean is a member of the United Church of Christ, a 1.3-million-member denomination of nearly 6,000 congregations that was established in 1957 by the union of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The UCC is the largest Protestant denomination in Massachusetts. But, across New England, where congregational heritage is as prevalent as clam chowder, many UCC members cling to the original "congregational" identity.
Here's the key section:
Dean supports civil rights for gay couples, although he is not in favor of gay marriage. The UCC includes those who share this view, as well as those who oppose recognition of homosexual couples and others who support gay marriage.
How can the UCC exist with such a diversity of theological perspectives and social convictions? We believe God is still speaking and did not stop speaking when the biblical canon was closed or the ancient creeds crystallized. Therefore, we are still listening and learning. We are convinced that the thud and clash of competing ideas in uneasy proximity to each other, make for spiritually alive, intellectually agile, and deeply engaged Christians.
To be a member of the UCC is to apply one's own, God-given intellect to inform one's faith. It is to examine an array of possibilities with attention to both tradition and new perspectives. As a member of the UCC, Dean is not instructed what to think by a pope, bishops, or his own pastor, for we do not grant that power to anyone.
Instead, we engage in "responsible freedom" — the freedom to test and entertain ideas in an environment of respectful, if often impassioned, civil discourse. We should expect no less, of both citizens and elected officials — religious or otherwise — across the whole of our political life.
("How will Dean's faith inform his judgment?" Nancy S. Taylor, Boston Globe 1.24.04)
Election resources for churches.
By the way, the UCC has put together a good list of resources to help churches "participate constructively in the political process." (The Unitarian Universalist Association's resources are worth a look, too.)
Friday, January 23, 2004
The Revealer has started compiling guides to resources from various religious traditions. Christianity is first, with a list of Protestant and Catholic magazines left, right, and center, and some leading blogs. (I'm flattered to be listed among them.) And check out the long list of resources on Islam.
Tom Schade is sticking with Joe Lieberman. Will Shetterly is thinking about becoming a Kucinich supporter for Wesley Clark. (And Arizona votes Feb. 3!) Matthew Gatheringwater is bailing on John Kerry. Over at Beliefnet, Unitarian Universalists are pondering the post-Iowa prospects. Who do you support in the Democratic primary?
Thursday, January 22, 2004
James Hilden-Minton wrote this funny post to the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship e-mail list — we were going on and on, it seems — and gave me permission to share it:
Q: Can Unitarians be succinct?
A: No, because they're still trying to convince themselves.
Q: Can Pentecostals be succinct?
A: No, because God still needs convincing in these latter days to rain down blessing and to bind the powers of Satan.
Q: Can Mormons be succinct?
A: Yes, just don't invite them in.
Q: Can Jews be succinct?
A: Maybe. Some say yes, others say no. Who can tell?
Q: Can Congregationalists be succinct?
A: A committee will be formed to address this question. The nominating committee is currently looking for people who are willing or can be persuaded to serve on this committee.
Q: Can Episcopalians be succinct?
A: Nay and verily, it is meet, proper, and salutary indeed to go on heartily and with much wind.
Q: Can Catholics be succinct?
Q: Can yoga enthusiasts be succinct?
A: Our Guruji is supremely succinct. The Beloved Chelas can listen to Bhagavan Sri Blabanandanandanandananda for hours.
Q: Can Southern Baptists be succinct?
A: No, because there is still time to convince the Unitarians, Jews, Catholics and just about everyone else who needs saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to turn to Him as their personal Lord and Savior.
Q: Can Zen Buddhists be succinct?
A: the sound of two ears listening
Q: Can James be succinct?
A: Not likely.
Feel free to go and on in the comments . . .
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
A considerable clue to the president's approach to governing: Instead of finding nuclear weapons or an active nuclear weapons program or biological weapons or an active bioweapons program in Iraq, Bush claims to have found evidence of "weapons of mass destruction related program activities". Ah.
The president takes the same approach to domestic policies, proudly pointing to "related program activities" in lieu of actual programs. Nick Confessore writes:
Bush proposes to increase aid for community colleges and job training by some unspecified amount, even though over the last three years, he's requested some $1 billion worth of cuts in vocational education and community colleges. He says he wants to give young workers the opportunity to build a nest egg, even though, under his own Social Security privatization plan, benefits for today's young workers would have to be substantially reduced by the time they retire. He proposes "larger Pell Grants for students who prepare for college with demanding courses in high school," even as his own Department of Education is busy rejiggering Pell eligibility to eliminate 84,000 students from the program and cutting back loans for another 1.5 million. The president claimed that "the tax relief you passed is working," even though his "jobs and growth package" has utterly failed to produce the nearly two million jobs his administration promised it would, and even though his former Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, believes that last quarter's GDP growth was unrelated to the tax cuts.
For related program activities like these, I say we remove him from office. The charade is getting really old.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
I find it intriguing that in the primaries through February 3, only South Carolina and Delaware show more than three candidates over 10%. Only two candidates are in double digits in three of the states. But in all seven states, Wesley Clark is in double digits. He is polling first in Arizona, second in Delaware, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, and third in New Hampshire and Missouri. Very nice.
It's a shame that Jesus didn't have Mel Gibson around the first time to manage his publicity. After all, if Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had simply remembered to write down everything that really happened, just as they witnessed it their very own selves, we wouldn't have to depend on the visions of a nineteenth-century nun when we set out to write "historically accurate" screenplays! If Mel had been there, we wouldn't even need the four gospels, with their confusing inconsistencies and contradictions. We could have the Fair and Balanced Gospel According to Mel, end of story.
Happily, Braveheart the Apostle — one meek little peacemaker — is fighting the culture war just the way Jesus would want it fought. (Wait! Didn't Jesus have a zealot among his disciples?) Never mind the fact that Gibson won't take communion from a priest ordained since Vatican II — that just makes him more Catholic, right? — or that the church he attends is openly schismatic. Hey, if the pope doesn't seem to mind, breakaway Catholicism must be okay.
And you can't knock Gibson's marketing brilliance. He's so clever he even managed to convince the pope, who is suffering from Parkinson's disease, to "watch" his "historically accurate" cruciflick on DVD and give it the papal thumbs-up. Hmm. I bet that's "historically accurate," too, don't you? Frank Rich's curiosity was aroused:
I wondered whether the reports of the gravely ill John Paul's thumbs up for "The Passion" were true. A week after the stories first appeared, the highly respected Catholic News Service also raised that question, quoting "a senior Vatican official close to the pope" as saying that after seeing the movie, the pope "made no comment. The Holy Father does not comment, does not give judgments on art."
I sought clarification from the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls. His secretary, Rosangela Mancusi, responded by e-mail that "this office does not usually comment on the private activities of the Holy Father" and would neither confirm nor deny the pope's feelings about "The Passion." But she suggested that I contact "the two persons who brought the film to the Holy Father and gathered his comments" — Steve McEveety, Mr. Gibson's producer, and Jan Michelini, the movie's assistant director.
Mr. McEveety declined to speak with me from Hollywood, but last week I tracked down Mr. Michelini, an Italian who lives in Rome, by phone in Bombay, where he is working on another film. As he tells it, Mr. McEveety visited Rome in early December, eager "to show the movie to the pope." Mr. Michelini, it turned out, had an in with the Vatican. "Everyone thinks it's a complex story, the pope, the Vatican and all," Mr. Michelini says. "It's a very easy story. I called the pope's secretary. He said he had read about the movie, read about the controversy. He said, 'I'm curious, and I'm sure the pope is curious too.'"
A video of "The Passion" was handed over to that secretary — Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, whom Vatican watchers now describe as second in power only to the pope — on Friday, Dec. 5. "McEveety calls me like crazy, 20 times that weekend, saying, 'I want to know what the pope thinks,'" Mr. Michelini continues. On Monday, the archbishop convened a meeting with Mr. McEveety and Mr. Michelini in the pope's apartment. There, Mr. Michelini says, the archbishop quoted the pope not only as saying "it is as it was" but also as calling the movie "incredibile." Mr. Michelini was repeating the archbishop's Italian and said that "incredibile" translates as "amazing," though Cassell's dictionary defines the word as "incredible, inconceivable, unbelievable." But why quarrel over semantics? Followed by an exclamation point, it will look fabulous in an ad, perhaps next to a quote from Michael Medved, the conservative pundit and film critic who has been vying with Ms. Noonan to be the movie's No. 1 publicist.
(The International Herald Tribune entitles its truncated version of Rich's New York Times column "Chutzpah and Spiritual McCarthyism." The Times goes with this headline: "The Pope's Thumbs Up for Gibson's 'Passion.'")
But wait! There's more. Alongside the Gospel According to Mel, we now have the Gospel According to Archbishop Dziwisz:
Pope John Paul II never said "It is as it was" after watching Mel Gibson's film on the passion of Jesus, said the pope's longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.
"The Holy Father told no one his opinion of this film," the archbishop told Catholic News Service Jan. 18.
But the New York Times adds that there may be yet another "historically accurate," if conflicting, account. Let's call it the Gospel According to a Beloved but Anonymous Disciple:
One prominent Roman Catholic official close to the Vatican, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he had reason to believe that the pope probably did make the remark about the film.
"But I think there's some bad feeling at the Vatican that the comment was used the way it was," the official added. "It's all a little soap-operatic."
Ya think? Now if only we knew who to trust.
Monday, January 19, 2004
Could John Kerry's resurgence in New Hampshire have something to do with Michael Moore and George McGovern? I haven't quite grasped why the Clark campaign would aim for antiwar voters from Howard Dean's left. Going after Kerry's base, which strikes me as much less enamored of the cultural left, would seem like a much smarter move to me.
If the Kerry resurgence turns into something, Dan Kennedy has a proposal: Why not Kerry-Clark in '04?
The Boston Globe reported this weekend on the efforts of the state's four Catholic bishops to fight the Supreme Judicial Court's decision to recognize same-sex civil marriages. Needless to say, after all the criticism the church brought on itself in the clergy sexual abuse scandal, the bishops don't have quite so much clout. Catholics dominate the state legislature — "A Globe survey of the current Legislature found that 67 percent of the 199 current lawmakers are Catholic — a disproportionate share in a state where roughly 50 percent of the population is Catholic" — but even House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, "a devout Catholic and an opponent of same-sex marriage," says the church has lost a lot of its influence:
"I don't think it's a secret — they acknowledge themselves — their voice, their moral authority has been compromised by the sexual abuse scandals, and they know it. . . . How do you rally and restore the influence of the church at a time when it's probably at its lowest point with regard to public regard? . . . If the Catholic Church locally is to recover a lot of its strength in attendance and respect and the like, it might not be for a period of 50 years."
But that's not to say the church has lost all its influence. Far from it. On Friday, the Globe reported that a recent poll of Massachusetts voters "asked whether the Catholic Church's opposition to gay marriage would affect their decision. The poll found that 58 percent said the church's position had no effect on their decision to support or oppose gay marriage, but 25 percent said the church's position made them less likely to support gay marriage, while just 17 percent said the church's position made it more likely that they would support gay marriage."
Meanwhile, the bishops' effort is turning off some Catholics. Lisa Williams (who reports some positive experiences with Unitarians and Episcopalians) writes on her blog:
This morning I walked out of Mass because the priest was using the Marriage at Cana as a pretext for preaching from the pulpit against gay marriage.
I was there because I took Baby Joe, now nine days old, to Mass, to get a blessing, because Evan and I have decided to wait a little while longer than we did with Rowan, our older son, to get him baptized. . . [The priest] started going off after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling on gay marriage, and I started muttering at the ceiling. Why, Lord; why on the first day I bring my new baby to you, to thank you and praise you for bringing us this far in safety, do you have to present me with the hateful face of your church? Why must I present your miracle in this atmosphere of hatred? There may have been some curse words crossing my brain, too.
So she tried another parish:
[A]s the Homily began, I thought, Please, please, please, not another screed. It was going okay, and then the priest at this church, who has a very digressive style that goes off on a bunch of tangents said, "The bishops are meeting about that court order," and my heart fell. Then the priest paused, said, Humph. And changed the subject and did a homily instead on the Holy Spirit in the letter of St. Paul, and never mentioned it again.
In otherwords, They ordered me to mention it and I mentioned it. And that's all I'm gonna do. Later on, as the priest emerged from the Sacristy, he was dressed in a pair of droopy chinos and a tab collar shirt without the tab that had seen much better days. He was shutting out the lights as I asked him for a blessing. "I don't see why not," he said.
("Weaker church tested on marriage", Michael Paulson and Raphael Lewis, Boston Globe 1.18.04; "Bishops try to mobilize on marriage", Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 1.17.04; "Walking out of Mass", Lisa Williams, Learning the Lessons of Nixon 1.18.04, via Boston Common)
Sunday, January 18, 2004
Dave at The Sick Soul, a spirited Lutheran blog, posts twenty reasons he "apostasized from the Fundamentalist Church." Here's the first ten:
1. I'd rather hear a woman preach than attend a morality circus.
2. I'd rather the ideology of Scripture be Liberal than the practical use of Scripture be abused.
3. I'd rather not bring my bible to church than not hear the Word spoken in church.
4. I'd rather sing old, difficult hymns of admiration to God than edgy, new songs that worship myself.
5. I'd rather share the peace of God with the people around me than gather in a circle of prayer so everyone can babble like the heathen.
6. I'd rather pay $50 a ticket for a Broadway play than tithe 10% of my income for an inferior copy.
7. I'd rather be part of a historical tradition than surf the wave of popular culture.
8. I'd rather be reminded of my baptism than reminded of the first time (of many) I uttered the sinner's prayer.
9. I'd rather join the entire congregation to kneel before the altar and receive God's grace every week than have to individually respond to an altar call every week.
10. I'd rather the colors of the sanctuary change 4 times a year than every time the church got a new pastor who had a new vision of ministry.
Amen! Make sure to read the rest.
The Right Christians — a must-read religion and politics site — is exploring the question of what progressive Christians and other liberal religious people can learn from the Dean campaign's extraordinary use of Meetup, blogs, and other new networking methods. Allen Brill, the site's author, is a Lutheran pastor with some big plans. (Just think: a Daily Kos for people of faith!) The initial idea is here, with followup questions about Meetup, focus, software, and the refined idea. Join in!
Saturday, January 17, 2004
The Boston Globe profiles Boston University professor Stephen Prothero, author of American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. A snippet:
"There's an element of the celebrity in Jesus," Prothero says, "that puts him alongside Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, looking for face time on NBC." That may sound flippant to some, but Prothero's subject isn't the doctrinal Jesus or the historical Jesus but the familiar figure Americans more than any others have made into a protean being, with more different looks, personalities, and natures than any real man could have.
Starting with the Puritans, who virtually ignored Jesus, "American Jesus" sketches the history of American models of Jesus. The great evangelical revivals of the 19th century partly detached Jesus from complex doctrine, using preaching and music to portray him as an intimate friend, almost a lover. "He walks with me, and talks with me, and tells me I am his own," as C.A. Miles's classic hymn "In the Garden" has it. Later in the century came a feminized Jesus popularized by writings of Henry Ward Beecher, Currier & Ives prints, and a celebrated New York exhibition of paintings by the French artist James Jacques Joseph Tissot.
In the 20th century, the pendulum swung back, with evangelist Billy Sunday fulminating against a sissified Jesus. He was "no dough-faced, lick-spittle proposition," Sunday proclaimed, but "the greatest scrapper who ever lived." The cult of manhood and the outdoors cultivated by Theodore Roosevelt likewise led to tougher versions of Jesus, most famously Bruce Barton's 1925 novel, "The Man Nobody Knows."
Prothero jumps ahead to the 1960s and the present: the androgynous hippie Jesus of the 1960s Jesus Movement; the primarily Jewish Jesus of recent scholarship; the daily-life Jesus of some born-again Christians ("What would Jesus eat? What would Jesus drive?"); the Dalai Lama's Jesus as a Buddhist bodhisattva, or enlightened being; the Vedantist Jesus as an avatar of the god Vishnu.
("Personal Jesus," David Mehegan, Boston Globe 1.17.04)
Thursday, January 15, 2004
Andrew Greeley describes a curious phenomenon among younger Roman Catholic priests:
For more than three decades now, as a sociologist and a priest, I have been tracking the evolution of the beliefs and practices of the Catholic clergy and laity in the United States. My most recent analysis, based on survey data that I and others have gathered periodically since Vatican II, reveals a striking trend: a generation of conservative young priests is on the rise in the U.S. Church. These are newly ordained men who seem in many ways intent on restoring the pre-Vatican II Church, and who, reversing the classic generational roles, define themselves in direct opposition to the liberal priests who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.
But the truly disturbing news is at the end:
Priests as a group are simply not in touch with the laity. In the 2002 Los Angeles Times study only thirty-six of 1,854 priests identified clericalism as one of the major problems facing the Church's laity. Astonishingly, only forty-seven priests thought the sex-abuse scandals worth mentioning. For some reason, priests of all generations are unable or unwilling to see the clergy as responsible for the departure of disaffected laypersons—a problem that today plagues the U.S. Church.
To explain the laity's dissatisfaction with the Church, priests from all generations tend to trot out the usual litany: individualism, materialism, secularism, lack of faith, lack of prayer, lack of commitment, media bias, hedonism, sexual freedom, feminism, family breakdown, lack of education, and apathy. The advantage of such explanations is that they free priests from any personal responsibility and put the blame on factors over which the clergy cannot be expected to exercise much control. The rectory thus becomes an isolated citadel battered by cultural forces, which encourages precisely the sort of closed, band-of-brothers mentality that the Vatican II reforms were designed to break down.
(Andrew Greeley, "Young Fogeys," The Atlantic Monthly 1/2.04)
Who says there's no such thing as compassionate conservatism? Check out this cartoon in this week's New Yorker (caption below):
"Poor corporations! If itís not white-collar crime, itís pollution! I feel sorry for folks in the top tax bracket! It must be really tough for them! Why do people pick on Ann Coulter? She can't help the way she is!"
Roz Chast, "Bleeding Heart Conservative," New Yorker 1.19.04
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Schism? What schism? The American Anglican Council — Mrs Philocrites dubs it the American Anglican Conspiracy — is aiming to replace the Episcopal Church altogether:
Episcopalians who oppose the consecration of a gay bishop are preparing to engage in widespread disobedience to church law in 2004, according to a confidential document outlining their strategy.
The document makes clear that despite their public denials of any plan to break away from the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church USA, leaders of the traditionalist camp intend to severely challenge the authority of Episcopal bishops, and expect that both civil lawsuits and ecclesiastical charges against dissenting priests will result. . . .
The document says the American Anglican Council's Strategy Committee has worked for months to win permission for traditionalist bishops to oversee congregations that are unhappy under their current, more liberal bishops. But, it says, this "adequate episcopal oversight" is just an intermediate step.
"Our ultimate goal," it says, is a "replacement jurisdiction . . . closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism." Chapman, in a phone interview, said that means traditionalists hope their network of parishes will supplant the Episcopal Church USA as the recognized Anglican offshoot in the United States.
("Plan to supplant Episcopal Church USA is revealed," Alan Cooperman, Washington Post 1.14.04)
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Yesterday's Boston Globe profiles Gert Clark. Meanwhile, today's Globe suddenly has Wesley Clark all over the place: The front page notes that "Clark's N.H. progress dogs Kerry," which certainly seemed true among the Democrats and Independents I canvassed in Nashua, New Hampshire, on Saturday. (Boy, was it cold.)
The Globe also follows up on Clark's argument that the Bush administration was so fixated on Iraq even before 9/11 that they ignored intelligence about Al Qaeda. "They didn't do everything they could have before 9/11 to prevent the tragedy that was 9/11," Clark said.
And political columnist Joan Vennochi reports on New Hampshire voters who are torn between Clark and Dean.
Monday, January 12, 2004
Jeffrey Sharlet — who helped found Killing the Buddha, an online religion magazine "for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the 'spirituality' section of a bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God," and who wrote "Jesus Plus Nothing," the extraordinary Harper's expose of Ivanwald, the evangelical frat-house for Washington insiders — emerges with a new and very welcome project: The Revealer, "a daily review of religion and the press." It's a high-profile project, with funding from the Pew Charitable Trust and hosted by New York University's Department of Journalism and the Center for Religion and the Media. Sharlet knows how to write about religion in unconventional and riveting ways; perhaps he'll help other journalists think outside the box, too.
The Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford publishes a wonderful quarterly, Religion in the News, which covers everything in its latest issue (Fall 2003, only one season late) from Mel Gibson's cruciflick to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley's failed social gospel-inspired tax reform plan, not to mention the sorry tale of Chaplain Yee or the much-discussed Anglican crackup.
But what will really interest many of you is the 16-page special section on Religion in the 2004 Election.
Slate has brought together just about everybody whose opinion kept me from embracing the antiwar movement a year ago — Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth M. Pollack, Jacob Weisberg, and Fareed Zakaria — to ask: "With the benefit of hindsight, do you still believe that the United States should have invaded Iraq in March 2003?"
I'm embarrassed to say I never quite made up my mind about the war. With the benefit of hindsight, I'd say I'm still conflicted.
Thursday, January 8, 2004
I love the New Republic's contrariness. I've read the magazine for years, and have never stopped finding it provocative, superbly edited, and exciting to read. (Leon Wieseltier, the magazine's Books & the Arts editor, is almost without peer in my eyes.) And I especially admire Peter Beinart's willingness to let the magazine's senior editors and writers depart from the editorial line. As improved as the generally dry American Prospect is, and as scrappy as the wonkish Washington Monthly is, TNR is the best liberal political magazine in America.
So let's discuss the magazine's quixotic endorsement of Sen. Joseph Lieberman for the Democratic nomination.
Three hundred sixty-five days ago today, I clicked "publish" for the first time on Blogger.com and Philocrites was born. Happy birthday to me!
Except that, well, I launched Philocrites.com in October 2002. And before that, you could find my sermons, hymns, and essays at geocities.yahoo.com/philocrites, where I had set up shop not long after graduating from Divinity School back in 2000. But the name is even older: I picked my Greek moniker sometime in the late 1990s when I needed a free e-mail address at Yahoo! So many birthdays for my virtual self.
Tuesday, January 6, 2004
Updated 1.5.05: The information in this year-old entry is based on data collected through early 2003. The 2003 figures, however, may actually reflect the church membership figures from 2001-02. This list should not be interpreted as a reflection of current rates of growth —†and, unfortunately, I don't yet have comprehensive updated figures.
We've been discussing the sixteen congregations in the Unitarian Universalist Association that have grown by more than 200 members in the last decade. The next twenty churches grew by 150 to 199 new adult members between 1993 and 2003, according to annual membership figures submitted by the congregations to the UUA. (I'll post the 100-to-149 churches sometime later this week.)
This cluster is more interesting to me because the variety seems greater. There are several new congregations in this group, and it becomes apparent that while several large congregations continue to grow rapidly, the phenomenon is by no means limited to the large churches. But I'm eager for your assessment and input.
Matthew Gatheringwater explores the possibilities of using Meetup.com to organize discussion groups around themes and questions that Unitarian Universalists love but that other churches might shy away from. (Click here, then scroll down to "Topics in liberal religion" for January 5.) Could Meetup help unaffiliated religious liberals find each other if they haven't yet heard of Unitarianism? Help Matthew brainstorm in the comments on his site, or brainstorm here, too.
I've been thinking about Adlai Stevenson lately as people have been discussing Howard Dean's decision not to join the Unitarian Universalist church in Burlington when he decided he'd had it with the Episcopal church. (Dean ended up a nominal Congregationalist instead.) Stevenson was the last Unitarian to run for president as a major party candidate.
The following passage, written by Stevenson in 1958, was first published 19 years ago in the Unitarian Universalist World:
The Liberal Way
I think that one of our most important tasks as Unitarians is to convince ourselves and others that there is nothing to fear in difference; that difference, in fact, is one of the healthiest and most invigorating of human characteristics, without which life would become lifeless. Here lies the power of the liberal way—not in making the whole world Unitarian; but in helping ourselves and others to see some of the possibilities inherent in viewpoints other than one's own; in encouraging the free interchange of ideas; in welcoming fresh approaches to the problems of life; in urging the fullest, most vigorous use of critical self-examination. Thus we can learn to grow together, to unite in our common search for the truth beneath a better and a happier world.
On March 5, 1958 Adlai E. Stevenson wrote to his friend Maurine Neuberger in Washington declining an invitation to the annual workshop of the Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice. This passage, never before published, constitutes the main body of the letter. Mr. Stevenson, who died in 1965, was the Democratic nominee for President in 1952 and 1956. A Unitarian, he served a term as governor of Illinois and, later, as US ambassador to the United Nations. The WORLD acknowledges the work of Alan Seaburg of the Andover-Harvard Theological Library and of Dillman Sorrells, a student at the Harvard Divinity School, in bringing the letter to light.
("The Liberal Way," Unitarian Universalist WORLD, 12.15.84; page 4)
I find it heartening that Stevenson represented Unitarian ideals so well — and disconcerting to think that a politician could not really identify as a Unitarian Universalist today and expect to be taken seriously in a national race.
Saturday, January 3, 2004
Updated 1.5.05: The information in this year-old entry is based on data collected through early 2003. The 2003 figures, however, may actually reflect the church membership figures from 2001-02. This list should not be interpreted as a reflection of current rates of growth —†and, unfortunately, I don't yet have comprehensive updated figures.
Sixteen congregations have contributed a whopping 24% of the Unitarian Universalist Association's membership growth over the last decade. (These 16 churches grew by 200 or more members between 1993 and 2003.) Forty-six other churches added between 100 and 199 members each, and are responsible for another 40% of the UUA's growth. In other words, 62 of the UUA's 1,000+ churches account for 64% of the Association's growth over the last decade. All the remaining congregations accounted for only 36% of the Association's membership growth. Amazing.
I've been working on extracting some interesting information from the comprehensive tables Peter Morales prepared for the UUA's district executives and others involved in promoting effective strategies for membership growth. This post is the first part of that extraction effort.
The following table lists the 16 congregations that reported more than 200 new adult members between 1993 and 2003. There's no magic here: Peter simply put each congregation's reported membership for each of the last ten years into a district-by-district spreadsheet, and computed the change. (There are some questionable figures in the data, which I've noted. Some of these are probably errors in the congregation's reporting methods.)
James Traub's very long, very important essay in tomorrow's New York Times Magazine rehashes the history of the Democratic Party's perceived weakness on national security issues. It's provocative reading. One basic contention is that leading Democrats aren't really divided on foreign policy fundamentals — none of them is really a new McGovern — but the Party's base, on the other hand, seems to want them to be.
Traub concludes that the Democratic candidates' "nationalist liberalism" stands solidly within the foreign policy mainstream — unlike President Bush's machismo:
There are two very large inferences that can be drawn from comments like these and, more broadly, from the current debate over national security issues in policy institutes, academia and professional journals. One is that the Bush administration stands very, very far from the foreign-policy mainstream: liberal Democrats, conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans have more in common with one another than any of them have with the Bush administration. The other conclusion is that the administration's claim that 9/11 represents such a decisive break with the past that many of the old principles no longer apply is right — but the new principles need not be the ones the administration has advanced. A different administration could have adapted to 9/11 in a very different way. And this is why national security should be, at least potentially, such a rich target of opportunity for a Democratic candidate.
So will the Democrats be able to hit this target? Traub suggests that all the candidates (except Kucinich) share a common vision:
[Last spring, a group of] foreign-policy thinkers from the conservative side of the Democratic spectrum proposed a doctrine of ''nationalist liberalism,'' which would ''consciously accept the critical importance of power, including military power, in promoting American security, interests and values,'' as the neoconservatives had in the 1970's. But the doctrine would also recognize that America's great power ''will create resistance and resentment if it is exercised arrogantly and unilaterally, making it harder for the United States to achieve its goals.'' The authors laid out a ''generous and compelling vision of global society,'' which would include ''humanitarian intervention against genocidal violence; family planning; effective cooperation against global warming and other environmental scourges''; foreign aid; free trade; and large investments to combat AIDS.
All the major Democratic candidates could be considered nationalist liberals. And it's no surprise: since this is more or less the consensual view of the foreign-policy establishment, practically everybody the candidates have been consulting takes this view. With the very important exception of Iraq, the major candidates hold essentially the same views. Hawkishness or dovishness on Iraq thus does not correlate with some larger difference in worldview, as, for example, the left and right views on Vietnam once did.
And yet, this isn't the impression one gathers from the party base:
Dean may well be a nationalist liberal, but his audience members — the activists, the students — often are not . . . . This is the cliff that Democratic thinkers fear the party is heading over. As one Senate aide tells me, ''I don't see how a Democrat who is easy to stereotype as soft, even if it's unfair, is going to win.''
("The Things They Carry," James Traub, New York Times Magazine 1.4.04; see also Heather Hurlburt's essay, "War Torn: Why the Democrats Can't Think Straight about National Security", Washington Monthly 11.02.)
Friday, January 2, 2004
The prose narrative of the Golden Ass fashions an allegorical totality out of a simple romance plot: boy loves magic, boy loses body, boy loves Isis, boy regains body.
From the book Mrs Philocrites is currently reading, Allegories of Writing by Bruce Clarke (see chapter two, "History of Metamorphic Allegory"). Fun stuff! — although she tells me the sentence that follows this gem is reason enough never to pursue a Ph.D.
I was so distracted by the Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, and Dennis Kucinich Meetups — the candidates' supporters make up the largest Meetup communities in the world — that I didn't grasp the religious potential the software offers. Although there aren't enough people who say they're interested in a Unitarian Meetup in any one community to trigger the site's automatic scheduling feature, there are 295 people signed up.
But consider this: In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the American Unitarian Association's Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) identified individual religious liberals in far-flung places through its church-by-mail program. When a large enough number of people had been found in an area, CLF put them in touch with each other and helped them form local fellowships. The fellowship movement was Unitarianism's major new congregation initiative in the post-WWII period.
Lately I've been wondering how enterprising religious liberals might use Web sites like Beliefnet.com's Unitarian Universalist discussion boards, SelectSmart's Religion Selector (or its offspring, the Belief-o-matic, which seems to introduce a huge number of teenagers and college students to "Unitarian Universalism" — and yes, my friends, I still test "100% Unitarian Universalist"), and Meetup.com to help form part of the growth initiatives of the 21st century. Any ideas?
A reminder that you can meet Wesley Clark supporters in your area and get involved in the campaign this coming Monday evening. Find the Meetup in your area; I'll be at the Asgard in Cambridge.
Remember: We're looking for a campaign that can beat Bush by bringing a majority to the polls next November — which means a coalition of liberals, moderates, and independents. Clark can build this coalition; I can't shake my doubts about Howard Dean's ability to do it. Your financial contributions and personal involvement will make a difference now.
Meanwhile, if you're a Kucinich fan or too liberal for the Democratic Party, I'd suggest finding ways to help the most progressive local candidates in your area win local races, and start building some progressive momentum. Don't try shooting the moon: Kucinich is not going to come from behind, and the U.S. Constitution won't be rewritten to bring in parliamentary elections or instant-runoff voting in time for the November election. Imagine the future, but vote in the present. Since there is no liberal majority in this country, you'll need to find a winning coalition that will give you a place at the table.
Thursday, January 1, 2004
(a) Howard Dean sweeps the Democratic primaries, wins his party's nomination, picks Wesley Clark as his running mate, fires up the Democratic base — and loses a close race to President Bush.
(b) Dick Gephardt and Wesley Clark do better than expected. Kerry hangs in. Dean narrowly places first in several primaries, but captures only 40 percent of the delegates as the vote splinters. Clark, with 30 percent of delegate votes and Gephardt with 25 percent form a Clark-Gephardt ticket. Clark's patriotic appeal in the South combined with Gephardt's pocketbook pull in the Midwest manage to win a squeaker over Bush.
(c) The Democratic convention deadlocks. On the fifth ballot, the delegates turn to Hillary Clinton. Dean's enraged supporters bolt. Clinton picks John Edwards as her running mate, and the Democratic ticket is trounced by Bush.
In yesterday's paper (and on the American Prospect Web site), the bad news is that Kuttner picked (a).
But wait! It's a new year, and today's Boston Globe printed a correction:
Due to an editing error, Robert Kuttner's pick on the first quiz question in his column yesterday was misstated. Kuttner's choice was actually 1. (b), indicating that a Clark-Gephardt Democratic ticket would beat President Bush.
Well, well! I'm feeling better already.