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Saturday, July 31, 2004

Thanks, Philocrites-linkers!

The last two months flew by without a thank-you to new links to this site, for which I am very sorry! So here's a second-quarter report on the blogs that have added a link to Philocrites. Many thanks to each of you!

If I have failed to notice your link, drop me a line. (If you are a Unitarian Universalist and would like to join the ranks of UU bloggers, add your name to my guide to UU blogs.) You may also wonder how I find out about links to this site. Some people e-mail me to tell me about their site, or they leave a URL ("http://...") when they leave a comment here. But I also check Technorati, Blogshares, the Blogging Ecosystem (where I'm now a "flappy bird"), and Site Meter — each of which, in its own way, tracks who links to whom. Without further ado, thanks to:

  • beppeblog — "a simple blog about Quakerism, religion, politics, culture, sexuality, health, tutti italiani, & me," by Joe G.

  • C101 alumni — "a collaborative blogging project by the alumni of Campaign 101 to speak out with youth perspectives on policy and politics," including tsuredzuregusa and The Carltones

  • The Comeback Kid — "In this corner of the ring, pagan commentary and opinionatin' from an ex-coven priestess and ex-occult shop proprietor who has decided to put her gloves back on and give the pagan thing one more shot, a little older and, possibly, a little wiser this time around," by Jacqueline Waters

  • Mystery of a Shrinking Violet — "musings, reviews, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser"

  • Transparent Eye — "A spiritual blog favoring non-doctrinaire, open-minded belief, inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, and Carl Jung," by my friend Rick Heller

  • Unity — "Examining things Liberal, Christian, and, of course, Liberal Christian from the ecumenical perspective of the Eliot Church of Natick, MA," by my friend the Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, July 31, 2004, at 10:06 PM | 2 comments

Breaking out of denominational assumptions.

Rich Barlow interviews the new head of the Andover-Newton Theological School, the Rev. Nick Carter, who combines theological training with business acumen. Their conversation focuses on helping mainline Protestants — and their seminaries — break out of their 19th-century denominational boxes:

[I]t is a fact of life that over half the membership of churches is people who didn't grow up in that faith tradition. It's increasingly become the norm in America to find families who claim some other tradition in their background. Churches can no longer assume that because someone was raised a Baptist or Methodist or Congregationalist that they will continue to be one.

Is that a sign of spiritual health, in that adults are making conscious decisions to join a faith, rather than indifferent participation based on childhood nostalgia?

There's reason to be optimistic in this change. But it presents a challenge to denominations about their identity and what distinctions they offer. . . .

Are there lessons to be learned from the astounding growth in conservative evangelical church membership?

I think they have been good in their communications and branding. St. Paul in the 14th chapter, First Corinthians says if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will get ready? One of the challenges mainline seminaries face is that our trumpet has been giving an uncertain sound. The essential element of branding is looking at the relationship you have with your target audiences. How are you distinctive from any other seminary? Why is your brand distinctive?

("An Entrepreneur of Ministerial Training," Rich Barlow, Boston Globe 7.31.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 31, 2004, at 12:13 PM | 0 comments

Friday, July 30, 2004

Religion bloggers at the DNC.

Who was blogging the religion beat at the DNC? A short list of officially credentialed bloggers:

Anyone else?

Update 8.1.04: In the comments below, Rick notes that several journalists who focus on religion and politics also blogged the convention:

Posted by Philocrites, July 30, 2004, at 05:14 PM | 1 comments

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Pulling rabbits out of hats.

Surprise! At 6:22 pm this evening — Oh, I beg your pardon! Is that the day John Kerry is to receive the Democratic presidential nomination? Isn't that an amazing coincidence? — the New York Times reports the announcement of a major Al Qaeda arrest in Pakistan:

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an Al Qaeda operative who is on the F.B.I.'s most-wanted terrorist list and had a $25 million reward for arrest, has been arrested in Pakistan, officials there said Thursday night. . . .

Mr. Ghailani was arrested after a fierce gunbattle on Sunday between Pakistani law enforcement officials and 12 Al Qaeda suspects in the city of Gujrat in eastern Pakistan, Pakistani officials said. They said the Qaeda members had been hiding at a rented house for more than a month.

Now, what was it the New Republic reported a few weeks back? Oh, yes — I remember:

[T]he Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"—the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Wait a second. Did the Times story really suggest that Pakistani police had been monitoring the house for over a month? And did it really say that Ghailani was arrested four days ago? Why, yes it did!

My confidence in our president has just soared to new heights. What a leader: Always on deadline.

Update 7.30.04: And how about this little morsel? The Washington Post notes the peculiar hour of the Pakistani announcement:

"This is a big success," Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said in an unusual late-night announcement on Pakistan's Geo television network.

Late-night in Pakistan meant prime-time here. ("Pakistan Holds Top Al Qaeda Suspect," Kamran Khan, Washington Post 7.30.04, reg req'd; thanks, Melanie!)

Here's New Republic senior editor John B. Judis talking with Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman:

What our source said to us was it would be best if the arrest or killing of any high-value target were announced on 26, 27 or 28 of July which is the first three days of the convention. So it was announced on the fourth day. The question is why then? Already, there's some questions that I have seen raised from intelligence officials here because you have two, basically two possibilities. One is that they held the guy for several days before making the announcement on Thursday. So why, after having captured him on Sunday did they announce it then?

But you have an even more interesting question raised of why they announced it at all? Because when you have somebody who's been in hiding since 1998, they have an enormous amount of information and contacts. By announcing this guy's arrest, what you do is you warn off everybody who's been associated with him from the last five or six years. You tell them that they better get their act together or they are going to be found. So, there's some, really a lot of questions of why they announced this thing when they did. . . .

[P]olitics is supposed to end at the water's edge. When it intrudes in foreign policy, you get decisions that don't necessarily reflect the national interest, but simply reflect the interest of a particular party or individual wanting to make—wanting to win an election. Sometimes that can coincide with what everybody wants, but sometimes it can't. It may be in this case that we—that we, and the Pakistanis got somebody and prematurely announced this person's arrest in order to have an electoral impact.

("A July Surprise? Pakistan Announces Arrest of Top Al Qaeda Figure Hours Before Kerry Speech," Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! 4.30.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 29, 2004, at 07:02 PM | 1 comments

Senator Byrd's Constitution.

The one event of the Convention I took time away from work to attend was Tuesday's joint appearance of Senator Ted Kennedy, General Wesley Clark, and Senator Robert Byrd at the First Parish in Cambridge. Byrd, of course, was speaking about his new book, Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency, and the audience — which had completely filled the large church at least 45 minutes before the event began — was highly predisposed to agree with everything any of the three speakers said. We whooped it up, all right.

The most striking thing about the event, aside from the real-time recognition that Byrd is extraordinarily old, was the palpable sense of his veneration for the Constitution. At one point, he held up his new book and said, "I wrote this book to save this book" — and he pulled a small pamplet-sized copy of the Constitution out of his pocket and held it up in the air unsteadily, a look of intense feeling on his face. It was clearly, for him, not simply an idea or a set of rules; the Constitution was something to revere.

When I went to college, I took my own little bicentennial pamphlet copy of the Constitution along. (I'm an Eagle Scout, after all. And back when I was a ninth-grader I drafted a constitution for my brand-new junior high school which the principal found a bit too student-empowering, I'm afraid, but I took to constitution-writing with gusto.) So I completely understand venerating the Constitution. All the way through divinity school, I kept that little booklet and a pamphlet copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights out on a shelf with other things I valued — the only texts on a little dresser-top shrine. (I think I picked up the Declaration pamphlet at an R.E.M. concert in 1990! Bless those earnest rockers.) But even though I read both documents, they were a bit totemic for me, symbols of my heartfelt patriotism and commitment to constitutional liberalism and human rights.

Byrd's veneration, however, is many fathoms deeper. I could certainly feel myself swept up in the tide of admiration in the room, but at the very end of the Q&A portion of the event, when he waved the little worn Constitution a second time, I found myself choking up. By golly, I am a sentimental liberal.

When someone asked him what will protect us from tyranny, Byrd said, "The separation of powers is the guarantor of the people's liberties." (You'll have to imagine the peculiar intensity of his voice.) Amen to that. And that's the whole key to his unprecedented rage at President Bush and a docile Congress: He believes that America's leading politicians — especially in the Senate — are abandoning the separation of powers and abdicating their decisions to political consultants in the West Wing.

"Our Founders struggled mightily to escape the yoke of one King George," he said in the afternoon's reddest-meat line. "I say, Enough is enough! We cannot sit silently by and witness the dimming of freedom's flame."

I was there mostly because I had supported Gen. Clark in the Democratic primaries. I continue to believe that Clark represented a confluence of values, ideas, and aptitudes that the country sorely needs. He translated liberalism, you might say, back into American. (The most eloquent advocates of this refreshed liberalism so far have been Barack Obama and John Edwards.) I had heard Clark speak in person twice during the primaries, and it was interesting watching him not as a candidate with a prepared speech but as a citizen praising someone he himself admired.

Clark contrasted the role that soldiers take in a democracy — pledging to honor their country by loyally supporting the commander-in-chief — with the role that citizens must take in a democracy: "Those of us not in uniform are responsible for the commander-in-chief," he said.

Watching WGBH Tuesday night, I saw video of the event — and there I was, too, sitting up front! — but I can't find the video on-line. When it finally does show up, I'll add a link.

Posted by Philocrites, July 29, 2004, at 05:45 PM | 1 comments

Sharpton: 'Our vote is sacred.'

The Rev. Al Sharpton let it rip when he departed from his script eleven minutes into his prepared speech:

Mr President, as I close, Mr President, I heard you say Friday that you had questions for voters, particularly African-American voters. And you asked the question: Did the Democratic Party take us for granted? Well, I have raised questions. But let me answer your question.

You said the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is true that Mr Lincoln signed [the] Emancipation Proclamation, after which there was a commitment to give forty acres and a mule. That's where the argument, to this day, of reparations starts. We never got the forty acres. We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the forty acres.

We didn't get the mule. So we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us. [Extended applause]

Mr President, you said would we have more leverage if both parties got our votes, but we didn't come this far playing political games. It was those that earned our vote that got our vote. We got the Civil Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the Voting Rights Act under a Democrat. [Applause] We got the right to organize under Democrats. [Extended applause]

Mr President, the reason we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so seriously, is our right to vote wasn't gained because of our age. Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, soaked in the blood of good men like Chaney and Schwerner, soaked in the blood of four little girls in Birmingham. This vote is sacred to us. This vote can't be bargained away. This vote can't be given away. [Applause]

Mr President, in all due respect, Mr President, read my lips: Our vote is not for sale. [Applause]

Quite apart from anything else one might think about Sharpton's politics, he vividly conveys here one of the reasons that the Republicans' loud religiosity hasn't pried black voters away from the Democrats. When pundits talk about religion-and-politics, one of the things they sometimes overlook is how passionately — how religiously — many Americans take their civil rights.

There is still a very deep connection between most Americans' commitment to their civil religion and their commitment to their church, synagogue, or mosque — so deep that I think the right to vote is for millions of Americans a religious value that trumps even such hot-button "religious issues" like gay marriage and abortion. The language of martyrdom, the language of loyalty, the language of sacrifice: These aspects of the civil rights movement have biblical roots, but the epochal shift Lyndon Johnson brought about in the Democratic Party has made this language integral to how Democrats talk about their vision of America. It is a religious commitment. It was refreshing to hear Sharpton put it so bluntly.

(The full transcript of Sharpton's spoken remarks can't be found at most Convention sites; the version here is adapted from the Associated Press transcript compared to the audio recording [RealAudio, courtesy WBUR].)

Posted by Philocrites, July 29, 2004, at 04:59 PM | 0 comments

DNC religion watch.

The Boston Globe's Michael Paulson and Michael Levenson write a front-page story about Democratic efforts to close the so-called "God gap": "Party Refuses to Cede the Religious Vote." So far, so good! And Paulson also profiles the Rev. John B. Ardis, the Paulist priest who was originally scheduled to deliver the invocation at the Convention, but who will instead give the benediction tonight. He says neither party follows Catholic teaching:

"Neither party holds to a consistent ethic of life," Ardis said. "The bishops and the Holy Father have been outspoken about the war and about the death penalty, and yet my sense is that there will be people that will be invoking God's name at the Republican National Convention in another month."

("Debate Won't Keep Priest from Stage," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 7.29.04)

Update: Thanks to Jesus Politics, here's a Religion News Service article about the higher profile religiously committed Democrats are seeking this year. Kudos to Dave Wilson, of my home town, for putting it so succinctly:

"They think they're the only ones that believe in God," said Dave Wilson, a delegate from Orem, Utah, of Republicans.

Wilson, a Mormon, said Democrats tend to see religion as a private matter that should impact a person's actions, but not necessarily be worn on a politician's sleeve. "You don't have to advertise that you're religious, by your actions you prove it," he said.

("Democrats Tread Carefully on Both Sides of the 'God Gap,'" Holly Lebowitz Rossi [RNS], Ethics Daily 7.29.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 29, 2004, at 08:32 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Unitarian Universalism's Google news editor.

I don't know why I never thought to mention this before, but if you find it tedious trying to separate the wheat from the chaff when looking for news stories about Unitarian Universalist churches and people via Google News — you know, disregarding all the weekly listings of vegetarian potlucks and guest lecturers from the community college — you might consider letting Joyce Dowling do the separating for you. Her selections are part of the unformatted and perfunctorily named "UU Newswire" e-mail newsletter ( It comes out weekly.

Posted by Philocrites, July 28, 2004, at 09:34 PM | 0 comments

More on religious language.

Barack ObamaAmy Sullivan — congrats on the new position as editor at the Washington Monthly! — decodes Clinton's speech and follows up with a gloss on Barack Obama's "evango-speak." (Wow, was that a great speech! My question: Can he slow his rapid ascent just long enough for my state senator, Jarrett Barrios, to get into Congress? Obama-Barrios in 2012!)

P.S. Chutney was paying attention to the Rev. James Allston's speech on Monday when I wasn't, and noticed another homiletical touch: "hutting."

Posted by Philocrites, July 28, 2004, at 05:49 PM | 2 comments

Today's DNC worship rally.

I interrupt my work day to call your attention to a DNC-related religion opportunity this afternoon. Here's the notice I just received, with value-added links!

Today at 4:30 p.m. UUA president William Sinkford will participate in the "Let Justice Roll" interfaith worship service and rally at Old South Church in Copley Square (corner of Dartmouth and Boylston). Sponsored by the National Council of Churches and the United Church of Christ, the event will bring together religious leaders from across the nation to focus attention on the poverty and hunger afflicting so many people in the United States and around the world, to encourage voter registration and participation, and to seek commitments from local and state public officials and delegates to the Democratic National Convention that they will work to shape public policies to help meet the needs of the poor.

The main preacher at the service is the Rev. James Forbes of Riverside Church in New York City. Though John Kerry was not able to accept an invitation to attend, he has informed the planners that he will be sending a representative from the Democratic National Committee. The public is invited to attend the service.

Rev. Sinkford will also participate in a press conference at Old South prior to the start of the service.

Posted by Philocrites, July 28, 2004, at 11:33 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Burning coals to Kerry's lips.

Bill Clinton was mighty fun to watch last night. (I was sitting at the bar in Upstairs on the Square with Mrs Philocrites and two politics-loving friends, sipping our way through the evening's speeches.) My two cents to add to all the rhetorical analysis today is that Clinton very subtly connected with biblically alert church goers with a refrain in the second half of his speech: "Send me." That's not just any old phrase, and it moved his speech into a rhetorical groove with a long history. It was a nice touch.

On the way home, Mrs Philocrites and I amused each other by humming the overused Catholic pop hymn, "Here I Am, Lord." One of us suggested that Kerry could use a live coal from the tongs of the previous Democratic president. (It was late, drinks were consumed, I can't remember which of us thought of it, but some enterprising political cartoonist could draw a nice seraphim with Clinton's nose alighting near a dazzled Kerry-Isaiah. Or, maybe not. Like I said, it was late.)

Unfortunately, I was paying no attention to Jimmy Carter — his drawl made him impossible to understand on the bar TV — or to the minister who served with Kerry in Vietnam, so I can't comment on the homiletical influences in the two other speakers most likely to have had a bit of church in their speeches.

Posted by Philocrites, July 27, 2004, at 05:41 PM | 5 comments

Monday, July 26, 2004

Kerry on American Muslims.

With the DNC in town, the Boston Globe is churning out stories at an astonishing pace. One of the upsides is that we finally get to hear longer descriptions of a candidate's unscripted conversations with voters. Patrick Healy reports on an encounter John Kerry had with an American Muslim father and son in a neighborhood meeting in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday. It's well worth reading:

In Ward 62 of Columbus, a suburban tract known as Park Ridge where George W. Bush beat Al Gore by just 12 votes out of 4,806 cast in 2000, Kerry pulled up to a cul-de-sac yesterday and found a scene more typical closer to Election Day. Throngs of Democrats and Republicans were squared off on a narrow sidewalk, with dueling chants of ''Kerry-Edwards" and ''Flip-Flop Kerry."

His 90-minute neighborhood meeting, part of Kerry's six-day tour of America en route to the Boston convention, was the stuff of political theater — not only the protesters, who reflected the divisions of this crucial battleground state, but also an unscripted exchange between Kerry, a Muslim man, and the man's 6-month-old son about the fear of Islam among some Americans today.

The man, Abdul Rashid, a coordinator in a Verizon business support center, said that he had endured feelings of animosity and separation all his life as a Muslim living in a predominantly Christian country, but that the stigma has grown far worse since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"I'm a proud American," Rashid said, standing in the cul-de-sac and surrounded by a racially diverse audience of 150 people, as Kerry listened under a large sycamore tree. ''I'm very happy being an American, being born and raised in this country. But one thing I don't want is to make my son feel ostracized as time goes on — especially now with a lot of Bush's theological beliefs interfacing with his political beliefs."

Kerry took Rashid's young son, Hasim, in his arms, and responded as the adorable child played with Kerry's tie and microphone.

"I want everybody to look at Hasim," Kerry said. ''How old is Hasim?"

"Six months," his father replied.

"At six months, at one year, at two years — has anybody ever met a child who hates anybody?" Kerry asked the crowd. ''I'm a Catholic. Hasim's Muslim. And there are, I hope, Jews, other denominations here, and maybe people who are agnostic, I don't know. But here's what I know: I'm running to be president of the United States of America," he said, emphasizing the word united. ''I'm running to be president of all of the American people, all of our citizens."

Hasim interrupted Kerry's remarks by nearly ripping the microphone off Kerry's tie, drawing laughter from the onlookers. ''Can I talk?" Kerry joked to the little boy. ''Ohio State, look out."

Once the chuckles subsided, he came to his point: ''Ladies and gentleman, when John Edwards and I are in there, we are going to have an attorney general who doesn't make any American feel the way this man feels." The attack on John Ashcroft elicited strong applause, and Kerry was willing to hand back Hasim. ''Want to go back to daddy? Want to go back to daddy, or want to come to the White House with me?"

The Massachusetts senator, who has spoken about Islam infrequently on the campaign trail, wasn't ready to give up the issue.

"I know this: If I were president of the United States today, I would have long ago reached out to clerics, imams, mullahs, to leaders of other religions, to the true leaders of Islam, so that we are isolating radical Islamic extremists, rather than radical Islamic extremists isolating the United States of America. And that's what I intend to do," Kerry said.

The Bush campaign condemned Kerry after he had emphasized that his preconvention campaigning would largely avoid attacks on the president.

("A full day wraps up at Fenway," Patrick Healy, Boston Globe 7.26.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 26, 2004, at 08:20 AM | 0 comments

DNC invocation watch.

Another update:

In a break from past practice, the Democratic Party is not inviting the archbishop of Boston to offer a blessing at the Democratic National Convention, but instead is inviting a Paulist priest who has taken Senator John F. Kerry's side in a national debate over whether politicians who support abortion rights should receive Communion.

The Kerry campaign said last night it is seeking to have the Rev. John B. Ardis, director of the Paulist Center, deliver an invocation at the convention. The Paulist Center is on Beacon Hill, where Kerry lives, and the senator and his wife have often worshiped at the chapel there. . . .

The Democratic National Convention Committee has declined requests to identify clergy speaking this week. Convention organizers have named only the Rev. James A. Forbes, Jr., senior minister of the Riverside Church, a New York City congregation affiliated with the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ.

The Rev. Stephen T. Ayres, vicar of Old North Church, an Episcopal parish in Boston's North End, said he has been invited to give an invocation at this afternoon's session.

("O'Malley won't offer blessing; Paulist priest to deliver invocation," Michael Paulson and Patrick Healy, Boston Globe 7.26.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 26, 2004, at 08:10 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Building the vast left-wing conspiracy.

When you read Matt Bai's illuminating article in today's New York Times Magazine about the liberal entrepreneurs who hope to build a new progressive network of ideas, funding, and activists to rival the vast right-wing conspiracy, I think it would be invaluable first to read Nicholas Confessore's Washington Monthly article from the beginning of the year: "The Myth of the Democratic Establishment."

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, July 25, 2004, at 02:43 PM | 1 comments

Secularism watch: Massachusetts vs. Utah.

From the Globe's hypothetical scenario — What if the U.S. looked more like "liberal Massachusetts"? — comes this choice bit of information:

But despite the Bay State's reputation for secularism, only a few more people would eschew religion altogether. In Massachusetts, 16 percent of poll respondents said that they belong to "no religion," only slightly above the national average of 14 percent (and below Utah's 17 per cent).

("Bay State nation: What if America were more like us?" Robert David Sullivan, Boston Globe 7.25.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 25, 2004, at 09:15 AM | 0 comments

The poet and the philosopher: An opera!

Be still my beating heart! There is a new opera about the 1945 all-night encounter of the famous Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and the Russian-born British philosopher Isaiah Berlin (my current intellectual crush). Guest from the Future, written by Jonathan Levi and composed by Mel Marvin, premiered on Friday at Bard College in New York. The Globe's Ideas section retells the story of the meeting that Berlin later called the most important event of his life — and that Akhmatova came to believe, according to Celia Wren, "marked the beginning of the Cold War." That was some conversation!

I'm especially eager to see this opera because Levi wrote a novel that I enjoyed completely: A Guide for the Perplexed (sadly out of print), which includes some of the best passages describing Bach's music I've ever read. (Levi also helped launch Granta, but since I'm being candid this week about big holes in my cultural education, I'll confess that I've never read the magazine.)

If you want an introduction to Berlin's ideas, Michael Ignatieff's biography is very good — and tells the story of Akhmatova and Berlin's night of conversation.

("When Anna met Isaiah," Celia Wren, Boston Globe 7.25.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 25, 2004, at 08:57 AM | 1 comments

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Steinfels's reading lists for Bush, Kerry.

Peter Steinfels e-mailed scholars who think about the religion-and-politics connection to ask what one book they would recommend to round out George W. Bush and John Kerry's understanding of religion. Here's the list, rearranged by candidate — with helpful links to the books!

But if you want to know which scholar suggested which book and why, read Steinfels's column, "Book Lists for the Candidates" (New York Times 7.24.04, reg req'd). Feel free to add your own in the comments below — and be my guest to question, praise, or quibble with any of the suggestions already on the list. (I'm amused by the thought of the President looking for the Cliffs Notes to Religious Freedom: History, Cases, and Other Material on the Interactions of Religion and Government — but then again, I have to admit that I have never read a single book on this list!)

Posted by Philocrites, July 24, 2004, at 07:33 PM | 2 comments

Preacher to the Convention.

Last month, we mulled over who might represent religion at the Democratic National Convention. Today, I have part of the answer: The Rev. James A. Forbes Jr, minister of the famous Riverside Church in Manhattan. Rich Barlow interviews him in today's Boston Globe, where Forbes answers the question every pundit has pondered this year:

Q. Regular churchgoers overwhelmingly vote Republican. What does that suggest about the two political parties?

A. In my sermon, I may call people to read Isaiah 58. In it, we get evidence that religion can express itself in two directions. One is personal piety, reflected in church attendance and public display of one's religious identification. Another aspect is the prophetic critique. In [Isaiah], it's almost as if God would say, forget about how often you go to church, forget about how many times you pray; what I want you to do is feed the hungry, take the homeless into your homes, care for those who are incarcerated. In Matthew 25, the issue is, when I was hungry, you didn't feed me, when I was poor and naked, you didn't clothe me.

The polls will give the impression that folks are more religious on the basis of how much they go to church. I'm a pastor; I want folks to come. But the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights are rooted in a call for justice. Otherwise, people will punch their cards — "See, I went [to church] 12 times." But you did not provide resources for [the needy].

("Convention preacher offers US views" [huh?], Rich Barlow, Boston Globe 7.24.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 24, 2004, at 11:44 AM | 4 comments

Thursday, July 22, 2004

'I don't give a flying Cheney.'

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), writing in the Boston Phoenix, offers a helpful new way to get something off your chest while using a word that the newspapers can print. Mr. Vice President: Cheney you. There. I feel better already.

("Cheney this," Barney Frank, Boston Phoenix 7.23.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 22, 2004, at 05:36 PM | 0 comments

Summertime, and the kids are brilliant!

It must be late July: The Boston Globe has entertained the Philocrites household lately with the story of a fifth-grader who launched her own political action committee "after trying to research a class project and finding that the school encyclopedias were 14 years old. She then discovered her school had just one part-time tutor for 500 kids, and a fraying infrastructure." So she did the obvious thing: She launched the Kids' Campaign, and now goes on speaking tours raising money because kids are still getting left behind.

And then there was the story yesterday about two 13-year-old gourmet caterers. Well, that certainly brings me right back down into the bowels of humility. When I was 13, I was trying to invent my own language for the quasi-Tolkiensian novel I was writing by going through the dictionary inventing my own words for the ones that seemed useful; I made it part-way into "B." That was simply geeky; these kids are going places.

("Colorado girl, 10, creates own PAC," David Kelly [Los Angeles Times], Boston Globe 7.18.04; "The Caterers Are Kids," Andrea Pyenson, Boston Globe 7.21.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 22, 2004, at 05:24 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Unitarian Universalists for Kerry.

I had been wondering what became of Shava Nerad, whose blog Unpopular Nonfiction went silent back in March just after she announced her intention to write on it regularly. But here she is hosting a new blog, Unitarian Universalists for Kerry.

Although I'm certainly voting for and supporting John Kerry myself, I'd be happy to let readers of Philocrites know of other sites and blogs by Unitarian Universalists active in other campaigns this year.

Update 7.21.04: Like Matthew in the comments below, I'm not comfortable with how overwhelmingly many UUs identify their political and religious preferences — it reminds me of how uncomfortable I felt as a Mormon Democrat in Orem, Utah — so let me also put in a good word here for the conversation we're having over at Coffee Hour: How diverse is Unitarian Universalist political thinking?

Posted by Philocrites, July 20, 2004, at 07:30 PM | 2 comments

Deliberate failure.

Here's the tail end of Thomas Frank's op-ed in Friday's New York Times on the Senate's "pseudopopulist theater" concerning a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage or anything remotely like it:

Of course, as everyone pointed out, the whole enterprise was doomed to failure from the start. It didn't have to be that way; conservatives could have chosen any number of more promising avenues to challenge or limit the Massachusetts ruling. Instead they went with a constitutional amendment, the one method where failure was absolutely guaranteed — along with front-page coverage

Then again, what culture war offensive isn't doomed to failure from the start? Indeed, the inevitability of defeat seems to be a critical element of the melodrama, on issues from school prayer to evolution and even abortion.

Failure on the cultural front serves to magnify the outrage felt by conservative true believers; it mobilizes the base. Failure sharpens the distinctions between conservatives and liberals. Failure allows for endless grandstanding without any real-world consequences that might upset more moderate Republicans or the party's all-important corporate wing. You might even say that grand and garish defeat — especially if accompanied by the ridicule of the sophisticated — is the culture warrior's very object.

The issue is all-important; the issue is incapable of being won. Only when the battle is defined this way can it achieve the desired results, have its magical polarizing effect. Only with a proposed constitutional amendment could the legalistic, cavilling Democrats be counted on to vote "no," and only with an offensive so blunt and so sweeping could the universal hostility of the press be secured.

Losing is prima facie evidence that the basic conservative claim is true: that the country is run by liberals; that the world is unfair; that the majority is persecuted by a sinister elite. And that therefore you, my red-state friend, had better get out there and vote as if your civilization depended on it.

("Failure is not an option, it's mandatory," Thomas Frank, New York Times 7.16.04, reg req'd; via Tapped)

Posted by Philocrites, July 20, 2004, at 05:03 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Theological diversity watch.

Surprise! The UUA's Commission on Appraisal is in the news! The Boston Globe's Rich Barlow interviews Earl Holt, minister of King's Chapel and chair of the Commission. The article asks, "Has the Unitarian Universalist church, renowned for its diversity of religious viewpoints, gone too far in pursuing diversity?"

Holt honors the freedom of conscience that remained a tenet after Unitarians merged with the Universalist Church to form the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1961. And yet, he said, "I'm ready to defend now the hypothesis that Unitarian Universalism as it presently exists is not in any meaningful way . . . a continuity of either of the traditions" from which it sprung. Embracing all theological viewpoints — "at some point, pandering would not become too strong a word" — the UUA has lost the sense of unity that underlies community, Holt argues.

He heads the nine-member Commission on Appraisal, which reports every four years to the church's annual meeting on important issues. In its next report, due next year, Holt hopes the commission calls on the UUA to reexamine its statement of Principles and Purposes. That statement cites Jewish and Christian teachings, among a half-dozen influences.

"Any average Rotary club in America could probably affirm [them]," Holt said.

He'd like the church to stress that "this was a biblically centered faith, and that from that anchor . . . it has sought to be as open as possible" to other forms of inquiry.

Failing that, a statement that the UUA simply isn't Christian anymore "might be a cleansing thing to do," he said, acknowledging that few other commissioners share his view that the church should orbit within Christianity's gravity.

The article also quotes Tom Owen-Towle (another Commission member) and a good portion of UUA President Bill Sinkford's sermon in which he describes his own spiritual awakening to the presence of God. ("Revisiting Unitarian Universalism," Rich Barlow, Boston Globe 7.17.04)

The question of how meaningfully contemporary Unitarian Universalists relate their religion to the tradition from which it emerged preoccupied me all the way through four years of divinity school. Frankly, we need much better narratives about our own evolution. The advanced supercessionism we like — the narrative of smart upstarts throwing off the benighted superstitions of their predecessors — has limited usefulness in eliciting lifelong commitments. It works much better as a myth of heroic exile for those of us who are arriving from other faith traditions. It manifestly fails to help us encounter contemporary Christianity with any real capacity for appreciation or dialogue. We have become effectively anti-historical, believing that our parent traditions were frozen in amber when the heroic upstarts we revere — Emerson, Parker, Reese, Dietrich — broke away.

Although I'd like to say that I have some really fresh solution to the problem, my most thorough effort is a lumbering paper I wrote at the end of my first year of seminary. It's an attempt to outline a doctrine of the liberal church. Perhaps by the time the Commission's report is finally published, I will have time to work through an essay that is more fully developed and written in straightforward English!

Posted by Philocrites, July 17, 2004, at 06:34 PM | 9 comments

Unitarian-Mormon dialogue.

My BYU philosophy professor has a quarrel with a James Luther Adams aphorism in my essay, "Do Unitarian Universalists have morals?", and a dialogue ensues.

Posted by Philocrites, July 17, 2004, at 11:16 AM | 0 comments

Friday, July 16, 2004

Looking for swing voters this weekend?

A lot of people have made a lot of noise this year about the "religion gap" among American voters. The super-short version is that the more religious you are, the more likely you are to vote for Bush. Wouldn't you love to hear something new about what the religion gap really reveals?

Writing in one of my very favorite publications, Trinity College's Religion in the News, John Green and Mark Silk noticed that the gender gap — the shift of women voters away from the Republican Party beginning with the 1964 election — shows some striking parallels to the religion gap. They started combing through the polling data for an explanation, and found something very interesting in the Bush-Gore election results:

Three-quarters of regular [church-]attending men voted for Bush, while three-quarters of the less attending women voted for Gore. Just as fascinating are the two groups in the middle. The regular attending women and less attending men divided their votes almost evenly between Bush and Gore.

Each category represented a hefty slice of the electorate in the 2000 election. The Bush-backing regular attending men made up 21 percent of voters, while the Gore-supporting less attending women were 24 percent. The evenly divided categories were somewhat larger, with less attending men at 26 percent and regular attending women—the plurality group—at 28 percent. Given how narrowly divided the electorate now appears to be, a small swing in just one of these large groups could determine the outcome of the 2004 election.

The generalization: Women who go to church regularly are swing voters; men who go to church regularly are solid Republicans. Women who don't go to church regularly are solid Democrats; men who don't go to church regularly are swing voters.

Green and Silk conclude:

Because value conflicts create swing voters, regular attending white Catholic and mainline Protestant women and less attending white Catholic and evangelical men are likely to be up for grabs in 2004. Journalists interested in gauging how well the respective campaigns are doing with these swing groups might try interviewing at a few selected locations between, say, 10 o’clock and 12:30 on Sunday mornings.

Check out The Home Depot and the local links, where many Catholic and evangelical men are rumored to be found bright and early on the Lord’s Day. If these weekend warriors like Kerry, look for a new administration in 2005.

Then buttonhole women coming out of worship at Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. If these church ladies are tilting toward Bush, then the president will likely get a new lease on the White House.

("Gendering the religion gap," John Green and Mark Silk, Religion in the News Spring 2004)

Posted by Philocrites, July 16, 2004, at 05:42 PM | 1 comments

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Saint Dubya, pray for us.

Terry Mattingly at GetReligion says he saw something intriguing at the North American Christian Convention — "the largest event held each year by America's independent Christian Churches":

On one of the quieter halls of the convention center was a small room set aside for private prayer. Since this was a Protestant gathering, the room contained no traditional religious art. Yet there was an icon, of sorts. Over on a low table was a framed portrait of President George W. Bush, with a candle in front of it. The meaning was clear — pause here to pray specifically for our president.

Idolatry alert!

Posted by Philocrites, July 15, 2004, at 06:00 PM | 5 comments

Fonts in the news.

The New York City 9/11 memorial commemorates the dead using the Gotham typeface; a memorial in New Jersey, however, settles for the ubiquitous Times New Roman. Jessica Helfand leads a discussion of the merits of each at Design Observer.

Posted by Philocrites, July 15, 2004, at 05:46 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Do Unitarian Universalists have morals?

Last month, I corresponded with a young Evangelical Protestant who asked me two questions:

1. Are there any definite morals in Unitarian Universalism?
2. How can you have a set standard of beliefs if you allow people to develop their own "personal" theology?

I found it a demanding and valuable exercise to respond. Here's what I wrote back:

Your questions are great ones. Yes, there are definite morals in Unitarian Universalism — but they tend to emphasize what we value more than giving really explicit lists of what's forbidden. (Here's our most general statement of Principles.)

For example, the first Principle that Unitarian Universalist churches affirm is that every human being has inherent dignity and worth. (For me, this is an affirmation that each of us is a child of God, made in God's image, loved by God.) As a moral principle, this means that we oppose actions that violate the dignity of human beings: murder and violence, rape and sexual abuse, torture — all those horrible things — but also all the other ways that people often treat each other as "lesser" or unworthy of respect. That's why we oppose things like racism, sexism, authoritarian and undemocratic political systems, social systems that put people into inflexible hierarchies, and denials of the dignity of gay and lesbian people, among other things.

Our other principles work in similar ways: they affirm broad principles for how people should relate to each other, and respect the variety of ways that people of good will try to live.

Another way to think about Unitarian Universalist morality is that we put a lot of emphasis on the qualities of people's actions and relationships rather than on specific deeds. This helps to explain why Unitarian Universalists have welcomed gay and lesbian people into our churches without condemning their homosexuality: We condemn qualities of abusiveness, coerciveness, infidelity, and other violations of the respect that each person deserves, but we don't condemn specific actions, such as the different ways that loving adults bond with each other.

You also asked how we can have set standards of belief when each person is developing their own theology. It's a great question — and sometimes we're better at it than others. The first thing to say is that we have simply embraced something the early Protestant Reformer Martin Luther taught: No one can do your believing for you. Just as Protestants today emphasize that salvation depends on your personal commitment to Jesus and not on what somebody else thinks you should believe or what somebody else does on your behalf, Unitarian Universalists believe that your conscience — your deepest beliefs and values — can't be up to anybody but you. They are shaped by your culture, by your studies, by your friends and relatives, but in the end your beliefs really are your own business, your own most valuable possession and responsibility.

We say that your relationship with God is fundamentally not something that anyone else can have for you. So we take very seriously each person's responsibility to understand their own faith and to refine it. One of my favorite Unitarian Universalist sayings is "an unexamined faith is not worth having" — because a faith that you don't think about and come to own on a very personal level can be like the seeds that didn't take deep root. For me, believing something mostly because other people say I should is a failure to love God with my heart, my mind, and my strength.

Now some Unitarian Universalists will describe their personal faith in ways that really seem impossible to reconcile with things other Unitarian Universalists believe. For example, I'm a Christian Unitarian Universalist, which means that I try to live my life as a disciple of Jesus, trusting that his life can help me come to know God — but some of my UU friends describe themselves as atheists or humanists! At first this seems completely bizarre. But I have found that people who are genuinely interested in dialogue often learn a great deal from each other, and although I value the fellowship I can only have among other Christians, I also believe that other people have important insights on life and religion. I'm a Unitarian Universalist because I want to refine my own theology in conversation with other people who are trying to refine theirs, and my church helps me have those conversations.

The other thing I should add is that "Unitarian Universalist" really describes a federation of churches, almost like a related family of somewhat different faiths. There are Unitarian churches, and Universalist churches, and humanist churches, and more modern "Unitarian Universalist" churches — each one with its own history and worship style and beliefs. They all work together through the Unitarian Universalist Association, and they share those seven general principles, but they don't necessarily believe the same things. (The Association doesn't have the authority to tell the churches what to believe: We don't have a pope or prophet, and we don't believe that the Bible gives hard and fast answers to every question, so we don't give authority to some centralized place to determine what we believe. That's up to the members of each church, working respectfully with each other and their ministers.)

Each church has a responsibility for its own standard of beliefs — and so there are Christian Unitarian Universalist churches, and theistic churches (where people believe in God but may not regard themselves as Christians), and humanist churches (where people believe that human beings are the source of their own ultimate values and purposes), and even a handful of earth-centered-spirituality churches.

I wonder how you would respond.

Posted by Philocrites, July 14, 2004, at 05:44 PM | 24 comments

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Wallis: Rescue Christianity.

I have no idea how many of my readers pay attention to the articles I highlight in my Scrapbook. (The six most recent entries appear in the sidebar on the front page just below the Recent Comments.) So I'm highlighting one entry in particular: an op-ed in today's Boston Globe by Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis, "Recovering a Hijacked Faith."

"Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen," he writes, "and it's time to take it back. A misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place." I urge you to read his alternative.

Posted by Philocrites, July 13, 2004, at 06:33 PM | 2 comments

Does Unitarianism require unitarianism?

I'm elevating a comment Matthew Gatheringwater posted to my Guide to UU Blogs last week so we can discuss it in its own place. Matthew, responding to my friend Adam Tierney-Eliot's church, where Unitarian Universalists and trinitarian Congregationlists worship together, writes:

By coincidence, I've just read an article about your friend.

In it, he says something interesting to me: "'The majority of our members would describe themselves as being Christian,'" he says. 'Whether it's Trinitarian Christianity, or not, doesn't particularly play into our lives as a congregation.'"

Why do you think something that was important enough to fuel the Unitarian Controversy is now so unimportant as to be irrelevant to the lives of these (and I'd suppose many other) parishioners? Was Channing just wasting his time?

As a non-theist, it is not so very important to me whether the Christian God is imagined as one person or three, but Channing's Unitarian Christianity is still important to me because it represents a method of liberal religion I practice and hope to share. Liberal religionists don't believe something just because it is traditional, or convenient, or beautiful. We, like Channing, take seriously the Biblical admonition, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." To speak of Unitarian and Trinitarian theologies as irrelevant or somehow equivalent is to ignore not only centuries of struggle for the freedom to believe what we know to be true (and the freedom to not believe what we do not know is true), but also the lives of the people martyred for that cause. If proponents of unitarian theology have survived persecution, torture, execution, imprisonment, and communist suppression, what has happened to now make unitarianism irrelevant even to people who claim its name?

From my vantage point in a Unitarian Universalist seminary, I'd have to say that your friend's view of Unitarianism is not unusual. Even here, Unitarianism can be hard to find. I've been thinking about that a lot this week, a grieving over it, too. It seems to me I became a Unitarian and came to seminary because I worship truth but, when I got to Meadville Lombard, I was told I was worshipping the wrong god. Here, we are taught that Unitarian Universalists worship love. That is an entirely different religion!

I'm sure Adam will have plenty to say in response, but I'll add a word or two myself. First, the "Unitarian Controversy" was precipitated by conservatives who believed it was illegitimate for Christian ministers not to preach the doctrine of the Trinity. The liberals did not seek separation from their more conservative fellow church members and brother ministers; they believed it was perfectly possible for trinitarians and unitarians to be good Christians together. Channing even resisted the efforts that led to the formation of the American Unitarian Association because it struck him as "sectarian." So I think it is historically misleading to say that Channing and his peers were rallying to "unitarianism" when I think one can more successfully make the case that they were rallying to a liberal and broad-minded Christianity.

Second, Channing's method, which emphasized the rational and moral interpretation of scripture, is indeed a more important legacy than specific theological conclusions. In his own day, using the intellectual and religious resources available to him, he couldn't see how the doctrine of the Trinity — as it was being taught and used — was either moral or rational, and therefore he concluded that a belief in the Trinity was not a requirement of Christian faith. But is it especially more moral and rational today to reject all versions of the Trinity and to embrace a nineteenth-century doctrine of Divine Unity, simply because William Ellery Channing did? I can't see why it would be.

At King's Chapel in Boston, the idiosyncratic Anglican church which removed the Trinitarian doxology from its Book of Common Prayer in 1784, the aim was not to insist on unitarianism. Instead, the impulse was to purge non-scriptural doctrines from the worship so that Christians who held different theological opinions on matters that scripture left vague could worship together. The outcome, of course, was that most Christians who regarded the doctrine of the Trinity as a central element of the faith went elsewhere. But the impulse — to bring together people with diverse conceptualizations of their faith using worship language that could speak to all of them — remains a strong impulse in modern liberal religion.

"Trinitarianism" was, for the early Unitarians, at least partially a word for the ability of custodians of doctrinal orthodoxy to exclude people from the church. In much of mainline Protestantism in the United States today, the doctrine of the Trinity does not function this way. Certainly in the United Church of Christ — the denomination Adam's church is dually affiliated with — a Trinitarian is unlikely to imagine using the doctrine to chase Unitarians out the door.

Just as "Trinitarianism" served as a euphemism for arbitrary religious dogmatism, "Unitarianism" has been a euphemism for theological liberalism. Matthew, when you say that Unitarianism is hard to find in modern-day Unitarian Universalism (while nevertheless acknowledging that you are not a theist at all), are you expressing a yearning for a doctrine? Or are you wondering what happened to a dynamic and a method that you recognize in Channing? I suspect, although I'm not sure, that it's not the unipersonality of the deity that has a hold on your religious imagination.

It is simply the case that many Christians — and many Unitarian Universalists — do not find much meaning in the contested definitions of the nature of the godhead. Trinity or Unity? Frankly, many people do not care that much. Perhaps they should. But I suspect it is very possible to revere and find great meaning in Channing's work without agreeing with every one of his theological conclusions.

Posted by Philocrites, July 13, 2004, at 06:20 PM | 0 comments

Monday, July 12, 2004

Political ideologies in the UUA.

I've kicked off the July conversation at Coffee Hour, the Unitarian Universalist group blog, by asking what's wrong with the widely held notion that Unitarian Universalism is "The Democratic Party at prayer — or meditation." Find your political ideology among the options in this month's quiz, then grab a cup and join the conversation.

Posted by Philocrites, July 12, 2004, at 05:16 PM

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Scheduling an assassination.

This is outrageous:

The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce [high-value targets like Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar] by the election. . . .

A third source, an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed TNR that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"—the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

("July Surprise?" John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman, and Massoud Ansari, New Republic 7.19.04)

Posted by Philocrites, July 8, 2004, at 05:49 PM | 0 comments

Moral imagination.

Below you'll find the text of the sermon I preached yesterday at the Midweek Service at King's Chapel in Boston. I preached an expanded version two weeks ago at the First Unitarian Universalist Society in Middleborough, and a substantially different version at the First Parish in Concord and the First Church in Jamaica Plain last summer. In other words, what follows is the traveling sermon I've been taking around for the past year. I think I'm done developing this particular sermon, so here it is frozen in pixels for you to enjoy.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, July 8, 2004, at 05:26 PM | 2 comments

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Written any good new hymns?

Here's your chance to share them:

The deadline for submitting pieces for consideration for the UUA's New Hymn Resource project is approaching. A compilation of 60-75 pieces for congregational singing will be published by the UUA in June of 2005. The deadline for submitting pieces for consideration for this project is July 15 (date of receipt at the UUA).

The Task Force spearheading the project seeks fresh hymns, chants or songs that enliven worship; and music for marking the seasons in the lives of our congregations. This general description includes many types of music in genres including but not limited to: jazz, folk, pop, spirituals, gospel, praise songs, call-and-response, chants, rounds and traditional hymns. Topics should be UU-appropriate, and can be representative of one of the many areas of our devotional life.

The task force is especially interested in materials highlighting the spirituality of the BGLT community, earth-centered and non-Western theologies, both male and female spirituality, and the music of cultures traditionally under-represented in our communities. Also of interest is music for liturgical celebrations such as Water and Flower Communion services, Weddings, Funerals, Ordinations, RE events, Youth services, and the annual Canvass. . . .

Please note that the deadline for receiving submissions for consideration is July 15, and this deadline will not be extended.

For more information, visit the New Hymn Resource Task Force submission guidelines.

Posted by Philocrites, July 7, 2004, at 06:33 PM | 0 comments

Monday, July 5, 2004

America: We deport writers!

Yesterday's New York Times Book Review certainly dampened my July Fourth good feeling. Elena Lappin describes America's new response to writers from our most closely allied country:

Two months ago, I traveled from London to Los Angeles on assignment for a British paper, The Guardian, believing that as a British citizen I did not require a visa. I was wrong: as a journalist, even from a country that has a visa waiver agreement with the United States, I should have applied for a so-called I (for information) visa. Because I had not, I was interrogated for four hours, body searched, fingerprinted, photographed, handcuffed and forced to spend the night in a cell in a detention facility in central Los Angeles, and another day as a detainee at the airport before flying back to London. My humiliating and physically very uncomfortable detention lasted 26 hours.

And then there's the case of British novelist Ian McEwan (whose novel Enduring Love I especially like):

Laura Bush admires his books so much that he was invited to a lunch she had with Prime Minister Tony Blair at No. 10 Downing Street in the fall of last year. Several months later, when McEwan traveled to the United States via Canada to address an audience of 2,500 in Seattle, he was refused entry by American immigration officials at the Vancouver airport. (Their explanation was that his $5,000 honorarium was too high for him to qualify for the visa waiver program.) The 36-hour crisis — which would have resulted in his detention had it occurred on American instead of Canadian soil — was finally resolved with the help of British and American diplomats, members of Congress, journalists and immigration lawyers.

''We don't want to let you in, we don't think you should come in,'' McEwan recalls being told by an immigration official. ''But you have powerful allies and we don't like the publicity.'' McEwan began his Seattle talk by wryly thanking the Department of Homeland Security ''for protecting the American public from British novelists.''

Our government seems to have taken the aphorism "The pen is mightier than the sword" a bit too literally. There isn't an ounce of good sense in treating writers this way, even if there's some value in requiring a particular sort of visa. (Although I'm not convinced that there is.) Lappin concludes her essay by suggesting that "in the name of fighting terrorism, [the USA Patriot Act] has transformed a free, open, inimitably attractive democracy into something resembling an insular fortress of Kafkaesque absurdity." That makes me angry.

("Your country is safe from me," Elena Lappin, New York Times Book Review 7.5.04, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, July 5, 2004, at 12:34 PM | 1 comments

'Who is there to stop him?'

The Boston Globe reports:

Sifting through old classified materials in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, FBI translator Sibel Edmonds said, she made an alarming discovery: Intercepts relevant to the terrorist plot, including references to skyscrapers, had been overlooked because they were badly translated into English.

Edmonds, 34, who is fluent in Turkish and Farsi, said she quickly reported the mistake to an FBI superior. Five months later, after flagging what she said were several other security lapses in her division, she was fired. Now, after more than two years of investigations and congressional inquiries, Edmonds is at the center of an extraordinary storm over US classification rules that sheds new light on the secrecy imperative supported by members of the Bush administration.

In a rare maneuver, Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered that information about the Edmonds case be retroactively classified, even basic facts that have been posted on websites and discussed openly in meetings with members of Congress for two years. The Department of Justice also invoked the seldom-used ''state secrets" privilege to silence Edmonds in court. She has been blocked from testifying in a lawsuit brought by victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and was allowed to speak to the panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks only behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, the FBI has yet to release its internal investigation into her charges. And the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the bureau, has been stymied in its attempt to get to the bottom of her allegations. Now that the case has been retroactively classified, lawmakers are wary of discussing the details, for fear of overstepping legal bounds.

"I'm alarmed that the FBI is reaching back in time and classifying information it provided two years ago," Senator Charles E. Grassley, a Republican from Iowa and a leading advocate for Edmonds, said last Friday. "Frankly, it looks like an attempt to impede legitimate oversight of a serious problem at the FBI."

Edmonds, a naturalized US citizen who grew up in Turkey and Iran, said in an interview last week that the ordeal has made her grow disillusioned with the "magical system of checks and balances and separation of powers" that had made her so drawn to the United States. "What I came to see is that it exists only in name," Edmonds said. "Where is the oversight? Who is there to stop him [Ashcroft]?"

There's more . . . ("Translator in eye of storm on retroactive classification," Anne Kornblut, Boston Globe 7.5.04)

Update 7.8.04: Oh well:

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit yesterday by a whistle-blower who alleged security lapses in the FBI's translator program, ruling that her claims might expose government secrets that could damage national security.

US District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he was satisfied with claims by Attorney General John Ashcroft and a senior FBI official that the civil lawsuit by Sibel Edmonds could expose intelligence-gathering methods and disrupt diplomatic relations with foreign governments.

The judge said he couldn't explain further because his explanation itself would expose sensitive secrets. . . .

Edmonds said the judge dismissed her lawsuit without hearing evidence from her lawyers, although the government's lawyers met with Walton at least twice privately. She noted that Walton, the judge, was appointed by President Bush.

''This shows how the separation of power has basically disappeared," Edmonds said in a telephone interview. ''The judge ruled on this case without actually this ever being a case."

In his decision, Walton acknowledged that dismissing a lawsuit before the facts of the case can be heard is ''Draconian" and said he was throwing out the lawsuit ''with great consternation."

''Mindful of the need for virtual unfettered access to the judicial process in a governmental system integrally linked to the rule of law, the court nonetheless concludes that the government has properly invoked the state secrets privilege," Walton ruled.

Edmonds's lawyer, Mark S. Zaid, called the decision ''another example of the executive branch's abuse of secrecy to prevent accountability."

''The judiciary seems to be unwilling to do anything but capitulate to assertions of national security," Zaid said.

Nonetheless! Nonetheless! What are we talking about here? The pleasantly abstract thought that the rule of law might require actual court cases rather than John Ashcroft's say-so?

("Judge dismisses suit against FBI," Ted Bridis [AP], Boston Globe 7.7.04)

Update 7.30.04: Partial vindication?

A classified Justice Department investigation has determined that a whistle-blower's allegations of security lapses in the FBI's translator program were at least partly responsible for her firing, the bureau director told senators. . . .

The department's report concluded the FBI failed to adequately pursue Edmonds's allegation that her colleague committed espionage, [FBI Director Robert] Mueller wrote [July 21 to the Senate Judiciary Committee].

("FBI Translators' Allegations Involved in Firing, Report Says," Ted Bridis [AP], Boston Globe 7.30.04)

Update 1.15.05: And now the Justice Department has concluded that the FBI's response to Edmond's charges was "significantly flawed":

The FBI never adequately investigated complaints by a fired contract linguist who alleged shoddy work and possible espionage inside the bureau's translator program, although evidence and witnesses supported her, the Justice Department's senior oversight official said yesterday.

The bureau's response to complaints by former translator Sibel Edmonds was "significantly flawed," Inspector General Glenn Fine said in a report that summarized a lengthy classified investigation into how the FBI handled the case. Fine said Edmonds's contentions "raised substantial questions and were supported by various pieces of evidence." . . .

Senators Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said the FBI's review of Edmonds's allegations was unacceptable, especially after the espionage scandal involving Robert P. Hanssen, the FBI agent caught spying for Russia for more than a decade.

"The bureau has reflexively ignored and punished its whistle-blowers, to the detriment of the bureau's effectiveness and sometimes to the detriment of the public's safety," said Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

("FBI Faulted Over Linguist's Complaints," Ted Bridis [AP], Boston Globe 1.15.05)

Posted by Philocrites, July 5, 2004, at 12:07 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Render to Caesar...your church directory?

You've probably already heard about this, but I'm still catching up on my reading. Alan Cooperman reported in the Washington Post:

The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives.

Now, I'm not a purist about barring religion from public life and I don't think it's inappropriate for churches to address moral and political issues, but let's ponder this bit of Rovianism for a second. Do people expect their church directories to be forwarded on to political campaigns? Really? Would you consider sending yours? To Bush? To Nader? To Kerry? Do you suppose your fellow churchgoers would mind that you sent their names and addresses to the candidate of your choice? And doesn't this strike you as a bit of a blur on Jesus' admonition to render to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and render to God that which is God's?

Come on, folks: That's a "P" at the end of G.O.P., not a "D."

("Churchgoers get directions from Bush campaign," Alan Cooperman, Washington Post 7.1.04, reg req'd)

Update 7.6.04: The Baptist Press, the media arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, reports:

Southern Baptist church-state specialist Richard Land said he is “appalled” at an effort by President Bush’s re-election campaign that includes seeking possession of the membership directories of churches.

Bush-Cheney ’04 has provided coalition coordinators with a sheet asking them to give their church directories to the campaign, talk to church groups about the re-election effort and distribute “Voter Guides” in the churches. The instructions consist of 22 responsibilities and the deadlines by which they should be completed prior to the Nov. 2 election.

“I’m appalled that the Bush-Cheney campaign would intrude on a local congregation in this way,” said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “It’s one thing for the church to have a voter registration drive, to seek to inform church members on public policy issues, to encourage church members to fulfill their Christian duty and vote, and to encourage them to vote their values, beliefs and convictions. It’s another thing entirely for a partisan campaign to ask church members to bring in church directories for use as contact lists by the campaign and to seek to come into the church and do a voter registration drive and distribute campaign literature.”

A leader in the National Association of Evangelicals had a similar take.

It sounds like “an overzealous campaign worker ... stepped over the line of appropriate behavior,” said Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the NAE. “[W]hen party officials, whether Republican or Democrat, do that, it’s simply the obligation of church members to determine what is appropriate, ethical and legal and to say, ‘No.’”

("Land ‘appalled’ by Bush campaign strategy for churches," Tom Strode, BPNews 7.2.04; thanks, Jesus Politics!)

Posted by Philocrites, July 4, 2004, at 09:09 AM | 1 comments

Saturday, July 3, 2004

Pole to pole.

Chutney writes:

The "dry fundamentalist"—like the "dry drunk"—refuses to go through the painful process of healing. He still craves the certainty fix and the safety of an in-group of those also in the know. His likely landing place is scientism. He delights in deflating his old belief by force of his new, equally rigid, belief. And his new community, though far less organized, supports him in this. The poster of John Hagee or Francis Schaeffer is replaced with one of Carl Sagan or Steven Jay Gould. The subscription to Christianity Today replaced with Skeptic.


Posted by Philocrites, July 3, 2004, at 11:50 AM | 0 comments

Friday, July 2, 2004

Unbelievable, indeed.

The following words were set to apparently rousing music for the closing celebration at the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly on Monday evening. (I was out eating dinner at the time, and so missed this particular bit of GA.)

We don't believe in miracles,
We belong to 21st century worlds,
Free from myth and fantasy,
We live in full reality,
'mid the wonders of our technology,
Surely, surely creation's apogee.

And then, in Dan Harper's report of the event, we come across this unironic passage:

Hushed comments came from the audience throughout this third movement, with members of the audience saying things like, "That was unbelievable!"

Indeed it is! Whenever religious liberals say they "live in full reality" — unlike, say, other people mired in their pathetic myths and superstitions — I see a very lively expression of modern mythology.

I greatly prefer the Rev. David Rankin's view that "all religions, in every age and culture, possess not only an intrinsic merit, but also a potential value for those who have learned the art of listening."

Posted by Philocrites, July 2, 2004, at 06:12 PM | 8 comments

Challenges for gay marriage advocates.

Geov Parrish, writing for Working Assets's on-line progressive activism magazine WorkingForChange, looks closely at the serious concerns of gay-marriage opponents. Unlike some on the left, he doesn't just shout "Bigot!" and move on. He thinks opponents have some legitimate concerns — which gay marriage advocates can address if they put their minds to it. So check out "The Non-Fanatic Case Against Gay Marriage" (6.22.04).

The crux of the issue Parrish identifies is something I've flagged before: a liberal tendency to embrace a quasi-libertarian view of marriage — the "contract law model" — which regards marriage as little more than a private contract between two individuals rather than as a social institution in which the state and society have a legitimate stake. This view says that the state shouldn't show any preferences for one sort of relationship over any other, and that consequently, in the long run, "marriage" should be regarded as just one among a variety of equally valued relationship patterns, with no legally or socially distinctive status.

If you're looking for other approaches — and if you're a religious liberal, you really should — I recommend three sources as starting places:

If you find other good resources, let me know.

Posted by Philocrites, July 2, 2004, at 06:01 PM | 1 comments

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