Sunday, October 31, 2004
President Bush and Vice President Cheney enjoy mocking "Massachusetts liberals" and casting my state as the scene of all sorts of anti-traditional behaviors. So it was with no small amount of joy that I read William V. D'Antonio's op-ed in the Globe this morning. Let's see: What does "Massachusetts liberalism" really mean in terms of family values?
The state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation is Massachusetts. At latest count it had a divorce rate of 2.4 per 1,000 population, while the rate for Texas was 4.1.
But don't take the US government's word for it. Take a look at the findings from the George Barna Research Group. George Barna, a born-again Christian whose company is in Ventura, Calif., found that Massachusetts does indeed have the lowest divorce rate among all 50 states. More disturbing was the finding that born-again Christians have among the highest divorce rates.
The Associated Press, using data supplied by the US Census Bureau, found that the highest divorce rates are to be found in the Bible Belt. The AP report stated that "the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average of 4.2 per thousand people." The 10 Southern states with some of the highest divorce rates were Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. By comparison nine states in the Northeast were among those with the lowest divorce rates: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
How to explain these differences? The following factors provide a partial answer:
At the First Parish in Concord today, my minister said he knew being a Red Sox fan was a religion when his reaction to Curt Schilling's Good Morning, America endorsement of President Bush was that Schilling was violating the separation of church and state!
(At the end of his sermon — which was a good old New England Election Day sermon — he said, "I'm Reverend Gary Smith, and I approve this message." We all laughed heartily.)
I see that Theo Epstein and John Henry have decided to cancel out Curt Schilling's endorsement with some campaiging of their own. At least there's diversity in the Church of the Redsoxians!
Editor & Publisher, which covers the newspaper business, has been keeping track of editorial page endorsements in the presidential race. Endorsement season ended today, the Sunday before Election Day. And what did we learn this year? Among the findings:
- Most newspapers' endorsements usually go Republican. After all, the editorials in a newspaper reflect the views of not just the editorial writers but also the publishers — businessmen whose views often coincide with the Republican Party's business wing. But not this year: Kerry has been endorsed by 206 editorial pages; Bush has been endorsed by 166.
- "In the past, major metros tended to split right down the middle, but Kerry has carried them by about a 5-3 margin this year."
- The circulation of papers backing Kerry is approximately 20 million; pro-Bush papers have a readership of approximately 14 million.
- 43 papers that backed Bush in 2000 have switched to Kerry this year.
- 16 papers that backed Bush in 2000 have declared neutrality this year.
- Only 7 papers that endorsed Al Gore in 2000 are backing Bush this year.
On Monday, E&P will publish a complete list of endorsements. Meanwhile, the two endorsements I most strongly second are from two "liberal hawk" publications that largely embraced Bush's initial arguments for invading Iraq but that have now become sharply critical of the president's handling of the war: The New Republic and The New Yorker (which has never before endorsed a presidential candidate).
Update 11.1.04: With today's editorials, Kerry has been endorsed by 208 daily newspapers (circulation 20,791,336) and Bush has been endorsed by 166 (circulation 14,455,046).
What a bunch of statesmen we have in Washington:
"We want people to think 'terrorism' for the last four days," said a Bush-Cheney campaign official. "And anything that raises the issue in people's minds is good for us."
A senior GOP strategist added, "anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush."
He called it "a little gift," saying it helps the President but doesn't guarantee his reelection.
A few sites that will help you vote on Tuesday — plus a few that will help you help others to remember to vote, too!
- My Polling Place helps you find the place to be on November 2. (Sponsored by People for the American Way.)
- Project Vote Smart compares the candidates on your ballot in state, congressional, and presidential races. (I just learned that Dick Cheney will appear on my ballot as "Richard Bruce Cheney." Who knew!) The site is more helpful in comparing positions in statewide races, since neither President Bush nor Senator Kerry responded to the organization's request for answers to policy questions. Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters' DemocracyNet is very easy to navigate and helps you locate information about all the races for state and national offices on your ballot.
- FactCheck.org analyzes claims from each presidential campaign and explains their divergences from the truth. (Sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.)
- The Interfaith Alliance has put together a helpful list of things you can do to help get out the vote on Tuesday. Another project that a reader has brought to my attention is Voter Call, "a non-partisan campaign to mobilize over one million young, low income and minority voters," enables you to sign up to make get-out-the-vote phone calls from the comfort of your own home on Tuesday. (Sponsored by the National Council of Churches, Res Publica, Rock the Vote, and the November 2 Campaign.)
I'll add other sites as I find them.
Update 11.1.04: Additional tips from Electoral Vote Predictor:
- Find out today where your polling place is by calling your county clerk or checking www.mypollingplace.com
- Alternatively, call 1-866-MYVOTE1 to find your polling place.
- Check the hours the polls are open with your city or county clerk.
- Print the League of Women Voters' card in English or Spanish and put it in your wallet or purse.
- Bring a government-issued picture ID like a driver's license or passport when you vote. Some states require it but if there are problems, you will certainly need it. If you have a cell phone, take it to call for help if need be.
- As you enter the polls, note if there is an Election Protection person outside the polling place.
- If you are not on listed as a registered voter, try to register on the spot. Some states allow that. Otherwise, talk to the Election Protection person if there is one or call 1-866-OUR-VOTE for instructions. If neither of these helps, ask for a provisional ballot, but you will need a picture ID to get one.
Those of you who know me in person and who have a paper copy of today's New York Times can chuckle along with Mrs Philocrites: The guy depicted in the bottom right corner of the Week in Review section — he's wearing an orange T-shirt, blue jeans, a red goatee and glasses, and is sitting at his laptop ("My Blog," it says) with a stack of magazines on both sides — looks suspiciously like me, except, of course, that I'm never scowling. Philocrites is a 100% smiling blog.
Saturday, October 30, 2004
William Saletan writes:
The only thing that keeps a clear majority of us from recognizing Bush as the worst president in memory is that history has graced him with such an ugly adversary. Bush hasn't had to do anything well. All he's had to do is point out that he's on your side and that the guy on the other side is a mass-murdering lunatic. For a blissful month and a half, we managed to cut through that shtick and notice how badly Bush has run the country. Now Bin Laden has brought the shtick back. Bush can talk about his values instead of his record. He can stop running against John Kerry and go back to running against people who hate America and murder children. . . .
[Bush and bin Laden] turn out to be well-matched. Bin Laden pisses people off and drives them into the arms of Bush. Bush pisses people off and drives them into the arms of Bin Laden. Bush keeps Bin Laden in business; Bin Laden keeps Bush in office. With clear intentions and lousy judgment, Bin Laden has shown up on the eve of our election, full of the same impenetrable self-assurance Pat Robertson noticed in Bush. No doubt Bin Laden hopes to assist, or at least take credit for, the president's defeat. And no doubt the results will be counterproductive. I just hope they aren't counterproductive enough, because this is one codependent relationship the world can't afford.
("Can Bin Laden Keep Bush in Office?' William Saletan, Slate 10.30.04)
Who is Bin Laden campaigning for?
Update 11.1.03: Counterterrorism expert Daniel Benjamin writes:
By putting his bloody fingerprints on the election, Bin Laden has positioned himself for some bold post-Nov. 2 propaganda. If John Kerry wins, the Saudi will surely claim credit for regime change in the United States, much as jihadists have gloated about the fall of the Spanish government after the Madrid train bombings in March. If George W. Bush is re-elected, Bin Laden will crow to the Muslim world that the electoral results confirm what he has been saying all along: The American people are determined to inflict harm on Muslims, occupy their lands, and destroy Islam. They've reaffirmed it, he will say, by re-electing the man who invaded Iraq.
No doubt Bin Laden enjoyed brandishing the threat of another "Manhattan," as he calls 9/11, in our faces, but Americans aren't the primary audience for this tape, however instinctively we imagine that we are. For Bin Laden right now, Muslim viewers are the key targets. He aims to persuade them to recognize his role in the election as a way of bolstering his claim to be the true leader of the umma, the global community of believers. (That helps explain why he showed up in robes instead of fatigues and behind a podium instead of on a desolate mountainside. It's hard to play the role of caliph of 1.2 billion people if everyone knows you're stuck in a cave in Waziristan.)
("Osama's Campaign Commercial," Daniel Benjamin, Slate 10.31.04)
The rector of Mrs Philocrites' church in Cambridge explains: "I have left the Episcopal church." He's now a Redsoxian. (Note to the zealous: He's kidding. Sort of.)
I watched the Red Sox victory parade from an almost perfect spot: The northeast side of the Longfellow Bridge, directly above the duck-boats' route up the Charles River. They did seem to take forever to get into the water — we heard the roar from the street-side crowd and could see the very tops of the boats as they traveled up the road past Mass General Hospital, but then we waited a good 45 minutes before the boats came churning up the river from the Museum of Science dam. The crowd on the Boston shore successfully got the wave going up onto the bridge while we waited, although I couldn't see whether it kept going all the way over to Cambridge. And when the boats finally came by, seven or eight guys stripped down to their boxers and hurled themselves out into the river from the bank: a curious sort of homage! (Update: Here's a boston.com photo taken from very near my position on the bridge.)
Alarmingly, some dolt threw a baseball directly at Pedro Martinez as his boat came by. I couldn't believe what I was seeing when the ball hit him right in the head. It took a second to realize what had happened, and then a lot of us booed whoever threw it. (I'd guess the boat was 50 yards from the bridge when he was hit, and maybe only 15 yards from the shore.) Pedro, who was perched up almost on the roof of the duck boat when he was hit, was holding his head as the boat passed directly under us. Later, I walked over to the Cambridge side and saw the boats come back along the Cambridge shore; Pedro, who may have had a towel on his head, was smiling and waving again, so I don't think he was very badly injured. I hope that fan got a black eye or two for his stupidity.
Even though the day was misty and cool, every last person was grinning ear to ear. The Red Line trains stopped midway across the Longfellow Bridge so passengers could watch the boats go by, and the train conductors blew their horns and waved out the windows at people like cheerleaders. One man came up to me and called his wife to come over to see the button I was wearing: "I gotta feeling!" the button reads, with a picture of John Kerry superimposed on the Red Sox logo; "This is our year!" "I hope so," the guy said. "I hope so!"
Friday, October 29, 2004
Lunchtime blogging on Day Three of the New Era: The Dropkick Murphys are performing on a stage in front of the Massachusetts State House outside my office for a quickly growing crowd of jubilant Red Sox fans. Five guys have pulled up the "Go Sox!" banner that has hung from the State House for the past two weeks, and are positioned to unfurl a new congratulatory banner. Two Air Force jets fly overhead. My Boston Globe "Let's Go Sox" sign is in the window facing the crowd. Some guy is waving a green and yellow broom in the air! And now there's the "World Champs" banner unfurling down the front of the State House, introduced by "Catcher's Mitt" Romney, who's now declaring the week of October 20th "Red Sox Week. (And there was much rejoicing.) And now Romney introduces Jason Varitek. (Guy with broom is waving madly.) And now MVP Manny gives a good word to much rejoicing, and then turns it back over to the new Speaker of the House, who blathers on as any of us would do: "Reverse the curse! Etc." And now it's the Dropkick Murphys again. For once, those of us who work near the State House can listen to bagpipes accompanied by electric bass and drums; usually it's just police bagpipers playing the same-old same-old. Life is good in the New Era.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Was it tonight's full moon? Or the lunar eclipse? The lucky penny in the Fenway beer stand? The kid who lives in Babe Ruth's house who got bloodied? Or was it just a bunch of great players who wouldn't be stopped? (My sentimental favorite on the team: Trot Nixon, who was the first guy to hit a homerun in the first game I attended at Fenway Park. Great doubles tonight! Trot, this fan never doubted you.) The greeting we've all been using in Boston this week — "Go Sox!" — may just need to become the new way Bostonians say hello and goodbye. Go Sox!
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
For several days now, an unprecedented flood of traffic has come Philocrites' way. The reason? My post, "Christians for Kerry," comes up first in Google searches for "Christians for Kerry," even though I think people are really looking for Christians for Kerry/Edwards or People of Faith for Kerry-Edwards. (Several hundred people have found my post via Google and other search engines.) So, friends, we might as well take advantage of the ranking. If you are a Christian who plans to vote for John Kerry next Tuesday, please feel free to add your testimonial — or a link to your endorsement or favorite endorsement — in the comments at "Christians for Kerry." I've closed the comments on this post to ensure that some of us don't accidentally leave testimonials here.
Posted by Philocrites, October 27, 2004, at 06:29 PM
Monday, October 25, 2004
Here are some extended passages from Senator Kerry's speech yesterday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen called "perhaps the most overtly religious speech of the campaign by either candidate." (The photograph shows Kerry speaking earlier in the day at a church in Fort Lauderdale.)
For me, this campaign is about more than a set of policies; it is about a set of ideals: fairness and opportunity, stewardship and community, concern for the middle class and the poor, and the on-going struggle for the security of our nation and a more peaceful world.
So today, I want to share with you my vision for America and the values that inspire it. . . . I want to talk about the foundations of belief and commitment that brought me to public service, that have sustained me in the best and worst of times, and that I will carry with me everyday as president.
It all began with my parents who, in addition to making sure I learned and lived my faith, also taught me at an early age that we are all put on this earth for something greater than ourselves. What they taught me was truly put to the test when I was in Vietnam. Faith was as much a part of our daily lives as the battle itself. Some of my closest friends were killed. I prayed. And I even questioned how all the terrible things I’d seen fit into God’s plan.
But I got through it. I came home with a sense of hope and a belief in a higher purpose. For more than 30 years, as a soldier, a prosecutor, a senator, and now as a candidate for president, I have tried to live that belief. And for the past two years, I have had the privilege of meeting people like you all across this land — people who love their families, love their country, and are determined to build a better life for their kids. . . .
In the Book of James we are taught: “It is not enough, my brother to say you have faith when there are no deeds. . . . Faith without works is dead.”
For me, that means having and holding to a vision of a society of the common good, where individual rights and freedoms are connected to our responsibility to others. It means understanding that the authentic role of leadership is to advance the liberty of each of us and the good that can come to all of us, when we work together as one united community.
Catholics call this solidarity. We simply mean that as children of the same God, we share a common destiny. We express our humanity by reaching out to our fellow citizens, and indeed, to all our brothers and sisters in this country and on this earth. It means that the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties are not felt in isolation, they are shared by all. The anxieties of hard-pressed families are as much in our hearts as those who enjoy much more comfort. . . .
My faith, and the faith I have seen in the lives of so many Americans, also teaches me that, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” That means we have a moral obligation to one another, to the forgotten, and to those who live in the shadows. This is a moral obligation at the heart of all our great religious traditions. It is also the vision of America: “E Pluribus Unum.” The ethical test of a good society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. . . .
The Bible tells us that in others we encounter the face of God: “I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you received me in your homes; naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” This is the final judgment of who we are and what our life will mean.
I believe we must keep faith, not only with the Creator, but also with present and future generations. . . .
I know there are some Bishops who have suggested that as a public official I must cast votes or take public positions — on issues like a woman’s right to choose and stem cell research — that carry out the tenets of the Catholic Church. I love my Church; I respect the Bishops; but I respectfully disagree.
My task, as I see it, is not to write every doctrine into law. That is not possible or right in a pluralistic society. But my faith does give me values to live by and apply to the decisions I make. . . .
My faith gives me hope that we will come together and rise to that challenge. I believe we will find the strength to live out the words of President Kennedy that, “Here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”
This isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican. It’s about bringing Democrats and Republicans together for a higher purpose. It’s about the principles that have made America a land of opportunity and compassion — and a beacon to all the world. It’s about that dream of “liberty and justice for all” — the vision that defines our destiny and our mission. We will never fully finish that journey — not on this earth. But let us move forward with a strong and active faith. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side.
So I ask all of you — Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, faithful and less faithful — to pray together that God guide this nation in the decision we make nine days from now.
So how do you — and how should we — assess the legitimacy of this political theology? It strikes me as a theology of service, active empathy, social responsibility, and ultimate humility — themes consonant with my own religious commitments and with mainstream American values. Of course, Tom Beaudoin would say that these words are purely calculated to appeal to religious voters and that religious language shouldn't be used in political campaigns, but I think they do give us real benchmarks to measure Kerry's commitments and actions against.
In the process of banning yet another comment spammer, I've somehow broken my spam blacklist. This may require shutting down comments, since I have almost no time to administer the site this week. If you do have a comment you'd like to make, and you discover that I have indeed shut down the comments feature, please e-mail me, and I'll add your comment manually. This is also to say that you may not find much new content here through Election Day. (Schilling-Kerry in '04! That about sums it up.)
Update: I've fixed the spam blacklist. Somehow one of the files had been corrupted and the blacklist had to be recreated from scratch.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Tom Beaudoin, assistant professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University, wants politicians to stop talking about religion. I think Beaudoin's proposal is misguided.
The reasons I want Bush and Kerry to keep quiet about their faith are religious in nature. Why? It comes down to this: Today a public confession of faith by a presidential candidate is so deeply enmeshed in the calculating politics of manipulation that it simply should not be believed. Anyone who thinks a modern major-party candidate can talk about faith in a way that is not seen as angling for some political advantage, some movement in the polls, is asking the impossible.
The problem with political speech is not that it's calculated but that the rest of us aren't critically engaged with it. Beaudoin takes an overly cynical view of politics by saying that political speech, because it is calculated, makes anything a politician says essentially unbelievable. Does he think this phenomenon extends only to politicians' religious statements? The problem isn't just that you can't take a politician's piety seriously; you shouldn't take anything at face value. Does this mean that politicians are all just a bunch of liars? I think a much wiser course than embracing this sort of cynicism is to take what politicians say critically: Do their words accurately reflect their actions and commitments? Do they connect with what we know of the world? And, from a religious perspective, do their words seem rooted in the best instincts of a religious tradition or in its distortions?
Since politicians are rhetoricians — and since politicians in a democracy are trying to persuade voters, who are no more pure in heart or disinteresed than the politicians are — they will use the rhetoric that connects their own goals with the aspirations of voters. Invariably, and whether they use conventionally religious words to do it, they will be speaking religiously because they are speaking about such important things as the purposes and values of our civilization and nation. Politicians may be drawing on a false theology, applying symbols in an idolatrous way (like Bush's gross misapplication of the "wonder-working power" symbol to the nation itself) — they may be speaking in bad faith — but it is the role of theologians and critics to point out the difference between good and bad faith. Beaudoin seems uncomfortable with his role, and so he punts.
Theologians can and should critique the idolatries of the powerful: that's what real prophets do. A theological critic of the political uses of religion will always have plenty of work — and shouldn't try to put himself or herself out of business. If religion is about people's ultimate commitments (as Paul Tillich argued), then as long as people experience ultimate commitment in politics, as they most certainly will, we need theologians to point out that religion — faith — is at work. And we need theologians to point out that faith isn't benign, but that it motivates for good and evil and needs interpretation, critical examination, and redirection to the things that God wants of us.
At the very end of his op-ed, Beaudoin does offer a bit of theological criticism:
Jesus knew that mere talk about faith could be cheap. That's why he sardonically said something that everyone who hears faith-chatter during this campaign season should remember: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." What does it mean to do this will? A little later in the same Gospel of Matthew, Jesus clarifies: Live generously in relationship to the least among us.
If only he had applied this standard to the politicians rather than ask why they weren't applying it to themselves. I'd suggest that one role of a theologian in a liberal democracy isn't to shame politicians out of using religiously resonant words or to insist that politicians turn themselves into theologians and evangelists, but to show voters how our deepest symbols and most enduring religious traditions call all of us not to partisan arrogance but to the critical work of social and individual repentance.
Sam Allis thinks we Red Sox fans — and, by extension, all of greater Boston — must finally confront our deepest vice:
Victimhood is the most seductive, self-indulgent of feelings. It breeds sloth and failure. It is the mother of all excuses whenever a challenge looms too large. For Bostonians, victimhood has been a fun house mirror that has warped our true reflection. In it, we appear in every shape but the right one.
The Sox have performed an act of public service by demolishing our enduring symbol of victimhood, the Curse of the Bambino. We can now call it by its secular name: close-but-no-cigar baseball. Also known as not-quite-good-enough baseball. And life-isn't-fair baseball. That's all it ever was.
Ah, the demystifying powers of victory! But are we ready to live in a disenchanted world? Would a World Series championship really provide a cathartic liberation from generations of cursedness? Can we Bostonians live in the moment, and not in a perpetual state of historical grievance? Can this city be redeemed? Will we recognize ourselves once 1918 has been banished as an existential condition and excuse? Underdog: that's almost ontological, almost "original sin"-like.
Allis thinks it's time for a new persona:
Was there ever a better underdog than the Sox? The Cubbies notwithstanding, no. We luxuriated in The Unfairness of It All and, over the years, felt it grow as comfy as an old flannel shirt.
Now, the Sox are simply a great team. Now, Boston is simply the hometown of a great team. Neither can be judged anymore through tired metaphors. New York is no longer Boston's daddy.
Huh. No more "Hub of the Universe"? Now it's just "Simply Boston"? That's so quotidian! And yet, for a World Series championship, why not? Allis doesn't propose a new modesty, though:
The city, by the way, has never considered itself a winner. An aristocrat, yes, but not a winner. It has preened over its treasure of brains and culture, sophistication and history, yet lacked the appropriate chutzpah to go with it. Sort of the Adlai Stevenson of cities. [Ha ha! Unitarian!]
With the recent exception of the Patriots, Boston has never displayed the swagger of a place with all the marbles at the end of a season. Even when our Celtics and Bruins were great, our peculiar elixir of arrogance and insecurity simply denied our pride access to our DNA. Boston arrogance derived from Puritan arrogance — pinched, tight, unfun. (That's why Brahmins consume so much gin.) We never afforded ourselves a loose swagger, and we've been the poorer for it.
A Boston swagger. That will be something to see. Three hundred seventy-odd years of Puritanism finally banished. Or perhaps we have been redeemed, liberated, and freed. Johnny is my homeboy! Alleluia! Why, I can almost feel myself swaggering now.
("Sob-storied History," Sam Allis, Boston Globe 10.24.04)
Friday, October 22, 2004
Who would have guessed?
Supporters of President Bush are less knowledgeable about the president's foreign policy positions and are more likely to be mistaken about factual issues in world affairs than voters who back John F. Kerry, a survey released yesterday indicated.
A large majority of self-identified Bush voters polled believe Saddam Hussein provided "substantial support" to Al Qaeda, and 47 percent believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the US invasion. Among the president's supporters, 57 percent queried think international public opinion favors Bush's reelection, and 51 percent believe that most Islamic countries support "US-led efforts to fight terrorism."
No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, the Sept. 11 Commission found no evidence of substantial Iraqi support for Al Qaeda, and international public opinion polls have shown widespread opposition to Bush's reelection.
In contrast, among Kerry supporters polled only 26 percent think Iraq had such weapons, 30 percent say Iraq was linked to Al Qaeda, and 1 percent said foreign public opinion favors Bush.
("Divide Seen in Voter Knowledge," Alan Wirzbicki, Boston Globe 10.22.04)
Update 2:04pm: Kaimi at Tutissima Cassis thinks ignorance cuts both ways.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
What am I doing this Saturday? Why, I'm spending it in beautiful New Hampshire talking to my fellow citizens as they try to decide which way to vote on November 2. Signing up was easy as can be — and because I told the campaign that I have space in my car for other volunteers, they've put me in touch with volunteers who need a ride. You can do it, too.
Hoo boy! Read Ayelish McGarvey's bold evisceration of the claim that George W. Bush is a model Christian. Why, McGarvey claims, there's hardly any evidence that Bush is a Christian at all:
Bush does not demonstrate a life of faith by his actions, and neither Methodists, evangelicals, nor fundamentalists can rightly call him brother. In fact, the available evidence raises serious questions about whether Bush is really a Christian at all.
Ironically for a man who once famously named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher during a campaign debate, it is remarkably difficult to pinpoint a single instance wherein Christian teaching has won out over partisan politics in the Bush White House. Though Bush easily weaves Christian language and themes into his political communication, empty religious jargon is no substitute for a bedrock faith. Even little children in Sunday school know that Jesus taught his disciples to live according to his commandments, not simply to talk about them a lot. In Bush’s case, faith without works is not just dead faith — it’s evangelical agitprop[.] . . .
Once and for all: George W. Bush is neither born again nor evangelical. As Alan Cooperman reported in The Washington Post last month, the president has been careful never to use either term to describe his faith. . . .
And though Bush is not an evangelical, he certainly talks like one. As has been often noted, Bush effortlessly speaks the language of the born again, and his remarks are loaded with subliminal messages to the nation’s 60 million white evangelicals. Ironically, the theology embedded in this language is not even the president’s own — it belongs to Michael Gerson, Bush’s crack speechwriter, himself a devout Christian and a graduate of Wheaton College, the “evangelical Harvard.” Far too often, though, the press confuses Gerson’s words with Bush’s beliefs.
("As God Is His Witness," Ayelish McGarvey, American Prospect Online 10.19.04)
For Christians who sense that perhaps Bush isn't the automatic choice for people of faith, here are a few other essays worth considering; those from religious magazines are indicated by tradition:
- "Analyzing the President's Theology," Bruce Lincoln, Christian Century [Mainline Protestant] 10.5.04
- "The Case for Kerry," Thomas Higgins, Commonweal [Roman Catholic] 10.8.04
- "Empty Pew: Why W. Doesn't Go to Church," Amy Sullivan, New Republic 10.11.04
- "None of the Above: Why I Won't Be Voting for President," Mark Noll [Evangelical], Christian Century [Mainline Protestant] 9.21.04
- "Of God, and Man, in the White House," Fritz Ritsch [Presbyterian], Washington Post 3.2.03
- "Our Magical President," Jeff Sharlet, The Revealer 10.17.04
- "A Prolife Case Against Bush," Sidney Callahan, Commonweal [Roman Catholic] 6.4.04
- "The Politics of Piety," Amy Sullivan, Sojourners [Evangelical] 11.04
- "Why I'm Sitting This One Out," Paul J. Griffiths, Commonweal [Roman Catholic] 10.8.04
I'll add others as I remember them — and be sure to visit Jesus Politics for even more.
How do I know I could never be a sports writer? Let me count the ways!
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Boston 6, New York 0 — and we're only in the second inning. What is this strange emotion?
The Public Information Office at the Unitarian Universalist Association has opened an on-line Press Room with resources for the media. Although the rest of us may also appreciate knowing how to find press releases and a UUA media kit, the most significant resource for Unitarian Universalists is the index to recent media coverage.
Of course, you will also want to become familiar with Google's news search function: Here's a link to Google's automated collection of recent news articles with references to Unitarian or Universalist people, places, and events. You can even sign up to have the news delivered by e-mail.
Mrs Philocrites forwards an amusing illustrated guide to the Windsor Report from the droll UK Christian blog The Wibsite. (Click, then scroll down.) I'd recommend some serious reading about the Anglican Communion's latest via media, too, but I've been so preoccupied by the comeback of a certain baseball team that I'm not much good for commentary.
Monday, October 18, 2004
Near the end of Sunday morning's front-page Boston Globe article about disgruntled New England Episcopalians and their four new house churches come these intriguing paragraphs:
The four new congregations are in Orleans, Forestdale — a village of Sandwich — and in Durham and Rochester, N.H.
"Minneapolis [where Robinson's election was approved] was the straw the broke the camel's back, a manifestation of the low view of Scripture and the creeping Unitarian-Universalism in the Episcopal Church," said Gerry Dorman, who left his parish, Holy Spirit in Orleans, to become senior warden of the new Anglican Church of the Resurrection.
The new church had been holding Friday afternoon prayer services since [Gene] Robinson's election, and began holding Sunday worship in June. Dorman said the congregation, which meets in his house, has 15 or 16 members, and has had visiting Episcopal priests from Connecticut, Virginia and Pennsylvania, but also has had non-Episcopal clergy preside. "We tried to stay inside for a long time, but we were left with no hope."
Members of the Forestdale congregation, called the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, expressed similar sentiments. "We are the people that did not leave because of prayer book changes, did not leave because of the ordination of women, but the Episcopal Church is becoming more like Unitarians," said Edward Wirtanen of West Barnstable.
("Group Quits Episcopal Church Over Gay Bishop," Michael Paulson, Boston Globe 10.17.04)
These comments are interesting on many levels — including Unitarian Universalism's role as a bogeyman — but one thing that jumps out at me is that the new orthodox Anglican church in Orleans (where creeping Unitarian Universalism has been decisively turned back) is just up the road from the fastest-growing Unitarian Universalist congregation in the northeast: First Parish Brewster. Sandwich (the location of the other Anglican house church) is 20 miles closer to the mainland, and is nearer the mid-sized Unitarian Church in Barnstable. Has the public visibility of these UU churches (and their smaller fellow churches on the Cape) somehow influenced the reactions of conservative Episcopalians to their parishes and denomination? Sociologically, quite probably; theologically, I doubt it.
Don't blame us for your liberalism.
So here's a vain attempt to separate out a convenient stereotype from the intellectual genealogy of modern liberal Protestantism. Since we Unitarian Universalists are perceived as having fallen off the left-most edge of American Protestantantism — and because we have demonstrated a knack for indulging all sorts of peculiar and short-lived fads — we serve the conservative imagination as a convenient warning against the liberalization of theology and practice. We occupy the spot on the map that says, "Here be dragons!" Of course, you can find theological modernists, political liberals, and biblical non-literalists all over the Christian landscape in the U.S. — people who understand Christianity as a profound and rich religious tradition that can also evolve and grow in dynamic, forthright engagement with the democratic, scientific, pluralistic modern world — and you can even find "relativists" and "pluralists" lurking in orthodox churches across this fair land. But when you point to the Unitarian Universalists, those tendencies intensify and turn into The Beast.
It's a pity that we play this role, because it misrepresents the sources and motives of much Protestant liberalism and misrepresents Unitarian Universalism's relationship to contemporary Protestant liberalism. Until the mid- to late-nineteenth century, Unitarian liberalism did serve as a vanguard, but increasingly — since the time of Horace Bushnell, in fact, way back in the 1860s — more influential varieties of liberalism have shaped American Protestant thought without much direct help from the Unitarians. Social and intellectual trends that Unitarians drove in the early republic moved well beyond the Unitarian churches after the Civil War; by the end of the century, Unitarians themselves were responding to (and following) broader social and intellectual trends. They ceased to be the intellectual or even the theological vanguard — and I don't see the faintest glimmer of a chance that we'll ever reclaim the role. And yet the myth persists: It flatters UU vanity — and it gives enemies of liberalism a handy and often silly diversionary target.
Back in the 1820s, the great Unitarian preacher William Ellery Channing thought he was reading the New Testament with greater fidelity to the morality and rationality of God than were the "Orthodox." A century later, theologian James Luther Adams noted that Unitarians had become so used to thinking of themselves as riding a wave of progress that they simply expected the rest of Protestantism to follow in their wake. And by the 1930s, Adams observed, his fellow Unitarians were almost completely unprepared for history's sharp turn away from them in the rise of movements as diverse as existentialism, fundamentalism, totalitarianism, fascism, anti-religious scientism, and theological neo-orthodoxy. These non-liberal or anti-liberal trends took the Unitarians by surprise, and I often think we haven't yet developed a way to acknowledge how tangential our particular stream has become. Our liberalism is not only different from the liberalism that soldiers on in other traditions but it may not even be the most helpful variety available. It certainly does not represent the only novel or progressive developments in Western religious thought. (Consider liberation theology, narrative theology, "radical Orthodoxy," post-liberal, and post-modern theological movements.) Confronted with powerful illiberal movements in politics and religion, UUs haven't lately shown much creativity in responding. ("Oh, no!" is not a creative response, honest as it may be.) Nonetheless, because we play the role of The Beast, others can point to us as the culmination of whatever theological trend they fear — even if we can take no credit for it — and we, stuck in our upward-and-onward doctrine of history, go right along thinking of ourselves as the "more liberal" tradition on every issue as history heads off in other directions.
For a very tangible sense of how marginal Unitarian and Universalist expressions of Protestant liberalism have become, pick up the first two volumes of Gary Dorrien's masterful history of American liberal religious thought, The Making of American Liberal Theology. The Unitarians dominate the first section of the volume about the nineteenth century but do not appear at all in the volume dedicated to the period from 1900 to 1950. (James Luther Adams is the only major theologian from the Unitarian tradition who will appear in the projected third volume.) I point to Dorrien's work because if you really want to understand the roots of Protestant liberal theology in America today, looking to the Unitarian Universalists is an intellectual cop-out.
"Creeping Unitarian Universalism" is not what threatens conservatives in other Christian churches. Unfortunately for you, my conservative friends, liberalism is much broader and much deeper than the phenomenon we celebrate over here in our tiny, marginal faith community of Unitarian Universalists. I'd like my fellow UUs to show more interest in the varieties of liberalism — especially those that aren't hostile to historical traditions — because it isn't really helping anybody for us to be proud of being a vanguard that few follow. More helpful, for us and for the broader Christian community, would be a Unitarian Universalism that saw its relationship to other forms of Protestant liberalism fraternally rather than paternally. Who knows? Maybe someday it won't be an insult when a Unitarian Universalist complains of "creeping Episcopalianism." We might come to assume that the Holy Spirit may be speaking to us through each other, if we could learn sufficient humility to listen.
With all the talk lately about studies of the effects of intercessory prayer, I can't help but think — as I sit here trying not to die of Red Sox-related anxiety — that some enterprising scientists ought to be focused on Fenway Park right now. I'm watching intercessory prayers of the purest intensity each time the TV cameras focus in on the fans. (And it's the thirteenth inning! Does that cancel out the prayers?)
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Ron Suskind's cover story in the New York Times Magazine deserves your immediate attention. For one thing, President Bush is really giving "faith" a bad name:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
Bush's "faith" — I'd call it brutal credulity, since it's about as thin a sort of religious devotion as I've encountered — isn't only at war with the "reality-based community." It's also intent on marking a dividing line between "true" Americans and, well, folks like me:
And for those who don't get it [i.e., Bush's "faith"]? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. ''You think he's an idiot, don't you?'' I said, no, I didn't. ''No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!'' In this instance, the final ''you,'' of course, meant the entire reality-based community.
Of course, the people in the "big, wide middle" of the country — which isn't really a place so much as a state of mind — are being had by this president's outrageously misplaced faith. And Jeff Sharlet observes how barely Christian it is: It's not faith in Jesus or faith in God that Bush talks about; it's just faith, or, more simply, "my instincts." His faith may be dressed up in Evangelical garb, but Sharlet says it's essentially the solipsism of the New Age. He calls Bush "our magical president."
Reading Suskind this morning made me dig out my copy of Paul Tillich's Dynamics of Faith and Daniel Goleman's Vital Lies, Simple Truths. Tillich would be useful from a theological point of view since the confidence Bush wants people to feel in him and in the purity of the American "homeland" constitutes idolatry, but Goleman describes the phenomenon that seems most threatening in the Bush White House: groupthink — in which, he writes, "a small, cozy group of key decision-makers tacitly conspired to ignore crucial information because it [does] not fit with the collective view. The result of such biased decisions can be a disaster." Indeed.
Groupthink is not an argument against groups, but rather a danger signal of collective pathology, a “we” gone awry. Groups are a sensible antidote to the risks of a single person’s making decisions that are skewed by personal bias. A person alone is vulnerable to sways of emotion, or to blind spots arising from social prejudices, or to a failure to comprehend the complex consequences of a seemingly simple decision. In a group, issues can be aired, other points of view considered, additional information gathered and weighed. When they work at their best, groups can make better decisions than would any single member. But groupthink skews group thinking. . . .
The first victim of groupthink is critical thought.
Whether in a therapy group or a meeting of presidential advisers, the dynamics of groupthink are the same. Typically, talk is limited to a few courses of action, while the full range of alternatives is ignored. . . . The ignored alternatives are never brought up, no matter what advantages they might have. No one consults expert information that might offer a sound estimate of losses and gains; facts that challenge the initial choice are brushed aside. The group expects success, and makes no contingency plans to deal with failure. . . .
Loyalty to the group requires that members not raise embarrassing questions, attack weak arguments, or counter softeheaded thinking with hard facts. Only comfortable shared schemas are allowed full expression. (180, 183)
Goleman wrote these passages twenty years ago. The example he offers in the very next chapter is the Bay of Pigs fiasco. It's chilling to imagine an entire administration — and two wars — bent now into the inflexible shape of groupthink because President Bush won't allow anyone — not even himself — to question his chosen course of action. That's not faith; that's stupid.
Bottom of the fifth, Ortiz puts the Red Sox on top! Could be the start of something beautiful. Or . . . never mind.
I don't wanna talk about it. Even if the Times concedes that "those who are repeatedly denied the pleasures of winning find other compensations, which psychologists say go beyond the shallow charms of being simply a lovable underdog." Ah, the deeper charms of cosmic fate! Where did I put my Sophocles?
Daniel Altman does the math and suggests that a rate of 25% would be required to maintain the federal government's current revenue. And then he adds:
As part of its drive to create an "ownership society," the White House is chipping away at taxes on financial income and wealth. The estate tax is scheduled to vanish, taxes on dividends and capital gains have fallen, corporate income tax loopholes have grown, and proposals for enormous tax-free saving accounts would allow the sheltering of most portfolios.
All of these efforts point to a system that taxes only labor income like wages and salaries. Under this system, high-earning people might be able to shift their income into primarily nontaxed sources — for example, by taking their pay only in stocks, bonds and derivatives like options. With a national sales tax, at least, the top earners in the nation would have a much harder time avoiding taxes altogether.
("What If a Sales Tax Were the Only Tax?" Daniel Altman, New York Times 10.17.04, reg req'd)
Please note: Both sides of this perverse equation come from Republican proposals. Let's eliminate taxes on wealth — but, wouldn't ya know, that means rich people can duck taxes almost entirely! Better set up a regressive sales tax to keep the taxes flowing because it would just be too darn hard to close the loopholes the rich have given themselves. Either way, middle- and lower-income Americans will pay.
Worth noting at the Family Scholars blog: a gracious, illuminating, civil exchange between David Blankenhorn, a pro-family advocate opposed to same-sex marriage, and Jonathan Rauch, author of what I consider the best argument for same-sex marriage. Blankenhorn seems peculiarly resistant to an observation that seems pretty easy to grasp, as far as I'm concerned: Simply because a democratic majority isn't yet willing to support or defend a "human right" doesn't mean that the right isn't morally compelling or consistent with constitutional precedent. One's rights, after all, can be ignored or violated even by a democratic majority — as history amply demonstrates. Persuading people to honor the rights of a minority group takes a long time, and people are notoriously resistant to being hurried. (Liberalism would be much more successful if liberals kept this basic truth in mind.)
Blankenhorn charges that Rauch conveniently supports a federalist approach to same-sex marriage — letting different states adopt widely varying practices — only because no other approach could work in the U.S. right now. And yet the alternative Blankenhorn offers to supporters of same-sex marriage — demand a national right to marry and then concede defeat when the majority says "No" — makes no sense at all. Nevertheless, do read their exchange: Part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5; and part 6.
Friday, October 15, 2004
Continuing with highlights from the New York Review of Books section on "The Election and America's Future," here are key sections from one of the two essays I found most compelling. Former U.N. Undersecretary-General Brian Urquhart explains why the world has recognized the United States as a legitimate international leader for generations:
Like many people all over the world, I had long taken for granted the unprecedented international position of the United States. History's most powerful state, lacking conventional imperial ambitions, was widely accepted as leader and mentor, and was respected as a generous source of aid and support in times of trouble. Since World War II, in spite of one or two notable aberrations, the United States has been a source of hope and a vitally important contributor to stability and progress for most of the world.
Guided by Franklin Roosevelt's vision of a world of collective security, justice, and law, his successors, despite the constraints of the cold war, worked with other governments to build a structure of international agreements and institutions that would eventually make such a world possible. This emerging international structure provided a setting for America's leadership.
But President Bush has sharply turned away from that tradition, harming the ability of the U.S. to lead:
In striking contrast to the pragmatic internationalism of FDR, Harry Truman, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, and the leaders that followed them, the ideology of the George W. Bush administration is basically unilateralist, exceptionalist, and anti-internationalist. . . .
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, unleashed a worldwide outpouring of support and affection for the United States, a country that had traditionally done so much for others. When the dust cleared away, however, the Bush administration's exceptionalist approach to international affairs was as rigid as before. In fact, its scope was dramatically broadened by the announcement of a new national security doctrine—unilateral preventive or preemptive war—to replace the longstanding policy of deterrence and containment.
While the world was still in shock from September 11, the United States action against the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the unrepentant host of al-Qaeda, received wide support as a legitimate act of self-defense. However, the evident determination of Washington to attack Iraq, allegedly to deal with Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction, revived and intensified international concern and resentment. . .
The false rationale for the second Iraq war, and Washington's openly expressed contempt for those who questioned it, has antagonized international opinion at a time when worldwide solidarity against fundamentalist terrorism is desperately needed. . .
The stature and credibility of the United States are at their lowest ebb at a time when the world is greatly in need of wise and steady leadership on many vital global problems. It is also a time when the United States itself desperately needs the confidence and cooperation of other nations to deal with terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the related threat of rogue or dysfunctional states, and other emerging dangers.
To have drastically eroded, in less than four years, the position of respected international leadership built up by the United States over the past hundred years or more is an extraordinary achievement. With its existing worldview, the current administration cannot hope to restore that position.
The contributors to the New York Review of Books count the ways. Highlights of their ten-page, 13,400-word series of essays:
Princeton philosopher K. Anthony Appiah is appalled by President Bush's utterly false pretense of being a "man of his word":
In this President, then, we have a self-described "uniter" who has nominated a succession of right-wing ideologues to the federal bench; a man who has invoked his commitment to "fairness" as he continues to transfer the cost of governance to people further down the income scale; a man who has spoken of "humility" and "honesty" even as, by arrogance and false statements, particularly about Iraq, he and his administration have undermined American credibility in the world. And still his supporters avow that George W. Bush is a man of his word.
Bard College professor Ian Buruma, co-author of Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, bitterly notes that President Bush has turned away from the very things that the rest of the world admires about America:
Going to war against states without any evidence that they are part of the terrorist threat, while invoking Munich, Chamberlain, and Winston Churchill, does not look like a sensible strategy. Turning the US into an armed fortress, making it harder and harder for foreigners to enter the country, is the opposite of defending an open society. Legal sophistry in defense of torture casts a dark stain on the White House. Harassing harmless campaigners for causes not popular with the current administration damages not only the beauty but also the substance of the American idea of freedom.
Harvard human rights scholar Michael Ignatieff has bad news for people who think a rapid American withdrawal from Iraq (under Bush or Kerry) would lead to peace:
As the news from Iraq worsens, Kerry may be tempted to promise an exit from the quagmire and quietly jettison his commitments to a democratically elected government in Iraq. Yet holding firm on his intention to sustain an electoral process is vital. Those who opposed the war have good reasons to feel vindicated by the horrible turn of events in Iraq. Their problem is that if America abandons its commitment to helping Iraqis fight for a democratic outcome, through the end of 2005 and into 2006, this betrayal will transform the occupation's many failures into an unforgivable crime.
Thomas Powers writes about Karl Rove's Machiavellian campaign strategy:
[Bush] is so self-assured, defiant, and determined, and those waging his campaign are so aggressive and insulting in their attacks on Kerry personally, that voters are in danger of being swept away by the drama of the President's defiance. This High Noon brand of politics is apparently the brainchild of Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove. The idea is to raise the temperature of campaign rhetoric beyond norms of civility, in the hope of driving all the thousand important public issues into the background, and thereby forcing voters to see, and compelling them to accept or reject, only the image of the grinning Texan standing tall in his shirtsleeves, spitting on his hands, and challenging the flip-flopper, as he challenges the world, to step up or run home to mama. Some might describe Rove's High Noon politics as the gamble of a desperate campaign running on empty, but Rove could quote H.L. Mencken in defense, who said that no man ever lost a nickel by underestimating the intelligence of the American people.
Ouch! And while we're feeling morose, here's Oxford University political philosopher Alan Ryan on the absurdity of feeling protected by Bush:
The claim that reelecting President Bush will make the world safer—any part of the world, including the United States—would be laughable if the Iraqi civilian death toll was not 15,000 and rising, if peace for Israelis and Palestinians was not further away than ever, and if international cooperation on everything from global warming to fighting AIDS had not been deeply damaged by the last four years of a know-nothing presidency. If it is a joke, it is in the worst possible taste.
The two most substantive critiques — by Brian Urquhart and Mark Danner — deserve posts of their own.
Last week, Midtone Blue wrote:
Let me tell you friend, trust is not safe. Trust is risky, scary, and bold. Trust is not safety. It does not require safety. In fact, if you are perfectly safe, you have no need to trust. Trust actually demands that we take big, fat, risky leaps of faith. Trust is not safe.
Trust happens in relationships. It isn't a part of the external environment or the agreed upon norms. Safety can exist when no one is present. Trust cannot. Trust is covenantal. It is a promise, a gift offered to another, a result of shared experience and willingness to both know another person and be known. Safety is an assurance that you will not get hurt. Trust is a willingness to stay in relationship, even though the hurts are sure to come. Trust is a commitment. Safety is a demand—and for some, a sign of a deep and selfish sense of entitlement.
It is so very important not to confuse the two. If we demand safety and wait for it before we are willing to risk—to engage, learn, grow, reach out, speak, listen—we will never do any of these things and we will rot from our stuckness and stagnation. If we build lives of trust, we will move forward, be challenged, and discover new things that surprise and delight us. We will not be safe, but we will be alive.
Amen to that.
It's that time again:
Research shows that the dread of repeated disappointment — a feeling familiar to even casual Sox fans — can turn an iron stomach queasy, a cheery person into a grouch, and can trigger such strong waves of shuddering apprehension that the most sedate fan may impulsively jump up and flick off the television.
Perhaps worse news: It's contagious. Emotions can spread quickly from person to person, so it's only a matter of time before the tense, drawn faces in coffee lines or on the T spread to those who think they are immune.
Yup: Time to ponder the social psychology of being a Red Sox fan. Oh sweet agony!
("Red Sox Fever? Check These Symptoms," Beth Daley, Boston Globe 10.15.04)
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Mrs Philocrites calls my attention to this cartoon in the October 18 New Yorker. If you haven't yet made up your political mind, might you be one of these folks?
. . . which makes it hard to think of a headline for an announcement Scott Wells makes over at Boy in the Bands: There is now a "UU Wiki" — a "collaborative hypertext environment," in which readers can edit and expand an on-line document. Dear readers, I ask you (because I can't quite get my head around the uses of this technology): How might Unitarian Universalists best put a wiki to work? What should we be adding to the UU Wiki? And why does "wiki" have to be such a silly word? Was Chewbacca a wiki when he was young? The questions seem endless.
Update 10.15.04: Scott follows up with some helpful explanation and examples.
Just found: Progressive Christians Uniting, an organization of "moderate and progressive Christians who lift our voices to affirm a radically inclusive gospel at a time when the name 'Christian' has been seized and polluted by apostles of fear, mistrust, violence and division."
I discovered the site while trying to see if "Lift Every Voice: A Declaration on Christianity and the Future of America" — a manifesto of sorts that some 1,000+ politically progressive Christians generated exactly a month ago using new collaborative-writing software called Synanim — had attracted any media interest. It looks like one newspaper mentioned the declaration in an article on ways churches are participating in the political process. Otherwise, the manifesto vanished without a trace in the mainstream media. Notably, the declaration hasn't shown up in liberal Christian magazines like the Christian Century, Sojourners, or Commonweal — nor has it been mentioned at Beliefnet, Faith and Values, or even the Center for Progressive Christianity. Hmm. Writing a manifesto by committee — a project that apparently involved at least 4,000 hours of work — may be more effective than publicity by committee.
But I appreciate finding out about the Progressive Christians Uniting site — and learning the phrase "apostles of fear."
At long last, I'm pleased to announce the arrival of ChaliceChick as the new UU blog reviewer over at Coffee Hour. In her first outing, she charms and skewers; you'll undoubtedly want to head over to give your own assessments of recent highs and lows in the UU blogosphere — or, as we like to call it, the Interdependent Web of which we are all a part.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
And what if the Yankees won Games 1 and 2? Nah, that's just crazy! Curt Schilling could never give up six runs in three innings. Even if he were injured. Where do novelists come up with this stuff?
President Bush has repeatedly cited the National Journal as having ranked Senator Kerry the "most liberal" member of the Senate. But back in August the magazine pointed out that the Republicans are taking its rankings out of context.
As Isaiah Berlin observed, there are diverse goods in human life and they don't necessarily reconcile. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. (Berlin put it this way: "We are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable loss.") Which brings us to this evening's dilemma:
When the sisters of the Society of St. Margaret meet and pray this morning at their Roxbury convent, they will have a daunting decision to make: whether the television set in the lounge should be tuned tonight to the presidential debate or the American League Championship game.
"God is a Red Sox fan," Sister Carolyn Darr, the superior of the Episcopal religious order, said about the difficulty of weighing the merits of each. "But I think he's a Kerry fan, too."
Happily, Red Sox Fan #1 — being omniscient — will undoubtedly watch both the debate and the game. The rest of us are condemned to choose. Argh!
("Tonight's Screen Test: Playoff or Politics?" Donovan Slack, Boston Globe 10.13.04)
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
A Las Vegas TV station reports:
Employees of a private voter registration company allege that hundreds, perhaps thousands of voters who may think they are registered will be rudely surprised on election day. The company claims hundreds of registration forms were thrown in the trash.
Anyone who has recently registered or re-registered to vote outside a mall or grocery store or even government building may be affected.
The I-Team has obtained information about an alleged widespread pattern of potential registration fraud aimed at democrats [sic]. Thee [sic] focus of the story is a private registration company called Voters Outreach of America, AKA America Votes.
The out-of-state firm has been in Las Vegas for the past few months, registering voters. It employed up to 300 part-time workers and collected hundreds of registrations per day, but former employees of the company say that Voters Outreach of America only wanted Republican registrations.
Two former workers say they personally witnessed company supervisors rip up and trash registration forms signed by Democrats.
There's more — and Josh Marshall has background on the company involved in the alleged fraud. You'll never believe whose company it is.
Update 10.13.04: Marshall adds that the company that destroyed the voter registration cards not only was hired by the Republican National Committee but claimed — falsely — to be affiliated with a liberal voter registration effort. And Daily Kos has more on the Republican consulting firm behind fraudulent voter registration efforts not just in Nevada but in five other states. Here's the head of the Democratic Party demanding answers from the head of the Republican Party.
Friday, October 8, 2004
Speaking of Sojourners, the September issue includes a very helpful article by the Rev. Brian McLaren for preachers trying to figure out how to address controversial topics from the pulpit. He writes:
It’s easy to preach up a sweat when you know your congregation is thinking, "Amen! Go get ’em!" But when your congregation feels threatened, intimidated, rebuked, insulted, discomforted, and otherwise unsettled, it’s another matter.
He picks up on the Rev. Adam Hamilton's proposal in Christianity Today's Leadership Journal, which identifies five keys to genuinely persuasive preaching:
1. Show respect for all positions on an issue, and for those who hold opposing opinions. It’s tempting, especially when one is reacting against a polemical, biased, chest-thumping opposition, to respond in kind and opt out of the Lord’s command about doing unto others.
2. Understand the opposing side so well that you can present its arguments as clearly as its proponents do. Each position has its upside and downside, as do opposing views. We tend to know our upside and their downside, but fairness requires we face our downside and their upside as well.
3. Begin your sermon by presenting the opposing case’s position. Present it so compellingly that people would believe it’s your position if you stopped your sermon midway.
4. Then present your position, rooting your position in biblical soil, admitting your position’s downsides.
5. Confess your openness to changing your thinking—thus modeling the teachability you hope your people will demonstrate.
Unlike my clergy friends, I haven't had to preach during this election season — but in reading through McLaren and Hamilton's essays I've been struck by the fact that my political and theological commentary has probably been more partisan than persuasive. (I originally intended this site to open up some new areas for dialogue among Unitarian Universalists, but as the readership has expanded, I think my "moderate UU" perspective has seemed downright mainstream liberal to everyone else!) I regret the partisan tone, but I have also been aware that blogs that are simultaneously religious and liberal have been something of a new phenomenon. Most of us have probably been reactive rather than genuinely persuasive, attracting communities of the like-minded rather than communities of genuine dialogue. Politics has swept us along as soldiers in the fight rather than as ministers of grace or even as "the prophethood of all believers," as James Luther Adams believed the church was called to be. Alas.
After the election, I think I'll probably refocus my commentary and my reading habits on the prospects the church has as a conciliatory and reconciling agent in a divided culture. Until then, if you come across religious sites especially that practice some of the principles McLaren and Hamilton describe, I'd love to hear about it.
Was President Bush literally channeling Karl Rove in his first debate with John Kerry? That's the latest rumor flooding the Internet, unleashed last week in the wake of an image caught by a television camera during the Miami debate. The image shows a large solid object between Bush's shoulder blades as he leans over the lectern and faces moderator Jim Lehrer. . . .
When Mrs Philocrites speaks, I listen! She says we all must read this article by the Rev. Ian Douglas, professor of mission and world Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge. Douglas answers all your many questions about the rift in the Anglican Communion over the consecration of an openly gay man as a bishop in the Episcopal Church. (Ecclesiologists and people interested in the varieties of Christian polity will find it especially interesting.)
Thursday, October 7, 2004
Unitarian Universalists who still have their September/October issue of UU World might be intrigued by this instance of synchronicity: Take a look at the illustration on page 27, which we commissioned for Neil Shister's cover story on "manufactured fear." (The illustration is not on-line.) Then take a look at the October cover story in Sojourners, which is on-line but which I couldn't find at Cathedral Crossing or Border's yesterday. Hmm: A digital wood-cut send-up of a '50s movie poster is different than a digital pop-art send-up of a '50s movie poster, but not by very much. Maybe great minds do think alike.
Tuesday, October 5, 2004
The Ur-blog of all religion blogs — Holy Weblog! — is back from a long sabbatical. My joy knoweth no bounds.
Monday, October 4, 2004
Why, you'd almost think I hadn't been paying attention: It's less than a month to Election Day, and I'm just now discovering the Christians for Kerry/Edwards Web site! It includes a brief set of talking points for people looking to help their friends and relatives see that President Bush isn't the de facto choice for committed Christians.
Update: Below are links to articles making Christian arguments for electing John Kerry, looking critically at the way George W. Bush has presented himself as the Christian candidate, or offering reasons for Christians not to vote for Bush. (Here are Sen. Kerry's extended remarks about how his Christian faith has inspired his public service, given in Fort Lauderdale on October 2; excerpts here.)
- "Analyzing the President's Theology," Bruce Lincoln, Christian Century [Mainline Protestant] 10.5.04
- "The Case for Kerry," Thomas Higgins, Commonweal [Roman Catholic] 10.8.04
- "Empty Pew: Why W. Doesn't Go to Church," Amy Sullivan [Mainline Protestant], New Republic 10.11.04
- "None of the Above: Why I Won't Be Voting for President," Mark Noll [Evangelical], Christian Century [Mainline Protestant] 9.21.04
- "Of God, and Man, in the White House," Fritz Ritsch [Presbyterian], Washington Post 3.2.03
- "Our Magical President," Jeff Sharlet, The Revealer 10.17.04
- "A Prolife Case Against Bush," Sidney Callahan, Commonweal [Roman Catholic] 6.4.04
- "The Politics of Piety," Amy Sullivan, Sojourners [Evangelical] 11.04
- "Why I'm Sitting This One Out," Paul J. Griffiths, Commonweal [Roman Catholic] 10.8.04
If you're a Christian who intends to vote for John Kerry, I welcome your comments about your reasoning and links to any articles that helped you make up your mind.
Update: Here are some quotes from an October 27 Los Angeles Times article, "Conflicted Evangelicals Could Cost Bush Votes" by Peter Wallsten:
Tim Moore, an evangelical who teaches civics at a traditional Christian school near Milwaukee[, . . .] shares Bush's religious convictions, but says the president has lost his vote because of tax cuts for the wealthy and the administration's shifting rationales for invading Iraq.
"There's no way I'm going for Bush. That much I know," said Moore, 46. He remains undecided between Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and a third-party candidate. . . .
Some [conflicted Evangelical voters], such as Wendy Skroch, a 51-year-old mother of three who prays regularly at the evangelical Elmbrook Church in this heavily Republican Milwaukee suburb, blame Bush for failing to fix a "broken" healthcare system and for "selling off the environment to the highest bidder."
Others are like Joe Urcavich, pastor of the nondenominational evangelical Green Bay Community Church, where more than 2,000 people worship each Sunday. He is undecided, troubled by the bloodshed in the Middle East.
"It's hard for me to say that Christians should be marching against abortion and carrying signs, and then turn around and giving a pep rally for the war in Iraq without even contemplating that hundreds and hundreds of people are being killed on a regular basis over there," Urcavich said.
"I'm very antiabortion, but the reality is the right to life encompasses a much broader field than just abortion," he added. "If I'm a proponent of life, I have to think about the consequences of not providing prescription drugs to seniors or sending young men off to war."
See also Jesus Politics for all sorts of resources on Christian responses to this year's election.
Just in case you occasionally use the Web to amuse yourself, here are two charming sites: I Can't . . . I'm Mormon (a line of T-shirts that caused offense at Brigham Young University because, well, Mormons can't) and Light a Candle for Kerry-Edwards (click the button . . . go ahead . . . just please don't add something like this to your UU church Web site because, well, we may not have commandments, but you really shouldn't). Feel free to pass along amusing sites in the comments.
Tonight Mrs Philocrites and I are going to hear the poet Adam Zagajewski read at MIT. Tomorrow, before the vice presidential debate, I'm going down to Boston University to hear Zagajewski talk with Robert Pinsky and Derek Walcott about poetry and politics. I love this town! (Details.)
My friend John Millspaugh, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Orange County, California, is blogging this week from the National Marriage Equality Express, a caravan crossing the country for marriage equality for same-sex couples. Be sure to check out Riding with the Rev.
Update 10.7.04: The Rev. Helen Carroll is also blogging about the trek. (I didn't realize at first that John and Helen were going to be blogging separately, or I would have mentioned her blog, too. Both have been added to the UU blog digest.)
Media updates: Here's an article in the Orange County Register (10.3.04, reg req'd: use "dailykos" and "dailykos") about John's involvement in the trip. The UUA's coverage of the Marriage Equality Caravan features pictures and links to news stories about the caravan and its riders.
Morning Edition introduced a series of promising stories on the way religion and politics intersects this morning with a look at two neighboring Presbyterian churches in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Graystone is a larger, contemporary-music, conservative church; Calvary is a smaller, traditional-music, modernist church. (An anthropologist says he picked it because other churches in town didn't look kindly on his teaching evolution.) Will the reporter ask the good people at Graystone if it would surprise them to learn that President Bush doesn't attend church?
Sunday, October 3, 2004
Religion stories worth noting this weekend:
- "Candidates Are Targeting Evangelical Base in W.Va.," Rick Klein, Boston Globe 10.3.04. This sentence especially deserves a lot more qualification than Klein gives it: "Bush, a devout Christian who has often talked openly of his faith, is expected to win the votes of the majority of evangelical Christian voters." Devout? The man doesn't even go to church. Best quote in the story:
At the Welcome Baptist Church in Beckley, Pastor [David] Allen has a response for anyone who says Bush would make a better president because of Christian values: "I can't hear what you're saying, because I see what you're doing."
- "Rupture in U.S. Episcopal Church," Neela Banerjee, New York Times 10.3.04, reg req'd. The story notes:
[M]ost Episcopalians do not want to leave the church. A recent survey of congregations by the Episcopal Church Foundation showed about 60 percent "neither uncritically endorse or oppose" the decisions on homosexuality, said the Rev. William L. Sachs, director of research at the foundation. The foundation, an independent organization, follows grass-roots trends in the church. About 15 percent to 20 percent of parishioners applaud the church's decisions on homosexuality, the Rev. Sachs said, and a slightly smaller percentage are affronted.
The Paul Berman Watch returns! The author of Terror and Liberalism kicks off the newly redesigned New York Times Book Review with a long review of Philip Roth's novel about an alternate America that went fascist, The Plot Against America. I'm looking forward to reading the novel, but I can certainly endorse the review. ("What If It Happened Here?" Paul Berman, New York Times Book Review 10.3.04, reg req'd)
Atticus Edwards. Finally this weekend, an essay in the Globe's Ideas section argues that "From Atticus Finch to John Edwards, the trial lawyer has often been the face of Southern liberalism." ("The Advocate," Curtis Wilkie, Boston Globe 10.3.04)
Inspired by the dictionary of political slang in today's Times, I'd like to coin a phrase — or at least help spread it: mob bloggers. You know who they are — the parrots of spin, the frenzied foxes, the manic Kossacks: bloggers who pounce on whatever red-meat morsel is thrown their way each day. Media gnats.
Amy Sullivan wonders why reporters won't ask about the president's non-church-going ways. After all, he's banking on the public's perception of his piety. She reports that David Aikman, author of A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush, couldn't exactly pin down many specifics about Bush's faith:
Aikman, who had significant access to Bush confidantes while writing his book, has said that he "could not get from anybody a sort of credo of what [Bush] believes." Nevertheless, Aikman pressed on by "intuit[ing]" Bush's faith and presenting as evidence of the president's deep spiritual commitment his fondness for carrots and jogging (apparently a response to the scriptural admonition to treat the body as a temple for God) and the politeness of White House staffers ("though manners are not specifically connected to George W.'s personal religious faith, it was as though the discipline he brought to his own life of prayer and Bible study filtered down into the work habits of everyone who worked with him").
Friday, October 1, 2004
In our first poll of Philocrites readers, I learned that I'm preaching to the choir: 72% of you say you agree with me "much of the time." (Such amazing powers of persuasion!) So rather than comment on Kerry's out-of-the-park homerun last night — you'll probably find much to agree with in Ryan Lizza and William Saletan, too — I thought I'd just head right into the end-of-the-month site report.
Thanks for new links this month from Voyager ("One world, one nation" — but lots of slow-loading graphics) and Quaker Quietist ("A traditional Hicksite Quaker and solitary living a life of recollection and inward retirement"). I'm also intrigued and delighted that one of my theological essays has shown up on the syllabus for a course on The Church and Sacramentality at the University of St. Thomas. And somewhat anachronistically, my 1997 essay on John Dewey's idea of God has shown up on a site dedicated to Religion after 9/11. Hmm, not sure about that connection. But thanks for the links!
And, although he doesn't have a regular blogroll, I also want to call attention to Bob's thoughtful god-of-small-things, which I discovered when he linked to my post about the Southern Baptist ministers serving mainline churches in rural northern New England.
Now, on to this week's poll of the Philocritics: