Sunday, December 31, 2006

In the Bush Administration, Nothing Succeeds like Failure

Crooks and Liars highlights a YahooNews/AP report on Condoleeza Rice (you can see it here) that brings up the troubling issue that, as Secretary of State, Rice has been a dismal failure. The fact that she seems to refuse to change anything shows that, like her boss, she is impervious to self-reflection and the troubling thoughts that might come from it.

When she was appointed National Security Advisor in the first term, I wondered what relevance an expert on the former Soviet Union could have in an era where her area of understanding (I wonder how much "expertise" she actually had, as her tenure has been one long string of lack of accomplishments, including allowing the deadliest attack on American territory in history) no longer existed. Of course, before September 11, 2001, it seemed the Bush Administration was planning on ratcheting up the tension between the US and Russia. In that context, Rice might have been considered a somewhat dubious asset; at least she understood Cold War rhetoric, even if it was no longer relevant. Afterwards, as the Bush team decided to turn its focus to the Fertile Crescent, it might have been adivsable to find someone who, oh, I don't know, spoke Arabic, knew something of the history of the region, and could give Bush information he could use. Of course, that wasn't done, and here we are, five years and some odd onths later, and Rice, like Bush has little to show for her tenure in office, and little hope for any improvement as Bush resolutely marches into the future doing the exact opposite of what he should do.

There was, and still is, talk about Rice as a possible Republican Presidential candidate in the future. I find this highly comical. What possible achievements, accomplishments, and tests of will has she demonstrated in her years of government service? Where is Osama bin Laden? Where are IRaqi weapons of mass destruction? What about those aluminum tubes and the mushroom clouds over America she threw around in the fall of 2002? Will the press be cowed from asking these highly relevant questions by conservatives who can burnish their non-racist credentials by supporting a black woman for president, and force the press to go easy on her precisely for this reason?

We are, I believe, stuck with Rice until January, 2009, but the nice thing is that, while accomplishing nothing since her appointment at the beginning of Bush's second term, she has also done little of demonstrable harm. Benign neglect is the best we can probably expect of her, and with this group in charge, we have to count that as a plus.

The Dean: Still Clueless After All These Years

I awoke at five-thirty this morning and was greeted by David Broder's year-end review column (which you can find, among other places, here). Pitched as a series of mea culpas for things he "got wrong" for the year, in fact he merely notes where readers disagreed with him, leaving it very clear he has not changed his mind, except where he was demonstrably wrong, as in his prediction in the Michigan governor's race (I think a lot of people were wrong about that race who called it early).

I just want to highlight a couple things. The last item he mentions is the response he received to a column he wrote on the personal life of Sen. Hillary Clinton. He says concerning the reponse he received (calling them "catcalls") that this is "a tipoff that the subject will be a tough one to handle if she enters the presidential race."


Doesn't that beg the question as to why her personal life is relevant at all, except to voyeuristic Washington insiders? Doesn't the obsession the Washington Press Clique have with the Clinton's tell us so much more about them than anything they might or might not report about the former President and current Senator?

One thing he missed in his year-end round-up was his nearly ejaculatory column about the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG) report. I reviewed the column earlier this month and have little more to add concerning the column itself. I bring it up here because I find it fascinating that Broder would fail to mention this much-hyped, much-ballyhooed report, put forth by the sages of Washington as the salvation of the nation and Presidency of George W. Bush in the face of low poll ratings and an repudiating election has disappeared from view. The President has studiously and quite publicly ignored it. No one in Washington even mentions it, except to say that in no uncertain terms will the United States begin negotiations with Syria or Iran. As the President leans towards sending more troops to Iraq (the opposite both of the electorate's express wishes and the Philosopher-King's recommendations in the ISG report) one might think Broder could say something about the disappearance of what entered the public realm with such triumph, the first trumpeter in the fanfare being Broder himself.

I hear crickets chirruping in the background.

Broder, like the rest of the chummy Capitol Clique, is completely oblivious as to the changes afoot in the country. The era of big conservatism is over. The Republican Party in general, and conservatives in particualr, have shown themselves completely incompetent at the task of serious governance. The politics of fear and division are at an end, because the electorate no longer want to be afraid and desire to be united. This desire is expressed in giving the Democratic Party a chance to prove themselves again as a party of the nation. Combined with the continuing importance of the Internet political communities, and the discovery that one does not have to live in Capitol Hill, NE or Chevy Chase, MD to say something intelligent about politics we find the pundit class superceded by the citizen analyst.

Broder is a dinosaur, the T-rex of a larger group of animals on the way out. Let us all sincerely hope that he, and Tom Friedman, and Bill Kristol, and Cokie Roberts (God, that unctuous woman just drives me to distraction!), and George Will, and the rest of the typing/chattering/lip-flapping, empty-headed Washington nincompoops find gainful employment elsewhere in the coming months, as Americans find their voice again. I sincerely hope Broder comes to understand that, in the words of a typical mid-level manager, his services are no longer required.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Can the Irrational be True?

As a follow on that I find irresistible for a number of reasons to my previous post, I am going to offer an explanation that fits no criteria of raionality I can imagine, yet is nonetheless true for all that as to why I am a Christian (this is much shorter than Hans Kung's book with the same title). These reasons are given voice most powerfully by the Christian band Casting Crowns (offered as a musical interlude here). These two songs speak to me because they describe my spiritual life as it is now in all its ambivalence, fear, joy, and hope. I can't write like this, but I am glad there are those who can.

The first is the song "Voice of Truth" with lyrics and music by Mark Hall and Steven Curtis Chapman:
Oh what I would do to have
The kind of faith it takes to climb out of this boat I'm in
Onto the crashing waves

To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is
And He's holding out His hand

But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time, again, "Boy, you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"

But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, "Do not be afriad!"
And the voice of truth says, "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

Oh what I would do to have
The kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant
With just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
Shaking in their armor
Wishing they'd have had the strength to stand

But the giant's calling out my name and he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me
Time and time again, "Boy, you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"

But the stone was just the right size
To put the giant on the ground
And the waves they don't seem so high
From on top of them lookin' down
I will soar with the wings of eagles
When I stop and listen to the sound of Jesus
Singing over me

I will listen and believe the voice of truth

The second song is "Who Am I", with lyrics by Mark Hall:
Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart

Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed on the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm ths storm in me

I am Yours
Whom shall I fear
Whom shall I fear
'Cause I am Yours
I am Yours


One of my seminary professors published a book that is the sum total of every lecture he ever delivered in every class he taught for over 20 years. The first chapter is nothing less than a dictionary. Roy had a penchant for what he called "operating definitions"; he wanted to make clear to others what he meant when he used a word. By calling them "operating" definitions, he was making clear that these were his ways of using these words in these instances. You could disagree with the definitions; but at least there was the beginning of mutual understanding with the operating definitions in mind.

While the chapter in question is pedantic, as Roy could be on occasion, the practice is a good one. Too often we use words thoughtlessly, assuming words are univocal - having a definition, and therefore an understanding, accessible to all equally. Of course, this is not true of any words, least of all in English, where words, their synonyms and homonyms create a vagueness and mutability of meaning that is breathtaking to consider. As an example (I promise to make this short), consider the word "rose" - it can be a verb (the past tense of rise), a noun with multiple meanings (a flower, a color), or an adjective. Its precise meaning can only be ascertained in any given instance by the context in which it is used. Even then, it can be used as a metaphor rather than have any literal meaning, and therefore might require even deeper interpretation to understand fully.

To me the word I find most frustrating in any kind of serious discussion, and a word rendered meaningless because of overuse, is "rational". What does it mean to be rational? Does it mean emplpoying a certain method of reaching conclusions to questions? Are there rules to this method such that certain criteria need to be met in order to be said to be rational? Are these criteria immutable and universal? Does the employment of such methods, by rendering one rational, make one superior in some way or others to all those who do not use such methods? Does raitonality imply finality, i.e., are decisions and choices and answers to questions arrived at in this way unanswerable precisely because they are rational, and does rationality provide reasons to all questions put?

There is, of course, a school of philosophy that follows Rene Descartes known as rationalism, in which the source of truth is the internal investigation of states of being using logic, assuming of course that logic itself is immutable, and that therefore all persons who so investigate will arrive at similar conclusions. There are few "rationalists" of this stripe any more, with the notable exception of Noam Chomsky who has often cited his discovery of Descartes at an early age to be revelatory, and his subsequent work in linguistics merely an extension of Cartesian methods by other means.

Of course, the questions I pose above concerning the operating definition of "rational" themselves beg certain questions, not the least of which is do I understand what others mean when they use the word. That, however, is precisely my point. That, and its antithesis "irrational" are thrown around so frequently, often as compliments or insults, without any clarity as to how the words are being used, that we are left to conclude either, (a) we are too irrational to understand the word rational; or, (b) the person using the word doesn't really understand what he or she means in using the words in question, and only confuses the issue by tossing them around so freely.

The pair - rational and irrational - are often applied to persons adhering to religious beliefs of one kind or another. It is said that there is no rational explanation to claiming to believe something that is neither demonstrably true or false. Of course, that much is true (it also implies an understanding of rationality as method, but we shall leave that to the side for the nonce). Yet, I would challenge someone to give me a rational explanation (again, implying a method with certain criteria agreed upon by most if not all) for the choices that person has made in his or her life. Of course, as we chase the circle of explanation down this spiral, we should find, if we are honest, that such is impossible. Life is not reducible in this way (and if it is, it isn't life but robotic motion). I am not suggesting that there is not thought in the process of living. Of course there is! I am suggesting that we come to a point in what one modern-day realist philosopher calls "the spiral of reflection" where there are no answers left that satisfy, no reasons that justify, and no generally accessible truths that mark an end to questioning. Human life, in this way, is irrational at its core, because there are irreducible elements that are impervious to rational inquiry.

This is no less true of non-religious than it is of religious life. It is no less true in Christianity than it is Judaism or Islam or Buddhism. It is no less true of those who accept the theories of quantum mechanics (and who can not accept them, relying as I am now on a machine based upon them) with those who refuse to do so (including Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr who refused to accept them; the latter worked out the equations for hydrogen, and it took him two years to do so, and he realized it would take longer than the solar system would exist to work out the equations for the next element, helium. Seeing this as unacceptable, he tossed the theory to one side). Creationists are called irrational, when a better word would be "unscientific", and this in a limited sense that they do not understand the methods of science. Of course, the theory of evolution is scientific, but does that, ipso facto, make it rational? This, I think is the nub, and would require many volumes of many books to answer.

I find too often that tossing around rational and irrational in discussions mean little beyond the epithetical. We are seeking to compliment, or insult, those with whom we are discussing, as as rationality is one of the hallmarks of Enlightened humanity, and since of course we are all Enlightened now, those who would disagree with us are, by this understanding, irrational. This isn't real argument. It's namecalling disguised as serious argument.

I shy away from using the words at all (except when they can be used in a very constricted sense; the Bush Administration is often irrational in a very precise way - the words and ideas that come from it make no sense no matter how hard one tries to analyze them) precisely because they have become meaningless, even though everyone, it seems, knows what they mean. When we have descended to trying to understand the words we are using in our disagreements, perhaps it is time to find other, better, words to use.

Forced to Be Free

Note: This and the next post reference a discussion in the post below titled "God", which you can read (or not) depending on your preference for giving a context.

Conservatives like to mock Jean-Jacques Rousseau for being a horrible individual; he never married his mistress of many years, and the children that issued from their years-long affair were all given over to others to raise. Of course, libertinism is neither new nor restricted to political and moral philosophers. It is just that Rousseau was earnest in his insistence on a certain social morality that his own amorality (some would call it immorality) would, at the very least, point to a level of hypocrisy only equaled by Bertrand Russell in the 20th century (another philosopher conservatives love to hate because of his personal flaws).

I, on the other hand, am no fan of Rousseau because of the phrase in the title above. In his The Social Contract, Rousseau argues for (a) a universal human nature; (b) the necessity of social and political life flowing from the roots in natural life; and, (c) the importance of bringing all those recalcitrant enough to deny these universal truths to a recognition of the possibilities inherent in social life stemming from (a) and (b). He believed, or at least wrote, that it is necessary for the good of society to use coercion to force those who refuse to conform to do so, for the health of soceity as a whole. It is right here that the roots of so many of the horrors of the previous century lie. It is here that I stand and protest, demanding that we surrender our simplistic ideas of human nature, and the hubris that comes from assuming (a) there are answers to questions that, in the end, aren't questions, so therefore no answers are needed; and (b) there is one right answer to any question at all.

The last point, at least in the west, goes back at least as far as Aristotle, who insisted on what came to be known as "the law of the excluded middle". A question about a certain state of affairs ecludes the possibility of the answer containing two distinct and mutually exclusive states. Thus, a person cannot be both alive and dead simultaneously (in a classic example). From the idea that questions not only do, but must, have only one correct answer, we arrive at the killing fields of Cambodia, the insanity of Maoist China, Stalin's crimes, and Auschwitz, with a prelude in the guillotine of Committee-led Revolutionary France. If all questions have only one correct answer, including questions about what is the best, most human life possible in society, those who answer incorrectly (a) have to be re-educated or, (in a 1970's phrase of equal condescension if not of eqaul horror) have their "consciousness raised"; (b) if that fails, they are deliberately refusing to give assent to universal, normally self-evident Truth and are a threat to the well-being of society, and need to be removed permanently.

There is no answer to the question, "What is the best society?". There is no answer to the question, "What is the most representative human life?". The reason there is no answer to these questions is because the questions themselves are non-sensical, based upon an absurd and unprovable assumption that there are criteria accessible to all persons in all times and all places that we can use to judge the correct and incorrect answers. They are nonsensical because life is not a problem to be solved, but just living, making wrong and right choices, or making no choices at all. What makes humanity, and the individual, is not the full realization of some abstract set of potentialities, but full participation in life - eating, drinking, sleeping, spewing, screwing, defecating (in the words of a VanDerGraf Generator song). That's really all there is to it.

There are many on the left who would disagree with this position. They would argue that allowing individuals to make "wrong" choices creates social turmoil and conflict. They want to "educate" people so that they have more facts, more information from which to make decisions. In the end, of course, decisions are no more than answers to questions, and there can only be one correct decision. This point of view, to me, is as nonsensical and irrelevant and absurd as the whole question-answer business. People live their lives based on a whole host of things, many of which are not only unspoken, but inaccessible to any kind of rational reflection. Sometimes we are like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin - we just growed.

I am not an adherent to abstract principles (or at least very few; no one, I think is free from all abstractions), but rather to real human life, lived in the day-to-day, here-and-now. If some people make decisions I would not, or some societies choose practices I would not, I am free to argue with them, to say why I believe those choices are wrong, and why alternatives might be better for them. I do not base those arguments in fictions life human nature, though, for a very good reason. If there were a universal human nature, accessible to all persons in all times and all places, this should automatically beg the question of social conflict. As social conflict is real, I accept what is real over some philosopher's idea of what is true any day of the week. In the end, if others still make choices different from those I make, well, so what? Am I the font of wisdom or the source or prophet for truth? I can only do so much, and I have other things to do as well, such as loving my family, working forty hours a week, listening to good music, reading good books, etc. Life is a complicated business that does not require thought or planning. It just requires living.

Once we surrender the idea that there are questions and answers, and based on these answers plans that can and should be made as to how we should live our lives, we surrender the idea that others must be forced, through imperial invasion or internal coercion, to be free, because freedom is no longer an abstraction, but the small, domestic, tidy reality we all actually live. No one needs to be forced to be free.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Only 2006 Review that Matters to Me

Last February, I was scouring the last of the bins as the Rockford, IL Media Play prepared to close its doors. I was sad because they actually carried titles I liked withouth having to order them. As I flipped through, depressed that all that was left was copies of Wrecking Ball by Grace Slick, I saw a familiar label name on the side of a jewel case and snatched it up. InsideOut is a Germany-based record label that specializes in progressive, neo-progressive, and progressive metal. I had yet to go wrong picking up something put out by them, so I went home full of hope, if not necessarily joy.

The band I had never heard of, Sieges Even, and the CD title, Learning to Navigate By the Stars, seemed pretty typical. I went home and sat and listened I listened again. I was, to be honest, stunned. This was actually something different. The music was crisp, clear, reflecting a production that stripped echo and reverb, creating a sound that was sharp, distinct. The singer was a typical tenor, although he had more control than most (not a whole lot of vibratto), and the lyrics, though enigmatic and metaphorical, pretty clearly described the emotional turmoil surrounding the ending of a relationship.

I just couldn't get the crisp, almost minimalist production approach out of my head. There was something som refreshing about a band that stripped away the gee-gaws of the modern sound studio (available to most amateurs thanks to computers) and created a sound that forced one to listen to the music. One song begins in 13/8, shifts to alternating bard of 5 and 4, back to 13. This rhythmic complexity is not self-conscious or affected. It is what the song is and flows very naturally. With only a few keyboard overdubs, and the stripped-down style of production, there is very little cover for the three instrumentalists and one vocalist. They either get it right, or they flub it. For the most part (no album is without its weak moments) they get it very right, taking turns I would not have thought of, the music moving in surprising ways.

Ten months later the CD still sounds fresh, and I look forward to getting their back-catalog (once it becomes available again; the band had broken up in 1999, only reuniting in 2004, and its back catalog is on a German label that no longer exists) and to future CDs (ihave seen, on their website, they are back in the studio). The truly new and different is rare, and usually not as new or different as its promoters would claim. This is unique, and satisfying. Give it a whirl.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On Sensitivity, Cultural and Otherwise

An old friend is finally called out. This summer I tried to start a dialogue with Leo Pusateri and the results were, well, not what I had hoped (see here, here, and here for details; he was also kind enough to contact me via e-mail through my profile, and continue to harangue me. I wish I had kept those). Now, Gavin over at Sadly,No! has asked the Minnesota one-handed keyboardist to shut up, revealing personal pain in the process. The comments section of the above post need to be read to be believed, but Pusateri actually dives in and attempts to justify himself. It is one of the most incredibly unfeeling things I have ever seen. Pusateri has shown he has no feelings for the dead; now he demonstrates that he has little for the living as well.

The worst part comes in his first comment when he claims he is only attempting to prevent future pain such as that revealed by Gavin. The point, apparently lost on Pusateri, is such false bravado is the source of Gavin's rage. It demeans the deaths of people like Wayne to be used as rhetorical points by cowardly war-bloggers who offer little as hostages to fortune, but ask that many risk everything. It demeans the losses that they simply become part of some insane calculus where dead bodies serve as marks on a chalkboard, seeking to balance the tally. It excuses as irrelevant the views of those who refuse to succumb to mindless fear and hate in the face of grief and loss. Pusateri seems absolutely incapable of understanding that he actually made things worse by showing up. He was asked to please be quiet (actually, he was told to shut the fuck up; I was trying to be polite), and out of respect, he should have. Sensitivity and respect have no place in a world where Leo Pusateri crouches shaking in his boots, afraid some crazed Muslim might, at any moment, attack the Metrodome, or something.

I will just repeat Gavin's question toward the end of his post: What about us produces something like him?

Say it Loud! I'm Black and I'm Proud!

Everyone seems to be commenting on Gerald Ford's death, but there are few who are talking about the loss of James Brown. Ford was the accidental president, and his legacy - Cheney and Rumsfeld - lives on in ways both pernicious and damaging. Brown, on the other hand, changed the way R&B was played, inventing a whole new musical grammar, and worked endlessly to be the best. From early songs - "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", "I Feel Good" - to his later pride songs - "Black and Proud", "Sex Machine", "Bad Mother" - Brown not only wrote songs, but he wrote songs about and for the African-American community that spoke of them and to them in a way whites had a hard time hearing. Of course, music-lovers understood that something wonderful was happening when they heard the clipped horn parts, the choppy guitar work, and the intricate rhythm-work of Brown's band. His sound is still heard today, in samples on rap records, in the minimalism of contemporary R&B (think of Usher's song, "Yeah", or "Hey Ya" by Outkast), even in the disciplined way so many artists go about promoting themselves and their work (from Sean Combs to Beyonce Knowles).

Brown has left behind a vast legacy of music that is larger than many others, including the Beatles, and more influential than most except perhaps Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Bob Dylan. Brown taught the world how to shut up and dance. Brown reminded blacks that they were beautiful, powerful, sexy - and important to the life of the country. He will be missed precisely because he never gave up, he danced, threw himself around the stage, threw his microphone around the stage, sweat pouring off him in buckets, determined to give those who came to hear him a show they would never forget. We are fortunate that we never shall.

Fantasyland is a Better Place to Live One's Life

Charles Krauthammer's latest column (you can find it, among other places, here) is a case study in how ridiculously, absurdly out of touch right-wingers have become. They just got seriously spanked at the polls. No one supports their war. No one supports their President. They are objects, not of awe and respect because of their intelligence and perspicacity, but objects of derision because of their insane insistence that reality will one day conform to their beliefs about it. In the midst of a national referendum that solidly rejected such fantasy-prone politics, Krauthammer recedes even further from everyday life by declaring that America's problem is that it is too good.

One hesitates to take seriously such drivel, because in doing so, it becomes legitimate discourse rather than the nonsensical ramblings of a mind bereft of any contact with the universe. I point to it, not to either "criticize" it (the piece is self-mocking, although Krauthammer seems blissfully unaware of that) but to show how empty the pundit-calss mind has become. While some are spinning fantasies of war with Iran, and others see the Democratic election victory as a temporary bump on the way to total Republican hegemony, and the President eagerly seeks to feed more bodies into the Iraq meat grinder, Krauthammer outdoes all of them in a kind of parody of serious commentary. It is bad enough that, seven weeks after a national referendum repudiating Bush Administration policies there is actually an official discussion to intensify those policies, rather than one on how to undo the damage that has been wrought on our country, our military and its infrastructure (remember when the Army Chief of Staff said that the Army is now, not would be or might be at some future time, broken?), and our standing in the world. It is bad enough that the Democrats have yet to receive from the press the credit they deserve for forging a victory on positive issues. It is bad enough that Cokie Roberts still chokes up air time on NPR (that is tax-payer funded, right? I hate paying her salary!). Krauthammer severs the last bit of umbilical tethering him to earth and floats away to a place where America is so wonderful, so powerful, so awesome in all its splendor that we have forgotten it is important to throw to the lesser peoples of the earth various bones of some sort - World Cup Women's soccer victories, various Olympic medals, the Ryder or Davis Cups. After all, the Old Europeans need something to salve the wounds of losing their empires to their Betters.

In a week, exactly, from today, the Democrats take control of Congress. After the first four days of intense legislative activity, it might be possible that a new media narrative takes shape. President Bush has already signalled, in a defeat for his party die-hards in Congress, that he would sign minimum-wage legislation that was not tied to any action on tax cuts for the wealthy. He has also signalled that he is open to legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices in the new presecription drug plan, which could force down the cost of the program and make it much simpler to use (my parents are both in the plan and are both highly intelligent, educated adults, and can make neither hide nor hair of it frontwards or backwards). Perhaps, as things actually change, the Krauthammers of the world will sink deeper into the background noise of public discourse. I am not saying it is likely. I am hopeful that it is possible.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Abortion Again (God Help Us)

Digby and Duncan brought up the subject, so I just wanted to say a few things. first, in reference to Digby's post, which is a rejection of the idea that Democrats should reach out to evangelicals because they are unregenerately Republican and, besides, who needs God on your side, right? Anyway, because one of the consultants the Democratic Party used was an evangelical, and raised the possibility of a reconsideration of blind adherence to a simplistic pro-choice position, this is incipient Republicanism sneaking in through the back way, which must be fought at all cost.

Atrios, on the other hand, offers a more direct approach. Debate is not necessary because the liberal position on alternatives to abortion - better education and access to adequate health care - are those offered by "moderates", so there is no debate. The end.

Except, of course, there hasn't been any debate at all, since Roe v Wade essentially closed off debate, opening the way for the polarization of public dialogue. The pro-choice position, staked out in the shadow of Justice Blackmun's confused and confusing opinion, understands its own precariousness, as each election cycle the dread prospect of overturning the decision is dragged out,k with all sorts of threats to the republic to follow. This has been the real debate - people pelting plastic feti and screaming "Babykiller!" at women entering clincs on the one side; the politics of fear on the other - and it ignores the ambivalence most Americans feel towards the procedure and its current legal standing.

Of course, overturning Roe would mean little. The vast majority of counties in the United States do not offer abortion services at all. If you live in North Dakota, there is one clinic in the entire state the provides the service, or you can go to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. The practicalities of abortion are making the legal debates obsolete.

At the same time, Duncan has a very good point. Better sex education has always been shown to have a positive impact on sexual behavior, sexually transmitted disease rates, teen pregnancy rates, and abortion rates. Until there are some kind of national minimal standards on sex education - more than abstinence only, please - we will continue to deny our young people access to the information they need to make good, informed choices. That this is inhibited by political forces that seek to deny any information about sex out of fear is undeniable; that some of these forces are Christian is also undeniable. This in no way makes them right (yes, even Christians can be wrong).

I honestly hope that Roe (or its follow-on case, 1989's Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v Casey) is overturned, and abortion politics are returned to the arena of serious public debate. Both the left and the right might be surprised at what transpires as America really wrestles, for the first time, with abortion as a political issue that lies within their control, not in the hands of ideologues whose only desire is power.

Moral Governance

One of the trump cards many atheists think they carry in the on-going god wars is the argument from moral governance. If, as has been asserted even here by me, God is love, why is evil permitted? The famous/infamous theodicy question is often used as an argument against the existence, at least of the "omni" God discussed below. It is also used to discredit the Biblical account of God because of divine complicity in everything from genocide to child murder (Elisha praying for bears to come out of the hills and kill children who had insulted him). Either way the argument from moral governance goes, it would seem God (god?) is found wanting.

Two things concerning this argument. It has become most popular in the modern era (although the ancients and medievals were aware of it), with the archetypical moment coming in the wake of the Lisbon earthquake when, seeking an explanation for the deaths of thousands, some enterprising persons put forth the proposition that those who died must have been guilty of some sin or other, otherwise they wouldn't have died. Never mind that the Book of Job discredited such simple-minded retributive justice, it would seem Voltaire's disgust was more popular than the fact that even some Christians thought the idea absurd. Since then, wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, floods, mass murders, and of course the genocidal insanity of the previous century - all seem to tally againt God.

What is the alternative offered? Why, rationality, of course. Let us look at the first consciously and conscientiously rational government - the French Revolutionary governments from 1789 until the Bonapartist coup. As more and more rational control was sought, then demanded, from redoing the calendar to the standardizing of clothing, to thinking thoughts - real freedom became more and more attenuated, because officially defined freedom was the norm. As the understanding of freedom applied was rationally determined, and rationality is open to all people, it can only be willful evil to resist the rational truths. Thus, these people are not only wrong, they are purposely wrong. There is nothing that can be done with them. Through such logic and thinking, perfectly rational, thousands died, the alst sight very often being their own beheaded bodies as their severed heads were shown to the crowds.

All one needs to do is read Lenin's works - especially The State and Revolution - to see the debt he owes to the French for his ability to rationalize away human life in pursuit of the revolutionary goal. He doesn't "faith" it away, or "believe" it away. He rationalizes it away - he reasons it away. How many millinos died as a result of such rationalization?

So much for rationality as an alternative to religion for moral governance. Or is it? The arguments are so familiar, and rehashed so often, that we tend to forget that, behind the words lie human lives, human bodies broken, burned, and buried in the name of some rational Truth. More than any "argument" that can be made concerning the question of the superiority of one set of moral values for governance over another, I am appalled at the lack of seriousness, and the refusal to acknowledge the reality that Reason's hands are no less bloody (and, by some reckoning, quite a bit more) than those of "unreasoning" faith. I say lack of seriousness because, as long as we continue to treat evil and its consequences as a problem to be solved, rather than a reality to be faced in new guises each and every day, we shall never get passed the "My argument is better than your argument" phase, and nothing will change and more and more people will die, or worse. In the endless pursuit to be right all the time, we forget that what is at stake is human life - human life that quite possibly could be saved if, rather than sit around and try to prove who is right and who is wrong, we actually did something about it.

In the end, any argument about the supriority or inferiority of one set of moral principloes for moral governance will fail because - human beings will fail. Rather than figure out beforehand what is and is not the correct way to order human personal and social life, perhaps we had better figure out how to fix the probelms we have, then fix the problems those fixes generate, and so on, and so on. We have to content ourselves with contingency, with limits, with the inevitability of failure and error. We have to be bold enough in the face of these realities to keep struggling, keep fighting to save just one life at a time, or maybe two, or maybe a hundred - it all depends on circumstances, I suppose - but we have to stop trying to be Right and start trying to live together.

OK, there is Stupid There, But . . .

I may be going mad. Or losing my lefty credentials. Or something, But, in the midst of this article I actually found a few points that made sense. Apart from the ridiculous aside concerning Star Wars and G. K. Chesterton (every Roman Catholic's favorite British author; he was so ultra-montane, he would have made Newman and Manning blush), the point Goldberg was trying to make - liberals are no less dogmatic and intransigent than those on the right with whom they disagree, and whom they villify for their "certainty", is fundamentally accurate. I would have wished another person had said it, and said it better, and more coherently, but the basic point he is making is one with which I am in total agreement, and have made myself on several occasions. My biggest beef with liberals is they pretend to be open-minded and welcome difference, but in fact want the "difference" to be mere appearance, preferring ideological conformity to true difference and distinction.

His example of same-sex marriage is a perfect one, and it works well because I happen to have a nuanced view. I believe that full marital rights need to be awarded to same-sex couples who wish to have their relationships legally recognized by the state. I believe these ceremonies should be civil by law, and religious by choice, and where the denominations allow them to take place. I also do not believe they should be called marriages. A distinction without a difference, perhaps, but there we are. In any case, there are few more sanctimonious, morally superior individuals than those who argue for same-sex marriage, and use their arguments to attack their opponents as hate-filled zealots who do not care about people. Zealotry, however, knows no political or religious distinction, and many of the most vocal on this issue would qualify for the modifier.

Listening to liberals preach on tolerance, diversity, and acceptability is a bit like listening to conservatives whine about how oppressed and neglected and ignored they are - they are both positioning themselves as those whose voices are not heeded in the mainstream, are victims of the conspiracies of a biased media and power structure that operates to thwart its struggle for the rescue of the American public. That both should make essentially the same argument (I am not suggesting that each argument is of equal weight; in fact, conservatives have laregly controlled the national dialogue for over a quarter century) makes one wonder, exactly, who is right and who is wrong. It also shows that both, at their core, believe themselves to be the representatives of moral and political Truth, beseiges by barbarians and infidels on all sides. I reach for the Maalox when I hear an earnest liberal preaching about human dignity as quickly as I do when I hear a conservative speak about true morality.

Humility is an underrated virtue these days. One must not only be right, but Right; one's beliefs must be reflective of ontological reality, demoting all others to perversion and error and heresy. Liberals quote DNA, conservatives quote scripture, but in the end, they are reaching for an authority they both believe is unimpeachable, an argument that is unawnswerable by their opponents. Those who pronounce a pox on the house of Certainty are, by definition, outside the argument, because, in truth, no one wants nuance and uncertainty. The stakes appear too high to afford distinction and the messy reality that doesn't necessarily conform with ideological absolutism.

Unfortunately, the stakes are indeed high, and that is precisely why we need to remove the blinders we place on ourselves when we pretend we, of all those human beings who have ever lived, have Figured It All Out, and are therefore given the tremendous responsibility of spreading our discovery of truth to all the earth. Isn't that what got us into this mess in Iraq?

When Goldberg says that liberals only want to tolerate those with whom they agree, I believe he is fundamentally truthful. It is a sad truth. We do not want to hear from those whose views differ from ours. We want our world-view reinforced, not challenged, because a challenge to the way we see the world is an affront to our personal integrity at its most basic level. We would rather insult and laugh at those whose views do not conform to our own. We have nothing to learn from those whose world-view is different from ours, because those who are different are, by definition, wrong, and therefore have nothing to teach us except error.

Political debate only works if the opponents are listening to one another. Political action only works when enough people are convinced it is possible that, by so acting, something substantive can be accomplished. Don't get me wrong, I know quite well that the recently retired and unlamented 109th Congress was an object lesson in Republican refusal to countenance Democratic difference and debate. I also do not trust all the Wise Ones from Washington, including many Republicans, offering advice on how Democrats whould act in a bi-partisan way. The Democrats have a mandate to act in certain ways, and would be throwing away their principles, as well as the support of those who put them in office, if they acted otherwise. This does not mean they possess Truth. They just have a certian amount of political authority granted them to act in certain ways.

To think that Democrats winning is a sign that Truth has triumphed over error, right over wrong, good over evil, is to succumb to the same disease that infects the current White House. The world is messy - and that includes the world in which liberals live. While I would argue with Goldberg's notion that certainty is necessary for politics, there is no doubt that it is part and parcel of liberal as much as conservative political beliefs.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


I have been mulling over this particular post for a while now, always hesitant to write something that is bound to cause confusion and perhaps even a bit of anger. Talking about God is never easy, and always fraught with the hazards that come with challenging people's most cherished beliefs (or non-beliefs). When I was in seminary (where I received my Master's Degree), the arguments were heated, and occasionally perched on the edge of violence, because an assault on one'e belief in God, one's image of God, is so personal, so bound up with that person's identity, that it was often perceived as a personal affront. Even those who profess atheism are uncomfortable with challenges to God-imagery, challenges which very often make their arguments irrelevant.

I remember the moment I began to think the whole "omni-" God thing - God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent - was wrong. As an undergraduate, long before I even thought of studying theology or philosophy, I overheard a discussion of these supposed attributes of the divine, and how they involved God in contradiction, which was said to be impossible (by whom, I'm not quite sure). For example, if God is all powerful, one person said, could God create a rock that God was unable to lift? Could God create another God? In another context (a discussion I read concerning creationism vs evolution), I read that, using certain creationist logic, one could make the argument that God only created the universe moments ago, placing in our heads all the memories of our previous lives, as well as te vast tomes of history, which would be, of course, false.

It took years for these initial, tiny cracks in the facade of traditional theism to crumble the edifice that was my own belief in this strange creature so many people called God. Reading N. T. Wright recently has only confirmed for me what I have held tacitly and unspoken for so long. First, we all use the word God, thinking that we are all using the word to refer to the same thing - some old white guy with a long flowing beard, wearing a robe, by turns smiling benevolently or frowning malevolnetly upon the world that is his handiwork. This general, unquestioning univocity (to use a fancy term that means the same as the previous sentence) creates a situation wherein discussions about "religion", too, no longer need to refer to anything specific because, of course, we all know what religion is all about, don't we? I have written at length and ad nauseum about my objections to this whole idea, so I will not tire anyone with a repeat performance, except to say that much the same argument applies to the word "God" that I have used in my discussions over the meaningless word "religion". Without a reference to anything specific - who this God is that we are all talking about - the word means nothing, and all the ideas in our heads have no reference to anything except, as Freud and Feuerbach noted, our own wishes or concepts of what is best (or worst) in humanity writ large.

What offends so many people when they read the Bible is that the God of the Old and New Testaments is not this God who is omni-. This God does not conform to what we think a God should be. This God does not act the way we want a god to act. I also think that, because of the emphasis on the omni's, too often we think of God as some kind of invisible magician, pulling rabbits out of hats, or our chestnuts out of the fire - and when that doesn't happen, it is obvious that God does not exist, at least to these people. Rather than struggle with the God professed and witnessed to in Scripture - much as Joshua did (and remember, Joshua lost) - we would ask God to be something God is not, and when God doesn't meet our qualifications, we reject him.

I wish to offer an alternative. Read the Bible with the omnis out of your head. Don't think of God as some wizened, and wise, old king, a combinatino of Plato, George Washington, and Santa Claus. These are foolish notions, childish notions, best left in the nursery where they belong. Read the Bible and discover who the God of Christianity is. Read who this God whom Jesus called "Father" is. Read about what this God did, both the wonderful and the horrific. Read about the love this God has, not just for Israel, but for the whole created order - a creation he loved so much, he actually sought to destroy it when it became so tainted by human sin (yet relented enough to allow Noah to salvage a bit from the wreckage). I have often heard people, well-educated, smart people, say that they don't understand why God this instead of that - again, the whole magical thinking thing. All I can say is asking "why" of God doesn't mean much, except, in the end, to discover that, as the first epistle of John says, "God is love". This love doesn't always manifest itself in the Bible in ways we might like (an Old Testament scholar wrote a book in the early 1980's called Texts of Terror; so much for Christians not facing the horrors of the Bible square-on) but it is always there, sitting behhind what happens, and (more importantly) how people perceive the role of God in these acts.

So, to discover God, we should not look into our heads, or the concepts of philosophy. We should read the Bible. Again. And again. And again. God isn't a concept, except insofar as the word "God" is only conceptual until that concept is filled by the specifics of Scripture.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Other Christmas Story

I know I said I was going to take a break, but I felt a need, as it were, to put up something here from Dickens' A Christmas Carol (I have the Yale University Press fascimile edition of the original manuscript; try reading Dickens' handwriting, and you'll not have a merry Christmas). The high point of the story, for me, is not the disclosure at the grave that Scrooge will die that night if is not to change. Personally I have always felt that irrelevant; we all die, and none of us know the manner of our death or the status of those who might or might not mourn. For me, the climax is the lecture Scrooge receives from the Spirit of Christmas Present at Cratchit's house. Scrooge has just been told tha Tiny Tim will die (and there is no condition placed upon that fate; Tim is as dead as Marley's doornail whether Scrooge changes or not, all the TV specials notwithstanding) and he begins to weep. The Spirit quotes back Scrooge's words concerning the adventatious nature of death, decreasing the surplus population, and then he continues:
Man!" said the Gost, "if man you be in hear; not adamants; forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you and such as you decide what men shall live, what men shall die! It my be, that in the sight of heaven, you are more worthless and less fir to live tham millions like this poor mann's child. . . ."

I wonder what the oh-so-superior, oh-so-perfectly knowledgeable idiots on the right make of such a statement. O'Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh, Coulter, Malkin - the whole blathering herd of non-thinking flapping lips stand as Scrogge stands, under the judgement of their own words, their own sense of superiority, hoist by their own petard, as it were.

Dickens' novella is a part and parcel of Christmas celebration because it echoes the true meaning of the day - the new birth offered even to the most "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" - against the backdrop of a society dedicated to forgetting the truth that God's love is not measured by the wealth of the nation, or the effectiveness of its business culture. Those who claim a War on Christmas would do to remember Dickens' words in the mouth of that sublime and joyous Spirit - the real War is the one waged day after day to render inhuman all those who do not agree with them; to create a society as unfeeling, as uncaring, indeed as hostile as the one in which Scrooge stomped about with his eyes downcast. We should all remember this day that any of us, myself most definitely included, are in no positino to pass judgement upon the lives, and most especially the untimely deaths, of others, because we are, most likely unable to pronounce such judgements apart from pronouncing them upon ourselves. While I would offer, with Dickens, that this tale not leave you out of the spirit of th day, perhaps there is a lesson here we can recall in the heat of July, or the rain of April, or the falling leaves of October - we are fellow-travellers upon this globe, and all we should do is help one another as fellow-travellers.

God Bless us, everyone.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays to You and Yours (A Little Vacation Here for Family)

I am planning to remove myself completely from the Internet until Tuesday, to spend time with my wife and children in the run up to Christmas and the day itself. While there are many things I would like to comment upon, I would rather let the idiocy, criminality, and insanity of the world slide off my shoulders for a long weekend as I and we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Three days (four really, because I am limiting myself to this longer-than-I-intended post) will create quite a back-up, so expect all sorts of interesting things, including a year-end round-up (God, I hate those things, but I feel obligated) at the end of next week. For now, though, take a moment to remember that, for Christians around the world, we are lighting candles to celebrate the coming into the world of Light, in the midst of the darkness and death that surrounds us.

Charles Wesley is the poet-laureate of the Methodist movement. He wrote over 6,000 hymns and poems, and even the great Isaac Watts (among Watts' compositions are "Joy to the World", sung to a variation of Handel's "Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates" from The Messiah) was impressed by some of those that appeared during Watts' lifetime. The first publication Wesley produced was 1734's Hymns and Poems on the Nativity of Our Lord. A shorter version of one of those hymns (Wesley was famous, or perhaps infamous for the length of his poems; ten or eleven verses was not uncommon, and some could have close to twenty) is among the best-loved Christmas hymns:
Hark! the herald angels sing
"Glory to the new-born king;
Peace on earh, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
woth th'angelic host proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that we no more may die,
Born to raise us from the earth,
Born to give us second birth.
Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
late in time behold him come,
Off-spring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th'incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More Light! (Last Words of Goethe)

I suffer from a bit of seasonal affective disorder, and this year it has been aggravated by working Third Shift. What that means is, I rarely see more than an hour or two of daylight. My slight downturn in mood is made worse by a lack of adjustment to this new schedule; I still haven't figured out a routine way to balance all my commitments, and thus feel pressed for lack of time to accomplish both what needs to get done, and what I need to do for myself. Frustration inevitably follows. It does not make me a good partner, and I feel bad for my wife and daughters, because, even though I understand the source of my moods, I feel a bit helpless to do much about them.

Today is December solstice. I am being geographically correct in saying that rather than "Winter Solstice", because it is also solstice in the southern hemisphere and it is the first day of summer down there. As the earth revolves around the sun, the angle at which the northern hemisphere hangs relative to the sun limits the amount of sunlight, and therefore both warmth and light, to a few hours and an average of just a few degrees above the fressing point of water. In my little neck of the woods, the sun will rise at 7:22 am and set at 4:27 pm, nine hours and five minutes of daylight. Starting tomorrow, that will begin to expand, roughly a minute a day, until the June solstice, when we will have close to fifteen hours of daylight and much warmth.

In the midst of winter, indeed at the very beginning of winter, the seed of spring and summer is planted. My recent feelings of slight depression are countered by the knowledge that this, too, shall pass, and that, even as winter seems to drag on without end, the daylight continues to lengthen, and I will have more and more opportunites to enjoy daylight, and warmth.

I wish all of you who have this discomfort or disorder a happy solstice, then, and offer hopes that you remember that we are entering a time when darkness slowly fades beneath the onslaught of celestial mechanics.

Theological Musings

Yesterday I spent part of a post kvetching about the sad state of theology as it is currently practiced in the hallowed halls of academe. Of course, I really don't know how it is practiced anymore because it has been 13 and a half years since I graduated, and things may have changed drastically in the interim. I doubt it, however, because the curriculum uner which I staggered was little changed from thirty years previous - we still read Karl Barth and Paul Tillich; we still were breathless over Reihold Niebuhr's unremarkable conviction that even when we have good intentions, they spring from sinful motives; we still discussed Rudolf Bultmann even though he was long discarded in intellectual circles.

Part of the problem with studying theology, as in any discipline, is getting a handle on what, exactly, it is about. I studied political science as an undergraduate, and if ever there was a discipline in search of an identity, there it is. Serious studies on "voter behavior", "citizen attitudes", and "party alignment" that spwaned conclusion any moderately educated informed citizen could draw. The big names in the biz had reached their peak during the Vietnam era and were still discussed in the Reagan era with a seriousness that should have left us wondering why the hell we signed on to this particular bus tour.

Theology is no different, except its history is much longer, and much more varied. Along with the really big names from the past - the Gospel writers, St. Paul, Augustine, St. Thomas, Luther/Calvin/Zwingli/Melancthon, John Wesley, Schleiermacher, Barth, and Tillich are the less well-known but oh-so-important figures such as Tertullian, Origen, Gregory of Nanzianzus, Basil the Great, Anselm, Albertus Magnus (the tutor of Thomas), William Ockham (my personal favorite medieval thinker), Jonathan Edwards, the Spanish mystical poet St. John of the Cross, Walter Rauschenbusch, Richard Niebuhr, and Langdon Gilkey. There are the controversies - the early heretical controversies, the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, the struggle between the sacred and secular powers the raged for five hundred years between the end of the Roman Empire and the assertion of Church supremacy at the dawn of the second millenium. Once the Protestant Reformation began, the story becomes even wilder, and harder to follow in a single flowing narrative.

With all this history, and competing narratives and claims of authority, when we arrive at the 20th century, we become burdened with a flood of theological talent that makes all those who come after seem unimportant - from Adolf von Harnack at the beginning of the 20th century, through the early years of dialectical theology to the post-war boom in the reputations of Barth, Tillich, the late Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr, Harvey Cox, Martin Luther King, Gustavo Gutierrez, James Cone, Rosemary Radford Reuther.

There is no doubt these were powerful thinkers, with tremendous influence. The problem is that the world to which they spoke, and from which they spoke, is dead. It is important to read and understand them, as it is important to read and understand all those mentioned above and the great intellectual background - the neo-Platonism and neo-Aristotelianism of much of developing Christian thought; the role of monastic life on church teaching; the differences between Sabellianism and patripassionism - but all of it must remain as background, the great well from which we must now draw new water. All the names and controversies and ideas mentioned above are the foundation and wall stones of the well; we must seek new water in this well, our water, something that slakes our thirst for spiritual meaning and understanding in a world drastically different from any previously lived in. This is not to say the world isn't always changing, and new ideas aren't always necessary; I am saying, however, that there are patterns of thought to each rough time period in history, and the patterns of thought of our present moment are much different from those we inherited from our teachers. As hard as it is to do, we must read all these, and more, as great historical tomes, not necessarily relevant documents that can offer us hope and guidance. Again, I am not suggesting there are not opportunities for learning something new from the past; if something strikes us, we must surely retrieve it for our own day. We must not treat them with undeserving respect or deference, however; we must be brutal with authority which would stifle creativity and opportunity for new understandings that speak life for us today.

Rather than look for the next Karl Barth or even the next Emil Brunner (another Swiss theologian overshadowed by and rejected by Karl Barth because of his love affair for natural theological knowledge), I would suggest we work to cultivate, within ourselves, the habits that make for lively, relevant theological understanding. I am Karl Barth. So are you, if you try just a little. I am also Paul Tillich and Freiderich Schleiermacher and St. Thomas. You could be St. Teresa of Avila, or perhaps William of St. Thierry. The one in back, hands stuffed in his pockets and shoulders hunched could be the next Martin Luther. Theology, like all spiritual gifts, comes from God; it is the grace of the Holy Spirit, emboldening us to speak of those things for which speech is, un the end, inadequate. It is the fearlessness that forces us to challenge what was and what is with what could be and what is promised. I am heartened by many nascent theological developments, and I am a not uncritical fan and reader of Bishop N. T. Wright. My hope, however, is that this base becomes the foundation stone of glorious new theological exercises that both sustain and challenge the church into the next century. I do not wish to leave the greats from the 20th century behind, as put them in their place - in the historical section of the bookshelf - to make room for an understanding of what God is doing, or could do, for us now, and in to tomorrow.

Short Take

Congratulations to Monica Lewinsky, for graduating with a Masters Degree in Social Psychology from the London School of Economics. The photo over at Yahoo!News is a two-and-a-half year old file photo that shows a beautiful woman where before was a more awkward post-adolescent. I know that few of her critics (including, once, myself) could have achieved what she has done; LSE isn't ITT Technical Institue, you know. All the best, Monica, and best wishes.

Is Cal Thomas (gasp!) Evolving?

I ran across this column by Cal Thomas through a link from Travis G. at Sadly, No. I seem to be obsessing a bit about Cal, ever since I read the strangest column in the aftermath of the elections, and which I wrote about earlier. What made the column strange was its depth, its signalling of a possible re-evaluation of the political dimension of right-leaning Christianity. The column linked above is in that vein, and the results are, well, mixed. It shows that Cal's transformation from bold culture warrior to a perhaps more thoughtful, cautious observer of America is slow, with hiccups and bumps along the way, yet nonetheless a strangely compelling thing to watch. Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, it takes time, and sometimes the pupae is uglier than the caterpillar, but we all hope the butterfly is gorgeous at the end.

With a snide sneer at the War on Christmas in the first paragraph (all culture warriors die hard, apparently), Cal considers the MSM's love affiar with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani in terms of religious messianism. This is neither new nor original; what would have shown a real breakthrough in Cal's rather turgid mind would be a column on the continued obsession among many on the right with George W. Bush as an actual Messiah figure. Such a column, to show an actual breakthrough would have ripped such nonsense apart. Perhaps it is a bit early in the process to ask such things, although I was hoping as I read he might at least venture in to that territory. In any event, there is no doubt that there are elements from messianic literature - sacred and secular (read Ernst Bloch in the MIT translations for a good example of the latter) - that feed our political narratives. Especially in times such as those in which we currently live, where our President is broken, indeed the office itself may be ireeprably damaged, we long for a leader to return us to greatness. This is only human.

Of course, such longing, as Cal points out (correctly I might add), is based upon a perception of our own weakness and helplessness in the face of events over which we seem to have no control. I think this is less a description of the public, which elected a progressive Congress as a counterweight to the Bush Administration, than it is Establishment types who long for some sign that Humpty Dumpty will be put together again. The Establishment, media and political wings thereof, disdain the public, quoting poll numbers that have become increasingly irrelevant, and ignoring an election that, to put it bluntly, scares the shit out of them. Cal's dismissive tone towards the messianic tone of the coverage of the (press') leading Prsidential hopefuls (where's Tom Vilsack in all this? Dennis Kucinich?) is a sign that he is starting to awaken from his dogmatic slumber and see that, in a democracy, we do not need a Leader, because we are not powerless, and forces are not outside our ability to control. Leave messianism to those who feel a desire to be led.

While Cal has far to go, I think this particular column shows that, as a work in progress, Cal shows much promise. I do not doubt he will remain as conservative as he always has been. To me, that is neither here nor there. My hope for him is that, having been slapped by reality in November, he continues to recognize reality as and for what it is, and respond to it, rather than create fantasies and myths and dwell in some Platonic realm of never-changing forms. I think Cal is evolving nicely and I will continue to pray for his continued progress.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Discussing Something that Never Happened

First, a link - this piece by guest blogger Nitpicker over at Unclaimed Territory - which discusses what Pres. Bush did and did not say in his WaPo interview. While he cited the "not winning, not losing" quote, he did so in a way that, in his own words, he thought it "interesting", although he seemed to make clear that he did not think it was correct. Bush still sees victory as possible, even necessary, even though he never defines what victory would look like.

Fast-forward to today's news conference, and Tom Gjelten of NPR asked the President a question for which that supposed quote was the basis. So, we have a press corps incapable of understanding exactly what an article in the press actually said, and framing a discussion over something that was not said.

What made it worse was that a discussion on NPR with E. J. Dionne continued to discuss the whole question in this bizarre context - everyone continues to claim the President said something he demonstrably did not say - and thus the discourse becomes further and further removed from reality.

Bush would never admit we were not winning. What he said today is little different from what he has said in the past - it's tough, and it's going to get tougher, but victory is necessary and inevitable. He never said in the interview that he thinks we are neither winning nor losing. He didn't change his rhetoric today, or retract his statement, because there is nothing to retract. The whole exercise is some strange, incoherent nonsense that makes a mockery of the press and its role to inform the public. It is bad enough we have a President unwilling, or perhaps constitutionally incapable of dealing with the reality we are facing, militarily in Iraq or politically in America. We have a national press corps equally unable to understand the situation in Iraq or the radically different political context in which we now live. Rather than face the uncomfortable reality, they create easily digestible non-controversies in order to stay within a framework they understand. Not a single reporter asked the President whether or not, with a vast majority of the American people favoring withdrawal as soon as possible, and a recent election confirming this opinion, he thought it necessary to face the distinct possibility of withdrawal. Not one person asked the President if he was taking seriously the ISG report (except for a question to which everyone knew the answer concerning negotiations with Iraq and Syria).

Is it any wonder the political blogs are so popular?

Secularism vs. Clericalism?

Some years ago, German Reformed theologian Jurgen Moltmann published a series of essays on the role of faith in public life entitled God for a Secular Society. Moltmann is no lightweight. His A Theology of Hope inaugurated an entire new way of doing theology by living the faith; Moltmann was inspired by utopian Marxist Ernst Bloch to re-envision theology and the Church as a source of hope, a place where, to quote Jesus from the Gospels, a new thing is being done. He is given credit with starting a movement called political theology in Europe; those who followed in other parts of the world were more directly beholden to Marx on the one hand and actual ministerial practice on the other, and created the liberation theologies that upset the current pope so much he actually excommunicated one of its practitioners, Leonoardo Boff. Moltmann has written numerous weighty tomes on the doctrine of creation, the Trinity, the Church, and eschatology.

I realized the old theological paradigm in the United States - await with baited breath the latest German book because the Germans invented serious scholarship - was dead when I read the first essay in which Moltmann, in arguing for the continued relevance of the Church and its discourse in a secular society uses the Federal Theologians of the 18th century as his discussion point. The Federal Theologians were a group of Swiss Reformed theologians attempting to work out an alternative to the more hierarchical understanding of the Trinity and Providence that was prevalent in more authoritarian parts of Europe. Writing from more democratic Switzerland, the country that invented federalism, they attempted the first real democratic rendering of Christian theology. It is a fascinating historical period, and many of the theologians in question made important advancements in how we can describe the ineffable in a way that is not necessarily compatible with monarchy.

This in no way means they are at all relevant for our lives today. While I find reading theology and philosophy relaxing, invigorating, and even occasionally aggravating, I have ceased to believe that we need to rehash the same debates Karl Barth had with the Liberals, whether Bonhoeffer or Harnack were more representative of the best of German Lutheran theology, or the possible relevance of Hegelian ontology versus Kantian epistemology in constructing theological arguments. These are not just sterile; they ignore the fact that theology is supposed to come out of the lebenswelt - that wonderful Heideggerian term that refers to our particularity, our here and now.

Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall seemed to agree, and published a 3-volume work on "Christian Faith in North America" that tried to do just what I felt needed to be done. He wrote one of the great theological works of the early 1970's. Of course, he wrote it in the mid-1990's, thus rendering him as irrelevant as Moltmann.

With the exception of N. T. Wright, there are no serious theologians that jump up and say, "Hey!". We are starved for serious thought. We need a new way of taking Christian ideas and making them speak to our age.

We do not need the evolving position of Pope Benedict XVI (former Roman Catholic theologian Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) put forth most clearly in a Philippine newspaper by Fr. Roy Cimagala (and reprinted here at Faith in Public, which posits something called "secularism" as one pole of unacceptable social thought, and "clericalism" as another pole. My problems with this evoloving position are many (not the least its Aristotelian "mean between two extremes" approach to ethical thought that creates a fake neutral position between two equally fake ethical extremes), but I find the understandings of "secularism" to be insulting, and of "clericalism" to be disingenuous at best.

The Pope has spoken often against "secularism", and Fr. Cimagala is express in his understanding that secularism, being unGodly by definition, is therefore amoral at least, if not immoral (since God is the standard for morality, and if God is absent from secularism, therefore . . .; is it any wonder I detest the simplistic use of logic? You create false universals, posit an equally fake particular, and that leads you to a fake conclusion). Of course, secular social thought is far from immoral; John Stuart Mill, Richard Rorty, W. E. B. DuBois, Bertrand Russell, and Isaiah Berlin (to name some both of my favorites and the more important non-religious moral philosophers) are all concerned with ethical conduct and a just social order. None of them were particularly friendly toward religion, with Russell even writing abook called Why I am not a Christian. To argue, as Cimagala does, that "secularism" is subjectivism writ large, is simple ignorance.

On the other hand, to claim that "clericalism" - the idea that God should take sides in political disputes - is inherently wrong is at best disingenuous. First, there is an irreducible political core to the Christian faith. Second, as James Cone, Gustavo Guteirrez, Josiah Young and other liberation theologians have argued, God does indeed take sides. He sides with life - real human life, not necessarily feti - over and against all those forces that would bring death and dehumanization. The previouos Pope made many of the same arguments, which has always made me wonder why he and Ratzinger were so hostile to their South American and Central American Catholic brethren who were arguing much the same thing, just using different words. I suppose there is an element of truth, and one I have argued and still maintain, that those with whom we dispute are still children of God, in need of love and foregiveness. That truth should in no way prevent us from saying what needs to be said, and doing what needs to be done. Jesus loved Jerusalem, he wept over Jerusalem. He also pronounced a sentence upon it for its refusal to act as God wanted it to act, and paid a staggering price for that verdict.

The "secularism versus clericalism" paradigm that is evolving in Roman Catholic circles is no more real or relevant than Jurgen Moltmann's discussion of 18th century Swiss theologians or Douglas John Hall's embrace of Paul Tillich for the 1990's. We still must wait for serious theology to adress where we are, and more important, what we are to do.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dangerous . . . or Irrelevant?

The much-heralded "Listening Tour", which followed the even-more heralded release of the ISG report, is over, and Bush seems determined to send more troops to Iraq. The numbers floated range from 15,000 to 50,000, depending upon the source, but the common thread seems to quote at least 20,000, with 15,000 of those destined for Baghdad alone, doubling our present force in the Iraqi capital. While the press has put the stories out there, it seems only the left end of the Internet is discussing the context within which such ideas are floated. A typical example is this piece at Think, where Bush's earlier claim that he would take the advice of his generals in the field is now, in Ron Ziegler's wonderful turn of phrase, "no lon ger operative". Ignoring the unanimous advice of his generals, including the Army Chief of Staff who has said publicly that Iraq is "breaking" the United States Army, Bush seems bound and determined to do the exact opposite of what he should do if he were actually listening - to Baker-Hamilton, to his military advisors, or to the American people as expressed in the recent election. We are confronted with a potentially dangerous situation, a Constiitutional crisis of epic proportions, should current active-duty military brass refuse to follow direct orders from the Commander-in-Chief and not agree to his orders for more troops to the Mesopotamian abbatoir.

Of course, the generals will most likely suck it up and send the men and women over there. Or they will retire - as many have done - in disgust over the way the Administration is treating the military, and go public with their criticisms. Or they may choose a middle ground, operating within bureaucratic circles to delay or cirumvent as much as possible the carrying out of the orders without actually disobeying them (although this might constitute a crisis-in-hiding). The point is, or perhaps should be, that the President is doing what he expressly said he would not do, and going againt the wishes of the American people as well. Bound and determined to be correct no matter how many people have to die, Bush is presenting us with a very dangerous situation, and our choices as how to respond are not helped by a media that continues to operate under the illusion that Bush matters.

We could get very afraid. We could also, on the other hand, see this as an opportunity to do to Bush what the Republicans wanted to do to Bill CLinton but never could because he was smarter than all of them (including the collective wisdom of the oh-so-wise, Inside-the-Beltway pundit class)- make the President irrelevant to the forging of policy in the United States. A man entering the White House determined to reassert the Imperial Presidency could end it returning the office to its status as cipher that it held throughout much of American history (name an accomplishment of President Banjamin Harrison). Should Bush continue on his reckless course, threatening the deterioration of our military capabilities, the proper balance between the civilian command structure and the uniformed services, the Bill of Rights and American law enforcement in the name of the non-existent War on Terror, we may see the effective end of the Bush Administration come January as the Democratic Party takes control of Congress (despite the media vultures hanging over Tim Johnson's sickbed; Cokie Roberts was almost breathless yesterday in her determination to find trouble for the Democratic Senate). Without actually removing him from office, by asserting its prerogatives over the purse and oversight, Congress could render Bush completely irrelevant to the formation of policy.

I am not suggesting that Bush is not dangerous to our Constitutional balance of power, civilian control of the military, or our civil liberties. On the contrary, he and his Administration are the most reckless, criminal bunch of hooligans to ever waltz through the corridors of power. Rather than react with panic however, a little judicious assertion of proper power on the part of Congress could start the return the balance where it belongs. Rather than talk impeachment, although it certainly seems warranted, perhaps the Democratic Congress will discover that it has no need to remove Bush to render him no longer President.

Nostalgia, Memory, and Christmas (More personal, although a bit political)

I have hesitated to write about the whole phony "War on Christmas" because I earlier made an unwarranted, unethical personal attack on someone who firmly believes such is actually taking place. I didn't want to visit a place that reminded me that I was capable of being as shallow and nasty as the right. I also didn't want to get into an "argument" over this nonsense because, to put it bluntly, it is a bit like arguing with Holocaust Deniers. You don't argue with them; you ignore them. I feel the same way about those who carry on about the War on Christmas. It simply isn't true, and no amount of arguing will convince anyone who refuses to be convinced. When an ideological article of faith becomes "true", it is impervious to factual argument - free markets are the answer to all our ills, Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, George Bush is a great President, liberal secularists are waging a War on Christmas. All of them are demonstrably false and easily refuted. All of them, however are also still discussed as if they had some inherent truth value.

Having said all that, it is hard to ignore the fact is is less than a week before Christmas, except maybe for the fact that, after an earlier batch of winter weather, we hear in the northern prairie are enjoying late-October/early-November weather. The daylight lasts about 4 hours, the kids are getting restless and eager, and my wife is dreading this weekend, with 5 services between Saturday evening at 6 pm and Sunday night at 11 pm. And, as always, there are still presents and cards to buy, wrapping to get done, meal planning, and the inevitable head slap as something gets missed.

I have great memories of Christmas from my childhood. The youngest of five children, my earliest Christmas memories are of a huge, out-of-control day with lots of noise and things going on. I have a picture from one of those Christmas mornings. It must have been 1967, because I was about 2 years old. My mother must have taken the photograph, because my father's leg is visible (but that's about all). The five of us are spread across the floor of the living room and one can almost hear the cacophony of the room.

Some other Christmas memories include the year my oldest sister was freshman, or perhaps sophomore in college. There is nearly eleven years difference in our ages, so while she was enjoying wild times in care-free early adulthood, I was in third or fourth grade. This was the last year of "Santa", and I was up at 5 am to get my stocking (my parents had gone to bed about an hour before). I immediately went in to my sisters' bedroom (my two oldest sisters shared a bedroom, and this was the last year my older sister was home for Christmas for several years) to open my stocking. My sister was all smiles and "oohed" and "aahed" over everything. She had returned from a party about the same time my parents had gone to bed, yet she indulged me in my childhood Christmas joy.

I remember many evenings spent sitting in our living room, listening to RCA records released through the old Grants' store chain - Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet will always be linked with Christmas in my mind. Incidentally, if anyone knows where CD copies of those old records are available, let me know; there is a recording of Johnny Cash singing "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and the Andre Kostelanitz Orchestra performing "Angels we Have Heard on High" that still takes my breath away. Christmas Eve service, carol singing, my father reading the Christmas story from Luke from his old KJV Bible, the huge trees in the bay window - all of it reminds me of Christmas and good, warm feelings.

I also remember horrible fights over tree decorating and putting the lights on; one year my mother threatened me with a yardstick and my sister broke in to hysterics. My brother and I have always had a difficult relationship - it is difficult to define the source, and many of the details are either irrelevant or too horrible to go into any detail - and one year he sucker-punched me so hard I spent ten minutes in a heap on the floor. There were the years money was tight and presents were scarce. Of course, the worst was the year the Jehovah's Witness came to our house, with six of us spread across the living room (my oldest sister was married and enjoying Christmas with her family), and the woman had brought her daughter along. The child's eyes goggled, and my mother only made things worse by trying to foist a gift upon her, insulting the woman and her beliefs.

So, yes, I suffer from Christmas nostalgia as much as anyone, emphasizing the good and ignoring the bad. Yet the bad memories are as much a part of my Christmases past as the good ones, and part and parcel of what "Christmas" means to me. I sometimes think, in contemplating the whole "War on Christmas" thing, that too may suffer from some kind of nostalgia bereft of real memory to leaven the rose-colored, snow-filled glasses of those who would insist that Christmas be observed in only one way, preferably the way they remember from childhood. This is a danger because it prevvents us from thinking clearly and honestly about what the holiday is and how we should celebrate it. We must not separate Christmas from memory, nor indeed any of our life from memory, because it threatens our equilibrium. It would be nice if all Christmases included big snows, laughter, gaggles of children enjoying little but fun and excitement, and quiet moments of contemplation of the birth of the Christ child. They don't and to pretened they either have or should to be real is to engage in nostalgia, which is a servant of ideology (the idea is not original with me; I stole it from Christopher Lasch). Once we start insisting that reality conform to our preconceptions rather than that we follow the ebb and flow of real events, even those difficult to contemplate or integrate into our lives, we are entering the fantasy realm of ideology.

None of this means that I am either joyless or not planning to have a wonderful Christmas with my two small children. I still enjoy listening to Christmas music, although I no longer listen to Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet; my speed is more classical and even baroque Christmas music, including great choral peices by Bach. I still am eager to peek in my stocking (my wife and I exchange stockings), but I usually wait a bit later to awaken than I did thirty years ago. Although we have toned down the decorations this year, and have also seriously toned down the whole Santa thing - this is a parsonage after all, and there is a reason the day is called Christmas - we still try to keep a festive house and exchange gifts, even ones with "Santa" on the tag. I refuse to buy into the current, near-insane commercial stampede that is the "Holiday Season", an affront to the real meaning of the day, and prefer quiet to noise. If that makes me a "threat" to Christmas, so be it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holding Them in Contempt

One is tempted to wonder why the main stream press is so clueless concerning liberal and lefty bloggers' attitude towards the Bush Administration. They seem to assume, without any concern for the reality surrounding them (not least the recent election), that the Executive is entitled to deference simply because it is the Executive. They thus treat the words and actions of the President and his officials as worhty of comment and consideration whether or not any one in the country gives a fig. The disconnect between the press and the public was once, during the impeachment of President Clinton, a matter of some commentary among the press, although then it tended to come down to how little the public understood the weight of the mattes under consideration. Rather than think that, perhaps, the public was wiser than their media and Congressional representatives, they held the public in contempt for their support for President Clinton and disdain for the Congressional Republican witchhunt.

Fast forward eight years and the disconnect between press and administration on one side and the public on the other is not even noted. Indeed, the press doesn't even bother to note, except in passing, the polls that show the public does not support the President, the Republican Party, or the President's latest trial balloon of increasing troop strength in Iraq. They just report and report and report, and we just shake our heads in disgust. As an example, I heard Cokie Roberts on NPR this morning (why in the world is this vaccuous woman wasting electricity?) and she is the perfect example of the empty-headed, small-minded Washington press corps. Her "analysis" was lacking substance, understanding, or even consideration of policy and the impact of public policy. It sounded much more like a gossip columnist in some monarchy, discussing who is in favor, who is out of favor, and how dare the Democrats actually assume they can govern when the wise ones of Washington have declared them incapable of doing so. It was nonsensical and devoid of any appreciation for what is happening in the nation; it was inside-the-beltway crap at its worst.

I believe what Scarecrow at Fire Dog Lake said about the Administration in this piece applies to the main stream press as well:
[They do] not beieve in America. They don't accept the principle that the authority of government flows from the consent of the people. They don't believe in America's core ideas of democracy, or the rule of law, checks and balances, the Bill of Rights, individual human dignity, or such quaint notions as pursuing negotiations instead of war.

These are the reasons I hold the vast majority of the main stream press in contempt. They reflect the worst of the Administration and its habits of malignity. They do so because they are reflexive in their insistence that the President and the Administration deserve some amount of deference and respect, rather than the strange democratic idea that support and respect flow both ways; since the President does not respect the wishes of the people, why should we accord any deference to him or his policies, especially those that go against the express wishes of the American people? The press are as bad as the government they cover.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Congrats to Me and You

If you, like me, have a blog, you are Time magazine's Person of the Year. If you upload to YouTube, you are Person of the Year. If you comment on what you read on the internet, you are Person of the Year. We have already become a force to be reckoned with in politics, and are making changes in society as well. We aren't just kids swapping rumors at MySpace, or the one-handed porn-surfers. We are the Person of the Year. I think we all deserve a pat on the collective back.

Bizarro World Gets Even Moreso

It is just shy of six weeks since a national referendum left a spanked Republican Party sstanding on the sidelines, with even president Bush admitting the Party had received a "thumpin'". The top issue, of course, was the current occupation of Iraq. Between the election and now, there has been much discussion of what the results of the election would mean for an administration institutionally incapable of accepting criticism. Also, there was the much heralded Iraq Study Group (ISG) report, released with much adulation from Dean Broder and other Washington sycophants, that offered not so much a solution as an opportunity, at least, to think honestly about the mess we have made. There are no real solutions offered, because the ISG could honestly admit that, in fact, there are no solutions left. No matter what the United States decides to do, the situation is what it is.

In a world where elected leaders acted on the behalf of the elctorate, a consensus would be firming up as to how best to extricate oursleves from Iraq as quickly as possible. In a world where politicians were held to account for their words, Joe Lieberman would be trying to explain how he can justify his statement that no one wants to end our occupation more than he does. In a world where there was a press that was not under the thumb of a now-descredited Republican Party, no one would listen to John McCain.

Instead, even as most Americans want us out, the sooner the better, from Iraq, the President, with rhetorical backing from John McCain and Joe Lieberman (name anyone else who is saying it, please) want to actually increase our troop levels by 20,000. Of course, where these troops are to come from, no one is saying, because no one knows. What we are going to do with these troops no one knows, because there is no real policy in the White House. Perhaps there is some magical belief that, by putting more American soldiers and Marines in Iraq, the Iraqis will be intimidated into ending their civil war. No one, at least in the mainstream press, has asked an even more fundamental question: Why, in the face of a national decision to end the war symbolized by the election, and national opinion dead-set against any move to prolong this occupation any more than possible, is the President even floating the idea of an increase in troop strength? Above and beyond the pracitcalities of the matter, why is no one saying what should be obvious - there is no support except among a few die-hards, for such a move?

The President won't listen to his generals. He won't listen to the elctorate. He won't listen to the bipartisan philosopher-kings of the ISG. He won't listen to Congress. There is something almost pathologically sad yet very dangerous going on here, as if he thinks that by defying public opinion and collective wisdom, he can snatch his now crumpled and scorched chestnuts from the Iraqi flames. Of course, it means more death and destruction, but these broken eggs will make the fine omelet of a legacy for President Bush as Wiser than Everyone.

Is it Janueary 2009 yet?

God mend thine every flaw

I have to give a hat tip to Duncan for this, as he quotes the final stanza of "America the Beautiful" in this post linking a short post from Matthew Yglesias. It got me thinking about "patriotic hymns".

I am not a fan of them. I do not think they have a place in church. Too often they are sung, on or around the fourth of July, not in praise of God (as should be the case in church), but in praise of America. Ditto "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (what an awful title, that). The church is not American, it is only in America, a distinction it is necessary to keep in mind if we are not to lose our identity as the Church of Jesus Christ.

Yet, the last stanza of "America the Beautiful" is a powerful prayer - America! America!/God mend thine every flaw/Confirm thy good in brotherhood/Thy liberty in law - that America actually achieve its lofty goals and aspirations. While I do not like the word "brotherhood", either, it is a plea for solidarity, for a national identity that transcends our more communal loyalties. It is also a plea for true freedom and justice, not through the absence of law, but through the legal recognition of them as part and parcel of what it means to be American.

It is also a wonderful protest against the mindless affirmation of all things American that too often occurs in churches. Years ago I saw a horrid children's sermon (in a United Methodist Church, no less) involving the American flag and how it was our Christian duty to protect it. I wanted to take my lighter our of my pocket and light up right there. Anyway, this last bit shows us that, even in the midst of loving our land, there is a recognition that we have not arrived at the goal, we are still running the race for social and racial justice, for freedom and justice under the law, and that we earnestly pray for Divine Providence to fill the cracks and erase the blemishes from our national life. In other words, it is an honest prayer for forgiveness, guidance, and hopefulness in the face of our many flaws.

There are many on the right who honestly believe that criticism of the United States, in whatever form, is unpatriotic. It displays a lack of faith in our leaders, a lack of trust i n our institutions, and a lack of appreciation for the many benefits we share as citizens of this great Republic. I have always felt that, in fact, criticism is the highest praise a person can give. I love America. I think we have constructed, through turmoil and Civil War, social protest and labor wars, court battles and social upheaval, a great nation. Our aspirations are among the loftiest in human history. Our energy is boundless. Our belief in new possibilities is breathtaking. Our race relations are abysmal. Our wealth gap is a scandal. Our current national leadership are a bunch of suparannuated frat boys who need to be bounced off campus as soon as possible. Our laws are being twisted to give more and more arbitrary power to the state, including most recently the revocation of the Great Writ.

We have far to go to become who we could be. We are an ongoing experiment, as Abraham Lincoln, the last great Republican President said. I think it only right for me to admit that, when it comes time to sing it in church, I will agree wholeheartedly with the decision, as long as we sing with gusto the last line of the last verse, and we include those words in our daily prayers.

Virtual Tin Cup

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