Saturday, August 18, 2007

Saturday Rock Show

1991 was a great year for me. Considering how awful 1989 and 1990 had been, the fact that I was even alive, let alone at a place physically, emotionally, and psychologically where I felt at home and thrived was something of a miracle. Since the spring of that year, a woman with whom I worked had been pestering me to ask her housemate out on a date. I kept declining, for various reasons; on Labor Day, however, I attended a party with a bunch of friends, and my co-worker's housemate was present, and we spent quite a bit of time talking and introducing ourselves to each other. What followed was one of the most intense relationships of my life. The end was a horrid mess, at least for me, and while I admit that I bore more than the bulk of the blame for our relationship collapsing, I think that we broke each others' hearts. I can't say for sure because I have not spoken to her since 1992.

At the party we attended, someone was playing Bonnie Raitt's multiple Grammy winning album Nick of Time over and over. The song "I Can't Make You Love Me" was heard over and over that day. Funny enough, I don't remember hearing it again until I was driving away from our break-up. As I hope you can imagine, I had to pull the car over and cry. I heard the song again last night. It is one of the most gut-wrenching songs I have ever heard. I have no regrets now that this woman and I ended our relationship; that doesn't mean that, fifteen years later, there is still not pain there.

With Apologies

I want to publicly apologize here and now for my rather curt reply to Democracy Lover yesterday. My only excuse is that I was grumpy, but that hardly matters. I had no business snapping at him not once but twice, and offering nothing substantive in the form of a reply.

Part of my bad mood yesterday was my frustration at being either deliberately misunderstood or misconstrued over at 4simpsons the day before. One tires of repeating oneself, and being told by others that one cannot possibly mean what one says, because they know better what one is saying. While I attempted at all times to be polite and open, I found the atmosphere over there closed, arrogant, dismissive, paternalistic, lacking in any grace, love, or joy (what I consider the hallmarks of living a Christian life). Rather than humility, acceptance, and community, I found triumphalism, rejection, and exclusivity. While they may derive strength from such a way of living and calling it "Christian", I see little of the Gospel at that blog. If that is what fundamentalism is like, I want no part of it, and I do not see what it has to do with the God I worship or the Jesus whom I confess.

Anyway, to Democracy Lover - sorry, man. Please forgive a tired, coffee-deprived man who had to suffer the slings and arrows of ignorant fortune. I should have taken my anger out on its source, not on you. Please return, and I hope I find myself in a better frame of mind to reply to you. Peace.

Unnatural Catastrophes

One of Digby's latest missives brings up a point that I think needs to be brought out much more forcefully than has previously been done. From the flooding of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, through the bridge collapse, and now the cluster that is the horrid rescue attempt after the mine collapse (one would think a mine owner would know there are such things as geologists with instruments called seismographs that tell us whether or not there has been an earthquake). The New Orleans fiasco is too often attributed to Hurricane Katrina; the bridge collapse is now being blamed on the mechanical failure of part of the truss structure; the mine collapse on an invisible earthquake. In each case, however, the direct cause is the failure to follow through on certain public policies (infrastructure investment and maintenance), or adopting public policies that were known to be potentially detrimental (draining wetlands in the Delta for real estate development).

We have been on a generational binge to the detriment of the social contract in this country, and now that the bills are coming due, there are those who wish to deny we owe anyone anything. The saddest part is that there is no way to hold accountable those directly responsible for the rape of our infrastructure other than denying them office. We cannot charge with public malfeasance and neglect those legislators who denied monies for road and bridge repair and maintenance, or those developers and zoning boards who connived to remove from southern Louisiana a natural hurricane buffer, or the Army Corps of Engineers for neglecting the levies around the poorest neighborhoods in New Orleans. The best we can do is drive out of business a mining company that engages in practices that are extremely hazardous and careless with the lives and health of its employees. The entire bizzare disaster in Utah is an object lesson in why enforced regulation is necessary; having an economy run without any kind of legal oversight leads to human tragedies, often multiplied by the sheer incompetence of those titularly in charge.

We have much work to do repairing the damage wrought in just a few years by a gaggle of crooks who saw public office as a cash cow for themselves and their benefactors, insisting that the public was better off without all those pesky taxes and regulation. We now know how wrong such a philosophy is; we have always known it, and some of us have been talking about how wrong it is for a long time. With the public demonstration of its utter failure as a public policy alternative, we need to count lost lives among the costs for trying to pretend that problems fix themselves, higher return on investments is the sole social good for which government exists, and that we as a people would be much better off if we recognized that "government is the problem". The people have unlearned these lessons; it is time those who represent us did so as well.

Friday, August 17, 2007


The following comment was left at the 4simpsons blog:
I have a personal experience dealing with these types of laws. Our church has been in Southwest Ohio for nearly 150 years. Several years ago a group of Muslims built an “association” (really a mosque) in our local community. Our church gathered together to pray for these poor souls trapped in Islam. We even went to their building and attempted to pass out Biblically-based pamphlets to them as they exited their service. Well, to make a long story short, many of them became upset and accused us of “harassment”. I can just imagine how these situations will get worse when more “groups” are added to hate crime legislation. If we can’t minister to Muslims as they leave their mosque, the government is preventing us from practicing our Christianity.

There is a combination of ignorance and a lack of Christian love for neighbor here that is almost breathtaking to behold. One wonders how a person can live in our world and think and live like this. Alas and alack, it is all too common.

I do believe that, even as it retreats, Christian fundamentalism will become even more virulent, dangerous, and hostile. One wonders where such activities as these may lead.

The Wages of Low Wages and Corruption

First it was tainted pet food - in multiple instances. Then it was toys - in multiple instances. The head of one of China's manufacturing operations committed suicide, and the former head of the regulatory board overseeing Chinese manufactures was executed for corruption as the Chinese reputation tumbled. Yet, we are still purchasing billions of dollars of goods from the Chinese and there has not been a single hiccup or notice from the Commerce Department that might show we have an interest in protecting consumers from the very bad manufacturing practices of what is, in effect, the slave labor of China that feeds much of the consuming beast of America.

The Democratic Presidential candidates are speaking up, with Chris Dodd offering the best solution - just stop trading with them. We no longer have any guarantees that any product we purchase from Chinese manufactures is safe or reliable. Until this situation changes, it seems to me we are serving our national interest in multiple ways by looking for alternative sources. Such as, perhaps, reopening manufacturing here in the United States. Of course, as some have mentioned, this might raise prices, because the costs of manufacturing in the United States, especially labor costs, are so much higher here. But, as these high wage jobs (at least relative to the slave-labor wages of most of China) will give consumers more money, the rising prices will be offset by more spending power.

As HTML Mencken at Sadly!No says, it is most likely that Chris Dodd will be labeled a fearmonger, an isolationist, unrealistic, naive, perhaps even racist (the Yellow Horde!). He's not, however. He's simply saying our trading policy might be served well by taking the self-interested step of protecting the American public from shoddy, dangerous products designed and built in a country that has little regard for the oversight necessary to protect people from harm. This might even be an instance where we can take Chinese anxiety over world public opinion in to account - they are acutely nervous about the way they are perceived in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games being held in Beijing. It seems to me that we might just mention that it wouldn't look good if the Chinese were shown to be shoddy, lazy, corrupt business people.

The first step is to simply close the valve to all those imports. Let the cargo ships float out in the harbor as long as they want, or send them back where they came from. Until the Chinese can step up and show they can make products that don't kill people or animals, it might behoove us to go elsewhere to do our shopping.

Fundamentalism and the Limits of Rationality - The Example of Biblical Inerrancy

I have said multiple times that fundamentalism is a recent development in the history of Christian thought, and is rooted in the hyper-rationality of the past two or three centuries. I think that the way Biblical inerrancy is argued is the best example one can use to show how this is so. The argument usually goes something like this:
-If the Bible is in error on any one particular fact or claim, the entire book is therefore suspect as a source of Truth and Faith.

The problem with this argument is that errors, internal contradictions, historically verifiable assertions that are false, and morally questionable accounts of the dealings of God and God's people are rampant throughout the Bible. I say this not trying to be insulting; these are just facts that have been known for centuries - even St. Augustine noticed them and made jokes about them - and Biblical literalists, for all their intellectual contortions deny them to their detriment. I find it fascinating that people who revere the Bible as much as they do would ignore the tow competing, contradictory accounts of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis. Does this nullify the claims of the Bible to speak a word of faith to people who might hear it? Only, I suppose, if one takes for granted that faith is based on some verifiable (or at least non-falsifiable) claim to accuracy.

I have heard it said that if one makes a statement such as I have done in re the question of errors in the Bible, one is calling God a liar. That would be true if God wrote the Bible, or dictated it the way the archangel Gabriel dictated the Q'uran to Mohammed. I see no reason to deny this, or the multiple contradictions or erroneous statements in the Bible (one of my favorites is the claim in Joshua that the people of Israel sacked the city of Ai; the word "Ai" in Hebrew mean "ruin", indicating that the city was already dead when the Hebrews encountered it; archaeological research has shown the city was in fact destroyed hundreds of years before there is any indication of Hebrew settlement in what became Israel.).

Critics of Christianity usually point to the reality of errors in the Bible as proof that Christianity (and, by extension, one supposes, Judaism as well) is intellectually and morally bankrupt. These critics, however, are taking fundamentalism as normative for Christianity, as well as assuming that a rational discussion of issues of religion suffices for understanding religious belief and decoding it. Fundamentalism, however, is hardly normative, and rationality, while useful, is hardly the only way human beings reason (indeed, Buddhists, for example, use a totally different logical structure that works perfectly well for them) and there is no way to prove, rationally, that it either is or should be.

One can surrender the issue of the factual accuracy of the Bible and still hold the Scriptures as key for understanding Christianity and hold one's head high. One can acknowledge morally vicious passages such as the rape of Lot by his daughters, Elisha sending bears to kill the children who made fun of him, and the end of Psalm 137 and still insist there is a moral center to the Scriptures that transcends what one feminist Biblical scholar has called Texts of Terror.

I know neither Democracy Lover nor some of my more conservative readers will be satisfied with this particular view. This does not make it correct; it only highlights that both come from a position in which the use of rational logic is paramount in all human endeavors. I think logic is a useful tool, and human rationality a marvelous thing. There are more things in heaven and earth, however, than are dreamt of in their philosophies.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Finally Finished

I just finished the third volume of Dorrien's three-volume history of American liberal theology. Whew! Just when I thought I needed a rest, and was going to sit and enjoy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I got back from my parents' house when my wife returned from her trip there last month, last evening I purchased a book called Dangerous Words; Speaking of God in an Age of Fundamentalism and I couldn't sit and relax with the wonderful fantasy of two magicians in early 19th century England, but had to turn to this book.

Dorrien's history - among the best, most detailed histories of Christian theology I have ever read - showed me that, at heart, I am a theological liberal. In fact, I now embrace the label because I find it much more honest and open an approach to figuring out the faith than any other I have encountered. It is also more in keeping with my own experience of the faith. this is a gift I shall always treasure.

Between those books and this game I am currently obsessed with, my time blogging has been sorely lacking in recent weeks. Again, it's a failing of mine that I just can't seem to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

Too Bad

Neil visited here, then decided he wasn't going to anymore. I went there this morning and found that he had taken a comment of mine and was using it as an object lesson in the errors of what still insists on calling a relativistic point of view. He rehashes arguments about "truth claims", and then writes this, showing he just doesn't get the point I have been trying to make:
I’d rather dialogue with someone who acknowledges that on some issues we can’t both be right.

Why not? Why the necessity for there being a right answer? In fact, why the necessity of answers at all? I commented this morning and was astounded to read Neil say that he "let my comment post" even though I apparently violated certain "rules" he has. I have nothing against that; every blog writer has rules - that's what this is all about, after all. It seems to me, however, that his lack of openness bespeaks a certain fear I find astonishing. I am honestly seeking to learn about something I just don't understand - Christian fundamentalism. I refuse to reduce it psychological or sociological categories of fear or ignorance. I am not being condescending, either. I want to learn, but I refuse to silence any criticisms I might have at any point. Dialogue is always dangerous because it poses the threat of change and the possibility of error. Neil, it seems, does not want dialogue, despite his claims to the contrary. He just wants to preach.

I have provided a link to Neil because I refuse to not visit his site just because he won't come to mine. I doubt whether any comments I have will ever appear there again, but he can't stop me from visiting. Yet . . .

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Questions Concerning Revelation

Enough of politics for the nonce.

The idea of revelation is inherent in the Christian faith. It is addressed with amazing specificity in both the Old and New Testaments, but the terms with which it has been discussed have changed over the course of the millenia. For me, the problem of discussing revelation comes down to the mistakes made during the Enlightenment. The first mistake was to make the assumption that the question of God was independent of the specifics of the Christian Church, available to any person whose faculty of reason was intact. This was not necessarily an error at the time; much of Europe could take Christianity as a given, arguing that Judaism and Islam were merely errors on the way to the Truth revealed in Christianity.

The second mistake was to reduce revelation to the category of knowledge, an assent to certain intellectual propositions, rather than a historically and existentially mediated reality within the Church, discussed on its own terms rather than being a general article of understanding available to human beings as a part of human nature.

In both cases, abstracting the question of Divine Revelation from the specificity of its history and its vocabulary as a Christian enterprise took from any understanding of revelation its rootedness as a human enterprise within the context of the Church, and not subject to the same rules of discourse as, say, physics or rhetoric. This is not to isolate the question of revelation from physics; it is only to say the way the Church talks about revelation is different from the way physicists talks about fields of force and such. The role of intelligibility applies; the question is the "how", or the method of reaching an understanding, rather than any attempt to get behind and question the "what".

In this regard, I do believe that the neo-orthodox movement is superior to a certain strain of theological liberalism which divorces theological concerns from their setting in Christian communities of faith. On the other hand, for all their moaning and gnashing of teeth over the failures of the Enlightenment, the neo-orthodox accepted the notion that revelation is essentially something that happens to our intellectual faculties. We grasp revelation through our understanding, rather than confront revelation in our lives. There is a role for the intellect in sorting it all out, but the first movement is a living encounter, often within the the historically contiguous body of the Church, that shapes not so much the way we think, but the way we live. Theological reflection on revelation, it seems to me, must recognize its own limitation and its dependence upon lived experiences rather than submit that revelation is a mental or an intellectual activity that happens when we assent to the Truth claims of certain accounts of the actions of God. The latter are primary, and only so as interpreted through a framework in which those words are actually meaningful - the Church.

Having said all that, the question is still begged - what is revelation, what is its referent, and what is its goal. To the extent that an event or series of events becomes revelatory for an individual, or a group, it seems to me that by adopting the vocabulary of the Christian Church, we are not locked in to meanings set in stone thousands of years ago, but given the opportunity to see the new life offered to these words through our own experience of faith. These are issues to be fleshed out more fully at another time, but I just wanted to set forth, here, what I believe is central as a starting point for understanding the question of revelation.

More Mushroom Clouds?

Someone had to say it, you know. It was inevitable. Remember in the run-up to the war in Iraq when then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice insisted that we debate the question of Iraqi WMDs to our detriment, because the answer to any such questions may just be a mushroom cloud over one our cities? Well, the lack of any WMDs in Iraq hasn't deterred these people from trying to same old shtick; they've just moved the goalposts a bit to the east. Now it's Iran.

The problem with the claim that Iran is "months away" from nuclear weapons technology is that Woolsey seems to be talking out of a bodily orifice not normally used for speech. To quote from the Think Progress piece:
Woolsey is doing nothing more than fear-mongering when he says Iran could have a nuclear bomb in “a few months.” In fact, his assertion of an impending nuclear weapon in Iran is contradicted by experts on nuclear weapons, including the CIA.

“Iran is still probably five to 10 years away from gaining the ability to make nuclear fuel or nuclear bombs,” according to Joseph Cirincione, the director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress. In May, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN’s the International Atomic Energy Agency, said “even if Iran wanted to go for a nuclear weapon, it would not be before the end of this decade or sometime in the middle of the next decade,” an estimate that echoed the view of the CIA.

Additionally, Woolsey is a suspect source for claims of urgency when it comes to nuclear weapons, having repeatedly hyped Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capability during the build up to war with Iraq.

So, the CIA and the IAEA, whose job it is to actually monitor the situation and interpret the data, say a decade or more. Woolsey says a few months. Granted, the CIA's track record on these kinds of things isn't always very good (they really saw the collapse of communism in Central Europe coming, didn't they). Mohammed ElBaradei, however, has an excellent track record, and since his call tallies with the CIA, it seems to me pretty trustworthy.

Were the stakes not so high - the Bush Administration seems hell-bent on military confrontation with Iran - this whole exercise would be funny. Instead, it is quite sad, and a bit frightening. Pretty soon, we will have Dick Cheney out ther talking about Iranian intelligence officials meeting with al Qaeda operative in Prague. . .

All of this begs certain questions, not the least of which are these:
- Why does the Bush Administration not pursue a tougher line with countries that actually sponsor the kind of terrorism we have experienced? Countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Yemen? Actually, I think that question answers itself . . .
- When is Bush going to pursue Osama bin Laden?
- Will Bush take us to war with Iran absent a Congressional mandate, even a new AUMF? If so, it seems to me we are heading down a much more dangerous road, because the Administration is trying the same tricks that seemed to work with Iraq. The public, however, isn't buying this time; that doesn't mean they won't go ahead and do something anyway. After all, why put a couple Carrier Battle groups in the Persian Gulf if they can't have a little fun, right?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Lets' Do Some Good!

The title is from the film The Untouchables when Kevin Constner leads a raid on an alleged speakeasy/gin distribution plant.

In comments to this post Marshall Art writes the following:
In any case, I believe our country is a force for good in the world. I believe also, that there has been no other country that has shown any real stones to be a force for good in the world. It's not a matter of being a policeman of the world, yet with our great power comes great responsibility. It's all well and good for people, particularly on the left, to want us to cough up every dime for every impoverished or devastated country around the world. Indeed, we continually show our generous nature, both nationally as well as a collective of individual donations, and it makes me proud. But should our might be needed? Good gosh no, where do we get the right to interfere? Both our wealth and our might can be used for good and as long as there are assholes running other countries, they need to know that there are good guys ready to go toe to toe for the sake of the planet. It also inspires lesser nations to join in (more often than not). This is a good thing. I'd rather it not change. I don't think the world could stand it.

I used to think of these things only in terms of national interest. But just as our financial largesse has positive implications that aren't easily realized, so too can our willingness to assert ourselves when deemed necessary. I also don't believe that we need to always have world consensus when we see wrongs being committed that we feel are better put down. If you were a big, muscle bound fighter with vast self-defense training, you might not know the reason why that smaller guy or woman is gettin' a beatin'. Are you just going to let it happen when you have the might to at least interrupt for an explanation? It might be risky for you. But that little guy is bleeding profusely and could be seriously harmed or killed. It's the same in the world. It's our call when we use our might or money based on OUR notions of need. I see nothing wrong with the principle and I do think the world benefits if our help influences the world. I'd love to see the world become more like us in many ways. Wouldn't you?

If one considers this particular bit of reflection in light of two recent posts by Glenn Greenwald, here and here, it shows clearly the moral and political bankruptcy of conservative approaches to foreign policy, and the unquestioned worship of American power by far too many people, not just in the Foreign Policy Community, but in the conservative camp as well.

The first Greenwald post above concerns a debate between a blogger and an alleged expert on international relations who claims there was a defensible argument for an invasion of Iraq, and that there are defensible arguments for invading Iran and North Korea as well. The only issue is the prudence or lack thereof in doing so, not whether such an act would be justifiable. Greenwald notes that behind such a statement is the unquestioned belief in the goodness and necessity of American power. As long as we are "the world's lone superpower" (although I no longer believe that to be the case, thanks to George W. Bush), international relations devolves, in the end, to a question of when we send in our troops, not whether. While those Greenwald discusses may have all sorts of fancy titles, their arguments sound pretty much like Marhsall's, which is a wonderful summation of this particular view (I am not insulting Marshall or his presentation of his position, by the way; I believe he sums up this particular way of viewing the world far better than any supposed "expert" could do).

The latter Greenwald article, which should be considered in tandem with the former, concerns the right-wing belief - almost a doctrine necessary to their entire way of viewing the world - that the United States is in a fight for its life against Muslim hordes who wish to invade us and to paraphrase Ann Coulter, "kill our leaders and convert us all to Islam". Greenwald points out this is not some distant fear, but for far too many on the right an immediate threat to our very existence.

On the one hand, we have an inordinate worship and trust in both our own goodness and military power. On the other hand, we have an inordinate fear of the desire on the part of "Islamists" (whoever they may be) to make of us a Muslim nation. These twin extreme desires drive an almost fanatical desire to strike out at any even alleged threat that may exist.

Combined with the view that the United States can arrogate to itself the use of force (something all other countries in the world are denied, except perhaps Israel) including nuclear weapons, we have a recipe for disaster of epic proportions. When the views of the so-called foreign policy experts and the most fringe elements of our national political spectrum can combine to work for such ill as they have in Iraq, and as they may still do in Iran, we should all be very afraid of those convinced we can still go out there and do some good.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Music Monday

With a name like Mac Rebennack, is it any wonder he changed it to Dr. John? I first bought Going Back to New Orleans eight or nine years ago, and instantly fell in love. I had, of course, heard of him before that. It was this CD, however, that convinced me that the New Orleans sound - Professor Longhair, The Neville Brothers, and Dr. John - was pure American music, because it was so many things at once, and all its own at the same time. Here's the title track from the aforementioned CD:

He's been around since the 1950's, according to Here he is in the Martin Scorcese-produced and directed The Last Waltz, The Band's final concert and celebration:

Finally, more on New Orleans. This time it's all about "Missing New Orleans".

Politics, Religion, & Christian Pluralism - Why Fundamentalism Confuses Me So Much

Over at Faith in Public Life, there is a link to a People for the American Way article highlighting a fundraising campaign by Family Research Council.
The Family Research Council is launching a project aimed at convincing its supporters before the 2008 election that liberal politicians “are spouting God-talk” in order to “confuse people of faith” and hide their “true agenda.” Invoking the Religious Right’s recent favored phrase for its imagined constituency – as well as the “Swift Boat” campaign of 2004 – the so-called “Values Voters for Truth” campaign is an attempt to vilify liberals – and, obviously, Democratic candidates – as enemies of Christianity who are undertaking a conspiracy to “deceive and split values voters.”

From a recent fundraising letter from FRC Action:

Our relentless effort to reveal the facts about the Left’s true agenda is already under way. It will not stop until the last vote of the 2008 election has been cast. The Values Voters for Truth campaign will partner with organizations in all 50 states—and at the national level. We will mobilize values voters, engage them in the war of ideas, and keep them informed and involved.

We will rally churches to the cause. And by God’s grace, we will neutralize our opponents’ deceptive tactics.

As an example of this supposed “fraud,” the letter cites a Democratic presidential candidate who spoke of his “belief in Christ” and also supports civil unions for gay couples. Similarly, the letter warns that a candidate noting a “biblical call to feed the hungry” also voted against an anti-abortion bill. A third candidate is denounced for the “hypocrisy” of wanting to let gay couples adopt children. According to FRC, these supposed contradictions indicate that Democrats discussing their faith and values is merely “lip service,” part of a “campaign of deception” that led directly to the Democrats winning control of Congress in the 2006 elections.

I was recently invited by neil to visit his blog, an example of which is this charming piece in which the Rev. Chuck Currie is made fun of and called a heretic. In the course of the piece, neil says something about the UCC not being in favor of "sound doctrine", a phrase that means absolutely nothing to me.

Both of these pieces, one on the political front, the other on the religious front, highlight why I much prefer a liberal, pluralist approach to my faith. Indeed, I honestly don't understand fundamentalism. Even though ER and others have tried to tell me it was their reality at one time, a reality from which they are trying to escape, it is just foreign to my own experience. Intellectually I understand such things as biblical inerrancy, the necessity of asserting certain truths as absolute, and the strict moral code that usually applies to others. As a matter of existential grasping, however, it is just beyond me. My experience of the faith has always been one of opening up to more experiences, more people, more ways of living life, more ways of helping others, more ways of judging oneself and withholding judgment from others.

The exclusivity of both the socio-political branch and theological branch of fundamentalism is also something that I can consider intellectually without understanding its appeal or its relevance. The idea that only certain groups have access to Christian truth, that there is only one way to live a Christian life, that non-Christian ways obviously are excluded from being correct - again, I just don't get it. Apparently billions of people around the world are not only damned, but not fully human because they do not participate in the truth of the Christian faith.

I understand the whole in-group/out-group thing; I understand the dimension of fear and the necessity for metaphysical grounding that so many people seem to think is necessary in life. I just don't think any or all these answers add up to the reasons for fundamentalism. There is a piece missing, and I need help understanding it. Reducing this movement to psychology and sociology just doesn't fill out what is going on here. I need help understanding how and why certain people can actually believe they have access to Truth that is denied to all others.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Here's Some Thoughts For Marshall to Ponder

What worries me more than anything is the Bush Administration has nothing to lose. They are term limited (assuming they yield the White House to whomever may win it next year). They have the next best thing to a zero approval rating except with Democrats in Congress who seem to shake in their boots whenever the word "terrorism" is mentioned. They have some kind of weird, almost occult power over the Executive Branch, contorting in to shapes one barely recognizes. With all the rhetoric concerning the alleged threat of Iran, I thought it might be prudent to present an alternative view of things, at least an alternative to the nonsense constantly streaming from mouthpieces in Washington.

Iran and Iraq, despite a long war two decades ago, now have much more in common socially and religiously than previously. They have multiple shared interests, not the least of which is removing the American monkey from around their necks. They have similar security concerns (Kurds seeking autonomy, the ideological and religious struggle with their Sunni neighbors). Had we a rational, prudent Administration in office, peopled with those schooled in real politique, we might be courting Iran, rather than doing everything we could to antagonize them. For a decade, the Iranians have been trying to develop better relations with the US. A reform-minded President, a modernizing population chafing at the strictures of the ayatollahs, and a thriving democracy that does not like its will overruled by ideological hard-liners (the last sounds awfully familiar . . .), Iran is ripe for some serious coddling by the US. With Iraq as an opening line, courting Iran would be relatively easy. Of course, there will always be differences with any country with whom we have relations. The way to deal with that, if we had diplomats who understood diplomacy, is to ignore points of friction, and concentrate on those areas where co-operation is possible. We still hold millions or perhaps even billions in Iranian national assets frozen from the days of the Islamic revolution as a carrot to use, after all.

Iran has done nothing to threaten the United States. Indeed, since the attacks on September 11, they have been attempting to thaw the cold shoulder we keep turning upon them. They gave us operational intelligence against the Taliban in Afghanistan. They offered us condolences and prayers in the wake of the attacks themselves (the same can not be said for the Saudis). The "foreign nationals" who are aiding and abetting the insurgents are from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, and Algeria, the same places the hijackers on September 11 cam from. Of course, the Bush Administration has never let a little thing like facts get in the way of a good dose of propaganda.

As far as the Iranian nuclear program is concerned, I fail to see where that is any business of ours. There is little evidence the program is concerned with anything other than civilian energy. Even if Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, (a) we have the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet, so silence might be prudent; (b) we have good relations with Israel, India, and Pakistan, nuclear nations that have thwarted international treaties on proliferation, and whose stability (or, at least, the stability of their leaders) is always in question; (c) should we court them diplomatically, it might actually work better in slowing any attempt at building a bomb, rather than the threats we keep shouting at them. The only slightly possible target of any Iranian nuclear threat would be Israel, who has a healthy nuclear arsenal of its own and has always shown a willingness to strike first those who threaten its security.

Just to really tick off Marshall, I would like to state categorically that I do not believe the popular view of Iranian President Ahmedinajad as an unstable autocrat. Those descriptions are the stock in trade of the slander machine. Qadafi, Hussein, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, Jean Bertrand Aristide - all of them have been painted as mentally deficient, sexually perverse, mentally unstable or demented, and posing a direct threat to the United States in some manner fashion or form. All of them have led countries far from the United States, with few resources (except, of course, for oil). In the case of Aristide, he was President of the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. The father/son pair of Kims in the two Koreas lead a nation teetering on the brink of collapse for over a decade now. One wonders how any sane individual, considering the evidence rationally, could possibly consider any of them a threat. Confronted by an Iran that has much to offer the world, and the US specifically, we seem to be working against our interests in dealing with them diplomatically. Of course, that seems to be the modus operandi of the Bush team - do the opposite of what makes sense. Counter intuitive actions only work if they produce results, something we are still waiting on from Bush and the rest of them.

Having said all that, I still believe it is more than likely that, despite the bloody quicksand of Iraq, it is more than likely the United States will drum up some excuse to attack Iran. Should we do that - provided the generals either don't mutiny or resign en masse - it might be the end of American power, not just in the Middle East, but in the world. Of course, that might not be a bad thing . . .

Virtual Tin Cup

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