16 July 2014

Delusion and Death

While progressive Christians consider the opinions and actions of their fundamentalist brothers and sisters immoral, ignorant, and sometimes insane, they never risk even a brief side glance in the mirror . . .

A Progressive pastor's passion for social justice burned so intensely that he ignited into flames and died from spontaneous combustion.

Well, maybe not.

Last month the Reverend Charles Moore drove himself to a mall in Grand Saline, Texas, doused himself with gasoline, and set himself aflame.  Rescuers took him to Parkland Hospital where he died the following day.

According to friends and supporters, Moore apparently grew frustrated over attitude of his home town, the nation at large, and his United Methodist Church on issues such as race relations, LGBT issues, and the death  penalty.

Passages from the suicide note he left behind suggest he also believed in collective guilt that transcends individual people and time itself:

"I will soon be 80 years old, and my heart is broken over this. America, and Grand Saline... have never really repented for the atrocities of slavery and its aftermath. What my hometown needs to do is open its heart and its doors to black people as a sign of the rejection of past sins."
Unsuccessful at forcing others to adopt his religious beliefs, especially the social implications of those beliefs, Moore began deliberating on more drastic action. Revealing his "Jesus complex," he called this period his "Gethsemane." He finally made his decision:

"I would much prefer to go on living and enjoy my beloved wife and grandchildren and others, but I have come to believe that only my self-immolation will get the attention of anybody and perhaps inspire some to higher service."

He knew he would not live to see just how many people he would inspire, but he no doubt took vicarious pleasure as he made his preparations. In this small way he resembles those mass murders as they plan their horrendous crimes. They, too, know they will not live to see everyone talking about them and giving them the attention they believe they deserve but never receive.

Moore made one severe miscalculation. Unlike the mass murderers who actually do attract the post-mortem attention they crave, Moore received almost no attention. 

His friends and supporters now have come out to tell his story.

One such friend, the Reverend Jeff Moore told the Huffington Post: 

"Reverend Moore thought this was going to be a whole lot bigger of a deal than it turned out to be." He expected it to make national news."

It just goes to show that not everyone can be Jesus.

                                                                     Charles Moore

13 July 2014

Cool But Confused Christians

The on-going crisis at the border between the United States and Mexico has provided opportunities for Progressive Christians to outdo their fundamentalist counterparts in offering up clumsy and confused applications of their ancient religious tenets to contemporary events. This manifested itself most clearly in the protests in Murrieta, California over the transport of hundreds of illegal aliens to a federal processing center located in the city. Twice protests to the federal government by local elected officials resulted in cancellation of the plan. Local officials pointed out that the local facility serves a jail or detention center for illegal apprehended by border patrol agents. It is not suited for housing illegals for any extended period of time. City officials may have also mistakenly believe the border patrol would release the immigrants into the community after processing. When a third protest failed to stop the transfer, some local citizens took to the streets, blocking and turning back several busloads carrying illegal immigrants.

The scene of Americans protesting the arrival of illegal aliens offended Progressive Christians everywhere, especially where they reach their largest audience--the Huffington Post. The outstanding exemplar is Jim Wallis, spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama (after the ostracizing of the Reverend Jeremiah  Wright) and current of the face of Progressive Christianity. Read his homily here.

Wallis opens his morality play by casting "unaccompanied minors and mothers with children, all fleeing violence in Central America" against  "Big angry white men, holding signs the children couldn't read, with angry faces screaming at them in a language they didn't understand." How many liberal shibboleths can Wallis incorporate into one scene? He rolls bullying, the war on women, and racism into one tension filled confrontation. He overlooked only the global warming that occurred because protesters kept the buses idling while the drivers waited for a decision on what to do in the face of the protests and the lunch meat with which the protesters probably stuffed their sandwiches.

And is any of this true. Does Wallis know with certitude that "all" the immigrants came here to flee violence? Perhaps. Or perhaps may came here for an economically better future. And what about those "Big white men?"  Below a video shows several "big white women" involved:

And as for angry protesters, police arrested five people at Murrieta. All five arrived from outside Murrieta as counter-protesters. Police arrested one woman for pushing and slapping a Murrieta resident. Police arrested the other four when they attempted to remove the woman from police custody.

The Reverend is plainly mistaken in most of his assumptions about Murrieta; surely no one would suspect that the man of god was a liar.

Of course, in Wallis's view,  the intransigence of the Republicans in Congress intimately must take the blame for this unfortunate episode:

"Incredibly, some Republicans have used this tragic situation as an excuse for why they scuttled immigration reform -- when having a smart, fair, and humane immigration system in place would have helped avoid this crisis."

No immigration reform, no matter how smart, fair, or human, would have prevented this crisis. The underlying assumption is that our immigration system is broken. It is not. It was never designed to accommodate this many immigrants. And it never can be. 

The problem is that Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nigeria, and dozens of other places are broken. A recent international poll by Gallup revealed that over 150 million people around the globe want to come to the United States. We cannot even begin to accommodate that many people. 

Wallis recalls a talk he had his son's school about immigration reform. When asked why the Congress has failed to enact immigration reforms, he told them they feared the children in his audience. He continues his account:

"Why would they be afraid of us?" the students asked, shocked. I had to tell them.
"They are afraid you are the future of America. They are afraid their country will someday look like this class -- that you represent what our nation is becoming."
"They are afraid this won't work," I said. "Does it work?"
The children looked at each other, then responded with many voices, saying, "Yeah.. .Sure... Of course it works... It works great... It's really cool!"
Together we decided that our job was to show the rest of the country that this new America coming into being is, in fact, really cool.
So now we can anticipate a vanguard of children confronting imagined racism with delusional coolness. I can hardly wait.
Of course, racism fails as an explanation of the opposition to illegal immigration in Murrieta or in Washington D.C. It only servers as an accusation. Murrieta is 25% Hispanic; it is hardly some backwater outpost of Hispanic hating whites. The objection to illegal immigrants rests upon the fact that they entered the country illegally.
The most essential attribute of any nation-state is the sense of national identity and the borders which separate people of one national identity from another. Borders indicate where sovereignty of one nation state ends and where that of another begins. And every national state has the right to determine who enters its borders. But borders inconvenience the activities of all kinds of groups. International corporations, the so-called "invisible church" (where there is "neither Jew nor Greek'), environmentalist groups,  and human rights or humanitarian organizations. (Doctors Without Borders).  These groups subvert the concept of borders when such a concept interferes with their activities and goals. 
It become all the worse when Christians impose their own version of morality on others in support of some politically progressive cause. For Wallis, from the perspective of his Christian faith, the failure of Congress to enact immigration reform is a moral failure. And putting on his hat as political scientist, Wallis demands that Congress not interfere with President Obama's Constitutional authority to issue executive orders to implement the kinds of immigration reforms Progressive Christians desire. And the passage below indicates just what kind of reform he desires: one that embraces the "ones we love" who Jesus has asked his followers to protect.
"This week, in a meeting with President Barack Obama, faith leaders asked the president to do everything he can, within his Constitutional authority, to "relieve the suffering" of all the families and children who will continue to be devastated. Let me say this very clearly: Those who have morally failed to fix this broken system must dare not now try to prevent executive orders to protect the people we love, who have become part of "us," and whom Christ asks us to protect. If Republicans continue to ignore and cause the suffering of all "the strangers" among us, they will have to answer to the faith community."
The students to whom Wallis spoke would be better served if they actually listened to someone who has studied illegal immigration:

10 July 2014

Progressive Pretensions of Piety

Periodically the Square looks at the strange practices and claims of fundamentalist Christianity, especially regarding the alleged influence of the Bible and Christianity on our Constitution and public policy.

Progressive Christians, however, fare no better in their attempts to make Christianity relevant to the challenges facing a 21st century commercial republic. They pretend that they bridge the gap between their religious faith that originated in some iron age tribe and the progressive political ideology with which they strive to keep in step.

A case in point is an article by Carol Howard Merritt at the Huffington Post. Merritt writes a blog at The Christian Century magazine. She also identifies herself as a pastor, though makes no mention of a church. She apparently is a pastor in the same sense as Jesse Jackson—an ordained minister without a formal appointment.

Entitling her article Why the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby Decision Upsets Christians, Merritt offers up several convoluted arguments against the decision. In fact, she never exactly explains why the decision upsets Christians. She reveals that she is upset and believes other Christians should agree with her. She shouts out her objections in five bold face subheadings.

Christians should always uphold human rights.

Merritt cites the passage from Matt. 9:20-22 which purportedly provides an account of Jesus healing a woman who has suffered from bleeding for over twelve years. According to Merritt, Jesus “taught us that women who demand healing ought to find that cure. Jesus restored her to health, even though the established religion deemed that she was unclean.”

That “established religion” to which she alludes was established by Yahweh himself. Like most Christians—liberal or conservative—she never attempts to explain the contradiction between the commands of the Mosaic Law and the actions of Jesus.

And if readers do not believe Jesus that women have a right to health care, they should know that he is backed by the United Nations, where “birth control is consider a basic human right.”

Christians should encourage life-saving science and medicine.

Merritt challenges the idea that some of the birth control measures opposed by the owners of Hobby Lobby work as abortificients. Although she notes that the National Institutes of Health and Mayo Clinic describe them as abortificients, the New York Times reports otherwise. She flippantly remarks that “we really should have a faith that is strong enough to endure an eighth grade sex education class.” She never establishes the connection between free birth control and saving lives.

Christians should care about the environment.

In support of this claim, Merritt appealed to the established religion of Yahweh that she denigrated in the previous section of her essay. “One of the very first commands in Genesis," she writes, "was when God told us to care for creation. We were to be stewards of the fish, birds, cattle, wild animals, and every creeping thing.”

She has learned to mimic the "bible-talk typical of evangelicals. The Bible, however, does not use the word stewardship. In Genesis Moses uses the word for dominion, which in Hebrew means to subjugate or trample down.

Moreover, the slaughter of ten of thousands of animals annually on an altar by the Levitical priesthood in order to satisfy the blood lust of their deity does not sound much like stewardship.

And Merritt is selective about the objects of our stewardship. She laments that “We frack the ground God gave us because we're hungry for more fuel.” She seems oblivious to the fact that if God gave us the land, he also gave us the oil beneath.

Finally, gets to her point: “Because of our overuse of resources, overpopulation can cause us to defy one of God's first instructions to us. Allowing for birth control helps us care for creation.”

Of course, as many pundit have noted already, Hobby Lobby allows birth control, or at least 16 of 20 types of birth control. Federal and state law allows birth control. Apparently “allowing for birth control” means mandating that someone else pay for it.

Christians believe that women and men are made in the image of God.

People are made in the image of God, not corporations. Because of that basic theological understanding, we know that corporations should not be considered over individuals.”

Unfortunately for Merritt, the Supreme Court follows United States law, not Mosaic Law. And according the United States law, corporations are treated like persons. Moreover, the decision about what kinds of birth control to offer employees in their insurance packages was not decided by some Board of Directors. The decision came down from the Green family who owns Hobby Lobby.

Merritt summarizes the theme of our essay, which does not follow from her title: “As a Christian, I am profoundly upset by the Supreme Court's decision. And I hope that other men and women of faith might stand with individuals, who are made in the image of God, and who have the right to access the medical care they need.”

The essay plainly demonstrates that she is upset, not Christians in general. Moreover, when she introduces each of her bullet points with the expression “Christians should . . . ,” Merritt only demands that other Christians agree with her.

And she has the nerve to complain about one kind of Christian (the Green family) imposing its religious views on another. 

06 July 2014

The Hobby of Regulation

Continuing the break from the ongoing project of blogging the bible . . . 

The Supreme Court issued their ruling  in the case of Burwell vs.Hobby Lobby. The Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, effectively excluding it from some of the contraception mandates contained in the PPACA.
The Court split 5-4 along political lines. For those with the patience, you can download and read the Court's decision here. Your can read the translation from legalese into standard English and analysis in several links here.

Outside of the legal world, pundits of every political persuasion have analyzed the case and the ruling from every conceivable angle:

*Religion of corporate directors vs. religion of employees

*Corporate rights vs. women's rights

* Birth control vs. abortifacients

*Rights of non-profits vs. rights of for profit corporations

*Government regulation vs. religious liberty

The court case, of course, centered on that last issue. It involved not only the first amendment constitutional protection of religion, but also the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. (To the dismay of Progressive opponents of Hobby Lobby, that law passed unanimously in the House of Representatives with only  three dissenting votes in the Senate (among the Jesse Helms), was introduced in the Senate by Charles Shumer, and enjoyed the support of such liberal "luminaries" as Kennedy and Kerry, Feinstein and Boxer, Metzenbaum, Biden, and Shumer, and was signed into law by President Clinton. The court ruled that PPACA imposed as substantial burden on the religious freedom of Hobby Lobby, in violation of the RFRA.

A memo to Progressives: if this case infuriates you, stop passing regulations that eventually end up at the Supreme Court anyway.

Conservatives should celebrate the victory by Hobby Lobby. The decision at least erects a small barrier to the ever expanding government intrusion and regulation generated by PPACA. (Indeed, regulation seems to be a hobby of sorts for the federal government these days--done as much for fun and fulfillment as for executive branch responsibility.)

It is also a reminder how broad the way remains for government regulation, especially through the PPACA. In Burwell vs Hobby Lobby, the Court sanctioned a narrow realm of liberty for those who profess belief in an abstract theoretical construct they call God. Meanwhile, those who oppose PPACA on the more substantive grounds of property rights and the rights of contract remain subject to its mandates.

In addition, the religious claims of Hobby Lobby involve other complexities outside the question of law. The Green family who owns Hobby Lobby no doubt are devout Christians. And one can argue for the morality of the marketplace--where humans both cooperate and compete in the exchange of goods, services, and idea for their betterment. But the market can have negative outcomes, even for Christians like the Greens. Hobby Lobby now has over 500 stores with  thousands of employees. It is one of the smaller "big box" retailers that have become so prevalent. Like the others, however, it must go to China for suppliers to remain competitive.  According to the United States Department of Lasbor, the average Chinese hourly wage in manufacturing is $1.74. And Chinese workers, of course, are not American workers.

04 July 2014

The Declaration of Independence and National Identity

While the Continental Congress approved a resolution declaring independence from Britain on 2 July,1776, it  approved Thomas Jefferson's document explaining the reasons that compelled Americans to declare their independence on 4 July 1776.

This is the reason we celebrate Independence Day on the fourth of July rather than on the second.

Jefferson's Declaration began as simply a political document announcing the separation from Britain and the birth of a new independent nation. It has become much more than that. It is now an American creed, assuming an almost religious significance about what we believe as Americans: liberty, equality, and republican government. And in the absence of traditional components of nationality, those ideas in the Declaration of Independence have become a substitute for those components. It is the ideas of the Declaration of Independence that to a large extent constitute our national identity.

Traditionally, any people's national identity rests upon geography, language, ethnicity, and religion. People groups generally identify with some geographic location where they have lived. Regardless of how well their land has provided material needs, they romanticize it as their homeland. They lay some claim to it based upon historical or mythological narratives about how they settled there. They are unified by a common language. Speakers of other languages are often seen as less civilized. Perhaps the linguistic group share some physical characteristics that encourage the development of some degree of ethnic consciousness. Finally, a shared religious tradition adds to their social cohesion and provides myths about origins and destiny Often their government provides legal and financial support to their historic faith.

These traditional elements of national identity only had shallow roots in the New World. Over the two centuries of our history as an independent nation, there roots have withered. First, America’s sense of place is not as deep rooted as that in other nations. Many of the first settlers, especially the wealthier leadership behind the colonization efforts never intended to make North America their permanent home. They hoped to strike it rich like Spanish conquistadors and return home to Britain to assume the life of country gentlemen. The few that achieved this goat were largely the sugar planters in the islands of the West Indies. Most of those who come, however, never became prosperous enough to make it back home to Britain. For others, the North American wilderness offered opportunities for the future, not a basis for a historic homeland rooted in the past.

Second, Americans do not have their own language. We speak a foreign language: English. Even the regions accents of American speakers of English derive from the different regions of England from which they originated.

Third, Americans does have a distinctive ethnicity identity, especially when considered from the perspective the physical appearance. Europeans, Africans, and Asians all differ in degrees regarding aspects of physical characteristics. And the people of many  nation-states to some extent exhibit the physical characteristics of the dominant ethnic background. We all have some general expectations of how persons form China, Nigeria, or Italy appear to us. Not so much with Americans. No one recently has expressed surprise and said, "Funny, you don't look American.".

America to a higher degree than most other nations is known for its ethnic diversity. Out diversity is hardly a recent development. Britain’s colonies from the beginning possessed a diverse population. Europeans from Britain, Sweden, Holland, Germany, and France established enclaves of settlement. Africans from that continent’s West Coast lived throughout the colonies, though chiefly in the Southern region. A general sense of Northern European identity that Americans shared gradually disappeared with the later arrival of Eastern and Southern Europeans, Asians, and in more recent times, Hispanics. Because of this immigration and ethnic diversity, Americans possess no distinct physical characteristics of an ethnic group.

Finally, America has no national, government supported religion. This circumstance, too, results from our long standing diversity. Anglicans, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Dutch Reformed, Baptists, Lutherans, Unitarians, and Deists populated the early colonies. Some colonies established a particular denomination as the government sanctioned faith. This resulted in some persecution of Quakers by Congregationalists in Massachusetts, and of Baptists in Virginia by Anglicans. Partly because of this religious diversity, the Constitutional Convention created no nationally established religious denomination. The Constitution of 1787 left the legal status of religion to the states. Gradually, however, even the state establishments disappeared. Americans shared a general sense of Protestantism (that accompanied their self-conception as ethnic Northern Europeans) for many decades. The immigration that brought new ethnic groups also brought new religious faiths. Adherents to Catholicism now outnumber any Protestant denomination and a wide range of non-western religious faith now dot the cultural landscape.

So what holds such diverse elements together? The ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence. The devotion to the ideas of liberty, equality, and republican government provides the cohesion that in many other diverse countries can only be achieved through authoritarian governments.

As historian Richard Hofstadter put it, "It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies, but to be one."

In other words, we are not Americans because of who we are geographically, linguistically, ethnically, or religiously. We are Americans because of what we believe.

Thomas Jefferson

02 July 2014

Happy Independence Day!

On this date two hundred thirty eight years ago thirteen of Great Britain's twenty seven North American colonies declared independence.

The Second Continental Congress convened on 10 May 1776 to assess the progress made since its sessions the previous summer in maintaining their rights while at the save time preserving their union with Britain. The British Parliament had been attempting to fund the costs of empire through imposing various taxes on the colonies. The colonists had responding with protests and non-importation agreements, arguing the injustice of "taxation without representation."

The situation had worsened.

The previous October King George III charged in a speech before Parliament that opposition in the colonies was “carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent Empire.” The colonists, he continued, make “vague expression of attachments to the parent state, and the strongest protestations of loyalty to me, whilst they were preparing for a general revolt.”It was time, he concluded, “ to put a speedy and to these disorders by the most decisive exertions.” In response to the King's charges, Parliament passed the Prohibitory Act. This act declared the colonies outside the protection of the empire, prohibited all commerce with the colonies and initiated a naval blockade, and announced that all colonial ships and cargo forfeit to the Crown as enemy vessels.

Moreover, the month before the convening of the Congress, fighting erupted between British regulars and Massachusetts militiamen at Lexington and Concord.

During the month of May, Congress assumed the role of an unofficial provisional government, trying to coordinate the colonies and assume military control over the thousands of militiamen gathering in the Boston area.

Then on 7 June 1776, representative Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced the following resolution:

“That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted tot he respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”

After a couple of days debate, the Congress postponed additional discussion until July. At the time, only slightly more than half the colonies supported independence. A consensus had to be formed. Meanwhile, the Congress appointed a committee of five to draft a declaration of independence for adoption if the colonies reached a consensus. The committee delegated to one of its members, Thomas Jefferson, the task of writing a draft.

Finally, on 1 July, the Congress resumed debate on Lee's original resolution. Although no new points emerged, a virtual consensus had been reached. Only the delegates from the state of New York had failed to receive any instructions to support the resolution. So on 2 July 1776, the Continental Congress voted to pass the Lee resolution declaring independence. The United Colonies became the United States.

Richard Henry Lee

The Continental Congress then completed debate on Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence. After some revisions that more accurately reflected the consensus of the delegates, the voted to approve Jefferson's Declaration on 4 July, 1776.

30 June 2014

Moses and Monarchies

Moses next provides guidelines for once and future kings:

 "When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;  Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.  But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.  Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.  And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:  And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:  That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel." Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (KJV)  

Moses anticipates that one day the Hebrews may establish a monarchy like the surrounding nations.

(Or as many scholars believe, this passage came after the Hebrews already established a monarchy in an attempt by the priesthood to rein in kings who based their decisions on their own will rather than that of Yahweh.)

In any event, the establishment of a monarchy certainly makes a mockery of those Christian nationalists who argue the Israel was a republic.  A republic is a "thing of the people"--citizens. A monarchy makes people "subjects" not citizens.

Moreover, Moses denies the authority of the Hebrews to even choose their own king. The Lord will choose. Ancient Israel was not even an elective monarchy.

Finally, this monarch cannot even fully claim to be Israel's sovereign. Moses commands that the monarch secure of copy of the book of the law and to rule by it, straying neither to the left nor the right. No other law making body exits. Yahweh is the lawgiver.