Saturday, January 22, 2005

Fear, Punditry...and Spongebob

I admit it: I love Spongebob. As the parent of a young child, this is one of the few shows I'll let her see. I never analyzed why I adored Spongebob so much, not until right wing Christian groups attacked the cartoon series as promoting a homosexual agenda. That got me watching some of the Spongebob episodes I have on DVD, at which point I discovered the true, devious undercurrent of Spongebob that makes the far right shake in its boots: a liberal.

Being a liberal, I don't make that charge lightly. But let me describe one episode of Spongebob, entitled "Squirrel Jokes", and you'll see what I mean.

In "Squirrel Jokes", Spongebob is a wanna-be stand-up comedian, who saves his act from completely failing onstage by making fun of Sandy, the one-and-only squirrel who lives under the sea in Bikini Bottom. She wears a space suit-type contraption and lives in the Tree Dome, and...well, heck, it's just a cartoon! She just lives under the sea. Moving on...

Sandy tries to tell Spongebob that his jokes are hurtful, but his ambition to be a loved, stand-up comedian gets the better of him for most of the episode. There's one scene where he literally has to make a choice between his friend and his career, and against the backdrop of the cheering crowd demanding more "squirrel jokes", he chooses his career. Sandy doesn't give up on him, however, and shows him how damaging his stereotypes really are. Spongebob then changes his act to poke fun at all of the sea creatures, not just Sandy, the outsider.

Ethically speaking, there's a lot going on in this episode. First, the obvious thrust of the cartoon is the harm that can be caused by telling stereotypical jokes about people, even if you're only trying to get a laugh. This is a very important message, and one that young children - and even some adults - need to hear. But what really got to me after viewing this episode again was the second message: even if the "marketplace of ideas" wants you to engage in stereotyping, and even if you'll get honors and accolades for doing so, you shouldn't.

Think about this second point. What do Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and all of the radical right-wing talk show host punditry have in common? They love to single out groups of people for ridicule: the liberals, who they love to label "members of the hate America first club"; the poor, because somehow they deserve to be poor; and illegal immigrants because of course, they will be more prone to commit violent crimes. Michelle Malkin loved pointing this out recently in her blog - the emphasis is her own:

"News from my neighborhood...

A 37-year-old man was charged with the rape of a Montgomery County[, Md.] teenager and is a suspect in a rash of other attacks on women over the past two years, authorities said yesterday.

Jorge A. Rivera-Aleman, who prosecutors said lived in a room on Kodiak Drive in Silver Spring for the past two months, was charged Monday with first-degree rape and burglary for allegedly attacking a 13-year-old girl from Colesville after she came home from school in November. In two separate cases, Rivera-Aleman was charged with first-degree burglary and attempted burglary of two homes in the White Oak area of Silver Spring in the past week.

Authorities said DNA samples from Rivera-Aleman will be tested for a link to at least four other attacks against women and teenage girls since March 2003. The wave of attacks prompted police to form a task force and school officials to warn parents to be vigilant...

Authorities said Rivera-Aleman, a native of El Salvador, was living in the United States illegally but did not say how long he had been in Maryland or whether he had a job.

Just raping the women and girls no one else will rape, right?"

Now, line up the actions of Spongebob, who was willing to find a way to make a name for himself in the "marketplace of ideas" without pandering to the worst instincts of his audience, and place them against the likes of Maulkin, who sells the reinforcement of racist stereotypes to the "marketplace of ideas". Who acts more responsibly in the face of fame and fortune? Who puts the well-being of other people before their own need to advance their careers?

No wonder the far right wants to shut Spongebob down. He redefines what the "culture wars" are all about: tolerance, compassion and understanding of those who are different from you, even if that means giving up something you love in the process. These are certainly not traits the far right wants their children to learn, because if they did it would mean questioning their parents' values and their need to stigmatize the "other". Without that dynamic, the far right has precious else to base their movement on.

Spongebob is certainly a threat to the likes of Dobson, because with an annoying giggle and a catchy tune he can take down their entire movement. Those of us on the left would do well to learn from him.


Friday, January 21, 2005

New Site Feature

It seems like there's so many enemies of decency and freedom these days that you just can't keep up. So for your convenience, I've added an "enemies list" to the right sidebar. We started things off with all the cartoon characters the American Family Association believes promote the "homosexual agenda," but there's more to come. Much more.

And yeh, I know the pictures point out the crying need for a site redesign.




If you believe the war in Iraq is just, please go to this link . Tell how just it is to the parents of the soldier in the flag-draped coffin. Scroll down. Tell it to this 4-year-old girl covered in the blood of her parents killed in front of her by nervous U.S. soldiers. Tell it to her sister being treated for a gunshot wound.

Yesterday I went to the counter-inauguration. I wrote this about it elsewhere:

I carried one of the flag-draped 'coffins' for a time.
The coffins are just cardboard but shaped like the real thing.
I tried to picture who the coffin represented. I'm old enough to be the father of an 18-22 year old soldier. I cannot imagine the pain of such a loss.
It is one thing to think the soldiers knew the risks when they joined. But after Sept. 11th I tried to join. I was a few months past the cut off date.
But I suspect every parent in the world would trade places with their children to keep them from being in one of those flag-draped coffins.
I wish Bush hadn't lied us into this awful war.

Please pray for peace.


Hillary Update

I mentioned below that Hillary Clinton seems to have embraced the faith-based approach. What I didn't know at the time was who she was hanging around with when she did so. Eugene Rivers is quoted in the latest White House position paper on the subject.

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You think she might be running from, oh, the center next time around?


Higher IQ=Lower Risk of Suicide?

That's what this story from Reuters says.

The research is tentative, so be cautious with the results. But I think I can discern a cause here: it's not that those who kill themselves are stupid; it's that those with higher IQs are able to find more and better alternatives in a crisis.

So, if we want to "stop the murder and the suicide," as Jack Kerouac once instructed, shouldn't we be trying to find alternatives to abortion, and providing more young men with meaningful options in their lives?


Because I can't resist funny pictures of the Pope


Faith-Based Prevarication

I want to look a little more in-depth at an interview I mentioned in the Roundup below, with Jim Towey, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and soon to be Assistant to the President.

Take a look at some of the crap coming from the adminstration on this issue (interviewer questions in bold):

President Bush's main legislative faith-based initiative, the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act, failed to pass in 2001. Will you try again?

I hope, now that the president is not running for reelection, that some of those politics are out of the way. A Pew poll showed a 16-percentage-point difference in favor of government's granting money to faith-based organizations for social services.

What Towey doesn't mention is the actual percentages: 50-34 in favor. That's hardly a ripping mandate. Nor does it distinguish between funding for established groups such as Catholic Charities or Lutheran Social Services, which do not proselytize or require religious participation as a condition of receiving services, and smaller independent groups which often do.

Are you going to move the faith-based initiative down to the state and local levels?

Now, we have 21 governors and 116 mayors with faith-based offices. I want to stress that many of them are Democrats.

However, there are 18 states that … basically tell these groups that if you are going to take any state funds, you can't hire according to your religious beliefs. The President will identify state and local governments that aren't very friendly to faith based organizations.

That there so many faith-based offices testifies to nothing more than this is indeed pork-barrel politics. And those states are exercising their legal rights, a right the administration itself has promoted with regards to such issues as school vouchers.

Will you increase the use of vouchers for social services?

The President will continue to explore the use of vouchers in recovery or job training programs. A couple of states are already issuing vouchers for drug addiction recovery programs. There are areas where social problems are so bad that it's worth looking at other approaches.

Really? Where? And why? Shouldn't this be an open debate?

Sadly, though, Towey here points to some of the real motivation behind faith-based initiatives: the wholesale exporting of social services to the private sector. Same deal as with Social Security: privatize, privatize, privatize.

Crap, crap, crap.



Okay, we can spot a bandwagon as well as anyone. faithforward is proud to announce that is joining the fight to save Social Security from the Bush Administration's manufactured crisis.

Fredrick Clarkson, as usual, puts it best:
BlogPAC, a coalition of Democratic bloggers and blog readers has launched an online media campaign charging that the Bush administration is manufacturing a phony crisis in order to hand over the Social Security trust fund to the stock market and big financial institutions. The group is a registered political action commitee that supported a number of Democratic candidates for the House and Senate last year.

The group's campaign web site is devoted to providing such resources for the fight as links to useful articles and a "Wall of Shame" to track the perpetuators of "the deceptive myth that theres a 'crisis' with our system of Social Security. This includes journalists, public servants and other people who should know better."

"Fact is, there is no crisis," said Markos Moulistas of The Daily Kos. "And there is no projected crisis anytime in the near future. Or far future. The GOP has always hated social security, and now they see a chance to do something about it."

"BlogPac," according to their press release, "was borne from those who spend their times online and embrace participatory media and politics, we will use online tools and technologies to further the cause of progressive politics in our nation. BlogPac is, indeed, the first PAC to wage politics entirely online. Blogpac intends to distribute and sell downloadable materials, bumper stickers and encourage grassroots groups to engage in local activism on their own."

In addition to the interactive web site, BlogPac plans to air radio spots in which they show how the supposed crisis in Social Security is "as phony as Iraq's supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction Program."

One of the ads, titled "Fraud" states:

"Social Security makes sure our nation's elderly can retire with income. Now President Bush and the Republican leadership want to gamble away our benefits -- and line their own pockets with our hard-earned dollars.

Social Security is financially sound. But Bush and his cronies want us to believe there is a crisis. They are even using taxpayer dollars -- our retirement money they hold in trust -- to pay for an advertising campaign to convince us theres a crisis.

Bush wants to reduce benefits and gamble our money in the stock market by paying billions to the big investment firms that are among his biggest campaign contributors.

This is fraud.

Dont let them get away with it. Go to for more information."

BlogPac is raising money to air the radio spots. Contributions can be made through the campaign web site.


Religious News Roundup--January 21, 2005

Today is Friday, January 21, 2005:  Eid al Adha for Muslims.  According to PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly,

Eid al-Adhá (the Festival of Sacrifice) is the concluding act of pilgrimage and is observed even when not on pilgrimage. As Abraham offered his son, Ishmael, to God, Muslims offer sheep, goats, and camels. They distribute the meat to the poor.

If you're not doing anything on Sunday and you find yourself in Pottsville Iowa, you might want to stop by the Winter Quarterly Meeting of the Decorah Council of Catholic Women- Dubuque ACCW.  Or, if you're willing to brave a possible snowstorm, you could always stop by Casa Pastor and have lunch with pastordan and Mrs. Pastor.  We here they don't have much on their agenda these days.

Today's categories:


Religion & Politics

Okay, we're starting to get a little creeped out.  This is twice in a month that we've found ourselves agreeing with Chuck Colson:

First, "red" Christians must reach out to "blue" Christians and vice versa. Ideology must not divide believers. Second, Christians are not seeking political power, so we're not out to "destroy" perceived political enemies. Nor do we line up for the victor's spoils, as if we were just one more special-interest group. Instead, we need to graciously contend (and demonstrate) that Christian truth is good for the right ordering of our lives, individually and collectively, and manifest our commitment to the common good by doing the things Christians do best: creating strong families, restoring relationships, helping the poor, working for human rights.

Christians are in a unique position to bring common grace to a deeply divided nation and offer something more than brief periods of peace between outbreaks of mortal combat every election cycle. In rejecting ideology and putting the common good first, we offer hope to America's warring factions.

It's a thoughtful Op-Ed, though some progressives may find it difficult to get past Colson's right-wing perspective.

From the same issue of Christianity Today, this piece takes an honest look at "Five issues [that] will test the strength and unity of Christian conservatives in the new term."  

Two things stood out for us:  first, our own US Representative, Joe Pitts, leads a "congressional caucus promoting values legislation."  We're not surprised, and we've actually met Pitts a couple of times and liked him in person.  Still, with all due respect, Representative, we'll be doing what we can to oust you in 2006...

Second was this bit:

Christian conservatives also have a number of legislative ideas to ban same-sex marriage, limit abortion, and promote premarital sexual abstinence through the nation's education system.

Job One is passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would constitutionally define marriage as "the union of one man and one woman."

Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family vice president, says his organization has been fundraising and building networks for the effort. The pro-marriage-amendment Arlington Group has been meeting with Perkins in Washington since mid-2003. Every six weeks or so, 50 to 70 top activists such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, and Gary Bauer of American Values join in the strategy debates.

Do progressives have such a coordinating group?  If not, why not?  If so, where do we sign up?

The United States is far from the only nation to have problems with the mixture of religion and politics.  In fact, in other parts of the world, it's much more serious.  Witness India, where memories of recent religious pogroms are all-too-fresh as a national election approaches.

Yesterday was Inauguration Day.  Didja notice?  All kinds of groups used the occasion to organize, speak out, or otherwise push their agendas.  For example, an evangelical group wants Pres. Bush to focus on hunger and poverty in his second term.

And, as GetReligion points out, it's pretty much inevitable that observers of the inauguration will attempt to parse the religious messages in Bush's inaugural speech.  And yes, as tmatt says, it's inevitable that some of those considerations will be ill-informed.  That notwithstanding, here's a couple of the better ones:  from BeliefNet and Ethics Daily.

Even worse than agreeing with Chuck Colson, we find ourselves sort-of agreeing with Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention:

"All Americans of whatever political stripe pause to give thanks for the fact that America is a land that accomplishes peaceful transfer of power and in which the citizens peacefully accept election results," Land said in a statement to Baptist Press. "If they lose, Americans resolve to make a better case and be victorious the next time.

"This should be a moment of supreme unity when we reaffirm that after the electoral process -- whether we voted for him or not, whether we support him or not -- whoever is elected is our president, and we give due respect to the office of the presidency,"

Yes, sir.  Due respect.  Still got them snowballs and eggs?


Religion & Homosexuality

Well, the American Family Association's decision to add SpongeBob Squarepants to the "enemies of the traditional family" list has gotten play all over the internets.  Chuck Currie and Jesus' General are on the case, and you can find many more links here.  While we wait for that report on the "disturbing connection between Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo," let's look at this possible explanation for the brouhaha:

Dobson said SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside other children's television characters, including Barney, Blue's Clues, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Jimmy Neutron. The makers of the video, Dobson said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools this spring to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."

The video's creator, Nile Rodgers, who wrote the disco hit We Are Family, says Dobson's objection stemmed from a misunderstanding.

Rodgers said he founded the We Are Family Foundation after the Sept. 11 attacks to create a music video featuring 100 cartoon characters of many species dancing to his song to teach children about multiculturalism. Nothing on the video refers to sexual identity. The "tolerance pledge," available on the group's Web site, is not mentioned on the video.

Rodgers said Dobson and the American Family Association might have been confused because an unrelated Web site belonging to a group called "We Are Family" is owned by a Charleston, S.C., group that supports gay youth.

Meanwhile, the Advocate interviews John Thomas, the President of the United Church of Christ on the recent God Is Still Speaking ads.  Nice piece, if minor.  But guys?  We wish you wouldn't use the word "Crusade" in your headlines...The New Humanist offers its own appreciation of the GISS ads.


Church & State

The other religion story that's been dominating the blogosphere has been the question of Faith-Based Initiatives.  Yours truly had a bit too much to say on it, as did many others.  Christianity Today has an interview with Jim Towey, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and now Assistant to the President.  Towey is nominally a Dem, but in the interview, he demonstrates that donkeys can prevaricate with the best of elephants.  More later.

Hillary Clinton seems to want in on the act, but those pesky secular humanists don't.  If this isn't Exhibit 1-A of Hillary's enduring presidential ambitions, we don't know what is:

In a speech at a fund-raising dinner for a Boston-based organization that promotes faith-based solutions to social problems, Clinton said there has been a "false division" between faith-based approaches to social problems and respect for the separation of church of state.

"There is no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles," said Clinton, a New York Democrat who often is mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2008.

Addressing a crowd of more than 500, including many religious leaders, at Boston's Fairmont Copley Plaza, Clinton invoked God more than half a dozen times, at one point declaring, "I've always been a praying person."

She said there must be room for religious people to "live out their faith in the public square."

Let's be clear:  we're not saying Clinton's religious practice is hollow.  By all accounts, she has been a lifelong devout Methodist.  But since when does she buy into Republican perspectives on the separation of church and state?

On another subject, we didn't realize that the Arizona prison ministry successfully sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation last year was affiliated with...Chuck Colson.  Shows you what we get for agreeing with him.  

(NB:  The name of the group in question is MentorKids, not to be confused with the Mentor Network, a national social services company that provides, among other things, therapeutic foster care for children.  Mrs. Pastor works for Mentor, and we're sure she appreciates the clarification.)


This 'n' That

The Boston Globe has a fairly sympathetic focus piece on local atheists here. Some folks have noticed how atheists can seem a bit, er, fundamentalist at times. But what we're impressed with is another characteristic they share with their counterparts in the realm of conservative faith: the difficulty of figuring out how to operate in a pluralistic society when one's personal beliefs don't leave much room for more than one avenue to the truth.

Because we can't resist photos like this:

we'll pass on a story about the Blessing of the Pets in Mexico City.

Two items from the world of pop culture: a Christian comic-book artist comes to Wayzata, and Rolling Stone turns down a Bible ad. We're not above pointing out that The Onion, of "Christ Returns to NBA"

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fame has accepted the ad. But in the end, we'll let the Revealer have the last word: censorship is a bad thing.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Add Jeans to the Enemies List

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Follow up on Sociopathy

Reader (and hero) Fredrick Clarkson responds to the "Faith-Based Sociopathy" post below:

I have to agree that the Bush administration's approach to the so-called Faith Based Initiative is indeed, sociopathic. I have never believed that religiosity was the primary underlying reason for the Faith Based Initiative. Rather, it was an updated and expanded version of the spoils system: sending resources to prop up the base, reward friends, buy off or neutralize opposition.

With specific regard to the LA Times story, there have been many GOP efforts to divide the African American churches over the years, and this is but one of them. The GOP correctly sees the need to degrade the historic Democratic coalition. In just the past few days, Ken Mehlman noted that the GOP will seek over the next few years, to improve their numbers among African-Americans, Jews, and women.

Unable to get legislative authorization for a broad agenda, the administration has done everything it can to use executive authority to fast track money to "faith based" groups. This, while doing everything it can to underfund, and over regulate public agencies. Its an old GOP strategy to discredit and hobble government agencies and programs they don't like, and to try to turn taxpayer money over to private business. Now religious groups are beneficiaries of the spoils as well. That the justification for this is often "efficiency," is beyond preposterous, and warrants reframing from a reinvigorated Democratic Party.

What we are seeing in this, and of course in the attempted privatization of social security, no-bid defense contracts for Iraq, among other administration initiatives is the transfer of wealth, the common wealth, to base constituents and prospective constituents of the GOP.

We have seen this at the state level in the efforts to direct money for public education into religious "charter" schools. The lack of rigorous evaluation and oversight, has meant more than a few scams, and more than a few grants handed over to incompetent operators, as has been documented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and reported in their Church and State magazine.

What to do? First off, lets stop using the term "faith based," as much as possible. Its a Bushist frame that conceals and clouds the political and policy purposes of administration programs. I find it bizarre that mainstream and progressive religious groups have internalized use of the term. When we mean grants to religious groups, lets say so. "Government grants and contracts to religious groups." Hmm. doesn't have the same ring. "Faith based" sounds so soft, and safe. The term itself and the reality behind it, is a classic cooptation of faith itself. The state can never be the source of faith, even as many, if not most people in politics in government have religious ideas of their own. Their personal faith may have everything -- or nothing -- to do with their jobs, or their idea of public service. No government has a singular faith at work in its policies and programs. There is great diversity even among Christians. There is great danger in the cooptation of religious faith by the most powerful governmetn in the world. This reality is one dimension of the meaning of separation of church and state.

The Bush administration seeks to coopt churches into its political orbit, and seek to blind them with money and warm and fuzzy talk about faith. "Faith-based" my ass. This is as coarse and craven an attack on faith itself as we have seen in our history.

Take away the warm and fuzzy frame, and its easier to talk about the realities. Remember fuzzy math? What we have here is fuzzy faith.

Some of those on the Christian theocratic right have seen this clearly for a long time. They see the risk of corruption of faith by feeding at the government trough. The risk of corruption, compromise and dependency is too great as they see it. The Rovian politics behind the socalled Faith Based Initiative in all of its manifestations, understands this perfectly well. People of faith, of many varieties, even some of the most conservative theocrats, are a check against power -- the potential corrupting power of the state -- and must be dealt with, with money and the seductiveness of power, or otherwise coopted, neutralized or silenced.

Getting churches and religious based agencies to line up at the faith-based soup kitchen is a clever effort to keep them busy, while the Bush administration carries out the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world, and a largely unfettered march towards global domination.

That potential opponents have internalized the "faith-based" frame on their own, was undoubtedly an unexpected gift that Rove enjoys every day he hears a mainstream religious leader use the term and try to own it.

It is true that government grants have been given to religious agencies for years to carry out projects and social services, and that these were not necessarily corrupting, or violative of church state separation. I have some personal knowledge about this. But what we are seeing here is mostly not benign. In my view, it is an unconscionable attack on the independence of Christian churches of many varieties. In that sense, what is going on here is indeed, as pastordan suggests, sociopathic.

Fred says he's going to write this up in a slightly different form on his own blog. We'll post a link when he does.


We get fan mail,too.

This one from our mom:
That was a nice article about Dr. Englert. I think you hit just the right tone (but what do I know, I only met him a couple of times.) I was interested in your article about the minister from Milwaukee. We read about his stand in the MJ Sentinel and wondered what the scoop was there. I guess now we know. My buddy...sent us an email to listen to Pacifica radio tomorrow. They are the only station airing protest stuff on inauguration day. Also, Terry Gross is going to interview Jim Wallis and what's his name Lamb from the Southern Baptist conference.

We've promised her more thrilling adventures yet to come.


PastorDan's Sermon for Inauguration Day

As many of my regular readers know, I am now officially unemployed. I have no preaching commitment for this coming Sunday, and yet here I find myself writing up a sermon anyway.

Reminds me of a retired Mennonite pastor I knew in Atlanta who came to church every week with a sermon tucked in his pocket, whether he was preaching or not. "Just in case," he'd say.

More than once, we had to prevail upon him to preach that sermon. So it is in this case.

More below the flip.

Today's texts--Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12--are favorites of many progressives, and rightly so.

There's some disagreement over the setting of the Micah text. It could be an "entrance liturgy," meaning a responsive reading used upon entry into the Temple. Or it could be an example of a "covenant suit," in which God calls the people of Israel to account for their faithlessness. (Here, as in many places, Israel doesn't get a word in edgewise.)

In either case, the result is the same. When confronted with the sudden presence of God, Israel must answer a fundamental question: what does God want?

The answer is literally no-thing: not burnt offerings, not calves, not rams, not precious oil, not Israel's firstborn (in human sacrifice or in dedication to priestly service). Nor (Welshman) does God require us to make a doctrinal confession. All who can do what Micah terms good are included in the covenant of Israel:

What does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

And what, precisely, does that mean?

  1. To do justice, as one of my commentaries points out, is not an attitude or frame of mind, but is
    to be actively engaged in the redistribution of power in the world, to correct the inequalities that marginalize some for the excessive enhancement of others.

  2. In the same way, to love kindness is to seek a world transformed, and to challenge "the way things are". "Kindness" is a laughably weak translation of the Hebrew word hesed, which means God's faithful love. Hesed restores the world to right relationship, and mirrors God's faithfulness to the people of Israel. It means to participate in the healing of the world. It means to participate in the work of reconciliation.

    It means to participate in a world where this little girl can be restored, and where her parents will never again be ripped away from her by violence.

    To live in fidelity to the promises of God means to be peacemakers, and those who do justice.

  3. To walk humbly with the Lord means more than simple humility. It is to travel with God with the understanding that none of us truly knows the mind of God, and that all of us are prone to stray from the path of righteousness. The emphasis here is on the verb to walk. Another of my commentaries describes what this means:
    In Judaism the word for ethics is halacha which means "walking"; the idea is that the task of ethics is to describe how one ought to walk one's day-by-day life. This call to "walk" is similar to the call of Jesus, whose most characteristic invitation was not "believe" but rather "walk" or "Follow me." One who so walks with God will not be exempt from the dark places of life. That person does have the assurance though that this walk is not taken alone: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me..." (Ps. 23:4).

Appropriate for Black Thursday, don't you think?

Well, Jesus was no partisan, so leave that be. The point (for Christians those covered by the covenant) is this: if Micah is the theory, the Beatitudes are the praxis.

3 `Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 `Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 `Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 `Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 `Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 `Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 `Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 `Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 `Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If we can do justice on behalf of the poor, the the hungry, the meek, those who mourn; if we can love kindness for them and so become the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers; if we can walk humbly, and know that even when we are persecuted and reviled and have evil uttered against us that God stands for us and with us, empowering us for love and service--if we can do these things--then we will know that God is faithful, and the saving acts of the Lord are not yet done.

Like the man says, it's no guarantee of a smooth ride. But it's better than the alternative, which is despair and the lingering sense that we knew what was required of us--and we turned away.



Colored by pastordan, age 36 1/2

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Faith-Based Sociopathy

I'm not ready to let go this article on Faith-Based Initiatives funding, and the political capital it's been used to buy. Nor am I ready to let go the discussion it generated here and here. (See also this diary by Lapin, and this by ihlin.)

I'm sympathetic to all the commenters who have argued that this is nothing more than sleazy politics-as-usual, but respectfully, I have to disagree. It's not that I don't think politics are involved, but that seeing the issue in terms of politics alone doesn't see the entire chessboard.

Again, I can't disagree: the FBIs program is PPP: pure pork politics. As lojo points out on the original thread, it's the Republican answer to Democratic "street money".

As AuntiePeachy notes, it fits a pattern of white leaders paying off black preachers to put the brakes on their community's political activism.

And as Troutfishing surmises, it's more than likely part of the broader "starve the beast" agenda: to transfer the responsibility for social services from the public sector to the private.

(If you believe that government shouldn't be funding church-related activities in the first place, I can't help you. It's been going on for a long time--since the founding of the republic--and it doesn't look to change anytime soon. It is what it is, in other words.)

My question about the insights named above is: why?

I understand the political advantages. But each and every last one of those could have been accomplished by other, less labor-intensive means. The President could have--and eventually did--relax the restrictions on federal support for FBIs by executive fiat, instead of making a legislative proposal that was sure to be a lightning rod. God knows that there's no shortage of ways to put money in preacher's pockets (there are days when I wish some folks would be more creative), and the "starve the beast" campaign seems to have done pretty well over the past four years, without having to swing into the treacherous landscape of religion and civil society.

But the White House has chosen not to take the easy path. Instead, they've made FBI funding one of the centerpieces of the administration.

Again, you have to ask why? Surely Karl Rove knew that there was no way the campaign was going to lose enough white evangelicals or gain enough black ones to change the outcome of the election. Granted, it was tight. But the margins in places like Ohio and Wisconsin weren't close enough to justify this kind of effort. And there was no way Bush was going to lose solidly evangelical states like Texas, Oklahoma, or Alabama. So why put all the effort into this program?

Troutfishing might be on to something with shifting social services to the private realm, and the original LATimes piece carries the theory that all this might be designed to ensure long-term Republican dominance. Certainly Rove is enough of a megalomaniac big-picture thinker to work in those terms.

But I can't shake the feeling that there's more at work here.

Consider the context in which this is taking place. The snub of the Kyoto protocol. The run up to the war in Iraq, and the ongoing dipolomatic snubs coming out of it. The firing of who knows how many administrators and public servants for telling inconvenient truths or somewhat different perspectives than the party line. Abu Ghraib. Torture. The Patriot Act. Executive privilege. It just goes on and on, and it all fits a pattern.

Oh, and don't forget the "reality-based community" crack. Despite what Ron Suskind and a legion of bloggers will tell you, that wasn't an arrogant statement on the superiority of faith to reality. It was an arrogant statement that this administration intends to remake reality to suit its own ends, while the rest of us struggle to catch up.

Once you begin to connect all those dots, a disturbing possibility emerges: that this is a sociopathic administration.

The technical definition of sociopathy is that it's what we used to call psychotic behavior and now call anti-social personality: "A personality disorder characterised by a continuous and persistent pattern of aggressive behaviour in which the rights of others are violated."

In layman's terms: this is an administration that wants to do whatever the hell it wants, whenever the hell it wants to. And it doesn't want anyone to tell it it's wrong.

Sociopathy is marked by a lack of conscience. A sociopath knows what's right and what's wrong; they just don't give a shit. And they sure don't want to hear anyone else tell them they did wrong: the response is usually a shrug or some kind of justification. ("But your honor, I had to beat him up and take his wallet. He was making eyes at me.") Sociopaths, in other words, don't take responsibility for their actions. Ever.

So the entire chessboard, as I see it, is that the administration wants not only to privatize social services, but it wants to buy off some of the opposition and confound the rest. So when the moment comes to carry out the privatize, there's no one who can credibly stand up and say "this is wrong."

If I'm right about that, there are some scary conclusions to be drawn here.

Scary conclusion #1 To whose benefit is this self-justifying campaign? We don't know, honestly. You can say "theocrats" or "small government types" but "corporate executives" works better, and "friends of Bush, Cheney and Rove" works best. Fact is, this administration plays its cards so close to the chest that there's no way of telling. Which leads to...

Scary conclusion #2 The point of the self-justification is...self-justification. That's it. It's not an instrumental goal to anything else, except perhaps making some money. These guys apparently want to be right about everything. That flows down from the president, obviously, but what's remarkable is that he's found quite a large group of people willing to play along.

Scary conclusion #3 The point of violating others' rights is...the violation. Sociopaths love to catch people by surprise and make them victims. Write that principle large in the government, and wow. Supply your own examples.

This is the kind of corruption that I think the black pastors are buying into for the sake of expedience and cold hard cash. And in the end, my point in all of this is moral, not political. If you dance with the Devil, he gets to call the tune. That can have disastrous political consequences, no doubt, but more important, what does that do to the moral underpinnings you depend on to carry out your ministry? What does that do to the moral underpinnings any of us need to live life rightly?

The good news in all of this is that the administration's lack of conscience doesn't take away our own consciences. And just as the corruption of the Roman Empire forced the early church to live out their faith as a counter-culture (until they were co-opted by Constantine), so the Bush Empire is forcing Democrats to live out their "faith" in counter-culture, which is to say political opposition to the very morally questionable policies of this administration.

And that's as it should be.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Dangers of Meditation

Thanks to reader Claire S. for this link.

From an Agape Press review of Alternative Medicine: A Christian Handbook:

In a recent article from the Washington Post, TM is hailed in a study as a way to make the human brain more highly developed and disciplined. But author, physician and nationally syndicated TV show host Dr. Walt Larimore says the article, like so many others on TM, fails to tell readers about the downside of this activity.

For example, Larimore says the report failed to describe the potential emotional damage that has been shown to be associated with the practice of TM. "One study showed that almost half of those that were active as transcendental meditation trainers reported episodes of anxiety, depression, and confusion," he notes, "while some of them have frustration, mental and physical tension -- and this was over half of the trainers. It was really dramatically negative."

Also, the author notes, other studies have documented adverse effects to transcendental meditation that were clinically severe, such as "psychiatric hospitalizations and attempted suicides." But of even greater concern, he says, are the spiritual implications of TM, such as involvement with so-called "spirit guides," which may be demonic in nature. He says Christians should be wary of any type of alternative therapy that puts them in contact with the spirit world.

Larimore says TM is dangerous because the mind is opened up and left vulnerable to evil spirits. He warns that, although information from proponents tends to be deceptively positive, the practice of TM is emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually risky.

Thanks, Claire. We'll consider ourselves warned.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Check this out:


Faith-Based Corruption

Let's get one thing straight:  the Bush administration's faith-based initiatives program is patronage, plain and simple.  At least, that's the conclusion of this LATimes article.  In particular, the article focuses on FBI funds distributed to black church groups.

And it is corrupt.  That's my conclusion.

A review of the facts below the fold.

  • The money was concentrated in swing states.  That's not a charge leveled by some secular hippie professor; it's an admission made by the program's director.

  • Accountability for the program is poor.  $1 billion was reportedly spent in 2003, but even the government says that doesn't include all the grants, and the distributions that have been tracked include secular groups--even some state and local governments.

  • Groups with ties to the White House or the Republican party also received large grants.

  • The White House asked recipients to attend conferences in battleground states, and the director of the program spent two-thirds of his time last year in those same states.

  • "...A Capitol Hill summit on the faith initiative and the black church....was beamed to about 50 locations on a television feed sponsored by foundations linked to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, whose Unification Church has received indirect aid through the federal faith-based initiative."

The result?  Reaching out to the black community through the churches may have contributed to record showings for the Republican ticket among African-American voters.  That, in turn, may have made the difference between Ohio being Florida 2004, or being safely in Bush's column.  And the Republicans intend to press their advantage in 2006 and beyond.  Some even hope to land about 30% of the black vote, though even J.C. Watts says that might be ambitious.

So where's the corruption?  In doling out federal funds in patronage?

Nope.  The faith-based initatives program is sleazy, there's no question about that.  But all pork and patronage is sleazy when you get down to it.  By definition, they're the distribution of government wealth more on political grounds than on policy.  But as long as there have been politicians yearning for re-election, and as long as there have been public funds waiting to be shoveled, there have always been ways to connect a hungry citizenry with the public trough.  Love it or hate it, that's the way the game is played, and it's hard to fault the Republicans for playing it.

Is the corruption in the blurring of the lines between church and state?

Actually, no.  For all the hype we've heard about faith-based programs, the executive orders signed by President Bush have only been a modest extension of existing law.  From the very beginnings of the nation, the government has paid religious-affiliated charity groups to provide social and medical services.  Two of the largest recipients of these funds have been Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services, both of whom have been receiving federal funds for decades.

The wrinkle the FBIs have added is to make similar funds available to smaller organizations, and in settings less clearly separated from the religious aspects of the organization.  Put it this way:  you'll usually find the Catholic Charities office in a building next door to a church, but you might find a FBI grantee in the church building itself.

Some of this has been worrisome, but it's not a wholesale attack on the separation clause.  So that's not the problem.

So could it be that Republicans are reaching out to black folk?

No, though that's getting closer.  Republicans should be reaching out to blacks and other minorities.  We're not a white country, and we never have been.  I don't doubt that these grants do real good in the communities where the money is spent, and if the Republicans can make political capital out of helping people, so much the better.  Of course, given this administration's record of backstabbing, betrayal, and unfulfilled promises, if I were the pastor of a congregation receiving these funds, I'd want to be sure the check cleared before I made any endorsements.

Well, is it the involvement of the Unification Church?

I have to admit I'd be more sympathetic to their cause if the Unification Church was actually--you know--a church. But let's be upfront about this:  the Unification Church is a vehicle for the political and religious aspirations of Rev. Moon, not an honest religion.  I don't like money going to them not because I don't like federal dollars spent in churches, but because I think this particular "church" is a sham.  

Unfortunately, they're a sham with very good political connections to people who have not earned a reputation for good judgment.  It's a freaking disgrace that the Republicans would want to be connected to Moon's people in any way, shape or form, but how do you corrupt a relationship that was never virtuous to begin with?  The Republicans want money and votes; Moon wants respectability.  It's a simple transaction, really.

No, the real corruption here is in those pastors taking the FBI funds.  Again, I don't begrudge them the money:  Lord knows their communities need it.  

Given the lack of accountability of the program, it's reasonable to have questions about the effectiveness of how those funds are spent, but set that aside.  The real question here is what kind of model the church is buying into.

As conservatives rightly point out, the Christian demand that we care for the poor does not automatically translate into government programs and services.  But at least with a well-administered program, there's an opportunity to ensure that the funds are being fairly distributed.  A government work program that builds a bridge, however inefficient, still benefits the entire community.

But with patronage, those safeguards are removed.  The qualifier is not need, but political clout.  Only those who are connected are guaranteed access, and those connections are only as good as the next election--or the next swing vote.

Politics aside, I can't bring myself to believe that the Christian project is about making timely, effective endorsements in order to receive a bribe from an incumbent administration.  Though it may very well keep someone fed, that's the logic of bourgeois morality, not the radical call of Jesus Christ to seek the transformation of a world overrun with injustice and oppression.  Patronage challenges nothing, changes nothing.  It only puts off the inevitable day of reckoning, when people have to look in the mirror and ask themselves what they really did to change the inequalities that created the need in the first place.

The corruption, then, is not on the political side of the equation.  It's in the effect the political calculus has on those people who ought to know better.  At what point does working the system become being swallowed up in the system?

At what point have you sold not your vote but your soul?


One More on MLK

grannyhelen is too modest to toot her own horn, but her series on Martin Luther King's enduring legacy has been wonderful. I'm proud to have her posting here.

Thanks, granny!

She's also posted a round-up of all (many, at least) the MLK diaries from Daily Kos. More good stuff, if you're interested.

Comment here to show granny some love.

You do love your granny, don't you?


Monday, January 17, 2005

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

"We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God's universe is made; this is the way it is structured." - Martin Luther King, "Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution"

Of all the great things Dr. King had to say to us, this is perhaps the most salient: all life is interconnected. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. This is a lesson Dr. King inscribed in our nation with his own life, and the lives of many, many others gave their lives in the pursuit of justice through nonviolence.

It is a lesson that our country has yet to learn.

In every photograph of a hooded Iraqi, shrouded in fear, naked and helpless; in every interest payment a poor country makes to a bank instead of building a school or feeding its starving people; and in every think-tank espousing the idea that the "tide that lifts all boats" is the government subsidization of the wealthy at the expense of programs to feed the poor and heal the sick are our nation's own follies writ large upon the tablets of history.

Less than a year before he died, Dr. King delivered a sermon entitled "Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool". In it, Dr. King pointed out to America its own foolish ways:

"America today, my friends, is also rich in goods. (My Lord) We have our barns, and every day our rich nation is building new and larger and greater barns. You know, we spend millions of dollars a day to store surplus food. But I want to say to America, "I know where you can store that food free of charge: (Yes) in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God's children in Asia and Africa and South America and in our own nation who go to bed hungry tonight." (Yes)

There are a lot of fools around. (Lord help him) Because they fail to realize their dependence on others."

How, then, would Dr. King judge our country today?

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the United States has the highest rates of poverty among children, compared to sixteen other rich, industrialized countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. According to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development:

"The rate and number of children in America living in poverty increased in 2003, to 17.6 percent and 12.9 million children, up from 16.7 percent and 12.1 million in 2002. What's more, children represented 35.9 percent of all the people in poverty - compared with 25.4 percent of the total population."

To quote Dr. King, "a nation which spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

On the international front, over 1300 US soldiers have been killed in the war in Iraq. Estimates on Iraqi dead total at least 15,000. There have been reports of "ghost" detainee programs, and a proposal to jail some detainees for life. The Bush administration is downplaying expectations for a successful election in Iraq, and the threat of civil war still looms large as Sunni nonparticipation in the newly formed Iraqi government remains an unaddressed issue. And, according to a Channel 4 UK/Guardian documentary project, after all of the devastation wrought on Fallujah by US troops, it is unclear whether there was a true military victory in this city.

In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, Dr. King issued a calling to all concerned people everywhere in the face of injustice:

"This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions.  We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls "enemy", for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers."

Let us use this King Holiday to remember this great calling Dr. King issued to us shortly before his death, and continue to speak out against a government who policies and decisions injure the weak and the voiceless.  Let us continue to tell our fellow countrymen and our elected officials that torture - or redefining torture to allow for unacceptable human suffering - is wrong, and harms our national self-interest.

As Dr. King said, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".


Last Days

Yesterday was my last Sunday at the church I've been serving as interim pastor for the past couple of years. It was a bit sad, but basically okay, for me to say goodbye. I really do wish them well, and it looks like they've got a good candidate waiting in the wings. So away I go.

You hate to let go of people you've come to know and love, but it's part of the game.

It was a bit more difficult for Mrs. Pastor. She had so much she wanted to say that she just couldn't. She hasn't always been satisfied with the way I've been treated. It's a curse peculiar to pastor's wives. They have to keep their tongues still at times when any sane spouse would let fly, and it's hard on them.

In any case, for my last children's sermon, I told the kids they'd been the best thing about being at the church. Kids are always the best thing about being a church. Afterwards, one of the little nippers came up and handed me this:

It can't make up for the sacrifices involved for a job like this--the late night meetings, the long commute, below-average salary--but by God, it just might make them worthwhile.


Doc Englert

Sad news from last Saturday: Donald Englert died at the age of 95.

"Doc" was a former parishioner of mine at Faith United Church of Christ over on Wabank Road. He was an amazing guy, and he will be missed.

The details from his obituary only scratch the surface. They never do capture all there is to know about a person.

Doctor Englert earned a Ph.D. from Dropsie College for Hebrew—he was proud to be the first gentile to do so—and was the Old Testament professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary for 37 years. Every time I preached on the Old Testament, I could be sure that he would have a correction, more details, or a conversation about interpretation ready for me by the time he shook my hand on the way out the door.

His wife Ethel would lose patience eventually. "Come on, now" she would say in her always-cheerful tone, "you're holding up the line."

And then Doc would call me that night to add one more bit or to pass on a joke in his dry, direct voice.

He told the world's worst jokes: well-delivered groaners of puns. The one that comes to mind concerns the family of a former student, whom he encouraged to grow certain bushy flowers under growing lamps, and to peek out at them occasionally, so that they could speak of "while Shepards watched their phlox by night..."

See what I mean?

Doc was an old-school liberal, meaning he was more interested in doing the right thing than in partisan politics. His obituary mentions that he "helped organize the Lancaster Interracial Council and the Lancaster Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews." But he also worked in a ground-breaking integration program in St. Louis, and lent his support to many causes over the years.

He was a pastor during the Depression. He used to tell me that he started out as an interim, but then the economy collapsed, and no one dared leave a church for fear of not finding another. His congregation was happy to keep him around a few more years.

He was ordained in 1934, and got irritated when I marked the 65th anniversary of his ministry one Sunday morning. He didn't like the fuss.

Of all the things he could be remembered for, though, I think he himself would have picked only a few. He was proud of his work on II Samuel, of course. But some of his fondest memories were of organizing the Seminary basketball teams in the 1940s and 50s. He was still bitter that he lost a good recruit in one of my senior colleagues—as that colleague was approaching retirement age. Students who played on his teams recalled with a laugh Dr. Englert's penchant for arguing with the refs.

More than anything, however, I think Doc would have wanted to be remembered as a good husband and friend to Ethel. He delighted in taking her to lunch, in how she fussed over—and at—him. She was his conversation partner, his steadying force, and when Doc did weddings at the Seminary chapel, the attendant who reassured nervous brides and straightened their trains as they walked down the stairs an into married life. Through it all, she kept up a ready laugh and an enthusiasm for life that knew no bounds.

All of us who knew Dr. Englert will miss him, but none more than Ethel. We wish her well in what is surely a very difficult time, and we promise that Doc's example will live on with us.

And God help us, so will some of those corny jokes.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

Brothers and Sisters,

I bid you pray for our community, the world, and all people in need.

For our community:

  • For those facing heartbreak

  • For those struggling with addiction, especially for those entering treatment programs, that they may be strengthened and their illness eased

  • For those addressing emotionally charged family situations

  • For those who are dislocated, moving, or in transition, and for those working up the courage to do so.

  • For those who are ill, who fear for their safety, and for all who mourn.

  • For those who feel that they can no longer participate in our community, and for those who regret their departure, that old wounds may be healed and that we may wish well for all people, even when they cannot walk the same journey as ourselves.

For the world:

  • With great joy and thanksgiving for images of the wonder of distant planets.

  • With deep gratitude for the life and legacy of your servant, Martin Luther King, that we may live up to his vision of your "beloved community."

  • For the people of Iraq, and particularly the courageous citizens who must run secret campaigns for public office, that they may be safe and that their country may someday be truly free, truly democratic, and truly at peace.

  • For the people of Washington, DC, the people of the United States of America and its political leaders, that Inauguration Day may pass peacefully.

  • With simple thanks for the 81 Afghan prisoners freed by the American government and their families, that their love and joy not be interrupted again by war and politics.

  • With thanks and praise for the release of Wilbert Rideau after 44 years of confinement in the prisons of Louisiana.

For all those in need:

  • For the abuse victims of Charles Graner as he begins his long prison sentence, for his family, and for Graner himself, that they may not lose a sense of hope or mercy, and that through their loss justice and reconciliation may be established.

  • For President Bush and his advisers, that they may seek in humility to serve their nation with prudence and an eye to your call to peace, equity,  mercy and tolerance.

  • For those affected by the tsunami in South Asia and Africa, for other disasters whose effects linger, and for the victims of war around the world.

  • For the poor of every nation and land, that they may be fed.

  • For gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transexuals, and all who have been excluded from full participation from society because of their identity.

  • For ourselves, that we may pray even for our enemies, that we may reach out to all people with open hearts, and that we may do what is right.



Martin Luther King, Social Security and Capitalism

With all of the talk these days about privatizing social security, and with the King Holiday coming up on Monday, I thought it would be an appropriate time in this week's King diary series to give a quick overview of Dr. King's thoughts on capitalism, trickle-down and the free market.

Would Dr. King have favored privatization of the social security system?  The answer is, probably not. In notes he took during a graduate school course on Christianity and Society, Dr. King had the following reflections on American capitalism:

"I am convinced that capitalism has seen its best days in America, and not only in America but in the entire world. It is a well known fact that no social institution can survive when it has outlived its usefulness. This, capitalism has done. It has failed to meet the needs of the masses."

Before the above gets misconstrued, let me firmly state that Dr. King was not a communist. In his article, "How a Christian Should View Communism", Dr. King stated:

"Communism and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible. A true Christian cannot be a true Communist, for the two philosophies are antithetical and all the dialectics of the logicians cannot reconcile them."

Dr. King was first and foremost a pastor, and as such his objections to communism were based in ethics and theology. In "How a Christian Should View Communism", Dr. King gives three reasons for his opposition to a communist government:

"...First, Communism is based on a materialistic and humanistic view of life and history. According to Communist theory, matter, not mind or spirit, speaks the last word in the universe. Such a philosophy is avowedly secularistic and atheistic. Under it, God is merely a figment of the imagination, religion is a product of fear and ignorance, and the church is an invention of the rulers to control the masses...

...Second, Communism is based on ethical relativism and accepts no stable moral absolutes. Right and wrong are relative to the most expedient methods for dealing with class war. Communism exploits the dreadful philosophy that the end justifies the means. It enunciates movingly the theory of a classless society, but alas! its methods for achieving this noble end are all too often ignoble. Lying, violence, murder, and torture are considered to be justifiable means to achieve the millennial end...

...Third, Communism attributes ultimate value to the state. Man is made for the state and not the state for man. One may object, saying that in Communist theory the state is an "interim reality," which will "wither away" when the classless society emerges. True--in theory; but it is also true that, while it lasts, the state is the end. Man is a means to that end. Man has no inalienable rights. His only rights are derived from, and conferred by, the state. Under such a system, the fountain of freedom runs dry..."

Much of King's analysis in these matters was based in Hegelian thought. Hegel appealed to King in that the concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis envisioned a middle road, which was rooted neither in one of two extremes but found the truth in both positions and created an original third option. This world view exhibited itself most strongly in King's views on capitalism and communism. As King said in his speech, "Where Do We Go From Here?":

"What I'm saying to you this morning is communism forgets that life is individual. (Yes) Capitalism forgets that life is social. (Yes, Go ahead) And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. (Speak) [applause] It is found in a higher synthesis (Come on) that combines the truths of both. (Yes) Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. (All right) These are the triple evils that are interrelated...

... A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them and make them things. (Speak) And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. (Yes) And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. (Yes) [applause]."

These are not the words of a man who would buy into the concept of "trickle-down", or the belief that by making rich people richer the poor will eventually benefit. Indeed, King believed in "economic justice", turning the minimum wage into a "living wage", massive government programs to address the needs of the poor and a very large social net so that those at the monetary bottom of our society might still be able to claim that they were viewed as being created "equal".

Indeed, one of King's biggest problems with the war in Vietnam was that the increased military spending was draining money from government programs at home, which left him very disillusioned with Johnson's "Great Society" initiatives. As King said in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech:

There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. who wrote these words would probably take a very dim view today of our expenditures in the war in Iraq, our under-funding of "No Child Left Behind", and the President's tax cuts and ongoing initiatives to give increased tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. I think it would be fair to say that King minimally would be skeptical of a social security privatization scheme, if not reject the idea outright.

King was assassinated in the midst of planning a Poor People's March on Washington, where he envisioned poor Americans of all races congregating at the nation's capital in a nonviolent direct action to demand economic justice from their elected representatives. Some, including King family attorney Dr. William Pepper, believe that the United States government was responsible for killing Dr. King because he was re-directing his efforts, and calling for a radical, systemic reordering of the national priorities, including pulling out of the war in Vietnam and reigning in our capitalistic system. In remembering Martin Luther King's legacy on Monday, it would be good to keep in mind his views on wealth, poverty and economic justice, especially right now during this ongoing debate about social security privatization.