Saturday, January 29, 2005

Sponge Bob Roundup

Cary McMullen of the Lakeland (FL) Ledger has an excellent (and reluctant) analysis of the whole SB thing:
I believe those who oppose homosexual behavior on moral and biblical grounds ought to be allowed to speak their consciences without fear of being called bigots.

But that doesn't mean we can't call them silly when they go overboard. This incident is reminiscent of the Rev. Jerry Falwell a couple of years ago finding hidden gay advocacy in PBS' Teletubbies character, Tinky Winky.

Now, by seeing a lurking gay activist where there is only a stupid yellow sponge, Dobson and his fellow conservative watchdogs come off looking a lot sillier than SpongeBob SquarePants.

And that is really going some.
This is going to put food on the table of a number of columnists around the country.

Meanwhile, here's some more Sponge Bob photoshops, courtesy of my sicko friends at Daily Kos:

Image Hosted by

I know, I know: it's a sickness. It really is.

Many thanks to Doodabides, Our Man in Redmond, PBJ Diddy, and especially Clever for the images. More as soon as I can get my grubby little hands on them.



Friday, January 28, 2005

Pro-life legislation I want to see!

from grannyhelen

Before the second day of Senate debate over Condoleeza Rice's nomination as Secretary of State, I had to listen to a fairly lengthy speech delivered by Senator Brownback of Kansas, a hard-right Republican, on the need for an UNBORN CHILD PAIN AWARENESS ACT.  The upshot of his speech was that fetuses can feel pain in the womb and that before women can have an abortion they should have to sign a form stating that they are aware of this fact, and that they have been given the option to anesthetize the fetus before having the abortion.

Senator Brownback says some pretty amazing things in this speech which I hope are not indicative of his opinion of women in general.  One of the greatest lines I thought was: "...most Americans believe that women are capable of processing information, even when faced with a crisis pregnancy."

Wow. Ya think?

It then occurred to me: what if Senator Brownback could just make some quick edits to his speech and introduce a Victims of Torture Pain Awareness Act? I mean, it's not like he'd have to change a lot of his boilerplate language. And just to illustrate to him how easy this would be, I decided to go ahead myself and edit some extended excerpts of his speech to reflect the need for this legislation. I've italicized the parts that I've changed or added to Senator Brownback's speech. The rest of the text is his own words.

If you want to read the original speech, you'll find the text of it here:

Mr. BROWNBACK. Mr. President, these are difficult times but they are also times of opportunity. We will face on Sunday, with the vote in Iraq, difficulty, but also a time of opportunity for people to know democracy and freedom who have never known it before. Freedom, however, always comes at a price. We are paying for this opportunity for freedom with loss of life from our own country. Yet democracy and freedom is something for which we have fought for over 200 years.

I rise today to speak about something else we need to fight for. I speak of one of the most difficult debates we have had to discuss in this country: it is the debate on the issue of life and the natural rights of man. I am introducing today, with over 30 cosponsors, a bill that speaks to this critical issue. It is S. 51, the Victims of Torture Pain Awareness Act. It has 31 cosponsors. This legislation, I believe, is strongly pro-woman, pro-man, pro-child and pro-life, and it will help in the creation of a culture of life in America.

The Victims of Torture Pain Awareness Act is about empowering soldiers and intelligence officers with information. It is also about respecting and treating the victim of torture more humanely. This legislation is, at heart, an informed consent bill, which would do two simple things:

First, it would require the Department of Defense and the Justice Department to present medical, scientific information to a soldier and/or intelligence officer, who is interrogating a prisoner of war or enemy combatant, about what is known regarding the physical and psychological effects of torture on the victim.

Second, should the soldier and/or intelligence officer desire to continue with the torture after being presented with this information, the legislation calls for him or her to be given the opportunity to choose anesthesia for the victim of torture in order to lessen his or her pain...

...I do not believe that anyone in this esteemed chamber thinks that soldiers and/or intelligence officers should not be fully informed. I believe, along with a majority of Americans...that soldiers and/or intelligence officers have the right to know what their victims experience during torture. Most Americans believe that soldiers and/or intelligence officers are capable of processing information, even when faced with interrogating suspected terrorists...

...After being presented with the medical and scientific information on the physical and psychological effects of torture, the soldier and/or intelligence officer is more aware of the pain experienced by the victim during torture, and more equipped--at the very least--to make an informed decision. It is simply not fair for a soldier and/or intelligence officer to be uninformed...

...Soldiers and intelligence officers certainly have a right to be given the facts about the victims of torture. Armed with these facts, soldiers and intelligence officers then have the opportunity to make a more informed decision.

Should the soldier and/or intelligence officer continue with certain legally authorized torture practices, such as waterboarding, he or she ought to have the option of anesthetizing the victim of torture before he or she undergoes a painful interrogation, which might lead to the termination of his or her life.

This should not be a Republican or a Democratic issue. This should be a human issue.

The Victims of Torture Pain Awareness Act offers us a rare chance to transcend the traditional political boundaries. It is a matter of human decency.

It is my hope that this bill will offer us a chance to work across political divides to forge new understandings in this Chamber.

I think that we can all support giving soldiers and intelligence officers more information when they are interrogating people who may be terrorists, or who may in fact be innocent civilians...

...This bill will be introduced in both Chambers today. It is an important piece of legislation. It is one which I hope we can move forward with aggressively. If there is evidence on the other side, I would welcome it coming forward. Let us have this debate, but let us not ignore it any longer.

Thank you, very much, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The majority side has 40 seconds remaining.

The Senator from Virginia is recognized.

Although this diary is very tongue-in-cheek, the greater point is very serious: how can self-proclaimed, pro-life conservatives be so concerned about regulating the amount of pain a fetus feels, and yet be so silent when it comes to the lifelong physical and psychological affects of torture on an adult?

I plan to email Senator Brownback and ask him this question. I doubt I'll receive a response.


One More on Cartoon Characters

Tony Norman, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, takes up for Tinky Wink, Sponge Bob and a host of other cartoon characters, even while he casts aspersions on others:
[W]e all know that whenever Jughead puts down Betty and Veronica as a couple of "dumb girls," there's more than harmless misogyny at work in Riverdale. Though he masquerades as militantly asexual, Jughead simply wants Archie all to himself. Only evil, hyper-sexed Reggie has his priorities straight when it comes to the fairer sex.

As long as we're "outing" cartoon scoundrels, is there any doubt that half of the characters on "Scooby-Doo" are sexually deviant? Shaggy is gay, Velma is a lesbian and Scooby is into bestiality. And don't get me started on that cross-dressing Bugs Bunny with his weird fixation on kissing Elmer Fudd on the lips.

Of course, this insidious seduction of the innocent began with the Krazy Kat comic strip in 1913. Who can blame poor, straight Ignatz Mouse for using bricks to defend himself against Krazy's gay sexual harassment?

We've got to write to Norman on this one. As anyone who's read Krazy Kat knows, sometimes Krazy was a "he," and sometimes a "she." Cross-dresser? We wish. How can you be a cross-dresser when your only dress is a bow? No. Get your perversions straight, Mr. Norman: Krazy was a pre-op transsexual, clearly.

However, in his or her defense, Krazy was almost completely monogamous. S/he loved Ignatz fiercely and purely, straying to the clutches of the French poodle Kiskidee Kuku only when forced. On the other hand, Ignatz was himself a married mouse, so Krazy may have been considered a homewrecker--had Mrs. Mouse not been so eager to get rid of the little cheese fiend.

Bugs Bunny, on the other hand, was just a little fruity.


The "More" Promised on Tony Campolo

As mentioned below, Talking Donkey carries excerpts from an interview withTony Campolo. I like Campolo on economic and most social issues, but he struggles with a Christian response to gays and lesbians.

Be that as it may, that's not the issue I have with this interview. The issue that Campolo seems to have a shaky grasp on some facts. For example, in defending the idea of getting the church out marriage in the civil/legal sense, he says:
The reality is that when I perform a wedding, I have to end it, according to law, with these words, listen to the words: “By the authority invested in me by the state of Pennsylvania, I declare you husband and wife.” What right does a minister have to give up the authority of God and the authority of the church and become a civil servant at such a sacred event? Marriage is a sacred event, and I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but it should take place in a church and the government should only establish civil unions for both homosexuals and heterosexuals so that homosexuals and heterosexuals have the identical rights.
Wait, now. I'm a minister in the state of Pennsylvania. I've never heard that we're required to use that formulation. Not a big deal, but it does raise an eyebrow.

The next couple of paragraphs are of more concern. I've added some emphasis:
It's a superficial, pious hypocrisy when the heterosexual divorced people in churches stand up and say, “We don't want gays to get married.” I don't want them to get married either, but I've got to tell you, the Bible doesn't say anything about homosexual marriages...well, I shouldn't say that. Jesus doesn't say anything about homosexual marriages. He does say some very specific things about people that are divorced and who get remarried. I want to know why we can be so hard on people who are coming into relationships that Jesus never even mentions and so kind to people that are in marital relationships that Jesus specifically condemns.

Let me just say, if you want to put together a defense of marriage act, then let it be a defense of marriage act. But you're not defending marriage by going after 1% of the population, which is what the homosexual community consists of. You defend marriage by going after the 50% of marriages that take place in this country that end in divorce.
The Bible doesn't say anything about same-sex marriage. And Jesus doesn't say anything about homosexuality. Not word one. As for gays and lesbians being 1% of the community--even the conservative commentators put it at 3-5%.

Again, I appreciate where Campolo is coming from; I just wish he'd have a better grasp of the facts on the ground. This interview sounds like someone caught him in a airport terminal and asked for five minutes of his time.



Drawing out a quote from the Benjamin Barber article cited below:
...[P]rivatization tries to convince us that the consumer is simply another, more efficient, form of the citizen. The citizen who votes with her dollars rather than her ballots. But dollars don't deliberate. They don't seek common ground. They are not bearers of empathy and imagination. As education consumers in Chicago or Washington, we can select the "best schools" for our children, but as citizens we need public schools that help make us all public citizens. As consumers in Los Angeles, we can choose among hundreds of automobile models, but only as citizens can we make the choices that create a public transportation system serving all.

Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: It dissolves the bonds that tie us together. The social contract takes us out of the state of nature; it asks us to give up a part of our private liberty to do whatever we want in order to secure common liberty for all. Privatization puts us back in the state of nature where we possess the natural power to get whatever we can but lose the common power to secure everything to which we have a natural right.

Private choices rest on individual power and skills and on personal luck. Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities. With privatization, this administration is trying to seduce us back into the state of nature, where the strong dominate the weak and anarchy ultimately dominates the strong and the weak, undermining security for both. Under these conditions, Thomas Hobbes reminds us, we are perfectly free to do as we choose, but as a consequence we live lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Not an ideal recipe for social security.

The Social Security entitlement should not be toyed with and altered in accord with today's economic fashions. It is an emblem of civic membership and a reflection of the benefits that come with the responsibilities of citizenship.

For us as individuals, privatizing Social Security is probably a bad bet on technical grounds. But for us as citizens, it is a certain disaster. As prospective retirees and private consumers we may want to argue about it, but as citizens, if we care about our democratic republic, we are bound to condemn it.
Good stuff.


Religious News Roundup

Today is January 28, 2005: the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, born in 1225 and twisting students' brains ever since. We missed the STEP Up for Bi-Polar Kids in Pembroke, which was held last night. Ditto the Food for Thought session in Athens Ohio. Pity: this week, the topic was "Progressive Religion." But we still have time to catch the Aroma Rhythm Lounge open mike session tonight in Fauquier, VA, or even the early Chinese New Year's celebration in Seattle Saturday night.

Today's categories:


Catholic News

We wish we had better news to share, but mostly, it's a number of reports on the sexual abuse crisis. Paul Shanley, whose name we can't help feeling is synonymous with evil, is on trial in Boston.  Read about it here and here.  Marciel Macial, the head of the creepy Legionaires of Christ, has been forced to step down to face sexual abuse charges made against him, lawyers in Kentucky want to add Catholic Charities to a lawsuit against the Sisters of Charity, and other lawyers in Los Angeles accuse the diocese of withholding information.  The Philippines and Northern Ireland are all facing their own crises.

But there is a little good news to report.  Catholic priests in Australia are agitating for the right to marry.  Some cheeky kids at Catholic University in DC are trying to get Newt Gingrich banned from speaking there, on the grounds that he doesn't uphold Catholic social teachings.  Apparently, this is revenge for a similar kibosh put on pro-choice speakers.  

And last but not least, if you're a closet Catholic like pastordan, take heart!  There's a network supporting ministers of other denominations who have converted to Catholicism.  Thanks, but if it's all the same, we'll head for these guys, if need be.


Religion & Politics

Mike Huckabee's got the right idea: pin the bigots against their own beliefs.  This time it's immigration vs. Christianity.  It's still a dicey proposition (the governor of Alabama recently tried the same thing with tax policy and lost), but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Benjamin Barber, writing in the LATimes, nails it on Social Insecurity:  if passed, the legislation would be the triumph of "Me Over We."


Church & State

Three items from abroad, more or less.  Bartholomew is disturbed by some anti-Semitism brewing in Russia, and an American-born Ukranian has some ugly things to say about Jewish fundraising and Ukraine.

In Israel, the army is ending the hesdar program, which allows Orthodox Jews to continue religious studies while serving.  It's interesting to see that Sharon's government is stepping back from its affiliation with conservative religious groups.  Could this be payback for Shas' walkout a few months ago?



More news on a number of stories we've covered recently: ID is still alive and kicking, this time in Kansas. A Seventh-Day Adventist church has objected after discovering that "the ashes of miscarried and stillborn fetuses" were buried in the same Catholic cemetary used to inter the ashes of aborted fetuses.

Serial killer David Ross appears headed for execution once again. The Connecticut Conference of the UCC--among other religous groups--had objected to Ross' execution, and the matter seemed to be headed for the US Supreme Court, but the justices refused to hear the case.

Props to Kosmonkeys Frederick Clarkson for his diary Attack of the Faith-Based Rovians, and we're not just saying that because we're namechecked there, and also to MFL for noticing that Sponge Bob has been banned from Mardi Gras.

Zondervan's New International Version of the Bible, which was originally denied ad space in Rolling Stone magazine, has been rejected by a Southern-Baptist bookstore chain "because of the version's gender-neutral translations." We'd better not hear the SBC bitching about persecution of the word anytime soon.


This 'n' That

Yale is disaffiliating the church on its campus from the UCC.  Not because we're so liberal, but because they'd like it to become non-denominational.

We didn't even know they had a church on the Yale campus.

More on this later:  Talking Donkeys picks up on an interview with Tony Campolo on the subject of marriage.  We appreciate where he's coming from, but some of facts & figures are pretty suspect.

Here's some stats from Christianity Today:

  • 14%--Average increase in requests for emergency food assistance in 25 U.S. cities from 2003 to 2004.

  • 8%--Improvement in the U.S. employment rate from November 2003 to November 2004.

  • 35%--Americans who have divorced.

  • 34%--Married born-again adults who divorced after they became Christians.

  • 42%--Americans of low personal religiosity who perceive Islam as violent.

  • 65%--Americans of high personal religiosity who perceive Islam as violent.

Black Baptists have been meeting in Nashville to forge a common strategy for the next few years.  We loved this exchange:

But Rev. Jesse Jackson warned delegates Thursday to watch out for political trickery. Thousands of hands shot into the air when Jackson asked who wanted a higher minimum wage, stable Social Security, affirmative action and an end to the war in Iraq.

No hands went up when he asked how many churches had blessed a same-sex union. "How did that get in the middle of our agenda?" Jackson asked. "That's called a wolf in sheep's clothing. Beware."

Last link:  

"A lot of people have told me my whole life I should just be a pretty girl and have a boob job, and I was like, 'No, I'm going to keep on writing and not get a boob job!'"

-- actress JULIE DELPY, on receiving her first Oscar nomination, for co-writing "Before Sunset."


Isaac Newton

Our friend at TwoTaboos has a great post on Isaac Newton tackling the problem of the Easter date. Well worth reading the full post. Excerpt:
Newton worked out the calculations for the years 31- 37AD. He concluded, based on his analysis of the astronomical evidence, the years 33 and 34 AD were the only ones that might have worked. Finally, Newton found evidence for 34 AD in a little detail from Luke. Luke mentioned that the disciples had picked grain from the fields, cleaned it by hand, and eaten it while traveling to Jerusalem for a previous Passover (Luke 6). The Passover date moves around - sometimes in early spring, sometimes later - and this ripe grain suggested to Newton that the disciples had been traveling during a very late Passover. Otherwise, the grain wouldn't have been ready to eat. So, Newton looked for years in which the Passover could have come late in the year. He put this year as 32 AD, when Passover fell in mid-April. Then he decided that the Passover with the ripe grain was two years before the crucifixion based on his reading of John.



Thursday, January 27, 2005

Bush is a Tyrant: Race, Power and Social Security

From grannyhelen

Definition: Tyr"ant, n. originally, an absolute sovereign, but afterwards, a severe or cruel ruler.

1. An absolute ruler; a sovereign unrestrained by law or constitution; a usurper of sovereignty.

Note: Free governments [in Greece] having superseded the old hereditary sovereignties (basilei^ai), all who obtained absolute power in a state were called tyrannoi, tyrants, or rather despots; -- for the term rather regards the irregular way in which the power was    gained, whether force or fraud, than the way in which it was exercised, being applied to the mild Pisistratus, but not to the despotic kings of Persia. However, the word soon came to imply reproach, and was then used like our tyrant. --Liddell & Scott.

---Webster's 1913 Dictionary

After reading the definition of "tyrant", I have to conclude: that moniker fits President Bush to a tee.

I don't have to reiterate for the liberal blogosphere the history of Bush the Younger, and the irregular way in which his power was gained, either through force or fraud. I don't have to remind folks here of the disdain our President has for the equal separation of powers, encapsulated in Justice Department lawyer John Yoo's memo arguing that, "there are effectively "no limits" on the president's authority to wage war", and "the President's broad constitutional power to use military force to defend the nation, recognized by the Joint Resolution itself, would allow the President to whatever actions he deems appropriate to pre-empt or respond to terrorist threats from new quarters."

We're all too familiar with the President that we have.

My point in writing tonight is to alert people to what I feel is an insidious attempt by the President to maintain his power: a policy of using race and sexual orientation to divide Americans against each other, so that the President's over-reaching foreign policy aspirations can be realized unchecked by public opinion.

Dividing the populace as a means of consolidating power is certainly nothing new to tyrants: indeed, it has been used very effectively since time immemorial as a means of keeping the populace occupied in fighting each other so that their outrage against the State is deflected against their neighbor.

Bush's strategy for achieving this end is two-fold: insert the issue of race into the social security debate, and maintain the drumbeat against gays and lesbians being accepted into our larger culture.

Let's start with his social security strategy. My understanding of what Bush is attempting to do in his privatization scheme is have pools of social security money allocated to racial category, and possibly by gender. What this means is, if more white people reach retirement age than African Americans, for instance, and the total pool of allocated monies are constant for each racial category, African Americans will receive a larger per capita amount of social security payments as there will be less of them accessing the allocated amount.

Why would a self-identified conservative do this? This thought process goes against the entire philosophy of Conservativism, as a good number of conservative commentators have pointed out. What is the ultimate goal of suddenly looking at the world through the lens of race in this one area?

First, what it does is send a message to poor, working and middle-class African Americans who would be receiving these increased payments that Bush likes them. This is important for Bush to do: African Americans as a whole have been his sharpest critics, and as any good tyrant knows, you can't leave a large vocal minority completely disenfranchised. That would start to erode your power base. So, what he's doing is throwing them some crumbs of government largess in a benevolent gesture that indicates, "Hey, I feel your pain". The goal here is to soften criticism of his policies by the African American community as a whole.

But doesn't that erode support among his poor, working and middle-class whites? Good question. The answer is: no. Bush is playing off of the long-standing racial tension between whites and African Americans, which gets increasingly exacerbated the further down the economic ladder you travel. This racial tension - again, thinking like a tyrant - will deflect the blame for the leader's racially favored policies away from him and back on the beneficiaries of these policies: African Americans. What Bush's race-based social security benefit disbursement will actually do is inflame racial tensions between whites and African Americans, so that whites will start blaming African Americans - and not Bush himself - for the relatively lower amount of money they would be receiving in social security payments. This racial hatred pushes white Americans further to the right of the political spectrum, and safely into Bush's political column.

Nice, huh?

Where to gays fit into this whole thing? Remember the phrase once uttered in the segregated South? I may be poor, but at least I'm not a N-----? Gays are the new N-----s in Bush's racial politics. His policies, highlighted recently by the Secretary of Education's request to get government money back from a WGBH children's show episode featuring a lesbian couple as normal parents, if carried through will have the chilling effect of pushing gays to the bottom of the social ladder, to be despised by everyone, especially those who lose biggest in his Brave New America.

Frame for the day: tolerance is good; intolerance is bad.  Tolerance defeats tyranny. Always.


Must We Read the Bible Literally?

No. A literal readings of the Bible is only one of many possible approaches. In fact, for the majority of the history of Christianity, the preferred method was to read the texts allegorically. The Bible, in other words, taught through images and symbols.

So how did we get from there to literalism?

The ideas of biblical inerrancy (the Bible is never wrong) and literalism (reading scripture on its "stated" or surface level of meaning) have a long history in Christianity, stretching all the way back to the NT, if one takes II Timothy 3:16-17 as a general statement of truth, rather than a more limited comment on scripture's usefulness.

The roots of modern biblical interpretation begin in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Scholars and laypeople alike began to have better access to literature in Greek, Hebrew and Latin, which fueled the surprisingly modern work of such intellectuals as Martin Luther or John Calvin. At the same time, the advent of the printing press and the ideology of the Reformation created a demand for translations of the Bible into modern languages.

The 1500s and 1600s therefore established two important precedents: the Bible was interpreted by scholars, but owned by the laity, who were expected to study it for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

Later developments gave rise to their own precedents. The first of these was pietism, a series of Christian movements that emphasized a "conversion of the heart" over faith lodged solely in the forebrain. Modern Baptists, Mennonites, Methodists and Quakers all owe their roots to various pietistic groups. Pietists encouraged devotional groups centered on reading the Bible for spiritual growth, and typically emphasized the egalitarian notion of the "priesthood of all believers." Many contemporary evangelicals still maintain these practices; while the Bible is read in community, its ultimate meaning is often left to the individual's "inner light," with only informal authority guiding the reading.

At the end of the 18th century, the writings of Immanuel Kant began to exert a tremendous influence. Kant was equal parts philosopher of science and theologian (he himself made no distinction between the two). His lasting influence was to change western epistemology—how we think about how we know.

Kant's deceptively simple starting point was that knowledge comes about by a mind perceiving external data. The reality of what we know, according to Kant, is always in that external thing. For example, we know what a rock is because we can see or touch a rock. That ability to experience the rock first-hand is what makes it real. Kant’s emphasis on sensory data, coupled with a demand for reproducible results, is the foundation of all modern science.

Okay, very interesting. But what does this have to do with the Bible?

We're getting there. According to Kant, the way we know God is through the perception of moral principals whose reality are available to us immediately—without needing a middleman. Kant didn't believe in a "personal" God, because he believed that if such a being existed, we would be able to experience him/her/it. Nor did he put much stock in tradition or clerical authority, because to his mind, tradition was no better than hearsay, and authority of any stripe simply got in the way. Instead, he thought, our inward sense of right and wrong indicates an external reality that can established absolutely and objectively.

Because we don’t need a middleman to know what’s right, Kant’s model puts a premium on individual insight. The community, to the extent it’s involved at all, is a voluntary association of individuals who sort through their various perspectives to find common ground, which is assumed to be universally applicable.

Again, what does this have to do with the Bible?

Hold your horses there, Charlie!

Kant's thought has been endlessly arguing and critiqued since the late 1700s. We're not going to go into it here, but if you're so inclined, check it out sometime. It really is fascinating stuff.


Okay, okay. The biblical scholarship that followed Kant emphasized historical interpretation, even though Kant himself didn’t. These scholars wanted to figure out what "really happened." Some of them did that because they wanted to show that the Bible was a historical book like any other—and not a particularly accurate history, either. Others thought that sturdy moral principles could only be worked out if objective information were available. In other words, the truth was defined as "facts," or scientific results.

This stream of thought has been given many names over the years. For the sake of clarity, we’ll call its reading of the Bible “modernist” (not to be confused with the later, secular literary school)

As scholars began to develop what they believed to be a progressively more coherent sense of the biblical message—particularly a coherent vision of the moral teachings of the "real" Jesus—that sense was translated into a corresponding political vision, which emphasized the “love ethic” as expressed in social reform. If only we could love one another as Jesus loved us, the thinking went, the world would be a better place. Since the Biblical historians were doing a better and better job of understanding what Jesus meant when he asked us to love one another, society was coming ever closer to perfection.

In Europe, this movement was called Christian liberalism or Christian Democracy. A related movement in the US was called the Social Gospel, which advocated for social reform and worker’s rights. In Europe, worker’s rights were also emphasized, as was the promise of a peaceful continent.

Seems like a good progressive approach to the Bible.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, there are some problems with it. First of all, it doesn’t do much to feed people’s spiritual needs. Agree or disagree with them, there are some folks who experience God in mystery, beyond the metrics of scientific inquiry or social action. Even today, one of the charges made against the Jesus Seminar is that it bleeds away “faith” in favor of the “Jesus of History.” They’re a bunch of pointy-headed intellectuals, in other words.

More important, as many critics of Kant and his followers pointed out, when people talk about their “objective” perception of God, they’re often talking about themselves, only bigger and better.

In fact, some of the heaviest-lifting intellectuals of the 19th century made just that critique. Kierkegaard made it, as did Karl Marx, particularly in his response to Feuerbach. Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” embodies a form of it, and Freud’s psychological theories arguably use it as an unstated assumption. See, we told you this stuff was interesting!

In any case, Christian liberalism met a disastrous end in World War I. Many of the governments of the time were run on "Christian principles," and they assured their publics that sustained conflict was no longer possible in Europe. Instead, the people received four years of the most senseless and brutal slaughter they had ever seen. The results of the war shook European Christianity to the core, a crisis from which it has arguably never recovered.

Where does fundamentalism come in?

One of the emphases of Christian liberalism was to find the "Historical Jesus" and decipher his true moral teachings. In 1909, Albert Schweitzer published a book along these lines called "The Quest of the Historical Jesus." It was translated into English in 1910, and provoked a storm of controversy.

Wait. Albert Schweitzer? That Albert Schweitzer?

The one and the same. Schweitzer came under such criticism for his work that he felt obliged to resign his professorship in New Testament studies, become an M.D., and move to Africa, where he founded a medical clinic. Playing the organ was just a hobby, we guess.

Can we get back to the main thread?


There was a movement of conservative Christians in the late 1800s who were bothered by Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and by modernist readings of the Bible, which often challenged traditional assumptions. Schweitzer kicked them into high gear.

An 1895 conference in Niagara, New York was the source of what these conservatives believed to be five "fundamental principles" of Christian belief:

  1. The verbal inerrancy of scripture;
  2. The divinity of Jesus Christ;
  3. The Virgin Birth;
  4. That Christ substituted himself for our sins in sacrificing himself on the cross; and
  5. That Christ will be physically resurrected at the end of time and return in the flesh to judge the world.

After "The Quest for the Historical Jesus," these "fundamentals" were distributed through a series of pamphlets addressing them one at a time. And so "fundamentalism" was born.

It's not our place to judge these beliefs, even if we don't agree with them.

Certainly we should not judge those who hold such beliefs. For one thing, fundamentalists are not necessarily stupid, nor are they illiterate. As scholars of Christian fundamentalism point out, the idea of biblical inerrancy is often misunderstood. It is not oracluraity, the belief that the Bible was dictated by God word-for-word. Nor is inerrancy the same thing as infallibility, the notion that the Bible never gives the wrong answer, morally or otherwise. Nor, lastly, is inerrancy the same as literalism, which demands a "surface" reading of scriptural meaning.

Many people who would subscribe to some or all of the tenets of fundamentalism are well educated and versed in the interpretation of literature. They often resent the caricature of them as dumb hillbillies, particularly when those stereotypes are based on misconceptions of their position. If you want to see just how sophisticated fundamentalism can be, check out The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

What we will point out is that the fundamentals share a factual outlook with both Christian liberalism and scientific perspectives. This takes the interpretation of scripture in a familiar (and in our opinion, a not particularly helpful) direction. Faith becomes the dogged defense of the literal meaning of scripture, rather than a participation in God's work of healing and transformation. That Noah's flood really happened, or that the world was created as described in Genesis, seems to us to be beside the point.

At the same time, if we’re empathetic, we can see the underlying need for a firm intellectual foundation. If the Bible is no reliable guide, a fundamentalist reasons, then what is? "God never lies" (Titus 1:2). In a world ever more weighed down with social dislocation and anxiety, the Bible can become a powerful touchstone that helps people orient themselves to reality as it inflicts itself upon them.

So how do you respond to such people?

By understanding their perspective a little more, for starters. For example, many fundamentalists believe that the Bible is not like any other book, and so can't be read in the same way. They believe that it has supernatural origins, and so isn't subject to the same kind of reality-based testing that you and I might be familiar with. Instead, many of them believe that it is the Holy Spirit dwelling within the believer that opens up the meaning of the Bible. So the ability to read the Bible in alignment with the fundamentals becomes a mark of—literally—a true believer.

Combine that with the idea that the world is a scary, uncomfortable place filled with people who just don't "get it," and you can see why fundamentalists often turn into inward-looking "us vs. them" groups. It's that inward focus that separates real fundamentalists from evangelicals who might agree with some of the principles, but don't apply them nearly as strictly. Evangelicalism is based on the notion that the Good News of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is available to all people, not just the few. For them, the factuality or lack thereof is less important that the effect reading the Bible has on one's spirit. If you ever hope to have a meaningful conversation with a conservative Christian about their beliefs, you must understand the distinction, and proceed accordingly.

From our perspective, confrontation isn’t very effective, if you want to maintain a relationship. It makes folks defensive, particularly if they feel misunderstood, and it doesn’t exactly lead to great conversation. And let’s face it, there are some people who simply won’t change their minds no matter what. Even if you do get through defensiveness and stubbornness, confronting the obvious counter-factual claims of fundamentalism does nothing to address the anxiety that drives it.

Likewise, waving it all away with the magic wand of education isn’t very effective. Education doesn’t remove anxiety by itself, and even very educated people can believe very “stupid” things.

That's not to say that when fundamentalists try to force their beliefs on the rest of society, they shouldn’t be challenged. Intelligent Design isn’t science; it’s theology, and progressives have every right to object to it being taught in public schools. But in addressing people on an individual level, we suggest a two-pronged approach: address what’s causing the anxiety, and patiently engage the biblical perspective. Not even necessarily to change that perspective, since people are entitled to their beliefs, but to provide a reasonable alternative—and help them understand that there are alternatives.

For example, one of our secretaries used to think that we were a heathen for supporting gay rights. Initially, this was somewhat puzzling, since she had had gay friends, and seemed to think that it was all right to “live that way” in a big city.

Later on, we discovered that her family situation was very difficult: her father was an alcoholic, as was a sister-in-law, and a brother-in-law had died suddenly of a heart attack. On top of all that, she was holding down three part-time jobs and trying to keep up with the schedules of two active kids. All that left her feeling much too responsible for keeping her family going, and strict “biblical” morals provided a supportive structure for her life. When we found out about all of this, we began to provide a safe space for her to vent her frustrations and anxieties. After a few months, we were surprised to find that she was much better able to tolerate our differences of opinion about the role of gays and lesbians in the church.

What changed? Not much. She felt less anxious about her family situation because she could talk her problems through with someone. She also had decided to quit one of her jobs, which lowered her stress level considerably.

That opened up the opportunity for an informative conversation. Our secretary mentioned voting for Bush in 2004 in part because of his support of the Defense of Marriage Act. But almost in the same breath, she began to complain about her sister-in-law’s divorce from her brother, and the effect that had on their children.

“So your problem isn’t really same-sex marriage, is it?” I said. “It sounds like what you want is support for marriage, period.”

“Yeah,” she said. “It really hurts the kids...” And we were off on a different conversation. I can’t say for sure she’d vote against a ban on same-sex marriage, but at least the issue was framed in a different light.

And in the final analysis, that’s as good as we progressives can hope for: to change the conversation. Hoping to win a clear and decisive victory over ignorance in a battle of facts vs. facts only keeps alive the stalemate of modernism and fundamentalism. We need to find way to break the logjam in order to move beyond adversarial relationships into a cooperative diversity that allows the Bible to speak to us, but not necessarily for us.

How do we do that?

Let’s back up to the situation after World War I, which challenged the modernist reading of the Bible. Many alternatives percolated to the surface in the years that followed, including the fundamentalism discussed above.

You could simply throw scripture overboard, as many scientific or Marxist materialists did. If the literal content of the Bible didn't match up with facts on the ground, then something had to give. And since facts are scientifically reproducible and were deemed morally and politically neutral, what do you suppose got chucked?

Another response would be to try to reorient biblical interpretation. That's what a Swiss pastor and theologian named Karl Barth did when he wrote a commentary of Paul's Letter to the Romans. In that commentary (the Rommerbrief ) he flayed what he saw as the idolatry of modernist criticism, attacking in particular the search for the historical Jesus. Where the liberals and fundamentalists believed that we could know the mind of God perfectly, Barth thought we could know nothing of it.

Instead, Barth argued for a more traditional view: that Christ was both fully human and fully divine. Jesus the man of Nazareth may have been a historical figure, according to Barth, but his moral teachings do not constitute the whole of the Christian faith. Rather, the faith is rooted in worship of the resurrected Christ, who is fully God and therefore unknowable. God is different from us, said Barth, and thank God for that, because human tendencies run toward disastrous wars and other acts of self-damnation.

This theology as a whole is problematic. Much of Christian ethics is built on the presupposition of imago dei, that we were created in the image of God, and are therefore meant to imitate God’s nature in the world But if we can know nothing of God, it becomes impossible to build a moral model based on our understanding of who God is. This can lead to moral quietism, as we wait for God to act upon us, rather than striking out in possibly unjustified action. In particular, feminist and Third-World theologians have charged that emphasizing God's difference from humanity undermines the ways in which God stands in solidarity with humanity, particularly the poor and oppressed. It’s all very nice to defer action if one is a wealthy West European, they argue, but the poor and oppressed cannot wait for the next world to be vindicated, nor does the Bible ask them to do so.

Still, Barth's perspective carries a valuable reminder: God stands apart from and in judgment of our views of God. We risk idolatry with every statement we make about the divine; therefore we must proceed with caution and an alert sense of the many ways we have to fool ourselves.

Dude, that sounds heavy duty.

Yeah it is, and we still have a couple of responses left to go!

Working at about the same time as Barth was another pastor-turned-theologian, the American Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr was primarily an ethicist, concerned with the moral underpinnings of social justice. In particular, Niebuhr's interest grew out of the labor movement in the 1920s and 30s, in which he was active. While he believed in the justness of the cause, Niebuhr was uncomfortable with the notion of giving a particular social group an unqualified stamp of moral approval, for many of the reasons we’ve outlined above.

At the same time, he was not ready to simply reject a biblical basis for social justice, and lapse into Barth's social silence or the fundamentalist's conservative retreat.

He chose a middle way, then: to take the Bible "seriously, but not literally." He did by looking at what he called the "mytho-poetic" truth of scripture, which is just an awful, awful name. What Niebuhr was looking for was truth on another dimension: the insight the Bible could provide into the moral fallibility of individuals and societies. For Niebuhr, one of the basic qualities of human nature was self-deception—particularly in regards to our capacity to control our nature and destiny—and Scripture was one of our primary means for correcting our distorted self-perception.

I think I've gone cross-eyed.

And you wonder why I get irate when people call Christians dumb. In any case, let's look at a model that I think ties it all together: Luke Johnson's method of reading the New Testament. (Luke was my NT professor in seminary, and this method can be found in his book Writings of the New Testament.)

Johnson says that a good model for reading the Bible would need to answer some questions about the texts: why do they exist in the first place? Why do they look the way they do? How do they function as works of literature? And how did they get into the version we know today?

To answer those questions, Johnson proposes four dimensions:

Anthropological—biblical texts are the work of human hands, and need to be understood in that context. That includes understanding history, literary traditions, and religious practice. Specifically, we need to understand how biblical texts arise out of a community, not just the mind of the individual writer.

Historical—Johnson draws a careful distinction between the historical method versus the historical model. His intent in reading the NT is not to discover what "really" happened, but to understand how its writers interpreted their own experience. Understanding the history of their age helps us to do that, but it does not—and should not—limit us to pursuing the "facts" as our only approach. To use one of Johnson's own analogies, Shakespeare wrote some wonderful plays, but is the history of Elizabethan England their only meaning?

Literary—biblical texts are works of literature, and need to be understood as such. As noted above, one of Johnson's first questions about a text is: what genre is this? Does it remind me of any other works of ancient literature that might shed light on its meaning?

Johnson uses a dialectic between experience and interpretation. That is to say, he believes the writers had some kind of religious experience, which was then shared and interpreted in community.

This has a couple of important corollaries: first, one of the reasons Johnson is not interested in the historical model is that he's convinced that what really happened is almost entirely lost to us. What did Jesus really say? What really happened on Calvary? Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? We'll never know, but from Johnson's perspective, that's not the point. The Christian faith is carried in the testament of the apostles and our experience of the resurrected Christ, not archeological findings in modern-day Israel.

Second, because biblical experience is tested and refined in community, for Johnson the proper way to read the Bible is in community. My interpretation is not necessarily better or more accurate than yours, and in any case, we don't have the Bible to haggle over intellectual propositions. Scripture is formative of life together, and should be understood in that light.

Religious—sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it? Yet, we often forget that the Bible is a record and interpretation of religious experience. It tells us of a people's experience with God over the course of centuries, and attempts to answer the big questions: why are we here? What is our purpose in life? Why do bad things happen? Where are we headed? What does it all mean?

While Johnson interprets through the lens of religious practice in first-century Palestine, as a matter of faith, he doesn't feel bound to those practices. The NT, he argues, is rooted in a particular world of signs and symbols, but we inhabit a very different one. Recognizing that, we bear the burden of interpreting and re-interpreting biblical texts to see what matches up with our current understandings, and what does not.

We are invited, then, into conversation with the Bible, and with its writers. We are free to agree or disagree with them, but we ought to take what they have to say seriously. It speaks to us, as Niebuhr pointed out, of our own limitations, but also with words of insight, liberation, and surprising grace.

So how do we read the Bible?

Jeez Louise, haven't I put you to sleep yet? I mean—stayed tuned for more thrilling adventures! Next up is hermeneutics, and then we'll get down to interpreting some specific texts.

Whaddya mean you're sorry you asked?


More action for cartoon characters

Here's a link to the HRC campaign to let Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings know how you feel about her bullying PBS into dropping Buster's interview with a lesbian couple from the "Postcards from Buster" series.


Thought for the Day

Don't usually do this, but this quote from the late comedian Bill Hicks was too good to pass up:
The world is like a ride at an amusement park and when you choose to go on it you think it's real 'cause that's how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down and round and round, it has thrills and chills, it's very brightly colored and it's very loud, and it's fun--for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question, "Is this real, or is this just a ride?" And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and they say, "Hey, don't worry, and don't be afraid--ever--because this is just a ride." And we kill those people.


It's just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, a choice right now: between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off; the eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here's what we could do to change the world right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defense each year and instead spend it feeding, clothing, and educating the poor of the world, which it would, many times over, not one human being would be excluded, and then we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever. Peace.

Props to IndyLib for the catch.


Good Packers (the other kind)

We never did acquire the New Yorker vibe that seems to plague so many intellectuals. We read the New Republic instead, a decision we have regretted many, many times over the years, especially after Tom Toles left that magazine for syndication elsewhere. But we digress.

Reader Claire S. sent us this item from the "Talk of the Town," which has always been our favorite section, other than the cartoons, of course. Her kid attends the school in question:

Issue of 2005-01-24
Posted 2005-01-17

The world of New York City private schools is often portrayed as a cutthroat, almost Hobbesian place, but there is a tenderhearted side to it as well. These days, community service and sensitivity training are as central to most private-school curricula as math and geography. At Packer Collegiate, in Brooklyn Heights, for instance, the fifth-grade bake sale, which had originally been intended to benefit a less fortunate school in Tanzania, was jointly dedicated to Tanzania and relief for tsunami victims. And when Marco Sylla, the Packer school’s security guard, or “hall master,” and an Army reservist, was called up for active duty in December, it seemed only natural that the school would offer him the continued use of his Packer laptop, for keeping in touch, and that the Parent Association would buy him a going-away present—an iPod. One upper schooler loaded the device with classic rock, and several dozen students presented Sylla with farewell cards. At a school assembly, he received a two-minute standing ovation.

To some Packer parents, however, this was not appreciation enough. In his two years on the job, Sylla had learned the names of all nine-hundred-odd students. (“He has an aura of authority, but also of gentleness,” one mother said.) What’s more, his leaving brought the harsh realities of the war in Iraq close to home—even if, for the time being, Sylla’s unit has been assigned to Germany. (He shipped out last week.) Lauren Glant, mother of Willy (sixth grade) and Cullen (third grade), remembered reading that some troops had not been adequately supplied with protective gear, so she came up with an idea: to buy Sylla his own suit of body armor.

Glant turned to Michelle Fuchs, another third-grade parent, and the co-chair of the school’s diversity and multiculturalism panel, for help with organizing a fund-raising drive. “At first, I said, ‘What? I beg your pardon?’” Fuchs recalled the other day. Body armor is a far cry from brownies. Fuchs signed on, and the two mothers sought the help of the Packer head of school, Bruce Dennis, who sent notice of the armoring cause to the school’s e-mail-distribution list.

To be sure, there were skeptics. “Who’s actually going to purchase the body armor?” one middle-school mother asked. “Somebody said it costs about fifteen hundred dollars. Is that full body armor? Or just a vest?” She added, “From the little bit of research that I did, I thought all the soldiers on the ground in Iraq were actually going to be supplied with body armor now, but maybe that’s not true. I don’t know.”

In the end, generosity prevailed. After one day, the parents had raised twenty-three hundred dollars. A hundred and thirty families have now contributed. And students, too, have chipped in. “Whatever I have left tomorrow after lunch, I’m not going to be spending it this weekend—I’ve got a busy weekend—so I’m just going to drop it in the folder,” a tenth grader named Matt said the other day.

Now comes the hard part: shopping. “The particular kind of armor that’s actually being given out by the Army right now is called the Interceptor,” Glant explained. The Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor System, made of Kevlar, is capable of stopping 7.62-mm. rounds. “They’re only selling it to the Army,” Glant said. “But there are several different types of body armor that you can get either over the Web or at police-supply stores. You know, pretty high-level bulletproof vests. And then there are various inserts and attachments you can get.”

The next day, Glant sent a follow-up e-mail: “I am becoming a much greater expert on body armor than I ever anticipated. I can toss around acronyms like O.T.V. and sapi like a pro (almost)!” O.T.V. stands for Outer Tactical Vest. sapi stands for Small Arms Protective Inserts.

Fuchs, meanwhile, has been getting advice from three relatives who have military experience. “I got a lot of detail about the difference between a body vest and a bulletproof vest,” she said. Her relatives recommended some accessories, too. “Protective gear for his ankles and knees, his wrists and elbows,” she said. “If you are engaging in conflict and you need extras, those are the extras.”

For now, the parents are still awaiting Sylla’s measurements, and news of whether he will in fact be stationed in Iraq. If there’s any money left over, they plan to provide Sylla with various sundries: phone cards, deodorant, scorpion powder. “I hear that scorpion powder is important to have in Iraq!” Glant said.

“You know, in all good will, we just want to inundate him with everything and send him off and hope for the best,” Fuchs said. There are, however, limits to the Packer community’s benevolence. “If they don’t have armored vehicles, we can’t help him with that,” Fuchs said.

— Ben McGrath

Claire relates: "I told Marco that he HAS to come back (sigh) -- he's the prime tester for all of my marshmallow and other candy/baking experiments!)".

Kudos to the Packers for their generosity. We wish Mr. Sylla well, and hope for a world where there weren't literally bake sales for body armor.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Kept Man Watch--Day 3


Of course, it's not completely without rewards:


The hidden code in Bush's speech

Faith is an important part of my life. One of the things that troubles me about this administration is my Christian faith is being hijacked to justify unChristian acts of unjustified war in Iraq, the torture and wrongful imprisonment of innocents, and the bearing of false statements in an attempt to justify those deeds.

I'm not alone. Apparently those on the left and right sides of the spectrum found George W. Bush's inauguration speech troubling. Wall Street Journal conservative columnist (and former speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) Peggy Noonan, who often is an apologist for this president, called the speech "startling," "over the top" and "left me with a bad feeling."

Nor is she the only one. Matt Rothschild, editor of The Progressive Magazine, may have found himself in agreement with Noonan for the first time ever. From an interview on Democracy Now.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we're going to look closely at President Bush's inaugural address.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Today, I also speak anew to my fellow citizens. From all of you I have asked patience in the hard task of securing America, which you have granted in good measure.

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we'll go to Gore Vidal, respected American thinker and writer, but first to the editor of The Progressive magazine, Matt Rothschild. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Matt. You wrote a piece called, "The Hidden Passages in Bush's Inaugural Address." Can you talk about them?

MATT ROTHSCHILD: Sure. What struck me about the speech first off, as in many of Bush's speeches, were the explicit references to God, which I find offensive but I also know that he embeds in his speeches very hidden messages to his evangelical base, and so I wanted to go hunt those down, and I did so. You know, this speech was just coated with messages to his base, and also suggested he believes them, that he is somehow deluded in thinking that God put him in the Oval Office and he is God's agent. The clip that you just played with the words, "good measure," Bush was thanking the American people, really, for giving him time, ridiculous amounts of time for that matter, to go after Osama bin Laden, but he was echoing Luke 6:38, "Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure." And then there are a whole range of other ones. I mean, he talked and you played a passage there about -- at the beginning -"Freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul." Well, that's almost straight out of Psalm 107. "He satisfieth the longing soul and filleth the hungry soul with goodness. Such as sit in darkness." If you look at these passages carefully and compare the text of Bush's speeches with the Biblical references, what Bush is doing is he is cloaking the best parts of American civic values or civic values of freedom and liberty and justice, he is cloaking those in distinctly Christian garb, and he's making all sorts associations. I mean, if freedom is the hope of mankind and Jesus is the hope of mankind freedom and Jesus are one and the same. That's not what we should have here in this so-called secular democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: What other examples did you see of these -- what you call -- hidden passages in the speech?

MATT ROTHSCHILD: Well, there are a lot. Here is one. Bush talked about the -- this was probably the creepiest section in the whole speech -- the untamed fire of freedom, where Bush was almost rubbing his hands together when he said, "This untamed fire will burn those who fight its progress." That's pretty lurid, isn't it? Anyway, he talked about the untamed fire of freedom in a passage that included the phrase, "hope kindles hope." And this echoes a couple passages in Jeremiah. "I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem." Or, "I will kindle a fire in her towns that will consume all who are around her." This is just all over the place. I mean, Bush talked about the day when the captives are set free. In Ephesians, it says, "He led the captives free." The closer you look at it, the more you can see these parallels, and they are very disturbing to me.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Matt Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine. The response of the White House, they had to issue a clarification, saying that this is not new, that these are the policies that President Bush is pursuing in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Middle East and elsewhere.

MATT ROTHSCHILD: Well, it's certainly true. It's not new, the Bush policy of messianic militarism, nor is it new the way that he phrases it. I mean, he has said in speech after speech, Amy, that we are delivering the gift of freedom to the people of Iraq, but it's not our gift to deliver; it's the gift of God almighty. And so he sees himself as God's efficient little delivery boy, God's UPS man, replete with brown shirt. He talked about God as the author of liberty in his inauguration address, and if God is the author of liberty, Bush thinks he's that author's agent, because he talks about America as the one that is going to bring liberty to the people all over the world.

AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, the national prayer service that President Bush and Mrs. Bush attended, Reverend Billy Graham said that God is behind President Bush's re-election. Graham said, quote, "Our father, we acknowledge your divine help in the selection of our nation's leaders throughout history, and we believe in your providence, you have granted a second term of office to our president, George W. Bush, and our vice president, Richard Cheney."

MATT ROTHSCHILD: And that's nothing new. Bush himself thinks that God put him in the Oval Office. After 9/11, he gave a speech by the same speechwriter, Michael Gerson who wrote this inaugural address, and after the speech Gerson called up Bush and said, "Oh, you gave a great speech, Mr. President. I knew right then that God wanted you to be in the Oval Office." And Bush responded to Gerson, "God wants us all to be where we are." And during the campaign just past, he told, Bush did, some people in Pennsylvania, some Amish people that "God speaks through me." This is a man who is so deluded, it goes back to almost divine rites of kings. That's how far back this delusion goes. And at the prayer breakfast that you mentioned, Amy, Bush also said, "We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom." I mean, he really does believe that he is on a crusade. Finally, the White House has got him not to use that word, but that's what he's talking about.

In his article, Rothschild sums it up well: "Both freedom and Jesus satisfy the hunger and the longing of the soul.For Bush, they are one and the same. In his America, there is no distinction between our public, secular values and his private, religious faith. For those who don’t share his faith—and for those who do but who also appreciate the need to separate church from state—America is becoming an increasingly inhospitable place."

Or as Gore Vidal puts it: "If the United States does go abroad to slay dragons in the name of freedom, liberty and so on, she could become dictatress of the world, but in the process she would lose her soul."



The Crustacean is taking over my brain

A number of us at Daily Kos noticed this photo essay from the UCC yesterday:

the UCC's "Come as you are" banners in downtown Cleveland, SpongeBob
Squarepants comes "as he is" to the UCC's national offices, known as
the Church House.

enters the UCC's Church House. Despite Cleveland's chilly temperatures, he knows
he'll be greeted warmly inside.

SpongeBob is one of
a number of visitors welcomed daily at the UCC's Church House in downtown Cleveland.
Here, Spongebob signs in and receives his visitor tag.
visits The Pilgrim Press, the UCC-related publishing company and the oldest publisher
of books in North America.

SpongeBob takes a
break in his tour to soak in the extravagant welcome from the UCC.

meets with the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president,
in his office. Explains Thomas, "No matter who you are or where you are on
life's journey, SpongeBob, you're welcome here."

SpongeBob spends a quiet, reflective moment in the UCC's Amistad Chapel with The New Century Hymnal, the nation's first Christian hymnal to use fully inclusive language. "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

And one wag even came up with this idea:
This could end up like that gnome thing where we all take pictures of SpongeBob all over America.

I nearly hurt myself laughing.


(thanks to Renee in Ohio for spotting it.)

Sounds like a super idea to us. So if you've got a SB doll, a digital camera, and some time to kill, take a picture of Bob's visit to your church, and e-mail us the results. We'll put 'em up.

So far, we haven't seen any more church pictures, but the challenge did inspire some other silliness:


That's supposedly a photoshopped pic of Arnold Schwarzennegger, by the way.

Now, don't you have some pictures to take?


Richard Cohen

Pam's House Blend has a post up on Richard Cohen. Cohen, the president of P-Fox (Parents and Friends of Ex-gays) a "sexual reorientation" group, has received a liftime ban from the American Counseling Association, the nation's largest professional group for licensed counselors.

Pam includes a link to a copy of the expulsion letter:

Image Hosted by
Mrs. Pastor is a member of the ACA, so I thought I'd look up the specific ethical guidelines Cohen was found to have violated. I've extracted them from this pdf file, adding in bold the paragraphs mentioned in the letter:
A.1.a: Primary Responsibility. The primary responsibility of counselors is to respect the dignity and to promote the welfare of clients.

A.1.b: Positive Growth and Development. Counselors encourage client growth and development in ways that foster the clients' interest and welfare; counselors avoid fostering dependent counseling relationships.

A.5.a: Personal Needs. In the counseling relationship, counselors are aware of the intimacy and responsibilities inherent in the counseling relationship, maintain respect for clients, and avoid actions that seek to meet their personal needs at the expense of clients.

A.6.a: Avoid When Possible. Counselors are aware of their influential positions with respect to clients, and they avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of clients. Counselors make every effort to avoid dual relationships with clients that could impair professional judgment or increase the risk of harm to clients. (Examples of such relationships include, but are not limited to, familial, social, financial, business, or close personal relationships with clients.) When a dual relationship cannot be avoided, counselors take appropriate professional precautions such as informed consent, consultation, supervision, and documentation to ensure that judgment is not impaired and no exploitation occurs.

C.3.b: Testimonials. Counselors who use testimonials do not solicit them from clients or other persons who, because of their particular circumstances, may be vulnerable to undue influence.

C.3.f: Products and Training Advertisements. Counselors who develop products related to their profession or conduct workshops or training events ensure that the advertisements concerning these products or events are accurate and disclose adequate information for consumers to make informed choices.

The ACA leans progressive. Could these charges be spun as politically motivated? The first and third, maybe. The rest, no way. And in any case, Cohen agreed to the standards, and to the ACA's right to interpret them through its ethics committee.

It's a fair cop. That's why Cohen chose not to appeal the decision.


Oh, God

What are we doing?

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The U.S. military said 23 Guantanamo Bay terror suspects carried out a coordinated effort to hang or strangle themselves in 2003 during a week-long protest in the secretive camp in Cuba.

The military, which had not previously reported the protest, called the actions "self-injurious behavior" aimed at getting attention rather than serious suicide attempts.

The coordinated attempts were among 350 "self-harm" incidents that year, including 120 so-called "hanging gestures," Lt. Col. Leon Sumpter, a spokesman for the detention mission, said Monday.

In the Aug. 18-26, 2003, protest, nearly two dozen prisoners tried to hang or strangle themselves with clothing and other items in their cells, demonstrating "self-injurious behavior," the U.S. Southern Command in Miami said in a statement. Ten detainees made a mass attempt on Aug. 22 alone.

Last year, there were 110 self-harm incidents, Sumpter said.


"When you have suicide attempts or so-called self-harm incidents, it shows the type of impact indefinite detention can have, but it also points to the extreme measures the Pentagon (news - web sites) is taking to cover up things that have happened in Guantanamo," said Alistair Hodgett, a spokesman for Amnesty International in Washington, D.C.


The latest report comes against a backdrop of recently revealed abuse allegations and mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay, much of which allegedly occurred under Miller.

In a letter obtained by AP, a senior Justice Department (news - web sites) official suggested the Pentagon didn't act on FBI (news - web sites) complaints about four incidents at Guantanamo: a female interrogator grabbing a detainee's genitals and bending back his thumbs; a prisoner who was gagged with duct tape; and two incidents involving the same man — a dog being used to intimidate him and later putting the man in isolation until he showed signs of "extreme psychological trauma."

In other information about alleged abuses, the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) said Monday that Navy e-mails dated August 2003 — the month of the mass protest — asked what should be done if a detainee dies.

"Personally, I suspect that remains should probably NOT be brought to the U.S. for legal reasons," says the response.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God: have mercy on me for the things that are done in my name...


Update on Bob

This was passed on to me by someone from Daily Kos:
First they came for Bert and Ernie, and I said nothing because I was not a Muppet.

Then they came for Tinky Winky, and I said nothing, because I was not a Teletubby.

Then they came for Sponge Bob and Patrick, and I said nothing, because I was not an asexual cartoon sea creature.

I'm just wondering who'll be the next target of the Righteous Conservative Wrath Against Imaginary Creatures...


And the General has some ideas about how to deal with the situation: Whooping Tolerance Like a Red-Headed Stepchild

Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?


Religious News Roundup--January 26, 2005

Today is Wednesday, January 26th: the feast day of St. Xenophone & His Companions in the Orthodox tradition. If you're reading this, you're missing a free lecture at St. Patrick in the City Cathedral in D.C. Title: "Shame No More: The Samaritan Woman."

Here's Saint Xenophon:

And here's one of the prayers in his honor:

O God of our Fathers, ever dealing with us according to Thy gentleness: take not Thy mercy from us, but by their entreaties guide our life in peace.

Today's Categories:


Sponge Bob Roundup

By now, we've all heard about James Dobson's objection Sponge Bob's appearance in a video promoting tolerance for, among other things, different sexual orientations. (Give the man his due: he was not implying that SB was gay.)

Jesus Politics fills in some of the details here:

Here is the tolerance pledge at the We Are Family Foundation:

Tolerance is a personal decision that comes from a belief that every person is a treasure. I believe that America's diversity is its strength. I also recognize that ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry can turn that diversity into a source of prejudice and discrimination.

To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.

They also point us toward this helpful Q&A from Michael Berube:

Dear Mister Answer Man: I am confused about the correct usage of the term "bait and switch." Specifically, I am unclear as to how Paul Batura of Focus on the Family can object to a SpongeBob SquarePants video on "tolerance" as "a classic bait and switch." In a bait and switch, doesn't something have to be switched for something else? Or is it possible, given Dr. Dobson's well-documented obsession with physical punishments for small children, that "bait and switch" has a special meaning for Focus on the Family employees? --D.P. Schreber, Dresden


Mister Answer Man replies: You have no basis for confusion; Mr. Batura is using the phrase correctly. What Focus on the Family is objecting to is the fact that songwriter Nile Rodgers created a music video ostensibly to teach schoolchildren about multiculturalism and inclusiveness, but, through characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, is actually helping to spread the homosexual agenda to our children. The "bait," then, is the promise that the video promotes tolerance. Christian conservatives have nothing against tolerance; they have long argued, for example, that liberals should be more tolerant of Christian conservatives. However, they draw the line at tolerating individuals whose lifestyles are in conflict with God's word. It is literally a sin to "tolerate" people who, in satiating their own lusts, have chosen eternal damnation. Therein lies the "switch." Therefore, Dr. Dobson and his group are correct to complain that an apparently innocuous music video about "tolerance" is secretly suggesting that we should tolerate not only groups who deserve tolerance but also animated gay male sponges who often hold hands with their male sidekicks.

Other folks are chiming in as well. Jake Young of the Witherspoon Society concludes a sermon on the inauguration and the Sermon on the Mount with a prayer:

Almighty God, forgive our nation for violently attacking others pre-emptively, selfishly taking from the poor and giving to the rich, and senselessly berating a cartoon character for innocently preaching your message of tolerance and acceptance to children.

And Chuck Currie provides a handy link from Dobson's own Focus on the Family for you to send a message of support to the broadcasters FotF would most like to hold accountable.

You may also have heard about the UCC's tongue-in-cheek response to Dobson's statement; growing out of that is the suggestion that Friends of Sponge Bob take him (and a digital camera) to church, and post the results. RNR will try to get the UCC's attention on this--and we'll also gladly accept any pix you might want to send our way.

The story continues. Dobson's heavily-tattooed son Ryan has a new book out: Be Intolerant. Apparently, the message has spread to new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. She's taking PBS to task for airing a cartoon show about a trip to Vermont that includes a visit with a lesbian couple. Click on the picture below for the full story:

And don't forget the senseless berating!