August 2008

You know a group is way out there when it thinks the Democratic Party didn’t go far enough in its support of abortion on demand. The group in question is, of course, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, whose president, the Rev. Carlton Veazey, writes:

Last week, the Democratic Party Platform Committee issued forward-looking planks on abortion and reproductive health care. As a person of faith, I congratulate the Democrats for their stances and also ask them to commit to doing more.

The Democratic platform also takes two other positions that are important to people of faith. It pledges to end health insurance discrimination so that prescription contraceptives used by women throughout their reproductive lives will be covered along with other medicines. And it calls for compassionate care for rape victims – although it fails to call for universal access to emergency contraception.

Finally, the party pledges to achieve greater health care coverage – but does not mention including abortion in covered services. Including abortion services in a national health plan will be controversial and contentious – but we must remember that there are at least one million abortions a year in the United States and women deserve to have their decisions respected and to have the full range of reproductive health care services covered.

So the Democrats, while on the right track, apparently fouled up to some degree. They didn’t call for emergency contraception dispensers in every household, and didn’t advocate federal funding for any and all abortions, including the growing number that result because of the tragedy of the child being a girl. Naughty Democrats!

That’s your RCRC in action, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, UCCers, and Methodists.

Just before going on vacation, I had the opportunity to see The Dark Knight, the latest entry in the Batman franchise. To say the least, I was blown away. It is certainly the best of the Batman films, almost certainly the best movie ever based on a comic book, and very likely the best action movie ever (the only ones I can think of that’s in the same league are Aliens and Terminator 2). If you haven’t seen it yet, do so.

In making a connection between the Joker’s nihilistic violence and the terrorism that plagues the world, on the one hand, and the way that civilized societies respond, Raymond Keating draws an interesting parallel by looking at the three central characters of The Dark Knight. In a column reproduced at Orthodoxy Today, he offers this insight:

The Joker’s objective is to bring Gotham down to his own level of depravity. He tries to do so, for example, by murdering police officers, exploding a hospital, and testing two groups of people to see if one will kill the other in order to save themselves.

The Joker’s test for Harvey Dent involves both the murder of his love and the hideous scarring of half his face. Dent breaks, descending into madness and setting out to murder those he deems responsible for the death of the woman he loves.

But what about Batman? Does the Joker corrupt him?

Bruce Wayne is concerned about what he might have to become to stop the Joker. By the end of the movie, some might wonder if, or argue that the Batman actually does succumb. For example, he roughs up the Joker trying to get information on how to stop others from being murdered. He also sets up a spy system that can locate individuals through every cell phone in Gotham in order to find out where the Joker is, and again, to stop his destruction of innocent human life.

Is this going too far, or simply what’s necessary to stop this mad terrorist?

The difference between the Joker and Batman is clear. Everything Batman does is to protect others, while the Joker’s actions spring from nihilism. Batman has boundaries – not even willing to kill the Joker, the very personification of evil – while the Joker’s insanity knows absolutely no bounds. Batman’s actions have a just purpose.

In the end, the Joker declares Batman to be incorruptible.

Read the whole column. And by all means, see the movie.

The Church of England, not being sure whether God is asleep at the switch or not, has put out some suggestions for its members on how to save the planet. According to the CofE Web site:

A new guide from the Church of England offers church leaders a template for a year-long programme of practical action to reduce their congregations’ carbon footprints, as energy prices head upwards. The book, Don’t Stop at the Lights, has already won praise from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London among others.

Don’t Stop at the Lights, launched today by Church House Publishing, includes sermon ideas and extensive bible study notes drawing on ancient theological themes which aim to reconnect the church to the natural world and the roots of its faith. It inspires priests to make churches beacons in their community, offering case studies linked to the Church’s year including:

  • setting up a decorations swap shop during Advent for people to exchange unwanted decorations;
  • using Lent as an opportunity to carry out a complete internal environmental audit and to set targets, beginning on Ash Wednesday;
  • re-establishing the tradition of beating the bounds at Rogationtide to help refocus congregations on God’s gifts and the role of the Church in preserving justice and extending charity;
  • limiting the number of nights that the church is floodlit and then inviting members of the congregation and wider community to ‘sponsor’ an evening’s illumination in memory of a loved one or to mark an anniversary

Former Church of England environment adviser Claire Foster and David Shreeve, a current adviser to the Church and director of The Conservation Foundation, have written the book to help enable churches to take climate change seriously as a core Christian concern.

Right. I’m certain that having a Christmas decoration exchange will “make churches beacons in their community,” and “enable churches to take climate change seriously as a core Christian concern.” And having someone “sponsor” a night’s church lighting will…do what exactly?

Look, I’m all for conservation, recycling, and stuff like that as part of a lifestyle of responsible Christian stewardship. But anyone who thinks that suggestions like these are going to make a difference must have air-conditioning in their skull.

Suggestions like these are from the school that says that millions of inconsequential actions add up to something important. While that may sometimes be the case (voting in a national election comes to mind), this isn’t one of them. Even hundreds of millions of actions in line with these notions would have an infinitesimal impact on the global environment. One wonders whether those who came up with ideas like these have any idea just how enormous, and enormously complicated, the planetary climate system is, if they think that any of this is going to matter, no matter how often it’s done.

(Via T19.)

In my humble opinion, the World Council of Churches long ago ceased being a Christian organization, and morphed into a political lobbying agency to which no one listens. To wit, there’s this from WCC’s own press organ, the Ecumenical News Service:

The future of the World Council of Churches lies in playing to its strength of giving those less fortunate in the world a voice, a former Dutch church leader has told a gathering in Amsterdam to commemorate the WCC’s 60th anniversary.

The gathering, which featured a forum discussion, took place on 22 August in Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) to mark the founding of the ecumenical body 60 years ago, during a special assembly on 23 August 1948 aimed at forging Christian unity. A Dutchman, Willem Visser ‘t Hooft, served as the council’s first general secretary from 1948 until 1966.

The WCC must radically change, said Albert van den Heuvel, who was active in the council from 1959 to 1980, and is a former general secretary of the Netherlands Reformed Church, then the country’s largest Protestant denomination. He said the council should reduce its staff, studies and conferences, and that it should close down its secretariat in Geneva and replace it with offices in each of the continents.

The council’s strength does not lie in the pursuit of big buildings, power and influence, said Van den Heuvel. Rather, its strength lies in telling the stories of victims of injustice, war and violence. “Give them a voice,” he urged. “That is when the council is at its absolute best.”

In the forum discussion, former Dutch foreign affairs minister Peter Kooijmans argued for an official body to identify areas in the world where tensions could quickly escalate into armed conflict.

That body should help the churches in those areas work out how they can fulfil their mandate of peacemaking, so that violence can be averted. Churches often ally themselves so closely with rulers that they cannot then help bring about reconciliation, said Kooijmans.

So what’s missing there? God, Christ, Holy Spirit–in fact, anything that would mark the WCC as any different from Amnesty International or any of the various agencies carrying out the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. They also think the WCC should be more like the UN Security Council, which isn’t exactly a high standard to which to aspire. The fact is that the WCC is a pointless waste of money and other resources that ought to be defunded by its ecclesiastical supporters.

I think it’s fair to say that, just as clergy sometimes put their foot in it by jabbering about stuff they know nothing about, politicians do so at least as frequently, if not more so. Sunday morning, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, didn’t just put her foot in her mouth–she swallowed it whole. The subject was abortion and the Roman Catholic position on it, and Pelosi, a practicing Catholic, demonstrated that she’d make a splendid Episcopalian, according to Ed Morrissey of Hot Air:

I’m always astounded as to the extent of deception in which pro-choice Catholics indulge themselves, both inwardly and outwardly, to justify their positions.  Perhaps there is no balder example of this than Nancy Pelosi attempting to spin the Catholic doctrine on human life today on Meet the Press.  Pelosi argues that the Catholic position on human life only developed in the last 50 years and that it doesn’t impact abortion in any case:

REP. PELOSI:  I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time.  And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition.  And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months.  We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.  Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child–first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester.  There’s very clear distinctions.  This isn’t about abortion on demand, it’s about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and–to–that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god.  And so I don’t think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins.  As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who’ve decided…

MR. BROKAW:  The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it…

REP. PELOSI:  I understand that.

MR. BROKAW:  …begins at the point of conception.

REP. PELOSI:  I understand.  And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that.  So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.  But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions.  And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions.  That’s why we have this fight in Congress over contraception.  My Republican colleagues do not support contraception.  If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must–it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think.  But that is not the case.  So we have to take–you know, we have to handle this as respectfully–this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been–and I’m not saying Rick Warren did, because I don’t think he did, but others will try to.

To call this ignorant would be charitable, I suspect. But don’t take my word for it. In statements that have been largely ignored by the mainstream media (I haven’t been able to find the first of these in any prominent MSM outlet, including the New York Times, despite the writer being the hometown bishop), two Roman Catholic cardinals have blasted the Speaker. The first is Archbishop Edward Egan of New York City:

Like many other citizens of this nation, I was shocked to learn that the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America would make the kind of statements that were made to Mr. Tom Brokaw of NBC-TV on Sunday, August 24, 2008. What the Speaker had to say about theologians and their positions regarding abortion was not only misinformed; it was also, and especially, utterly incredible in this day and age.

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

Then there’s the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Donald Weurl:

On Meet the Press this past Sunday, August 23, 2008, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made statements regarding the teaching of the Catholic Church, human life and abortion that were incorrect.

Speaker Pelosi responded to a question on when life begins by mentioning she was Catholic. She went on to say, “And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition…” After Mr. Tom Brokaw, the interviewer, pointed out that the Catholic Church feels strongly that life begins at conception, she replied, “I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.”

We respect the right of elected officials such as Speaker Pelosi to address matters of public policy that are before them, but the interpretation of Catholic faith has rightfully been entrusted to the Catholic bishops. Given this responsibility to teach, it is important to make this correction for the record.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear: the current teaching of the Catholic Church on human life and abortion is the same teaching as it was 2,000 years ago. The Catechism reads:

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception…Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (Catechism, 2270-2271)

The Catechism goes on to quote the Didache, a treatise that dates to the first century: “’You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.’”

From the beginning, the Catholic Church has respected the dignity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death.

For years liberal Catholic politicians have been sticking their thumbs in the eye of their church, and the whole Christian tradition, using such nonsensical arguments as “I’m personally against abortion, but I can’t impose my morality on others” (this at the same time that they haven’t hesitated to impose their morality in any of a number of other areas). This effort of Pelosi’s, while more dishonest than most, is of a piece with the general approach. Good for Egan and Weurl, and the other Catholic bishops and priests who are speaking up to this and other repellant efforts to justify the unjustifiable.

UPDATE: Some people, when they’ve dug a hole for themselves, stop digging and try to climb out. But Speaker Pelosi has decided to dig even deeper. American journalists don’t seem interested in this story, but the Guardian of the UK has this:

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said in a statement Tuesday that she “fully appreciates the sanctity of family” and based her views on conception on the “views of Saint Augustine, who said: ‘… the law does not provide that the act (abortion) pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation …”’

The statement from [Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William Lori, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Doctrine] said “uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology” in the Middle Ages led “some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.”

Daly said that while Catholic teaching is clear that life begins at conception, many Catholics do not agree. He said Pelosi “agrees with the Church that we should reduce the number of abortions” by making family planning more available such as increasing the number of comprehensive age-appropriate sex education and adoption programs, Daly said.

And these people oppose teaching Intelligent Design in the public schools because it is “unscientific”! Someone needs to clue Daley in on some real science: the fact that “life” begins at conception isn’t Catholic teaching; it’s basic biology. That the conceptus is a unique human being with its own genetic code is also indisputable. Whether it is a “person” who should be accorded all or a portion of the rights that are possessed by all people is a theological, moral, and legal question that is fully debatable. But trying to justify a pro-abortion stance on the basis of Senator Saint Augustine’s understanding of biology is a move worthy of the Flat Earth Society.

(Via T19.)

UPDATE: Welcome to those of you coming from Hot Air.

I first encountered Brian McLaren when I readhis book A New Kind of Christian in a Doctor of Ministry course. I thought he made some interesting points, but that there was a good deal of theological confusion in his “emergent” approach to the faith. Since then, I’ve seen him move in ever-more bizarre directions, one of which is characterized by this item that appeared today in USA Today:

Brian McLaren, a leader in the “emergent church” movement, says the three Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — are very dangerous.

“Christians, Muslims and Jews are, in some ways, the most dangerous people on the planet, and probably Christians being the most dangerous because their fingers are closer to the most nuclear weapons,” he told an audience here at Baker Book House.

But a new series of books on ancient religious traditions — including an introductory tome by McLaren — seeks to find unity in the ancient practices these religions share.

“If (Muslims, Christians and Jews) can find points of contact, maybe it will help us avoid pressing these buttons,” he said.

McLaren, a pastor, speaker and activist, spoke last week about some of his books, including his latest, Finding Our Way Again, which explores a return to ancient practices held in common by these three religions, such as fixed hours for prayer and observance of the Sabbath.

Sooooo…fixed hours of prayer and Sabbath observance (which I support whole-heartedly) are going to prevent Christians from destroying the world with nuclear weapons? It seems to me that Muslims are already pretty good at both spiritual disciplines, and yet it is from the most fanatically and legalistically observant part of the Muslim world (lots of whom, it should be added, live in Pakistan, which now has nuclear weapons) that much of the religiously inspired violence in the world emanates these days. George Bush (who also prays and attends church a lot) hasn’t pushed the nuclear button, but Osama bin Laden’s five-times-a-day prayer warriors brought down the World Trade Center, killed thousands in Iraq, killed hundreds in London, Madrid and Bali, etc. In other words….what the heck is McLaren talking about?

(Via T19.)

While we were in Seattle, the wife allowed me to indulge one of my favorite pastimes, which is scouring used book stores. We managed to get to four in four hours, and I found several items on my sought-after list. One of the book stores we went into, Left Bank Books at the Pike Place Market, was like entering into another world. Posters of Che Guevara, black people with raised fists, and announcements of “queer” poetry readings and marches protesting pretty much everything were everywhere. The book selection had clearly been culled to ensure that only the right ones (meaning far left, of course) were on the shelves. It was as if I’d stepped into the International ANSWER Reading Room. And when I looked them up on the Web, I thought I’d walked into the middle of a Monty Python sketch:

Left Bank is collectively owned and operated by its workers, and has been since its inception. As an anarchist collective, Left Bank has no bosses or managers. Decisions are made in bi-monthly collective meetings based on a consensus process.

Anyway, aside from telling a little bit about our experience in Seattle, I bring this up because of an item I read this morning on the Web site of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). It’s about a conclave of feminist “theologians” who met in Bangalore, India week before last under the auspices of WARC and the World Council of Churches. A report on the meeting, entitled “Feminist Discourse on Economy, Ecology and Empire,” as well as the manifesto the participants put out, is at the WARC link above. Like my visit to Left Bank Books, reading it felt like stepping into another world, one in which God is a Marxist, reality can be made up as one goes along, and the law of contradiction has been suspended. It’s rather lengthy–too long to do a proper slice-and-dice on it–but here’s a sample:

What we learned: local realities
In the last four decades India has experienced a shift from an agricultural and textile-based society and economy, which provided livelihoods for people, to a monoculture-production and export-oriented consumer-driven economy and society. This has resulted in a shift from livelihood to employment, from a rhythm of life, which provides sustenance, identity in relationships and community, to one dominated by an individualized, job-defined, western, mechanized mode of being, has caused great trauma. It has resulted in increased poverty and loss of community especially for rural people.

So in six days (August 12-17), they figured out the entire history of India’s transformation from naturalist paradise to capitalist sewer? This is the revenge of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in spades. An interesting thing has happened in India while it was going to hell in a handbasket–the poverty rate dropped by more than half:

(Source: Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, Government of India.)

Does this mean that poverty is no longer a problem in India? Of course not. But it looks as if the “neoliberal” (read: market-based) economic approach that the feminists denounce has done an amazing job of reducing the percentage of people living below the poverty line.

Then there’s this:

War, economic immigration, ecological devastation, the destruction of water resources and other effects of this intersection are continuously causing homelessness for many people. In addition, loss of livelihood and/or employment, the disintegration of cultural norms and practices, the imposition of economic models based on profit maximization and other pressures cause both physical and psychological destruction of a sense of home. These realities deny people the biblical promise of life in its fullness and contradict the biblical and theological assertion that persons have a right to a “home,” to live in peace, prosperity and dignity under their own “vines and fig-trees” (John 10:10; Micah 4:4).

They decry “economic immigration,” and yet I feel absolutely certain that they oppose any American efforts to stem the tide of Mexican economic immigration as “racist.” They decry “profit maximization,” yet it is the drive for profit that has lifted tens, maybe hundreds, of millions out of poverty in dozens of nations across Asia, including India and China. They speak of “abundant life,” yet make no connection in this entire screed between it and its author, Jesus Christ. The “abundant life” of which they speak seems to be nothing more than a Rousseauean state of nature characterized by tribalism and subsistence farming. There’s certainly nothing particularly Christian about it.

Then there’s this:

Neoliberal ideology is increasingly intruding in many dimensions of life, propagating market-oriented values of consumerism, materialism, commodification and greed. Such values promote the view that human beings are valued by what they possess and have ownership over. This provides the ideological justification for fuelling patterns of over-production and over-consumption in the North and among the rich in the South. By “efficiently” creating wealth for a few, neoliberal economic systems, colluding with military power and patriarchy, have systematically shifted the cost burden to the ecological and social reproductive spheres, where women are in the majority.

That market-based economics can promote “consumerism, materialism, commodification and greed” is no great revelation. Nor is it a new insight that Christians must stand against these sinful mindsets and the behaviors to which they lead. The mistake these “theologians” make is in seeing market-based economics as leading inevitably to these distortions of values, a mistake that it’s easy for them to make since they apply a Marxist approach to economics, which dictates (as Scripture doesn’t) that any form of economic inequality as well as possession of private property is evil. A Christian approach would recognize that economic mechanisms, in and of themselves, are morally neutral. The way that people use them is what invests them with value. The fact that market-based economics have been spectacularly successful in lifting people out of poverty, and providing opportunities to countless people who would never have otherwise had the opportunity for a better life, doesn’t seem to make any difference to these women. I’d be willing to bet that that’s not the case for an awful lot of the folks for whom they profess so much concern.

One final excerpt:

Empire, economy and ecology are intimately interconnected. The “empire of a carbon-consuming [economic] system” is the driving force behind climate change. Whereas countries in the North are mainly responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, countries like India and people in poverty everywhere are most vulnerable to the disastrous effects of global warming. These include recurrent droughts and floods, and greater frequency and intensity of tropical storms.

There’s so much nonsense in this paragraph, so many unproven assertions and fallacious assumptions that it would take a post all its own to cover it all. But it’s typical of what these “theologians” (who, on this evidence, have little interest in theology and a great deal of interest in, if not knowledge of, economics and social policy) cobbled together under the sponsorship of WARC and the WCC.

UPDATE: Since the Left Bankers and feminist theologians would have been so at home in this setting, I really had to link to this:

In addition to Susan Jacoby, there were lots of religious left responses to the Saddleback forum at the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” column. For example, there was Jane Holmes Dixon, the former Episcopal bishop of Washington:

My concern is whether both Senator Obama and Senator McCain will have the same type of events at a synagogue, a mosque, a gudwara and an ethical society. And whether CNN will carry those events live. I am eager to know how both men see themselves governing in a pluralistic country for those whose belief system may differ from their own. I hope people of other religions or no religion get the same clarity.

An “ethical society”? They’ll get big-time votes there. The fact is, that if they were asked to appear on a big stage (and that’s the key–these guys aren’t running for school board or county commissioner, after all), and they appeared together, even the way they did at Saddleback, I don’t doubt that it would be covered by the mainstream media. So, how many ethical societies or gudwaras have sought to put together a presidential forum?

Then there’s the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance. He appreciated Rick Warren’s civility, and agreed with Warren’s opening statement that faith and politics shouldn’t be separated. He objected, however, to faith and politics not being separated:

However, as the forum continued, primal distinctions between faith and politics became blurred and, in some instances, were erased. A question about a candidate’s commitment to Jesus seems of little relevance to a religiously pluralistic nation made strong by a secular government that appreciates religion but gives no preference to religion over non-religion. For the most part, I found Pastor Warren’s questions creative and helpful and his attitude a refreshing encouragement of all that is civil. However, his inquiry about personal faith and his citations from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures well could have left the wrong impression. Many people in this nation do not turn to those scriptures for wisdom or to faith for guidance. Questions essential in a church are not particularly helpful in a conversation a church sponsors to help educate diverse voters in the nation.

In fact, a candidate’s faith can be of direct relevance to a “religiously pluralistic nation.” If a Wahhabist Muslim were running for president, we’d all want to know whether that means that he sees the state’s role as one of enforcing sharia law. If an atheist were running, I’d want to know if that person thinks that religious believers are all dolts whose opinions on everything else can be pretty much discounted, as is the case with a Richard Dawkins. If a person is a fundamentalist Baptist, I’d want to know if he thinks that we should return to the age of blue laws and Prohibition. Whether I agreed with the individual in question or not, knowing stuff like this is of real significance to me as a voter.

As for the references to the Bible, it apparently didn’t occur to Gaddy that while lots of citizens don’t care about them, lots of them do, and what’s more to the point, Obama and McCain supposedly do. How they read them can say a lot about a person, not in doctrinal terms but simply in terms of how much of a part their faith might play in their decision-making. That means it should matter to all of us.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite of the UCC’s Chicago Seminary was worried that when Rick Warren said that we shouldn’t separate faith and politics, that meant only one kind of faith:

But what this event obscured, right from the opening statement that “We believe in separation of church and state, but not faith and politics,” is that separation of church and state and faith and politics are related.

Separation of church and state (which is not in the Constitution) is based upon is the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment (which is in the Constitution). “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What the framers sought to do was to guarantee that one faith would not be privileged over another; in their era, what that meant was prohibiting financial support of any religious institutions by the state (i.e. establishment). But in the age of mass media, what establishment can come to mean as well, in my view, is identifying only one faith voice as the voice of faith. And that is what Rick Warren, I believe, was trying to re-brand in this event.

In addition, it became clear that literal establishment is on the table for Warren and for McCain. This connection was plain in the tenor of the questions about faith-based initiatives. Obama said he would support providing federal funds for faith-based programs, but not support faith-based hiring in those programs that receive the federal funds. McCain and Warren were on the side of allowing faith-based hiring in federally funded faith-based programs for social welfare. And that, my friends, is establishment by any other name.

Rick Warren seems very sincere. God save us from the harm sometimes done by the sincere.

Right. So I guess this means that the Faith in Public Life forum that was held at Messiah College back in April, the one that featured Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, was also an invalid attempt to identify only one type of faith (liberal, regardless of the religion) as the voice of faith. I wasn’t able to find any viewing-with-alarm about that event in the Thistlethwaite archives. Maybe she expressed it elsewhere. In any case, I’m sure she was sincere in her fear-and-loathing of those theocratic evangelicals.

Finally, a word from a couple of non-Christians who stand firmly with the left. Deepak Chopra descended from the eighth dimension, or whatever astral plane he normally inhabits, to demonstrate his ignorance of how America works:

For me, the God quiz that Barack Obama endured with barely concealed sweaty palms and that John McCain breezed through with seasoned casualness has no place in American politics. Rick Warren is a feel-good preacher who softened the interrogation and administered no canings, but that’s irrelevant. To claim that “faith and politics” is different — and more acceptable — than “church and state” is semantic sleight of hand.

BUZZZ!!! That’s wrong, but thank you for playing. In fact, faith and politics have been intertwined, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad, since the beginning of the Republic. Think Lincoln’s ruminations on divine providence and the Civil War, William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech, the influence of the churches in the civil rights movement, and countless other examples, and it’s obvious that Americans have always been quite happy about faith having an impact on politics. “Separation of church and state,” on the other hand, is an extra-constitutional expression that is grounded in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which was first litigated in 1947 and have been a source of perfectly legitimate argument since. Deepak, take my advice: read some American history before popping off next time.

And last but not least, there’s John Spong, who opines that neither Obama nor McCain are theologians. Nothing gets by him:

The Saddleback Forum was good theater, but it was theologically naïve. The questions asked reflected an evangelical world view that is one to which educated people today cannot relate.

Yeah, it’s a pity there are no evangelicals to be found among the world’s educated. No Ph.Ds, no astronomers, no physicists, no lawyers or doctors–heck, I don’t even know any evangelicals who can scratch their backsides and hum at the same time. Of course, the way we know this is because they are totally unenlightened on the wonders of homosexuality (for Spong, everything eventually comes down to homosexuality):

Homosexuality is no more a choice for gay and lesbian people than heterosexuality is a choice for straight people. It takes a while for that knowledge to trickle down to the masses. Prejudice lives only in the untrickled down gaps. The condemnation of homosexuality as a sin or as a distortion by the hierarchy of the Vatican or the leaders of evangelical Christianity is simply a sign that both groups live in the backwaters of knowledge and education. As this knowledge spreads, those groups will look like what they are – dated people similar to the members of the Flat Earth Society.

The “untrickled down gaps”! Isn’t that a marvelous phrase? Why, who knows, at some point in the future, the excruciatingly brilliant intellect that is found inside John Spong’s skull may even explode from containing so much wisdom, and when his cranial fluid trickles down on us, we will all get as enlightened as he is. ‘Course, that’ll mean I’ll have to give up my Flat Earth Society membership, but hey, you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, right?

At Saddleback both Senators Obama and McCain pandered to the religious mindset. One should not expect politicians to be either competent theologians or biblical scholars and quite obviously neither candidate is. So they contented themselves to toss around the religious jargon. “Jesus saved me,” said Senator McCain. “Jesus died for my sins,” said Senator Obama.

Thereby demonstrating that they are unreconstructed Neanderthals, poltroons who are undeserving of the anointing of the former Bishop of Newark. However will either one win the presidency without it?

I haven’t had a chance to see the Saddleback presidential forum, so I’m not in a position to comment on what happened there, except for this: there is no reason why it should not have taken place. I hold that contra Susan Jacoby, house atheist for the Washington Post’s “On Faith column. To hear her tell it, the Republic came crashing down last Saturday evening:

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declares that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” A religious test for the presidency is exactly what was televised Saturday night when Senators Barack Obama and John McCain allowed themselves to be grilled like schoolboys by Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church. McCain and Obama were asked what it meant to them “to trust in Jesus Christ” and to describe the “greatest moral failing” in their lives. I tremble for my country when I reflect that both candidates were apparently eager to answer highly personal questions posed by a televangelist.

She trembles for her country that people are interested in the candidates as something more than policy ciphers, that voters want to know them as flesh-and-blood individuals who actually have the unmitigated gall to identify themselves with a particular religious faith. Jacoby is not stupid, of course; she knows full well that such a forum doesn’t comprise anything like the “religious test” of which Article VI speaks. But it was still a violation of the “spirit” of the Constitution:

This event was so disrespectful of our best American traditions, on so many levels, that I hardly know where to begin. The Constitution, of course, prohibits only legal religious tests for office. It does not prohibit the extralegal but equally powerful religious test that Warren was conducting. But Obama and McCain should both have thought about the spirit of the Constitution, and the intent behind the prohibition of religious tests, before they started pandering to a Christian minister on national television by talking about their trust in Jesus Christ. Will they now be obliged to undergo interrogation by a rabbi or a Roman Catholic bishop?

Fascinating thing about the “spirit” and “intent” of the Constitution of which she speaks: it went virtually unrecognized for almost 200 years. Throughout American history, there are countless examples of politicians and elected officials talking about their faith, sometimes more vaguely than others, certainly, but it was only recently that some people started believing that candidates talking about their faith somehow violated the “spirit” or “intent” of the Constitution. The translation of what Jacoby is saying is this: I don’t like hearing public figures talk about what I don’t believe in, so it must be unconstitutional for them to do so. You can tell that there’s more than mere concern for constitutional niceties at work here when you come to this:

McCain also managed to talk about all the praying he did before deciding to remain in a North Vietnamese prison, after having been offered his release because he was an admiral’s son. Any day now, I’m expecting a new campaign commercial showing St. John on his knees in a prison cell, while a beam of faithy light shines through the bars.

That’s not a desire to defend the Constitution. That’s a deep, personal loathing of public expression of Christian faithfulness that reaches a real low by impugning an experience such as McCain’s. The Post should be ashamed to have published it.

There’s more viewing-with-alarm, if you’d care to read the whole thing.

It has been a magnificent three days here in Alaska. Right now, we are traveling toward the Hubbard Glacier, having spent the day in Juneau yesterday. We’ve been surrounded by snow-caped mountains since we woke up this morning, looking sort of like this:

Did I mention that we’re having a great time?

More to come.

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