Posts Tagged “politics”

Glenn BeckThe nation’s current most famous paranoid schizophrenic, Glenn Beck, has (no surprise!) shoved his foot into his mouth. The Intertubes have been alive with discussion of this, and I’d planned to avoid the matter, but since it’s become so well known, I thought I should weigh in on it anyway.

On his radio show this March 2, Beck railed ignorantly — and stupidly — against churches that promote “social justice.” Christianity Today transcribed his comments as follows (screen shot of page):

I beg you, look for the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I’m going to Jeremiah’s Wright’s church? Yes! Leave your church. Social justice and economic justice. They are code words. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, “Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?” I don’t care what the church is. If it’s my church, I’m alerting the church authorities: “Excuse me, what’s this social justice thing?” And if they say, “Yeah, we’re all in that social justice thing,” I’m in the wrong place.

Beck, of course, has no idea what he’s talking about … but his raging paranoia prevents him from understanding that. What he’s doing is to connect several things which are not, in the end, connected at all. Let’s tease them apart so that this matter can be truly understood.

First, it is incontrovertible that Christianity and “social justice” are interconnected, and this is the case from almost the beginning of the movement. Jesus himself preached against the common social mores and presumptions of his time; he promoted charity — true charity, not mere “charity for appearance’s sake,” which he condemned utterly; he associated with outcasts and undesirables, actually preferring their company; he taught compassion for others as one of the cardinal rules of spiritual life; he condemned wealth and promoted giving everything to the poor; and much more. Also, scripture itself suggests early Christian communities lived according to a very egalitarian, “one for all and all for one” ideal, thus exhibiting a strong sense of “social justice” among themselves.

Second, this message has not been completely lost on Christians themselves. The themes of compassion and — yes, Glenn! — “social justice” have been continually picked up and expounded upon by Christians, throughout the religion’s history. Classical-era Christians, for example, maintained funds to support orphans and widows. During the Middle Ages, some religious orders funded and ran infirmaries for the care of the sick, even when plagues were raging, thus exposing themselves to disease. Early strong proponents of the Abolition movement — such as William Wilberforce — were devout Christians whose motivation to free slaves was primarily a religious impulse they believed to be part of Jesus’ own message. Later — especially as it arrived in the United States in the 19th century — Abolition became more of a humanist movement, no longer innately connected to religion … however, Abolition’s origins clearly had at least some religious inspiration. Beck’s reasoning, had it been followed in the early 19th century, would have ground Abolition to a halt, and the U.S. would still have slavery.

Third, Beck is correct that, at one time, phrases like “social justice” were, in fact, code-words used by Communists and Marxists. However, that was mostly true only during the Communist revolutions of the early and middle 20th century, and later during the Cold War. The fact is that this type of “coded” rhetoric has faded away since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thus, any truthful basis Beck may have had for his comments are — at best — anachronistic. They make no sense today, since many different people, of many different ideologies, appeal to their own individual senses of “social justice.” One can no longer safely assume that any proponent of “social justice” is a Marxist.

Fourth, Beck’s objection appears to be rooted in the Jeremiah Wright controversy. By referring to Wright in his comments, Beck betrays his own childish hang-up on Barack Obama’s former pastor. Beckie, let me help you out here: Jeremiah Wright is now a dead issue. Obama has jettisoned him, and Wright is also done with Obama. This particular battle is over, Glenn, and has been for more than a year … at the very least, Obama’s election in November 2008 obviated it.

This idiocy reveals several things about Glenn Beck. Most importantly, he envisions Christianity as being linked to politics — his own personal, extreme-Right-wing, give-everything-there-is-to-the-wealthy-and-take-every-penny-from-the-poor politics. He cannot, or will not, conceive of Christianity as not being related to politics. Any church which — in his mind — does not march in lockstep with his own ideology, is not a “true” Christian church. He does not realize that Jesus himself was apolitical and did not, at any point during his ministry, ever concern himself with politics or statecraft. If anything, he rather clearly stated the opposite … that not only was he unconcerned with statecraft, that his followers also should not be. Beck also reveals that he is still stuck in the past, still thinking in terms of the Cold War and still consumed with scandals which are now obsolete.

Of note is the fact that a lot of Christians, and especially some of the Religious Right variety, have spoken out against Beck’s comments. For some examples, see this story by ABC News (WebCite cached article). Even the ferocious, fire-&-brimstone Religious Right theologian Albert Mohler has said Beck is wrong (cached article).

This criticism — from within Christianity and even from within the Religious Right — has not been lost on Beckie boy. He has responded: By fighting back, and insisting — in spite of the facts — that he is still correct. He has declared “social justice” to be “a perversion of the gospel,” and justifies his (strange) view of Jesus’ message as being about the individual, not the group. This twisted rationale has, itself, been condemned by the same people who first criticized him (cached article). I will leave the debate about that up to those critics, who as Christian “insiders” have more to say on it than I do.

Beck’s claim that “true” Christianity — as he sees it — has nothing to do with “social justice,” places him squarely in my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

The bottom line is that Beck’s initial condemnation of “social justice” in Christian churches — and his insistence, in spite of criticism by various Christian authorities — that he is still correct, as well as his refusal to let go of the Jeremiah Wright controversy show Beckie-boy to be a raging paranoid child. I suggest it’s long past time for the Beckster to grow up, and address his paranoia … there are good treatments for it, and given the millions he makes, he can more than afford the very best psychiatric care available.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore.

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The mantra that newly-elected President Obama is a “socialist,” that he’s trying to impose “socialized medicine” on the country, etc. is old Rightist material. But to date it’s mostly been couched in political terms. Finally, it’s being expressed as a religious struggle, as reported by the Religion Dispatches blog — prefaced by a pithy lead-in:

Shouldn’t a professed “health and wealth” preacher be concerned with health care? Apparently, politics get in the way

… Over 5.000 persons from across the country packed into the Fort Worth Convention Center to hear Copeland and their Word of Faith line-up proclaim their message of divine health and wealth. Yet when it came to President Obama’s plan for health care reform — a plan that would greatly assist the vast majority of working class and underemployed conference attendees — Kenneth Copeland was excessive in his disdain for government-run healthcare.

“Socialism” seemed to be Copeland’s favorite term throughout the week as he warned the crowd to reject any government assistance. “Sickness and disease,” according to Copeland, “is not a medical problem, it’s a spiritual problem.” Thus, he argued that any healthcare program would be nothing more than a “Babylonian system — man trying to meet his own needs without God.”

Gee, that “pray instead of medicate” plan sure worked for people like Madeline Kara Neumann, didn’t it?

What was that? It didn’t? Woops. Must have been God’s will!

Face it, folks, the religionazis are frightened, and not necessarily without reason. They view things like “socialized medicine” as impediments to constructing the theocracy they want the United States to become. People looking to government for healthcare, makes it harder for religious leaders like Copeland to control them. A strong governmental presence would tend to make it more difficult to make them appear to be the country’s caretakers.

Unfortunately for them, their worries are based on factual errors. No one in Washington is working on any “socialized medicine” proposal. There is a lot being said about what’s being proposed … and most of it is not true. Among the things which are not true is one that Copeland himself mentioned, the so-called “death panels” that would euthanize people for turning old. It’s not true, and those who are saying so, know it. For that, Copeland earns admission to my “Lying Liars for Jesus” club.

Why do these people feel it necessary to lie for Jesus? Who do they think they are? Paul (Saul) of Tarsus?

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On the heels of Obama’s remarks in Turkey that got the Religious Right’s knickers in a knot, as I blogged already, the latest Newsweek cover story by Jon Meacham has sparked additional fury and bluster on the part of the fire-&brimstone brigade. Here is some of what’s got them worked up (more than usual):

The End of Christian America

The percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades. How that statistic explains who we are now—and what, as a nation, we are about to become.

While we remain a nation decisively shaped by religious faith, our politics and our culture are, in the main, less influenced by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were even five years ago. I think this is a good thing—good for our political culture, which, as the American Founders saw, is complex and charged enough without attempting to compel or coerce religious belief or observance. It is good for Christianity, too, in that many Christians are rediscovering the virtues of a separation of church and state that protects what Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island as a haven for religious dissenters, called “the garden of the church” from “the wilderness of the world.” As crucial as religion has been and is to the life of the nation, America’s unifying force has never been a specific faith, but a commitment to freedom—not least freedom of conscience. …

Meacham is not saying that Christianity is dead (because of course, it’s not):

Let’s be clear: while the percentage of Christians may be shrinking, rumors of the death of Christianity are greatly exaggerated. Being less Christian does not necessarily mean that America is post-Christian. A third of Americans say they are born again; this figure, along with the decline of politically moderate-to liberal mainline Protestants, led the ARIS authors to note that “these trends … suggest a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more ‘evangelical’ outlook among Christians.” With rising numbers of Hispanic immigrants bolstering the Roman Catholic Church in America, and given the popularity of Pentecostalism, a rapidly growing Christian milieu in the United States and globally, there is no doubt that the nation remains vibrantly religious—far more so, for instance, than Europe.

Still, in the new NEWSWEEK Poll, fewer people now think of the United States as a “Christian nation” than did so when George W. Bush was president (62 percent in 2009 versus 69 percent in 2008). Two thirds of the public (68 percent) now say religion is “losing influence” in American society, while just 19 percent say religion’s influence is on the rise. The proportion of Americans who think religion “can answer all or most of today’s problems” is now at a historic low of 48 percent. During the Bush 43 and Clinton years, that figure never dropped below 58 percent.

What Meacham is saying, then, is not that Christianity is going away; it’s that fundamentalist-Christian politics is flagging:

Many conservative Christians believe they have lost the battles over issues such as abortion, school prayer and even same-sex marriage, and that the country has now entered a post-Christian phase. …

What, then, does it mean to talk of “Christian America”? Evangelical Christians have long believed that the United States should be a nation whose political life is based upon and governed by their interpretation of biblical and theological principles. If the church believes drinking to be a sin, for instance, then the laws of the state should ban the consumption of alcohol. If the church believes the theory of evolution conflicts with a literal reading of the Book of Genesis, then the public schools should tailor their lessons accordingly. If the church believes abortion should be outlawed, then the legislatures and courts of the land should follow suit. The intensity of feeling about how Christian the nation should be has ebbed and flowed since Jamestown; there is, as the Bible says, no thing new under the sun. For more than 40 years, the debate that began with the Supreme Court’s decision to end mandatory school prayer in 1962 (and accelerated with the Roe v. Wade ruling 11 years later) may not have been novel, but it has been ferocious. Fearing the coming of a Europe-like secular state, the right longed to engineer a return to what it believed was a Christian America of yore.

But that project has failed, at least for now. In Texas, authorities have decided to side with science, not theology, in a dispute over the teaching of evolution. The terrible economic times have not led to an increase in church attendance. In Iowa last Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled against a ban on same-sex marriage, a defeat for religious conservatives. Such evidence is what has believers fretting about the possibility of an age dominated by a newly muscular secularism.

But American remains America, as Meacham goes on to say:

Religious doubt and diversity have, however, always been quintessentially American. Alexis de Tocqueville said that “the religious atmosphere of the country was the first thing that struck me on arrival in the United States,” but he also discovered a “great depth of doubt and indifference” to faith. Jefferson had earlier captured the essence of the American spirit about religion when he observed that his statute for religious freedom in Virginia was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination”—and those of no faith whatever. The American culture of religious liberty helped create a busy free market of faith: by disestablishing churches, the nation made religion more popular, not less.

America, then, is not a post-religious society—and cannot be as long as there are people in it, for faith is an intrinsic human impulse. The belief in an order or a reality beyond time and space is ancient and enduring. “All men,” said Homer, “need the gods.”

Meacham points out that even some of the evangelicals who had been instrumental in establishing the Religious Right as a political force, have conceded the intrinsic flaws in their program:

The columnist Cal Thomas was an early figure in the Moral Majority who came to see the Christian American movement as fatally flawed in theological terms. “No country can be truly ‘Christian’,” Thomas says. “Only people can. God is above all nations, and, in fact, Isaiah says that ‘All nations are to him a drop in the bucket and less than nothing’.” Thinking back across the decades, Thomas recalls the hope—and the failure. “We were going through organizing like-minded people to ‘return’ America to a time of greater morality. Of course, this was to be done through politicians who had a difficult time imposing morality on themselves!”

Needless to say, the Religious Right has completely misread this story and interpreted as Newsweek having trumpeted “the End of Christianity in the US.” To deal with this the magazine’s editors published an additional clarification, also by Meacham:

Note that we did not say we were discussing the decline and fall of Christianity, or even the decline and fall of Christianity in America. But “Christian America” is something else again.

Unfortunately the Religious Right confuses Christianity, the religion — which comes in myriad forms — with Christianity-as-political-entity, which is, in fact, losing control over the country. They cannot separate the two in their minds. This is why there have been so many irrational or outright non sequitur responses to the Meacham’s piece, such as the following (these were found using a Google blog search):
Here’s to all the anti-God folk at Newsweek. Christianity is still alive and well in the good old U.S.A.
Oh, that’s right – it’s Holy Week. Time to pile on the mockery
In Newsweak’s eyes, a decline of 10% over the last 20 years is the nail in the coffin

To his credit, fundamentalist-evangelical theologian Albert Mohler, who figures prominently in Meacham’s piece, did not misrepresent the Newsweek cover story, although he did offer a clever twist:

The cover story is a serious consideration of the issue Newsweek set as its priority for the week of Easter, and the seriousness of the magazine’s approach is evident in the fact that its editor, Mr. Meacham, wrote the cover story himself. The essay, elegant in form and serious in tone, demands attention. …

One key aspect of Mr. Meacham’s argument is his suggestion that what binds America together is not “a specific faith” but instead “a commitment to freedom” and, in particular, freedom of conscience. There is something to this argument, of course. The founding generation did not establish the young republic on any religious creed or theological doctrine. Still, there is something missing from this argument, and that is the recognition that freedom, and freedom of conscience in particular, requires some prior understanding of human dignity and the origins of conscience itself. Though the founders included those who rejected the Christian Gospel and Christianity itself, Christianity had provided the necessary underpinnings for the founders’ claims.

Did you catch that? Mohler is saying that, while the United States was not actually founded as “a Christian nation” with “a Christian government,” and furthermore conceded not all the Founders were religious — a concession I find surprising coming from him — he’s saying that Christianity nonetheless underpins the country, even in spite of the fact that the Founders had specifically avoided making it “a Christian nation”; and that their effort to do so was itself an expression of Christianity. In essence, Mohler is saying that the US is, in fact, a Christian nation even though it’s not!

I should congratulate Mohler, this is one damned nifty trick of logic. Of course, it’s self-contradictory in itself, which by definition robs it of any veracity, but it’s nonetheless quite inventive.

Eventually the Religious Right will see that “Christianity as a religion that individuals in the US believe in” is NOT the same thing as “the Christianity we worship which we believe to be a political entity whose authority entitles us to run the country as we demand.” Unfortunately they have a lot of growing up to do before they achieve this insight.

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Here in Connecticut, over the last 10 years or so, we’ve had a sorry parade of public officials brought up on charges, with most of them convicted and run out of office. The current spate of corruption began in 1999 with the ouster of the corrupt state treasurer Paul Sylvester, and continued with two city mayors (Phil Giordano in Waterbury and Joe Ganim in Bridgeport), a governor (John Rowland), his chief of staff (Peter Ellef), two state senators (Ernest Newton and Lou DeLuca), along with a number of Rowland’s henchmen (Larry Alibozek et al). Have a look at some of these sad characters if you like.

The latest major scandal involves Hartford mayor Eddie Perez, who’s dealing with charges that he improperly got free work on his own home by a city contractor (most dictionaries define this as “graft” but Perez and his attorneys insist it’s normal). Perez has a sizable cadre of followers in Hartford who have advocated for him staunchly and who are keeping him in office (he’s slated for re-election later this year but there’s no doubt he will succeed). He, his attorneys, and supporters have held rallies in his defense — as if an appeal to the public somehow changes the veracity of the charges against him.

His latest deflection attempt was a prayer vigil arranged by him and stuffed by the ranks of his cadre, at the same time as a court appearance, and dutifully reported on by the Hartford Courant:

Mayor Eddie A. Perez stood outside Hartford Superior Court Tuesday morning surrounded by supporters gathered for a prayer vigil and told them: “God doesn’t give you a cross you can’t carry.”

Perez was due in court Tuesday morning for a second time as he faces criminal bribery charges, but the court date was changed at the last minute for to administrative reasons, according to his attorney, Hubert J. Santos.

Several local clergy members spoke to Perez and his supporters Tuesday. One spoke of “complete victory.” The Rev. Cornell Lewis, who organized the event, began it by saying that the weather was a good metaphor for Perez’s situation. “Cold, but the sun is shining,” he said. …

Santos filed a motion on Feb. 19 to dismiss the charges against Perez, arguing that testimony of various grand jury witnesses contradicts the evidence for the crimes with which Perez was charged. That motion is pending.

Santos said Perez will be back in court March 17.

I wonder what sort of theatrics Perez and his faithful minion Hubie Santos will arrange on that day!

This is such a transparent and pathetic maneuver that it hardly deserves mention; however, it’s common for politicians under fire to arrange these displays of religiosity. I can’t help but wonder why so many clergy — on this occasion and on so many others — are willing to involve themselves in these scandals and apparently eager to become spokesmen for these elected sociopaths. What gives? Yeah, I know the Rev Cornell Lewis never met a microphone or camera he didn’t like … he’s one of the worst attention-whores in the state … but to stand up for a crook? Why would he, or any other clergyman, cast his lot in with Perez?

P.S. The Courant has a very strange love-hate relationship with Perez; the paper has reported on all the mayor’s foibles over the years, but somehow it manages always to present him as a sympathetic character beset by troubles not of his own making; in the case of this story, the paper acted as his unpaid public-relations team! What makes this as strange as it seems is that in the case of other officials and groups, the Courant has pretty much gone after them with all guns blazing, unrepentantly and leaving no doubt as to the rephrensible nature of the folks they reported on. For instance, the paper (and its subsidiary the Hartford Advocate) has been relentless in its reporting about the Rev Stephen Foley affair (see e.g. this Advocate article) and how the archdiocese of Hartford has handled it. The Courant‘s presentation of the Perez investigation has been very different. I wonder why? Unfortunately there is no longer a reader advocate at the paper whom I can ask. Pity.

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Led by the stalwart legions of Religious Right™ lawyers at the Alliance Defense Fund (an outfit you need to learn more about, if you haven’t already), a bunch of pastors are going to fight off the IRS rule against churches endorsing political candidates (as reported by the Washington Post):

Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted

Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”

I’m disappointed in the headline. It conveys the idea that pastors are “banned” from saying anything. This is decidedly not the case. Like all Americans they have First Amendment rights to say whatever they want. No one is censoring them or “banning” them from endorsing candidates. Rather, their problem is that their churches have tax-exempt status, which binds them to the same restriction that all other tax-exempt entities must live up to, which is not to engage in politicking. So these ferocious pastors and their churches are, in fact, quite free to endorse candidates — they just have to forfeit their tax-exempt status in order to do so.

The legions of the ADF are, therefore, positing a “straw man,” one that the Post unwittingly (I think) is supporting in its choice of headline. The fact is that pastors are in no way “banned” from speaking. That they would claim so, makes them dishonest. They merely can’t campaign for political candidates and keep their churches’ tax exemption. That they would be so ardent about this shows what their true motivations are … money and power!

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Lying is common in American politics. Both political parties do it, and they do it often. Political lies are especially common on the Internet, where emails and blog entries are frequently inaccurate or outright fabrications. As a committed skeptic I usually take politicians’ claims with a healthy grain of salt (hmm … not a “grain” exactly … maybe “a large truckload”!), and routinely ignore political emails telling me about the latest outrage allegedly committed by some politician or other.

Fortunately there are now tools available to set the record straight — particularly FactCheck.Org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. They claim to be non-partisan and, so far as I can tell, they are — just in the past week they’ve ruled as non-factual claims made by both the major candidates.

They have a special page devoted to political emails which — in almost all cases — are wrong or deceitful:

I’ve noticed that chain e-mails, particularly those about politics, have a lot of things in common: urgent and frightening messages; spelling errors; a tendency to blame mainstream media for not telling the real story; and false, misleading, utterly bogus, and completely off-base claims.

If there was ever a case where readers should apply a guilty-until-proven-innocent standard, this is it. We at ask the public to be skeptical about politicians’ claims. With these e-mails, outright cynicism is justified. Assume all such messages are wrong, and you’ll be right most of the time.

So do yourself, and the rest of the planet, a favor and stop forwarding these outrages to everyone you know! Check them out first and discover for yourself that they’re nothing but bullshit.

Unfortunately this is advice that few Americans are willing to take, which FactCheck concedes:

It seems that no matter the facts, the desire to believe some of this stuff is just too strong.

Americans choose to believe the lies, because they want to believe the lies, and they don’t want to find out they’re not true. This is a pretty immature reason for propagating falsehood, but there you are.

If for some reason FactCheck doesn’t fill the bill for you, try PolitiFact (a service of the St Petersburg Times). Snopes is also a good place to get tall tales (not only of the political sort) checked out, too.

Update: If you must know my political and ideological affiliation, please understand that I have none. I am neither Republican nor Democrat, neither Rightist nor Leftist. Rather, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool tried-&-true Cynicalist who shuns all ideologies of every sort. Many of you will not believe that, but too bad — it’s still the truth.

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