Sunday, April 30, 2006
a) breaking the hold of the country-club faction on the Ohio Republican party
b) electing a true social conservative to the governor's office, a platform for genuine social reform
c) electing a true fiscal conservative to the governor's office, in a state that desperately needs to lower taxes and spending
d) proving that African-Americans have political opportunity in more than one political party
All that and more can be done with a vote for Ken Blackwell. As we have said before, he's the best Republican candidate to beat Ted Strickland, he's the best to bring needed change to Ohio, and he's the best to change the shape of national politics for years to come.
Amazingly enough, even the Cincinnati Enquirer agrees.
So we intend to show up early at the polls on Tuesday. It would be fun to be the first in our precinct to vote for Ken. See if you can beat us there.
And since this topic is a favorite one for gentle readers to post comments, we address it once again. C'mon, all you McCainiacs and social conservative purists, let's hear from you once more!
Here's our favorite pull-quote from the article, a remark from one of the sharper crayons in the Republican box:
"There is no way on God's green earth that many people with [Giuliani's record] could get this party's nomination,'' said former Republican Rep. Susan Molinari of New York. "But I do think Rudy Giuliani can. He's a historic figure who is able to shake that conventional wisdom and break that mold."
Kerry, of course, is not the first to attribute this witless cliche to Jefferson. It's been making the rounds among Ds for some months
Stein brings it on to Mr. Kerry and his tribe. Here's a sample:
What does it mean when so many senior Democrats take refuge in an obvious bit of hooey? Thomas Jefferson would never have said anything half so witless. There is no virtue in dissent per se. When John F. Kennedy said, "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty" -- and, believe it or not, that's a real quote, though it's hard to imagine any Massachusetts Democrat saying such a thing today -- I could have yelled out, "Hey, screw you, loser." It would have been "dissent," but it wouldn't have been patriotic, and it's certainly not a useful contribution to the debate.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
[cymbal crash, loud applause and cheering]
How did we arrive at this conclusion?
Well, a total of eighteen comments were posted on the original posting and one of relevance on the follow-up, expressing the following preferences:
pony tail: 2
soul patch: 5
all of the above: 1
none of the above: 2
combover (not originally listed): 1
pirate gear (not originally listed): 2
milk moustache (not originally listed): 1
pinky ring (not originally listed):1
However, for the week, the site received around 100 hits per day, Monday to Saturday. Each of those hits represents a reader who, by expressing no choice, in effect voted for SWNID's unfashionable status quo.
So we promise to make no changes to our appearance, save for the addition of wrinkles, in the coming days.
"I think this is the most promising moment, almost, in the history of the world--a time when the information age has made it clear to people what it takes for them to get ahead in their lives and succeed, to have prosperity, to have growth, and it's a critical matter not to have that great opportunity aborted by a wave of radically inspired terrorists. So we have to confront this, and we have to do it on a sustainable basis because it's going to take a long time."
So what, then, would he say to the people who've come to feel that because of the constant bombings and the struggles of the new Iraqi government that we're not going to make it? "We don't want to give up. The more you talk about not making it, the more you encourage the people who are trying to be sure the Iraqis don't make it. You encourage them to keep doing what they're doing."
As SWNID has said before, the only way we "lose" this war is by quitting. And losing a war against terrorists and fascists would be bad for most of the world's people. So let's keep at it.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Today Reuters reports that the US Military is saying the same:
Attacks on civilians had jumped 90 percent across Iraq since a Shi'ite shrine was bombed in February, but "ethno-sectarian" bloodshed had more than halved in Baghdad in the past week, U.S. spokesman Major General Rick Lynch told a news conference.
"We are not seeing widespread militia operations across Iraq. We are not seeing widespread movement of displaced personnel," he said. "So we do not see us moving toward a civil war in Iraq. In fact we see us moving away from it. . . ."
". . . We believe that the people of Iraq ... have grown tired of the insurgency, have grown tired of these casualties and indeed are going stop this cycle of violence," Lynch said.
"And when the government is formed and truly reaches out to the people, we believe you'll see a great decline in violent activities in Iraq."
So now that that's settled, sort of, let's move on to a related issue: why are folks so anxious to declare civil war in Iraq? Here's the SWNID analysis.
One reason, of course, is polarized politics. The Rs have power; the Ds want it. 'Nuf said.
Another reason, of course, is romantic nostalgia for the Vietnam antiwar movement. Antiwar protesting is like YMCA camp for people too old to attend. A crucial step to getting traction for the antiwar movement is to declare Iraq a Vietnam-like failure. 'Nuf said again.
But here's the reason we want to press today: short attention spans. In a media world where Jack Bauer can personally stop any global threat in 24 hours, even when he is personally dead, folks just don't have the patience to deal with the pace of change in the Middle East.
It's worth remembering that folks in Iraq live in a place where, as far as anyone knows, civilization has existed for just about as long as it has anywhere. We know that, but in that part of the world, they really know it. Everything is really old there. In such a setting people are patient and persistent politically. So change happens slowly.
The great strength of the Bush presidency has been its ability to stay on task and wait for results. Criticized as arrogant, insular and unchanging, Dubya and his homies live by the maxim that the race goes not to the swift but to the strong. They accept their own mistakes as inevitable, but keep their compass pointing to true north. They don't live by the second guess or the arbitrary timetable.
We believe that there's something to admire in that.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Or consider the combination of all of the above:
This month's issue is chock full of important stuff, but we call to everyone's attention the article by Thomas Albert Howard entitled "L'affaire Hochschild and Evangelical Colleges." Beginning with the recent story of Wheaton College's dismissal of a professor who had converted to Roman Catholicism, the article explores the stance that evangelical colleges should take toward adherents of other Christian traditions in a time when many people in divergent denominations are converging theologically and many more would benefit from considering alternative perspectives.
There are no links to the www, gentle readers, for this article must be read in its dead-tree format to preserve income for the publishers and perpetuate publication. So get it ASAP, but read the following teaser to get an idea of why you should read it.
But the problem with many evangelical colleges is not necessarily the dying of the light, but rather hiding it under a bushel, a determined attachment to the certainties of a subculture derived from fairly recent historical experience at the expense of new, promising opportunities for theological depth and ecumenical engagement.
If that sounds disturbing, exciting or impenetrable, read the article to experience more of the first two and less of the third.
The grounds of the suit are that the Kentucky constitution forbids state money going to sponsor religious activity. Fletcher's response is that the money comes not from general revenues but from payments made by coal companies.
Both arguments, in our unschooled but seldom-wrong legal opinion, are weak. Against Fletcher is the fungibility of all state revenues. Against the plaintiffs is the well-established and widely affirmed-as-constitutional-by-the-courts practice of funding specific programming at religious institutions of higher education. The obvious fact that Kentucky could use more pharmacists in its mountainous east and this university is situated there is reason enough to go forward with the program, based on precedents.
Of course, the disingenuousness of the plaintiffs is demonstrated by their specific targeting of not just a religious institution, but one that has taken a stand on homosexuality by expelling a student.
But the power of the plaintiffs' actions comes not from their moral consistency or the legal merits of their case. It comes from the expectation that sooner or later, officials will get tired of fighting lawsuits like this and will conform to the expectations of the gay rights lobby.
SWNID isn't among the chicken-littles of Christian higher education who says that the day that the government tries to shut us down is just around the corner. We count ourselves among those who believe that the struggle is constant, but he who endures to the end will be saved.
But we urge gentle readers for whom issues like this may arise in conversation to remind their conversation partners that (a) the government has been giving loads of dough to religious colleges ever since the government started giving dough to colleges; (b) the folks who bring these suits have to press them disingenuously on grounds other than their actual complaint.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
We are amazed at the rapid proliferation of legalized gambling in our republic. This is the current social trend that grieves us most.
So we applaud the intrepid first-person narrative of rustypants, who details the moral degredation of a southwest Indiana gambling emporium. In his eloquent prose, the boat sounds more like Dachau or the Gulag.
Hats off again, rustypants!
Savaged mercilessly by diehard theoconservatives determined to elect an unknown True Believer to the Oval Office in '08, SWNID offers this Tom Toles cartoon from the Washington Post as justification for his pragmatic support for the exquisite antiterrorist candidate, Rudy Giuliani.
At this stage, to do otherwise is to refuse to learn the most important lesson taught in the 70s by Professors Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
And we offer a grateful tip of the SWNID hat to dedicated gentle reader and comment-poster rustypants for directing our attention to this delightful drawing.
So Dionne, hoping for a liberal resurgence, has gone in search of the Left's Big Ideas. And if his column is the report on his findings, he has found very little.
He notes one Michael Tomasky calling for a politics of the "common good" to replace "radical individualism." OK, so communitarianism (read carefully, gentle readers, that's not "communism," not even close) is the Left's Big Idea. Of course, it's been around for quite awhile, and some pols have tried to hitch their wagon to it.
Dionne also notes John Schwarz of the University of Arizona, who calls on the left to reclaim "freedom" and expand the concept to embrace more. So "freedom" is the Left's Other Big Idea. There's something else new.
Call us skeptical (please! we like it!), but we don't think that these nascent political philosophies presage the left's return to consistent power in this country. We say this not because the ideas of the common good and freedom are not compelling. We say it for two Big Reasons.
One is that the political structure of the left is so tied to a small set of issues and their rich advocates (the homosexual lobby, the abortion lobby, the antiwar lobby), any new ideological packaging will contain the same, tired proposals that the left has been offering for years. Voters haven't gone much for those things in awhile. Why should they now if they are in a communitarian or libertarian package? A pig can wear a tux, but it smells the same.
The second is that the majority party already controls both of these agendas. The common good is the persuasive justification for lower taxes and reduced government spending. Let people decide themselves how to spend their money, and more good is done more commonly. Most Americans have lived this experience now, and they aren't anxious to go back to Uncle Sugar making their economic decisions. Then there's freedom, and whatever its faults, the eight years of the Bush administration will identify that agenda pretty clearly with the right for some time to come.
We'll say again: the only way to restore a functioning two-party system to national politics is for the national Democratic party to become more like successful local Democrats: more committed to free markets, efficient government, low taxes, and strong law enforcement and military, with no obvious commitment to creating some republic nouveau with gay marriage, abortion for everyone except artificially inseminated lesbians, and a military that only exists to hold parades for visits to Washington by Hugo Chavez.
In other words, we need two parties that will fight things out on the center right, where the country has decided it wants to live for the foreseeable future.
So it's no surprise that there's a cool web site totally devoted to praising the importance of our work.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Gentle readers can join a gravid discussion held tonight in the SWNID household. To wit: which of the following new fashion accoutrements would be most fitting and flattering to the SWNID persona?
a) pony tail
c) soul patch
Please cast your votes by leaving a comment. The favored choice will be announced at the end of the week.
This remarkable primary academy, which educated both Son and Daughter of SWNID, where Mrs. SWNID was once a frequent volunteer and long-term substitute teacher, and where SWNID served on both the Local School Decision Making Committee and the Instructional Leadership Team, is an example of how a troubled urban school district can, with committed parents and teachers, create an exceptional learning environment.
Not that the SWNID clan is personally responsible. The place was great before we got there, and not amount of interference from the district has messed it up so far.
We urge gentle readers who live within the Cincinnati Public School District and who have elementary school children to send them to this fine school. We urge gentle readers who don't live within the Cincinnati Public School District and who have elementary school children move into the district so that they can send their children to this fine school. We urge gentle readers who don't live within the Cincinnati Public School District and who don't have elementary school children to have children and move to the district so that they can send them to this fine school.
Or you can just follow the link and read the story.
Today he writes in the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal on the distinctive moral courage of one George W. Bush in his prosecution of the war on terror. SWNID confesses that Sharansky says better than we can why we admire Bush, despite his very human failings.
Read the whole piece by following the link, but enjoy this longish quotation:
Political leaders make the rarest of dissidents. In a democracy, a leader's lifeline is the electorate's pulse. Failure to be in tune with public sentiment can cripple any administration and undermine any political agenda. Moreover, democratic leaders, for whom compromise is critical to effective governance, hardly ever see any issue in Manichaean terms. In their world, nearly everything is colored in shades of gray.
That is why President George W. Bush is such an exception. He is a man fired by a deep belief in the universal appeal of freedom, its transformative power, and its critical connection to international peace and stability. Even the fiercest critics of these ideas would surely admit that Mr. Bush has championed them both before and after his re-election, both when he was riding high in the polls and now that his popularity has plummeted, when criticism has come from longstanding opponents and from erstwhile supporters.
With a dogged determination that any dissident can appreciate, Mr. Bush, faced with overwhelming opposition, stands his ideological ground, motivated in large measure by what appears to be a refusal to countenance moral failure.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
And a terrific place to hear him explain his ideas is on today's Speaking of Faith, a show produced by American Public Media. We can announce happily that the show is available as MP3 download, podcast or streaming audio. So you can listen now or take it along.
Gentle readers who wonder why SWNID is so enthusiastic an advocate for so-called "old-earth creationism" will perhaps catch a glimpse of the issue by listening. Polkinghorne explains clearly both the exegetical and the theological issues involved. Listeners must infer the advantages of integrating considerable empirical data with a theology that is at once biblical, consistent with experience and deeply satisfying.
In passing, we note with amazement and gratitude that the Church of England, hardly the most thriving religious institution, currently manages to produce some of the most important Christian theologians. We are happy to eat the crumbs that fall from their tables.
The commentary is definitely worth a listen, not just because the situation described is so far from the usual on NPR, but because it is an wise, eloquent call for rethinking our culture's whole approach to sexuality. To speak of the aesthetics of chastity as well as the morality of it is, well, refreshing.
Follow the link and be refreshed.
Friday, April 21, 2006
One example--well, two really, but two of the same thing--has to do with who in the world this crazy bunch of Christian students, professors, staff and hangers-on actually are. People from the "outside" generally don't manage to work that out. Our double recent examples of this singular phenomenon is/are as follows:
Example one: Clark Pinnock (motto: "Changing My Mind on Significant Positions Since 1965") spoke recently on campus for the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference (an event hosted, not sponsored, by CCU). In this course of his stimulating remarks, he mockingly disparaged himself as a "Baptist" to the "Holiness" group that had invited him.
Example two: Bart Campolo (motto: "Like all Campolos, Finding Ways to Distract People from My Core Message Every Time I Speak") spoke recently on our campus for Urban Concern Week. In two of his messages he referred to our campus as "Charismatic."
SWNID finds these remarks amusing but largely uncontroversial, not only for us personally, but for those others on our campus who attended these events. No one is talking about these gaffes. We don't care much.
It's not that we're actually, in any historical or sociological sense, adherents of a "Holiness" or "Charismatic" denomination, fellowship, or secret society. It's just that our undenominational religious identity is so blessedly easy to get mixed up about, and deliberately so.
The Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement began as an effort to remove denominational boundaries and unite Christians on the authority of Scripture alone. Its most distinctive practices are utterly un-distinctive historically: we dip converts in water in the context of their conversion, and we share the bread and cup as Lord's Supper on the first day of the week, styled the Lord's Day. We call ourselves "Christians" only, but on our best days try not to project the notion that we are "the only Christians."
We are, in a word, generic.
So is it any wonder that we can be confused for other Christian groups? The truth is, we don't want to stand out. Standing out is bad in the SCRM POV. We should relish those moments when our identity is mistaken, for that means that we're succeeding in being Christians only. We are a distinctive group with something distinctive to contribute, but we don't want to be a distinct group.
Or to put it as SWNID friend and fellow Neutestamentler Bob Hull put it awhile back:
I have discovered that it is possible to be evangelistic without being an evangelical; possible to be catholic without being Roman; possible to be orthodox without being Eastern; possible to be mainline without being Protestant; and possible to be congregational without being independent. You have to keep a lot of balls in the air, but I don’t mind.
Hurtado spares nothing in his scolding of the various parties involved for their pursuit of pecuniary gain over scholarship. It's a worthy reminder that not everyone who goes into religious stuff to make money looks like Elmer Gantry.
The picture below depicts the death of Judas as presented in Acts 1.
Content Warning: The "Reverend" Mr. Smith is less than discrete, though not "anatomically correct" (in the parlance of toymakers) in his depiction of the sexual content of Scripture. Parents are urged to supervise their children's viewing of this site.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Campaigning for beleaguered conservative Senator Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, Rudy referred to "one thing that Hillary and I do have in common: We're both Yankee fans. I became a Yankee fan growing up in New York. She became a Yankee fan growing up in Chicago."
To some this may just look like Rudy making an offhand remark.
To us, it looks like he's taking a few warmup pitches in the bullpen before entering the game.
Comparisons between the two New Yorkers as candidates will inevitably revolve around which is the real deal. But it won't be which is the real New Yorker deal, but which is the real deal in the handling of global terrorism.
Can anyone name a single contribution that St. Hillary has made to the global war on terrorism from her Senate seat?
Can anyone name a single person who isn't in the administration already who has made more of a contribution than Rudy?
Monday, April 17, 2006
Of course, the first and best bit of advice is not to refer to the British as "imperialist overlords." It's OK to refer to the English that way to the Scots, Welsh or non-Unionist Irish. But be careful about it, as you can never be totally sure, except during a football match, of a British individual's sense of ethnic identity.
For other advice, however, from now on we will gladly refer inquiries to Tim Dowling, American expatriate columnist for the Guardian. Today he offers an impressive array of great tips for American travelers in Britain. We offer an appetizing quotation:
Don't bring along any articles about British food clipped from the travel section of your local newspaper. The information therein does not apply. People rarely eat any of those foods with quaint names - Plum Duff, Spotted Dick, etc - commonly associated with Britain. They are being laid on for your benefit, or rather as a sort of prank.
Today Barone considers again the prospects that the House of Representatives will swing to the Ds in November. The answer is yes if the election is held in the past, when midterms tended to be referendums on presidential performance. But the answer is no if the election is held this November, when the cultural polarization of the parties, compounded by gerrymandering, makes the current distribution of votes between the parties more or less fixed.
We've been saying this for months: if the Ds want to seize the moment and take back some power, they've got to become the sensible, competent, honest wing of the Republican party. And as long as George Soros, Teddy Kennedy and Hillary Clinton walk this earth, that isn't happening.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Gentle readers who still read books may be aware that awhile back SWNID contributed to the book Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement an article that argued, among other things, that the position taken by that movement on the subject of baptism, long a divisive matter for Christians, has gained widespread agreement among scholars of the New Testament in the last generation.
As a demonstration of that reality, we call attention to this picture from the BBC, in which the Anglican Archbishop of York does some good NT-style dipping.
We also question the recent USA Today article that says that baptisms are down in the United States. Since the tally focuses on well-established denominations and doesn't include the many smaller groups and unaffiliated churches that do lots of baptisms, we think the article is statistical bunk about the dunk.
The times we live in are far from uneventful, and they are likely to get worse before they get better. That means that 2008 cannot be another election in which voters pine for "normalcy" after difficulty. They must steel themselves for the struggle ahead.
Nothing illustrates the nature of that struggle better than an opinion article in the Sunday Telegraph by Amir Taheri, a former Iranian newspaper editor now living in exile in Europe. Taheri argues with considerable persuasiveness that Iran's president Ahmadinejad sees George W. Bush as an aberration--an American president willing to fight rather than flee when faced with difficulty. So he's waiting for Bush to retire from the scene, meanwhile preparing a nuclear weapons program that will allow Iran to lead a long, twilight struggle in which American military supremacy will be checked by atomic weapons and Islam's advantages of oil, population and devotion will prove decisive.
Taheri's piece is a disturbing must-read, a chilling glimpse into the mind of the Iranian president's vision of the future.
And if he's right, the only way to foil Ahmadinejad's plans is to elect an American president willing to carry on the struggle as Bush has. And that person would be ...
Any Democrat? Please!
John McCain? He's been rattling his saber lately, but his record of mercurial posturing doesn't promise much by way of decisive military leadership. He could do it, but do we know he will?
Mitt Romney? The governor of Massachusetts has no foreign policy bona fides. He's a different kind of unknown from McCain, but still very much unknown.
George Allen? Bill Frist? We're getting nervous here.
Condi? Not running.
So that leaves ...
Rudy Giuliani. He's the only one whom we can imagine has the intestinal fortitude to face down Ahmadinejad and his Shiite head cases.
So we say it yet again: the republic needs the decisive leadership of a successful federal prosecutor and mayor who cleaned up America's biggest city and led it through the worst of times.
UPDATE: Here's one more good reason to back Rudy in '08: Jerry Falwell today said, "I couldn't support him for president."
Thursday, April 13, 2006
So as the Gospel of Judas and other issues are heating up just before Easter, we supply to all of our gentle readers the list, cited by Silk from an earlier article on the coverage of religion, as a way of contemplating what you read.
Here are, per Peter Steinfels, senior religion writer for the NY Times in 1993, the list of Basic Religion Stories (quoting from Silk):
- Religious leader reveals feet of clay (or turns out to be a scoundrel).
- Ancient faith struggles to adjust to modern times.
- Scholars challenge longstanding beliefs.
- Interfaith harmony overcomes inherited enmity.
- New translation of sacred scripture sounds funny.
- Devoted members of a zealous religious group turn out to be warm, ordinary folk.
There's the definitive list. Now here's the game.
This Easter season, count the stories about Christianity that you read or hear. Categories each by topos. Keep score. Post your totals as a comment to this article. We'll calculate the grand total and declare a winning category sometime next week. The winning category will receive eternal glory through posting on this blog.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Sides are being taken on this, of course. That's what happens to sides: people take them. Mostly the two sides are (a) this awful crime of white men against a woman of color was an expression of privileges of race and class in Durham, NC; (b) this false allegation by a woman of color against white men was an expression of the use of "hate crime" as a way to use the media for political and pecuniary gain.
Oddly enough, SWIND is not taking either of those sides. We say something else, a tertium quid.
Regardless of whether there was a rape or not, we say that the real story is this: at elite and not-so-elite universities all over the country, certain sports teams, mostly the ones that involve men who collide a lot (football, rugby, ice hockey, lacrosse), are havens for violent, misogynist, drunken, loutish, boorish behavior. To put it mildly. Universities know this, and they tolerate it for the sake of athletic recruitment and retention. This isn't just an issue with one team at Duke (but kudos to the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel for at least dealing with that). It's a lot of teams in a lot of places.
Let's assume the best for the Duke lacrosse players. Let's say that the whole rape story was made up. The fact still remains that as a "team," they planned and participated in an evening of alcohol-soaked revelry that featured a performance by an "exotic dancer." This may be perfectly legal in North Carolina, assuming that every member of the team is of legal drinking age. But it has nothing to do with anything that Duke University in particular or higher education in general is supposed to stand for. To put it mildly. We doubt very seriously that it's what donors to the university, even athletic donors, expect to be tolerated. We doubt that most students endorse such outrageousness.
By the way, don't miss this little nuance: thesmokinggun.com has posted excerpts from an email seized on a team member's computer. We won't provide a link because the contents are disturbingly offensive, but we will indicate that the summary of the email describes the player's statement that his intention to act with unspeakably brutal sadism toward dancers at the party.
Sure, the email may be fantasy. But fantasy about rape, murder, and beyond is not harmless. We will assert that deeds are the expression of what is in the heart.
And we will assert that university students around the country can testify that on many campuses, certain athletic teams are known for extremes of hazing, drunkenness and sexual violence, enacted or imagined. They get plastered, listen to violent, misogynistic music, watch violent, misogynistic movies, and talk about violence against women. We are confident that, given the chance, many students would testify that their lives on campus are made substantially worse by the utterly destructive subculture of such teams, that they deal with noise, verbal abuse and threats from players who party with such teams, and that their universities do little to restrain such behavior. These are teams whose most prominent public behavior, on a good day, is aggravated menacing and public intoxication.
Too bad the attention that is going to the Duke case will not go to this systemic problem on many campuses.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
We urge gentle readers to follow the link and read the whole article, but for the impatient, here's a quote:
Reform isn't a word you often hear associated with the religious right, of course--and the people who decide such things decided long ago that religion mixed with conservatism yields the scent of brimstone. But contemporary "theoconservatism" is best understood as an heir to America's long line of Christ-haunted reform movements--the abolitionists and the populists, the progressives and the suffragettes, the civil-rights crusaders and even the antiwar activist of the middle 1960s, among whom Richard John Neuhaus (now the "theocon in chief" to his enemies, but then a man of the religious left) cut his teeth.
Like the Victorian reformers who strove to mitigate the worst consequences of the Industrial Revolution, religious conservatism, at its best, is a response to the excesses of the sexual revolution--the fatherless children and broken homes, the millions of abortions and the commodification of human life. The eras aren't parallel, but there are similarities: The Victorian reformers passed the laws against abortion that "theocons" yearn to restore, and waged war against the same kind of crude, politicized Darwinism that's associated with the contemporary culture of death.
Friday, April 07, 2006
The NY Times offers an article on the Gospel of Judas that, like most articles appearing recently on the subject, advances the notion that the book is largely about an alternative understanding of the passion narrative, one in which Jesus conspires with Judas to bring about his death. The Times article prominently notes a quotation from near the end of the manuscript, where Jesus says to Judas, "But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me."
Apparently, however, the Times reporters haven't actually read the entire translation of the manuscript, or didn't care to note that this quotation, suggesting the very thing that they mention, actually plays a role in a much larger thrust to the book. Specifically, the Gospel of Judas seeks to discredit the rest of the twelve disciples as corrupt, immoral and deceptive, and to advance the notion that Judas, alone among the twelve, was entrusted by Jesus with the secret spiritual knowledge that leads to enlightenment and salvation.
Oddly enough, it is this very kind of rhetorical move that the Times article is alluding to when it says that the Gospel of Judas illustrates the diversity and conflict among early Christians. On this, we must provide some scholarly background to the discussion.
Historically Christians have always talked about orthodoxy and heresy in the early years of their movement. They understood the primary historical sources (the NT and the early church fathers) to indicate that there was plenty of alternative interpretation of Christian thought at every stage of their history. However, they understood that these were not just competing ideas with relative equality. Rather, they understood that one set of ideas, one theology, one doctrine, had an authentic pedigree. It had been taught from the beginning--with development and elaboration, but still from the beginning--by those most closely associated with Jesus. It was preserved in the church's continuous teaching, memory and experience, and more particularly it was preserved, they came to assert, in a set of books that had been regarded as having special authority from the time of their appearance (i.e. what we call the books of the New Testament).
More recently, however, much scholarly discussion has taken the line of the very important German scholar, Walter Bauer. Bauer [insert clever remarks about 24 and CTU here] is best known as the author of the most important lexicon of New Testament Greek, but he may be most influential as the author of Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. In this work, Bauer synthesized a view of early Christianity in tune with modernity. He saw the movement as a collection of competing ideologies. These competed with all the political tools to overcome the others and become predominant. The group that won--and winning finally meant getting the Roman emperor on their side--wrote the history, styling themselves authentic and "orthodox" and the others "heretical."
That perspective is reflected, of course, in the Times article. And it is the source of much uninformed angst among believers, who accept the analysis without understanding its roots.
What is to be said in response to Bauer and the Times? Well, one must examine the primary sources with a view to the question of priority. Which has the better claim to have come first, the "orthodox" Gospels or the "heretical" ones?
Let's take the Gospel of Mark as an example of the first kind. Mark narrates a story that recounts events purporting to take us from John the Baptist to Jesus' resurrection (perhaps minus resurrection appearances, which are nevertheless assumed). The entirety of the story comes together to portray Jesus as a powerful worker of wonders and an impressive, albeit mysterious teacher, who goes willingly to his death, surrendering himself to his enemies with a deliberateness that bespeaks a belief that he dies in fulfillment of God's will. It is a complete story, offering an "apology for the cross" (Robert Gundry) that contrasts the power of Jesus the miracle worker and teacher with his death to underline that he is not taken by forces greater than himself but dies willingly.
By contrast, the Gospel of Judas narrates almost nothing. It consists largely of mysterious, visionary, allegorical teachings of Jesus in exchange with Judas, who is singled out as the one who liberates Jesus from the "clothing" of his body by handing him over to death. It mentions the twelve prominently but does not discuss who they are or how they came to be. It says nothing of Jesus' works of power, and it doesn't even narrate his death.
In other words, it takes for granted that the reader knows Jesus as a powerful figure, one who called twelve disciples, and as one who dies by crucifixion after being handed over by Judas to the "scribes." Without that prior knowledge, its reader couldn't make heads or tails of it.
So, the historian asks, which came first, a story like the Gospel of Mark's, or a story like the Gospel of Judas'? The answer is obvious enough.
This, of course, is an observation decisively in favor of the traditional way of understanding diversity in early Christianity as opposed to Bauer's modernist revisionism. Was there a political struggle between factions in early Christianity? Of course. But there was still an original story of Jesus, an original way of interpreting his life and death and resurrection. Other stories came later. One can choose to follow them, but they don't have the same pedigree, the same claim to connect to the figure of Jesus himself, the same claim to have been believed by his closest followers.
To make the claim that they do connect to Jesus, the followers of Jesus must be discredited and the true teachings of Jesus must be presented as a secret entrusted to someone who has passed them on secretly to a chosen few.
Now, if any of this sounds to you like what Dan Brown did with The DaVinci Code, you're getting the idea.
So in sum, the Gospel of Judas isn't so much about a different view of what Judas did as it is about a wildly different interpretation of everything about Jesus. It displays no signs of a primary narrative of the life of Jesus. Everything about it suggests that it is secondary to the canonical Gospels' accounts of Jesus.
And the media's coverage of the Gospel of Judas is less about the book and more about the way that the book and others like it are used, against all evidence, to suggest that orthodox Christianity is merely the winner of a political struggle. It was that, but it was much, much more. And these books demonstrate that.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
In other words, it is a Gnostic text reflecting with remarkable intensity the dualism of that sect.
The announcement of the manuscript's reconstruction and transcription just happens to come a couple of weeks before Easter, just in time to be covered by the semiannual Nod-to-God articles in the news weeklies and television news magazines.
Update: Check out the impressive presentation of pages from the Gospel of Judas posted by National Geographic. If this doesn't demonstrate that the announcement has been timed and developed for maximum media impact, nothing could.
As reported by John Sugg of Creative Loafing, Carter recounts this recent exchange from one of his celebrated Sunday School classes:
"I was teaching a Sunday school class two weeks ago," he recalls. "A girl, she was about 16 years old from Panama City [Fla.], asked me about the differences between Democrats and Republicans.
"I asked her, 'Are you for peace, or do you want more war?' Then I asked her, 'Do you favor government helping the rich, or should it seek to help the poorest members of society? Do you want to preserve the environment, or do you want to destroy it? Do you believe this nation should engage in torture, or should we condemn it? Do you think each child today should start life responsible for $28,000 in [federal government] debt, or do you think we should be fiscally responsible?'
"I told her that if she answered all of those questions, that she believed in peace, aiding the poor and weak, saving the environment, opposing torture ... then I told her, 'You should be a Democrat.'"
Partisan as we are politically, smug as we are personally, sarcastic as we are rhetorically, SWNID cannot imagine seriously saying to a teenager that one political party holds all the moral high ground on every issue, much less saying it in the context of what is supposed to be biblical instruction. We say without irony or reservation that this may be the most outrageous thing Carter has ever said.
When the party of Jackson, FDR, Truman and JFK has two living ex-Presidents, one the epitome of the moralistic prig and the other the epitome of the amoral hedonist, both self-absorbed to the greatest degree imaginable, one should fear for the health of the body politic.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Beware, gentle readers, or you might be next.
Thanks, of course, go to LarkNews.com, a good source for Christian news.
The Washington Post today carries an article describing the refusal by the National Association of Evangelicals to sign on to a declaration on immigration policy issued by other evangelical organizations as "underscoring divisions among conservative Christians over immigration."
Not wanting evangelicals to be divided on anything of significance, we therefore weigh in at last with the SWNID position on the immigration debate, urging and expecting our brothers and sisters who are uncertain on this issue, and especially those who differ, to adopt a position that is Seldom Wrong.
Here it is:
We need a guest worker program, enforcement at points of employment, and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that involves reasonable fines but also grants a recognition of the contribution that workers make to the American economy.
We are always delighted when positions that are in the economic interests of many people, including ourselves, also seem to offer benefits and compassion to people in need. So it is here.
There are people who want to work in the United States because they lack opportunity at home. Their work is needed in the United States, where many menial jobs go unfilled because our high rates of employment and education leave us with few willing to work for what such jobs are worth. Letting willing workers come here to work is of benefit to the worker, whose standard of living is raised, his family, who benefit from his income and potentially from present or future residence in a country with better services, and everyone who is served by the worker's labor.
The situation is a delightful coincidence of self-interest and compassion. So the right response seems straightforward enough.
This response is, of course, not without flaws. Some American workers may potentially be displaced by immigrants. However, the evidence is that such displacement will be rare. The fact seems to be that difficult, unskilled jobs are not taken by Americans because they have either (a) skills that qualify them for better jobs, or (b) social and behavioral problems that make employment impossible.
Anti-immigrationists argue that granting a path to citizenship for those who are here without documents shows disrespect for the rule of law. We would agree, were the laws broken of a serious nature that brought direct harm to victims. However, such is not the case with this country's immigration laws. We should no more permanently bar an illegal immigrant from citizenship than we should permanently bar a speeder from holding a driver's license. All current proposals for a path to citizenship involve fines for illegals, hardly the "amnesty" that opponents decry.
Some say that a guest worker program exercises racism in confining immigrants of color to menial jobs. We say that this is not racism but economic reality: people who lack skills must do unskilled labor if they are to do anything that contributes to the general welfare. But our national experience has been that immigrants of color have in large measure demonstrated admirable effort and reliability in such jobs, and have sought education and greater opportunity for their offspring. The result has been a rising tide of productivity from which all benefit.
Guest worker programs in other countries, notably Germany, have been seen by critics as failures. There is much not to imitate in what has happened in the German Gastarbeiter program, but the problems come not in the program itself but in the difficulty of immigrants integrating into the social fabric of any European country. The United States, a nation of immigrants founded on an ideal, is much different from European countries founded largely on culture, language and ethnic identity. We have our race problems, to be sure, but they aren't Europe's.
The economic reality is that people all over the world are on the move to find opportunity. The social and political reality is that nothing can stop them. And the reality of self-interest is that no thoughtful and adaptable person has anything to fear from immigration.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Our response cannot surpass that of the inimitable Scott Ott of scrappleface.com, whom we quote in full:
And finally, a new scientific study out of Florida State University suggests that Jesus of Nazareth might have walked, not on water, but on a rare patch of floating ice in the sea of Galilee. The alleged miracle, which the Bible says happened in the middle of the night more than three miles from shore during a violent wind storm, was likely an April foolÂs prank that the clever Messiah pulled on his gullible followers. Next the professor plans to test his theory that the parting of the Red Sea during time of Moses was actually the work of an army of industrious beavers.
It has been observed at least since the time of Strauss (the biblical scholar, not the composer) that rationalist explanations for miracles are harder to believe than the miracles themselves. That's no less true today than it was in the middle of the 19th century.
So what does this all mean?
Well, it means that a lot of young-earth creationists need to stop saying that there are no transitional forms in the fossil record. There have been before, and this one is a doozy. Even the Times's article cites a creationist web site that makes the now-even-more unsupportable claim that there are no transitional species.
Second, this discovery adds to the reasons that young-earth creationists need to think about becoming old-earth creationists. There's nothing lost theologically, lots gained empirically, and perhaps most importantly, we can get over the idea that to believe Christianity one has to stop believing what one can see for oneself.
Third, anti-theistic evolutionists need to realize the limitations of their discovery. Granted the likelihood that these skeletons are those of life forms that could be termed transitional, we still have no notion of the mechanism that brings about such changes in the patterns of reproduction from one generation to the next. We do not resort to the "God of the gaps" when we posit that something like the present complexity could not arise by chance. Rather, we observe that with every discovery, the gaps become bigger, less likely to be closed without something as big as God in them, and so rationally asking for such a solution.
But this last point won't get discussed. Old-earth creationists and ID proponents (basically the same folk) will get lumped together with the young-earth creationists in the rhetorical blizzard that will follow this discovery. We urge readers to wear warm clothing and carry a compass until the blizzard passes.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Traveling to any great city can be a delightful experience if the traveler takes the time to get away from the most touristy locales and rub elbows with the natives. Nothing makes that easier than staying in obscure, inexpensive hotels. That also makes it possible for those who have taken a vow of poverty, like SWNID, to actually travel.
Of course, some hotels are inexpensive because they're miserable. But some are loads of fun, and comfy for sleeping, too. We detail a few in our experience.
Moving east to west, we begin with our very, very favorite, London's Foreign Mission Club. Founded over a century ago as a hostel for missionaries transitioning through London, the club offers bed and breakfast accommodations to anyone, with discounts for ministers and deeper discounts for missionaries. The accommodations are utterly clean and totally comfortable, the breakfast is tasty, the company at breakfast is a global gathering reminiscent of Isaiah 25, and the neighborhood--one stop beyond King's Cross--is verdant and quiet while still on the threshold of central London. Note that most rooms offer utterly hygienic "shared facilities" (common bath down the hall, a feature common to all but one of these listings), only the slightest of inconveniences.
New York hotels are famous for charging high rates for tiny, shabby rooms. But what would you say to a single room for $75, tastefully decorated, comfortably equipped, and impeccably clean, about a block from Union Square? That's Hotel 17, our favorite Gotham abode. No breakfast here, and the bath is down the hall again, but when you step in from the hallway to bathe or otherwise, you'll wonder if the fixtures weren't just installed and cleaned and have never been used. We haven't stayed there, but just a few blocks uptown is Hotel 31, which we understand is a similarly comfy property for similarly little dough.
Chicago, our favorite American big city, boasts more hotel bargains than many cities its size, at least to those willing to search. Our new fave is the Days Inn Lincoln Park. The hotel is immaculate, tasteful, and remarkably roomy for an urban locale, and the staff is efficient and pleasant. The neighborhood is delightfully funky, with lots of pedestrian traffic going in and out of inexpensive restaurants, coffee houses, convenience stores, and neighborhood bars. Those who think that they must stay in the Loop or Magnificent Mile will relish the chance to be among real Chicagoans, and access to the city center is easy by CTA busses or trains (order a transit pass online before your trip or pick one up at one of several shops in the neighborhood). We do, however, recommend requesting a room away from the bus stop on Clark street; otherwise, ear plugs will be in order. But all in all, this is my kind of hotel in my kind of town.
San Francisco looks set to overtake NY for expensive hotel rooms, but Mr. and Mrs. SWNID this summer enjoyed a delightful and relatively inexpensive stay at the quaint and homey Golden Gate Hotel. Offering rooms at about two-thirds the price of others in the Union Square area, the hotel is the epitome of shabby chic, with Victorian wallpaper and antique photographs in hallways and rooms. Guests eat the best croissants outside of France each morning, sharing tables with strangers for stimulating conversation, and occasionally being visited by the hotel dog or cat. En suite facilities are available, but why not save the money you'd spend on bathrooms and enjoy even more of SF's outstanding cuisine? And don't forget to pre-order your passes for the San Francisco Muni system, the only way to get around and see the sites.
And not a moment too soon, in the SW opinion of this blogger. Delay may have been a skilled political operative. But the party of Lincoln is nothing without its integrity. Founded on a moral crusade (the limitation and ultimate abolition of slavery), the GOP has only wielded power effectively when it did so from a moral base. It has been best served when it cleansed itself quickly, as it did with the quick resignations House Speakers Gingrich and Livingston (who didn't quite make it to Speaker) in 1998.
Delay has always postured as a religious conservative. That includes today, as he has appeared on ... you guessed it ... Pat Robertson's 700 Club to announce his plans to end his political career. But we use the derogatory and judgmental "postured" deliberately, as we point out yet again that Delay got in trouble because of his connection to Jack Abramoff's corrupt efforts at manipulating Indian gaming licenses. So much for principles.
It will take moves like this for the Rs not just to hold power in November, but to wield it effectively thereafter. We urge other Rs with the hearts of Ds to get out while the gettin' is good, so that real Rs can run and real Ds can stay comfortably in the minority.