Friday, September 30, 2011

Is God in the Land-granting Business?

Conservative Christians are avid supporters of Israel, and in the vanguard of lobbying efforts for the U.S. rejection of Palestine’s bid to become an internationally recognized country.
The formal request for Palestinian statehood was submitted to the U.N. Security Council on September 23 by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. That request was considered this week—and then sent to a special committee for further study.
The U.S., perhaps largely because of the Jewish lobby and the outspoken voices of the Religious Right, has said that it will veto Palestine’s request if it comes to a vote in the Security Council. And that, I think, is a shame.
When I attended the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in June, I expected to hear the strong support of the anti-abortion and anti-gay statements made there by the Republican politicians who spoke. But I was not prepared for the even stronger support given to the pro-Israel/anti-Palestine issue.
Jay Sekulow is the Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). (The ACLJ was founded by Pat Robertson in 1990; Sekulow earned his Ph.D. degree at Regents University, also founded by Pat Robertson.) At the Faith & Freedom meeting, I heard Sekulow say in two different sessions, “God is in the land-granting business”—meaning that the current nation of Israel is occupying land granted that nation by God.
The same strong position was taken by Southern Baptist Richard Land, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. At the same conference I heard him declare supports for Israel because he “believes the Bible,” specifically Genesis 12 and 17.
Land also said that President Truman approved the creation of the nation of Israel in 1948 because he had grown up studying the Bible in a Baptist Sunday School. (Truman made the decision to recognize the establishment of the State of Israel over the objections of Secretary of State George Marshall.)
Further, Land referred to President Obama as “the worst President of the United States that Israel has ever had,” and he said to Israel, “Help is on the way!” At the time I thought he meant that a Republican president was going to be elected in 2012, but, as we now see, perhaps he just meant that so much pressure was going to be put on the President that he would support Israel against Palestine in 2011!
But this position, called “Christian Zionism” by some, is wrong-headed, in my opinion. And I was happy that on September 19 my friends Dr. Glen Stassen and Dr. David Gushee issued “An Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists,” a strong statement opposing the idea that God is in the land-granting business and therefore Christians should support Israel and oppose Palestine’s bid for statehood. (The link to that statement is here.)
The current issue of The Economist also got it right: Israel has the right to exist. But the Palestinians also “deserve a state of their own.” And, “These two beliefs are entirely compatible.” Thus, “In blocking any Palestinian aspirations at the UN, America is helping extremists on both sides.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

“Crazy for God”

Frank Schaeffer is the only son of Francis Schaeffer, who was a household name, for many conservative Christians at least, in the 1970s and early 1980s. The elder Schaeffer (1912-84) is still well known for establishing the influential L’Abri Community in Switzerland (in 1955) and for books such as The God Who Is There (1968) and He Is There and He Is Not Silent (1972). 

Francis Schaeffer is also the author of How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (1976), which was made into a ten-part documentary film series the next year, and A Christian Manifesto (1981), both of which encouraged Christians to be more actively engaged in politics.

Congresswoman Michele Backmann has cited Schaeffer’s film series as having a “profound influence” on her life and that of her husband Marcus. And much earlier, Jerry Falwell said, “If it were not for Francis Schaeffer, we would never have gotten into politics.”

For many years Frank worked “hand in glove” with his father. For example, he directed the film series mentioned above. But things changed. In 2007 Frank published an autobiography under the title Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. 

Earlier this year, Frank published another memoir: Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible’s Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics—and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway. (Frank seems to like long and catchy subtitles!) 
In this latest book Frank Schaeffer discusses growing up with his parents and their role in the rise of the American Religious Right, arguing, among other things, that the root of the “insanity and corruption” of that force in U.S. politics, and specifically of the religious right’s position on abortion, is a fear of female sexuality.

In his theological/religious books, humility is one of the primary themes that Frank emphasizes. The lack of humility is one of the main problems with fundamentalists who are “crazy for God.” But he also is critical of the contemporary atheists who also show a serious lack of humility.

In Sex, Mom, and God, Schaeffer writes about being “adrift in an ocean of uncertainty.” But, he goes on to say that “perhaps that’s the only honest place to be. No one ever blew up a mosque, church, or abortion clinic after yelling, ‘I could be wrong’” (p. 73).

Frank Schaeffer is still a Christian, but no longer an evangelical. Since 1990 he has been a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.
And Schaeffer is no longer “crazy for God.” In fact, after reading Sex, Mom, and God, I remarked to June, “Franky thinks highly of sex and his mom, but not so highly of God—at least the way God is understood by most conservative Christians.”

His main criticism is of both conservative preachers and politicians who seek to use God, or God-talk, to boost their own finances, prestige, and power. That is an important criticism we need to pay attention to, for there are such preachers and politicians among us now, some looking hungrily toward 2012.

Invitation to those who live in the Kansas City area:
Schaeffer will be speaking at the downtown branch of the Kansas City Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 27 (Tues.), at an informal luncheon at William Jewell College at noon on Sept. 28 (Wed.), and at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City on Sept. 28, also at 6:30. All three events are open to the public and free of charge, except for $5 for lunch at WJC.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“Get the Government Off Our Backs!”

The separation of church and state is a long-standing and much-appreciated (by many, including me) principle in the United States. To be sure, there are some who criticize that principle, often because they don’t understand its true meaning.
Recently I learned that there are also people who advocate the separation of economics and state. Just as the principle of separation of church and state means, among other things, that the state should have no control over religious institutions and activities, the separation of economics and state means primarily that the state should have no control over economic/financial activities.
This seems to be the position of the people in our society, most clearly represented by the Tea Party, who keep exclaiming “get the government off our backs!” It is mainly the federal government they are talking about, and their specific opposition is to taxes and government controls/regulations on anything related to economic matters.
The call for separation of economics and state was a strongly-held position of Russian-American novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, who has gained a remarkable number of followers through the years. Her name has been heard often this year.
Rand is well known partly because of her two bestselling novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) and for the philosophical system she called Objectivism.
I have to admit that I have not read Rand’s novels, and I certainly have not taken the time to listen to the 63-hour (!) “audible audio edition” of her 1957 novel.
But I have read enough about them, and her philosophy, to know her key ideas. And recently June and I watched the movie “The Fountainhead” (1949), for which Rand wrote the screenplay. The next evening we watched the biographical documentary “Ayn Rand: In Her Own Words” (2011).
And then we watched the movie “The Passion of Ayn Rand”(1999), featuring Helen Mirren as Rand and based on the book by Barbara Branden, wife of the young man with whom Rand had a lengthy affair.
The Ayn Rand Center (ARC) is the public policy and outreach division of the Ayn Rand Institute. According to their website, “The Center’s mission is to advance individual rights (the rights of each person to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness) as the moral basis for a fully free, laissez-faire capitalist society.”
This idea of “a fully free, laissez-faire capitalist society” necessitates the separation of economics and the state (government). Such separation may be good (financially beneficial) for people in business and for those who have money (capital). It is not so good for people who are poor, needing help in securing the basic necessities of life.
Since Ayn Rand was an outspoken advocate of selfishness and opponent of altruism, it is disheartening to see how now there are so many, including some top politicians (Congresspersons), who openly advocate her philosophy.
For example, Representative Paul Ryan reportedly requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged and calls Rand “the reason I got involved in public service.”
Doesn’t that kind of thinking lead not only to the separation of economics and state but also, sadly, to the separation of compassion and state?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Purpose of Remembering

“September 11, 2001  Never Forget!” Those are the words of the opening slide of a YouTube presentation of 9/11 photos declassified in 2009 and widely circulated last week around the tenth anniversary of that terrible tragedy. (For those of you who haven’t seen those sobering photos, the link is here.)
This past weekend there was repeated emphasis on remembering the terrorist attacks. But for what reason? What is the purpose of remembering?
One important reason to remember past catastrophes, of course, is in honor of the many people who were victims of the attacks. Remembering the deceased, as well as remembering and offering condolences to their families, is certainly a commendable thing to do.
To remember for the sake of preventing similar tragedies in the future is also of great importance. Working to prevent future atrocities is perhaps as important as binding up the wounds from past acts of violence.
Eric Freed, a Catholic priest who teaches at Humboldt State University in California, wrote “Purpose of Remembering,” which was published in The Japan Times in August 2009. Fr. Freed said, “My understanding of the Japanese response to Hiroshima is that it is remembered in order to understand the profoundness of the tragedy and to prevent the tragedy from ever happening again.”
In an e-mail from Dr. E. Glenn Hinson, one of my Thinking Friends I hear from most often, wrote, “If we remembered in the same way the horrors such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I think the world would become a better place. We don't need memories to rev up our national hubris.”
Fr. Freed went on to write about the appropriateness of remembering on the part of those involved with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Then he says, “As Americans we have frequently remembered in order to get vindication. ‘Remember the Alamo,’ ‘Remember the Maine,’ ‘Remember Pearl Harbor,’ ‘Remember 9/11.’ These are the slogans that we have taken to wars.” Indeed.
This past Sunday morning I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Miroslav Volf speak. He is a theology professor at Yale Divinity School, and his lecture was based largely on his book The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (2006).
In his book, Dr. Volf mentions the possibility of remembering sadistically, “guided by a vindictive desire to repay evil for evil” (p. 11). In “Memory: A Shield and a Sword,” the second chapter, he reminds us that “the protective shield of memory” can easily “morph into a sword of violence” (p. 33).
But Dr. Volf encourages us to remember “rightly” in order that “memory may become a bridge between adversaries instead of a deep and dark ravine that separates them” (p. 35).
Ironically, Dr. Volf was speaking in New York City on reconciliation at the very time of the terrorist attacks on the morning of 9/11/01. With this, and other atrocities in mind, in the Afterword of his book he contends that “the proper goal of the memory of wrong suffered – its appropriate end – is the formation of the communion of love between all people, including victim and perpetrators” (p. 232).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering 9/11 – 1973

In recent days, and continuing through tomorrow, there have been numerous newspaper articles and radio & TV programs about the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. Since there is already so much in the media this week about the tenth anniversary of those attacks, I decided to write about events on 9/11 twenty-eight years earlier, in 1973.
As horrific as 9/11/01 was, and with respect for the victims’ families, I am writing about 9/11/73 partly to help us realize that we in this country are not the only ones to have been victims of terror.
Salvadore Allende (b. 1908) was elected president of the South American country of Chile in 1970. That was an attention-grabbing occurrence, for he was the first democratically elected Marxist to become president of a country in the Americas.
Allende’s election was of grave concern to U.S. political leaders—and to the many U. S. companies (especially IT&T and the Anaconda and Kennecott Copper companies) with heavy investments in Chile.
The U.S. government, as well as the U.S. companies, spent millions of dollars trying to keep Allende from being elected. Having failed to prevent his election, they began to work for his overthrow. President Nixon reportedly told Richard Helms, the Director of the CIA, to do whatever was necessary “to get rid of” Allende.
Although it was denied for years, it became clear, especially after certain documents were declassified in 1998, that the CIA and U.S. companies were involved behind the scenes in the overthrow of the Allende government on 9/11/73 and that they directly supported the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006), who led the coup d’etat.
President Allende apparently died by suicide on that 9/11, choosing that means of death rather than the imprisonment, torture, and likely execution that would have occurred when his government was overthrown by military violence.

There were around 3,000 deaths caused by the terrorists on 9/11/01. The events in Chile on 9/11/73 began a period of terror for many Chileans (as well as for some North Americans and other foreigners living in Chile) that resulted in an even greater number of deaths there.
As late as 2000, a BBC newscast said, “According to an official report, more than 3,000 people were killed under General Pinochet’s regime and more than 1,000 are still unaccounted for.”
A few days ago (for at least the third time) I watched Missing, the 1982 movie starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. That sad movie is based on the true story of Charles Horman (1942-1973), an American journalist who was one of the victims of the 9/11/73 coup in Chile.
Not only were thousands of Chileans killed by the ruthless military junta and government led by Pinochet, at least three North Americans “disappeared” (were executed) as well. Horman was one of those, killed eight days after the coup, even though his death was not acknowledged until weeks later.
So, today and tomorrow as we once again grieve the death and destruction caused by the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, let us also remember the many Chilean, as well as some American, families who still grieve their loss because of the events of another 9/11.

Monday, September 5, 2011

“Charter for Compassion”

Karen Armstrong, an Englishwoman who was once a Roman Catholic nun, first rose to prominence in 1993 with her book, A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, an international best seller. She has written several widely-read books since then.
In 2008 Armstrong (b. 1944) received the $100,000 TED Prize. She used that windfall to call for the creation of a Charter for Compassion, which was unveiled the following year. (TED, Technology Entertainment and Design, is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate “ideas worth spreading.”)
The Charter for Compassion was created online by the general public and crafted by leading thinkers in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. In November 2009 it was signed by a thousand religious and secular leaders—and now by over 75,000 more people, including me. The charter has been translated into more than thirty languages.

 The Charter’s first (of four) paragraph states:
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
That statement, and the paragraphs that follow it, express noble sentiments, indeed. (You can read the whole charter by clicking on this link.)
Armstrong’s most recent book is Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (2010). On the first page of the Preface, she declares, “One of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect.” I certainly agree.
But I also wonder why no mention is made of the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic, about which I posted last time. (Did she need to “re-invent the wheel”?)
Unfortunately, some in our society don’t seem to be much in favor of compassion, including some political leaders. Gov. Perry, for example, criticizes liberals who seek to advance “a radical secular agenda in the name of compassion” (Fed Up! p. 13). Later in the same book he strongly criticizes President Bush’s (W’s) “Compassionate Conservatism” (p. 143).
Ayn Rand, the darling of some prominent politicians today, was no supporter of compassion. And back in 2004, the president of the Ayn Rand Center of Individual Rights, railed against the Bush Administration's war in Iraq for embracing compassion (You can read the article here.)
Armstrong, though, contends that “to wish for your enemy’s well-being and happiness” is “the supreme test of compassion” (p. 185). Loving one’s enemies as one loves oneself sounds like something I have heard somewhere else.
Do those words not apply to nations or to politicians?

Note: For you in the D.C. area, Dr. Armstrong will lead a forum on compassion at Washington National Cathedral on the morning of September 11. For you who live in the (north) Kansas City area, the Vital Conversations book discussion group will be discussing the last half of Dr. Armstrong’s book at their regular monthly meeting (at the Mid-Continent Public Library in Gladstone), from 1:00 to 2:30 on Wednesday, September 14.