Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Skewed Thinking Reed

Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed.” That is one of the most widely known of Blaise Pascal’s pithy pronouncements, and an excellent statement about the paradoxical nature of human beings. (It is partly because of his proclivity for paradoxes that I like Pascal so much.)
This article is about a “thinking reed” whose name is Ralph Eugene Reed, Jr. Although many of you have known of Reed (b. 1961) for many years, this month he has become much more widely known. A headline on the front page the September 23 New York Times declared, “An Evangelical Back From Exile, Lifting Romney.” That article, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Jo Becker and posted online the previous day, was about Ralph Reed.
Also, one segment of the Rachel Maddow Show five days ago (9/25) was about Reed and his Faith & Freedom Coalition.
Reed, whom I discuss some in my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism, previously was the first head of the Christian Coalition, an organization Pat Robertson founded in 1989 “to give Christians a voice in government.” As executive director of that political action group, Reed built one of the most effective grassroots organizations in modern American politics.
Under Reed, the Christian Coalition rose to national prominence in the early 1990s, protesting against the Clinton administration’s policies. It was widely credited with helping mobilize Christian conservatives in support of Republican candidates in the 1994 Congressional elections, which led to the rise of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House.
At the pinnacle of his power, Reed appeared on the cover of Time (on May 15, 1995) with the words “The Right Hand of God: Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition.” But in the following year the Federal Election Commission alleged that the Christian Coalition “violated federal campaign finance laws during congressional elections in 1990, 1992 and 1994, and the presidential election in 1992.” Reed left the leadership of the Coalition in 1997.
In 2005, Reed was named in a scandal arising from lobbying work performed by Jack Abramoff, who in early 2006 was sentenced to six years in federal prison for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials, and tax evasion. Partly for that reason, Reed was highly unsuccessful in his bid to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia in 2006.
But in 2009 Reed founded the Faith & Freedom Coalition, which he describes as “a 21st century version of the Christian Coalition. Before the end of 2011 their website claims that they added their 500,000th member.
The Coalition held its first conference in September 2010 in Washington, D.C., with prominent speakers such as Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, and Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia. Their second national conference was held in June 2011, and I attended that meeting (and posted about it here).
But why do I refer to Reed as having skewed thinking? Mainly because of his linking Christianity to one political party, contending (in effect) that true Christians can, and will, support only Republican candidates for high political offices.
As I wrote after the meeting last year, “The reported marriage of conservative Christians and the Republican Party appears to be true, and each partner seemed to promise fidelity to the other.” And although I don’t agree with much the organization which funded it says, I do agree with the billboard (pictured below) that recently appeared in the county where I live.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On the Verge of World War III?

Increasingly, it looks as if the question is not If but When. And the question is about a preemptive attack on Iran, seeking to destroy their capability for developing nuclear weapons.
Back in February a group of U.S. Senators pledged, “If President Barack Obama feels the need to launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, Congress will back him.” Last Saturday (Sept. 22), the U.S. Senate, by a 90-1 vote, passed that non-binding resolution.
The Huffington Post headlined their news story about the Senate resolution, Senators Offer License To Strike Iran Nuclear Program.” The resolution, however, “specifically states that it should not be interpreted as an authorization for the use of military force or a declaration of war.”
Nevertheless, on September 11 Secretary of Defense Panetta said on CBS's “This Morning” program that “the United States has the capability to prevent Iran from building an atomic bomb.” He added, “We have the forces in place to be able to not only defend ourselves, but to do what we have to do to try to stop them from developing nuclear weapons.”
Preemptive attacks, though, can go either direction. According to a September 24 story on NBCNews, “Iran could launch a pre-emptive strike on Israel if it was sure the Jewish state [was] preparing to attack it, a senior commander of its elite Revolutionary Guards was quoted as saying on Sunday.
“Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, made the comments to Iran’s state-run Arabic language Al-Alam television, according to a report on the network’s website.”
The same story goes on to say that “Hajizadeh, who heads the Guard’s aerospace division, said any attack on Iranian soil could trigger ‘World War III’” (emphasis added).
Talk about World War III is probably a hyperbolic way of talking about the volatile situation in the Near East. But those who think that a preemptive strike on Iran, with or without U.S. approval and/or cooperation, will be a soon-finished affair (another Six Day War) are probably greatly mistaken.
If an obscure YouTube video can spark angry attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya and elsewhere, what would a pre-emptive attack on Iran do? Assuming that a quick strike on Iran’s nuclear plants destroyed their intended targets quickly, which is by no means a certain assumption, why would we possibly think that would be the end of the matter?
I have been somewhat worried over the last few months that the President would launch, with Israel, an attack on Iran. Somewhat cynically, perhaps, I thought that was a possibility partly because it would increase the likelihood of the President’s reelection.
If the President is not reelected, there is a strong likelihood that an attack on Iran will be launched much before this time next year. The Republicans have long been critical of the President’s lack of support for Israel—and vocal in their willingness to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon by military means.
As far back as the Republican presidential primary debates last November, Romney declared, “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”
Even though it would probably not lead to World War III, I strongly believe that a preemptive attack on Iran would be a grave mistake. One of the many reasons I will be voting for Obama again in November is because I think that such an attack would be considerably less likely with him as President.
Note: I found “What if Israel bombed Iran?” in the 9/21 Washington Post to be a quite thought-provoking op-ed article; you can access it here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Barton Up the Wrong Tree

Maybe I had heard of him before, but my real introduction to David Barton came at the annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention in the fall of 2004. Barton (b. 1954), who is not a Baptist nor from Missouri, was the keynote speaker at the final session of that convention. It didn’t take me long, though, to disagree with what I heard Barton say.

It was mainly with regard to his views on the separation of Church and State that I thought that Barton was “barking up the wrong tree,” to use an old Midwest idiom. (You can find some of my criticism of his ideas in “Fed Up with Fundamentalism’s Attitude toward Religious Freedom,” the sixth chapter of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism.)
Barton’s newest book is The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (2012). Unfortunately for Barton, his book, which had become a bestseller, contains so much questionable material (so many lies?) that the publisher decided last month to cease publishing it.
According to Barton, “Lie #1” about Thomas Jefferson is that he fathered Sally Hemings’ children. He concludes that there is “absolutely no historical, factual, or scientific evidence to tarnish the sexual morality of Jefferson” (p. 193).
However, even though Barton twice cites the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF) Research Committee Report on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (2000), he fails to mention that according to their website the TJF and “most historians believe that, years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings’ six children.”
But I am not all that concerned about whether or not Jefferson fathered Sally’s children. As always, it is a politician’s public positions, not his/her private life, that is of greatest importance.
Of all the “lies” Barton discusses, I am most interested in “Lie #5: Thomas Jefferson Advocated a Secular Public Square through the Separation of Church and State.” There Barton claims, among other things, that the whole “history of the separation doctrine centered around preventing the State from taking control of the Church. . . . Throughout history, it had not been the Church that had seized the State but just the opposite” (p. 121).
But state churches and church-dominated states have persecuted minorities through the years. Catholic states in Europe persecuted Jews and “heretics” by the Inquisition, the Reformed Church influenced the Zurich city council to persecute the Anabaptists, the Anglican Church as the established church in England persecuted the Nonconformists (as well as Catholics), the Anglican-dominated colony of Virginia persecuted Baptists (among others), and so on.
Then there is the whole question of the freedom from religion, which Barton and his supporters seem to be opposed to. His desire to protect the privileged status of Christianity and to suppress the equality of non-Christians in American society seems to be the main reason for his calling the separation of church and state a myth (as he has done through the years; he authored a book first published in 1989 under the title The Myth of Separation).
Religious freedom, though, must be for all people and must also include freedom from religion. For that reason, I strongly favor the proper separation of Church and State (as I believe Jefferson did). That doesn’t necessitate the separation of faith and politics, but it certainly does mean freedom of, or freedom from, religion for all citizens.
Note #1: Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter’s Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President has recently been published to rebut Barton’s book.
Note #2: I have recently been involved in an ad-hoc group seeking to revitalize the Kansas City chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mrs. Fukuoka of Fukuoka, Fukuoka

Fukuoka is written with two kanji (Chinese characters): fuku that means good fortune and oka that means hill. So literally Fukuoka means the hill of good fortune. (Most Japanese names have one kanji that refers to something in nature; for example, the shima in Hiroshima means island and the saki in Nagasaki means cape.)
Fukuoka is a well-known name in Japan, mainly because it is the name of one of the nation’s 47 prefectures as well as the name of one of the major cities in the country.
For 36 years June and I lived in Fukuoka City, Japan. It is the major city of Fukuoka Prefecture, which has a population is just over 5,000,000 (just about the same as Colorado). According to Fukuoka’s English website, “The Prefecture offers excellent living and education environments, which help residents to live a relaxed life.” (There are 39 colleges and universities in the Prefecture.)
Fukuoka City is the seventh most populous city in Japan with a population now near 1,500,000. Yet in 2012 Monocle, the global affairs magazine, ranked Fukuoka as the 12th of the world’s most livable cities. The modern city was formed in 1889, with the merger of the former cities of Hakata and Fukuoka. (To this day, Hakata Station is the city’s main train station.)
There are also people whose family name is Fukuoka. One such person is Mrs. Kikuko Fukuoka, a friend who arrived at Kansas City International airport last night and who will be spending the weekend with us. It is a special joy for June and me to welcome Mrs. Fukuoka as a house guest. We have known her for many years, and she has a special meaning for our missionary career.
On Easter Sunday in 1980, we started what became the Fukuoka International Church. At first the small congregation met in our missionary residence. After moving to rented facilities with more space and easier access, more people began attending. One of those was Mrs. Fukuoka.
Over time, Mrs. Fukuoka, who had lived for a time in the United States, became more and more interested in, and gained more understanding of, the Christian faith. Subsequently, she made a profession of faith, and I had the privilege of baptizing her. It was a special time for her but also for the congregation. She was the first person to receive baptism after the beginning of the new church.
Mrs. Fukuoka was four years old at the conclusion of World War II, and her family lived in China (as did many Japanese during the war years). Having to go back to a devastated country after the end of the war was extremely difficult for those families. Some Japanese parents thought the best thing for their children was to leave them in China to be raised by Chinese families there.
It was an emotional time for Mrs. Fukuoka back in the 1990s, when a number of Japanese who had been left in China at the end of the war came to visit for Japan for the first time (or the first time as adults). She shared with us how she could easily have been one of those people who had been left behind.
During the 20 years we were together in the Fukuoka International Church, Mrs. Fukuoka was a faithful church member. Maybe partly because of her own experiences in the 1940s, she has regularly been a compassionate friend to many people needing comfort and encouragement during difficult times.
June and I are happy this weekend once again to be with our friend, Mrs. Fukuoka of Fukuoka, Fukuoka.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Talk about a contrast! Last week I went to see the movie “2016: Obama’s America” on the same day the Democratic National Convention began. Both the movie and the convention centered on President Obama, but the evaluation of the same man was greatly different, to say the least.

“2016” is a documentary, or an infomercial, produced by Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative political commentator and author who (since 2010) is president of The King’s College in New York City. Born in Mumbai, India, D’Souza (b. 1961) came to the U.S. as an exchange student and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth College in 1983. In the 1980s he was for a time a policy advisor for President Reagan.

D’Souza is the author of numerous books, his most recent being Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream (2012). That book is said to reveal “how President Obama's recent actions prove his anti-colonialist roots and predicts how much worse America will be if President Obama wins a second term.” D’Souza’s movie is based on his book.
“2016” is already the highest grossing conservative documentary of all time, and has just surpassed “An Inconvenient Truth” and is now in sixth place on the list of all documentaries. Widespread publicity helped to boost attendance.
For example, Sean Hannity strongly and repeatedly recommends it. (That was one main reason I was disinclined to go see it.) Hannity begins each segment of his radio broadcasts with a statement of his intention to make Obama a one-term President. He evidently thinks “2016” will help achieve that goal.
On the last day of the Democratic National Convention that climaxed with President Obama’s acceptance speech, I happened to see that day’s issue of USAToday. I was amazed to find a full page ad for “2016” in section A.
Last month I received an e-mail from a retired Baptist minister whom I have known since we moved to Liberty in 2005. He wrote that he and his wife “just got home from seeing the movie: ‘2016: Obama’s America.’ It makes no difference what your political views are the move is a MUST to see.”
One of my Thinking Friends also recommended the movie. When I told him I was disinclined to see it, he wrote back, “D’Souza has a similar background [to] Obama and this makes it even more effective. I felt he was fair to Obama and seemed to stay with facts and not cheap shots like both sides have been doing.”
Even though I was prejudiced against the movie, because of my friends’ recommendations and urging I decided to go see it at the local theater here in Liberty. When I left the theater, though, I was more convinced than ever that it was a piece of well-produced propaganda. There were some factual errors, but mostly my complaint is that the movie is filled with grossly misleading half-truths, deceptive insinuations, and highly speculative assertions.
If people are opposed to the President and his ideas or policies, so be it. People have a right to their own opinions. But I urge people to base their support for or rejection of political leaders on accurate knowledge of the facts, rational analysis of the issues, and clear-headed appraisal of those leaders’ political positions.
[For a good review and factual analysis, see “‘2016: Obama’s America’ Fact-Check” here.] 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Memorializing Crazy Horse

The treatment of Native Americans by European-Americans is deplorable. There is little in the history of their relationship that is not embarrassing today for sensitive USAmericans with European roots. The construction of the Crazy Horse Memorial, though, is one small attempt to rectify the appalling past.  
Earlier this year after viewing Mount Rushmore for the first time, June and I visited the nearby memorial being built to honor one of the most famous Native Americans, Crazy Horse. Born around 1840 into the Lakota (Oglala) tribe, by about 1860 he had demonstrated great bravery in battle (against other Native Americans) and was on his way to becoming a great warrior. 
Crazy Horse became involved in raids against the white settlers after the November 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, led by the despicable John Chivington (1821-94). By 1868, or maybe earlier, “he reached the top of Lakota society. To many Lakota, he seemed to display the four virtues that the tribe most admired: courage, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom” (Jon Sterngass, Crazy Horse, 2010, p. 58).
Crazy Horse was heavily involved in the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. He was highly successful in the Battle of Little Bighorn in June 1876. The leader of the whites was General George A. Custer (1839-76). It turned out to be “Custer’s last stand,” a victory for the Native Americans—and their last.
Embarrassed by Custer’s defeat just at the time of their centennial celebration of the United States’ independence, white Americans began to fight in retaliation. After suffering through an extremely harsh winter, it gradually became clear to the Native Americans that they were no match for the whites. Thus, in May 1877 Crazy Horse and his people surrendered.
Later that year while a prisoner, Crazy Horse was stabbed in the back with a bayonet. That was on September 5, 1877; he died the next day.
Exactly 31 years later, on September 6, 1908, Korczak Ziolkowski was born to Polish parents in Boston. In 1939 he worked briefly as an assistant to Gutzon Borglum, who was carving Mount Rushmore. Later that same year Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota educator, invited the young sculptor to carve a Native American memorial.
Standing Bear explained, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, also.”
Several years later, in May 1947, Ziolkowski set up camp near the mountain he would carve into a giant sculpture. With the first blast on June 3, 1948, the Crazy Horse Memorial was dedicated. At that time Ziolkowski pledged that his project will be “a nonprofit educational and cultural humanitarian project financed by the interested public and not with government tax money.”
Photo by June Seat, May 2012
Ziolkowski worked for the rest of his life on the memorial, “the largest sculptural undertaking the world has ever known—563 feet high and 641 feet long.” (By comparison, the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall.) He died unexpectedly at the age of 74 in 1982, but his wife and some of his ten children kept the project going. Now some of his grandchildren have joined the effort.
Finally, in 1998 the face of Crazy Horse was completed. The work has continued on since then—and still goes on. To be frank, though, I don’t think it will ever be finished; certainly not in my lifetime.
While I have some qualms about memorializing a man who was primarily a warrior, fighting not only whites but also other Native Americans, it is very appropriate for a memorial to be carved “as a symbol for the spirit of all Native American Indians.” 

The above quotes, and some of the information, come from Robb DeWall, Carving a Dream (1992, 2012).