Saturday, March 30, 2013

"The Bible" (2013 version)

Every Sunday evening this month, like many of you June and I have watched “The Bible,” the 10-hour mini-series on the History channel. As one who has been reading the Bible regularly for more than 65 years, it has been interesting to see how the story of the Bible is depicted in this new production by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, a husband and wife team. 

Some of you know Ms. Downey (b. 1960), who is said to be a devout Catholic, as Monica, the kind-hearted angel on the successful American TV series “Touched by an Angel.” In “The Bible” she plays the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, during the time of Jesus’ public ministry.
The first episode of the mini-series was telecast on March 3 and was seen by 13.1 million viewers, the largest cable television audience of 2013 to date. The second installment continued "to deliver blockbuster ratings" for the network, attracting 10.8 million viewers.
In spite of its large viewing audience, there has been criticism of “The Bible” both from religious conservatives and liberals. The greatest support for the mini-series has clearly come from the right.
Still, some “Bible-believing Baptists” I was with recently complained about factual errors being portrayed in the new movie. And they were right: there have been some things that were clearly biblically inaccurate, which is not good for a program on the History channel. (Several errors are given here.)
There are other parts, especially at the beginning of the first segment, that are true to the biblical narrative but also questionable as history from a broader (scientific) viewpoint. As one who is not a fundamentalist, one of my main criticisms of “The Bible” is its presentation of all the Bible stories as literally true.
Most moderate and progressive Christians understand some parts of the Bible to have symbolic or metaphorical meaning rather than being literally true. But that way of interpreting the Bible doesn’t lend itself to graphic action scenes, such as are prevalent in “The Bible.”
Part of my criticism of what I have seen so far, which is 4/5 of the whole series, is regarding the amount of violence portrayed. Certainly any close reading of the Bible reveals a lot of violence over the three and a half millennium covered by the Bible. But the amount of violence in “The Bible” is a vastly larger percentage than that which actually occurred during those 3,500 years.
To be honest, if I were not a Christian and if I had not read the Bible throughout out my lifetime, I think that perhaps I would be more repelled by the first three segments of “The Bible” than attracted to the Bible by it. I wonder what those who are not Christian believers think.
The fourth segment, which aired on Palm Sunday night, was quite well done, though, and presented what seemed to me to be a very appealing Jesus.
Of crucial importance is how the series ends tomorrow, on Easter night. That last segment will deal with the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. For me, and doubtlessly for a lot of Christians, the final evaluation of “The Bible” will depend greatly on how those pivotal events are portrayed.
In spite of some misgivings about the mini-series on the Bible, I encourage you, if possible, to watch the conclusion on Sunday evening. And whether you watch it or not, let me take this means to wish you a Happy Easter!

Monday, March 25, 2013

In Memory of Rachel Corrie, 1979-2003

You may not have remembered her name, but perhaps you recall hearing about the young American woman who was killed in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip. Her life story is told in a one-woman play titled “My Name is Rachel Corrie” (2008), and more fully in the book “Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie,” also published in 2008.
This is Passion Week, and as we Christians recall the death of Jesus Christ it is also fitting to consider the sacrificial death of this young woman ten years ago, even though hers does not have the same universal significance as Jesus’ death.
Rachel Corrie was born in Olympia, Wash., in April 1979, and when she was still 23 she joined other foreign nationals working in Gaza as volunteers for the International Solidarity Movement. And there she was killed on March 16, 2003, ten years ago this month.
Rachel was interested in helping other people from the time she was a girl. For example, she gave a speech about world hunger when she was in the fifth grade. (That speech can be viewed on YouTube.)
In January 2003, Rachel arrived in Rafah, Gaza, located in the very southern part of the Gaza Strip. When she arrived there it was a city of some 140,000 people, 60% of whom were refugees. About two weeks later (on Feb. 7) she wrote how the Israeli Army was building a 14-meter-high wall between Rafah and the Gaza-Egypt border.
Soon after observing the situation in Gaza, Rachel speaks out against “perpetuating the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a balanced conflict.” “Rather,” she insists, it is “a largely unarmed people against the fourth most powerful military in the world.”
“Let Me Stand Alone” documents how (on Feb. 27) Rachel declares in an email to her mother, “The vast majority of Palestinians right now, as far as I can tell, are engaging in Gandhian non-violent resistance” (p. 273).
A little later she writes, “I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide, and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature” (p. 276).
In “Razing Rafah, Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip,” Human Rights Watch notes that in the four years after September 2000, over 2,500 Palestinian homes were demolished in Gaza. About 2/3 of those were in Rafah.
Rachel was trying to keep just one of those houses from being demolished, the home of the Nasrallah family, comprised of two brothers, their wives, and five young children. On March 16, 2003, as she was trying to keep the Nasrallahs’ house from being destroyed, Rachel was run over and killed by a Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, a vehicle especially built to demolish houses.
Her death was the first of many westerners who were killed in Gaza in the spring of 2003. Since the war had just started in Iraq, though, few Americans were paying much attention to Gaza.
The Iraq War officially ended at the end of 2011. But the struggle of the Palestinian people to live unmolested in their own homes in their own land goes on. Unfortunately, most USAmericans seem to side with the Israelis rather than with the Palestinian people who have been treated so unjustly since 1947.
Let’s pray that the President’s visit to Israel last week will help to relieve the tension between Palestine and Israel and that it at least sowed some seed that will eventually grow to help improve the living conditions for people like those for whom Rachel Corrie died.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

American Hubris

“Hubris” is defined as “excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.” It is a word descriptive of the attitude of many individuals as well as many groups, such as corporations or nations. Last month I happened to see (on MSNCB) a television special titled “Hubris: Selling the Iraq War.” It was a most interesting, and quite disturbing, documentary about the events leading up to the war in Iraq, which started ten years ago today, on March 19, 2003.
The TV program was largely based on the book Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (2006) by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, two top-notch American journalists. They were interviewed in last month’s program, which is also available on six YouTube videos.
On the day of its airing, Corn said that “the documentary goes beyond what Isikoff and I covered in Hubris, presenting new scoops and showing that the complete story of the selling of that war has yet to be told.”
In the documentary itself, Isikoff says, “There is no question the news media didn’t do its job during the run-up to the Iraq War. Far too often, the press simply accepted these sweeping assertions by the highest officials in the government, without looking for the hard evidence to support it.”
Before the Introduction in the book, the authors of Hubris begin with this quote: “How is the world ruled and how do wars start? Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read.” (These words are from Karl Kraus, 1874-1936, an Austrian journalist and press critic.) That kind of chicanery seems to have lurked behind the starting of America’s first “preemptive” war ten years ago in Iraq.
That war officially ended on December 31, 2011. By that time nearly 4,500 U.S. troops had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded. The war cost U.S. taxpayers more than $3,000,000,000,000. Even worse, an estimated 108,000 Iraqi civilians died as a direct result of the war, and some 15,400,000 were displaced.
Those terrible results all seem to have been largely due to the hubris and erroneous judgment of the top U.S. governmental officials. What a shame for America!
Now in 2013 there are different government executives, but American hubris still seems to be “alive and well.” Last month Bill Moyers and Michael Winship wrote a significant article titled “The Hubris of the Drones.” They charge, “Our blind faith in technology combined with a false sense of infallible righteousness continues unabated.”
The authors also quote Reuters correspondent David Rohde, who recently asserted that the U.S. “administration’s covert drone program is on the wrong side of history. With each strike, Washington presents itself as an opponent of the rule of law, not a supporter. Not surprisingly, a foreign power killing people with no public discussion, or review of who died and why, promotes anger among Pakistanis, Yemenis and many others.”
And then an unnamed former senior military official is quoted: “Drone strikes are just a signal of arrogance that will boomerang against America.”
Near the end of their article, Moyers and Winship aver that American “hubris brought us to grief in Vietnam and Iraq and may do so again” with the current President’s “cold-blooded use of drones and his indifference to so-called ‘collateral damage,’ grossly referred to by some in the military as ‘bug splat,’ and otherwise known as innocent bystanders.”
Does not this nation badly need to repent of its hubris in initiating and conducting the war on Iraq and to rethink the way drones are now being used?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"White Smoke"

“Habemas Papam!” Those words resounded throughout the Vatican on Wednesday evening after the throngs gathered outside St. Peter’s Basilica observed white smoke emanating from the chimney connected to an old stove temporarily installed again in the Sistine Chapel.

As you know, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected as the new pope on the fifth ballot of the sequestered cardinals. He took the name Francis, the first pope with that name, although two of the best known saints in the Catholic Church are Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier.

The election of Cardinal Bergoglio came as a surprise to me, and evidently to a lot of other people. For example, he was not even mentioned in the March 12 Washington Post article about who might be elected.

Not only is Pope Francis the first pope with that name and the first pope from South America, he is also the first Jesuit to be elected pope. Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, the son of an Italian immigrant, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1958.

While seen as a staunch conservative on such issues as abortion, contraception, and gay marriage, the new pope is said to be moderate to liberal on social issues such as poverty and social justice. Regardless of his own position, though, it is quite evident that the new pope faces huge problems within the Vatican as he assumes his new role.

Bob Englehart has been an editorial cartoonist for the Hartford Courant since 1980. On March 3, a cartoon by Englehart (b. 1945) appeared in that newspaper. Here it is:

The problems of the Vatican are disturbingly portrayed in Andrew M. Greeley’s book White Smoke: A Novel about the Next Papal Conclave (1996). Although the next conclave after its publication was in 2005, it seems quite relevant to the current situation. One hopes, however, that the present situation is not quite as bad as that portrayed in Greeley’s novel, which I just finished reading earlier this week.

Greeley (b. 1928 ) is a Catholic priest and a sociologist who for years has taught at both the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona. He has written a huge number of books, both non-fiction (academic) works and novels—including several bestsellers.

In White Smoke, Greeley says that the fictitious cardinal from Chicago “understood clearly that the Holy Spirit does not whisper names in their [the cardinals’] ears but rather works through the ordinary political process of an election” (pp. 26-27).

In Greeley’s novel, Don Luis, who is eventually elected pope—and takes the 
name John XXIV—gives a talk before the conclave begins. He closes talk with a quite significant statement, saying that what he considers to be of prime importance “is the affirmation that we exist to preach a God of love, we try to be people of love, and we want our Church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love.
     “Does such a Church have a future?
      “How could it not?” (p. 143).

Then later at a dinner party, but still before the start of the conclave, Don Luis prays, “May the Spirit inspire us to work well and with openness and courage . . . and grant that our Church, our poor battered Church, may shine once again as a light of radiant love to all the nations” (p. 204).

I pray that the words of Greeley’s fictitious pope will also be on the lips and in the heart of Pope Francis.