Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
In a nation where most options range from bad to worse, she was a glimmer of light, a beacon of hope -- limited though it may have been. Maybe she was corrupt, as they say, but still she was the best that Pakistan had for the near future. Now she is gone.
Why, O why, dear Sister Benazir, did you have to stand up in that car to wave once more, when the bullet-proof car might have saved you? Maybe they would have killed you anyway somehow, someplace, some way, but at least you could have lived one more day to wage the fight.
Dear Sister Benazir, today you join all the other martyrs who tried to shine a light in the darkness and hate symbolized by Chairman Mao's dictum that "power comes out of the barrel of a gun." You are with Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Anwar Sadat, who joined Yitzhak Rabin in saying, "Enough, enough of blood and tears!" All together in a great cloud of witnesses with all whose efforts over the centuries to improve the lot of humankind cost them their lives, they will welcome you, Sister Benazir, to watch what we will do with their sacrifice.
Today, then, let us weep for Sister Benazir and for the better days she might have brought to that troubled complex land. But tomorrow, somebody else has to light a candle in the darkness that might light other lights that might light others until . . . . . .
And in despair I bowed my heart;
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to all."
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth God sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, goodwill to all."
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
O Sister Benazir, O Sister Benazir . . . . For her and all who like her long for a better day, we must keep the hope alive, but today we weep for Sister Benazir.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
My Spouse and I had been considering whether we wanted to get gifts individually or choose something as a family for both. After some days of pondering, the more bold, daring, and audacious member of the duet exclaimed giddily, "Why don't we throw caution to the wind and go ahead and get an HD TV and not wait for the Zenith to go POOF, so we can enjoy it before senility and affliction get any worse?" The more cautious, frugal, slow-moving one after thinking it over seriously for about a second and half shouted out with glee, "Capital notion! I'm free to go shopping now, right after I go pee." (Identities of the aforementioned characters will be disclosed upon written request.)
Armed with our shopping bible -- Consumer Reports -- we set out. Bottom line: We will soon (January 8 installation of new HD hardware) be in possession of a Panasonic TH-42PZ77U plasma set with new programming from Direct TV including HD channels.
Tickets for viewing will be available for family members at a discount. Popcorn will be on sale at typical movie prices. Butter is extra. Discounts will not be available for Super Bowl Sunday. Other restrictions may apply.
The original idea had been that when the Zenith went BOING, we would consider HD. But despite the fact that the more impatient member of the zany pair has been beating the Zenith in the face repeatedly over the last few months with a baseball bat, the thing keeps right on playing, so it looked like no HD in our lifetime until -- begin over at the first sentence --
Your Wild and Crazy Parental Units
Sunday, December 23, 2007
For purposes of discussion, let me begin this way. If we were really Christians in the New Testament sense, most of us would give 50% or more of our income to help those who are worse off than we are. This is a simple implication and a modest, even weak, interpretation of the commandment to love your neighbor equally with yourself, not even to mention Matthew 5: 38 ff. To put it another way to get things going, Christians need to justify why they spend more on themselves than the median family income in this country, which by world standards makes us quite affluent. Radical Christianity would insist that we cannot have two coats as long as anybody in the world has none.
Peter Singer in a provocative essay pointed out that if we had the chance to save a child's life right before us, we would do so even at considerable sacrifice to ourselves. But he rightly noted the fact every time we spend a few dollars for something we don't absolutely need, a child dies who might have been saved had that money been given to, say, Oxfam. There is no way to escape the logic of that.
In another place I argued that the radical ethic of the New Testament was incompatible with civilization, i. e., the assignment of responsibilities with rules and expectations in a continuing society. Total self-giving love that demands nothing from the other is irreconcilable with assigned roles, duties, division of labor, accountability, and so on. The unqualified demands of sacrificial love require their implementation in the moment without regard for future consequences for self or others. Orderly life could not go on if no one ever insisted that others play their part, share the load, live by the rules of civilized society, and carry out their obligations. I concluded that the compromises necessary to have a continuing, organized society were not wrong but that we make the compromises long before and far more extensively than we need to for the sake of civilization.(1)
What, then is the value of an ethic of absolute ideals demanding perfection in this ambiguous, complex civilized world?. Reinhold Niebuhr and Alfred North Whitehead are my guides. Whitehead said that the impractical ideals of the first century are a standard by which to measure the shortcomings of society. "So long as the Galilean images are but the dreams of an unrealized world, so long they must spread the infection of an uneasy spirit" (Adventures of Ideas). A morally serious person of faith cannot read take equal love of neighbor seriously and be at ease with any social status quo.
Reinhold Niebuhr made the same point. Agape, Christian love, is an "impossible possibility" that is relevant in all situations as both judge of every present achievement and guide to further moral advance
OK, the objections: You want to make us feel guilty all the time. No, I am suggesting that our unrealized ideals are a spur and guide to action not a guilt-inducing mechanism.
You don't appear to know about salvation by grace through faith, not by works. O yes I do; it is our only hope. But I also know about "cheap grace" (Bonhoeffer), and that that "right strawy epistle" (Luther), James, says that faith without works is dead. Nobody has ever worked out the relation between grace and law, faith and works in a satisfactory way that is descriptive of everybody, not Protestants, not Catholics, not Luther, not Calvin, not Wesley, not Reinhold Niebuhr.(2) They, however, along with the New Testament all teach that genuine faith expresses itself in good works.
I prefer a pragmatic, experiential approach. Those who are burdened by guilt at their lack of moral perfection need to hear the liberating word of grace. Those who are at ease in Zion need to hear the demand to do better and to reread Matthew 25 where Jesus teaches a doctrine of salvation by works that warns our failure to meet the neighbor's need will get us cast into the eternal flame. My observation is that the population of those at ease in Zion far, far outnumbers the guilt-ridden.
So why am I getting into all this? Here is why: The typical operational assumption among us is that being a Christian means living a respectable life by middle-class standards, being an active, faithful church member, giving generously to church and charities, and doing a usually modest (sometimes zero) amount of good works on a volunteer basis. That is the definition of a cultural Christian. Is it a definition of a New Testament Christian? I don't think so. For my reasoning, see the first two paragraphs.
(1) Complicating all this is the fact that we don't expect the end of the world very shortly (or live as if we do, even if we say we expect it) as Jesus and early New Testament Christians generally did. Even fundamentalists have life insurance policies and have savings plans for retirement.
(2) For one things the usual assumption is that you are either saved or lost; you either have faith or you don't (although this note is muted in modern liberals), whereas actual experience is too multifarious and variegated to fit a strict either-or logic. Both faith and works come in all sizes, varieties, strengths, and patterns.
Where to begin? We cannot deal effectively with global warming because the benefits of not doing so are enjoyed now, while planetary catastrophe will be experienced later. The same holds for other environmental problems. We cannot move quickly enough toward energy independence because it would be costly now, and the good results would come later. We should have been taking steps like adding a substantial tax to gasoline at least as far back as the Carter era. President Carter advocated a strong future-oriented energy policy but was thwarted.
Congress will not take steps now to deal with Medicare financing that will sooner or later confront us because politicians are focused on getting reelected in the nearer future. Bush pushed through massive tax cuts assisting mainly the rich, especially the obscenely rich, resulting in huge national deficits whose consequences will have to be faced later. A tragic, unnecessary war has been financed by deficit spending because lowering taxes has become a religion for the Republicans, and responsible fiscal policy in the here and now is bad for electoral politics. The enemy is us, not just our politicians, because they know we want our goodies now with as little cost to us as possible and that we are not easily persuaded by futuristic logic.
We have a housing mortgage crisis because people wanted a larger house that small beginning interest payments a few years ago would allow, and banks promoted bad loans out of greed for bigger immediate profits. When the larger payments became due, homeowners defaulted, and the banks had to foreclose, hurting everybody. Now we are in a credit crunch because in the past present interests took precedence over ignored future outcomes.
We are funding our national spending spree with loans from nations like China and Dubai. No one knows what the future results will be. Individuals are getting more and more behind on credit card payments because of past and present purchases. Devotion to presentism shuns frugality and responsible spending. In 2005 we had a negative savings rate. From the Associated Press:
"Consumers depleted their savings to finance the purchases of cars and other big-ticket items. ... The Commerce Department reported Monday that the savings rate fell into negative territory at minus 0.5 percent, meaning that Americans not only spent all of their after-tax income last year but had to dip into previous savings or increase borrowing.The savings rate has been negative for an entire year only twice before — in 1932 and 1933."
Christopher Jencks beautifully points out how difficult immigration reform is because of what I am calling presentism:
"Many employers would accept more stringent penalties for hiring illegal immigrants in the future if that were the only way to legalize their current workers, and many immigrant groups would do the same. On the other side, many conservative activists might accept legalization of today's illegal immigrants if that were the only way to ensure a crackdown on hiring illegal immigrants in the future. In principle, therefore, a deal should be possible. But this deal turns out to have a fatal flaw. Legalization can be implemented within a few years, while penalties for hiring illegal immigrants have to be enforced indefinitely. That means employers get what they want right away, while opponents of illegal immigration have to wait.
"The Immigration Charade," The New York Review of Books (September 27, 2007)http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20602
We could go on. Much that is not accounted for by presentism can be attributed to selfishness. They overlap but cannot be reduced to each other. Presentism is selfishness in the moment for ourselves and others disregarding the future. Selfishness is preference for ourselves disregarding the neighbor in the present and the future. Selfishness in theological terms is sin; presentism adds disregard of wisdom to sin.
Selfishness is such a staple of moral theology that it needs no illustration. Just observe any issue that arises and see how the parties (individuals or groups) line up, taking positions that benefit them, interpreting or ignoring the facts to suit their interests.
Protestant ethic with your emphasis on frugality, self-restraint, discipline, and responsibility -- where are you when we need you?
So what is the cure? If you are a preacher, you might start with Romans 1:27ff. and take it from there. Secularists can point out the consequences of selfishness and the folly of presentism, quoting the old biblical and cultural adage that we reap what we sow. Obviously the gospel in both its religious and secular forms calls for repentance (change of mind) and reformation of character with the appropriate deeds (fruits meet for repentance Matthew 3:8 KJV) that follow. Rates of expected success for prophets or secular reformers: small. The pleasures of presentism and selfishness are too seductive to be resisted.
Here endeth the lesson. Remember: hell is truth seen too late (Thomas Hobbes).
Christmas was big with my former wife, who passed away twenty years ago last October. Eloise would trudge all over Rochester in the treacherous snow and ice to find what the children wanted and would always try to have at least one surprise for them. We added at least one new ornament every year to the collection, which therefore grew larger each season making the tree brighter and more colorful.
The rule in our house was that the children could not come downstairs until 7 AM on Christmas morning. So Paul, Nancy, and Melissa would huddle at the top of the stairs clock in hand waiting as the minutes ticked away like hours. At the appointed time on the dot, they would hurry down the stairs and into the living room to look at the pile of gaily-wrapped presents. under the bright and glorious tree in all its splendor . The parents were still sleepy and tired from having been up until 2 or 3 AM getting everything ready. "Some assembly required" will suggest why. My limited mechanical abilities and obscurely-written instructions frequently tested my usual restraint against the use of profanity. But somehow it all got done, and here we were all together at the magic moment when wondrous anticipation turned into joyful realization.
The children are all grown up now and into middle-age with their own families far away from 2961 Elmwood Avenue. They are wonderful human beings and a joy to Gloria and me along with her own adult offspring and our grandchildren.
But deep in a treasured corner of my heart at this season of the year they are all little again standing in the door to the living room in the glow of the bright colorful shining tree reflecting in their beautiful eyes the joy and wonder of Christmas.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The spokesperson, who had an angelic countenance and was of indeterminate gender, said, " This is what Jesus would do. He would tell everyone to quit asking and answering this stupid question."
The messenger added that anyone who wants to know why asking and answering the question is stupid, should consult Ken Cauthen.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
First Messenger: "One to Tutu."
Second Messenger: "Two to Tutu."
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Delegates at the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin voted Saturday in Fresno to withdraw from the U.S. Episcopal Church. Delegates said they voted to break away from the church because it allows the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of gay bishops and the ordination of women.
Another news item in The Cauthen Herald attracted less attention but is equally noteworthy:
Last Saturday the Neanderthal Province of the National Progressive Church of America voted to separate itself from the larger body because it has departed from the historic faith and has taken positions in violation of biblical teachings.
They listed three specific complaints: 1, The National Progressive Church has stated that we are not obligated to obey Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which requires that persistently disobedient sons be stoned to death.
2. The NPC has taken an abolitionist position, saying that although numerous passages in the Bible support slavery, we believe that slavery is contrary to standards of Christian ethics.
3. The NPC has taken action to support the right of women to vote.
The Neanderthal Province, located in California, indicated that it intends to join the Paleolithic Church of Nomadia and attach itself to Bishop Anakro Nism of the Paleolithic Church. The letter of separation said that while it highly valued the unity of the church, it can no longer be a part of a group, claiming to be Christian, that is in such deep violation of biblically rooted traditions that have prevailed for centuries. Loyalty to historic beliefs dictates this serious action, they maintained. The modernism now so prevalent in the Progressive Church cannot be tolerated, they concluded.
Friday, December 14, 2007
This simple little event reminded me that no matter how bad things are with us, there is somebody who is even worse off.
I was reminded of Brother George Russell when he was called on to pray at Friendship Baptist Church in rural Georgia when I was a child during the 1930's. Brother George would get down on his knees and address the Creator in the formal language of the King James Bible as follows: "Almighty God, we thank Thee that things are as well with us as they are."
Brilliant! This statement of gratitude fits all contingencies no matter how good or how bad. To wit, "O Lord, you know that the boll weevils destroyed the cotton, the drought ruined the corn, and Aunt Susie is real bad off sick, but we thank Thee that things are as well with us as they are."
O Lord, you know that the cotton crop is bountiful this year and prices are up, the corn crop will overflow the barn, and Aunt Susie got well and is fit as a fiddle, so we thank Thee that things are as well with us as they are."
As we get older and more frail, we will all see somebody who will prompt us to say, "God, I wish I could do that." But still we can thank God that "things are as well with us as they are."
But in my old age I have come to see that there are questions even more ultimate than these? Some examples of the superultimate:
1. Why do people of all ages throw snowballs at each other?
2. Will anybody in the package industry involving plastic ever get into heaven?
3. Not that I would ever notice such a thing, but Fox News and MSNBC News seem to be in a contest to see which can expose within legal limits more of the female leg on their shows, leaving CNN far behind? But why?
4. Why when I am late for church do I get nearly all red lights and when I leave early, I get mostly green lights?
5. What is it that we don't drive on the driveway or park on the parkway but drive on the parkway and park on the driveway?
6.Why do antidepressants that make you feel good reduce your sexual ability, which makes you feel bad?
7. Reliable reports indicate that three Republicans have been admitted to heaven since the McKinley era. How can this be if God is infinitely wise?
8. Why is there an inverse relationship between what we like to eat and what we ought to eat?
9. Why is that many scientists (and TV journalists) feel they can speak authoritatively about religion, faith, and theology (and routinely confuse the three) in total ignorance of their ignorance about the topics?
10. Why is it that conductors of symphony orchestras always look like they are in a state of perpetual orgasm?
11. How can someone or something show up missing?
12. If you want to make it cooler, do you turn the air conditioning up or down?
13. What is the difference between an enhanced sponsor acknowledgement on PBS and a commerical on for-profit tevevision?
14. Is it possible that anyone claiming to like -- I mean really like -- the taste of a martini can be telling the truth?
15. Will people who leave their grocery carts in the parking lot instead of the designated places have any chance at all of getting into heaven?
16. Will anybody who has more than 15 of these questions have any readers or friends left?
16. Are people who say per se necessarily weird per se?
Friday, December 07, 2007
G: Hi ya, Noah, how are things down there?
N: Pretty good, I guess, but my rheumatism has been acting up, like there might be some rain on the way. How are things up there?
G: Mostly OK, but Eve has been acting out, running around with nothing on but a fig leaf offering all the men a piece of, uh, uh, fruit. And Adam is still feeling guilty about infecting all his descendants. As Augustine will put it, everybody was seminally present in him, you know, and as soon as they reach the age of accountability start sinning like crazy.
N: Who the hell is Augustine?
G: O, I forgot, he comes later. Never mind. But now back to your rheumatism and the rain. That's what I want to talk to you about. It's gonna rain, a lot and for a long time. .
G: Yeah, I'm gonna drown the whole human race. I mean you never saw such rain before, plus I'm turning on the fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven will open
N: Good God Amighty, why?
G: Watch your tongue there, old man. I'm' mad, real mad. The whole race is wicked, terrible -- all but you and your family.
N: Well, gee, thanks, Big Guy, but how will we escape the flood?
G: You are going to build a boat, a big boat, a very big boat.
N: Why so big, I can put my whole family on a mid-sized raft?
G: Yeah, I know, but you have to take a pair of every animal -- a boy and a girl -- on the boat with you to preserve the species.
N: Now, you're talking crazy. Two elephants, two rhinoseri, and a pair of hippopotami would take up a lot of room, I mean a lot of room. Besides we'd have to have skunks -- can you imagine the smell? Think how high the ceiling would have to be for the giraffes? And they would all have to have food. Worst of all, there would be a lot of, of uh -- mess. Who the hell is gonna clean up all that ..........
G: You are, Noah, you and your kids.
N: I can't build a boat that big, and I won't even try. This is nuts.
God: Well, Noah, my righteous remnant patriarch, have you considered the alternative, remember there's gonna be a lot of water, a whole lot of water.
N: Well, you have a point there.
G: Well, are you gonna build it?
N: I'm thinking it over.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
preceding blog reminded me that I have had other attacks of craziness
and zany impious humor regarding certain biblical stories. I think the
story is awful and morally irredeemable. Here is my rewrite:
God: Hi Abraham, this is God. Howya' doin' today?
Abraham: Hello, I'm doing very well. What do you want this time? You're not going to ask me to move again, are you?
God: Not at all. This time I have something else in mind.
Abraham: Yeah, what?
God: I want you to sacrifice your son Isaac, whom you love, as a burnt offering.
Abraham: Would you mind repeating that. There must be some interference between earth and heaven, you know, with all the cell phones these days. It sounded like you said you wanted me to sacrifice my son Isaac. I know you wouldn't do that. Ha, ha!
God: No, Abe, you heard me right.
Abraham: You've got to be kidding, right? That's a good one - a God perfect in love, mercy, and compassion asking a father to kill his son, to stick a knife through his heart and set him aflame, on some silly stone altar.
God: No, I am not kidding. That's really what I want you to do. It's a test.
Abraham: Some test! You know I'd do a lot for you. After all because you asked me to, I left a good home to come to this God-forsaken place . Oops, sorry! Let me rephrase that. What if I flunk this test?
God: I'd really rather not get into that. Well, are you going to do it or not?
Abraham: I'm thinking it over.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
M: Honey, I have something to tell you.
J: OK, dear.
M: Be patient with me, dear, but I have some news that may surprise you.
M: Yeah, well, you see, I mean, well, there was this angel.
M. The one that told me I was pregnant.
M:By the Holy Spirit.
J: The Holy Spirit?
M: Well, I know that comes as a shock since we have never, uh, ..... uh. . . .
J: Done it? I am WELL aware of that, so how can you be in a family way?
M: I told you -- by the Holy Spirit.
J:Come on, sweetie, this is serious. Don't joke with me. It's not April Fools Day. Let's start over. What are you really trying to tell me.
M:That I'm pregnant by the Holy Spirit. That's what the angel told me.
J: There you go again. You know and I know that girls don't get pregnant unless they .. they do it with somebody -- a guy. Uh, Oh. O my goodness, you have been messing around with that Abraham who lives on the other side of the village. I've seen the way he looks at you and how you look back. I'll push his nose out the back of his head . . . .
M: No, No, it's not that it at all. It's all about what the angel said.
J: The angel. The ANGEL. The angel told you that the Holy Spirit knocked you up, and you didn't even know when it happened?
M: That's right. I swear, . . . I mean, I solemnly affirm.
J: Let me get this straight. Even though you and I have never ...... done it .. and you haven't been messing around with any other guy, but you're pregnant, and the Holy Spirit did it, and you are still a virgin, and this angel told you all this!
M: You do believe me, don't you?
J: I'm thinking it over.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Liberal Christians generally do not believe in an everlasting hell for the wicked. It would not be fitting for a nice God, and the liberal God in nice middle-class congregations must above all be nice. Lots of commendation and exhortation but hardly any judgment, and seldom any wrath at all.
Conservatives quote Leviticus 20:13 condemning male homosexuality but ignore the rest of the passage that says both men shall be put to death. They also ignore other passages in which practices are condemned that are commonplace today among all citizens and believers, e. g. , wearing garments combining two types of material. Is this dishonesty?
Conservatives and liberals alike are equal opportunity practitioners of avoiding in Scripture what is unpalatable.
In liberal churches I have attended miracle stories are read or told as if they are to be taken literally. Seldom are any qualifications offered. The same is often true of the creation story, the second coming of Jesus, and other staples of orthodoxy when I know the pastors have a different point of view than the one that seems to be offered without question.
The Christmas season is upon us. The wondrous birth stories in Matthew and Luke will be read. Pageants will reproduce the ancient drama. Will anyone suggest how improbable it is that these startling events occurred just exactly like they are reported -- a pregnant virgin visited by an angel, wise men from afar led by a star -- unerringly-- right to the very stable where the baby was born (what a GPS that was!), a choir of angels in the heavens addressing some shepherds, and the like. Will any hint be given anywhere that these are imaginative stories, beautiful and powerful, but not literally true in detail?
Of course, everybody ignores Matthew 10:8 in the institution dedicated to continuing the ministry of the Apostles. Or do you know of some churches with a ministry of raising the dead (excluding Oral Roberts).
Students in schools like the one at which I taught are given the modern critical tools for dealing with the Bible in historical terms that highlight the humanity and cultural relativity of all these magnificent texts. Non-literal versions of the creation, incarnation, last judgment, the return of Jesus, etc. are offered in books by contemporary scholars and theologians. Students learn to speak of myth and symbol that deepen and enrich a mere literal rendering of the Bible and the creeds. But what happens to all this apparatus when they become pastors, teachers, and preachers in churches?
In my youth when there was much more freedom in the Southern Baptist Convention, I heard biblical scholars who wrote material for Sunday School classes talk about how it got watered down by the editors in Nashville, who removed any hint of the historical-critical approach to Scripture that was then being taught the seminaries of the denomination. The result was a harmless pablum absent of any of the wisdom of modern scholarship that forever left children and adults alike locked in a naive reading of the Bible. Preachers trained in these institutions left all their sophisticated learning behind as they became obsessed with larger churches, larger budgets, and having the largest number of baptisms in the association, if not in the state. Must not rock the boat, you know.
I could go on with endless examples, but the implications are clear -- at least to me. It seems like dishonesty to me but maybe I am missing something.
In the latter years of my tenure as a seminary teacher, I pestered everyone with the this teaser: "Is it possible to use the Bible with integrity?" My answer was that it was possible but the actual occurrence was so rare that it was a miracle worthy of note. I find no reason to change my mind.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
That is the kind of reasoning used by conservatives who are opposed to teaching teenagers about contraception. It will just encourage them to have sex, they say. So it is better to risk having them get pregnant than to make contraception available.
What is wrong here?
What is wrong is a perverse sense of values and the failure to see the wisdom of a curious form of logic.
So what should we do? My message to teenagers and everybody else is this: Don't drive too fast or take chances on the road, but if you do at least wear a seat belt because it might save your life. I will take the chance that using a seat belt might lead to complacency. Saving a life is where the priority ought to be.
Likewise, I would say to male and female teenagers: Don't have sex until you are mature enough to understand fully what you are doing and its dangers, but if you do at least least protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy. I will take the chance that knowing how to prevent pregnancy and having the means to do so might encourage more sex. An unwanted pregnancy is worse than promiscuous sex.
Why don't conservatives agree with this point? I don't know for sure, but I suspect it is because they have a kind of emotional aversion or psychic revulsion at the thought of premarital sex. This is more than a conviction that such behavior is wrong. I suggest this as a result of examining my own inner feelings from years past. Were not something like this at work, the subject would be more open to a dispassionate study of the facts. The evidence is that comprehensive sex education does not lead to earlier or more sex in young people.
In any case, I insist on the cogency of sentences that have this curious form: Don't _________but if you do, _____________________.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person, that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever.
Below is my response to him:
I don't doubt that unbelievers can make moral statements that match in excellence any moral statement made by a believer. But what is the point?
Can believers make statements that are morally bad or do morally bad things? Yes. Can non-believers make statements and do things that are morally bad? Yes.
My morality is based on a religious foundation, but I would not argue that one can have excellent moral beliefs or live a life of virtue only on the basis of religion.
I judge moral beliefs and actions on their own merit not by what their philosophical or religious basis is.
All moral beliefs rest on some set of assumptions, but good morality does not necessarily require reference to God, but it may.
I am a religious person but seldom find myself included in your objections to religion. I don't believe much of what you condemn. I am a liberal Baptist Protestant theologian, just for the record. A survey of your latest book contained no reference to any modern Christian theologian I read in seminary or ever put on any of my reading lists for courses I taught for forty years, although I found a few references to Popes and to Protestant fundamentalists.
Do you condemn all religion or just bad religion? If the latter, I am on your side and have argued against bad religion for half a century. If the former, you and I have a difference.
I don't like Hillary for reasons earlier blogs have spelled out, but it looks like she is our candidate for 08. I will vote for her without enthusiasm and hope she is elected, since any of the Republican alternatives would be disastrous. Let Hillary, Bill, and all the smart people around her figure out how to win. Once she is elected we need to torment her unmercifully in an attempt to move her left on economic and other domestic issues like health care. Her wing of the party is too beholden to business and wealth. She needs to be moderate on social and cultural issues -- not my preference but a political necessity to get and keep power. Nearly everybody with much power is beholden to the Jewish lobby, so I see no hope for the kind of radical dealing with Israel that is necessary to get justice for the Palestinians. She will be better on foreign policy than Bush-- heck, Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun would be better -- but she was wrong on Iraq from the start and has changed only enough to get in tune with public opinion, never yet having apologized for her bad judgment..
John Edwards would be better for labor, the middle class, and the poor, but you have to get power before you can exercise it. He won't get the power of the President, unless I am badly mistaken.
We can only hope that the Republicans cannot capitalize sufficiently on the widespread hostility toward Hillary -- those persistent negatives -- to sink her hopes in the general election.
Maybe we can get strong enough Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress to push a liberal agenda on domestic issues. That is the best hope I see at the moment.
Please somebody cheer me up!
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Obstinate President Bush is persisting in his policies and will follow the advice of General Petraeus to bring the troops back to pre-surge levels by next summer -- an outcome dictated by military necessity regardless of policy preferences. All this means is that we have to wait for Bush to leave before a drastic change of policy is possible -- assuming the Democrats win the presidency and enough congressional seats to bring it about. (See my blog of January 26, 2007 )
Meanwhile, urgent domestic issues like health care go without serious attention, not to mention the longer term crises of Social Security, Medicare, global warming, reducing our dependence on oil and finding alternative energy source, and the like. Democratic Congressional leadership is far from inspiring and, judging by results, not at all impressive.
I have seen no evidence that the Iraqi government can bring about an effective, peaceful reconciliation among warring factions to ensure a stable, peaceful, democratic rule. Whether we stay or leave, it is difficult to find grounds of hope for anything desirable in the near term, and the long term is shrouded in mystery. It looks like a long-term de facto segregation of Iraqis into geographical subdivisions of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds is the best hope for any kind of tolerable peace, assuming some acceptable arrangement can be worked out regarding oil revenues. Too few love more Iraq more than they love their own ethnic-sectarian group to hope for a unified country that is workable and free from violence. Haddam Hussein was awful, but he did rule in maybe the only way it can be a unified country-- by coercion, brutality, and terror. Reports after World War I when Iraq was being formed predicted what has actually occurred.
The presidential campaign trudges dismally on with no excitement and nothing but the prospect of more of the same until the 2008 election. Candidates behind Clinton in the polls vainly search for some way -- any little gimmick or minor point of criticism -- to stop her steady march toward the nomination, barring some unforeseen developments. I find no excitement in any of them any more, and I pay little attention to the daily flow of news about the whole dull process. If Hillary wins, I will vote for her but without enthusiasm.The Republicans have nothing to offer but the same dreadful old stuff, whether we focus on domestic or foreign affairs. We can only hope their numbers will be so reduced by the next election that enough sensible Democrats and moderate Republicans can do some serious work on our most pressing problems.
The religious scene is about equally dismal, but that is a topic for another time.
Help! Does anyone know any reason to be hopeful.
I just learned that in 1999 Sweden, which long before had legalized prostitution, became convinced that this was not working. A new approach was tried in which it is illegal to buy sexual services but legal to sell them -- regardless of gender. The assumption is that prostitution is primarily a form of violence against women. Men become the offenders liable to prosecution, and women are regarded as victims who need to be helped.
Some evaluation are quite positive. See:http://www.justicewomen.com/cj_sweden.html
Some Swedish sex workers have protested vigorously that this hurts them and is discriminatory. Gone are the "good and kind" men. Present customers are more likely to be violent, refuse to use condoms, and generally made sex work less desirable. Scaring male customers away has put downward pressure on prices, etc. See:http://www.petraostergren.com/content/view/44/67/
I have not done enough research to form an opinion, but this novel approach is intriguing and deserves investigation. I am reconsidering my own previous view.
I think one original proposition I offered a decade ago still holds. There is no good solution to the problem of prostitution, only bad and worse. Perhaps Aquinas had a point when he wrote that prostitution is a necessary evil needed for the same reason that we need sewers.
Well, I actually I do have in mind something, but I have not found a way to implement it. The most nearly perfect answer would be that every time a man paid for sexual services with money, one testicle would disappear immediately while angels in heaven cheered. I propose this only for lusty, irresponsible males who only want easy sex without emotional entanglements. Lonely, shy men lacking social skills need assistance in finding healthy relationships with the opposite sex, which might or might not involve sex.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
The main point, however, is that the whole process is insane. Starting the next campaign the day after each election is unnecessary, absurd, crazy. We have not even mentioned the amount of money that is being wasted. The only people who benefit are the 24 hour news networks that need something -- anything -- to fill the hours to help reduce the hourly repetition of the same old thing plus endless inane commentary. We can only hope that people will become so disgusted that they will rise up in wrath and demand that an end be put to it.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
It hardly seemed like the rebirth of the old town hall meeting in which grass roots democracy flourished with citizens in the same room interacting in person with their leaders.. Note that only a tiny number of American citizens submitted entries, and they were screened by a panel, and a few were chosen to go on the air. In the end journalists chose the questions. By the time all this processing took place, a great deal of selectivity had diluted the spontaneous immediacy supposedly displayed here. This is hardly the pure democracy touted in all the hype.
Yes, it was different, but did it make a difference? Were great new insights displayed in the questions and the answers? Were hitherto unknown facets of character and personality brought to light so that we have a deeper understanding of who they are and what kind of leaders they might make? Not that I could tell to any appreciable degree. To think otherwise is to exalt format at the expense of content, to assume with Marshall McCluhan that "the medium is the message." To test my big yawn at the excitement at CNN, let us ask if this events changed anything. Did one candidate win large numbers to his/her cause? Were new issues addressed in a fresh way that produced greater understanding about who the candidates are and what they stand for and how they would govern? Show me the evidence.
The only value I could see was that possibly this novel approach to a debate got more people to participate and to listen in -- perhaps among the young. Maybe we will find out whether this occurred and whether any lasting results flow from it.
The main problem is that these debates should not be occurring this far in advance in any format. There are too many of them to get very far on any issue with any of them. No gimmick will resolve the difficulties of having a debate among eight people half a year before any actual voting takes place.
In general, I prefer to let the market system work (with appropriate regulation, which we now lack, to protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens) to distribute income and wealth as long as it is done fairly, i. e., without special advantages that law can correct. We can use the tax system to produce funds for public purposes and put a steep rate on those who have enormous salaries and amass great wealth. Let the corporations decide much to pay their CEOs, e. g. We will just tax the obscenely high results at high rates.
But there are two areas that should be removed from the private profit-making arena: health care and national defense. These are literally matters of life and death. Expanding Medicare to cover everybody, e. g., will take care of the health insurance problem, and perhaps independent non-profit enterprises can be established to build weapons and produce the new drugs that scientific advances make possible. Economists can tell us how to do it and get the job done efficiently.
Health care and national defense are too important to national life to allow private interests to be in charge. Remember President's Eisenhower's warning about the dangers inherent in the expansion of the power of the "military-industrial complex?" Perhaps we should now speak of the "military-industrial-university-medical complex." Let people make money on other things, but the nation needs to make sure that the lust for money-making does not corrupt the enterprises that defend us from diseases that produce sickness and death and from the hostile people at home and abroad. I would suggest that it is not good policy to give people a reason to love wars and the the rumors of wars when the possibility of making a lot of money out of it is involved.
On the defense industries see:
See the case for nationalizing the defense industry: http://hnn.us/articles/28109.html
John Kenneth Galbraith made a similar proposal in 1969 in an article in The New York Times entitled, “The Big Defense Firms Are Really Public Firms and Should be Nationalized.”
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
1. They are determined idealists who are sincerely doing their best to end this tragic war.
2. They are realistic, smart politicians who are thinking not so much about Iraq now as about the elections in 2008. By trying to embarrass the Republicans who continue to support the President, they are acting in the long run interest of the country since more Democrats in Congress would be a good thing.
3. They are blatant cynics who know all these efforts will fail since the President is determined to stay in Iraq until whatever objective prevails at the time is achieved regardless of Congressional action or public opinion, so they might as well get as much political advantage out of the situation as they can.
My guess is that all three are present to some extent. Option 1 is naive and futile. Option 3 abandons morality. The second, while it has its own shortcomings, is the only one that comes anywhere close to the combination of idealism, realism, and pragmatism that is needed in these perilous times. There really is not a thoroughly good policy option for the Democrats given their slim majorities and the fact that the President has the final say given the impotence of the Congress to act with sufficient power to overcome Presidential vetoes. I have argued repeatedly that there is no good policy for Iraq at the moment. That is the larger truth. Senate overnighters cannot escape this fact.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Monday, July 09, 2007
1. You want it split open and grilled.
2. Grilled until it has a thick carcinogenic coat of disgusting black crust.
If you can tolerate this and order one anyway, you may be asked to specify whether you want "red" or "white."
Don't be surprised if the item is called a "hot" on the menu.
Play it safe. Order a hamburger.
Be forewarned. I can take no responsibility if you disregard my efforts to protect you from this disastrous ruining of an otherwise wonderful American treat. Eat your hot dogs at home. They may give you a heart attack, but at least you won't get cancer from the abominable Rochester version.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
and wistfully said,
"Blessed is the one who shares ______'s bed"?
Please note: Each participant is allowed only three entries.
Now read Matthew 5:28 as applying to both sexes regarding both the luster and the lustee.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Medieval theologians countered the objection that an infinite punishment for finite sins was unjust with the notion that the sin was against an infinite value (God), and therefore it was just.
Most of us find that defense singularly unconvincing. But it is amusing to watch how easily modern liberals, who reject the notion of an everlasting hell as contrary to the character of the nice, kind God they believe in, combine this idea with their affirmation that Jesus is the supreme moral authority.
However, all the churches I know also totally ignore Matthew 10:8 in which Jesus sends out the Apostles and commissions them to cast out demons and raise the dead. Most churches claim their task is to continue the ministry of the Apostles to preach the Gospel and do deeds of love and mercy. Yet I know of no church that has a ministry of raising the dead. Only a few even pretend to be able to cast out demons.
I conclude from all this that all Christians selectively obey Jesus in practice while claiming in theory to obey in all matters -- or at least that they ought to. You can check this out by looking at how Christians find ways of avoiding the hard sayings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-48). When all else fails, you can always ignore completely.
I checked the index and found not one reference to any 20th century theologian or philosopher of religion I ever read and who instructed me on what it is to be a modern Christian. I did find a few brief references to a couple of Roman Catholic Popes and to the Protestant fundamentalists Jerry Falwell, Charles Stanley and Pat Robertson!
Critics of religion typically ignore the cultural context in which religion occurs, seeming to have some ahistorical notion of something they call "religion," and it is always bad. This ignores the fact that religious belief is always particular and occurs in some cultural context, so that what is bad may be in fact as much, if not primarily, a cultural thing and not necessarily a religious phenomenon. Also, they give not much attention to the good that may come out of religion, e. g., opposition to slavery and works of charity and mercy like feeding the hungry and healing the sick. Somehow these things are not part of this abstracted essence of "religion."
They seem to believe that if religion were universally abandoned, the world would be better off.
I suggest that such is not the case. Apparently tthe critics assume that all these non-religious souls would be scientifically enlightened people with high morals, i. e., like the authors of these anti-religious tirades. It would be equally fallacious to assume that all would be well if everybody were the kind of Christian I am.
Efforts to attribute the world's ills to some one cause, private property, e. g. (Marxism), the rectification of which would lead to certain progress, have never been successful.
So, go ahead, Mr. Hitchens, condemn what you call "religion," but, pardon me, if I am equally insistent that whatever you are talking about, it doesn't include me.
Dear Mr. Edwards,
I like your anti-poverty theme, but I fear that your use of the "two Americas" theme may not be wise.
It is too easy a target for Republicans.
It is not precise. There are many Americans, many gradations in the class structure. There is a middle, where multitudes of Americans think they are. It will be regarded too populist, opens you to effective criticism.
I urge you to go light on that theme. I urge you to consider my earlier suggestion that strengthening families be the centerpiece of your strategy.
Around that you can stress the anti-poverty theme but at the same time help a great many Americans to identify with your aims -- health care, help for working mothers with child care, parental leave, increase in EITC, and so on through a long list.
I want to see you elected, but hope you won't seem so left-wing in order to get the nomination that you ruin your chances of winning the general election.
I am a native of Georgia, a graduate of Mercer University and taught of 40 years at the theological seminary where Martin Luther King graduated and where Walter Rauschenbusch, the father of the social gospel taught. I stand in that idealistic tradition tempered by the political realism of Reinhold Niebuhr.
When idealists enter politics they must become hard-nosed, tough-minded realists and pragmatists. That is what I hope for you.
For more unwanted advice, see my blog for Saturday, November 11, 2006. in the archives at http://johnwilfred.blogspot.com/