Friday, June 30, 2006

Compromise in the Culture Wars?: Maybe There's Hope for a Cease-Fire

Earlier this week I ran into a self-identified Republican Southern Baptist Sunday School Teacher (though he, a good Baptist, would like for me to put as much distance as possible between the words "Republican" and "Southern Baptist," lest people keep thinking that the two are identical) who, remembering that I used to be a pastor and not knowing my political or religious ideology, wanted to talk to me about a subject that was troubling him: gay marriage.

There is no doubt in his mind that the Bible uniformly condemns homosexuality, and as such he sees it as a morally unacceptable lifestyle. However, he was deeply troubled that the issue of gay marriage has come to dominate conversations in both the Republican party and the Southern Baptist Church. He made a few good points which I'd like to relay here. Remember, this is coming from someone who identifies himself as a conservative Republican, a conservative evangelical, and a Southern Baptist.

First, he was troubled about the way in which the issue of gay marriage seems to be encroaching on the very important separation between church and state. Remember, he pointed out, Baptists were the ones who - having long been oppressed by the state - fought so hard for such a separation to exist in America. Now, though, that they are beginning to taste political power they are trying as hard as they can to tear down the wall that they helped built, which is hardly is stand for principle or integrity.

As far as he can see (and I agree with him wholeheartedly, having made this point before myself) there is no civic (that is, non-religious) argument against gay marriage. The closest thing to such an argument falls flat on its face with even the slightest amount of scrutiny. Those fighting so hard to keep the state from recognizing homosexual relationships point to a marriage "crisis," the ever rising divorce rate and the destruction of nuclear families that comes with it. They then declare that homosexual relationships are somehow responsible for this state of affairs, and constitute and all out assault on heterosexual marriage.

This argument is patent non-sense. My Republican, Southern Baptist friend pointed out that marriage in America may have many problems, including infidelity, a pornographic culture, dysfunctional communication skills, economic factors, etc., but that as best as he can tell homosexuality has little to do with those problems. He said that frankly he and his wife find the notion that the prospect of gay marriage might somehow dissolve their own marriage to be somewhere between ridiculous and insulting. They may have their problems, just like everyone else, but none of those problems have anything to do with other people's relationships.

He also said that the whole discussion of how to treat homosexuals is lacking in grace. The legalistic nature of the discourse - this constitutes sin and so can't be tolerated - distracts, in his mind from a couple of key Christian doctrines: universal human sinfulness and the saving grace of God through Christ.

In his mind, many in his church are setting up homosexuals as a special class of sinners, whose sin is categorically different than the sins of others. But this is not in accord with his understanding of scripture or of traditional Southern Baptist theology, which denies any kind of hierarchy of sins (except "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit"). Theologically speaking, assuming (as he does) that homosexuality is sinful, it is no more sinful than any number of extremely tolerated sins, including judgmentalism and gossip. And, practically speaking, those tolerated sins do a great deal more apparent harm than committed, monogamous, homosexual relationships.

His views on the subject were, as is often the case for those of us who have seen our position on homosexuality change subtly or dramatically over time, formed with the aid of experience. He told me a couple of stories about his encounters with homosexuals, which helped teach him that they are persons rather than some sub-human species. One time he and his three boys went camping and fishing. The campsite to their left had two lesbian women, out to enjoy nature. The campsite to their right had some hyper-sexual, alpha heterosexual men, out drinking and carousing. The lesbian women were very kind to him and his boys. The same can't be said for the heterosexual men. In this case it became clear to him that, when judging the values of a person, you need to consider more than just sexual orientation.

Another time he went on a business trip with a man who, by the end of the trip, opened up about his homosexuality. They talked about this man's partner, and showed each other pictures of their loved ones. My friend realized that his gay business acquaintance loved his life partner just as much as my friend loved his own wife. The nature of the relationships was extremely similar, with the only major differences being gender and sexual orientation.

So, when he talked to me, he was really struggling with exactly how he should approach homosexuality. He is convinced that the Bible condemns it as sinful, but he is equally convinced that, as far as sins go, it can't be that bad. After all, Jesus mentioned money how many times, but he never once mentioned homosexuality. So, his religious position is no longer as set as it used to be, even though none of his major beliefs have changed.

However, he was most disturbed about the way in which his fellow Christians deal politically with the issue of homosexuality. He said that while Christians should allow their faith to guide their politics, they should not allow themselves to be used by opportunistic politicians who inflame their passions with powerful rhetoric on symbolic issues with little real significance. He also said, with regard to the separation of church and state, that even if Christianity uniformly condemns homosexuality, we can't codify Christianity in America; it isn't Christian, and it isn't American.

I disagree with him on many things: the moral value of homosexuality, how to read the Bible, the nature of God, etc. But my heart was warmed by our conversation, in which for once I did more listening than talking. I'm glad that he had the courage to publicly discuss such a hot-button issue, and the integrity to admit his own doubts and concerns. If more people on the so-called "right" or "left" are willing to be as open and honest as this man, then perhaps there's room for a peaceful resolution to the culture wars.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Slippery Slope of Cal Thomas

Maybe the question for Bishop Schori and her fellow heretics should be: if homosexual practice is not sin, what is? And how do we know? Or is it a matter of "thus saith the opinion polls" and lobbying groups, rather than "thus saith the Lord"? With the bishop's "doctrine" of inclusion, why exclude anyone? How about applying the religious equivalent of "open borders" and let everyone into the church, including unrepentant prostitutes, murderers, liars, thieves and atheists. If the Episcopal Church denies what is clearly taught in scripture about important matters like sexual behavior, why expect its leaders to have any convictions about anything, including directions to Heaven? How can anyone be sure, if the guidebook is so full of errors?

The quote above is from a syndicated op-ed piece by Cal Thomas, published this Thursday. I'd like to thank my twin brother Tom for calling my attention to it, and insisting that I write some sort of a response.

In the same piece Thomas says

The Episcopal Church isn't the only denomination having trouble deciding what it believes. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to "receive" a policy paper on sex-inclusive language for the Trinity. Instead of the traditional (and biblical) Father, Son and Holy Spirit, these liberal Presbyterians will consider using "Mother, Child and Womb," or "Rock, Redeemer, Friend," among others. Never mind what God calls Himself. These people want a name change without asking permission.

These two incendiary quotes are designed to fan the flames of the culture war, and my first impulse was to simply let them sit. Rather than being dragged into a fight with someone who willfully makes bad arguments, the dignified thing to do, I thought, was to let culture warriors like Thomas shout themselves hoarse. But Thomas and his ilk are quite experienced shouters, whose literary voices have at this point been well conditioned to withstand far more argumentative abuse than this. So, against my better judgment, here I am writing in response to someone who will

a.) never notice that someone like me has responded, and

b.) never deal with the substance of my or anyone else's arguments.

The first quote, concerning the Episcopal position on homosexuality, is a series of dishonest questions. An honest question is an appeal for information. A dishonest question - often in the form of the logical fallacy called a complex question - is not a question at all, but rather an attempt to lead a rhetorical opponent into an untenable position. When Thomas asks

[I]f homosexual practice is not sin, what is?

he is not asking for a comprehensive theology of human sinfulness. Rather, he is saying that the Episcopalians have so diluted the concept of sin that it is no longer recognizable. But, by asking it in question form he avoids having to actually build an argument himself. Instead he asks a leading question which is designed to dominate the moral conversation.

Consider this hypothetical dialogue, which is the sort of thing which I think Thomas is trying to do:

"Liberal" Episcopalian: I don't think that homosexuality is inherently sinful.

Cal Thomas: (Shouting, and spewing self-righteous spit) If homosexuality isn't a sin, then nothing is! You no longer have any concept of sin!

"Liberal" Episcopalian: Don't be ridiculous, of course we have a concept of sin, we just don't think that homosexuality is inherently sinful.

Cal Thomas: You're the one who's being ridiculous! If you think that homosexuality isn't sinful, then tell me what is! What do you even mean by "sin"?

Where can the conversation go from here? Of course the Episcopalian could explain exactly what it is that they mean by sin, offering up some sort of comprehensive theology of sin, and explaining exactly why it is that homosexuality isn't inherently sinful. But, to what end? Would such a response even be heard? Thomas is not entering into the conversation in good faith, and has no intention of actually listening when he is offered up a comprehensive theology of sin. He's just dropping a rhetorical grenade masquerading as a question.

Worse than this, however, is where Thomas goes from here. According to Thomas, the church's acceptance of homosexuals paves the way for accepting "unrepentant prostitutes, murderers, liars, thieves and atheists." Of course he doesn't bother to mention how exactly consentual, monogamous homosexual relationships are morally equivalent to prostitution, murder, stealing and the like. He doesn't mention how exactly homosexual behavior is related to atheism. In fact, he offers no reasons whatsoever for his position, making no argument at all.

Finally, Thomas asks

If the Episcopal Church denies what is clearly taught in scripture about important matters like sexual behavior, why expect its leaders to have any convictions about anything, including directions to Heaven? How can anyone be sure, if the guidebook is so full of errors?

Nevermind that the scriptural position on sexual behavior is not entirely clear, nor is it always applicable to modern society. Also nevermind that it is by no means a given that the Episcopal Church, just because it disagrees with the moral intuitions of one Cal Thomas, in any way "denies what is clearly taught in scripture."

[note: to see what I mean by this, check out the last section of The Culture War and Homosexuality: A Different Sort of Quagmire, which deals with scriptural arguments against homosexuality.]

The Episcopal Church has not tossed their Bibles aside and declared a moral free-for-all, and neither have those (like me) who agree with their position on homosexuality. Rather, they have searched the scriptures diligently, and have found that in many cases passages from those scripture have been yanked out of context to defend the moral intuitions of small-minded people.

As far as I know, no one in the Episcopal Church is denying that there is such a thing as human sinfulness, nor are they denying that the Bible is at the foundation of our shared Christian faith. Instead they are denying that only people who think like Cal Thomas are qualified to say what the Bible says.

Cal Thomas, in his series of dishonest question which are really not questions at all, is, instead of building a good argument about why the Episcopal Church is wrong about homosexuality, actually using two different logical fallacies as a rhetorical device. He is simultaneously engaging in a Slippery Slope fallacy (that is, if we accept gays then we have to accept prostitutes, murders, thieves, and the like - this is similar to those who say that if we allow a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a women, then we have no reason not to allow a man to marry a horse and a woman to marry a gerbil) and a Strawman fallacy (attacking his version of the Episcopal Church's position rather than dealing with the actual arguments they are making).

Worse than this, he is smart enough to know that this is exactly what he's doing. He is more than capable of making a good argument, though he does it less and less these days. But he is trading good reason for a flamethrower, which is not only intellectually dishonest, but morally reprehensible.

Not content with his attack on the Episcopalians (and, in his defense, in parts of the piece not quoted here he makes some good points, which we will probably address in the comments section of this post), Thomas also has to attack a Presbyterian (U.S.A.) decision which has been praised here. After his ridiculous portrayal of the Presbyterian decision, he says

These people want a name change without asking permission.

If Thomas were being honest, then I would say that this is the most poorly conceived line of his piece (which is really saying something). But Thomas is once again being dishonest. He knows full well that this line won't stand up to the criticism it is about to receive, but he uses it anyway, because accurate or not, it is quite incendiary. One again, he trades argument for rhetoric as he dials up the culture war heat.

To the substance of Thomas' dishonest line, I have this to say:

1. The Presbyterians are not trying to change God's name. Trinitarian formulations have nothing to do with God's name, unless you think that God's name is literally "Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

And, as Amy has pointed out, they are by no means getting rid of the traditional Trinitarian formula. They are merely adding to the list of acceptable metaphoric descriptions of God, something which is done all the time, anyway.

2. They are also doing absolutely nothing "without asking for permission," a point which should be obvious to Thomas unless he really believes that liberal Christians don't pray and don't try their best to follow the direction of the Holy Spirit. Thomas may disagree with the Presbyterian (U.S.A.) Church about where it is that the Holy Spirit is leading, but I hope he is not so morally and spiritually arrogant as to believe that this great church isn't trying to do God's will, and isn't constantly seeking that will through prayer.

I used to consider Cal Thomas to be one of the more thoughtful conservatives in syndication. I used to consider him a sort of Christian George Will. I've rarely agreed with him, but I used to read him almost religiously, to test my ideas out against his. Have I been wrong all this time? Was there some hallucinogenic substance in my drinking water that I didn't know about? Have I always been too charitable with people who disagree with me? Or, has he changed as the culture war heated up - becoming more concerned with "winning" than with arguing fairly and honestly?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sign of Hope

While I am a Methodist, I went to a Presbyterian (U.S.A.) seminary, and hope to return there in the fall of 2007 to pursue a Masters of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy. So, especially considering my discomfort with exclusively masculine images of God (they deny women participation in the imago dei, image of God) and non-literal approach to Trinitarian theology (the Trinity as a metaphor used to describe God rather than a literally true description of God), I was delighted when I read this article by the AP's Richard N. Ostling:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The divine Trinity -- "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" -- could also be known as "Mother, Child and Womb" or "Rock, Redeemer, Friend" at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action yesterday by the church's national assembly.

Delegates to the meeting voted to "receive" a policy paper on gender-inclusive language for the Trinity, a step short of approving it.

That means officials with the Louisville-based denomination can propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the Trinity, but congregations won't be required to use them.

"This does not alter the church's theological position but provides an educational resource to enhance the spiritual life of our membership," legislative committee chair Nancy Olthoff, an Iowa laywoman, said during yesterday's debate on the Trinity.

The assembly narrowly defeated a conservative bid to refer the paper back for further study.

A panel that has worked on the idea since 2000 said the classical language for the Trinity should still be used, but Presbyterians also should seek "fresh ways to speak of the mystery of the triune God" to "expand the church's vocabulary of praise and wonder."

One reason is that language limited to the Father and Son "has been used to support the idea that God is male and that men are superior to women," the panel said.

Conservatives responded that the church should stick close to the way God is named in the Bible and noted that Jesus' most famous prayer was addressed to "Our Father."

Besides "Mother, Child and Womb" and "Rock, Redeemer, Friend," proposed Trinity options drawn from biblical material include:

• "Lover, Beloved, Love"

• "Creator, Savior, Sanctifier"

• "King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love."

Early in yesterday's business session, the Presbyterian assembly sang a revised version of a familiar doxology, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," that avoided male nouns and pronouns for God.

Youth delegate Dorothy Hill, a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, was uncomfortable with changing the Trinity wording.

The paper "suggests viewpoints that seem to be in tension with what our church has always held to be true about our Trinitarian God," she said.

Hill reminded delegates that the Ten Commandments say "the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."

The Rev. Deborah Funke of Montana warned that the paper would be "theologically confusing and divisive" at a time when the denomination of 2.3 million members faces other troublesome issues.

On Tuesday, the assembly will vote on a proposal to give local congregations and regional presbyteries some leeway on ordaining clergy and lay officers living in gay relationships.

Ten conservative Presbyterian groups have warned jointly that approval of what they call "local option" would "promote schism by permitting the disregard of clear standards of Scripture."

Perhaps my friend Amy, a Masters of Divinity student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary who was at the General Assembly in question could leave some comments explaining this more. In the meantime, I am very encouraged that a mainline denomination is exploring this. I wish that the United Methodist Church would look at this, as well, because I'm tired of secretly changing the liturgy and doxology myself, confusing the people in the pews around me.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I Love My Family This Much!?!

I moved to Louisville six years ago, to be closer to the woman who a year later would become my wife. Right before I moved here, I lined up a job working third shift at a home for abused boys. Much about that job appealed to me. I loved the idea of working with the kids. I loved the idea of being a part of something designed to reclaim lives. I loved, in fact, almost everything I thought I would get out of that job. It was an adult job - full-time with benefits. It would help me pay for my own place, and set my own course in life.

I was twenty-one years old, had flunked out of college, and was by far the youngest person I would work with. The closest thing to responsibility I had ever had was the summer I spent as one of only two employees of a local video store. The other employee was my twin brother. He worked days, I worked nights. One of us had to be in the store at all times. If I wanted a day off, he had to work open to close, and vice versa.

That video store job may have been, in hindsight, the best job I ever had. But I was eager to get out of it, eager to get out of Lexington, and eager to get out of my parents' house. So I took the adult job in Louisville, got my own place, and a year later got married to a woman who insisted that I never work third shift again.

See, while I was looking forward to that job, idealizing everything about it and anticipating my new adult life where I would be the master of my own destiny, I hadn't counted on the realities of life. Most of the people that I would work with there had worked with troubled kids far too long to think that anything they would ever do would matter to these kids. They'd given up. They didn't believe in what they were doing anymore, they were just collecting a paycheck. The kids weren't subjects to be shown compassion, they were objects to be controlled and dominated.

The hours were even worse than the growing disillusionment. As the youngest employee, I didn't know that you could turn down requests to stay on past the end of your shift. I was forever being called in to pick up shifts. I remembered vividly the literally longest day of my life. I worked my usual shift, from midnight to eight in the morning. While on that shift, someone from first shift told me that I had to stay on for that shift because someone had called in. So, I didn't get off work until four in the afternoon. I went over to my girlfriend's (soon to be fiance!) apartment to sleep on her couch for an hour before our date that evening. We went to a basketball game, and I got home just in time to sleep for another hour before I had to be back at work. In a span of 32 hours, I worked 24 of them!

While I was working third shift I slept, on average, three hours a day during the week. Then, on the weekends I would sleep maybe eighteen hours straight. My system got out of whack. At first I lost about 10 pounds, but then I quickly gained over 40. My eyes were almost constantly red, and my health was, to say the least, poor.

I swore I would never again work a job where I had to punch in to someone else's time-clock and do something I wouldn't do if they didn't pay me for it. Never again would I trade my time for only money. The next job I took was as a youth pastor, my first professional ministry job. For the next five years I worked only in churches (except for a brief stint when I got a second job helping out part-time at a local restaurant, which was a hell of a lot of fun since I knew I wouldn't be there for very long, and liked the people I was working with) doing only work which I would probably have done for free if only they weren't already paying me.

Of course, if you're reading this then you probably know what happened to my career in ministry. Since October, as you well know, I've been a full-time stay-at-home Dad, which is the best job in the world. But the pay, well, stinks. Since I haven't been able to make enough money writing to help my wife out with our bills, it became clear last week that I would have to get a job.

A friend of mine works as a lifeguard at the Ralph Wright Natatorium at the University of Louisville. He told me they were looking for someone to do some light maintenance and pool cleaning, so I decided to check it out. My ethics keep me from seriously considering most jobs, since I can't do many of them in good conscience. But I can't come up with anything immoral about cleaning pools, so I called the Aquatics Director and set up an interview.

Adam and I went to that interview this morning, and despite my having brought my kid along (I told them in advance that I wouldn't have childcare for when they wanted to meet me) the interview went just fine. Their main concerns were that I was in the country legally and would be willing to actually do the work they'd want me to do for tiny paycheck they could give me. Ordinarily those would be, judging from the quality of the job, serious concerns.

But, in truth, they had me long before I showed up at the interview. Over the phone I asked what sorts of hours they were looking for, to which the Aquatics director replied, "We're very flexible. We'll tell you what needs to get done during the week, and you can decide when you'd like to do it." That, my friends, was the magic answer. I can still be with Adam until he starts preschool this fall, and I can pick up a paycheck to give us some much needed cash. I'm re-entering the world of people who exchange their time for only money. Not the world's greatest exchange, but since I have a surplus of time and a deficit of money, it seems a sensible trade.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Don't Even Know Where to Begin

This has been one of the stupidest fights in recent memory. After Kentucky's (my beloved home state) state board of education passed a resolution to allow (not require) schools to use the "new" way of dating history, B.C.E. and C.E. alongside the Christocentric B.C. and A.D., conservative and evangelical Christians pitched the hissy-fit to end all hissy-fits. The idea that schools teach students the dating system used in almost all universities and preferred by almost all historians along with the overtly Christian way of dating history was offensive to those whose idea of religious freedom is the state endorsing their own views and imposing it on the public in the name of the majority.

I've marveled at the outcry since it began. To me, the decision to expose children to a way of marking history that shows up on - among other things - the national standardized tests which evaluate them, is a no-brainer. It certainly doesn't challenge anyone's religious beliefs to acknowledge that not all people view the life of Jesus as the defining point in the history of the world. But it does, it turns out, deprive evangelicals of one mode of evangelism.

While I was trying to get inside the perspective of the large and vocal segment of my state's population up in arms about how we date history, I remembered my past infatuation with Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College and author of a number of apologetic and evangelistic books. I was introduced to Kreeft's work through my passion for C.S. Lewis. Kreeft wrote an intriguing dialogue in response to this quirk of history: Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John F. Kennedy all died on the same day, November 22, 1963.

That coincidence gave rise to the witty and wonderful Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death, with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley. I read the whole book in an afternoon, and for a time was hooked on Kreeft, who was able to reduce complex religious and philosophic ideas to manageable (and readable!) chunks. Of course Kreeft was guilty, like Lewis, of oversimplifying the complex so that the average reader could understand it. But, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. If you wish to be an academic you don't want to stop with Kreeft or Lewis. But if you are an average person who doesn't have the luxury of devoting your life to contemplating the metaphysical mysteries of the universe, Kreeft, like Lewis, does a good job of filling you in on how the conversation has gone on so far, and allows you to catch up and join it.

But Kreeft, like Lewis, has an agenda which is not limited to just inspiring reflection. Kreeft desires to convert his non-Christian readers, and to arm his Christian readers with some intellectual ammunition. And this is where the way in which we date history comes in. One of Kreeft's most interesting books is another dialogue, Socrates Meets Jesus: History's Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ. The book asks what would happen if Socrates suddenly woke up on the campus of a major university and enrolled in its divinity school.

The delightfully improbable plot unfolds on the campus of Have It Divinity School, a not so subtle stab at a certain Ivy League institution. Socrates goes to classes and converses with both students and faculty, asking the same sorts of impolite, probing questions he was famous for in ancient Athens. In doing so, he confounds the wise, and cuts straight to Kreeft's idea of the heart of the claims of Christianity.

In chapter seven, titled Jesus: One of a Kind Socrates finally visits a Christology class, where, of course, the discussion centers around the question of who Jesus was, and what it means to say that Jesus is or was the Christ. At one point in the discussion Socrates asks what the terms B.C. and A.D. mean, setting up an exploration of how we date time and why we date it that way. As the conversation begins to shift away from how we date our history to who exactly the class thinks Jesus was, Socrates asks this pointed question:

So why was Jesus so much better than the others [great philosophers and religious figures to whom Jesus has been compared] that you date all of history around him?

Dating our culture's history by Jesus is an overt public acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ. But, of course, not everyone does affirm the Lordship of Christ, which presents a real problem for those who wish to be involved in public life without saying something which their conscience or their intellect rejects.

Dating public history by Jesus is in and of itself an evangelistic act - an attempt to impose the statement "Jesus is Lord" on an entire culture, regardless of the religious beliefs represented by that culture. No wonder evangelicals are upset that this tool is being slowly removed from their box. They phrase their objection in many different ways, but I fear that this is the real issue at stake. Not the rights of the majority (which hardly need protection) or religious freedom (which is being subverted by the tyrant majority rather than protections for minorities), but instead public support for Christian evangelism.

I say this as a Christian, someone whose own personal history is in fact ordered around my experience of God through Jesus. I say this as an evangelical Christian (even if a liberal one), someone who tries to share that experience of God as revealed through Jesus with others. The uproar over exposing kids to another way of dating history is nothing short of religious tyranny, the relentless imposition of majority views on a minority whose beliefs and concerns are simply not respected. And worse still, it makes for bad education. And education, not evangelism, ought to be the concern of public schools.

A Story for Your Job Interview

I, a fiscally impractical person, am blessed to have a wife with a decent job and a knack for balancing budgets. I left professional ministry last October, and have not had a job outside the house since. I write obsessively (roughly 2 to 3 hours per day), but make little to no money at it. I preach at a few churches from time to time, but rarely ask for a fee. As far as I am concerned, at some deep subconscious level, money is something to be spent, but not necessarily made. That unstated ('til now) position makes me, despite my great skills as a father to our son, not exactly the world's easiest husband to deal with.

My wife was going over the budget for the next two months with me, and it became clear that we simply need more income. If only I could make a little bit of money things would go much smoother. Her career is doing as well as it can do - she is an expert in her field, and is in fact speaking this week at the Kentucky Autism Conference. But, while she has been supporting my sorry ass for quite some time, she isn't exactly in a lucrative profession.

So, I'm simply going to have to get a job. I've said that before, but this time I mean it. I'd love to stay home with Adam just a little while longer. He's starting preschool in the Fall. But we have to make it to Fall. So, this week I'm lining up job interviews.

But I'm still suspicious of any activity that actually makes money. While looking through the classifieds, thinking about the distance between who I naturally am and who I'll have to be to survive in the working world, I remembered one of my favorite stories from the life of Thales, who, after Xenophanes, is my favorite pre-Socratic philosopher. I wonder what would happen if I told this story, found in Aristotle's Politics, in a job interview:

When they reproached him [Thales] because his poverty, as though philosophy were no use, it is said that, having observed through his study of the heavenly bodies that there would be a large olive-crop, he raised a little capital while it was still winter, and paid deposits on all the olive presses in Miletus and Chios, hiring them cheaply because no one bid against him. When the appropriate time came there was a sudden rush of requests for the presses; he then hired them out on his own terms and so made a large profit, thus demonstrating that it is easy for philosophers to be rich, if they wish, but that it is not in this that they are interested.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Can't Escape Abortion (no matter how hard I try)

A lively debate on abortion at Habakkuk's Watchpost (which was wisely killed by the powers that be, as it was getting a wee bit testy) has found its way here. As such, for those poor souls who actually enjoy debating the moral and legal value of abortion, there are new comments on my abortion post from December, Boldly Going Where No Man Ought to Go. If you can't resist getting sucked into a debate that never goes anywhere, leave a comment on that post.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Comment and Question on Exodus 3:1-14

Troy has briefly returned from his "blogging break," and showed up here long enough to leave a great comment and ask a pressing question. You should check it out, along with my response. It is the sort of dialogue I was hoping for when I wrote that piece. Alas, I posted it while all the seminary students I know were working on papers!

Friday, June 09, 2006

UNCLE! he cries as the prophet Joel grips him in an exegetical headlock

It is becoming painfully clear to me that, despite my recent work on the Torah in general and Exodus in particular, I am no scholar of the Hebrew Bible. (Less of a knock on me, and more of mad props to those who have dedicated their entire lives to unraveling the complex mysterious of an ancient text which is at the heart of our experience of God.)

When I started this blog, one of my unstated goals was to examine the texts which establish the holy days of Christian liturgical calendar. Holy days are "thin places" in the calendar, in which the distance between the sacred and the profane seems a little less impossible to cover. Of course these days are not special in and of themselves. God is not more present on one day and less present on another. But these temporal "thin places" act very much like spatial "thin places," in that, while God may be experienced at any place and any time, at certain places and at certain times it is easier for us to experience God. This says less about God, I think, and more about us.

When we approach the altar to pray, for instance, we do so not because God is more present at that altar than at, for instance, a baseball field. We do so instead because the altar is a place that has been consecrated, set aside for prayer. It is a place where our spiritual ancestors prayed. It is a place where we ourselves have often prayed. And, when we go there to pray, we are reminded of our connection to our collective and personal spiritual pasts, as our prayers join the countless prayers of the past offered at places like the altar. The rich spiritual history of the altar, the fact that it is a place where people have prayed and somehow felt the presence of God, makes it a place where we are more likely to be open to that mysterious experience as we pray.

Holy days are very much like this. They are days which connect us to our spiritual heritage, and remind us of our collective experience of God in the past. As we are reminded of the rich legacy of that past, we are more open to reliving the experiences of that past, and encountering the holy. Thus they are holy days, days on which contact with the holy is made more likely. Again this has nothing to do with the nature of God, or with any value that the particular day has in and of itself. Rather, it has everything to do with the way in which we experience God. As we connect our present moment to our rich spiritual heritage, and as we connect our personal experience of God to the richness of our collective past experiences, our experience is made more real, more vibrant. We are more able to truly encounter the holy.

So one of my goals has been to explore the nature of these holy days by connecting them to the scriptures which establish them. This past Sunday Christians all over the world celebrated Pentecost, and with it the coming of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the church. And so, this past Sunday, I set out to explore the texts which give rise to Pentecost: specifically the second chapter of Acts, and more specifically still, the speech given by Peter in the second half of that chapter.

In his speech Peter either quotes or alludes to several different passages from the Hebrew Bible, and my goal was to analyze the way in which Peter uses and interprets these passages. Accomplishing this, of course, did not depend on whether the historical Peter ever gave such a speech and used those passages in it, or whether the author of Luke/Acts (two volumes by the same author) took some liberties with history. Whether Peter's speech in the second chapter of Acts was a historical record, the memories of the early church, or was merely a literarily and theologically useful construct by the author; it is certainly the case that looking at the speech as it is recorded in the second chapter of Acts gives us insight into how early Christians took the Jewish scriptures and made them their own, creating a new religion out of an older one.

If Peter's speech really did occur, then it was given long before any of the surviving Christian writings were written. Before the letters of Paul and other apostles, before the written Gospels, Christians had only Jewish texts as the sacred scriptures. As Christianity moved from being a Jewish sect to a religion in its own right, how it interpreted the sacred texts of that older religion informs us about the growing distinctions between the two groups. As I looked at Peter's speech, my thesis was that the way in which he used older texts represents the formation of Christian scriptures with the exact same words as the Jewish scriptures, but with much different meanings applied to those words.

In his speech in the second chapter of Acts, Peter either quotes or alludes to:

1. Joel 2:28-32 (in Christian versions), or Joel 3:1-5 (in Jewish versions) (Acts 2:17-21)

2. Psalm 16:8-11 (Acts 2:25-28)

3. Psalm 132:11 (Acts 2:30)

4. Psalm 16:10 (Acts 2:31)


5. Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34-35)

Four of the five scripture passages come from the Psalms, which Peter attributes to David as a way of connecting Jesus to David and showing Jesus as the "fulfillment" of "predictions" made in these Psalms. Interpreting these Psalms as prophesies, and interpreting prophesies as having a primarily predictive rather than prescriptive purpose, primarily concerning with the unfolding of future events rather than with rebuking present behavior, already indicates that a new interpretive method is being used. Peter in particular and early Christians in general are taking the raw material of the Hebrew scriptures and telling a new story with it. This is the earliest form of Gospel-making, a way to connect the Jewishness of Jesus and the very new thing which is emerging after his unexpected death and the Easter experience which followed.

As the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the story of the formation of the universal church and the distinction between Christianity and Judaism, it is appropriate that the way in which Peter interprets the verses he refers to is so distinctly Christian. But, Peter does remove the verses from their historical, textual and cultural context, and offers and interpretation of them which would be unrecognizable to most of the people who had ever read them. He fails to take into account the concerns of the people who had read (or, more likely, heard) those verses in the past.

This violates my interpretive sensibilities - and, of course, not just mine. In failing to place these verses in any context, Peter removes all possible constraints on meaning. With no interpretive boundaries, the verse can be made to mean anything at all, a practice which is quite common among some forms of Christians. Additionally, in failing to account for any possible Jewish meaning for these Jewish texts, Peter falls into the latent anti-Semitism which is present at the start of Christianity. That anti-Semitism grows much more overt as Christians gain power in the Roman empire.

As Walter Harrelson, a Christian scholar of Religion and former Dean and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Vanderbilt University wrote in Jews and Christians: A Troubled Family (which he co-wrote with Rabbi Randall M. Falk):

One mode of interpretation that is clearly not acceptable is the flat claiming of the Hebrew Scriptures as Christian Scripture exclusively. The conflicts mirrored in the New Testament show that sometimes the claim was made that what God had done for and with Israel was not for Israel's sake but for the sake of the Christian community. In assessing the adequacy of Christian use of the Hebrew Bible, a negative criterion seems to be in order. Any Christian reading of the Hebrew Bible that does not leave the message of the Hebrew Bible for Israel intact is inadequate or is plainly wrong. The Bible of the Jews cannot be claimed as applicable to the world only in the form of Christian interpretation.

That leaves Peter's interpretive legacy a mixed bag: On the one hand, he has offered a very creative reinterpretation of the passages of the Hebrew Bible, which connect the emerging Christian religion to the sacred texts of its parent religion. On the other hand, he has failed to account for the historical concerns which gave rise to the texts and their place in scripture, and he has failed to account for the Jewish interpretation of these passages. That does not render his interpretation completely invalid, but neither does it mean that the passages in question actually mean what he claims they mean.

Ultimately this isn't a real problem for Christianity, because Peter is not starting with the scriptures and then trying to bring a meaning out of them. Rather, he is starting with the Gospel experience, and then communicating that experience in the language of the Hebrew scriptures. This, then, is less exegetical, and more evangelical, using the language of a particular culture to try to communicate the Gospel to that culture.

But the key to understanding how Peter is using the scriptures in question is found, I think, in how Peter treats the first quoted passage, from Joel. This is the only passage which actually comes from a prophetic book rather than the Psalms. And, even more interestingly, Peter, while claiming to quote it, does not exactly quote it. There are a couple of very significant changes. These changes should not be a real surprise, because he is apparently reciting from memory. But the changes do teach us the interpretation which Peter brings to the passage.

But before we get to the changes, I should note that Peter is here using the Septuagint, a Greek language version of the Hebrew Bible which was particularly useful for Jews in the Roman Empire. This makes looking at the differences even more difficult for people like me who don't know enough Hebrew and Greek to be able to consider passages of the Bible in their original languages. That is because, when translated, the passage from Joel as quoted by Peter is translated from Greek, but the passage from Joel as translated in Joel is translated from Hebrew. This can sometimes be a very big deal, as in the case of Isaiah 7:14, which translated from the Hebrew text reads

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (NRSV)


Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel. (JPS)

The writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, however, read that passage in the Greek Septuagint, where the Hebrew word which is translated into English as young woman (with absolutely no virginal connotation) reads instead virgin, thus giving us Luke 1:27 and Matthew 1:20-23.

Fortunately for our purposes here there is no problem like that. Even still, in an attempt to make the differences between the Hebrew and the Greek as small as possible, let us only consider the differences present in the same English translation, the NRSV. First we will look at Acts 2:17-21, then at Joel 2:28-32 (which, again, would be Joel 3:1-5 in a Jewish Bible):

'In the last days it will be, God
that I will pour out my Spirit
upon all flesh,
and your sons and your
daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall
see visions,
and your old men shall
dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men
and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy,
And I will show portents in the
heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and
smoky mist.

The sun shall be turned to
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the
Lord's great and
glorious day.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall
be saved.'

(Acts 2:17-21, NRSV)

Then afterward
I will pour out my spirit on
all flesh;
your sons and your daughters
shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall
see visions.

Even on the male and female
in those days, I will pour out
my spirit.

I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon shall be turned to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

(Joel 2:28-32, NRSV)

Most of the differences are purely cosmetic. Peter's speech in Acts renders the ending as poetry while the text from Joel renders it as prose. Peter's speech mentions "young men" then "old men," while the text from Joel has the "old men" before the "young men." We could pick these trivial differences apart, and perhaps find that Peter's inversion of the old men-young men ordering from Joel is theologically significant, while the shift to poetry from prose is not. After all, having the young come before the old might be Peter's sly and subtle placing of Christianity (the young religion) ahead of Judaism (the old religion). But picking such nits would, aside from reading perhaps a little too much into a minor difference, distract us from the significant differences at the beginning and the end.

Peter changes the context of the passage, leaving off the ending and altering the beginning. He starts the passage in an overtly escatalogical way (escatology = the study of the "end times"), saying In the last days rather than the more ambiguous Then afterward. In doing so he forces an interpretation on a passage from a book which is notoriously difficult to interpret.

The difficulty in interpreting Joel became more apparent to me as I wrestled with the text this week. It generally takes me a day or two to put together a textual interpretation for this blog. Sometimes it takes as long as three days, and sometimes it takes only a couple of hours. I started working on this post Sunday. I am typing this (finally!) Friday evening, after having scrapped several drafts. My goal was to look at how Peter interprets the passage from Joel as a prediction of end time events which begin with the coming of the Holy Spirit, and then offer a counter interpretation which places the text in its historical, textual and cultural contexts.

Context is important when interpreting Biblical passages. As the late Ray Summers, who was a professor of New Testament and Greek at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and was chair of the Religion Department at Baylor University, wrote in Worthy is the Lamb, to date the best book ever written on Revelation:

No interpretation can be regarded as the correct one if it would have been meaningless to those who first received the book.

This is especially true of prophesy, as Summers notes

One of the basic characteristics of prophesy is that it takes its start with the generation to which it is addressed. Its first purpose is to meet an immediate need - to comfort, to instruct, to warn.

This is where the fact that I am not a scholar of the Hebrew Bible becomes most apparent: I have been wholly unable to place Joel in any kind of context. I have looked at it for nearly a week (which, of course, is not nearly long enough) and am simply baffled by it. There are a number of reasons for this. The text does not specifically respond to a problem, but is instead vague. As one commentary says, its "distressing metaphors tell of an invasion, but by whom? The book does not say."

We don't know who wrote the book of Joel, we don't know where it was written, we don't know what it was written in response to, and we don't know when it was written. It has been dated anywhere from 800 to 300 BCE.

More confusing, perhaps, is the text itself. Of it another commentary says

The book of Joel is an unusual prophetic book. Although it contains readings in the form of oracles, announcements of judgment against the nations, and promises of an ideal future, it does not follow the usual structure of most prophetic books.

The text offers no way to date itself, no reference to the reign of kings or specific historical events. As such the book has no specific historical setting. It is instead set in a kind of mythological setting - rather than being set in a particular time period responding to the concerns of ancient Israel within that time period, it uses mythological language to call to mind the entire course of Israel's history. It then has a generic setting, and it is very difficult for me to imagine the concerns of that generic setting.

Also, the text itself has as much in common with apocalyptic literature as it does with regular prophesy. This makes the text even more mysterious and difficult to interpret. And perhaps that difficulty makes it the most appropriate text for Peter to treat in his speech. If the book of Joel refuses to place itself in any particular context, wishing instead to be a more malleable book, useful in a wide variety of settings, then the book has many fewer interpretive limits placed on it than other prophetic works. It can, indeed, be made to say almost anything in any situation, which makes it particularly useful for the purposes of the early church.

Peter's speech, in changing the beginning of the passage, forces an interpretation on the whole passage, placing it in the context within which it refuses to place itself. It now has a specific purpose: to foretell the events of the day on which Peter is giving his speech, and to say something even more important about that day. This is, according to Peter, the beginning of the end. The Holy Spirit, as had been foretold in the passage he quotes from Joel, has come. The end is nigh.

I have been wholly unable to offer a serious treatment of the passage from Joel. But I will try again at Pentecost next year. In the meantime here's a question:

Peter was apparently wrong when he changed the language of Joel. While the Holy Spirit may or may not have come that day, the end was certainly not near. Is the early Christian emphasis on escatology (and emphasis which, as the success of the Left Behind books remind us, has never really left the church) a problem for us? Many times the end has been predicted, even (as is the case with Peter's treatment of passage from Joel in the second chapter of Acts) by apostles as recorded in the Bible. But so far, nothing. Does this in any way discredit the basic message of Christianity?


Monday, June 05, 2006

De Facto v. De Juro Segregation and Public Education

The Louisville Courier Journal (my city's newspaper) has just reported that Jefferson County Public Schools will have to defend their desegregation plan before the U.S. Supreme Court because *gasp* it actually considers the race of students in its plan to keep public schools integrated. My how things have changed since 1974, when Jefferson County Public Schools was last brought before the Supreme Court because it wasn't doing enough to prevent segregation in schools!

There are two kinds of segregation: de juro (that is, "by law") and de facto (that is, "by fact," or "as a matter of fact"). There is no de juro segregation allowed by law anywhere in the United States. This is not news. Because of this, some people mistakenly believe that there is no segregation in the United States, and more specifically, in Louisville, KY. This is simply a mistake.

I know an older person who is now looking for a new house. This person is not rich, and has grown up in a rural area with almost no black people. Their current neighborhood has never had a black person living in it. But now, for reasons beyond their control, they have to move into the city. Without much money, most of the neighborhoods which their realtor took them to visit were what they called "mixed" neighborhoods - that is, blacks, whites, hispanics, asians, etc. living together.

In response to this, they informed their realtor that they did not want to live in a mixed neighborhood. There are a number of legally and/or morally permissible responses that a realtor can give to this statement, which is essentially a request for what is known as "steering." But, the fact is, while there are both rules and laws against it, "steering" happens all the time, in subtle ways. "Steering" is when a realtor chooses to show houses based primarily or exclusively on the race of the buyer, and it is one of the many, many causes of de facto segregation. But the realtor in question, whose name I don't know or I would probably report them, did not avail himself (I can at least give away his gender, even if I won't give away even the gender of the person who asked to be steered) of any of these permissible answers. Instead he fed into any number of negative stereotypes when he said, "I can't take you to a white neighborhood for the kind of money you're talking about."

In saying that he let out a not so well kept secret of Louisville: if the price is right, you can surround yourself with pretty much whoever you want, including and especially people who look just like you. Sure, there are exceptions to this. One of the teenage girls in my Sunday School class, despite being black, lives in one of the whitest areas of Prospect. (For those of you how don't know Louisville, Prospect is the product of the white flight which followed desegregation. It is, like certain neighborhoods or townships right outside an urban area, the last bastion of the white elite.) But those exceptions are few and far between, leading to largely desegregated areas.

There are also areas of Louisville which have almost exclusively black populations, along with areas that are predominantly hispanic or asian, or even African. Each of these areas are made this way not by some law, but rather because people choose to live near others who remind them of themselves, and because certain minorities and immigrant populations cannot afford to escape the areas in which they have been placed by the economic reality of property value.

Those who wish to say that public life and especially public schools have been effectively desegregated need to consider what would really happen if the school system were allowed to fight only de juro segregation (which no longer exists) and not de facto segregation, which, as its name suggests, is a fact of life.

But I'm not sure that the current "powers that be" have any interest in ensuring that public schools remain desegregated, and that is what concerns me most about my fair city's upcoming appearance before the Supreme Court. There has been of late a well published assault on public schools in America, giving the appearance of a "crisis." The answer to this crisis, of course, has consistently been not investment in "failing" schools, but rather the closing of those schools. The answer has been not an investment in teachers and resources for public schools in general, but rather an investment in "vouchers" to get middle class (and especially white) kids out of the public schools altogether, and into private ones.

There are a number of problems with this plan, and a number of falsehoods on which this plan is based. I have not the time, energy, interest or expertise to pick apart each of these problems and falsehoods. But I will briefly address two important ones. This first is a falsehood, the second a problem.

Earlier I placed the word "crisis" in quotation marks. I did this because I believe (on the basis of some good evidence) that the "crisis" has been, for ideological reasons, inflated far beyond where the data concerning school performance leads. Neo-cons, who still revere Ronald Reagan and his mantra that government is the "problem," not the "solution," consistently try to privatize areas of public concern. The plan for school vouchers is just one privatization among many.

But, in order to privatize areas of public interest you have to establish that the public is failing, and that the problem could be better handled by private entities. Absent really good evidence for this, the axiomatic position that government is bad and the private sector good can lead to a great deal of manipulation, misrepresentation and misinterpretation of the existing data. The performance of public education in the United States is but one example of this.

The "crisis" of public education is founded on, among other things, the fact that American student test much more poorly than their first world competition in math and science. There is good data to support this view, if you conveniently overlook the context of this data. And, of course, overlooking the context of data is easy to do when the numbers you have seem to support your prejudices. However, a more careful look at the data concerning American students performance in math and science tells a much different story.

It turns out that each of the nations who outperform the United States on standardized tests in math and science educate and test a much smaller percentage of their students. That is because in both Western Europe and Japan, our "competition," students are put on "tracks" very early on. If you don't show an academic aptitude very early on, odds are you won't get the chance to have anything other than a vocational education.

I can't say whether or not this is a good idea. It violates my moral intuition, but I haven't studied education methods enough to know whether or not, ultimately, that is the best way of doing things. I do know, however, that it is not our way of doing this, and that it skews the data which comes from these standardized tests in math and science.

That is because all American students, and not just those who have been deemed worthy of a higher education, are subject to testing in math and science. And so many of the kids who represent America would never have been called on to represent any of the "competing" countries. When you divide the population of American students along the same lines that they are divided elsewhere, the numbers start to look much different.

It turns out that the top American student match up perfectly well against the top students from all over the world. And the middle of the pack students match up well against the middle of the pack students from elsewhere. The worst (non-special needs) student fare much better than the worst students from Western Europe and Japan, because at least we have tried to educate them.

(Sorry I can't show you the study: I read about it this past weekend in the New York Times at my parent's house. Not having a subscription to the Times or a membership at the website, I can't call up the article from my computer. Brian, could you try to find it for me, please?)

Connected to this is the problem of school vouchers. Vouchers, it turns out, are for enough money to help get middle class kids out of underperforming public schools and into private ones. But they aren't for enough money to pay for all of the tuition and expenses which come with a private education, and so families who don't have disposable income aren't helped at all by vouchers. This leaves the poorest students to fend for themselves in public schools which are being ribbed of their talent and resources. It is, in other words, not just a bad philosophy (public subsidies for private entities), but also bad policy which makes the divide between the haves and the have nots greater instead of less.

All of this contributes to the problems mentioned at the top of this post. While there are some problems which need addressing in our public schools (class size, teacher quality, teacher compensation, discipline, etc.) our schools are not in the state of crisis that those who would see them privatized seem to think that they are in. They do, however, ensure a quality education for all students, regardless of race or class.

And, they are under attack by those who think that government is the problem rather than the solution. My fear is that the U.S. Supreme Court will, in their approach to the issue of how Jefferson County Public Schools ensures a desegregated student population, lob another bomb in the war against public education. After all, our experience with segregation should have taught us that whether it is a matter of law or just a matter of fact, separate is never equal.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Single Greatest Threat to Democracy

I'm starting to wonder if we really live in a democracy any more. Sure, I have my misgivings about democracy: everyone (or nearly everyone, anyway) gets a say in how things are run, even and especially the people who I think are either stupid, crazy, or both. We get don't pick and choose who has a say, removing all the morons from the pool for the good of the whole.

Also, democracies, at their worst, can involve the tyrannical oppression of the minority by the majority. Nowhere is this more the case than in states like my home state, Kentucky, where a constitutional amendment prohibiting the legal recognition of homosexual relationships passed so overwhelmingly that even the most liberal of the "liberals" - if they want to get elected to anything - have to run as far away as they can from the notion that homosexuals are persons entitled to the same rights as heterosexuals.

At its worst democracy can turn into a legalized "mob" rule, in which those who disagree with the majority are demonized and destroyed, or at least robbed of all voice and power. And democracy, at its worst, is a system in which, by its "winner-take-all" nature, only those who vote with the majority have a say in the operations of the state. There can be no consensus; only majority.

But democracy, despite these and a myriad of other problems, is still the best available form of government, because it asks for the voice and consent of the governed. And, imperfect though it is, it is our form of government, the form which we agreed to. It is a part of our social contract. Or is it?

Thanks to Amy for sending me a link to this muckraking article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in Rolling Stone Magazine (didn't that used to be a rock and roll magazine?) detailing the fraudulent nature of the 2004 presidential election. Right now I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I suppose a member of a party which was involved in machine politics for as long as it held power (including some notorious machinery in Louisiana, Chicago, and my home of Kentucky) should not be surprised when the "other" side does what we would probably do if given the chance. But this just further illustrates the illusory nature of democracy.

The game is rigged, folks. We can either give up, or fight against a force we probably cannot change. Maybe I'm the patron saint of lost causes, but I say, let's fight! Or, as my dad said after reading the article, "He got it wrong. The election wasn't stolen, it was given away."

I'll leave you with what the good folks at Habbakuk's Watchpost would call the "money quote" (though, in fact, the article is riddled with "money quotes"):

The issue of what happened in 2004 is not an academic one. For the second election in a row, the president of the United States was selected not by the uncontested will of the people but under a cloud of dirty tricks. Given the scope of the GOP machinations, we simply cannot be certain that the right man now occupies the Oval Office -- which means, in effect, that we have been deprived of our faith in democracy itself.

American history is littered with vote fraud -- but rather than learning from our shameful past and cleaning up the system, we have allowed the problem to grow even worse. If the last two elections have taught us anything, it is this: The single greatest threat to our democracy is the insecurity of our voting system. If people lose faith that their votes are accurately and faithfully recorded, they will abandon the ballot box. Nothing less is at stake here than the entire idea of a government by the people.

Voting, as Thomas Paine said, "is the right upon which all other rights depend." Unless we ensure that right, everything else we hold dear is in jeopardy.

"Liberal" Movies in the Culture Wars

It has been well documented that so-called "conservatives" (who no longer fit any traditional definition of "conservative," as they seek to radically alter society rather than "conserve" it) are much better than so-called "liberals" at propaganda. But, ever since Michael Moore's landmark 1989 film Roger and Me, "liberals" have been catching up. We now have our own cottage industry of books, movies, and television and radio programs designed to tell the untold stories.

I don't have the time or energy to do an in-depth analysis of this trend here, but, lucky you, I don't have to. Check out this article from the Christian Science Monitor. While not quite as in depth as I would like, it is a pretty good look at the new(ish) genre, "docu-ganda" films.