This is a telling, and in some ways heartbreaking, clip, featuring Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye) preaching at an evangelical church, and bringing down the house right up until he mentions that he's for gay marriage.
I know, I know. Once again why bother with a self-admitted circus clown like Beck? And the answer remains the same: He may be a circus clown, but his misinformation and distortions echo across the conservative end of the political spectrum, and have an impact on what a great many people believe. So, one more into the breach good friends!
Two news items today relevant to the great and glorious Beckoning that took place this past weekend. First, from Steve Benen, Beck's call for a religious revival has led to a very troubling question, given his Mormon faith, just whose version of God are we talking about here?
Glenn Beck promotes a false gospel. However, many of his political ideas can help America.
Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values. Mormonism is not a Christian denomination but a cult of Christianity.
The country needs to get back to the simplicity of the Bible. The reason our country is in bad shape is that ministers for the most part do not share the truth. Many endorse false gospels including Mormonism.
Other evangelical leaders are more sanguine. Here's Ralph Reed:
The evangelicals participating in the Restore Honor event are not endorsing Glenn Beck’s theology, nor is he asking them to; they are joining in his clarion call to restore America’s honor and founding principles. Together, we and millions of our fellow citizens are calling America back to its Judeo-Christian values of faith, hard work, individual initiative, the centrality of marriage and family, hope, charity, and relying on God and civic and faith-based organizations rather than government for our security and prosperity.
We have always partnered with those with whom we had theological differences: the Jewish community in defending the state of Israel, Roman Catholics in defending life, Mormons in defending marriage. The media can’t have it both ways. Either evangelicals are theologically narrow and judgmental, or they are just as politically sophisticated and mature and capable of building coalitions with 80% friends who they do not view as 20% enemies. It seems they get criticized no matter what they do.
As Steve points out, this creates a subdivision within the intra-Tea Party factionalism:
Tea Partiers and related right-wing activists have often been split, just below the surface, between competing factions -- largely secular libertarians who focus on fiscal issues and the scope of government vs. religious-right-style theocrats who are still inclined to fight a culture war. Saturday's gathering seemed to suggest the latter contingent might have the edge.
But then there's the other fissure -- theocrats comfortable with a Mormon's leadership role in their so-called "movement," and theocrats who appreciate Beck's madness, but not his LDS membership.
Then there is the Beckster himself. In what was a sickeningly sycophantic interview even for Fox (with questions along the lines of "what is it that makes you so great, Glen?"), Chris Wallace brought up the subject of Beck's accusation that Barack Obama was a racist. Beck replied that it was not that Obama was racist, but that he was a victim of the diabolical influence of liberation theology. Replied Beck:
The pope even said -- this is Pope Benedict -- that it is demonic, not divine, when theology crosses into the line of doing that which only the divine can do. He was speaking specifically about liberation theology.
If you want to -- you want to ask anybody in the Catholic Church, they witnessed it. It's Marxism disguised as religion. And it happened in South America. And the Catholic Church has a very long history with it. They understand it, unlike most religions.
And I'm not judging him for that. I'd love to have an open conversation about collective salvation. Chris, you know, I don't know -- I don't know what you know or what you believe, but most Christians, when you say, "I'm a Christian" -- and look, I'm a Mormon, and most Christians don't recognize me as a Christian, so who am I to say? I'm not judging.
I'm saying most Christians would look at collective salvation, which is my salvation -- my redemption is incumbent on what the collective does, so I can't be saved unless the collective is saved. Well, that is a direct opposite of what the gospel talks about.
Jesus came for personal salvation. It's like people say, you know, you just accept Jesus and you're saved. That's not what my church teaches. You are, but then you also -- you got to get in there and plug. You got to change your heart as well. OK. That's what I happen to believe. What does the president believe? Four different speeches since he's been president, he has told -- and mainly students -- that your salvation is directly tied to the collective salvation. That -- that's not something that most Christians recognize.
I don't -- I'm not demonizing it. I disagree with it. The pope has said -- I mean, he's actually demonized it. People aren't recognizing his version of Christianity, just like -- and 48 percent of the African American community doesn't recognize it either, by the way. They didn't recognize it with Jeremiah Wright. They don't recognize it now.
I come back again to a quandry: Beck's not Catholic, so why does that fact that Benedict doesn't like Liberation Theology in itself mean anything to Beck with regard to whether it's true or false? Presumably the Pope would be equally troubled by Mormonism. The Pope's opinion on anything ought only to matter insofar as it's based upon something other than his own, possibly mistaken, view of things.
But it's striking that what Beck takes as the central problem with Liberation Theology is not, and I don't believe can be, what the Catholic church thinks is the problem with liberation theology, namely, it's denial of the kind of radical individualism that is so popular in the United States.
I'm quite sure that this has been pointed out to Beck, but he continues to ignore it. First, whatever influence marxism may have had on some liberation theologians (and it's worth noting that, in terms of the architect of Black liberation theology in the United States, James Cone, he explicitly rejected marxism as a philosophy and socialism as a political agenda), it cannot be, in any even reasonably close reading of its sources, reduced to marxism. Second, Catholic theology has always understood salvation to be a corporate experience. That's part of what's intended in the old saying "Extra ecclesiam nulla salus" (no salvation outside the church). To be saved is precisely to be part of the community of salvation. It's got nothing to do with an evangelical style "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." I suspect, though don't know, that if he analyzed Mormon theology, he'd actually find much the same thing! After all, central to the Mormon conception of salvation is its social character, which is why baptism for the dead is a component part of its theology.
It would take a book length treatment to dispel all of the misinformation Beck peddles about liberation theology, the social gospel, and the social justice agenda of Christianity, but it's worth noting where he takes that. He goes on to say that people don't believe Obama is Christian because he doesn't conform to their understanding of Christianity. But that's obviously wrong. It's not that they think he's heretical or a bad Christian -- they think he's a wholly different religion!
The underlying problem is this distortion by Beck of the social dimension of Christianity, and their attempt to fit all Christians onto a procrustean bed of orthodoxy. Obama doesn't fit one, particularly narrow, conception of the Chrisitan faith, and so Beck says that the underlying problem is religious. It's not. The underlying problem is political, and what's more, it's rooted in the fact that Beck, O'Reilly, and others keep lying about progressive Christianity and about Barack Obama.
Today Glen Beck is perverting the history of the Civil Rights movement in a nationally televised act of desecration. So, in order to keep what the civil rights movement really was, here are a couple of items.
Beck was part of the "we" who founded the civil rights movement!? No. Here's who "we" is.
"We" is Emmett Till, tied to a cotton gin fan in the murky waters of the Tallahatchie River. "We" is Rosa Parks telling the bus driver no. "We" is Diane Nash on a sleepless night waiting for missing Freedom Riders to check in. "We" is Charles Sherrod, husband of Shirley, gingerly testing desegregation compliance in an Albany, Ga., bus station. "We" is a sharecropper making his X on a form held by a white college student from the North. "We" is celebrities like Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando and Pernell Roberts of Bonanza, lending their names, their wealth and their labor to the cause of freedom.
"We" is Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, Cynthia Wesley, Andrew Goodman, Denise McNair, James Chaney, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson, shot, beaten and blown to death for that cause.
"We" is Lyndon Johnson, building a legislative coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats to defeat intransigent Southern Democratic conservatives and enshrine that cause into law.
And "we" is Martin Luther King, giving voice and moral clarity to the cause -- and paying for it with his life.
The we to which Glenn Beck belongs is the we that said no, the we that cried "socialism!" "communism!" "tyranny!" whenever black people and their allies cried freedom.
The fatuous and dishonorable attempt to posit conservatives as the prime engine of civil rights depends for success on the ignorance of the American people... This, then, is to serve notice as Beck and his tea party faithful gather in Lincoln's shadow to claim the mantle of King: Some of us are not ignorant. Some of us remember. Some of us know very well who "we" is.
Sullivan's readers are more up on the religious views of my favorite bands than I am. Here's a bit from an interview with Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum:
The thing about me singing about Christ; I'm not saying "I love you Christianity." I'm not saying "I love all the fucked-up terrible shit that people have done in the name of God." And I'm not preaching belief in Christ. It's just expression. I'm just expressing something I might not even understand. It's a song of confusion, it's a song of hope, it's a song that says this whole world is a big dream-- and who knows what's gonna happen.
We played a show with Vic Chesnutt two weeks ago in Athens and he sat on the stage and played for 30 minutes and didn't stop. And he sang all these songs about how like action and reaction are the closest things to truth in the universe, how he's had all these out-of-body experiences but they weren't supernatural. And I thought it was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. To me, it's like I'm expressing something that's within me that I can't really explain that really has nothing to do with religion. My love for Christ has more to do with what he said and what he believed in. Then the church put all this fucked-up bullshit around it and made it all this really evil thing at times. If you attach man to anything, he's gonna fuck it up somehow, one way or the other. You think that's too cynical? [laughs]
I recently came across two articles on the relationship of the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr to the outlook of Barack Obama that I can only call, for lack of a better term, bizarre.
The first comes from an interview with Michael Cromartie, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Cromartie begins with an evocation of St. Augustine, which leads to a conversation about Niebuhr and then Niebuhr's influence on Obama, which brings us to this exchange:
One of the great representatives of political realism, in the 20th century, was Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr is often cited as one of the current President's favorite thinkers and inspirations. Is President Obama practicing what Niebuhr preached?
The President seems to have a great admiration and respect for Niebuhr. People all over the political spectrum claim Niebuhr as their mentor. The question is: What part of Niebuhr has the President bought into?
That's a debatable proposition. When there's a problem, the President's instinct is clearly that the state needs to solve it. So there seems to be a lack of appreciation for mediating institutions and the roles they play, as the first instinct is to have government solve all of the many problems that we have. So it's not clear to me what part of Niebuhr he appreciates.
It is clear that Niebuhr's thinking on foreign policy has not influenced President Obama. Niebuhr knew the nature of totalitarianism and critiqued it constantly; he was anything but an advocate of moral equivalence. There's a tendency with President Obama, because he thought Bush bellicose, to believe that he ought to do the opposite. So rather than talking about the virtues of living in a free and democratic society, he has spent a lot of time apologizing for America's problems.
There's a brand of right-wing rap on Niebuhr that wants to appropriate him as a bellicose cold warrior hawk. But this is a severely problematic reading of Niebuhr. Cromartie is no doubt influenced by his colleague George Weigel in this reading of Niebuhr, but that doesn't make it any more right.
It's true that Neibur, particularly during World War II, was adamant about the need for democracies to stand up against the totalitarianism and expansionism of the Nazis. And after the war, he was strongly supportive of U.S. efforts to thwart Soviet expansionism. But if this were all you knew about Niebuhr's politics, you'd have a very distorted view of him.
Niebuhr's outlook was always bi-polar: He emphasized our need to respond morally to the political imperatives of the situation we find ourselves in, but he also emphasized the need not to be moralistic. He was clear that whatever dangers the Soviet Union presented on the international stage, we also had to face the danger of our own sense of certainty and self-righteousness. It was never sufficient to simply "critique totalitarianism," but always to bear in mind and critique our own moral limitations and tendency to evil as well. Certainly this wasn't an argument of "moral equivalence," but it was an argument about the need for a self-critical outlook on our own actions.
Of course, the flip-side of that is that Cromartie seems to be saying that Barack Obama is an advocate of "moral equivalence." But this is utter nonsense. What Obama has taken from Niebuhr (and famously articulated to David Brooks during the 2008 campaign), was on the one hand the necessity to be self-critical, but on the other the necessity to act pragmatically to bring about what good we can in an ambiguous and fallen world. Here's specifically what he said to Brooks:
I take away [from reading Niebuhr] the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away ... the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.” (ellipses in original)
This is far from the "moral equivalance that Cromartie is implying, and it's unfair and disingenuous to try and tar Obama with that brush. Either Cromartie is being dishonest in his assement of Obama, who he's ignorant of Obama's actual positions and their relationship to his Niebuhrian outlook.
And this brings me to my second recent encounter with commentary on Niebuhr and Obama. This one is from the Italian journalist Sandro Magister, writing in L'Esspresso:
One glaring example of contradiction is when Obama cites the Protestant theologian Reinhold Neibuhr as his inspiration.
Niebuhr (1892-1971), a great admirer and interpreter of Saint Augustine, was one of the teachers of "realism" in international politics. He maintained, that is, the primacy of national interest and the balance of power, in a humanity profoundly marked by evil.
Niebuhr defined democracy as "a search for temporary solutions to unsolvable problems." And his famous prayer says, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." The exact opposite, therefore, of the messianic rhetoric that pervades Obama's speeches, of his continual proclamation of the advent of a "new era," of a "new beginning," of an "age of peace," of a world redeemed because "Yes, we can."
In his book, Gisotti recalls that the Catholic George Weigel, the famous biographer of John Paul II, has highlighted how Obama's vision is "a perfect example of the kind of utopianism against which Niebuhr, with his profound sense of the fragility of history and of the self-destructive capacity of human beings, fought for three decades."
Here again, "Patient Zero" in this distortion of Niebuhr's outlook seems to be George Weigel. Now, I've never read his biography of John Paul II, for which he is apparently most famous. But if he gets JPII as wrong as he gets Obama, I wouldn't vouch for it. Weigel seems determined to read Niebuhr through the right wing lens that was popular (and equally wrong) when it was espoused in the 1980s and 1990s by Michael Novak. Again, it comes from a one-sided reading of Niebuhr's approach to politics being rooted in a hawkish cold war mentality that represents only a small slice of Niebuhr's overall outlook.
Obama's use of Niebuhr is precisely in the category of the Serenity Prayer's admonition to both "accept what cannot be change" and "change what should be changed." That is the pragmatic idealism that Niebuhr and Obama both share, which is at the heart of a Niebuhrian social ethic rooted in realistic appraisals of the possibilities inherent in our social and political institutions.
But where it gets really strange is in what follows:
Instead of Niebuhr, Obama's speeches seem to espouse the utopia of a famous medieval monk and theologian: Joachim of Fiore, prophet of an "age of the Spirit" after the previous ages of the Father and the Son, a third and definitive age of peace, of justice, of humanity with no more divisions, not even among religions.
The intellectual kinship between Obama and Joachin of Fiore appears so strong that in 2008, the news came out in the media all over the world that the future president of the United States had referred to him three times in key speeches of his electoral campaign.
The news was so widely credited that on March 27, 2009, Franciscan Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the official preacher of the pontifical household, repeated it in one of his Lenten preachings to the pope and the Roman curia.
This, as it turns out, was a hoax, as Magister notes. But it's difficult to understand how one can get from a generally optimistic program of pragmatic change, such as the one Obama espoused during his campaign, to the kind of messianism and apocalypticism that his opponents often see in his rhetoric. One might almost think they were deliberately misconstruing his outlook for the sake of scoring political points. The only relationship between Obama's rhetoric and that of Joachim of Fiore is in the delusions of those who are determined to find fault with the President.
Of course, it's red meat for conservative Catholics to accuse Obama of being a Joachimite, and therefore a heretic. Of course, it's hard to know what to do with that kind of an accusation in any event, since Obama is (despite another, distinct batch of conspiracy theories) a Protestant, and thus quite openly engaged in what many in the Catholic church would view as heresy in any event. The idea that you'd need to associate Obama with Joachim of Fiore in order to find fault his his theological outlook from a Catholic perspective is strange. And even stranger is to juxtipose Niebuhr's "realism" with Obama's allegedly Joachimite "utopianism."
Neither Obama nor Niebuhr can be called utopian. Both were well aware of the limitations of human possibilities within history, as reflected throughout Niebuhr's writings, and as reflected in Obama's (often frustratingly moderate) approach to politics. Those conservatives who are looking to enlist Niebuhr against Obama as an advocate for the kind of right-wing rollback position that Niebuhr was actually strongly opposed to could do no better than to go back and re-read The Irony of American History (and in particular the new edition with a preface by Andrew Bacevich). For more on Bacevich's more nuanced (and correct) reading of Niebuhr, see his interview with Bill Moyers.
I wanted to just write a brief follow up to my earlier post on religion and sci fi, and in particular Eric James Stone's "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made," which I noted was a bit hard to get hold of because the issue of Analog it was published in is no longer on the stands.
Well, the very next day, Eric was kind enough to send me a copy of the story, which I devoured at one sitting, and highly recommend. It is an excellent story, and if you can get a hold of it, you absolutely should. Here's hoping it finds its way into an anthology very soon, or maybe a collection of Eric's stories.
Anyway, thanks Eric, for letting me read your story!
Over at Andrew Sullivan's blog, there's an ongoing discussion of whether church can be "hip," which has morphed into a discussion of what, if any, good "Christian music" there is out there.
Now, I've been skeptical of the whole category of "Christian music" for a very long time, and was pretty well convinced that there was no such thing as genuinely good "Christian music," insofar as Christian rock has a tendency to vulgerize and trivilize the subject of Christian faith. The paradigm example of what I mean by this are the so-called "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs (wickedly satirized by the South Park "Faith +1" episode).
As it turns out though, for a number of musicians who are Christian in a less narrowly defined and rigid sense of the word, there's some genuinely good music being produced. Sully's blog mentions, in particular Belle & Sebastian, Pedro the Lion, and The Mountain Goats. He also points to a post by Daniel Radosh listing 10 great examples of Christian music.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Friday that Israel and the Palestinians would resume direct negotiations in Washington on Sept. 2, awakening hopes for the Middle East peace process but leaving many key questions unanswered.
Mrs. Clinton said that she hoped an agreement could be reached within a year and that the negotiations would cover all the so-called “final status” issues. Those issues have long included the borders of a future Palestinian state, the political status of Jerusalem, security provisions for Israel, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Let me just polish up my crystal ball a bit here and say that this is not going to happen. As I said yesterday, there is every good historical reason to believe that as long as Bibi Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of Israel, there will not be a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, at least not one that involves a two-state solution.
But, it also needs to be said, the Palestinians still have a great deal of work to do to bring their own house in order. Although the West Bank has made enormous strides over the past several years in institution-building and governance, there is still much work to be done. Some of that work won't be done until after a final settlement, when national borders are set and Palestinians can have real freedom of movement and a sense of self-determination in their own land. But some of it needs to happen before hand, so that all of the recent gains aren't lost in the aftermath of transition.
It should also be noted that, until real issues about the creation of a modern infrastructure and the settlement of questions about water rights and air space are settled, even a putatively "independent" Palestinian state will still be under the thumb of Israel.
And that doesn't even begin to address the continuing disaster in Gaza. Whatever portion of that you care to lay at the feet of Israel, it nevertheless remains the case that Hamas stays in power because the Palestinians in the Strip are either unwilling or unable to dislodge them. If a free Palestinian state is going to be viewed as viable and credible, the Palestinians need to definitively severe ties with Hamas, at least as it's currently constituted.
Below is a video from a secretly recorded meeting of Benjamin Netanyahu with West Bank Settlers in 2001, describing how, during his first stint as Prime Minister of Israel, he successfully sabbotaged the Oslo Accords:
For those who don't feel like reading the subtitles, here are some excerpts (via Crooks and Liars):
hit them hard. Not just one hit... but many painful [hits], so that the price will be unbearable. The price is not unbearable, now. A total assault on the Palestinian Authority. To bring them to a state of panic that everything is collapsing ... fear that everything will collapse... this is what we'll bring them to...
“I know what America is. America is a thing that can be easily moved, moved in the right direction... Let's suppose that they [the Americans] will say something [i.e. to us Israelis] ... so they say it...” [i.e. so what?]
I received a letter – to me and to Arafat, at the same time ... which said that Israel, and only Israel, would be the one to define what those are, the location of those military sites and their size. Now, they did not want to give me that letter, so I did not give the Hebron agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: "I'm not signing." Only when the letter came, in the course of the meeting, to me and to Arafat, only then did I sign the Hebron agreement, or rather, ratify it. It had already been signed. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo accord.
For anyone who believes that the current Israeli government has any pretensions of seeking an actual just peace with the Palestinian people, this video offers a damning refutation of that idea. It's clear that Netanyahu not only has no intention of abandoning illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but that he will manipulate, game, and sabbotage any attempts to make a genuine peace, and respond to any Palestinian resistance of any kind with crushing and punishing force.
Who is it that has no "partner for peace" in this process?