Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Week in Review

Can I just say this is precisely how any Christian SHOULD NOT feel:

'On one subject the president needed no lessons from Roberts or anyone else in the room: how to handle pressure. "I just don't feel any," he says with the calm conviction of a man who believes the constituency to which he must ultimately answer is the Divine Presence. Don't misunderstand: God didn't tell him to put troops in harm's way in Iraq; belief in Him only goes so far as to inform the president that there is good and evil. It is then his job to figure out how to promote the former and destroy the latter.'

And he is confident that his policies are doing just that. Or, as luncheon attendee Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute recalled (also in The Weekly Standard) the President saying: "I want to have my conscience clear with Him. Then it doesn't matter so much what others think."
Even the prophets wept for their people, understood the cost of what God demanded. (see the words of Hosea here, for instance.) Bush honestly thinks it all pieces on some cosmic chessboard. That might fight some neo-Platonic nightmare, or some bastardization of Zoroastrianism; but it isn't Christianity, not in any form I know it. How smug is he? Ask Sidney Blumenthal:

The subject of Winston Churchill inspired Bush's self-reflection. The president confided to Roberts that he believes he has an advantage over Churchill, a reliable source with access to the conversation told me. He has faith in God, Bush explained, but Churchill, an agnostic, did not. Because he believes in God, it is easier for him to make decisions and stick to them than it was for Churchill. Bush said he doesn't worry, or feel alone, or care if he is unpopular. He has God.
This is belief in God as self-justification, the worst, most reflexive, most noxious form of "belief" or "faith" possible; and, unfortunately, the one that Dawkins and Harris seize on for their critiques of Christianity (they seem blissfully unaware of any other form of religion, and rigorously ignorant about Christianity, so it isn't fair to say their critiques are truly of "religion"). Of course, what I really love about Greenwald's report is the Hegelianism of the neocons (in Kierkegaardian terms, at least): The System will vindicate you, and you need only win the approval of the System. Or, in this case, History. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much straight-up Hegelianism:

The combined Roberts-Stelzer response: The causes of rampant anti-Americanism do indeed include dislike of Bush. But there are others: the war in Iraq; anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian sentiment, laced with some covert anti-Semitism; and resentment of American power. Roberts urged the president not to concern himself with these anti-American feelings, since in a unipolar world the lone superpower cannot be loved. His advice: "Get your policies right and history will prove a kind muse."
People don't matter; only History does.

Again, the precise opposite of what Jesus of Nazareth preached. Anyone remember "Love your enemies"? No wonder he is Bush's "favorite philosopher." He wasn't a philosopher, and Bush doesn't know anything about his teachings. Ideas, of course, are abstract; people are concrete. Jesus taught in concrete terms, and spoke about concrete people. The picture of the Pharisees drawn in the Gospels (mostly in Luke, to be accurate, are Jesus' opponents labeled "Pharisees") is people concerned with abstractions, not with concrete reality; which makes them the very opposite of Jesus. History, Andrew Roberts would undoubtedly say, vindicated the Roman Empire; perhaps even despite the fact they didn't speak English.

I wonder if we should point out Jesus didn't even speak English (read Greenwald's post if that reference is a bit obscure)?

All of this raises an issue so little considered within Protestant Christianity that it takes a complete misunderstanding of Roman Catholic doctrine to bring it up. On this thread at Street Prophets a fascinating discussion took root out of an otherwise egregious beginning, whihc lead finally to this question arising from the distinction between doctrine and theology:

But then where do your doctrines come from?

Who writes your catechisms?

I mean, I did know intellectually that Protestant churches didn't have a magisterium as such; but I presumed there must be some body of people, or some mechanism, by which doctrines are promulgated - something that does what the RC magisterium does.

How does that work?
Who, indeed? Seems that's a live question among Protestants this week:

1. Introduction: From a Christian perspective, every human life is sacred. As evangelical Christians, recognition of this transcendent moral dignity is non-negotiable in every area of life, including our assessment of public policies. This commitment has been tested in the war on terror, as a public debate has occurred over the moral legitimacy of torture and of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees held by our nation in the current conflict. We write this declaration to affirm our support for detainee human rights and our opposition to any resort to torture.

2. Sanctity of Life: We ground our commitment to human rights in the core Christian theological conviction that each and every human life is sacred. This theme wends its way throughout the Scriptures: in Creation, Law, the Incarnation, Jesus’ teaching and ministry, the Cross, and his Resurrection. Concern for the sanctity of life leads us to vigilant sensitivity to how human beings are treated and whether their God-given rights are being respected.

3. Human Rights: Human rights, which function to protect human dignity and the sanctity of life, cannot be cancelled and should not be overridden. Recognition of human rights creates obligations to act on behalf of others whose rights are being violated. Human rights place a shield around people who otherwise would find themselves at the mercy of those who are angry, aggrieved, or frightened. While human rights language can be misused, this demands its clarification rather than abandonment. Among the most significant human rights is the right to security of person, which includes the right not to be tortured.

4. Christian History and Human Rights: The concept of human rights is not a “secular” notion but instead finds expression in Christian sources long before the Enlightenment. More secularized versions of the human rights ethic which came to occupy such a large place in Western thought should be seen as derivative of earlier religious arguments. Twentieth century assaults on human rights by totalitarian states led to a renewal of “rights talk” after World War II. Most branches of the Christian tradition, including evangelicalism, now embrace a human rights ethic.

5. Ethical Implications: Everyone bears an obligation to act in ways that recognize human rights. This responsibility takes different forms at different levels. Churches must teach their members to think biblically about morally difficult and emotionally intense public issues such as this one. Our own government must honor its constitutional and moral responsibilities to respect and protect human rights. The United States historically has been a leader in supporting international human rights efforts, but our moral vision has blurred since 9/11. We need to regain our moral clarity.

6. Legal Structures: International law contains numerous clear and unequivocal bans on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. These bans are wise and right and must be embraced without reservation once again by our own government. Likewise, United States law and military doctrine has banned the resort to torture and cruel and degrading treatment. Tragically, documented acts of torture and of inhumane and cruel behavior have occurred at various sites in the U.S. war on terror, and current law opens procedural loopholes for more to continue. We commend the Pentagon’s revised Army Field Manual for clearly banning such acts, and urge that this ban extend to every sector of the United States government without exception, including our intelligence agencies.

7. Concluding Recommendations: The abominable acts of 9/11, along with the continuing threat of terrorist attacks, create profound security challenges. However, these challenges must be met within a moral and legal framework consistent with our values and laws, among which is a commitment to human rights that we as evangelicals share with many others. In this light, we renounce the resort to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees, call for the extension of procedural protections and human rights to all detainees, seek clear government-wide embrace of the Geneva Conventions, including those articles banning torture and cruel treatment of prisoners, and urge the reversal of any U.S. government law, policy, or practice that violates the moral standards outlined in this declaration.
This is the Executive Summary of a report by the the National Association of Evangelicals. The full report can be read here (pdf). The NAE says of itself:

The National Association of Evangelicals has spoken as a united voice for millions of American evangelicals since 1942. But, the voice of NAE is clearer, stronger and more broadly heard now than ever before.

The association is anchored in its 60 denominations with about 45,000 churches. However, the broader NAE constituency includes organizations, local churches and individuals numbering in the tens of millions.

We serve to make denominations strong and effective, influence society for justice and righteousness, and gather the many voices of evangelicals together to be more effective for Jesus Christ and his cause.
So, no, they hardly speak for all Protestants. But they speak more authoritatively for a group of Protestants than does James Dobson or Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson or, especially, Ted Haggard. This isn't exactly the position of Focus on the Family, for instance, but like many Protestants, I'm sure the news media will continue to focus on what individuals say, not on what institutions declaim.

Although some Christians are making it hard for the media to do that:

Thousands of Christians prayed for peace at an anti-war service Friday night at the Washington National Cathedral, kicking off a weekend of protests around the country to mark the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Afterward, participants marched with battery-operated faux candles through snow and wind toward the White House, where police began arresting protesters shortly before midnight. Protest guidelines require demonstrators to continue moving while on the White House sidewalk.

"We gave them three warnings, and they broke the guidelines," said Lt. Scott Fear. "There's an area on the White House sidewalk where you have to keep moving."

About 100 people crossed the street from Lafayette Park _ where thousands of protesters were gathered _ to demonstrate on the White House sidewalk late Friday. Police began cuffing them and putting them on buses to be taken for processing.
Been so long since "Christians" and "war protests" were used in the same sentence, that's downright refreshing. Too bad Bush was in Camp David so he couldn't hear the view of this "focus group." Don't know what his reaction to the NAE's position on torture is, either. And, yes, that is the group Ted Haggard used to preside over. And, yes, we should remind Bush of the words of Jeremiah:

Woe betide him who builds his palace on unfairness
and completes its roof-chambers with injustice,
compelling his countrmen to work without payment,
giving them no wage for their labour!"--Jeremiah 22:13

What prompts this move from torture to Jeremiah and social justice? Not tht the two are unconnected, but there is another topic in play: The "guest worker" program Bush is pushing; and conditions on the still-ruined Gulf Coast. "Only connect."--E.M. Forster

On Thursday President Bush reiterated his call for Congress to pass an immigration bill that allows more immigrants to come to the United States as so-called guest workers. President Bush made the call during a press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Mexico marked the last stop on President Bush's five-nation tour of Latin America.


However many human rights groups are strongly criticizing the guest worker proposal. The Southern Poverty Law Center has just released a report titled "Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States."

The report found that guest workers who come to the United States are routinely cheated out of wages; forced to mortgage their futures to obtain low-wage, temporary jobs. Once here they are held virtually captive by employers who seize their documents. They are forced to live in squalid conditions while being denied medical benefits for injuries.
And yes, this story is connected to New Orleans:

Last month, 30 plus Mexican guestworkers in Sulphur, Louisiana held a press conference to complain about their working conditions. They claimed they defrauded by their employer who promised steady work and fair pay. They were hired by a company under the name of Louisiana Labor, LLC. The workers say their employer is Matt Redd of Redd Properties.
We are not far from what Walter Brueggeman teaches: the social structures are neither natural nor handed down from God. They are human-made, and as such, can be destructive; powerfully destructive:

MARY BAUER: Sure. Our report was based on literally thousands of interviews with workers over the course of years, based on the work done by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And what we found is that the guestworker program leads to the abuse and exploitation of workers, not because there are a few bad-apple employers, but because the structure of the system itself leads to abuse. The fact that workers pay enormous sums of money and come to the United States with crushing debt and the fact that they are then tied to one employer -- they can legally work only for the employer who filed the petition for them -- the structure of that system leads to those workers being systematically exploited on the job.
And, of course, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Vietnam; Iraq; deportees:

MARY BAUER: Sure. I mean, I think the bracero program is very interesting to look at. And I thought -- I was really struck in reading a lot of the scholarly historical literature about that program, because it consistently referred to the bracero program as like the widely discredited bracero program. And there seems to be a fairly broad consensus that that program was a human rights disaster.

But when you look at it, it was a program in which millions of Mexican migrants came to the United States in the early [twentieth] century to perform agricultural work over the course of several decades and then was ended in the ’60s. It had, written into that program, very strong labor protections, all kinds of labor protections. You know, one of the historians quoted it as being, you know -- on paper, at least -- one of the, you know, best deals for farm workers in the world. The problem was that in reality the structure of the system there led to the same kind of abuses that we’re seeing.

And what we’re saying is, if you think -- if we think as a society that the bracero program is universally condemned as having been a failure, there is no reason to believe that our current system in practice is any different. And there’s no particular reason to believe that future programs would be any different.
This is an old story, but it goes on and on:

And there’s a seasonality or temporary requirement, so the employer has to show -- has to petition to the government, say this is a temporary or seasonal job, and they can’t find US workers to do it. The employee is then recruited from abroad and is permitted to work only for the employer who filed that petition. And so, the employee gets to the United States and discovers that, “Oh, my gosh! There’s not very much work,” or the work is terrible, or he’s not paying me, or any number of other kinds of abuses, there’s really nothing that he or she can do.

And the other thing we see in practice is that the people who do this kind of work, they’re typically borrowing enormous sums of money, from $500 to literally tens of thousands of dollars. And we’ve seen workers who paid up to $20,000 to get a low-wage short-term job. And the people who do that are people generally who don’t have that kind of money, so they’re borrowing money in their home countries at extremely high interest rates from loan sharks. And so, they arrive here with this kind of crushing level of debt and this ongoing debt back in their home country.
Here is Bush's response to Katrina, in a nutshell:

Hundreds of guest workers from India have begun protesting work conditions at a shipyard in Pascagoula Mississippi owned by the company Signal International.
The men say they spent their life savings in order get an H2B visa to work in the United States. Last week the men risked their jobs by publicly complaining about the work conditions. They held a press conference and issued a statement to the media.

The statement read in part: "We have been treated like animals here. We have been threatened with termination and salary reduction. We are living in isolation. Visitors are not allowed in the camps. We live 24 men in one container, with two bathrooms for all of us."

As the men were preparing to come public with their complaints, Signal told seven of the workers that their jobs had been terminated and that they would be sent back to India.

Upon hearing the news, one of fired workers - Sabu Lal - tried committing suicide by slitting his wrists.
Sabu Lai was interviewed by a French journalist. Here's what he had to say:

SABU LAL: When I stepped into my man camp that is provided in the yard of Signal International, I just surprised that, because in my twenty years of experience, I didn’t dream of such a situation, because there is twenty-four peoples in a room, like I think it’s a pigs in a cage. It is too hard to live there, because somebody is sneezing, somebody is snoring, and somebody is making sound, and we cannot even go to bathroom without spending hours. There is only two bathrooms and four toilets. And we are struggling very well. And in the mess hall we are not getting good food even. And they are saying that this is Indian good. And when we make complain, the camp manager said to us that, “You are living in slums in India. It is better than that slums.”
Gotta love that all-American attitude: our horrific abuse of you is better than what you face "back home," so shut up. Anybody hear anything about this story or the press conference on NPR, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, ABC, the NYTimes, WaPo, LATimes, etc., etc., etc.? Neither did I. I ran it down on Google. this is all I found:

With tears in his eyes, Joseph Jacob said goodbye to what he considers to be the American dream Friday.

Standing outside the gates of Signal International, Jacob said he was terminated from the company because he attempted to file a complaint against Signal for money he said he and about 280 other Indian workers are owed.

After paying nearly $20,000 to travel from India to the U.S. to work for Signal, Jacob said he's been told by Signal officials he must return to India -- immediately.

"I have $4,000 and that's it," Jacob said. "I paid $20,000 to come here and live the life of an American. I sold my property and my home. I have nothing to go back to."

Jacob and the others are part of a U.S. government guest worker program known as H2B that Signal is using to make up for labor shortages due to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
There is a debate, mentioned in this article, about Signal's responsibility for the workers under an H2 visa. Signal claims they had to detain the men so they could be returned to India. However, Vicki Cintra with the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Agency disagrees:

"This is slavery," Cintra said. "Slavery is still alive in Mississippi and Signal is housing slaves. This needs to be exposed for what it is -- violation of basic human rights. They have work visas and can stay until July doing something else if they don't work for Signal."
I don't know immigration law, but I find it of dubious authority that a private contractor has any authority to detain persons against their will for any reason. My vague memories of criminal law classes tells me that constitutes kidnapping. At a minimum, it suits the terms of a civil charge of false imprisonment. Of course, these are penniless workers who are not American citizens, so what chance of invoking the power of the law do they have? As I say, I know nothing about immigration law, but if this is right, then this program is deeply and profoundly flawed, and is little better than slavery:

[Dick] Marler [,President of Signal] said the visas belong to Signal and not the workers. He said for the company to remain in compliance with the Immigration and Naturalization Service laws and procedures the workers must return home when terminated.
Ironically, the question of who, and who is not, a citizen, is a live one again in America. Ironic, because while the laws of Moses are often decried as exclusionary, and the scriptures of Jews and Christians are used as weapons to exclude people from American society at one level or another, that's just another matter of ignorance of what the scriptures actually say:

You stand today, all of you, before the LORD your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, that you may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Deuteromy 29:10-13

"You shall not violate the rights of the alien or of the orphan, nor take the clothing of a widow as a pledge. For, remember, you were once slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, ransomed you from there; that is why I command you to observe this rule.
Deuteronomy 24:17-18

Psalm 72

Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King's son;
That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;
That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.
He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.
He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.
In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
He shall rule from sea to sea, *
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
His foes shall bow down before him, *
and his enemies lick the dust.
The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, *
and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.
All kings shall bow down before him, *
and all the nations do him service.
For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, *
and the oppressed who has no helper.
He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; *
he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, *
and dear shall their blood be in his sight.
Long may he live!
and may there be given to him gold from Arabia; *
may prayer be made for him always,
and may they bless him all the day long.
May there be abundance of grain on the earth,
growing thick even on the hilltops; *
may its fruit flourish like Lebanon,
and its grain like grass upon the earth.
May his Name remain for ever
and be established as long as the sun endures; *
may all the nations bless themselves in him and call him blessed.

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