Friday, November 30, 2012

It's a dessert topping! It's a floor wax!

This argument is threatening to become completely silly.

Oh, wait; I'm already too late to say that.

Best I can figure the chronology on this, Bill O'Reilly had an atheist on to argue about the "war on Christmas."  Who is fighting this war, of course, is always vague.  Apparently it's conducted by stateless terrorists, because while FoxNews complains about "holiday trees" being put up by government entities, they seem to place the blame for the name on people who...complain about the name!

And they said irony is dead.

Anyway, in the course of that "argument," the atheist said Christmas trees are religious symbols because "Christ" appears in the word.  Increase Mather couldn't have said it better (irony!  Again!).  Except, of course, it is the use of the symbol, not the derivation of the word, that really matters.  Easter is a Christian holiday, but is anybody really going to argue that the "Easter bunny" is a religious symbol?


So let's set that nonsense aside.  As I said before, I don't know of a church that allows a "Christmas tree" into its worship space, and the ones I know that did were very careful to label them "Chrismon trees," even if they stayed outside the worship space proper.  A Christmas tree is a secular symbol.  Many a non-Christian non-atheist puts up a Christmas tree and never thinks twice about the baby Jesus or even Joseph and Mary, or the doctrine of atonement or the Incarnation or anything else peculiar to Christianity.  Is the famous Rockefeller Center tree a symbol of religious belief?  Or belief in mammon?  So far as that goes, O'Reilly and the atheist deserve each other.

But O'Reilly said, in defense of Christmas trees, that Christianity is not a religion, it's a philosophy.  When that wasn't clear enough, (and hence my reference to a chronology), he doubled down on it, declaring those who don't understand what he's saying  "so stupid it's painful."

Um...right.  Yes, Bill, you can focus solely on the teachings of Jesus, and derive from those some valuable moral insights.  That's what Thomas Jefferson did, but no one has ever accused Jefferson of being a Christian (not even in his lifetime).  And most of the "Founding Fathers" were Deists, and more or less followed Jefferson's lead (with notable exceptions).  Remove Christ from Christianity, and you remove the religious claims from Christianity; in fact, you remove Christianity!  You are left with either humanism or (some say) Unitarianism.  What you aren't left with, is Christianity.

It's not really a point worth arguing, of course.   Apparently O'Reilly went on to argue that churches are religious, but that Christianity is just a philosophy.  How this works is truly anybody's guess.

This is also truly the point where taking up this "argument" means you are wrestling with the pig:  the pig likes it, and you only get dirty.

On the other hand:  can we now say the "war on Christmas" is clearly so patently absurd we should all just point and laugh whenever it is mentioned seriously?  Because if it hasn't reached that point with this, I don't know when it ever will.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Like punching somebody in the nose....

I'm not a critic of Rick Warren, at least not in the sense that I wait for him to say something I can pounce on.  I'm not a fan, either; so I just try to leave him alone.  But once in a while I am reminded, through the example of Rick Warren, why pastors should stick to tending their own garden, as Candide advised, and avoid making public pronouncements they have to walk back at the first sign of challenge:

JOHN BERMAN (HOST): [Tyler Clementi's] parents wrote that they left their Evangelical church recently because they felt the beliefs on homosexuality estranged them from their son, which meant he could not come to them. His mother said this, she said, ‘at this point, I think Jesus is more about reconciliation and love. He spoke more about divorce than homosexuality, but you can be divorced and join a church more than you can be gay and join churches.’
WARREN: Very good point. You know, Jesus taught, as a Christian, I am not allowed to hate anybody. I’m not allowed to do that. In fact, I am commanded by Jesus Christ to love everyone, to show respect to everyone. There’s a difference between acceptance and approval. God accepts me, accepts you unconditionally. He doesn’t approve of everything we do.
BERMAN: But pastor, don’t you think some of our churches are responsible for some of the attitudes towards gays in America, the negative attitudes?
WARREN: Probably, yeah. In fact, there are some people who are extremely violent or hateful. And hate is never of God, never.
Sure is fun to do, though, isn't it, Rick?  Sure is fun to say that being gay is like wanting to punch somebody in the nose. I'm sure it was fun saying that until somebody said "Pastor" and recalled you to your public position and all the obligations that entails, huh?  And when John Berman confronted you with a real-life example of something that sounds so easy in the abstract, you had to crawfish on it.

Happens to pastors all the time, doesn't it, Rick?  We take a firm and bold stance we are sure some portion of our congregation will agree with, and then the individual case steps up and challenges us to put our money where our mouth is, and suddenly that principle that felt so good to boldly proclaim, doesn't feel so good anymore.

My point is this, Rick; Mr. Warren; Pastor Warren:  you speak for a lot of us when you speak.  Not just for evangelical Christians (and some of us in the UCC would still like that word back, thank you very much; you guys have done more harm than good with it), but for Christians generally.  You even speak for religious people generally.  The wide world rather inconveniently divides groups into atheist or religious, in Christian or Muslim or what-have-you, and it doesn't make fine distinctions between evangelicals and fundamentalists and "liberal" Christians and "mainstream" Christians, and the like.  It lumps, and it lumps me in with you, and while it's my responsibility to distinguish myself from you, you've got a burden in this, too.

Because one of the things you and I do agree on is that hate is never of God.  Never.  So why you gotta be so hateful, Pastor?  Why you gotta pop off the easy anger stuff, the easy "Hate 'em 'cause they're different" stuff?  Like the Taylor Swift song says:  "Why you gotta be so mean?"

'Cause, in the end, her song is right:  all you're gonna be is mean.  But you keep making the rest of us look that way; and you make your congregation look like a bunch of knuckle-dragging yahoos who just get together to congratulate themselves on being so rich they could make you rich, too, and their binding principle is not the Gospels, but how much fun it is to hate people who they don't want to like.

I know you want to say there's a distinction between your private opinions and your public statements:

WARREN: I would not have. I would not have made that statement. Because I wanted to talk to my own people. As a duty, as a shepherd, I’m responsible for those who put themselves under my care. I’m not responsible for everybody else.

But honestly, who are you trying to kid?   I was never more than the pastor to a few hundred in a church building most people drove by without seeing, and I knew I could never casually discuss my personal opinions with anybody; that every statement I made was a public utterance subject to misinterpretation.  I was never a best-selling author or a pastor famous enough to host a Presidential discussion, or to give the invocation at a Presidential inauguration.  Do you seriously believe you have a private thought anymore, or that what you say to your congregation stays solely within the confines of your congregation? Then might I advise you stop going on CNN and stop releasing new versions of your book?

You're a publicity hound.  You can't excuse yourself by saying what I heard was not meant for my ears.

There is, as you say, a difference between acceptance and approval.  I accept you as a Christian and a person called by God to preach the Gospel, even if I don't approve of the way you do it.  But I gotta tell you, that's not a shield for doing whatever you want and calling it accepted if not approved.  Some things just aren't acceptable, and really shouldn't be.  Paul was actually pretty clear on this; it's why he called his church in Galatia "stupid."  Besides, this isn't the first time you've made a really dickish statement you had to walk back, is it, Pastor?  Like it or not, you're the most recognizable Christian pastor in America today.  More people know you as a Christian pastor than know who Jim Wallis is, or who Barry Lynn is.  Maybe it's time you step away from the microphone and consider what purpose it is that drives your life; and what that purpose should be.

Just a suggestion.  The rest of us are getting tired of bearing the burden of your loose mouth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The War on the War on Christmas

The "War on Christmas" has started with another "controversy" in Rhode Island over whether to call  it a "Holiday tree" or a "Christmas tree."  A controversy I might understand if the word "Christmas" in this context had anything to do with Christianity; but it doesn't.  I'm just going to link to Media Matters, by the way, because it's easier on me, and I don't mind linking there anyway.  MM also tells me this "War on Christmas" is, as well, a war on Christianity.  Which is where the whole thing starts to get weird.

First, the "Christmas tree" is no more Christian than the Easter bunny and easter eggs.  Yes, I do know a lot of churches that sponsor Easter Egg hunts on Easter Sunday, and that's a good thing.  Kids love it, anyway.  And yes, I do know a lot of churches that put up Christmas trees; some even put them in the sanctuary (the same ones that put up national flags somewhere in the choir, usually).  But even those churches usually only put them up because they are covered with "Chrismons" rather than glass pickles, Star Wars and Star Trek figurines, and other items from popular corporate culture that reflect the true meaning of the season.

Even then, they are not "Christian," any more than the national flag is Christian because it is given pride of place behind the pulpit.

I'm guessing Fox's "War on Christmas" has failed to get any traction over the years, so they'd had to escalate this year and make it an explicit war on Christianity.  Gretchen Carlson all but goes there in the videotape, which ends with her seeking reassurance they aren't nuts, that there really is a war on a holiday.  I think, however, Dick Hughes is right:

No, government isn’t waging a war on Christmas. The American people already have. And, unfortunately, they’ve won.

Were we to rewind the time machine, we would be reminded that Christmas is about neither Christmas trees nor holiday trees. Nor is it about how many baubles can be purchased at bargain prices or how many festive decorations can adorn a home or how many times the cash register will ring. Stripped to its essence, Christmas is the gift of God’s Son to the world.

It is dangerous to imply what Jesus might think if he were walking the streets of Salem today. But may I humbly suggest that he wouldn’t care one whit whether decorated Douglas firs were called Christmas trees or holiday trees. He might, however, have a few words about those who sought to profit by keeping that false controversy alive.

He likely would question how one of the richest nations in the world could allow so many people to remain hungry and homeless. He probably would grieve that humankind has achieved centuries of technological advances yet remains unable to conquer the traits — ambition, envy, greed, mistrust and the like — that rend families and breed conflict.

May I suggest that instead of debating a phony and irrelevant War on Christmas, it would be more beneficial for us to wage peace within our communities.
Which is the real irony of this "war;" it's being conducted the name of the Prince of Peace, but has nothing to do with him or what he taught, at all.  But then, by and large, neither does our celebration of Christmas. 

Personally, I think Lawrence O'Donnell pretty much had the last word on the subject.  Well, and Ricky Gervais, who wished:  "Peace to all mankind, Christian, Jew, Muslim, and Atheist."  I'd include all non-Christians and all non-believers in that, but it's a good sentiment either way.

Christmas is about gifts, and about giving; but its not about squabbling over vocabulary, or about getting the best bargain on the best items in the stores.  It isn't really about those gifts at all, but if it is, that's fine; it just really can be about much more than that.  What it can't be much less about are the adjectives used to modify certain nouns in the last month of the year.  If there is a "war on Christmas," it's because we fight it, and ignore the poor and the desperate even more heartlessly than Ebenezer Scrooge ever imagined he could.  "War on Christmas"?  No; Christmas should be a time of war on our complacency, and our lack of compassion.  Or at least the moral equivalent of war; in the name of the rebel Jesus.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A long time ago in a manger far, far away.....

I have no argument with the Pope's newest book, but I have to say, the idea that we don't know the date of Jesus' birth ain't exactly news:

In the Apostolical times the Feast of the Nativity was not observed....It can never be proved that Christ was born on December 25....The New Testament allows of no stated Holy-Day but the Lords-day...It was in compliance with the Pagan saturnalia that Christmas Holy-dayes were first invented. The manner of Christmas-keeping, as generally observed, is highly dishonorable to the name of Christ.
Increase Mather, 1687.  He was wrong about that "Saturnalia" connection, by the way; but it has become a staple of Christmas criticism among the cognoscenti, who have no idea where it came from, but are convinced it's true.  It isn't.

Mather is right, otherwise, and his observation predates historical Biblical criticism by about 200 years.   Christmas itself wasn't observed by the church until the 11th century, with the first appearance of the "Christ Mass."  The date of birth is highly conjectural (most scholars agree we don't know when the birth occurred; the Gospel accounts are too different, and written for very different reasons than historical accuracy.  The idea of such accuracy is, in fact, a Greek notion, not a Hebraic one.  Greek culture suffused the culture of Palestine in the first century (when the Synoptic Gospels were written), but not so much as to make the Gospel writers consider themselves heirs to Herodotus.)  Matthew's nativity story places Jesus firmly in line with Hebrew history and prophecy; Luke's nativity story places Jesus firmly at the bottom of the Palestinian social ladder, down among the shepherds and the ptochoi.  Only Matthew's story, by the way, rests on the idea of a "virgin" birth.  The two accounts, in fact, are reconcilable on only three facts:  the names of the parents, the place of birth in Bethlehem, and the baby's name:  Joshua, or, in the Greek transliteration:  Jesus.

I think the animals at the birth is a bit less poetic license than the Pope does.   But the take away from this seems to be:  now that the Pope has said it, it's true.

Maybe we should ask Sen. Rubio if the theologians are still arguing about it.

 (it's a caganer, by the way.  You could look it up.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

One of these is simply too good a sentiment not to reuse.  But before we get there, a blast from the past:

Kelly Groehler, a BestBuy spokeswoman, noted that CEO Brian Dunn, once a store employee himself, "fully appreciates" the feelings of Melaragni and others, adding that Dunn will miss much of the holiday himself as he helps stores in Minnesota gear up for Black Friday. In a statement on the matter, the company said, "This year, customers have told us -- and our competitors -- that they plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day, and earlier than ever on Black Friday. We therefore made the difficult decision to move our opening Black Friday to midnight. We know this decision changes Thanksgiving plans for some of our employees, and we empathize with those who are affected."

This is, of course, the year of no Thanksgiving, because we are a nation of shopkeepers and the stores must be open!  On Diane Rehm this morning an apologist for retailers everywhere noted the steady progression from 3% to almost 25% (expected) in the number of "holiday shoppers" who turn out as early as possible to "get good deals."

Which REALLY brings Christmas close to a person.

In local news, people are already queing up at a Best Buy to get good deals.  They've been there since last Friday.  One woman said she's been doing this for 17 years; that this is how she spends her vacation.  The store manager speculated some of the waiting customers had no jobs, so they could stand outside a store for 7 days.    I'm sure that "If you open it, they will buy" is a truism, especially in America.  What I'm not so sure of, is that I want to relinquish my culture to the lowest common denominator, that being the shopper looking for a deal.  Isn't there some way we can bring back the concept of "shame," or at least of "holiday?   I'm sure there is.  Anyway, for the day itself:  

"We're all forgiven at Thanksgiving, and everybody's welcome at the feast."--Garrison Keillor


Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and pefect gift, we call to remembrance thy loving-kindness and the tender mercies which have been ever of old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to thee the voice of our thanksgiving,

For all the gifts which thou hast bestowed upon us; for the life thou hast given us, and the world in which we live,


For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on toward better things,


For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,


For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,


For all the blessings of civilization, wise government and legislation; for education, and all the privileges we enjoy through literature, science, and art; for the help and counsel of those who are wiser and better than ourselves,


For all true knowledge of thee and the world in which we live, and the life of truth and righteousness and divine communion to which thou hast called us; for prophets and apostles, and all earnest seekers after truth; for all lovers and helpers of mankind, and all godly and gifted men and women,


For the gift of thy Son Jesus Christ, and all the helps and hopes which are ours as his disciples; for the presence and inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, for all the ministries of thy truth and grace,


For communion with thee, the Father of our spirits; for the light and peace that are gained through trust and obedience, and the darkness and disquietude which befall us when we disobey thy laws and follow our lower desires and selfish passions,


For the desire and power to help others; for every opportunity of serving our generation according to thy will, and manifesting the grace of Christ to men,


For all the discipline of life; for the tasks and trials by which we are trained to patience, self-knowledge and self-conquest, and brought into closer sympathy with our suffering brethren; for troubles which have lifted us nearer to thee and drawn us into deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ,


For the sacred and tender ties which bind us to the unseen world; for the faith which dispels the shadows of earth, and fills the saddest and the last moments of life with the light of an immortal hope.


God of all grace and love, we have praised thee with our lips; grant that we may praise thee also in consecrated and faithful lives. And may the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.



Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, we call to remembrance they loving-kindness and they tender mercies which have ever been od old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to the the voice of our thanksgiving.

For all the gifts which thou has bestowed upon us; for the life that thou hast given us, and the world in which we life,


For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on to better things,


For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,


For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,


Now stay outta the stores and stay near your family.  At least until Friday, when you may well want to escape them for the sanity of the shopping frenzy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

In our end is our beginning

I woke up with this thought, and rather than develop it into a full-blown blog screed redolent with insight-that-usually-isn't, and also rather than lose it to too much contemplation in too many stolen moments, leaving a shattered bowl on the floor before it had the chance to hold anything, I'll just post the basic ideas and (maybe) come back to it.

Kierkegaard identified the Socratic purpose as an ironic undermining of knowledge, but an irony with an acidic edge, as it undermines all knowledge, including the knowledge of the position of the ironist.  A solvent that dissolves all, in other words, leaving no solution (I'm sure I'm mixing chemical metaphors and rather than producing a crystalline cleverness rendering only the kind of sludge my home chemistry experiments used to produce.  So it goes.).

Socratic irony:  Socrates is the source (admittedly through Plato, but without Plato we don't have Socrates) of Western metaphysics.

Derrida worked somewhat like Socrates.  He sought to undermine certainty by deconstructing it, forcing the contradictions inherent in reason (and especially in rhetoric) to the surface, to expose the limitations in what we thinks we discuss.  Both philosophers working that area of epistemology best identified by the Firesign Theater:  "Everything you know is wrong."

And yet Derrida ends as a philosopher of religion trying to construct a negative atheology.

Forster was right:  only connect.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Of doughnuts and holes.....

Alright, one last thing political.

Josh Marshall says everyone wants Mitt Romney to leave the national stage yesterday; except for Democrats happy to have him to kick around a bit more as representative of the GOP.  TPM bolsters that opinion with two articles:  one quotes David Frum, Ana Navarro, Matt Lewis, and Bobby Jindal, all disapproving of Romney's comments about the "gifts" Obama gave voters who voted for him.   The other points out Kelly Ayotte isn't happy with Romney, either.

Think Progress concurs, quoting Jindal and Scott Walker, and headlining the article that "Republican Governors Condemn Romney's Claim...."  Which sounds like all the GOP Governors stood foursquare with Jindal and Walker and Sen. Ayotte and some pundits.

Not quite.

According to Wade Goodwin on NPR, the GOP governors (at the same meeting TP is talking about) are very happy with where they are.  And he starts the report quoting Bobby Jindal; who really is just delivering good ol' Southern Louisiana populism, not a radical shift in GOP direction.  Listen to the quotes there; there isn't any despair over what Romney did; it's more over what Obama did.  Romney's remarks may not be very smooth, but the GOP idea that we are divided between "movers" and "takers" is still "widely accepted" among the GOP governors.

This is, of course, good news; just not necessarily for Republicans.

Meanwhile, watch the doughnut, not the hole.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Since I seem to be into bumper stickers

I saw this on the back of a car just now.  I've seen some like it several times before, but post-election it carries a certain poignancy.  It's practically the motto of the Romney campaign, of FoxNews, of the "conservative entertainment complex". (Yeah, I couldn't resist using NewsBusters for that last link.)

I wanted to stop that car and ask the driver how that attitude was working for him (or her) now.

I'm tellin' ya, this is like McGovern won in '72 in that alternative universe.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Border Patrol


I don't want to wear that donkey picture out, but nothing else fits. And I would leave the politics alone, but I haven't had this much fun since Nixon resigned.

Three people who've never been near the Texas-Mexico (or the rest of the country) border, starting with Mr. 9/11:

Giuliani: The reality is, we just need the political will to do it. It's a 2,000-mile border. It isn't that big. If you took about 20,000 border patrol agents and you put them in substations about every fifty miles, you'd be able to cover the border -- maybe even every twenty-five miles -- and then you'd use photographic equipment, nighttime photography, heat-seeking equipment, motion-detection equipment. You'd alert the people at the stations, they'd go there and stop people from coming in.
Hannity: It's that easy! It really is, that, it's --
Giuliani: It's a matter of political will. When I was running for president, I said that it would be easier to control illegal immigration than it was to reduce homicide in New York by fifty percent.
Okay, to be fair, that was well before Tuesday, well before the GOP realized they had a "demographics problem.".  Since then Sean Hannity has seen the light on immigration:

"I think you control the border first," he said on his radio show Thursday evening. "You create a pathway for those people that are here — you don’t say you’ve got to go home. And that is a position that I’ve evolved on."
And so has Charles Krauthammer:

For the party in general, however, the problem is hardly structural. It requires but a single policy change: Border fence plus amnesty. Yes, amnesty. Use the word. Shock and awe -- full legal normalization (just short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement.
Let me start with that river, because of the 1900 mile border, almost 2/3rds of it is with Texas (yes, the state is that big).   If you saw "No Country for Old Men," you know how literally impossible it would be to put a fence and guards along it, a la the Berlin Wall.  It isn't just the distance, it's the (in some places) mountainous terrain.  But the other problem is, people live along that border; and they cross it everyday.

This should come as no surprise to people living near a state border.  When I lived in southern Illinois, I crossed into Missouri daily.  It's no different for people living on the Rio Grande.  They cross into Mexico, or into Texas, on a daily basis.  Turn that into Berlin during the Cold War, or Gaza and the West Bank, and do you expect the Hispanics on this side of the fence to thank you?

Logistically, it's ridiculous.  Politically, it's condescending.  Look, you Hispanics who are here are okay, and just as soon as we keep any more of you from coming in, we can arrange amnesty!  Now help us shut this gate, will ya?  In fact, why don't you shut it for us?

You people are so much better at that sort of thing than we are.

I bet we could even get 'em to enforce the border!

Honestly, this is better than Nixon resigning.  This is almost like George McGovern winning.

The morning after the morning after....


 I don't know what this will mean in the future, but the crazies didn't lose everything on Tuesday night.*  Ted Cruz is now the junior Senator from Texas:

Cruz is a conspiracy theory character. He is convinced billionaire George Soros is funding a secret agenda to shutdown golf courses because they harm the environment and is conspiring with the United Nations to eliminate national sovereignty and private property. Cruz is convinced sharia law is an enormous problem in the U.S. and that extending unemployment benefits creates more unemployment and that churches ought to be able to keep their tax exemptions even as they endorse candidates from the pulpit.

Cruz came out of nowhere as a first-time candidate with little money and no name identification with voters. Texas establishment Republicans acquired him as their political problem as a consequence of their own behavior. They gerrymandered legislative districts so profoundly during redistricting that a court case challenging the new lines dragged out the primary election day from early March to late May, which gave Cruz time to polish his ranting points and fire up the Tea Party. If the election had been held as scheduled, Dewhurst, a former CIA agent, would have handily won. But he simply isn't conservative enough or sufficiently crazy for the radicals taking control of the Texas GOP.

Partly this is a cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for (redistricting) and learning that you gotta dance with the ones what brung you (the Tea Party).  Moore goes on to the note the Texas GOP is foursquare against critical thinking, which is no exaggeration.

Ted Cruz is Allen West, except in the Senate.  Which means he's there for six years, and probably for as much longer as he likes.

He's also the guy Richard Viguerie thinks can be the new Hispanic face of the GOP.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

*Actually, this is probably a good thing.  Keeping a few crazies in the public eye will make it easier to remember we don't want to return to that again.  When the Dems swept the Congress along with Obama in 2008, it only took two years to forget how bad the GOP could be; and we're still stuck with them.  Having a few crazies around might make us appreciate the regulars a bit more.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Surveying the iceberg

I am interested in the results of the election in this space for reasons that actually concern my usual concerns, not just my political ones.  Reasons like Karl Rove:

Karl Rove told Fox News' Megyn Kelly on Thursday that President Obama won re-election "by suppressing the vote" with negative campaign ads that "turned off" potential voters, citing a victory that carried a smaller percentage of the popular vote compared to that of the 2008 presidential race.
Which is a subtle way of declaring President Obama's victory illegtimate.  At least, subtler than Bill O'Reilly:
“How do you think we got to that point?” host Megyn Kelly wondered.

“Because it’s a changing country,” O’Reilly insisted. “The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff, they want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.”

O'Reilly can now only be considered as the person holding the Pat Buchanan White Racist Chair for Inexplicably Remaining on Television.

But then O'Reilly is just a rancid product of the cess pool (there's no other word for it now) which is Fox News,  an organization in which every commentator seems to have a touch of O'Reilly in them.

That the demographics of the country have been changing is undeniable.   One might even say our politics finally caught up with reality, and it has shaken our complacency to its roots.  Interestingly, the promise of the 18 year old voter was also finally achieved, 41 years after the 26th Amendment was approved.  That one was supposed to put George McGovern in office and end the Vietnam War.  That it has finally brought changes to our body politic is a good thing; now let's make it last.

But it's the utter and blatant racism that astounds me.  Richard Nixon, as was pointed out the other night, started affirmative action.  Barack Obama's election four years ago was supposed to prove we were now a post-racial nation; but only the credulous ever really believed that.  My daughter sometimes sounds like a racist herself when she wonders why we still need affirmative action, but I have to explain to her that not putting any importance on race (as she doesn't) is not the same as erasing 400 years of American history.  So I know this struggle isn't over.  I'm not even sure it's started yet.

That language from Sununu last summer about President Obama not being a "real American;" not at all accidental.O'Reilly and Rove and Fox News are making a clear statement about Tuesday:  "real" Americans didn't vote, and those that did don't deserve the vote, because they will only vote themselves money from the pockets of "real," i.e., white, Americans.  White Americans will be the new slaves to the government, the turnabout that was feared with emancipation will finally be achieved, and the social order will be topsy-turvy.  Mind you, as a "Christian" nation we should supposedly embrace this upending with open arms.

Then again, the very idea that we were ever a "Christian" nation, if not prove farcical by history, is certainly proven so by now. 
This will be carried out in religious terms, oddly enough.  The "sanctity" of the vote will become paramount.  The "holiness" of the franchise, it will be argued, must be kept from the undeserving, the unclean, the "other" who is not one of us.

The remaining question is:  will they manage to impose this vision on the nation?  Or will the spin off into their own little bubble universe with it, joining up with neo-Nazis and skinheads and other marginalized groups?

My money is on the latter.  The arc of the universe simply doesn't bend that way.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Are these things right or wrong?

Honestly.  I don't know.  Tell me what you think.

Part of what drives people crazy about him — and if you wanted to see crazy, you should have seen the fugue state that overcame the Fox election all-stars last night, because I've seen jollier police lineups — is that he so clearly understands his own genuine historical stature, and that he wears it so easily, and that he uses it so deftly. It is not obvious. He does not use it brutally or obviously. It is just... there with him, a long and deep reservoir of violence and sorrow and tragedy and triumph out of which comes almost everything he does. He came into this office a figure of history, unlike anyone who's become president since George Washington. The simple event of him remains a great gravitational force in our politics. It changes the other parts of our politics in their customary orbits. It happens so easily and so in the manner of an immutable physical law that you hardly notice that it has happened until you realize that what you thought you knew about the country and its people had been shifted by degrees until it is in a completely different place.

Charlie Pierce
His supporters had counted on him to be Franklin Roosevelt, and to run roughshod over his opponents with policies so popular they became permanent. Instead, his opponents had succeeded in making him pay for virtually every initiative, and by the time he began his campaign for re-election in earnest he had been transformed into a politician who ran not on smarts but on heart; not on eloquence but on will; not on the promise of transcendence but on simple endurance. He had been accused of squandering the demographic advantages of his presidency, and of missing the chance to become a truly transformational politician. But he must have known that if he remained true to the very things his enemies feared in him — his rationalism and modernity — the country could get on with the task of transforming itself, and tonight he celebrated the most sweeping political transformation in American political culture since the one Reagan cemented in his electoral victory of 1984:
He had turned a center-right country into a center-left one.

Tom Junod

Yes?   No?   Both and a little bit of neither?  Help me out here.

In the meantime, I got some soteriologizin' to do.

Adding:  one thing I do know about last night:  the polls predicted the outcome almost to the letter (especially Nate Silver), even down to the fact it would all be over before midnight.

Yet even The New Yorker (in the person of Jane Mayer) predicted a voter apocalypse as we faced a sea of Floridas ca. 2000, and law suits that would keep us wondering who won until January or later.

The emerging theme now is that "conservative meda" fooled the rubes into expecting a Romney win.  But who really sat down in front of the TV last night and expected this to be over before the day was?  And who told us all it was really that close?

Monday, November 05, 2012

In other news....

Apparently there is a massive voter fraud event scheduled to end tomorrow evening.

 Me, I'm just gonna enjoy being back on God's Time.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Salvation for sale

For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life. God is not mocked, and as the Bible clearly teaches, after this passing instant of life on earth, God’s great mercy in time will give way to God’s perfect judgment in eternity.

If there is a single reason I have tossed aside (well, almost) all concern with soteriology as the central tenet of Christianity, this argument would be an example of it.  I really cannot distinquish this line of reasoning from a Chick tract:

That is offensive to me on so many levels I don't know where to start.  It's a gross distortion of Paul's theology, to begin with.  It has, so far as I can tell, absolutely no connection to any of the teachings of Jesus in any of the four gospels.  And it flies in the face of the refusal to be judgmental that gets Jesus so crosswise (no pun intended) with the Pharisees and Saduccees and lawyers and scribes (all of whom are, historically, caricatures, but that's another issue) in the synoptic Gospels (especially Luke's).  Whenever Jesus is confronted with an opportunity to judge, he resolutely refuses to do so, and in fact tells the "sinner", more often than not:  "Go, and sin no more."  What happens most often is that the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed, and there is no payment involved.  Not only no payment in coin or discipleship (none of the healed become named apostles), but not even a down payment in faith.  Even the disciples, of course, weren't interested in giving away something for nothing, and they'd tell the beggars and the little children to leave the Important Man alone.  Jesus, however, always had other ideas.

Which isn't to say Jesus didn't set boundaries, didn't establish standards.  He tells the prostitute in Simon's house that her trust has saved her, that her sins are forgiven, and that she is to go in peace.  But after the Transfiguration, he tells would be followers to sell all they have if they want to follow him, and to leave the dead to bury their dead.  Following Jesus is hard, and he knows it; and he knows it's not for everybody.  There are ways of serving; but there are also ways of judging; and Jesus never encourages judging.

Perhaps the closest he comes is when he sends the disciples out and tells them to sleep in the house they are invited into, and to give that house their peace as they enter.  If they are accepted, the peace stays there; if they are rejected, that peace leaves with them.  The house isn't condemned into dust and ash; it just isn't blessed with the peace the disciples bring.  The people living there don't go to hell; they just missed the point.  They excluded themselves; but from what?  From eternal life, and bliss?

Well, yes, according to Jack Chick.  But what is his authority?  Is it really any greater than that of Bishop Daniel Jenky?

I realize that is a very Protestant question, and I don't raise it to start an argument about the superiority of Protestantism against Roman Catholicism.  But let me draw the line on this question of soteriology very directly:  Jesus doesn't condemn the tax collector Zaccheus because he is working for the hated Roman government, the very government which will soon nail Jesus to a cross and hang him naked in the air as a traitor.  Jesus doesn't pass Zaccheus because his political loyalty to Rome is at odds with his loyalty to "the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life."  Jesus doesn't even challenge how Zaccheus makes his living.  Jesus just sees Zaccheus in the tree, trying to get a better view of the renowned rabbi, and invites himself to lunch.  It is, if anything, a violation of everything a holy man in 1st century Palestine should be doing; but then, Jesus spends a lot of his time in Luke's gospel violating everything a holy man in 1st century Palestine should be doing.

The situation is the same throughout Luke's gospel.  When the people come to hear the preaching of John the Baptist, John doesn't tell the Roman soldier to give up his political loyalty to Caesar and become a disciple of John or of Jesus.  He doesn't tell the tax collector to give up working for Rome.  John tells them to be fair in their dealings with others, which means keep being a soldier, and keep collecting taxes.  Again, this soldier could well be one ordered to nail Jesus to the cross, or to arrest him.  Certainly someone that soldier knew was involved in the crucifixion.   Is there no judgment for his sin, for at least his association?  Because surely the Bishop's argument is one of guilt by association:  your vote determines the state of your eternal soul, because whatever the candidate's do in office, it is as good done by you.

Which makes representative government a very dicey game indeed.  My salvation depends on the choices those in office make, especially if I approved of them enough to vote to put them there.  Hmmmmm.......

Sorry, but honestly, if there is a defense for Bp. Jenky's argument, I can't imagine what it is.  And if there is any theological justification for his soteriology, I don't know what that is, either.

Maybe that's why I just don't understand his actions at all.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

From a distance

This is just sad:

In a letter, Jenky told the priests in his diocese “[b]y virtue of your vow of obedience to me as your Bishop, I require that this letter be personally read by each celebrating priest at each Weekend Mass, November 3/4.” The letter leaves little doubt that Jenky wants Obama out of the White House:

Neither the president of the United States nor the current majority of the Federal Senate have been willing to even consider the Catholic community’s grave objections to those HHS mandates that would require all Catholic institutions, exempting only our church buildings, to fund abortion, sterilization, and artificial contraception. . . . Nearly two thousand years ago, after our Savior had been bound, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crowned with thorns, a pagan Roman Procurator displayed Jesus to a hostile crowd by sarcastically declaring: Behold your King. The mob roared back: We have no king but Caesar. Today, Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord. They are objectively guilty of grave sin.

For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life. God is not mocked, and as the Bible clearly teaches, after this passing instant of life on earth, God’s great mercy in time will give way to God’s perfect judgment in eternity.

I therefore call upon every practicing Catholic in this Diocese to vote. Be faithful to Christ and to your Catholic Faith.
It is not sad because of the opinions expressed, though I disagree with them.  It is not sad because Bp. Jenky has already gone full Godwin in comparing President Obama to Hitler.  It is sad because the Biship seems to actually imagine his words will be given full effect by all of the faithful.

I've been watching "Call the Midwife" on PBS.  It's set in the East End of London during World War II (or thereabouts), and it concerns a group of midwives working for a facility run by nuns (I haven't been watching it that carefully, so if I'm off on the particulars a bit, forgive).  What strikes me is the imminent practicality of the nuns, which I finally realized was simply their pastoral care.  One set of characters, for example, were a brother and sister, both elderly, both clearly the victims of childhoods of Dickensian brutality.  I didn't at first realize they were siblings, because they presented as an elderly married couple.  The midwife/nurses are shocked when they realize the two have been sleeping in the same bed, but the nun who overhears their conversation is nonplussed.  When pressed on the matter, ("It's incest, Sister!"), she tells the nurses the couple's story, one of losing their parents at a young age, and being separated in a work house, and only later reunited.  She concludes: "There was nothing of family left by the time they were reunited."  And it is clear the relationship, however incestuous it might be in some particulars, is spectacularly healthy and supportive for both of them.  Later, still, the sister/wife commits suicide during the night vigil over her brother/husband, who dies of cancer.  The nun who enters to find them overlooks this mortal sin in favor of recognizing the humanity of the two, who had borne so much inhumanity in their lives.

Is this all fiction and a secularizing fable about the lives and concerns of the religious?  Is it cleaned up for modern sensibilities, and represents not the Church but the world?  Perhaps.  I don't know if this telling is true to the source material or not, or even if the source material is true to history.  But I do know the responses of the nuns are both practical and pastoral.  The the pastoral, especially, is something sorely lacking among members of church hierarchies.

I occasionally got a letter from my church hierarchy, congregationalist as we were, that I was expected to read from the pulpit.  My superiors hadn't the authority of a Roman Catholic bishop, but one church member called me in horror that I would read the letter I was asked to read, from the pulpit.  I had no intention of doing so, because I knew I would pay the price with my congregation.  I also knew, aside from the anger I'd stir up, that it wasn't the pastoral thing to do.  From a distance what seems clear and clean and comfortably abstract, becomes messy and complicated and bewilderingly concrete at ground level.

The Bishop may consider that he has the eagle's eye and from his aerie sees more clearly than that priests on the ground; and on some occasions that may even be true.  But it is rare enough, especially in this age, that is shouldn't be presumed upon.  Take a lesson from the Nuns on the Bus, and get out among the people and see what they are concerned about.

It will be far removed from what provisions now have to be included in health insurance policies.

All Saint's Day 2012

The vigil of this feast is popularly called "Hallowe'en" or "Halloween". 

Solemnity celebrated on the first of November. It is instituted to honour all the saints, known and unknown, and, according to Urban IV, to supply any deficiencies in the faithful's celebration of saints' feasts during the year.

 In the early days the Christians were accustomed to solemnize the anniversary of a martyr's death for Christ at the place of martyrdom. In the fourth century, neighbouring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer relics, to divide them, and to join in a common feast; as is shown by the invitation of St. Basil of Caesarea (397) to the bishops of the province of Pontus. Frequently groups of martyrs suffered on the same day, which naturally led to a joint commemoration. In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this we find in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. We also find mention of a common day in a sermon of St. Ephrem the Syrian (373), and in the 74th homily of St. John Chrysostom (407). At first only martyrs and St. John the Baptist were honoured by a special day. Other saints were added gradually, and increased in number when a regular process of canonization was established; still, as early as 411 there is in the Chaldean Calendar a "Commemoratio Confessorum" for the Friday after Easter. In the West Boniface IV, 13 May, 609, or 610, consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs, ordering an anniversary. Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary for 1 November. A basilica of the Apostles already existed in Rome, and its dedication was annually remembered on 1 May. Gregory IV (827-844) extended the celebration on 1 November to the entire Church. The vigil seems to have been held as early as the feast itself. The octave was added by Sixtus IV (1471-84).

 New Advent, which only tells us what it says there, in tiny print, about Halloween.  But I got that.

Otherwise, what is there to say that hasn't been said before?

In the communion of the Holy Spirit, with the faithful and the saints in heaven, with the redeemed in all ages, with our beloved who dwell in thy presence and peace, we, who still serve and suffer on earth, unite in ascribing:


Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,