Click below to watch John Stewart talk about people “goin’ rogue” in the campaign.
Click below to watch John Stewart talk about people “goin’ rogue” in the campaign.
This will be the first year since I was old enough to vote that I will not cast a ballot in a presidential election. I quote a character from Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” in my defense: “Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy.”
I can’t vote for Barack Obama. He is a pro-abortion zealot and wrong on all the issues that matter most to social conservatives. Mind you, one should not be under any illusion that things will markedly improve under another Republican administration. But there is no question that on issues related to the sanctity of life and traditional marriage, an Obama administration, with a Democratic Congress at its back, would be far worse.
The best case that can be made for John McCain is that he would serve as something of a brake on runaway liberalism. But the country would be at significantly greater risk of war with the intemperate and bellicose McCain in the White House. That was clear months ago, but his conduct during the fall campaign–especially contrasted with Obama’s steadiness–has made me even more uneasy. His selection of Sarah Palin, while initially heartening to populist-minded social conservatives, has proved disastrous. Though plainly a politician of real talent, the parochial Palin is stunningly ill-suited for high office, and that’s a terrible mark against McCain’s judgment.
As both a conservative and a Republican, I confess that we deserve to lose this year. We have governed badly and have earned the wrath of voters, who will learn in due course how inadequate the nostrums of liberal Democrats are to the crisis of our times. If I cannot in good faith cast a vote against the Bush years by voting for Obama, I can at least do so by withholding my vote from McCain.
Following on Fr Matthew Olverâ€™s piece posted here last night, I am pleased to present a thoughtful exchangeâ€“intended to be a conversation starter and an aid to reflectionâ€“between Neil Dhingra and Fr Will Brown on the thorny question of how Christians in the U.S. committed to â€œlifeâ€ should approach the question of voting in the presidential election next Tuesday. Neil and Will are inclined to different answers to this questionâ€“the former believing that a case can be made out for â€œpro-lifeâ€ support of Obamaâ€™s candidacy, the latter believing that this is not possible (leaving aside the question of whether or not a case for McCain can be made). But much common ground is shared by both writers, as well.
What else can and perhaps should be said? We invite your comments, and wrestling along with Neil and Will and others of us. How to move along the conversation? Is the strategic question of how to vote something about which we can reasonably disagree as Christians who do not disagree about the blight visited upon American democracy and order by the contradiction of abortion tolerated in our midst?
Lord, give us your mind and your heart, to the end of justice in our country, especially for these voiceless and silenced ones, callously killed in the name of â€œfreedomâ€ and â€œchoice.â€ Forgive us, Lord, for our own complicity in this culture of death. And give us the grace, individually and as a Community of counter-witness, to model for our nation a spirit of repentance, joined to a willingness to make amends for our sins. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Despite all the buzz in the Christian world–or more appropriately in the secular press about the Christian world–about no longer voting based on single issues (for most folks, that single issue would be or would have been abortion), there is no doubt that which direction many Christians go at the polls in November will fundamentally hinge upon their answer to the question of which party has greater respect for human life. For some, the answer is still obviously the Republican party, while for others, the movement of the Democratic party on issues that relate to the demand for abortion, as well as the policies of the Republican party on the environment and war have led them to the conclusion that it is the Democratic party that supports a more broad-based pro-life agenda. Â While many want to deny the continued importance of abortion as a political issue, I don’t believe it is becoming less important. If anything it is becoming more important as it now seems as though some Democrats at least, want to make their party safe for pro-life people.
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting write up of the Democrats rightward (or middle-ward) creep on this issue entitled “Tiptoeing to the right on abortion,” by Suzanne Sataline. Basically, the issues raised in the article have to do with the increased prominence and voice given to some pro-life democrats and to the organization Democrats for Life. Kristen Day, the executive director of of that organization put it this way:
“In 2004, we couldn’t get a word in. This time, they reached out to us,” says Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, a six-year-old advocacy organization that sponsored a convention gathering that featured antiabortion Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee. “The big tent is opening up.”
There are those who disagree with this assessment, and believe that the party is actually moving to the left in some ways (you can read about that here). But whether the movement is real or merely perceived, the reaction is certainly real and these changes are not being happily received in some quarters, as evidenced by the response of those in pro-abortion organizations. One response in particular stood out to me, that of Marjorie Signer:
“It pains me that our party holds this pro-life view,” says Marjorie Signer, a spokeswoman for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national nonprofit group made up of groups from 15 denominations. “I have a big problem reducing the number” of abortions. How would that be achieved, she asks — “by cutting off access and making [abortion] impossible to get?”
Leaving aside the fact that someone would seemingly call the democratic position unequivocally pro-life despite the fact that the Democratic Party platform “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade,” and “a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion,” I was very interested in Signer’s reaction because of the group she represents. Some of the readers of this blog may remember the fact that the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church chose to affiliate our entire denomination with this group. At General Convention 06 the Diocese of Tennessee was one of several Dioceses to introduce resolutions to remove the Episcopal Church from that organization.
This is the language and position that Ms. Signer finds so objectionable:
But it asserts that the party “also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education” that “help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” About 1.2 million abortions are performed each year in the U.S.
“This platform, for the first time, acknowledges and supports a decision to exercise choice in a different direction, to carry a child to term,” says Michael Yaki, the national platform director for the Democratic National Committee. “The core value, a woman’s right to choose, has not been compromised at all.”
This begs the question–as though there wasn’t a question before about affiliating an entire body of Christians with a lobbying group that unabashedly takes a position contrary to historic Christian teaching, and does so in a radical way–as to whether the Episcopal Church (or any of the other 15 denominations/religious groups) ought to be affiliated with an organization that believes the position of the Democratic party on Abortion is too pro-life.
Some of us here in the Diocese of Tennessee and at least three other Dioceses of the Episcopal Church were upset enough about this to submit resolutions at General Convention 2006 to rescind our membership in the RCRC. Perhaps as their ideology is shown to be out of step with even democratic orthodoxy this subject will receive a new airing. I pray so.
Here’s the text of the original TN resolution which was tabled at GC2006:
Jonathan Rauch has a wonderful article on John McCain’s conservatism with the tag line “John McCain hasn’t betrayed conservatism; his party has.” It’s a good look at some of the reasons Conservatism will be much better off with McCain setting the tone than someone like Bush (who’s about as far from conservatism in some areas as Obama is in others).
Alert Washingtonians were treated to an odd juxtaposition not long ago. John McCain was booed at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the big annual gathering of the right-wing tribes, while trying to establish that he was a conservative. On the same day, across town at the American Enterprise Instituteâ€”another conservative strongholdâ€”Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, was warmly received when he touted a new book called Real Change. Never one to go underboard, GingÂrich called for â€œexplosively replac[ing] the failed bureaucracies of the past.â€
The irony of the contrast seemed lost on conservatives. No one in the movement doubts Gingrich is a real, no-kidding conservative. Many doubt that McCain is. Some flatly flunk him. Thus spake James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family and a leader of the Christian right: â€œI am convinced Senator McCain is not a conservative.â€ Heâ€™s not one of us, these conservatives have insisted.
Actually, theyâ€™re not one of them. But he is.
Remember everyone, this man is going to be in Nashville on April 22nd at West End United Methodist. Bravo to him for this stand and clarion call.
Bishop condemns embryo study plan
The Bishop of Durham has attacked government plans which could allow scientists to create embryos combining human DNA and animal cells.
In his Easter Sunday message, given at Durham Cathedral, Rt Rev Tom Wright issued a rallying call to all faiths to object to the “1984-style” proposals.
He accused ministers of pushing through legislation from “a militantly atheist and secularist lobby.”
The Anglican bishop also criticised the treatment of some asylum seekers.
As pressure from religious leaders mounted on prime minister Gordon Brown to allow a free vote on the issue of embryo research in the Commons, Bishop Wright warned that society was in danger of learning nothing from the “dark tyrannies” of the last century.
He told his congregation: “Our present government has been pushing through, hard and fast, legislation that comes from a militantly atheist and secularist lobby.
“In this 1984-style world, we create our own utopia by our own efforts, particularly our science and technology.
“The irony is that this secular utopianism is based on a belief in an unstoppable human ability to make a better world, while at the same time it believes that we have the right to kill unborn children and surplus old people, and to play games with the humanity of those in between.
“Gender-bending was so last century; we now do species-bending.
“It shouldn’t just be Roman Catholics who are objecting. It ought to be Anglicans and Presbyterians and Baptists and Russian Orthodox and Pentecostals and all other Christians, and Jews and Muslims as well.”
An archbishop seized by gunmen last month in Iraq has been found dead.
The body of Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, was found in a shallow grave close to the city.
Pope Benedict XVI said he was profoundly moved and saddened, calling the archbishop’s death an act of inhuman violence.
Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped not long after he left mass in Mosul, in northern Iraq, on 29 February.
According to the SIR Catholic news agency, the kidnappers told Iraqi church officials on Wednesday that Archbishop Rahho was very ill and, later on the same day, that he was dead.
Philosopher Douglas Goothuis has a call out to younger evangelicals, which I would extend even to those Christians who don’t particularly consider themselves evangelical. I struggle with the political bondage that some politicians believe they can hold Christians in over this issue, and by all means just because we agree with them on this one issue doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge them on others (like the environment, poverty etc…). The political landscape in America today may seem like a moral desert in which one is constantly choosing between the lesser evil, but I’m not convinced that this isn’t simply a human reality. In the midst of such a reality, headway isn’t made by letting go of one non-negotiable in order to pursue other ends. Instead, Christians need to stand up for each of these positive goods. Legislation may require compromise at times, but you can’t compromise your core convictions and come out unscathed… we need to be reminded of Mark 8:36 it seems.
There is an interesting debate taking place in the comments section as well. As a priest and pastor, I try to stay out of overt political activism, but I do think issues are important, and there are certainly enough moral quandaries flying around in this election cycle.:
It appears that millions of evangelicals, especially younger ones, are experiencing fetus fatigue. They are tired of the abortion issue taking center stage; it is time to move on to newer, hipper things–the sort of issues that excite Bono: aid to Africa, the environment, and cool tattoos. Abortion has been legal since they were born; it is the old guard that gets exercised about millions of abortions over the years. So, let’s not worry that Barak Obama and Hillary are pro-choice. That is a secondary issue. After all, neither could do that much damage regarding this issue.
Evangelicals (if that word has any meaning), for God’s sake, please wake up and remember the acres of tiny corpses you cannot see. Yes, the Christian social vision is holistic. We should endeavor to restore shalom to this beleaguered planet. That includes helping Africa, preserving the environment, and much more. However, the leading domestic moral issue remains the value of helpless human life. Since Roe v. Wade, approximately 50 million unborn humans have been killed through abortion. Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy. A million dead is a statistic.” Too many are now Stalinists on abortion. The numbers mean nothing, apparently. The vast majority of these abortions were not done to save the life of the mother, a provision I take to be justified. Things have reached the point where bumper stickers say, “Don’t like abortion, don’t have one.” It is simply a matter of private, subjective taste. But how about this: “Don’t like slavery, don’t own slaves”? Two human beings are involved in this matter, inescapably.
Archbishop Rowan Williams certainly stirred the pot with his speech at the Temple Church, in which he discussed the possibility–indeed the desirability–of certain elements of sharia being recognized in British law. Some have seen this as evidence of Williams’ failure to stand up for Christian convictions. I think quite the opposite is true, and that Williams is doing something that needs doing in western liberal societies: standing up for the desirability, even the necessity of recognizing the ability of a religious community to police itself in certain areas. In particular he was referring to Islam because that was the subject of the lecture series to which he had been invited to participate in. But, as some commentators have noted, he might just as well have been talking about Christian minority groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church and their recent conflicts with the state over homosexual adoption.
I think Theo Hobson of the Tablet has a good understanding of what motivates the Archbishop, and he offers a good analysis of this in his reflection for The Tablet:
Above all, he refused to combine Anglo-Catholicism with a general liberal agenda. Indeed he revived the Anglo-Catholic suspicion of secular liberalism that dates back to Newman. The liberal state, in this view, offers itself as an alternative community of salvation; it tempts us into supposing that we can dispense with the Church, or at least water it down, and develop a more progressive form of Christianity. This leads to weak forms of Christianity that are unable to resist dangerous ideologies: most obviously, the liberal Protestants of Germany embraced Nazism. It is Williams’ anti-liberal ecclesiology that is the root cause of the present controversy. In a sense it’s not really about sharia law, or Islam: it’s about the relationship between a Catholic conception of the Church and liberalism.
For Williams, authentic Christianity occurs within a clearly defined social body, an “ethical community” as he has sometimes put it. Without this, Christian culture will be dispersed by the cold winds of secularism. There is a need for strong resistance to the various negative spirits of the age: consumerism, celebrity, hedonism and so on, and this resistance can only occur within an alternative social world, walled off from mainstream culture.
Only from within a religious subculture can secular modernity be seen for what it is: dehumanising. He has referred to secularism’s “unspoken violence”, and to modernity as “an atmosphere in which people become increasingly formless, cut off from what could give their lives … some kind of lasting intelligibility”. He sees secular liberalism as a quietly nihilistic force that robs human life of full significance, as a demonically subtle tyranny that looks and feels like freedom.
This theme was prominent in the Dimbleby Lecture that he gave almost exactly five years ago: it is perhaps the key to understanding his agenda last week. He argued that secular culture always serves material agendas (someone’s desire to sell you something, someone’s desire for your vote); it shuns comprehensive visions of human good. Religion addresses the whole human being, it puts all short-term concerns into perspective. A religious tradition “makes possible a real questioning of the immediate agenda of society, the choices that are defined and managed for you by the market”.
N.T. Wright has also written some insightful thoughts on these issues and published them on his new blog at the Newsweek site. I share part of them with you below:
the fundamental issue he was addressing is the relation between the law of the land and the religious conscience of the citizen. For 200 years it has been assumed that these operated in separate spheres: the law regulates my public life, faith or religion operate in private. This was always a dangerous half-truth, since many of the great world faiths, including Christianity itself, actually claim that all of life is included within religious obedience. As some of us used to be taught, if Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. In recent years various governments, including our own, have pushed the other way, to suggest that the secular state is itself master of all of life, including religious conviction. That’s why we’ve seen an airline worker sacked for wearing a cross, while in France the government has tried similarly to ban Muslim women from wearing their traditional head-covering. Because we haven’t had to address these issues before, our society has tended to slide round them by emphasizing words like ‘multiculturalism’, which often doesn’t actually mean that we celebrate our different cultures but rather that we subordinate them all to whatever the secular state wants. That is as much a problem for Catholic adoption agencies, as we saw last year, as it is for Muslims who want to follow their traditional teaching about (for instance) the prohibition of interest on loans while living within a society where the mortgage system is endemic. Rowan was going to the roots of these problems and coming up not only with fresh analysis but fresh solutions, particularly what he calls ‘interactive pluralism’. The question of how we live together as a civil and wise society while cherishing different faiths is a deep and serious one and can’t be pushed away just because people take fright at certain misunderstandings. His point was precisely that neither the secular state nor any particular religion can ‘monopolize’.
Third, Rowan was very clear in his lecture to rule out exactly those points which the screaming tabloids have assumed he was affirming. We all know the standard images of Sharia law – beatings, beheadings, oppression of women, etc. He distanced himself completely from all that, though you’d never know it from the media. He knows, just as well as do his critics, that Sharia is complex, that it varies from place to place, that it demands interpretation, and so on. His point was, rather, that there are some elements of Muslim law which can and should be accommodated within our legal structures. Ironically, Gordon Brown, who was quick to offer a knee-jerk rejection against the lecture, himself altered the law last year to enable devout Muslims to obtain mortgages. That’s the kind of thing Rowan was advocating in similar spheres.
While I agree with what both Hobson and Wright have said here, we shouldn’t allow our criticisms of the enlightenment and our distaste for the hysterical reactions to the Archbishop’s lecture to lessen our appreciation of the real, if sometimes poorly understood, concerns expressed. There are good reasons for western democracies to be concerned about the manner in which Muslims are welcomed and brought within the bounds of our common civil life. In this sense the Archbishop’s speech may well have been a gift if it has truly blown the lid off of a stifled debate people seem to have been fearful of.
During this conflict, I have seen some people compare fundamentalist Christianity, which sometimes maintains a reverence for the Bible apart from an understanding that the Word of God written has authority because it testifies to the Word of God in the Flesh, Jesus Christ with Islam with its reverence for the Qur’an as the Word of God in physical, written form. (As has been pointed out before, the parallel for the Qur’an in Christianity is not the Bible, but Jesus Christ.) While helpful from an ideological point of view, such comparisons only go so far when one is considering radical Islamists (which are the root cause of the negative reaction to Williams’ lecture). Have people over-reacted? Perhaps. Many certainly do not seem to have reacted in the most beneficial way–but there is time enough for that. I would argue, however, that while we have not yet turned the corner to helpful reactions, this is not in any sense an over-reaction.
Consider the state of Islam today. It is true that Archbishop Rowan has made relations with Islam a high priority, but I would submit that the Islamic scholars he is in dialogue with (such as at Al Azhar University) are no longer those who influence the worldview of many in the Muslim diaspora. They were once the centers of ideological and intellectual power, but that is no longer the case. Several years ago I watched a question and answer period on Book TV discussing Bernard Lewis’ books (I’m sorry, I cant remember whether it was From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East or What went wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response), during which time the question of Islamist radicalism came up. The questioner was confused as to what Dr. Lewis meant by traditional Islam. His response was that in his earlier books he was referring to Islamists understanding of themselves as “traditionalists” but that in reality they were the innovators, Islamic fundamentalists who claimed a spiritual lineage for legitimacy, but actually had none. The questioner then asked another question to the effect of “where did this go wrong?” To which Lewis replied that the problem started first with the defeat of the Hashemites by the Al Saud’s who founded Saudi Arabia and gained the influence over Muslims that only the custodians of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina could have and that the problem was exacerbated when oil was discovered in the Arabian Penninsula, turning what would have been a social, political and religious backwater into a financial and spiritual powerhouse. (You can hear much of the same in Book TV’s in depth interview of Lewis, which is available online. I suggest it highly.)
Why is this true? It’s true because Muslims, like immigrant communities throughout history, have a desire to maintain their traditions in the midst of a new and largely alien culture. The fault-line they are navigating has been traveled by immigrant communities from many ethnic groups: German, Italian, Irish, Polish, Chinese, Hispanics, Greeks etc… each of these communities have established their own civic and educational institutions to help maintain their cultural identity–it would be foolish to expect anything less or different of Muslim immigrants. But of course, the establishment of such institutions cost money and must be financed somehow. In the case of the Muslim diaspora this financing has come from Saudi Arabia. The effects of this are important. In the past the centers of Islamic scholarship and culture had been Egypt (Cairo and Al Azhar as the prime example) and Turkey. But with shifting political and economic realities, the center has become Saudi Arabia. What are the ramifications of this? Lewis gave a memorable example by discussing the way religious education is approached in Germany. Germany has a period of the school day set aside for religious education, wherein the various faiths divide up and are instructed in the history and beliefs of their respective religions. Because many of the Muslim immigrants in Germany are of Turkish origin, Turkey offered to provide the same text books to German schools that are used in Turkish schools. However, because Germany wanted to ensure that instruction was carried out by the faith group and not by a government, they refused the Turkish offer. Instead the classes were taught by an independent group… a group funded by Saudi oil. In the aftermath of the September 11th attack, of the ethnic Turks arrested, none were raised in Turkey, all had been educated in the German educational system. This is simply one example of a number of reasons why immigrant Muslim communities in the west seem to be producing radicals, particularly in the second generation, it’s a matter of who pays the Imams and provides the Qur’ans and what brand of Islam–and indeed what version of Islamic law–they espouse.
It would be a mistake to assume that these issues which are causing so much conflict in the West are not also present in Islamic societies. Indeed, as Dr. Lewis notes, the primary Jihad of Wahabists is the Jihad against those Muslims who-in their view–are apostates. One need only look at the resurgence of Islamism in Turkey and the concern of those who are invested in their secular experiment, or at the conflict in Chechnya, where it wasn’t simply Muslim against Russian, but instead a three way conflict between Wahabist fighters vs. those who followed the indigenous Sufi-derived form of Islam (which is seen as corrupt and pagan influenced), or were secular vs. Russia. If we truly want to have a positive impact on the integration of and respect for Muslim communities in the west, we cannot simply assume that the more friendly and palatable forms of Islamic thought coming from places like Al Azhar or the more modern and secularized variety that is struggling to maintain itself in Turkey, will be the predominant forms in the West. If we hope to have any positive impact we must help them move back to the center of their communities from the periphery they have been pushed to, and see to it that theirs is the voice heard in the mosques and fellowships of the diaspora… otherwise talk of allowances for sharia are not only pointless, they become dangerous.
Of course, all of this leaves aside the very important question of whether or not Islam is able to exist in a pluralistic setting. That’s a question of another post, but the answer will most probably be found in secular paradigm of Turkey vs. the contention of Sayyid Qutb that Islam is itself a political philosophy. For myself, I’m not sure we can see the Turkish flirtation with western-style secularism as anything but an experiment–at the moment, Qutb seems to have had the right of it. In which case the allowance of Sharia for a minority could become the imposition of Sharia on others if and when that minority becomes dominant in an area–we can already see that happening in Northern Nigeria and other places in Africa where dominant Muslim communities that once handled their disputes locally and among themselves with sharia have been pushing for codification of Sharia in the constitutions of their northern states–imposing their beliefs on religious minorities who, until recently, also handled their disputes in their own local and often unofficial ways.
So there’s my take… here’re some books to think about: