Sunday, May 31, 2009

9/11 Did Not Invalidate the Constitution

Rchard A. Clarke, the national coordinator for security and counterterrorism under Clinton and George W. Bush, has published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post challenging the trauma excuse being advanced by former Vice President Dick Cheney as a rationale for why the Bush administration authorized the use of torture. Clarke repeatedly warned Bush and Cheney that an attack was imminent before 9/11, but was ignored by them. Clarke concludes:

"I'll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities," Cheney said in his recent speech. But this defense does not stand up. The Bush administration's response actually undermined the principles and values America has always stood for in the world, values that should have survived this traumatic event. The White House thought that 9/11 changed everything. It may have changed many things, but it did not change the Constitution, which the vice president, the national security adviser and all of us who were in the White House that tragic day had pledged to protect and preserve.

Friday, May 29, 2009

On the Purpose of Ten Commandments Monuments

Over the past few months I've had a lot of media people asking me for an opinion on the legality of erecting a Ten Commandments monument at the state capitol. I usually refer them to the newsletter I wrote about the Ten Commandments monument on the courthouse lawn in Haskell County.

Yesterday I received a query that differs from those I have received in the past. This inquirer asks, "Is the real purpose [of the monument] to promote the teachings of the Ten Commandments or to simply recognize what some would say is the partial underpinning of U.S. law?"

The question derives from assertions by proponents of the bill authorizing the erection of the monument that they merely desire to memorialize the historical foundation for the American system of law and justice.

I believe such assertions exemplify the kind of subterfuge in which some Christian Nationalists are willing to engage to secure a fig leaf of legality for displaying a monument endorsing a text from sacred scripture on public property. Proving that, however, is difficult as long as Christian Nationalists stick to their story and persist in lying about having no religious motivation for erecting the monuments.

If all else fails, there is a way to discover how serious our legislators are about memorializing the historical foundations for our system of law. We will know they are serious when they authorize monuments to the code of Hammurabi, to English Common Law, and to the Bill of Rights to stand side-by-side with the one for the Ten Commandments.

I'd just settle for a monument to the Bill of Rights where the first right of every American is defined as being governed by legislators who respect the prohibition against making laws respecting the establishment of religion:
"Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise therof. . ."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Naked Graduations

David Gushee has posted an Op-Ed about "Graduation and a 'naked public square'" that appears to lament the lack of overtly religious sermonizing to add solemnity to the ritual of high school graduations.

I would rather celebrate the lack of religious sermonizing and wish that it were more widespread. Graduations are not the equivalent a public forum where everyone is equally free to express an opinion. Graduates are not voluntary participants in these events.

Gushee suggests the possibility of religiously pluralist sermons at graduations, but such a suggestion is exceedingly naive. Who can imagine conservative Christian parents and grandparents in Georgia sitting still while being forced to listen to graduation homilies from Muslims, Mormons or Hindus?

Neuhaus's lament about the "naked public-square" has always been a euphemism for lamentations over the demise of a public square monopolized by Christians. He advocated relentlessly for the elevation of the majoritarian faith in public life, not, as Gushee would suggest, for a public square that gives equal voice to every faith.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Metaphors and the Church

Metaphoricity is central to language and understanding.

Interpreting scripture and understanding theology is impossible without paying close attention to the networks of meaning that are conveyed by biblical metaphors.

That is why Rob Hewell's critique of Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt's choice of a metaphor for the church is of more than passing significance.

In a recent interview, Hunt said "the church is king." Here's are excerpts from Hewell's critique:

Hunt was obviously seeking to clarify what he perceives to be an issue related to accountability, but it's curious that the convention president would use a non-biblical analogy for the church in order to make his point.

The apostle Paul compared the church to a body. While all parts are necessary, even the most seemingly insignificant, the parts are necessarily directed by the head. He concluded that Christ is the head of the church. While the mantle of authority does, indeed, rest appropriately on confident shoulders, the mantle is of little value minus the crown on the head of the sovereign. In yet another analogy, Paul wrote that the church is a bride, and that Christ himself is the bridegroom. No doubt the bride receives honor, yet that honor is bound up in her relationship to the groom. . . .

Christ, not the church, should be king in Baptist life. So referring to the church as king, even to make a point about the church-denomination relationship, aggravates the problem rather than mitigates it. Using a descriptor for the church that is reserved for the church's Supreme Ruler does not serve the church well.
Well said, Brother Hewell.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Podcast: Dr. J. Michael Pontious Interview

Podcast (6.8MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 5-24-09 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Dr. Mike Pontious, Professor in the Department of Family and Preventative Medicine at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Program Director for OU/Enid Family Medicine and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. We talk about proposals and possibilities for health care reform, the need for universal health-care coverage and the dilemmas that Christian physicians often face in trying to meet the needs of those with limited resources.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bush and Bible Prophecy

Clive Hamilton in a post at Counterpunch asserts that French President Jacques Chirac has confirmed stories that Bush believed he was fulfilling end-times Bible prophecies when he launched the war in Iraq. Here's an excerpt:

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle [the Apocalyptic battle of Gog and Magog], telling Chirac:

"This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins".

The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elysée Palace, baffled by Bush's words, sought advice from Thomas Römer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne. Four years later, Römer gave an account in the September 2007 issue of the university's review, Allez savoir. The article apparently went unnoticed, although it was referred to in a French newspaper.

The story has now been confirmed by Chirac himself in a new book, published in France in March, by journalist Jean Claude Maurice. Chirac is said to have been stupefied and disturbed by Bush's invocation of Biblical prophesy to justify the war in Iraq and "wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs".

In the same year he spoke to Chirac, Bush had reportedly said to the Palestinian foreign minister that he was on "a mission from God" in launching the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was receiving commands from the Lord.
If this story is true, then it clearly demonstrates how dangerous it is for Americans to trust politicians who lack the wisdom and prudence to separate their contemporary foreign policy from their peculiar interpretations of biblical prophecy.

The Value of Information Gained from Torture

Former CIA Analyst Ray McGovern has offered a most succinct explanation of the value of the kind of information that is to be gained from torture:

In his speech, Cheney mentioned 9/11 about 30 times — for reasons that by this stage are obvious to all. Referring specifically to waterboarding, Cheney said that waterboardee Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “the mastermind of 9/11 … also boasted about beheading Daniel Pearl.”

(Here, I thought, is a really good example of “disingenuous” — a nice concrete example for my grandson. For the only thing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did NOT take responsibility for, after being waterboarded 183 times, was climate change.)

Put Down the Patriot Bible

Brian Kaylor has posted a story at Ethics Daily about some strong criticism of the "American Patriot's Bible" that is being promoted by a former President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Pastor's Conference and sold by the SBC's Life Way Resources.

The article already gives an indication of my revulsion toward this kind of idolatrous fusion of nationalism and religion, so I won't repeat it here. I'll just offer another observation.

I am repeatedly struck by the similarity between the religious sentiment of American Christian Nationalists and the Nazi Deutsche Christians. The mindset is the same. Only the nationalities have changed.

To tell the truth, the relentless rising crescendo of religious nationalism in this country scares me more than the threat of Islamic extremism. The only time I was ever face-to-face with a Muslim extremist, he wasn't armed. I'm face-to-face with armed-to-the-teeth Christian Nationalists, Dominionists, and Christian Identity adherents on a daily basis.

On his weblog today Wade Burleson is praising God that SBC fundamentalists are not using stones to assassinate the character of their fellow Baptists.

The way gun sales have increased since Obama's election, I'm beginning to think it would be better to see a shortage of stones.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Newsweek Defames Gulen

Newsweek has published an essay entitled "Behind Turkey's Witch Hunt" by Soner Cagaptay that appears to be a thinly disguised attempt to defame the character and intentions of Fetulah Gulen and his movement.

Comprehending the internal political machinations of factions and parties within foreign countries is always challening for an outsider, but I am reasonably certain that the following observations hold true:

1. The form of secularism that has prevailed in Turkey until recently has been hostile to religion and not neutral. Secularist cabals within the military have repeatedly overthrown and executed democratically elected leaders for being too religious.

2. All the evidence that I have seen -- in his writings, in his disciples, and in the institutions that he has created -- indicates that Fetulah Gulen is promoting a moderate and enlightened form of Sufi Islam that encourages interfaith dialogue and respects religious pluralism. There is no doubt that he is one of the most popular religious leaders in Turkey.

3. The real witch hunt began in 2000 when secularist state officials accused Gulen of plotting to overthrow the secular government and create a theocratic state. In 2008, after eight long years of litigation, Turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals finally confirmed Gulen's acquittal by a lower court in Ankara.

4. Mr. Cagaptay's essay is as careful to perpetuate suspicions about Gulen's political influence as it is careless about taking note of any suspicious relationship between Turkan Saylan and the women working for the Society for Contemporary Life (CYDD) and the secularists.

The flaws in Cagaptay's essay are so egregious that Newsweek owes Fetulah Gulen an apology.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Beyond Tolerance

Linda Brinson at Ethics Daily has posted a helpful story entitled "More than Tolerance Needed to Achieve Interfaith Integration." Of all the people she interviewed, including myself, Roy Medley summarized the issue best:

A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, said that "live and let live" tolerance "does not rise to Jesus' standard of 'loving my neighbor as I love myself.' We do not choose our neighbors, but we are nonetheless called to live and work for their well being as the expression of love. As neighbors in a common society, that means at least ensuring the full rights and participation of the other in civil society.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mohler Contemptuous of Islam

While the Pope makes a visit to the Middle East trying to defuse conflict between Christians and Muslims, Southern Seminary President Al Mohler fans the flames of conflict with a religiously arrogant and contemptous blog that denounces extending any respect to Islam.

After the arrogant and contemptuous way Mohler and other fundamentalist takeover leaders treated the Mainstream and moderate Baptists in their own denomination, I have exceedingly low expectations for civility from any of them. But, lives are at stake in the Middle East and around the world when people like Mohler persist in fomenting a clash of civilizations.

Mohler would not consider it respectful to him as a person if an Imam had said:

"We can respect Christian people for their contributions to human welfare, scholarship, and culture. We can respect the brilliance of Christian scholarship in the Roman era and the wonders of Christian art and architecture. But we cannot respect a belief system that denies that Mohammad was a prophet, insists that he was a demon-possessed pedophile, and encourages soldiers to evangelize millions in occupied lands." (Note: This is a hypothetical quotation, not an actual quotation)
Why would he think that any Muslim feels respected when he says:

We can respect Muslim people for their contributions to human welfare, scholarship, and culture. We can respect the brilliance of Muslim scholarship in the medieval era and the wonders of Islamic art and architecture. But we cannot respect a belief system that denies the truth of the gospel, insists that Jesus was not God's Son, and takes millions of souls captive. (Note: This is an actual quotation)
Frankly, in my experience, I find Muslims more respectful of Christianity than I find Evangelical Christians respectful of Islam.

When will Evangelicals learn that it is possible to respectfully disagree?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Podcast: Interview with Jim Wallis

Podcast (6 MB Mp3) of excerpts from Dr. Bruce Prescott's 6-4-2000 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Jim Wallis. We talk about his book Faith Works and about the need for a "living wage."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Painfully Slow Economic Recovery Predicted

Paul Krugman and Simon Johnson are both predicting a painfully slow economic recovery for the United States.

Krugman, a nobel prize winning economist, speaking at a meeting in Beijing, China said the "U.S. Risks "lost decade" due to half steps."

Johnson, formerly the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, has an essay published in Atlantic Magazine that decribed "The Quiet Coup" in which the finance industry has effectively captured our government. He explains why the U.S. has begun to resemble a banana republic:

In its depth and suddenness, the U.S. economic and financial crisis is shockingly reminiscent of moments we have recently seen in emerging markets (and only in emerging markets): South Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998), Russia and Argentina (time and again). In each of those cases, global investors, afraid that the country or its financial sector wouldn’t be able to pay off mountainous debt, suddenly stopped lending. And in each case, that fear became self-fulfilling, as banks that couldn’t roll over their debt did, in fact, become unable to pay. This is precisely what drove Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy on September 15, causing all sources of funding to the U.S. financial sector to dry up overnight. Just as in emerging-market crises, the weakness in the banking system has quickly rippled out into the rest of the economy, causing a severe economic contraction and hardship for millions of people.

But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.

Top investment bankers and government officials like to lay the blame for the current crisis on the lowering of U.S. interest rates after the dotcom bust or, even better—in a “buck stops somewhere else” sort of way—on the flow of savings out of China. Some on the right like to complain about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or even about longer-standing efforts to promote broader homeownership. And, of course, it is axiomatic to everyone that the regulators responsible for “safety and soundness” were fast asleep at the wheel.

But these various policies—lightweight regulation, cheap money, the unwritten Chinese-American economic alliance, the promotion of homeownership—had something in common. Even though some are traditionally associated with Democrats and some with Republicans, they all benefited the financial sector. Policy changes that might have forestalled the crisis but would have limited the financial sector’s profits—such as Brooksley Born’s now-famous attempts to regulate credit-default swaps at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in 1998—were ignored or swept aside.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

How the Religious Right Unchurched America

ABC News has run a story about "Young Americans Losing their Religion" that reveals the long term effects of conservative religion's thirty-year war on separation of church and state:

Historically, the percentage of Americans who said they had no religious affiliation (pollsters refer to this group as the "nones") has been very small -- hovering between 5 percent and 10 percent. However, Putnam says the percentage of "nones" has now skyrocketed to between 30 percent and 40 percent among younger Americans. . . .

"Many of them are people who would otherwise be in church," Putnam said. "They have the same attitidues and values as people who are in church, but they grew up in a period in which being religious meant being politically conservative, especially on social issues."

Putnam says that in the past two decades, many young people began to view organized religion as a source of "intolerance and rigidity and doctrinaire political views," and therefore stopped going to church.

This movement away from organized religion, says Putnam, may have enormous consequences for American culture and politics for years to come.

"That is the future of America," he says. "Their views and their habits religiously are going to persist and have a huge effect on the future."

Better Late Than Never

In July of 2006 I wrote a blog about "Richard Land as Heir to Torquemada" that called Richard Land to task for defending the Bush administration's use of torture. Richard Land heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission with an office in Washington, D.C. As such he is charged with guiding 16 million Southern Baptists on ethical issues and raising a prophetic voice when moral issues are ignored in the public square.

While George W. Bush was in office, Richard Land relentlessly offered rationales for the war he launched in Iraq, publicly condoned the use of torture, and led cheers for nearly every aspect of the Bush administration's domestic and foreign agenda.

Now that Bush is out-of-office, Richard Land has found time to devote to the job that Southern Baptists have been paying him to do for nearly twenty years. The Religious News Service is now reporting that Richard Land has decided that waterboarding is torture. He also denounced President Obama for releasing documents that revealed that the Bush administration authorized the use of torture.

Better late than never on the issue of torture, Rchard. Now, could you please stop shooting at the messengers, whistleblowers and public servants who faithfully fulfill thier duties toward God, humanity, and the Constitution of the United States?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Podcast: Slayden Yarbrough Interview

Podcast (7MB Mp3) of excerpts from Dr. Bruce Prescott's 9-2-02 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Dr. Slayden Yarbrough, Retired Professor Emeritus of Religion from Oklahoma Baptist University. We talk about the restructuring of the Southern Baptist Convention and the elimination of the Southern Baptist Historical Commission, about the Baptist History and Heritage Society, about the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and about Dr. Yarbrough's book Southern Baptists: A Historical, Ecclesiological, and Theological Heritage of a Confessional People.

Confronting Hate Speech

Robert Parham has posted an Op-Ed that deserves wide circulation. He's concerned that Baptists are doing too little to contain an outbreak of hate speech against immigrants:

While Baptists are rushing about trying to protect themselves from the swine flu virus, we are letting another virus go unchecked. We are witnessing a pandemic in conservative America of hate-speech against Mexicans. Unless we contain that virus, it will replicate itself a hundredfold in Baptist churches—if it hasn’t already done so.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Food Shortages and the Threat of Failed States

The Scientific American has published a prescient essay that asks "Could Food Shortages Bring Civilization Down?" This is more than a merely academic question:

As demand for food rises faster than supplies are growing, the resulting food-price inflation puts severe stress on the governments of countries already teetering on the edge of chaos. Unable to buy grain or grow their own, hungry people take to the streets. Indeed, even before the steep climb in grain prices in 2008, the number of failing states was expanding. Many of their problems stem from a failure to slow the growth of their populations. But if the food situation continues to deteriorate, entire nations will break down at an ever increasing rate. We have entered a new era in geopolitics. In the 20th century the main threat to international security was superpower conflict; today it is failing states. It is not the concentration of power but its absence that puts us at risk.

States fail when national governments can no longer provide personal security, food security and basic social services such as education and health care. They often lose control of part or all of their territory. When governments lose their monopoly on power, law and order begin to disintegrate. After a point, countries can become so dangerous that food relief workers are no longer safe and their programs are halted; in Somalia and Afghanistan, deteriorating conditions have already put such programs in jeopardy.

Failing states are of international concern because they are a source of terrorists, drugs, weapons and refugees, threatening political stability everywhere. Somalia, number one on the 2008 list of failing states, has become a base for piracy. Iraq, number five, is a hotbed for terrorist training. Afghanistan, number seven, is the world’s leading supplier of heroin. Following the massive genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, refugees from that troubled state, thousands of armed soldiers among them, helped to destabilize neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (number six).

Our global civilization depends on a functioning network of politically healthy nation-states to control the spread of infectious disease, to manage the international monetary system, to control international terrorism and to reach scores of other common goals. If the system for controlling infectious diseases—such as polio, SARS or avian flu—breaks down, humanity will be in trouble. Once states fail, no one assumes responsibility for their debt to outside lenders. If enough states disintegrate, their fall will threaten the stability of global civilization itself

Friday, May 01, 2009

Torture and the Disgrace of American Christianity

CNN has posted the single most damning sentence I have ever read about American Christianity:

The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.
In modern America, the unchurched clearly have more respect for basic human rights than white evangelical Protestants:

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.
Southern Baptists are far and away the largest white evangelical Protestant denomination in America.

All those predictions by the Southern Baptist takeover leaders that they were ushering in another "Great Awakening" have been proven false. They ushered in a "Great Disgrace."