Friday, September 30, 2011

Iris Murdoch's Pocket History of Literature

Iris Murdoch's essay on "The Sublime and the Good" in the book Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature offers a history of the literature of freedom that I find intriguing. Here's her pocket history of literature: (Note: This is one paragraph in Murdoch's essay, I've reformatted it for web readability)

We can offer a pocket history of literature, establishing an order of merit. This pocket history works throught the idea of freedom as this idea has been treated at different times. The history of the treatment of freedom falls into five phases. These phases can be taken as roughly chronological, and can also be used independently of chronology. They are as follows.

1) Tragic freedom. This is the concept of freedom which I have related to the concept of love: freedom as an exercise of the imagination in an unreconciled conflict of dissimilar beings. It belongs especially to, was perhaps invented by, the Greeks. The literary form is tragic drama.

2) Medieval freedom. Here the individual is seen as a creature with a partly described hierarchy of theological reality. The literary forms are religious tales, allegories, morality plays.

3) Kantian freedom. This belongs to the Enlightenment. The individual is seen as a non-historical rational being moving towards complete agreement with other rational beings. The literary forms are rationalistic tales and allegories and novels of ideas.

4) Hegelian freedom. This belongs mainly to the nineteenth century. The individual is now thought of as a part of a total historical society and takes his importance from his role in that society. The literary form is the true novel (Balzac, George Eliot, Dickens).

5) Romantic freedom. This belongs mainly to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though it has roots earlier. The individual is seen as solitary and as having importance in and by himself. Both Hegelian and Romantic freedom are of course developments of Kantian freedom. Hegel makes the Kingdom of Ends into a historical society; while the Romantic concludes from the unhistorical emptiness of Kant's other rational beings that in fact one may as well assume that one is alone. (This is one line of thought leading to existentialism. Angst is the modern version of Achtung; we now fear, not the law itself, but its absence.) The literary form is the neurotic modern novel.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Forgive Us Our Debtor Presidents

Private Prisons Profiting from Immigrant Bashing

Robert Parham has posted an essay at Ethics Daily exposing the role private prison companies have been playing in securing anti-immigrant legislation. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in particular has profitted handsomely from investments they have made in the campaign coffers of politicians who have sponsored and promoted legislation that puts undocumented aliens under their control.

CCA operates in 19 states including Oklahoma:

CCA has three prisons in Oklahoma, a state that had the most draconian anti-immigration laws before Arizona passed SB 1070.

The Tulsa World reported that Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has received CCA money.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Put a CNG Station at Every Post Office

This video may be called "Pump Fiction" but the solution it offers to our energy problems is not fiction. Powering automobiles with (CNG) compressed natural gas is the best first step toward a cleaner energy future.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Abrahamic Faiths Post 9-11, Part Five

Abrahamic Faiths Post 9-11, Part Five from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Orhan Kucukosman, Executive Director of the Oklahoma City branches of the Institute for Interfaith Dialog and the Raindrop Turkish House, speaks on peacebuilding in interfaith relations. A music video about "Religions of Peace" concludes.

Abrahamic Faiths Post 9-11, Part Four

Abrahamic Faiths Post 9-11, Part Four from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Dr. David Spain, pastor of First Christian Church in Norman, Oklahoma offers a prayer followed by a University of Oklahoma choir singing "Make me an instrument of thy Peace" while children create a symbol of interfaith unity and peace.

Abrahamic Faiths Post 9-11, Part Three

Abrahamic Faiths Post 9-11, Part Three from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Dr. Barbara Boyd, Director of Outreach for the Religious Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma, moderates an interfaith discussion between Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, Dr. Mitch Randall, pastor of NorthHaven Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma, and Imam Imad Enchassi, President of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Abrahamic Faiths Post 9-11, Part Two

Abrahamic Faiths Post 9-11, Part Two from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Statements by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, Dr. Mitch Randall, pastor of NorthHaven Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma, and Imam Imad Enchassi, President of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City in response to the question, "Is peace possible among people of different faiths in our violent world?"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Abrahamic Faiths Post 9-11, Part One

Abrahamic Faiths Post 9-11, Part One from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Opening introductions, recognitions, prayers and Dr. Mark Lucas directing a choir from the University of Oklahoma during the first 25 minutes of an interfaith conference held in Norman, Oklahoma on 9-11-2011.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On Children Condemned by the Sins of their Fathers

Greentechmedia has posted a chart revealing how the economic development of China and India is projected to effect energy usage by 2035.

Unless they are over 60 years of age, the chart gives strong indication that those denying that the world is facing peak oil and those denying anthropogenic climate change could easily to live to regret their ignorance.

Unfortunately, my children and grandchildren will have to live with their grievous mistakes along with their own children and grandchildren.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Peace in the Abrahamic Faith Traditions

I spoke at a peace conference in Ames, Iowa Wednesday evening. Below is the text of some of my remarks.

Let me say thank-you to Ahmad Dursan and the Niagra Foundation for inviting me to speak this evening and thanks to the Ames Public Library for hosting this event. I am both honored and humbled by this request. I am humbled because I am not a scholar of Jewish or Muslim thought -- and there are many who might say that I don’t have a very good grasp of Christian thought either.

I don’t make any claim to being a scholar. All I claim to be is a student who has done some research into Muslim thought, a little more research into Jewish thought, and a lot of study of Christian thought. I will share with you something of what I have learned, but I am still learning and I fully expect to learn something new today from some of you before we are through.

I suspect that what brings me here more than anything else is that I am a person with faith in the God of Abraham who is deeply concerned that, as people of faith, we related to each other peacefully and with all due respect. One of my firmest convictions is that those who believe in the inevitability of a “clash of civilizations” between the Christian and Muslim world do not know much about the kind of God we worship and the values we share.

It was requested that I speak about the understanding of peace in the Abrahamic faith traditions – the traditions who worship the same God, i.e. the God of Abraham. That requires that I start at the very beginning of recorded history – literally. The text we all share in common – the Hebrew Bible – says that:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” (Gen. 1:1-2)
Our scriptures are very much in agreement with modern scientific explanations that tell us that the universe began with a big bang. It is not hard to imagine that God simply spoke and all the matter and energy of the universe exploded into existence. The opening words of Genesis note the chaotic nature of those first moments of cosmic time. The earth was without form and void. Then we are told that the Spirit of God himself was already moving to create order out of this chaos and make a place for the kind of peaceful, harmonious relations between God and humanity and between men and women that will soon be described in the garden of Eden.

From the very beginning God has revealed himself to be a powerful creative being striving to give order to the universe and working to bring peace to the world that he made for men and women that he created in his image. The God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad is a God of peace.

Peace (shalom) in the Hebrew Bible means more than the mere absence of conflict and strife. It speaks about the joy, prosperity, well-being, and wholeness of a life that exists when men and women are in proper, loving relationship with God and each other. Peace is so central to Jewish thought that the renowned rabbi Hillel defined the heart of Judaism as “love peace and pursue it” (m. Abot. 1.12) and the sages who compiled the Mishnah said that “All that is written in the Torah was written for the sake of peace.” (Tanhuma’ Shofetim 18)

In Jewish thought peace (shalom) is associated with the idea of a covenant between God and his people. Shalom is a gift from God that men and women have the responsibility to maintain. Fidelity to the covenant means living in accord with the terms of God’s covenant -- the righteous and just laws and principles that preserve and promote peaceful and loving relations.

The shalom of covenant relations stands against oppression, deceit, fraud and anything that violates the order that God intends for life. Standing against injustice leads to conflict and conflict can lead to violence. Conflict and violence upends orderly relations and creates chaos. Whenever chaos reigns in human relations, you can be sure that the Spirit of God is moving to find someone who will work to restore order and peace.

God’s preferred way for restoring order and peace is to call a prophet. The prophet speaks a word from God against injustice and he, or she -- [Miriam (Moses sister, Ex. 15), Deborah (Judges 4) and Huldah (2 Kings 22) are called “prophetesses” in the Hebrew Bible] – incarnates God’s message, i.e. making it clear by standing before the people visibly, by speaking in an audible voice and by seeing that it is written down. The prophets call for repentance and work to renew the peace and harmony of covenant relations.

I do not believe that God ever intended for peace and order to be restored by violent means. If men and women would hear and heed what is spoken, the prophetic word alone has sufficient power and authority to create peace.

The problem is that people don’t all listen at the same time. Our ears are not in sync. Both individually and collectively people hear and receive the word of God’s covenant at different historical moments. Restoring law and order and making peace by the power of the word alone takes time.

In the meantime, few men and women have patience for the work of the prophets. The children of Israel demanded a king like other nations. They wanted someone who would organize them and restore order by force and violence if necessary -- leading them in battle against those who oppressed them. The prophet Samuel warned them that this was a mistake and that, in the end, their kings would be their oppressors. But the sons of Israel insisted and God relented, and the rest is history. The Hebrews got their king, but centuries passed before the gentile world began to hear and receive the word of the covenant. Still more centuries passed before the sons of Ishmael were reminded of the covenant God made with their ancestor Abraham.

Throughout the scriptures a social order that is truly honoring to God is understood, in a world of kings, to be a kingdom of peace and righteousness. As the prophets of Israel repeatedly attest, every historical social order falls woefully short of the kind that God intends for us. The rule and reign of God is always beyond the best human efforts.

Any sign that a kingdom of peace and righteousness is near is “good news” to the poor, the oppressed, the sick and the brokenhearted – that is, it is “good news” to all those who have come out on the short end of the equanimity and justice that makes life harmonious and peaceful. It is “good news” to those whose lives have not been characterized by the joy, prosperity, well-being, and wholeness of shalom.

That is the “good news” that Jesus proclaimed. Jesus proclaimed the “good news” that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Like the prophets before him, he spoke against injustice. Like the prophets before him, he incarnated God’s message -- making it clear by standing before the people visibly, by speaking in an audible voice and by seeing that it was written down. Like the prophets before him, he called for repentance and worked to re-create the peace and harmony of covenant relations.

But he was different from the prophets before him. One way he differed was the way he spoke of God. He spoke of God as his father with a familiarity and intimacy that was unique. He called God “Abba” which is equivalent to calling him “Daddy.”

Another way he differed was the way he separated religion and government. He told his disciples to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and render unto God the things that are God’s. He said God’s kingdom was not an earthly kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom, and he told his disciples that the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). He said greatness in God’s kingdom is associated with the moral authority of humility and servanthood -- not with the kind of prestige and influence that adheres to wealth and power. He rejected every temptation to assume political power, or to associate the kingdom of heaven with any temporal kingdom, or to exercise physical force and employ violence. He told his disciples to turn the other cheek when struck with a fist, to return good for evil, to love even their enemies, and he commanded them to put away their swords when the authorities came to arrest him. His way of ushering in the kingdom of God, restoring order and bringing peace was the arduous, time-consuming way of self-giving service, non-violent resistance, and sacrificial love.

Before the days of the Roman Emperor Constantine, Christians were a small and oft persecuted group. They proclaimed God’s word without the use of force or violence. For the most part, they practiced their faith in humility. Religion and government -- the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of man -- were viewed as separate and distinct. But that all changed when Constantine decided to employ the Christian faith to pacify conquered nations and unify the Roman Empire.

The Pax Romana had as little to do with the peace of God’s kingdom as does the Pax Americana today. Every association of the tenuous, violence prone peace forged by earthly empires with the kind of peace that Jesus proclaimed is sacrilegious and idolatrous. The truth is, none of the theories used to justify war have any basis for support in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. In my opinion -- which is rooted in the tradition of the radical reformation that gave rise to the Anabaptists, Mennonites, Amish, and Quakers -- throughout history, the most faithful disciples of Jesus have been actively engaged pacifists who oppose injustice with the conviction that God expects them to voluntarily surrender their lives before participating in another cycle of violence.

Unfortunately, Mohammad never witnessed the kind of faith among Christians that Jesus preached. The Constantinian form of Christianity had been around for 250 years by the time he was born. Mohammad, peace be upon him, is the messenger or prophet of God’s covenant in the Muslim world. Islam is a derived from the word “salaam.” The root meaning of Islam literally means peace, security and well-being. Concern for peace is at the very core of Islam.

Like the Hebrew prophets, Mohammad denounced polytheism and proclaimed monotheism. Like the Hebrew prophets, he spoke against injustice. Like the Hebrew prophets, he incarnated God’s message -- making it clear by standing before the people visibly, by speaking in an audible voice and by seeing that it was written down. Like the Hebrew prophets, he called for repentance and worked to create the peace and harmony of covenant relations.

Unlike Jesus, Mohammad condoned the use of force in self-defense. Unlike both Jesus and almost most of the Hebrew prophets, Mohammad combined the role of prophet and commander-in-chief in his own person.

It should be noted that Mohammad assumed leadership of military forces somewhat reluctantly and for the purposes of securing peace and self-defense. Early in his ministry he avoided conflict by sending his followers to Yathrib, latter renamed Medina, because their lives were threatened in Mecca. He accepted the role of chief arbitrator in Medina in order to help settle the grievances between the local tribes that disturbed the peace of the city. Creating a just and peaceful order for the city prompted him to draft a covenant, what we would call a social contact -- the Constitution of Medina -- which essentially created the first Islamic state. That same constitution preserved the rights and religious freedoms of other “people of the book” (specifically, Jews and Christians).

Mohammad’s role as leader of military forces emerged as he successfully defended Medina when an army from Mecca besieged the city over a dispute involving trade caravans. Then, within three years, his forces had conquered Mecca and had subdued, unified and brought peace and order to the tribes of the entire Arabian Peninsula.

Despite Mohammad’s approval of the use of military force, there is remarkably little in the Qur’an that condones violence in the name of God. Frankly, there is nothing that stands comparison to what can be found in the Hebrew Bible (cf. 1 Sam. 15) or to what can be found in fundamentalist Christian interpretations of the New Testament book of Revelation.

I have heard people call Islam a “blood thirsty religion.” The most blood thirsty verse, if you want to call it that, I have found in all of the Qur’an is Sura 5:33 which talks about slaying, crucifying or cutting off an alternate hand and foot of one who wages war against Allah and his messenger. That verse is immediately preceded by these words:

“He who slayeth any one, unless it be a person guilty of manslaughter, or of spreading disorders in the land, shall be as though he had slain all mankind; but he who saveth a life, shall be as though he saved all mankind alive.”
The major thrust of the Qur’an teaches Muslims to be forbearant and forgiving toward those who do wrong to them, to be patient and longsuffering in times of persecution, and to trust that, in his own time, Allah will judge evil and secure a just punishment for it. The words of Sura 42:20 are typical:

“But there shall be a way open against those who unjustly wrong others, and act insolently on the earth in disregard of justice. These! A grievous punishment doth await them. And whoso beareth wrongs with patience and forgiveth; -- this verily is a bounden duty;”
Of course, there is no guarantee that Muslims will be faithful in putting into practice the harmonious covenant relations and peaceful intentions of the Qur’an. Certainly, no more than Christians are guaranteed to put the teachings of Jesus into practice or that Jews will be faithful to put the shalom of Hebrew covenant relations into practice.

Historically, there is sufficient evidence to condemn all of our faith communities of some of the vilest forms of infidelity in regard to the use of violence. Frankly, I am convinced that the failures within the Christian community are the most egregious and inexcusable. The overwhelming majority of Christians continue to justify and condone the very forms of force and violence that Jesus adamantly condemned and rejected.

Despite our shortcomings in this regard and despite the shortcomings of the Jewish and Muslim community in regard to violence and war, all three of our faith traditions share a similar hope for peace that, while not being secured in the real world, is envisioned in an ideal future. It is the hope that was proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah:

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.
Isaiah 2:2-4

Let us all pray that conscientious and faithful people in all of our traditions – Jews, Christians and Muslims -- will rise up together and work to see that the peace that Isaiah proclaimed does become a reality.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Podcast: The Price of Freedom and Security

Podcast (34MB Mp3) of the 9-11-2011 "Religioius Talk" radio broadcast in which Dr. Bruce Prescott reprises his speech on "And Justice for All: The Price of Freedom and Security" that was first delivered in the House Chamber at the Oklahoma State Capitol on February 11, 2003

And Justice for All: The Price of Freedom and Security

On this national day of prayer and rememberance, on my radio program I will be giving a reprise of a speech I delivered in the House Chamber at the State Capitol in Oklahoma on February 11, 2003 for the Oklahoma Conference of Churches 20th annual day at the legislature.  That speech was delivered weeks before our nation invaded Iraq to remove non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Here's a link to the full text of my speech (with references) on "And Justice for All:  The Price of Freedom and Security."

Here's an excerpt from that speech:

Our material wealth can be forfeited and regained, but the spiritual wealth of our civil liberties and personal freedoms are not so easily exchanged. We must especially beware that any liberty we suspend for fear of terrorists could easily be forfeited for generations to come. The freedoms we enjoy in our democratic society are worth whatever dangers we will face, whatever risks we must take, and whatever sacrifices we choose to make. America must not retreat from two and a quarter centuries of hard won civil liberties. Never before have we settled for being the land of the safe and the home of the secure. We’ve always had the courage to strive to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Instead of the frightful overreaction we have witnessed since September 11th, our nation would do better if it would respond to terrorism the way the people of Oklahoma responded to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. That bomb did not prompt us to surrender our civil rights or to infringe on the rights of others. Unlike our federal government:

We did not suspend the constitution.

We did not send the police out to round-up, lock-up or expel all the foreigners and immigrants in town.

We did not hold suspects indefinitely without access to the courts or to counsel.

We did not tape conversations between suspects and their lawyers.

We did not suspend the laws requiring probable cause for wiretaps or search warrants.

We did not expand the role of the military in domestic law enforcement.

We did not torture suspects to obtain information, nor did we allow surrogates to torture suspects for information.

We did not create a military tribunal to try and execute suspects without applying the Constitution or state and federal laws.

We did not endorse assassination as an alternative to capture.

We did not create a private foundation to issue ID cards to all citizens.

We did not create a network of free-lance spies to report anything that might be considered suspicious.

We did not create a massive computer system to keep tabs on every aspect of our citizen’s daily lives.

And, we did not use the bombing as an excuse to suspend the first, second, and fourth amendments and then attack militias or invade white supremacist compounds to make them disarm.

What we did was to rescue survivors, clean-up the wreckage, rebuild our city and bring the criminals to justice. The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building did not destroy the freedom-loving, risk-taking, self-sacrificing spirit of the people of Oklahoma. Neither should the criminal acts of a few terrorists destroy the freedom-loving, risk-taking, self-sacrificing spirit of our nation.

Since September 11, 2001 it has become commonplace to say that the world changed that day. Some things did change. Several thousand precious, unique and irreplaceable lives were lost and the lives of many more were irreparably harmed.

I must object, however, to assigning any significance to the evil that transpired that day. In my mind, the most important lesson to be learned from that day is to be found in the images of heroism and the examples of self-sacrifice demonstrated by the men and women of the New York City fire department and police department and others like them.

We need to learn from the people who left places where they were safe and secure and walked courageously into harm’s way to rescue the victims of a grave injustice. From them we learn that there are some things in life that are more important than safety and more valuable than security.

Here's a link to a podcast (34MB Mp3) of the speech.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Praying for James Lankford

Yesterday's Daily Oklahoman ran a news story titled "Rep. James Lankford Encourages Oklahomans to Pray for America's Leaders."

 The article makes it clear that he wants Oklahomans to pray that Congress will pass legislation to amend the Constitution and require a balanced budget.

 I am going to pray for Rep. Lankford and my petitions are going to be fairly specific.

 I am going to pray that Rep. Lankford will spend some time with people who still cannot find a job after being laid off three years ago when the unindicted crooks running our deregulated banking system caused our economy to implode.

 I am going to pray that Rep. Lankford will spend some time with the people who are living on food stamps and in homeless shelters because their unemployment benefits have expired.

 I am going to pray that Rep. Lankford will spend some time with people who cannot get health insurance because his tea party supporters insisted that our Governor refuse $54 million dollars of federal funding that was offered to set up a health network for them.

 I am going to pray that Rep. Lankford will spend some time in the emergency rooms at Oklahoma's hospitals with the people who have no health insurance and explain to the patients why balancing the federal budget without increasing taxes on millionaires is more important than their emergency medical treatment.

 I am going to pray that Rep. Lankford will spend some time in the emergency rooms and outpatient clinics at Oklahoma's hospitals with the people who do have health insurance who are refusing their doctor's advice that they be admitted for treatment because they know that they cannot afford to pay the deductible on their private insurance policy and the co-pay amounts.

 I am going to pray that Rep. Lankford will spend some time on the floors of Oklahoma's hospitals with the nurses and technicians who are being laid off or having their salaries cut or frozen because private insurance companies won't pay, medicare and medicaid won't pay, and the average Oklahoman cannot afford to pay for medical care.

 This list is already getting a little long and there are a lot more things to pray for. Mostly, they are things that involve real people trying to live in an economy that has been rigged to benefit the wealthy and neglect the working class. They don't have the knowledge or the power to change the system to make it fair. They need someone with the knowledge and power to straighten out our economic system and make it fair for everyone.

 Rep. Lankford and his cronies have some power, but they don't understand either the source or the magnitude of the problem. And, they will never comprehend the problem as long as they remained fixated on dollar signs instead of people.

 It's time to pray.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Podcast: Rachel Tabachnick Interview

Podcast (34 MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 9-4-11 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Rachel Tabachnick. Rachel is a leading researcher into the teachings of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement. We talk about the role of C. Peter Wagner in the movement, about the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network, about GOP presidential contender Rick Perry's call to prayer, and about the influence of the New Apostolic Reform movement on current politics in America.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Beware Kenmore Refrigerators

Kenmore refrigerators are not what they used to be and the Sears service department is worse than a bad joke.

On October 16, 2007 we bought a top-of-the-line Kenmore Elite stainless steel clad refrigerator. The stainless steel cosmetics cost me twice as much as most plain vanilla refrigerators its size. We bought it to replace a now 22 year old plain vanilla Amana refrigerator that is still at work in our basement.

On August 15, 2011 I paid $295.00 for a repairman to replace the switch that turns the compressor on. My wife was out-of-town and I lost about $300.00 worth of frozen food before discovering that the compressor was not working.

Today my wife discovered that the compressor on the refrigerator is not working again. This time we caught it before losing all our perishables. We moved them to the 22 year old Amana.

I just had an online chat session with Aden Fernandez who works on the Sears service department website.

The earliest he can schedule a repairman to look at my refrigerator is September 12th. He advised me that I could expect another stiff repair bill.

You make the call. Would you pay for more repairs? Would you buy another Kenmore appliance? Would you trust a company with this kind of service?