April 28, 2005

A Progressivism of Doubt

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:52 pm

Andrew Sullivan, this progressive’s favorite conservative, has a lengthy article in The New Republic on the growing divide within conservative politics that is definitely worth a full read. He defines two conservative philosophies, the conservatism of faith:

This conservatism states conservative principles–and, indeed, eternal insights into the human condition–as a matter of truth. Because these conservatives believe that the individual is inseparable from her political community and civilization, there can be no government neutrality in promoting such truths. Either a government’s laws affirm virtue or they affirm vice. And the meaning of virtue and vice can be understood either by reflecting on the Judeo-Christian moral tradition or by inferring from philosophical understandings what human nature in its finest form should be. These truths are not culturally relative; they are universally valid.

…and the conservatism of doubt:

The alternative philosophical tradition begins in precise opposition to the new conservatives’ confidence in faith and reason as direct, accessible routes to universal truth. The conservatism of doubt asks how anyone can be sure that his view of what is moral or good is actually true…Their alternative is a skeptical, careful, prudential approach to all moral questions–and suspicion of anyone claiming to hold the absolute truth. Since such an approach rarely provides a simple answer persuasive to everyone within a democratic society, we live with moral and cultural pluralism.

His dichotomy makes a lot of sense, and got me wondering about the world of progressives. Is there a similar spectrum of a progressivism of faith at one end and a progressivism of doubt at the other?

The progressives of faith, it seems to me, are the idealists who put their faith not in a Higher Power, but in the moral purity of the worker, or the poor, or women, gays, the third world, or atheism. If those in power (the government, foreign governments, men, big business, religions) would just stop their oppression and persecution, the weak but pure masses would be able to create their heaven on earth.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I identify much more with a progressivism of doubt. The weak are every bit as sinful as the powerful, but they do not have the ability to inflict the consequences of their sins on as wide a circle of the world. The rich are every bit as noble as the poor, but are faced with much grander temptations than the poor can ever dream of. The rich and powerful can use their resources for the good of humanity (Bill Gates, Bono) or for their own gratification at the expense of others (Dennis Kozlowski).

Christianity is founded on this doubt. Will humanity overcome our brokenness and achieve peace and prosperity for all? Or, inspite of being made in God’s image, will we drown our brokenness with greed, war and hate? The answer is always in doubt for each of us individually as well as corporately, which is why we desperately need God’s grace. Without this doubt, this understanding of our brokenness and the doubt of our very survival, we wouldn’t need God.

Progressives of doubt and conservatives of doubt share a distrust of moral certainty. Sullivan states:

Fundamentalism, by its very nature, eschews compromise. It is not an inferential philosophy, drawing on experience or history to come to a conclusion about the appropriate way to act or legislate on any given issue. It derives its purpose from fixed texts: the Bible or the Koran.

Its purpose is not just derived from fixed texts, but from fixed and certain interpretations of the texts. But if your understanding of the Bible is complete, and the Bible provides certain and complete moral guidance and assurance, there is no need to turn to God in prayer. We pray to God because of what we don’t understand, because of our inability to see clearly God’s meaning for us in the Bible.

Abortion is wrong, except in those cases when it is right. Extracting stem cells from embryos is destroying life so that we may save life from disease. Euthanasia is murder, except that it may be the most compassionate act we are able to take for a terminal and suffering cancer victim. There is so much moral ambiguity that we despair of ever being certain and have no choice but to ask God for his guidance, and his forgiveness.

So why am I a progressive of doubt instead of a conservative of doubt, like Andrew Sullivan? Because I believe we must at least try to ease suffering, hunger and poverty. Sullivan defends his conservatism by saying we must do no harm. This is true, but our calling doesn’t end there. We must also try to do good, for God’s sake.

April 26, 2005

Borowitz: Church and State Replaced by Sturch

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 6:04 am

From Andy Borowitz:


Will Offer Salvation, Motor Vehicle Renewals on Sunday

> The separation of church and state, long considered a hallmark of American democracy, vanished early Sunday morning, replaced by a new institution called sturch.

Scientists at the Clausen Observatory at the University of Minnesota, who for years have been monitoring a widening hole in the wall separating church and state, said that the wall disappeared entirely on Sunday morning shortly after 8:00 (EST).

“We first noticed the hole in the wall developing about four years ago,” said the University of Minnesota’s Davis Logsdon. “But now it’s pretty much no wall and all hole.”

While the exact shape and dimensions of the new church-state entity, sturch, remain to be determined, President Bush today installed as its official leader the Reverend Bill Frist (R-Tenn), the star player in this week’s “Justice Sunday” broadcast.

At a formal swearing-in ceremony at the former White House, now called the Big White Cathedral, Rev. Frist said that jettisoning the wall between church and state would benefit all Americans “except those who are anti-faith, and they know who they are.”

He added that by combining the two traditionally separate institutions, sturch would allow congregants to seek salvation and motor vehicle renewals on Sunday without leaving their pews.

As for the longstanding debate over taxing places of worship, Rev. Frist said, “Since sturch is part of the government, it will be collecting taxes, not paying them, thank you very much!”

April 21, 2005

Social Justice Sunday

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 11:25 pm

The Clergy and Laity Network and DriveDemocracy.org are sponsoring Social Justice Sunday as a response to the egregious right-wing effort to take over the judiciary, “Justice Sunday”. From the Building the Beloved Community website:

Progressive religious leaders from around the country are joining with Clergy and Laity Network and DriveDemocracy to take the fight to GOP Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and the extreme right’s unprecedented attack on the constitution and the judiciary.

WHAT: Social Justice Sunday – Faith and Freedom Vigil
WHEN: 2:30 pm, April 24, 2005
WHERE: Central Presbyterian Church
318 W. Kentucky St. Louisville, Kentucky
CONTACT: Clergy and Laity Network and DriveDemocracy

From a George Lakoff (of “frame” fame) dailyKos diary:

Religious progressives support social justice, not injustice. We want to protect life all the way from birth up until the edge of death. We will brook no government interference in difficult, even agonizing family decisions. We believe the common good is necessary if we are to pursue our private goods, and that government should use the common wealth for the common good. And we need our judges, and we need to keep them safe.

There are more religious progressives than right-wing fundamentalists. There are more of us than of them. They may be better organized, but this is changing and that change starts April 24. This is our test. Will we stand up to them? Will we write to our ministers, priests, imams and rabbis asking them to join us in speaking out? Will they put signs on their places of worship celebrating “Social Justice Sunday?” Will we organize and hold candle-light vigils and marches on the evening of April 24? Will we invite the media to sermons on Social Justice Sunday and to vigils?

We have already begun to organize – in just hours. Drivedemocracy.org and the Clergy and Laity Network issued a press release and activated their coalition of sixty progressive religious organizations. We called upon every religious organization to join with us.

Pat Robertson is My Hero…

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:38 pm

…and so is Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Bono, Dennis Hopper, Penelope Cruz, Tom Hanks, Cameron Diaz, that woman that played Josh’s girlfriend on West Wing, Antonio Banderas, Kevin Bacon, that guy from The OC, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake. Oh, and did I mention Cameron Diaz?

These and more appear on the latest ad from the ONE Campaign. Take a look at the ad, and if you haven’t already, sign the ONE declaration.

But back to Pat Robertson. This icon of the conservative war on popular culture appearing in an ad with Kate Hudson and Susan Sarandon?

But of course, and why not? If liberals and conservatives can’t find common ground fighting hunger, then we are lost. Hunger is not a liberal cause, nor a conservative one. It is not just a Christian cause or a secular cause. It is a cause that we should all be able to agree on.

So more to the point is why was Robertson the only conservative in the ad (at least that I recognized)? I suppose Tim LaHaye doesn’t want to battle hunger, because his pre-trib script calls for famine in these end times. James Dobson is more worried about whether teens are abstaining from sex than whether they have anything to eat. And the rest of the theocrats don’t want to let hunger distract them from taking over the judiciary.

So thank you Pat Robertson for joining together with those across the ideological divide to fight for the most basic of moral goods: freedom from hunger.

Update: The site for the affiliated UK campaign, Make Poverty History, has its own, and more compelling, video. Some of the same faces, plus a good number of Brits.

April 20, 2005

Benedict XVI: The Ecumenical Pope?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 2:27 pm

In my recent post regarding the 1999 Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration, I named Cardinal Ratzinger as the force behind the Catholic “response” to the JDDJ objecting to some of its conciliatory language. I had said that “I am no Vatican-watcher, but my understanding is that this subsequent statement was issued by Cardinal Ratzinger and other Catholic conservatives.” How ironic then, that this man is now Pope Benedict XVI.

Naturally then for Protestants, the new Pope’s willingness to continue ecumencial progress is a concern. In a joint statement yesterday, Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Rev. Ishmael Noko, Lutheran World Federation general secretary, voiced this concern. From an ELCA press release:

The unity of the church — which Jesus Christ prayed for — is an important goal to strive for, and will also be a major contribution to the unity of humankind, the two Lutheran world leaders said. Pope Benedict XVI will meet “strong expectations” in this area, since the hope for Christian unity calls for significantly new approaches, they said.

“As Lutherans we expect especially that ecumenical progress can be made on the basis of the substantial theological agreements that have been achieved through 40 years of international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue, particularly with regard to justification, ministry and sacraments,” the statement said. “Let us pray together that God may show
us ways forward by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

“The main contribution of the churches … is the message of God’s free, justifying grace, with its many spiritual and social consequences,” said Hanson and Noko. “The significance of this message was ecumenically recognized five years ago when the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was signed.”

[T]he new pope will be expected not only to continue the many contributions of Pope John Paul II, but also to provide new strategies, Hanson and Noko said.

This seems to be a rather pointed message to Pope Benedict, which apparently he understood. In a message this morning delivered to the Cardinals, Pope Benedict said:

… His (Peter’s) current successor takes as his primary task that of working — sparing no energies — to reconstitute the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers. This is his ambition, this is his pressing duty. He is aware that showing good sentiments is not enough for this. Concrete acts that enter souls and move consciences are needed.

In the wake of his predecessors, he is fully determined to cultivate any initiative that might seem appropriate to promote contacts and understanding with representatives of different churches and ecclesial communities.

I address everybody, even those who follow other religions or who simply look for an answer to life’s fundamental questions and still haven’t found it. To all, I turn with simplicity and affection, to ensure that the church wants to continue weaving an open and sincere dialogue with them, in the quest for the real good for man and society.

Could it be that we have misjudged the new Pope? From Christianity Today (hat tip to verbum ipsum):

Coming from the land of the Protestant Reformation, this allegedly doctrinaire Catholic has already made it clear by his very actions the journey out of the “tyranny of relativism,” whose properties are suspended ethical principles, must be an all-Christian enterprise.

Almost unnoticed by the world’s media looking for sensations at the memorial service for John Paul II, Ratzinger quietly communed Brother Roger Schutz, the Swiss Protestant pastor and founder of the vibrant ecumenical community in Taizé, France.

Benedict XVI, arguably the foremost Catholic theologian of our time, has always been an ecumenist, though never a fuzzy one. If he gives the Sacrament to a member of another Christian church—and Schutz was not the only one—he makes it abundantly clear he consider this person a fellow member of the mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church.

It may be that as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger had one agenda, and as Pope Benedict he has an entirely different one. Let us hope so. I am grateful for his reassuring words today, and pray for his success in furthering the unity of all Christianity.

April 19, 2005

My Statement Affirming Faith

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 2:53 pm

Here is my statement affirming faith, as part of Pastor Dan’s Affirmation Project. By the way, if the photo below looks familiar, look a little closer…I’ve changed its message just a bit.

I am a life-long Lutheran living in Southern California.

Somehow the Religious Right has presumed to speak for all Christians. They have made Christianity synonymous with zero tolerance on abortion and gays, disbelief in evolution, stay-at-home moms, an aggressive military, a unilateral foreign policy and regressive taxes. But I don’t find any of that in the Gospel. In fact, more often than not I find the opposite.

affirmation_projectJesus says that the most important commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your might, and to love your neighbor as yourself. He commands us to feed the hungry, care for the sick and comfort the oppressed. He tells us not to judge, but to love our enemies, to give away our cloak and to turn the other cheek. I just don’t understand how any of this leads inexorably to the conclusion that God is a conservative Republican.

I love my country, but not as much as I love the Lord Jesus Christ. The US has often been on God’s side, but not always. Being American must always come second to being Christian, and American Christians must walk humbly before God instead of presuming to know God’s will for us in His world.

America was founded as a secular nation, and this has allowed American Christianity to thrive. The separation of church and state is a core principle of our Constitution, the violation of which will not only damage our government and threaten non-Christian Americans, but worse, will harm the vitality of American Christianity.

Conservative Christians have become drunk with power, so much so that they won’t settle for controlling two of the three branches of government, but are driven to control the judiciary as well. If this happens, it must happen within the laws and traditions of our nation, including the right of the minority to filibuster.

The Christian Right is but one voice among many Christian voices, but it has started to believe it is the choir. It has come to believe that its theology is the only authentic Christianity, even while ignoring Jesus’ calls to judge not, to forgive, and to love our enemies. Jesus calls us to be compassionate, but it is hard to find the compassion in the conservative political agenda of tax breaks for the well-off and cuts in food stamps to the poor.

When Christ calls us, he calls us to come and die so that we will have new life with him. I pray that I am hearing his call and following where he wills. Where I find he leads me is not to build an America of intolerant laws and massive military might, but to build a world of tolerance, compassion and peace.

I am a Christian Too

April 18, 2005

Marty: Justice Sunday is Dangerous to the Republic

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:14 am

The Frist participation in the so-called “Justice Sunday” event has the normally unflappable Martin Marty upset. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity in the University of Chicago Divinity School. I received his latest Sightings email this morning (not posted yet on the Sightings website.) Excerpts:

Consult the Sightings archive and you will find few columns that display a preoccupation with the Christian right…Something has to be really egregious, outrageous, and dangerous to the republic before we venture forth. This week something is.

…The outrageous, egregious, and dangerous affront was an attack by Senator Bill Frist, the Family Research Council, advocates of “Justice Sunday,” and some evangelical and Southern Baptist notables who know better and usually do better. Tom DeLay is in this camp, having pioneered this kind of blunderbuss attack on fellow believers with whom they disagree politically. They have assaulted and are mobilizing slanderers against millions upon tens of millions of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews (and fellow evangelicals?) who politically support efforts not to “go nuclear” and hence kill the filibuster potential in the Senate. In Frist’s language, “Democrats” is the term that covers all these enemies of people of faith, but many Republicans also firmly oppose his efforts and name calling. An advertisement running in newspapers poses their political viewpoint alone as being on the side of the Bible. [Shown below for those that haven’t seen it yet – Bob]

…Frist and company, in the name of their interpretation of American freedom, sound more like jihadists than winsome believers. It would be healing to see them on their knees apologizing to the larger public of believers.

Wouldn’t that be something? Seeing Frist, DeLay & Co “on their knees apologizing to the larger public of believers”?

frc ad

Support the Affirmation Project!

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 7:50 am

Pastor Dan at FaithForward has begun The Affirmation Project in response to the latest effort to define Christian faith as extreme right-wing and against the independent judiciary. I believe this has the potential to be a blog swarm of the magnitude of the Sorry Everybody site after the election.

Pastor Dan is fed up.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough. It’s time Dr. Frist, Tom DeLay, James Dobson, the Family Research Council, and anyone else who would make adherence to political goals a literal article of faith heard from another side of the country. To that end, and for the time being, I am suspending the regular business of this blog and giving it over to a single project.

It is time for us to state, simply and directly, that we can affirm faith while disagreeing with the Republican legislative agenda. By “we,” I mean anyone who can get under that statement. You don’t have to be religious yourself. You don’t even have to be a Democrat. You just have to be willing to say that you are willing to affirm faith, but you don’t believe that it should be used as a weapon in a partisan campaign to increase the political power of a single party in the American commonwealth.

Dan is looking for statements affirming faith, according to these simple guidelines:

  • Give as much of the following information as you feel comfortable sharing: your name, your hometown, and whatever religious affiliation you may have. Include a picture of yourself if you’re brave enough.
  • State, in the simplest possible terms, that you affirm faith, but you disagree with the Republican agenda to impose the nuclear option and appoint radical right judges. Tell them why.
  • Conclude with a positive statement of your vision of what this nation could become, minus the fear, selfishness, arrogance, and general recklessness we have experienced in the past four years.
  • In your statements above, try to avoid profanity if at all possible. This is for public consumption.

Please do your part, and submit your statement to Pastor Dan. Mine will be posted here shortly.

April 14, 2005

The Constitution Restoration Act

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 11:00 pm

I’m a bit chagrined. While Bruce Prescott and I were debating the equivalent of cloth vs. faux-leather seats in a hybrid, a huge Hummer has been gunning its engine, bearing down on us all. I’m referring to our dialogue regarding the niceties of the Separation of Church and State (the hybrid) and the Constitution Restoration Act (the Hummer).

I did post an email I sent to Bush on the recent attack on the judiciary, but that was before I caught up with Father Jake’s post on the CRA, recently introduced in both the House and the Senate. I recommend a full read of Fr. Jake, but here’s a taste:

[T]he bill ensures that God’s divine word (and our infallible leaders’ interpretation thereof) will hereafter trump all our pathetic democratic notions about freedom, law and rights — and our courts can’t say a thing.

The comments to Jake’s post include some level-headed thoughts about this being a diversion to the real story (Mr. DeLay), and not a serious movement given that the courts would knock down the CRA in a heartbeat were it to pass. Perhaps, but if the CRA were to pass, and then get knocked down by the Supreme Court, then Congress would impeach any Justices voting with the majority opinion, leading to a complete constitutional crisis.

I really do think there are enough adults in Congress to prevent this from ever passing. But to even spend time discussing it is rather scary. I can’t help thinking “but what if…”

Call Me Brother Spike of Forgiveness

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 11:54 am

After serious thought, I’ve decided to align myself with the Unitarian Jihad.

But, you might say, you are not a Unitarian! To which I reply that anyone can be a Unitarian, and you don’t even have to change what you believe! But in truth, all I really want is my own Unitarian Jihad Name:

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Brother Spike of Forgiveness. What’s yours?

If there were a Lutheran Jihad, and they were giving out Lutheran Jihad Names, I wouldn’t have had to join the Unitarian Jihad. But the Lutherans are all distracted by this Sexuality Task Force, so they haven’t gotten around to forming a Solidarity with Unitarian Jihad Task Force. But then, if they did, they would recommend that:

    We not change our policy of condemning Jihadish behavior, but…

    …we forego disciplinary action towards Lutheran clergy that, for reasons of conscience, make common cause with Unitarian Jihadis…

    …and we continue to dialogue regarding whether the ELCA desires to allow the Jihad issue to divide our church.

Of course, there would also be the dissenting view from the Word Alone Lutherans that, since Luther opposed actions against civil authority, any cooperation with the Unitarian Jihad makes us un-Lutheran, or worse, Calvinist.

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