Saturday, December 27, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Although I support same-sex marriage, I think that liberals should welcome Obama's success in causing so much consternation on the right. On balance, inviting Warren opens more doors than it closes. [...] liberals also need to come to terms with what it means to build a durable majority. Doing so requires not just easy gestures but hard ones. Here's a prayer that this one will be worth the risks it entails.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I disagree with Huckabee on just about everything [...] but still Huckabee has a lot of cross-over appeal. He makes the same pitch as most religious conservatives, but without the mean and without the sarcasm. That doesn't quite get it. I need to think more. But the guy fucking scares me. [...] His style is, I must say, very Obama-like in this limited sense: Obama is a master at taking progressive stands, renaming them, and pushing the point forward.There is something about Huckabee that is surprisingly disarming - one of my friends once remarked that he'd make a terrible president, but a wonderful grandfather. I think, in addition to being pretty smart, he really is folksy, which is a lethal combination in politics (and his folksiness isn't nearly as grating as Sarah Palin's). He was pretty good on The Daily Show recently - at least, as good as an unapologetic social conservative can be in front of an unfriendly crowd when facing tough questions from Jon Stewart (who I really love as an interviewer). Here is a link to Part 1, which was pretty good. Part 2, though, was more revealing - their discussion about gay marriage (Video here).
This is where Huckabee's "aw-shucks" traditional-values oh-we're-just-defending-apple-pie-America-from-the-new-scary-unnatural-trend schtick finally comes undone (at least as far as I'm concerned). I'm not really on board with any of Huckabee's platform, but a lot of it seems to be relatively benign conservative populism - nothing terribly insidious. The religious stuff, on the other hand, is pretty alarming, and it's unfortunately it's the main part of Huckabee's politics. He doesn't have any convincing answers for Stewart's criticisms because there aren't any - and while (in my more charitable moments) I'm willing to believe Huckabee when he says that opponents of marriage equality aren't all rabid homophobes, I do think that quite a few of them are less than comfortable with homosexuals - so maybe they're just mild homophobes. Not exactly a victory for open-mindedness.
I hate to have to come to this conclusion, because it's terribly unsatisfying on a number of levels. First, is that all we can say about the motives of Huckabee and his base? That they're mild homophobes? It seems like an incomplete explanation, and yet it's all that remains. All of their other arguments are so ludicrous: gay marriage does not threaten heterosexual marriage. Marriage has undergone a series of changes throughout history, and "changing the definition" is something humans have done with the institution a number of times. Since marriage promotes societal stability, the right to marry should be extended to devoted homosexual couples to start families. (And certainly children raised by two loving parents are better off for having been adopted!) And the slippery slope argument - that we'll eventually end up with legalized polygamy, bestiality, or whatever - it's just silly. The theological argument is similarly weak, although I think it's irrelevant insofar as legislation goes. Given the failure of these arguments, what else can opponents fall back on? If "redefining marriage" isn't going to destroy society as we know it, and if the Bible is less than categorical on the issue (as, in fact, it is), there's not much left to fall back on.
Not much left at all - except for Thomist claims about what's "natural." Oh, boy. It's times like this that I'm thankful for Andrew Sullivan:
This concept of nature is, however, itself divorced from modern science - which finds that same-sex orientation is close to universal among all natural species and that sexual orientation is far deeper and broader than sex acts - and rests on medieval conceptions of the teleology of sex. [...] From a Catholic perspective, I am forced to respond that these neo-Thomist assertions about "our true nature" are philosophically circular, incompatible with the vast increase in our knowledge of human psychology and sexuality and evolution over the last two centuries, and have ended up marginalizing a small minority of humans as the one true symbol of moral righteousness.
None of this advances caritas or veritas. And in the end, a Christianity resistant to truth and terrified of love is the real objective disorder.
As we Christians say: Amen.
Friday, November 28, 2008
As Christmas approaches and Christians celebrate the historical event of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the concern is naturally with the historical aspects of Christ's life - and so perhaps history is worth considering in more detail.
The events of Jesus’ life were not recorded in great detail by 1st-century historians; they were recorded in evangelical testaments by early believers. Some prominent Christian thinkers, observing this dearth of historical evidence, have concluded that history is unnecessary to understand Christ.
One of the most prominent proponents of this approach was Martin Kähler, who developed a searing criticism of the historical approach to Christology in The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ. Kähler’s attack on the historical approach is both academic and theological. First, he argues that the existing historical record of Christ’s actions is scant, and its validity falls well below the standards of any professional historian. More important, though, is his theological assertion about the validity of history as such in understanding Christ. The Bible, Kähler says, eludes normal historical understanding, and any attempt to read it as history will be futile:
The Life-of-Jesus movement is completely in the right insofar as it sets the Bible against an abstract dogmatism. It becomes illegitimate as soon as it begins to rend and dissect the Bible without having acquired a clear understanding of the special nature of the problem and the peculiar significance of Scripture for such understanding.
The problem, Kähler says, lies primarily within the interpretation of historical facts by believers who want to verify the events of the Bible through history. By following Jesus’ every step and action, the believer “is most certainly heading up a blind alley” in which the only possible outcome is a portrait based on conjecture and personal bias. What was meant as an empirical, objective approach becomes pseudohistorical and highly subjective. The "secondary effects" approach advocated by Kähler claims that the Jesus of personal faith experience is the historical Jesus.
The real Christ, that is, the Christ who has exercised an influence in history, with whom millions have communed in childlike faith, and with whom the great witnesses of faith have been in communion – while striving, apprehending, triumphing, and proclaiming – this real Christ is the Christ who is preached. The Christ who is preached, however, is precisely the Christ of faith. He is the Jesus whom the eyes of faith behold at every step he takes and through every syllable he utters – the Jesus whose image we impress upon our minds because we both would and do commune with him, our risen, living Lord.
This is not a criticism to be dismissed lightly - it undermines the very basis of the historical approach as both academically illegitimate and spiritually suspect. It says that anyone who tries to construct an "objective" Jesus will end up constructing a subjective Jesus. This casts doubt on our ability to use history at all.
But it has not escaped criticism, and rightly so: Kähler’s error, at its most basic level, was his confusion over the role of the historical approach. It cannot replace faith, but it must groundfaith. The Christian encounter with God through prayer, religious joy, love, or any other medium is not self-proving; it reveals nothing about its foundations and whether those foundations were at one point historical realities. Because Christianity is fundamentally concerned with the actual incarnation of God in human form at a particular time and place in the world, it cannot dismiss the real dilemma presented by the notion that such an event never took place. Wolfhart Pannenberg recognized the approach's limitations and concluded:
“Christology is concerned, therefore, not only with unfolding the Christian community’s confession of Christ, but above all with grounding it in the activity and fate of Jesus in the past. The confession of Christ cannot be pre-supposed already and simply interpreted.”
Christ's call is a life-changing and radical call to total spiritual and existential renewal. It is only natural that humanity, when encountered with such a call, should be interested in knowing whether the quest is based on anything more than suspect historical claims and possibly delusional experiences. A perfect portrait of Jesus, his life, his deeds, and his meaning will probably never be constructed from historical study, but Christians would abandon a significant path to knowledge of Christ by rejecting entirely the study of his history.
Though there are risks involved in any historical study of Christ, there are greater risks involved in removing Christ from history altogether. The disassociation of Christ from objective historical context has been proven effective for some very ugly historical movements.
No approach, of course, is perfect. And the essence of Kähler's point is correct: even if one could prove, beyond any doubt, the historical facts of Christ's life, what would it mean? How could it bring anyone to faith? The one thing we know about faith is that it is a deeply personal, almost ineffable inner transformation. It simply does not speak the language of rationality or simple causality - and it could never be inspired by the knowledge of historical facts. That is simply not how the process works. Bob Dylan was pretty bizarre during his Christian period, but he did capture at least one essential truth: "ye shall be changed." And it's not going to happen because of history.
And yet we must continue to pursue history. History is not a way of proving faith, but it can help Christians ground their faith in legitimate questions about who their Savior was, what he did, and how he reacted to the world in which he lived. The historical approach, despite its uncertainty, difficulty, and risk, is absolutely necessary. The risks of complacency, subjectivity, and an artificial gulf between theology and history are far greater.
 Martin Kähler, The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, trans. Carl E. Bratten, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), 46.
 Martin Kähler, The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, trans. Carl E. Bratten, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), 46.
 Ibid., 47-48.
 Ibid., 66. Emphasis in original.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Apparently, Obama still holds a grudge against the network, and its president Roger Ailes, for reporting that he went to a madrassa as a child, joking about assassinating him, referring to him as a socialist, attacking him for calling his grandmother a “typical white person,” calling his cigarette smoking "a dirty little secret" and asking its viewers “Would you vote for a smoker?,” mixing him up with black former congressman Harold Ford Jr., making a joke that his name was similar to Osama Bin Laden’s and who knows what other perceived slights. Unfortunately, the Fox reporter was prevented from asking such very important questions as which cabinet post William Ayers will be appointed to and which policies from the Communist Manifesto Obama was planning to implement first.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Then we heard rumblings about Obama's choices to run the economy, all tragically confirmed today. I was hoping for Louis Farrakhan, obviously, but the names being put out there were just the names of various old white guys and economics experts, from America. Exactly how is that supposed to "change" America to African-Islamic Communism-Fascism?
So naturally, I'm disappointed. I really thought I was voting for a Marxist, since one time he used the phrase "spread the wealth around." (And people are actually wondering why the Republicans keep losing.)
Sunday, November 23, 2008
One new cabinet member, Israr Ullah Zehri, defended the torture-murder of five women and girls who were buried alive (three girls wanted to choose their own husbands, and two women tried to protect them). "These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them," Mr. Zehri said of the practice of burying independent-minded girls alive.
Moral relativism is a bourgeois fantasy.
Friday, November 21, 2008
And Chicago becomes the First City. Step aside, San Francisco. Shut up, New York. The Midwest is cool now. The mind reels. Have a good day.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
We rejected that. We rejected those politics of fear and division. How would it have been if we had chosen McCain-Palin, if we had endorsed that style of politics, if we had said with our votes, "Yes! I agree that there is a real America and a fake America. I agree that there are pro-America regions and anti-America regions." And, I might add, what's wrong with being a professor? What's wrong with being an intellectual? What's wrong with a man who worked his way up in the world, who was raised by a single mother and his grandparents, who tried hard and made mistakes but who came back from it all -- and made it all the way to Harvard Law? We should celebrate that - and we did.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
"As a proud resident of Oakton, Virginia, I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia [...] But the rest of the state, 'real Virginia,' if you will, I think will be very responsive to Senator McCain’s message [...] I mean real Virginia, because northern Virginia is where I’ve always been, but real Virginia I take to be the – this part of the state that is more southern in nature, if you will." - Nancy Pfotenhauer, McCain campaign adviser
From the Washington Post, the words of Sarah Palin:
"We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington, D.C. We believe" -- here the audience interrupted Palin with applause and cheers -- "We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation."
And lastly, from the mouth of the candidate:
"MCCAIN: I-- I know where a lot of 'em live. (LAUGH)
WILLIAMS: Where's that?
MCCAIN: Well, in our nation's capital and New York City. I've seen it. I've lived there. I know the town. I know-- I know what a lot of these elitists are. The ones that she never went to a cocktail party with in Georgetown. I'll be very frank with you. Who think that they can dictate what they believe to America rather than let Americans decide for themselves." - John McCain, explaining to Brian Williams where the "elitists" who, in Palin's words, "think that they're better than anyone else," live.
A dissenting view:
"The third essential condition of stability in political society, is a strong and active principle of cohesion among the members of the same community or state [...] We mean a principle of sympathy, not of hostility; of union, not of separation. We mean a feeling of common interest among those who live under the same government, and are contained within the same natural or historical boundaries. We mean that one part of the community do not consider themselves as foreigners with regard to another part; that they set a value on their connexion; feel that they are one people, that their lot is cast together, that evil to any of their fellow-countrymen is evil to themselves; and do not desire selfishly to free themselves from their share of any common inconvenience by severing the connexion." - John Stuart Mill, from the essay on Coleridge, 1840.
This is one of those moments.
On a lighter note...I considered titling this post:
CONCERNING THE NATURE AND RELATIONSHIP OF
TO ITS GOOD AND NATURAL COUNTERPART,
AS COMPOSED BY N.
FROM THE WORDS OF POLITICIANS AND PHILOSOPHERS OF OUR AGE AND AGES PAST
WITH AID TOWARDS A RIGHT JUDGMENT
ON THE CURRENT
OF WHICH WE SPEAK WITH ALL APPROPRIATE SERIOUSNESS AND CANDOR
It is truly sad that we no longer title anything like that.