A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Certain Blindness

Several blogs have been praising Fitna, a film by Dutch politician Geert Wilders. I'm not one of them. I support free speech, oppose intimidation, and believe in criticism of any religion including my own.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to endorse everything that tries to come under the heading of criticism. In this case we have a film which juxtapositions violent passages in the Qur'an with images of terrorist attacks and extremist statements by various Muslim clerics.

There's a certain snuff film quality to it, especially the showing of dead bodies and beheadings with stern classic music. In the end, this film follows other classic propaganda films, but in an over the top manner. It wants a visceral reaction from the audience.

I don't want to diminish violence and terrorism done in the name of Islam. But Fitna acts that such violence comes in a vacuum, born of some irrational wickedness (and what can one do with irrational wickedness but wipe it out. One doesn't reason with it).

I'm reminded of a passage by Reinhold Niebuhr, "so persistent is the cry of peace among the ruling classes and so strong the seeming abhorrence of every form of violence and anarchy that one might imagine them actuated by the purest pacifist principles.. "

But then we'd have to ignore our own history. Imagine a film which showed the dead from the Iraq war, which some estimate at a million, or our bombing campaigns against various communities in the Middle East. Picture those pitted along side statements from the Bible.

Or of statements by some religious leaders which suggest that we are on a crusade against Islam. If we were acquainted with the violence enacted in the name of our religion and our nation in this area over the last century, would that have changed the reception of this film?

Stopping violence is a good thing. One way to do this is to confront our own violence, our own complicity in the things that fuel support of extremist movements. Otherwise, we'll be like those groups we oppose, not a recipe for a livable 21st century.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Theologians and the Election

Martin Marty has a piece defending Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright. It's worth reading in understanding Wright, Trinity UCC, and a tradition that has understood the Gospel as addressing social problems.

But over at the blog MyDD one author writes: "The politics of acquiescence by liberals to Wright's words continue to amaze me. Today we have theologian Martin Marty defending Rev. Wright. The lack of distancing from Wright, in general, has already cost (us)."

I wish the democrats well. And I have no doubt the problem Wright presents to Obama. But Marty is a theologian. As such he is writing as a Christian foremost. Admittedly he didn't have this piece cleared by the DNC or any presidential campaign.

Of course why should he? If you were to say that a campaign or their surrogates have not responded correctly or have to the Wright case, that is one thing. But theologians are responsible to their faith and to the church, not to any political campaign.

If we reach the point that our faith can be determined by the needs of a party then we've already lost the game. We'll just be the mirror image of many in the religious right. It again brings the disconnect of prophetic faith and the demands of political campaigns.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Resurrection and other thoughts

Shuck and Jive has several posts about the destructive war in Iraq and what the church can do about it. Chuck Currie has a response to Obama's speech on race.

In a different vein some thoughts on one way to take up the meaning of resurrection that I wrote back in 2005: "as 1 John 2:17 puts it this 'world is passing away with all its allurements, but he who does God's will stands for evermore'"

"I'm apt to believe that the faith of Easter is found here, in the hope that despite the array of forces against it, reconciling love has the final word. It wasn't killed at the crucifixion but rather continues when disciples everywhere break bread together."

And that somehow when we participate in this, we're participating in something larger than us. 1 John writes of eternal life not as a spatial location but rather something which 'dwells' within us, when we love one another. It is through acts of love that we touch immortality."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bible Meme

Chris Tessone posted these set of questions. I'm a sucker and of course want to have a go at these questions.

1. What translation of the Bible do you like best?

I still have the NRSV Bible my pastor gave me when I graduated from high school but in the last number of years I've been taken by the majesty of the New English Bible. It's the UK equivalent to the RSV, but it sounds like the language of scripture.

2. Old or New Testament?

I like bits of both. And get scared of bits of both.

3. Favorite Book of the Bible?

Big fan of the prophets but I'd have to say 1 Corinthians. Paul combines the religious genius of Rome, Greece, and Judaism and it's on display as Paul seeks to build and sustain community.

4. Favorite Chapter?

1 Corinthians 12 with the idea of the church as a body, though Paul's engagement with Roman thought in Acts 17 has drawn me recently.

5. Favorite Verse? (feel free to explain yourself if you have to)

1 Corinthians 13:12 "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known"- a passage for humility if there ever was one. Not a bad one to keep in mind.

6. Bible character you think you’re most like?

I hate to steal from Bob Cornwall, doubting Thomas sounds like a good candidate. To be honest I've never considered this question before. Bible characters always strike me as bigger than life and that's not a way I've ever considered myself.

7. One thing from the Bible that confuses you?


Job: is it dealing with the problem of evil? What's up with that ending? I admire Job's audacity to presume that there must be a moral order such that he can question it, demand answers when life is unjust to him. But much of the story is unsatisfying.

8. Moses or Paul?

Paul: his concern for community is a key for me today and the sources of his thought have more connection with the western tradition. Moses is hard to locate, a bit buried in time and myth.

9. A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don’t get?

Redemption, blood atonement whether in the Hebrew Scriptures or in the New Testament, the scapegoat concept: there is something that strikes me as false in this picture but it would take me a while to fill that out. A future post perhaps.

I believe God was in Christ reconciling the world, the need for such reconciliation is ever present as the recent discussion of race gives evidences of. But I've never been able to work with theories of blood sacrifice in making sense of that concept.

10. Coolest name in the Bible?


Genesis 14:18a "Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram..." I'd have to say that name is the coolest one that comes to mind.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wright and Obama

There's been a lot of media exposure concerning Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright. Some of his politically charged sermons have been played on the networks. Few candidates have gotten this much exposure on religion.

I'd recommend Bob Cornwall's comments on this controversy. like him, it's hard to accept every claim of Wright's at face value. I couldn't affirm everything said. But the general critique of our society is thoroughly gospel from opposition to war to racial injustice.

Wright says things which should make us uncomfortable. He pronounces divine judgment. Some of us may wish there was more evidence of God's redemptive possibilities in these judgments, but it's natural to want to skip over judgment as quickly as possible.

Wright is quoted as saying "God damn America" which as Bob Cornwall notes "reminds us why religion and politics often relate to each other like oil and water." Promise and hope is the bread of American politics, not judgment. That's the basis of Obama's campaign.

And it's why Obama's campaign cannot be a source of religious redemption. All it can be, is what any good campaign is about in our society, a chance to make things better. The task of prophetic religion cannot readily be translated to the needs of politics.

Obama will distance himself from Wright, as he must. Maybe we'll be more sober about what role the church can and cannot play in politics. And a franker discussion about race in America could happen from this? That'd be a good thing in the end of such a controversy.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

In the same boat

John Haught has written a new book: God and the New Atheists. The need for good literature which responds to such folks is welcomed but unfortunately this book seems to suffer in it's central thesis.

"Has Harris thought about what would happen if people adopted the atheist's belief that there is no transcendent basis for our moral valuations?" Haught lauds Nietzsche and others who were aware of the collapse of a certain moral order with the death of God.

Are new atheists aware of this Haught asks? But implicit is the idea that theism gives you a ready made divinely blessed moral order and that atheism takes this away. Nietzsche is brave for recognizing this, the new atheists seem oblivious, for Haught, to this consequence.

The problem is that Nietzsche is not describing what happens when one becomes an atheist. He's describing what has transpired in western society on the whole. In that no one escapes this fact, neither atheists nor theists. Kierkegard is a theist who identifies the issue.

Haught seems to think theism side steps the dilemma. Maybe theism could, at least somewhat, embrace it. If our moral and religious claims can be relativized this provides an opportunity for God to judge our claims, moral or otherwise, calling them to account.

The use of religion to divinely bless our current notions is so deeply ingrained that the idea that religion could do anything else does not occurr to a number of new atheists and theists. Maybe it's time that religion challenged us and our ideals, not bless them.

In this, theism is not a way one should choose to escape a certain set of problems or set us apart from others. It's rather a way of bringing the resources of our respective religious traditions to bear on the problems of life in concert with others.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The You Tube Frontier

I created my first blog in 1995. It was a lefty faith site and at that time there were very few of us mainline and progressive religious sites. So I started collecting links to all I could find.

A few sites stole my list :) But it was worth it to get the word around since the evangelicals were the first to swamp this medium. I'd say it wasn't until the late 90s before there was a sufficient number of progressive religious websites on the net.

As a latecomer I've just discovered you tube and I've run into the same issue. The near absence of progressive religion on you tube. The UCC, the UUA, and the Episcopalians have some presence there but none of the other mainline churches are to be found.

The Disciples of Christ are utterly absent. So a friend and mine thought: why can't there be a challenge for congregations and other folks who value progressive Christianity, their denomination and their congregation to start making videos reflecting these things?

We're looking at having the kids in our church help us in the planning and making a video for our congregation to post on you tube. In any case, it's another avenue for spreading the good news that faith is much wider than many have thought. Something worth exploring.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Words We Use

There are a number of troubling themes coming out of the Hillary camp these days. But the one which claims that Obama supporters are effeminate is something taken out of the GOP talking points.

"I've got news for all the latte drinking, Prius driving, Birkenstock wearing, trust fund babies crowding in to hear him speak! This guy won't last a round against the Republican attack machine. He's a poet, not a fighter." said one union official at a Hillary rally.

“Obama has won the small caucus states with the latte-sipping crowd. They don’t need a president, they need a feeling.”is the most recent broadside against Obama supporters. Women, of course, are associated with acting on feeling not rationality.

Which raises the question: is Obama and his supporters being targeted, like Edwards as womanly, as irrational, as girls, not tough, easily swooned by words, not a fighter? And what does that say about the Hillary campaign and her surrogates when they use such terms?

It may mean the campaign is banking on the low estimation of women in this country to tar Obama and to raise her credibility. They are banking on anti-feminism to help win this campaign. If it succeeds it takes some of the steam out of being the first woman president.

As a side note, I wanted to apologize for my absence. I've had a flue that really knocked me out for a week. That and midterms and job hunting has made my internet usage go down the tubes, so to speak. But I'm hoping by next week things might be a bit more settled.