Saturday, January 31, 2009
In other words, Parker claims that the overly religious nature of many Republicans is driving away other support. She predicts that if the current trend of pandering to the desires of the extremely religious continues, the Republican Party will be headed steadily downhill and will soon be replaced. Of course, the problem is that if the Republican Party tries to move away from the religious base, it loses an important voting bloc.
What Parker says does make some sense. According to the Downs’ Model, more centrist policies tend to garner more support and therefore the party that stays closest to the middle of the ideological scale is more likely to prevail. Therefore, Parker’s predictions that the influences of extreme conservatives on Republican standpoints and policies will end up hurting more widespread support is probably true. I’m no expert on politics, but it seems to me that a shift to more moderate conservatism would be a smart option. Not only would it presumably bring in supporters such as the “other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats,” but the evangelical voting bloc may not be completely deterred. Even if the stance of Republicans is not as hardcore as they might like, it would probably still be more acceptable than policies of the Democrats and the formation of a new political party doesn’t seem practical. I think Parker maybe goes a little too far in predicting the total demise of the GOP, but her overall point is well taken---religion is important in our lives and, to some extent, politics, but everything in moderation.
Using Rick Warren to link Obama to Bush may seem like an odd method, and indeed, the connection is tenuous at best. Turley claims that Warren is a man "who actively seeks to shape society" along the lines of his controversial religious views; this, plus Obama's connection with Reverend Wright, raises Turley's concerns that our president, like Bush, "seems to gravitate toward ministers who see little dividing the pulpit from politics." He also suggests that Warren's endorsement of Obama "may lay a foundation for a mutually beneficial alliance" between his administration and religious conservatives, and that although Obama wishes to include all viewpoints, viewpoints like Warren's are not "worthy of incorporation." On this point, I must disagree. Obama's position of inclusion would be much harder to swallow if he only included people or groups that he (or Turley) personally agree with. And although I disagree with Warren's view of homosexuality, it's not as though by having him pray that Obama is going to base his policies on Warren's opinion. A person can be open to others' opinions without endorsing them themself.
Next, in his main argument, Turley complains that Obama's choice to expand faith-based initiatives instead of abolishing them further diminishes the idea of separation of church and state. He defines Obama's mentality this way:
It is a simple matter of priorities: Obama just seems to be more interested in programs than principles. He views change in more concrete terms: helping families, creating jobs and expanding the social safety net. Worthy objectives to be sure, but what about restoring the core principles that define our government?
"Restoring the core principles that define our government" sounds very lofty and important, but Turley's statement begs the question: what's so bad about the "programs" Obama endorses? Principles are all well and good, but they don't feed a family. Now, I'm not saying that as US citizens living in this era of "change" we should abandon the principles that our founding fathers laid out. However, I AM saying that Obama's attempt to make a concrete, tangible improvement in people's lives is something that should not be brushed away by questions of intangible principle. We can talk about separation of church and state all day long, but while we do, people are suffering. Historically, ministries and charities, usually religiously affiliated, have been the driving force behind attempts to alleviate that suffering. And if Obama realistically wants to bring about the change he has promised, then why not enlist their support?
"The last administration showed no interest in talking to a large chunk of the religious community," said Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. "We're already seeing change. . . . This administration, so far as I can see, is not making a similar mistake."
But the Religious Left is already getting antsy. Shouldn’t Obama be, you know, on their side? So what’s he doing cozying up to people like Rick Warren? At the same time, the Religious Right is watching Obama for the slightest misstep. They’re OK with him for now. They’ll bolt, though, at the first whiff of secularism.
Trying to appeal to both the Religious Right and Religious Left is a dangerous game. It’s like walking a tightrope. Over a pit of alligators. While juggling. And there’s no tightrope. Conservatives and liberals are intractable enough when it comes to politics. If you throw religion in there too, compromise isn’t just improbable, it’s nearly impossible.
My guess is that, as the warm and fuzzy afterglow of the Obama honeymoon wears off, the president will turn more and more to the socially activist Religious Left. The Religious Right has never been his friend. Despite plenty of talk during the election of Obama-voting evangelicals—or “Obangelicals,” if you will—McCain still won white evangelical Protestants 74%-24%.
Obama isn’t going to spurn a major part of his base in favor of a group that never supported him and most likely never will. We already got a hint of that with Obama’s repeal of Bush’s abortion gag rule policy. It was one of the first acts of the Obama presidency, and it got the expected reaction: pro-lifers howled and pro-choice groups cheered. Clearly, Obama’s not going to spend a lot of time catering to the Religious Right.
That doesn’t mean he’ll be doing the bidding of Jim Wallis and other leftist evangelicals, though. I think his move on abortion was less a slap at the Religious Right, and more of an investment in the Religious Left’s favor bank. He knows, at some point, he’s going to disappoint them. And when they come storming into the Oval Office, he can point back to that act and say, ‘See? Who said I never did anything for you?”
For now, though, he can afford to flirt with both left and right. They’re going to catch on eventually. But which of them would have the bad manners to spoil his honeymoon so soon?
Friday, January 30, 2009
Aronson encourages secularists to demand recognition in the political process. “In an America where other minorities have mobilized themselves to demand their rights, when will our largest, most invisible minority ‘out’ itself in daily life,” he asks, “When will they demand that the spirit of multiculturalism be extended to those who do not pray, instead of the widespread assumption that religious values, norms and practices apply to everyone”?
I agree with Aronson that the unreligious are virtually ignored in the modern political process and are in turn asked to ignore the unashamed pandering of candidates to the extremely religious. The religious argue that they want a president who shares their religion and therefore their moral values but it is equally reasonable for unreligious voters to want a president to share their morals—which are not necessarily guided by Christianity or any major religion. In an article in Christian Today a survey found that 61% of Americans would be less willing to vote for a candidate that didn’t believe in God and 45% said they would be reluctant to vote for a Muslim. I think it’s time that Americans open their minds to the point where being a Christian is not a requirement for the Presidency. According to CIA World Fact Book, 24.9% of Americans are neither Protestant nor Catholic Christians and while Presidential candidates should obviously pay attention to our Christian majority, nearly a fourth of the country is ignored while the presidential candidates criss-cross the country catering to a mostly Protestant politically active voter block. Robert Bellah describes a “civil religion” in his article, “Civil religion in America” in which vague religious vocabulary is applied to America to convey a sense of higher purpose in a way that is not offensive to any religion—or those who are not particularly religious, but tt is when that ambiguous religion is somehow transformed into an unashamed campaign to cater to the Protestant majority that politicians risk alienating the rest of us.
Monday, January 26, 2009
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life determined that 70% of Americans polled believe, as of June 2008, that those of other religions might find “eternal life” after death. Two months later, a repetition of the survey brought similar results, with the added specificity that atheists and people of nearly all religions were expected to be eligible for redemption alongside the people surveyed.
Charles Blow’s column in the New York Times searches briefly for the cause of this magnanimity in the minds of those who participated in the poll. The column’s brevity is caused by the simplicity of Blow’s answer: “I don’t think that they [the 70% of participants] are ignorant about this most basic tenet of their faith [i.e., the teaching that through Christ is the only path to heaven]. I think that they are choosing to ignore it…for goodness sake.”
First, I think it is important to establish who the responders to the poll were—or can be assumed to be. The same polling institute lists 78.4% of Americans as Christians and 1.7% as Jewish, the two largest groups (other than “unaffiliated,” at 16.1%). Because the polls taken in the summer of ’08 were aimed at “Americans”—not any particular demographic therein—I think it is safe to conclude that the people who answered the polls were mostly Christians.
There is probably a tendency to credit our modern era of tolerance with this display of Christian fellow feeling towards all. And, there is indeed a great deal owed to the understanding of other religions and the acceptance of other systems of thought that developed in the 20th century, mostly in schools and colleges. But, we cannot claim to have invented this goodwill in any one lifetime, particularly not in the recent past. For instance, even William Langland, the 14th century Christian poet, writes that the pagan Roman emperor Trajan is saved without mentioning Christ, only through good deeds.
Blow attributes the survey’s encouraging findings to another set of poll results: a minority of Christians believe in literal interpretation of the Bible. But even this explanation cannot be inhered in our era. The Christian tradition has long since been influenced by people who take great liberties with texts, most notably, Milton, who said that he wrote his poetry and theology based on his own inner sense of the scripture, which he said is present in everyone.
This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But the survey suggested that Americans just weren’t buying that.
The evangelicals complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they?
Here, Blow is being par with as his undefined “evangelicals” about ignoring the actual Christian tradition. Yes, there have been and are intolerants and bigots in the ranks of Christianity. But Pew Forum’s findings should not be a surprise. The astonishment Blow affects—“what on earth does this mean?”—is a good indication of the infamy of the Christian tradition. But, in this case, it is infamy undeserved, and vilification of a majority simply because it is a majority.
To see Charles Blow’s column, Heaven for the Godless: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/27/opinion/27blow.html?pagewanted=print
Dr. Smith was pleased that Obama’s speech did not focus on religion, but rather on the obstacles the country is facing. She felt heartened by the fact that Obama placed all people, regardless of race or religion, on an equal level. In her eyes, Obama stands behind what she thinks true religion should produce – community, cooperation, and commitment.Dr. Smith is hopeful that God will take the place of religion. Reverend Joseph Lowery was compelling to Dr. Smith, because she felt that Lowery left religion out of his benediction.
I see choosing Rick Warren to give the inauguration prayer as an admirable decision on President Obama’s part. As we discussed in class, Obama is clearly trying to break down religious and political barriers. His emphasis on diversity is supported in choosing Warren, because he is showing that he will accept others, even if they do not have the same political or religious views that he has. As for Dr. Smith’s claim that no religious person is what society thinks they should be, I have to say that the question of their popularity is not what is important. Religious figures should help individuals learn how to get what they need personally from religion. Obama’s inauguration speech was filled with inspiration and an appropriate amount of religion, as was Reverend Lowery’s benediction. They both stressed the importance of diversity and the acceptance of all people. While God can usually be more inclusive of many faiths than religion, I still see no need to separate the two. Without religion, diversity would be diminished, as well as individual freedom.
Turley believes that the change Obama may bring to Washington is likely in the form of social programs rather than in changing legal views in Washington, such as deviating from the previous administration’s take on the separation of church and state. He also points out that rather than condemn Bush’s faith-based initiative for violating the separation of church and state, he condemned it because the program was not adequately funded. Turley refers to Rick Warren multiple times, in the belief that he exemplifies Obama’s intention to involve religion in his administration. Turley believes that Rick Warren will be one of Obama’s advisors on community faith-based initiatives and points out that though Obama preaches “inclusion,” he is consulting someone who believes in “exclusion.”
I agree that Obama made faith a strategic part of his platform and that it will be a crucial part of his presidency. According to ABC News, Wright’s sermon inspired the title of his book, Wright married him and his wife, and Wright baptized his children. He publicized these facts and portrayed his relationship with Reverend Wright as a close relationship, referring to him as a “mentor.” Based on Turley’s quotations of Obama on religion, I also agree that faith will be invoked quite frequently during this presidency, perhaps equally frequently as during the previous presidency.
However, I do not think that President Obama will use faith in the same manner. First, Obama has not been as vocal about the specifics of his Christian beliefs as Bush. A recent Newsweek article entitled “Barack Obama’s Christian Journey” remarks that Obama has not been vocal about his personal beliefs on salvation. Bush was much clearer; I specifically remember the newscast in which I heard Bush state that he believed that only Christians would escape eternal damnation. Also, although Obama has attempted to include controversial religious figures in his political life, he has not failed to cut off ties where lines were crossed, as he did with Jeremiah Wright. Additionally, I think Obama chose Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration because he wanted to show his ability to work alongside people with beliefs that he did not agree with and not because conservative Christianity will be a driving force in his administration. It reaffirmed his statement when he was first reacting to the controversy of Jeremiah Wright. He said that although he did not agree with everything Reverend Wright said, he could “no more disown him than [his] grandmother.” I think it is important to look at the manner and context in which Obama invokes religion than the frequency with which he refers to it. I believe that it indicates that although Obama intends to refer to Christianity frequently, that he will refer to a variety of voices within and outside of Christianity and that his aim is to create policies of inclusion.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
I agree with Buchanan’s contention that Haggard’s disgrace was an opportunity for churches to reconsider how they approach the issue of homosexuality. However, I disagree with his assertion that Mr. Haggard’s attempts to hide his homosexual tendencies for years was simply because he feared the church’s propensity to idolize its leaders as “spiritual lions”, but sacrifice them like lambs when they fall.
Ted Haggard used his pulpit to gain power and prestige. As the head of the National Association of Evangelicals for three years, he participated in conference calls with the Bush White House. Before he was exposed, his annual salary was $138,000, well above the income of most of his flock. Rather than give all this up and seek help, he not only hid his sexuality but also was a prominent advocate for a Colorado referendum limiting civil protections for gays. Like Eliot Spitzer, Haggard's downfall was due to his own hypocrisy. He is not the helpless and innocent victim of an intolerant church.
Perhaps this choice shouldn’t be necessary. Maybe one day a man with an openly "complex sexuality" will become the head of a major evangelical organization, however improbable that seems. But Ted Haggard sought power and fame rather than admit who he was, eventually opening his fellow evangelicals to public ridicule. Now, as fresh allegations emerge, and as a new documentary from HBO attempts to analyze Haggard’s rise and fall, it is important to remember that he made a choice to be inauthentic so he could climb to the top of the evangelical world.
The second statement made by Kristof is a lamentation about a society in which the religious beliefs of a person are seen as a reason to not vote for him. Kristof goes on to say that, as racial prejudice is very much now socially unacceptable, an increase in religious prejudice has replaced it. As a result, a campaign arose to “otherize” Obama. This is a perfect example of the “us” vs. “them” mentality that James Monroe, in his book Hellfire Nation, claims has pervaded the nation since its inception by the Puritans. I tend to agree with Kristof’s assessment of a rise of religious prejudice as the movement towards racial equality continues to progress quickly. To some extent, I believe that, since the events of September 11, 2001, Muslims have begun to be seen as the “them” in American society. This is evidenced by people’s responses to their assuming Obama was Muslim and also in the rise of hate crimes against Muslims in America.
If you accept the notion that the question of race is no longer paramount (a dubious claim to begin with), then Guinness’s point is valid; the topic of religion is one of the major dividing factors of the American public, and it is an issue that clearly needs to be addressed in order for the nation to continue to move forward in its quest for universal equality and opportunity. Guinness argues that as president, Obama now has the opportunity to deliver “a challenge to the entire nation [. . .] to live up to the promise of the American experiment in light of the culture wars at home and the sectarian strife around the world.”
The strength of Guinness’s argument lies in the organization of his article. The section entitled “Setting the ground rules” clearly breaks down the foundations of today’s religious debate, as well as Guinness’s humility in presenting such an argument. He is unafraid to present uncertainty as to whether or not his ideal can be realized.
Unfortunately, however, despite Guinness’s obvious desire for the realization of an equal and accepting America, his eloquent language often fails to present his ideals in clear and defined way. He frequently refers to the “American experiment,” yet assumes that his reader will know exactly what he is talking about. The goals and solutions he presents for Obama are also vague, referring to the “restoration of a civil and cosmopolitan public square,” and “for all Americans to face up to the rteality [sic] of our culture warring impasse,” yet he never quite explains how these goals should be brought about. While vague, idealistic goals are acceptable at times, in an article proposing presidential action and solution, more specific examples and suggestions would impart a more definitive stance to Guinness’s argument.
In his inaugural speech, President Obama addressed the world for the first time as president of the United States, but unlike his former speeches, Obama was noted for his sober mood and message of humility as opposed to his usual rhetorical flourish. Heading the challenge of an ailing economy, an unpopular war, and following in the footsteps of an inept administration, Obama made clear that the challenge before the nation required all Americans to unite in order to persevere.
In his article, “The Age of Responsibility,” Roger Cohen, the foreign editor for the New York Times since March 2002, praises Obama for his willingness to differ from former presidents, juxtaposing him with former president Bush. Cohen notes that Obama’s subtle, yet powerful words are centered on moral issues, and that “Responsibility, restraint, humility, peace: [these are] not the habitual vocabulary of America’s heroic narrative.” From areas ranging from Gitmo to god and foreign relations, Cohen portrays Obama as calling for responsibility and humility—learning from our mistakes to become accepted—once again—in our global community.
Are Obama’s radical changes in policy from the former administration essential to the prosperity of our nation? Given the fact that it may take many years for issues such as the economy and many months for a removal in Iraq to materialize, we may as well start with the one thing that is most important and the one factor we, as Americans, believe to act by—a moral code. The humility to learn from our mistakes I believe is as critical to our nation’s prosperity in a global society as a growing economy. We cannot continue to belittle and manipulate other nations for our own personal benefit. With such a change in ideology from the Bush administration, Cohen puts it best in asking “Are Americans ready to die for responsibility?
Cohen’s main concern is the “change” in Obama’s plans for our nation. In class we read With God on Our Side, which focuses on the change of American society through time. Although it may seem Obama’s proposals may seem extreme, it is important to note the constant change that American society has endured and benefited from. In this respect, Cohen has little to worry about. I guess Obama won’t be the only one looking at our nation with a “watchful eye.”
The article (available at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/21/opinion/21sat4.html?scp=19&sq=Religion%20Editorial&st=cse) editorializes against a piece of Louisiana legislation targeted at the state’s science curriculum. The legislation would allow teachers to incorporate dissenting supplementary materials and critiques alongside mandatory, mainstream textbooks describing Darwinian evolution and global warming. The editorial attacks the legislation as a “Trojan horse,” intending to undermine the near-universally accepted theory of evolution by implying that it is hotly contested.
At first, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The legislation doesn’t appear particularly pernicious. It doesn’t ban Darwinism. It doesn’t endorse Creationism. It just allows for the provision of optional supplements. After doing a little more research however, I find my thoughts more in line with the editorial. Given historical context, the bill starts to look more suspicious. Back in the 1980s, Louisiana passed a “Creationism Act” that demanded “creation science” be taught alongside evolution in schools. Although this act was eventually discarded, fundamentalists tried again in 1994, requiring any instruction on evolution to be prefaced by a disclaimer that the instruction was “not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of creation or any other concept.” This one was eventually dragged to the attention of the Supreme Court. When the disclaimer was struck down as unconstitutional, the school board vowed to continue their crusade, possibly working to ban the teaching of evolution altogether. Given Louisiana’s record on evolution in school, I think it seems a little more reasonable to condemn the new bill.
This vehement opposition to evolution mirrors the introduction to William Martin’s With God on Our Side. In tracing the history of American fundamentalism, Martin describes the intense uproar against “modernist” ideas such as evolution. By providing a scientifically supported alternative to the literal interpretation of Genesis, evolution (in the eyes of Christian fundamentalists, at least), undermined the legitimacy of the Bible. The fundamentalists of the early twentieth century fought back against this perceived blasphemy by declaring war on evolution; if the recent business in Louisiana is any indication, that cause still resonates for some Christians today.
Seeing as this is my blog post, I suppose it would be appropriate for me to step in and editorialize. Creationism has no place in a science classroom. Science must be testable, and science must be confined to the natural world. Religion, meanwhile, meets neither criterion. We can’t “prove” God, and we certainly can’t confine God to the realm of the “natural.” Belief in natural selection can be supported by tracing the fossil record; belief in God stands on personal faith.
At the same time, I believe that acceptance of natural selection does nothing to diminish the acceptance of God. From the expanses of far galaxies, to the baffling nature of quantum mechanics, our universe is a complex, wondrous place; it’s “miraculous” even. If one sees in that miracle the touch of divine agency, then that’s a matter for his or her personal beliefs. Although we can’t scientifically verify (and, as such, teach) the presence of God, that does nothing to detract from personal faith.
And furthermore, rejecting a literal interpretation of Genesis does not reject the key tenets Christian faith. A scientific understanding of the formation of life does not clash with the central doctrines of mercy, humility, and salvation through Christ. This considered, opponents of evolution just come off as insecure. Really, what harm is done by interpreting Genesis metaphorically? What difference does that really make? Why feel compelled to sneak your doctrines into, of all places, a science classroom?
In this instance, I stand behind the editorial. Attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution in schools are misguided and inappropriate.