Monday, September 26, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Problem with Attribution

The east coast has endured as much natural disaster in recent weeks as it has ridiculous religious claims about those natural disasters. As cities and states were preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook the northeast from North Carolina through New York. Thankfully not much serious damage was due to the earthquake. That isn't so much the case for Irene, which killed at least 40 people in 12 states, and estimated damage reports into the tens of billions of dollars.

Enter presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann, who recently suggested that the natural disasters were signs from God that the US government should cut spending:

So wait, should politicians listen to God or the American public? Bachmann seems to suggest that God is saying "listen to me, listen to the American people". Are the American people God? I never knew I had such power.

Gaffes aside, what is a more important issue is her use of pseudo-religious rhetoric to amplify her base. But even then, politicians for decades have been leaning on religious themed catch-phrases and slogans as they pursue higher office. In fact, some of the best political speech in the last 15 years (since I've been among the electorate) was then Senator Barack Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address, which he concludes by saying:

"In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead. I believe we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair. I believe that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us, America!"
Campaign misstatements or off the cuff comments that get a soft chuckle are one thing. But to put the responsibility for the deaths of at least 40 human beings on God is both unfortunate and irresponsible. For one, the responsibility really isn't on God. Instead, Bachmann is suggesting that it is on the humans who have acted in a way that in her view is unpleasing to God. For her, God is bound to a limited set of abilities that include smiting those who have acted disobediently, but does not include a grace, patience or understanding.  She is suggesting that because of the inaction of congress to cut spending in an effort to reign in the national debt, God is punishing us as a nation with earthquakes and hurricanes. It's as if her god is more concerned about DC finances that the homeless family living in the shadow of the Capitol.

Her assumption that God is retributive against innocents is simply a theology that all too easily (and readily) places blame on a cosmic deity, without recognizing human responsibility or uncontrollable acts of nature. But even more unfortunate is hers or any politicians use of God as a scapegoat for the purpose of furthering a political cause, ideology or policy.

It's not just bad politics, it's bad religion.

Morality versus Morality: Beyond Left and Right

The Religious Right makes serious claims about morality. From my understanding, that morality is mostly based in sex-issues. Reproductive rights like abortion and contraceptives have lingered in the minds of socially and religious conservative folks for decades. Concerns with same-sex marriage and LGBT unions have risen to prominence at political and religious rallies, and again take center stage as "Don't ask - Don't Tell" has ended.

Still other issues come up from time such as the recent HPV vaccine accusations linking the vaccine to intellectual disabilities. While on the surface this issue looks like a health issue, and it is of course, but in the minds of right-wing evangelicals it is also about sex. Moreover, it's about sexual control. 

Here's how this works: A 12 year-old gets an HPV vaccine which is proven to be 100% effective in protecting against cervical cancer. HPV is spread through sexual contact, just like many other STI's, except this one is a biggie. So if a young person gets a shot that protects them from cancer, then (in the mind of social conservatives) the kids will think it's a free pass to have all the sex, since they're protected from cancer. 

This argument has been around for as long as condoms have been widely available.If teens get condoms, they'll have sex. If they don't get condoms, then they wont have sex. At least that is the thinking...

Here's where this line of thinking breaks down though. Teens are going to have sex anyway, using protection or not, vaccinated or not. To think otherwise is naive and irresponsible. To suggest that a vaccine that can lead to the eradication of one of the most lethal cancers for women is a government over-reach is wildly selfish and narrow-minded. Such a view only prolongs problems, kicking the can down the road, waiting until another day to face the challenge.

And if the argument against the HPV vaccine is that it's being forced on young girls as a government over-reach (as Michelle Bachmann suggested), then where is the outcry over other mandated vaccines? Where's the outcry for mandated automobile insurance? (Supporters of mandated auto insurance say it's a public safety issue. Isn't controlling a STD that leads to cervical cancer also a public safety issue?) 

A more progressive-minded morality is centered on how we care for one another, in more real-life terms. I might even suggest that a more progressive morality is actually more Jesus-like than we progressives even realize - in that it deals with real life issues in real life space, much like Jesus did. Feeding the hungry right now, healing those with injuries right now, protecting children with affordable and effective healthcare right now, working against systems of injustice right now. No prolonging healing to another day, no kicking the can down the road. 

But even then, the argument can be made that a liberal minded morality doesn't take seriously some issues that have long been  regarded as pillars of western society: purity, liberty, free-market economics. And in many ways this argument has a strong position.

However one looks at such issues, a responsible and ethical morality begins with addressing real life struggles with immediate and effective solutions. Left or Right, Liberal or Conservative - such distinctions don't matter to someone who is starving, freezing or suffering from cancer.

Church Wuss Part 7

I'm never surprised anymore about how great a job churches do with mixing in violence with ministry. Specifically "outreach" type events intended to draw in a crowd and hopefully some of those crowd folks will start attending the church.

Tulsa, OK is home to Guts Church, a hip and macho congregation that showcases the toughness needed to be a Christian today. And as a part of their outreach, Guts has held six "Fight Night" events over the past few years. It's a boxing match and people come out to watch men pound each other in the face with their fists... in the name of Jesus of course.

Unfortunately at the most recent Fight Night, former University of Tulsa linebacker and amateur boxer George Clinkscale suffered serious injuries from the fight. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Here's the Tulsa World article describing the event and subsequent DA investigation.

What I don't get, and I've mentioned it before; why do churches think violence is something that is particularly Christian in nature? Where in scripture does Jesus say that his followers should bludgeon each other with fists?

These fights that Guts Church has promoted have done serious harm to the message of the Gospel of Jesus. It is heartbreaking that a church would promote something so dangerous and life-threatening just to boost their street cred as the "hip, underground, masculine" church. There's nothing tough about dying on a cross, and nothing tough about dying in a ring - tragedies on both counts.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011