Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Don't Give Up on Us!

We're still here - we promise! Don't give up on us yet, it has just been really busy lately. More good stuff to come.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

A Contribution to Statistics

A Contribution to Statistics
- by Wislawa Szymborska

[Note: can you pick the stanza most relevant to what Jesus called us to be? Hint: think three.]

Out of a hundred people
those who always know better
-- fifty-two,

doubting every step
--nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn't take too long
-- as high as forty-nine,

always good
because they can't be otherwise
--four, well, maybe five,

able to admire without envy
-- eighteen,

suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
--sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly
--forty and four,

living in constant fear
of someone or something
-- seventy-seven,

capable of happiness
--twenty-something tops,

harmless singly,
savage in crowds
--half at least,

when forced by circumstances
-- better not to know even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact
-- just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
-- eighty-three
sooner or later,

--thirty-five, which is a lot,

and understanding
-- three,

worthy of compassion
-- ninety-nine,

-- a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged

Friday, September 24, 2004

Dripping with sarcasm.

Hi. I'm God. Lets get something straight. Because I really don't care what goes on the world, nor how many people seek me or want to live by my ideals, I absolutely cannot stand the idea of women being ministers. I only work though men. That is a much higher priority for me than:

(a) more people learning about me;
(b) more people helping others in my name;
(c) equality of creation.

Thank you for your time. I just wanted to make that clear.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Lunch Today.

Not quite the promised education post, but...

The names changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

So I had lunch today with two fellow law students. One of them (A) is a good friend here at school, and we eat together often. It was my first time to meet the other person (B). A and B worked with one another at a not-to-be-named giant corporate law firm this past summer.

A: "I worked with B last summer at the firm."
Me: "Uh oh, I guess I'll have to be on guard - two firm guys against one!"
All: "hahaha"
B (to Me): "So where did you work last summer?"
Me: "I worked at [federal government position]. I'm one of those save the world types."
B (condescendingly): "Ha ha ha. Good luck with that."

I was totally offended at his arrogance. He was really like, "what a waste of time, it's not like you can make a difference - you might as well make all you can for yourself." Some people call me arrogant for thinking I can change the world. Well you know what, if arrogance is a feeling of superiority over someone, then it isn't me that's the arrogant one - it is the person who thinks their personal comfort level is more imporant than helping needy people.

Guess what buddy: if you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem! And you know how I know? Everyone is part of the problem. We could all do so much more.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

They are people, too.

Associated Press
HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Contrite condemned killer Andrew Flores was executed Tuesday evening for fatally shooting a San Antonio convenience store clerk during a $45 robbery 11 years ago.
"Today I go home to the Lord," he said in a brief last statement. "But first I have to say something."
"I am real sorry," he said, looking at the wife of his victim. "I took a family member's life and I shouldn't have. I hope that you can move on. I'm just sorry. I can't bring anyone back. I would if I could. I won't ask for your forgiveness. God will be my judge."
Flores then turned and expressed his love to his friends and relatives, including his sobbing mother and sister.
"Be strong and I will see you all, hopefully not soon. Keep your head up," he said.
After taking a couple of deep breaths and gasping, he slipped into unconsciousness. Nine minutes later at 6:20 p.m., he was pronounced dead.
Flores, 32, became the 13th Texas prison inmate to receive lethal injection this year. At least 11 others have execution dates for later in 2004, including five next month.

More on education tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Too good not to post in its entirety.

Texas Republicans CHIP away at traditional family values

04:37 PM CDT on Sunday, August 29, 2004

By ROD DREHER / The Dallas Morning News

There comes a time when men and women of the Right have to ask, "What kind of conservative am I?"

I stand with the late Russell Kirk, the philosophical godfather of modern American conservatism, who said, "The family is the institution most necessary to conserve." Which is why it's hard to be a Texas Republican some days.

Last week, the front page of The Dallas Morning News told the story of the Kimbers, a working family that lost benefits under the radically scaled-back Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Result: They have to decide between filling their children's teeth or their stomachs. The Kimber children are doing without dental care so they can eat.

Wait a minute, I thought, I know those people. They're part of our Catholic parish. My wife is in a home-schooling group with Joan Kimber. When our second child was born earlier this year, she brought food to our house, including bread her eldest daughter made for us. And this is what they're dealing with?

These devoutly Christian folks work hard for a living. Until very recently, Joan was a home-schooling, stay-at-home mom, who helped out in the family moving business and at church. These are the kind of good family people who hold society together. And when they have their ox in a ditch, society is willing to walk on by.

One way or another, my family is going to help the Kimbers, who are also making draconian adjustments. But what about the Texans who aren't in a position to draw on the assistance of church and friends, and who have no more room to maneuver?

It's embarrassing to admit, but until I actually knew somebody affected by the CHIP cuts, I hadn't given it a second thought. That's human nature. I glossed over the CHIP stories, which were filled with acronyms and gobbledygook figures, and the story remained an abstraction to me. After all, my family has health care, and so does every family we know.

Except they don't. Not the Kimbers. It took putting a face on this crisis for me to start paying

This is very basic, I know, but it's startling to realize how much empathy one lacks, simply because one doesn't see the suffering around us. I posted the Kimber story and my commentary to a conservative Catholic blog I frequent, and was startled to read the feedback. Some of my fellow Christian conservatives were appalled by the idea that children in a working family had any claim on society's compassion or resources, even for basic health care.

"They shouldn't have had five kids they couldn't support," many said. But they were able to support them, until business reversals of the sort that could happen, and have happened, to many North Texans in the recent economic downturn. It may trouble some of our more robust Republican state legislators to learn that the working poor cannot sell or eat their children when they have trouble making payments. What then?

Look, I'm a conservative, and I know money doesn't come from a pot of gold under the Alamo. The state had a massive budget shortfall, and something had to give. Of all the programs to face hacking though, why this one? Is the principle of "no new taxes" so sacrosanct that my fellow Republicans have to grind the face of the poor to be faithful to it?

A society that pushes struggling families to the wall and that denies minimal health care to children who had nothing to do with the circumstances, is not a good society. It is a society that attacks the family and calls it conservative virtue.

Not all Texas Republicans feel this way. State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said not long ago, "I remain heartbroken about what's happening with children's health insurance because we're talking about children's lives. And the momma and grandmomma in me is outraged."

Preach it, lady. The daddy in me is outraged too, as is the religious conservative. Being a good father and a good Christian are more important than being a good Republican.
The institution most necessary to conserve is the family. Not the Republican Party.

Monday, September 20, 2004

On Education, Part III: Redefining the Solution.

Many people say that what we need in public education is "equal spending" for every child. Thus, if my child goes to school in the urban school district, he should get the exact same amount - penny for penny - spent on his education as his friend that goes to school out in the suburbs.

While on the surface this seems like an acceptable equality endorsing solution, in practice it is nothing more than a veil for perpetuating inequality.

Think of it this way: does it cost the same amount to provide the exact same quality of education (educationally provided opportunity, henceforth "EPO") to a student in the country as it does to a student in mid-town Manhattan? Of course not. Facilities, teachers, you name it - they all cost more in the big city. Any education system aimed at achieving equal EPO must take into account the fact that it will cost more to provide some children with services equal to their peers. This includes the realization that you will have to pay them more than you would in the suburbs to encourage top flight educators into poor, urban schools, where the learning enviroment is much harder on a teacher.

My point: the debate needs to be framed not in terms of equal spending, but in terms of equal EPO. Isn't the real goal to provide each child with a level of opportunity that will allow them the chance to cultivate their natural abilities for the betterment of us all?

Granted, there are never going to be the same EPO's available in rural America as there are in midtown Manhattan. Just because a kid in the Bronx gets a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that doesn't mean that a kid in Iowa should get the same. These are local decisions about how best to spend money available on the margins. More on this later.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

On Education, Part II: The Problem

As suggested in a comment to my last post, many people wonder if "throwing more money" at the schools will fix them. I do not advocate this approach. While I do think that society invests its dollars best when it invests them in its future (I.e. children), obviously there are expenses today that must be met.

But that's not what this post is about. This post aims to address a major cause of inequality in public education: property taxes and arbitrary school district lines.

Many states - Texas included - still fund their schools predominantly through local property taxes. If you live within a certain school district or community, your property (usually home) is taxed to pay for local expenses such as schools, while the state provides a very small percentage of additional funds. This system - endorsed by people who want maximized "local control" and who want their schools to be the best - allows for wealthy communities to draw arbitrary lines around their communities, keeping highly valued property in and poorer communities - and their just as deserving children - out.

The result: people in the nice part of town go to nice schools, while people in the crappy part of town go to crappy schools.

Thus, the biggest problem isn't a lack of money in the system (don't get me wrong, that is still a problem), but it is where that money comes from. By saying that local communities can pay for schools, state law knowing endorses inequality. Not only is this unconstitutional, it is also morally deplorable.

It's like this. A University says that any of its students can play a sport, ranging in profitability from football to women's soccer, with only one catch: sports will only have the resources available which they can bring in. Football, which everyone knows will get a ton of money before the policy is in place, flourishes, while women's soccer is forced to disband - no one cares about it except those that want to play. Is this fair?

Now lets add another dimension: say the University mandates that every student play a sport (much like the law mandates that every child go to school). Think about it: aren't their second class citizens here?

Friday, September 17, 2004

On Education, Part I

In light of a Texas judge's finding this week that the state system of financing its public schools is unconstitutional, there could be no better time for a series of posts regarding public education, Jesus' teachings, and the Social Gospel.

Quoting the Dallas Morning News: In remarks preceding his order, the judge called on the state to focus on the "significant" achievement gap between economically disadvantaged and more affluent students – noting that half the students in Texas fall into the disadvantaged category. "The key to changing our future is to close the gap in academic achievement between the haves and the have-nots," he said, adding that the "rub" is the cost of closing the gap needed to improve instruction for those students.

Jesus obviously had something to say about the haves and the have-nots, and these teachings would undoubtedly have been even more scathing if the people at stake were children. It is a social sin of the highest magnitude for the state - that's all of us voters - to provide one child with more opportunity than another, all under the guise of equality.

In his award winning book documenting his observations in public schools, Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools, Jonathan Kozol makes it clear just what is at stake:

"Nine years from now, most of these children will go on to Manley High School, an enormous, ugly building just a block away that has a graduation rate of only 38 percent. Twelve years from now, by junior year of high school, if the neighborhood statistics hold true for these children, 14 of these 23 boys and girls will have dropped out of school. Fourteen years from now, four of these kids, at most, will go to college. Eighteen years from now, one of those four may graduate from college, but three of the 12 boys in this kindergarten will already have spent time in prison. If one stands here in this kindergarten room and does not know these things, the moment seems auspicious. But if one knows the future that awaits them, it is terrible to see their eyes look up at you with friendliness and trust – to see this and to know what is in store for them.”

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


Click on the image to make it large enough to read. I can't decide what to make of this: is the point that Bush's principles aren't Christian principles or is the point that the Bush campaign could spin even Jesus' statements to make them sound bad? Or is it a double signification -- making it all the more clever?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Prophetic Justice Principles

The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr. of Riverside Church suggests the following "prophetic justice principles" by which people of faith should test their leaders' policies:

1. Seek the common good: Does the policy represent the common good of society rather than the interest of an elite few?

2. Be truthful in facts and motives: Is the policy based on a true analysis and does it disclose its true intention? How likely is the policy to achieve its proposed purpose?

3. Promote unity and inclusion: Does the policy hold the prospect of reducing the polarization and fragmentation of the society due to race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin?

4. Care for the poor: Does the policy provide good news for the poor? Does it reverse the trend toward an ever-widening gap between rich and poor?

5. Protect the vulnerable: Is the policy good for the children, the elderly, and the disadvantaged? Does it show sensitivity to the spirit of the golden rule?

6. Guard freedom of thought and discussion: Does the policy provide for free press, free discussion, and the expression of dissent along with fair and just methods of participation in the democratic process?

7. Respect other nations and peoples: Does the policy encourage respect for peoples and nations other than our own? Does it respect the fundamental dignity of every human being? Does it use diplomacy as a valued instrument of statecraft in resolving international conflicts and refrain from unilateral military actions for empire-building and domination strategies?

8. Ensure stewardship of creation: Is the policy supportive of strong measures to insure ecological responsibility and sustainability?

9. Cherish the human family: Does the policy practice good global citizenship involving respect for all cultures and nations, and collective responsibility for the common good of the global community? Does it refrain from nationalism, militarism or imperialism based on a sense of national superiority?

10. Provide moral leadership: Does the policy lead by example, doing the right thing and holding the right lessons for our children and our citizens? Does it promote a more ethical society, and uphold trust in public offices?


I think that this is a pretty good list. A few comments, though. Some of it seems a bit cumulative (7 and 9 for example). I also think that care for the sick should be added. I would either add a separate Care for the Sick number, or I would explicitly add the sick and disabled as examnples under #5. I think it is more than clear that Jesus held a special concern for the sick as well as for the poor.

We also might have a principles which asks whether the policy refrains from vengeance and retribution, as I think that those aims are particularly un-Christian and of special concern in these times.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

From church today...

From today's sermon at the Riverside Church in the City of New York:

"True peace isn't merely the absence of conflict, it is the presence of justice."

-The Reverend Dr. Syngman Rhee, quoting his memory of
fellow Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Terrorism... one of the world's many problems.

Today is September 11, 2004. Three years ago, almost all of us remember exactly where we were when we first saw the images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City. To this day, those images still take our breath away.

A lot is made of terrorism today, and rightfully so. But today in Philadelphia, independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader reminded us that thousands of Americans die each year from other preventable tragedies: poverty, hunger, pollution, etc.

"Who weeps for these people?" Nader asked.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Too Rambling for a Proper Title

We on the left never tire, it seems, of blasting the religious right for their rejection of Evolution. Representative is a letter to the editor of the Witchita Eagle belittling creationism as "a laughingstock," "psuedoscientific double-talk," "scientific ignorance," and "blind religious dogma." (This in the space of a five-sentence letter.)

Indeed, this blog has "nudged" the religious right on the issue on at least one occasion.

But I found myself wondering today: what precisely is the cause of our indignation?

I came to musing about evolution and the religious right rather circuitously. I was reading one of my textbooks the other day and stumbled across the following sentence:
"Judges and lawyers, as well as academic commentators, ought to use efficiency in the production of wealth as the principal standard for evaluating current law."

What may be most striking to the layperson with no legal or social science training is how unremarkable the sentence is. This type of materialism/utilitarianism is by far the dominant paradigm in legal and economic scholarship. To put it differently, the smartest folks who study this stuff judge law and policy in that way -- by its "efficiency in the production of wealth."

But anyone who has been following these pages knows that practitioners of the Social Gospel must reject this. We reject the idea that a law's effect on total societal consumption necessarily indicates its justice or injustice. In deference to Jesus' special concern with poverty, sickness, and oppression ("The Spirit of the Lord...has annointed me to bring good news to the poor[,] to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free..." Lk 4:18), we judge a law's justice primarily by its effect on these social ills. Utilitarian's enjoin: create happiness. We enjoin: ease suffering. The difference may be subtle, but its important.

But wait, what does this have to do with Evolution again? Well, I think its fair to say that in rejecting the utilitarian criterion for judging law and policy, I am rejecting the "expert" -- dare I say "scientific" -- opinion on the issue as a matter of faith. How is this different from what conservative Christians do with respect to the issue of evolution? Although I believe what I am doing is different in some important ways, at the grossest level of generality it isn't. I am rejecting the consensus of worldly knowledge on religious grounds.

So then back to my original question: on what ground do we judge the religious right for doing the same with respect to Evolution?

Tomorrow I'll discuss why I think my position on utilitarianism is a bit different in kind from the rejection of Evolution. For today, though, it is sufficient to say that liberal Christians should remember that all people of faith, by definition, hold to their religious principles against secular consensus in some situations. (If we accept all secular/scientific knowledge and only accept secular/scientific, then how are we really Christian?) This realization should make us a bit more reticent in our criticism of the right on Evolution.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Jesus and Politics

If all sins are equally bad for taking you further away from God, where does Republican Alan Keyes get off saying that Jesus would not vote for Democrat Barack Obama because of his opinion on one political issue (abortion)? Wouldn't Jesus, if forced to vote for either candidate, weigh the totality of each candidates positions to see which ones - taken as a whole - lead further away from God? In other words, which candidates positions were the most sinful as a whole...

Perhaps Keyes just doesn't want to admit the obvious: Republicans have long convinced evangelical Christians that "abortion" is the only issue that Jesus would care about today. While Jesus would certainly have cared about the issue (even though He didn't speak directly on it in the canonical gospels), there are undoubtedly other issues that Jesus would, and did, hold strong positions on today. War, poverty, criminal justice - just to name a few.

If Jesus were here today, I'd imagine that he'd take one look at Keyes, shake his head, and say, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Trash, trash, and more trash.

It occured to me the other day that I must have killed a lot of trees in my life. Not directly (though I did down several in college), but indirectly through the use of paper products. After printing out a ton (okay, more like 15 pounds) of reading and applications, I thought to myself, "wow, I really need to plant a tree to make up for all of this."

But that's not even the tip of the iceberg. Every twinkie box I throw away, every newspaper I read, every note I take in class, almost every product I buy at the store - they all involve paper. Over a lifetime, this undoubtedly adds up to a lot of trees that have been felled for me personally.

Considering that I have only planted 3 trees in my life, things seem terribly out of whack. Being that the environment as a whole is a resource given to all humanity (past, present, and future), it only makes good Social Gospel sense to not waste easily preserved resources for your own lazy habits. Here's some easy tips. Think about it next time you are at the grocery store or complaining about how often you take out the trash - you might be surprised with yourself. The point is not to be a hermit that doesn't have any trash; the point is to be more aware of how your actions affect the rest of the world.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Medicare premiums hike

Because we judge social actions by their effect on the least of these -- the poor, sick and oppressed -- we must condemn the Bush administration's decision to substantially raise the cost of medical care for the some of the neediest Americans. The Los Angeles Times reports:

In the largest increase in the history of Medicare, insurance premiums paid by elderly and disabled patients for routine care will rise 17% next year, the Bush administration said

The premium increases announced late in the afternoon as the capital emptied for the three-day Labor Day weekend and Republicans wrapped up a jubilant week at their convention in New York - would affect nearly all of the 41.8 million beneficiaries of Medicare.

The boost from $66.60 to $78.20 a month is the largest increase in the program's 40-year history. The premiums are for Medicare Part B, which provides Medicare patients with coverage for physician services, outpatient hospital care, certain home health services and durable medical equipment.

In announcing the $11.60-a-month increase, the government said the higher premiums reflected general growth in healthcare costs, higher payments to doctors and Medicare modernization.

"The new premiums reflect an enhanced Medicare that is providing seniors and people with disabilities with strengthened access to physician services and new preventive benefits," said Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Advocates for elderly and disabled beneficiaries said the extra costs would burden many of those who rely on the program. "This is going to make it even harder for a lot of older Americans to make ends meet," said Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center. "Already there are a lot of older people who are teetering on the edge of poverty."

Critics pounced on both the timing and content of the administration's announcement, which seemed designed to garner as little publicity as possible.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Adultery criminalized?

Recently, the Prime Minister of Turkey said that the Turkish government hoped to soon make adultery a crime. "We believe that adultery should be a crime, because society also expects this," Justice Minister Cemil Cicek was quoted as saying by newspapers. Under the guise of penal code reform designed to meet European Union criteria, the ruling Justice and Development Party says it has been asked to introduce this legislation by its core conservative supporters, including women, who mainly live in rural areas and abide by strict social rules.

I'm really at a complete loss for words. While there's no doubt that adultery is a completely shameful, selfish act, it just doesn't seem like outlawing such actions will in any way reduce there occurence. In fact, doesn't this legislation just encourage pre-marital sex - i.e. encourage people not to get married? One thing's for sure: people aren't just going to stop having sex (A Brave New World comes to mind).

I get the feeling someone hasn't thought this one through all the way...

In Memory

I would be remiss if I didn't use this outlet to express my remorse for all those mourning - 40 days by Orthodox tradition - right now in Russia and across the world. The terrorist attack on a middle school in the Russian city of Baslan has no precedent - not even the 9-11 hijackers targeted children. When an attack of that magnitude occurs, we are all brothers and sisters - Russian, American, white or black - shedding the same tears, united against hatred. In recognition of this, we should all do something to show our community with those in Russia feeling the same fear that we in America learned all too well three years ago this week. Wear a ribbon, say a prayer, fly a flag, don't think of Russia as some big, bad "evil empire" anymore - just do something to remember those poor children and their parents.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said it best:

"Dear friends: Together we live through very hard, mournful hours. I would like to thank all those who demonstrated patience and civic responsibility. We shall always be stronger than they, by our morale, courage and our humane solidarity.

"One could see it today and the night before. In Beslan, soaked with pain and grief, people expressed even more care and support to each other and were not afraid of jeopardizing their lives for the sake of the lives and safety of others. Even in the most inhuman conditions, they remained human. It is impossible to reconcile the pain of the losses. The trial has brought us even closer together, made us re-evaluate many things. Today, we have to be together. Only thus we shall defeat the enemy."

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Bush's Speech, Part 2

"religious charities provide a safety net"

Because speeches like these are carefully crafted for popular consumption, one must read between the lines to find out what is really intended. Reflecting in this way upon the speech, Bush's obscure statement about religious charities providing a safety net was most disturbing to me.

The phrase "safety net," when used in this way is usually part of the larger phrase "social safety net," referring to various government programs like housing vouchers and food stamps which attempt to keep those who "slip" economically from hitting rock bottom.

Bush's use of the term "safety net" with relation to private charities and without the word "social," which implies that society as a whole provides the safety net through government, is a disturbing reflection of the administration's intentions: with the "safety net" ostensibly provided by private charities, Bush has found his "compassionate" rationale for rolling back countless government programs which benefit the poor.

To be sure, religious charities do have an important interstitial role to play, but only government is large enough, powerful enough, organized enough, and stable enough to give the real economic security which it is our Christian duty to provide to "the least of these." Such a fundamental social obligation cannot responsibly be made to depend upon private acts of philanthropy and dispersed charities. Asking church groups to bear sole responsibility for providing the social safety net would be like asking them to be our army or our courts.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Cross Burning Teenagers Plead Guilty

Two Kentucky teenagers plead guilty yesterday to federal charges stemming from the burning of a cross in a local African-American family's yard. The two face up to 10 years in prison.

Several things are bothersome about this.

Christianity: use of the cross as a symbol of hate. Every Christian should be outraged - to the point of action - by such contrary use of their faith.

Teenage Perpetrators: who do you think taught these kids to hate like this? Their parents? Their community? Surely both. It is not mere coincidence that they chose a burning cross as their symbol... they had to learn what that meant from somewhere. But it isn't just the haters that are to blame - what about all those people that heard these kids making racial epithets without ever punishing them or telling them that it was wrong? Social sin is caused by inaction, too.

At least it is a sign that progress has been made to some degree. How?

Federal prosecutors brought the charges. This is important because (a) the young men would only have faced misdemeanor charges (punishable by up to a year in prison) in state court, and (b) it shows that people are serious about ending hate crimes. Do you think such steps would have been taken in Kentucky 50 years ago?

Bush's Speech, Part 1

"the sin of slavery"

Someone once told me to compliment before you criticize. It makes people more amenable to what follows. With this salutary principle in mind, I'd like to point out something that I really liked in Bush's speech.

It is perhaps unsurprising that President Bush spoke of "sin" in his speech. What is surprising, though, is that Bush's reference to sin didn't involve homosexuality, pre-marital sex, abortion or pornography. Indeed, Bush's reference to "sin" didn't involve an individual sin at all. The only time he spoke of sin was clearly a reference to social sin.

Towards the end of his speech, Bush praised the liberty-loving Americans of the 19th century for "end[ing] the sin of slavery." Notice that Bush condemned slavery rather than slaveholding. The latter is an individual action while the former is its social manifestation. Like poverty is today, the institution of slavery was the devastating sum total of countless selfish actions. It was an institution which many of our ancestors - even if they didn't personally own slaves - contributed to with toleration and inaction.

That Bush chose this context, rather than homosexuality or abortion, to evoke the language of sin is heartening. Unfortunately, Bush's recognition of social sin appears to be purely historical. What a change in course we would see in this self-proclaimed Christian if he were able to recognize similar social sins existing in 21st century America.

Ending slavery was a dramatic step into the Kingdom of God. But there is a long way to go yet.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

From the Charlotte Observer