Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Republicans Vote to Cut Child Support Enforcement

Man, this doesn't seem in accord with family values.

Federal Death Penalty Could Be Expanded

United Press International Washington, Oct 26, 2005 (UPI via COMTEX) (via Beliefnet)
An amendment to the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act would make it easier for federal prosecutors to get defendants sentenced to death.Currently, all jurors in a case must agree the death penalty is warranted before a convict is condemned. If even one juror disagrees, the defendant's sentence is set at life in prison.
A Patriot Act amendment submitted by U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, and supported by the Justice Department would change that, The New York Times reported. Carter's amendment is in the House version of the Patriot Act reauthorization, but not in the Senate's. Lawmakers are to meet soon to settle differences in the two measures.
Several states allow for a second sentencing jury to be empanelled to reconsider a death sentence and even death penalty opponents say such a federal measure would likely be constitutional.
"It's one of the many situations where the Supreme Court leaves us to our folly," Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project lawyer David Bruck told the Times.


Call your Representatives and tell them we have enough capital punishment in this country. Tell them social vengeance is not one of your values.

Others... Second?

I was listening to Christian talk radio the other night. One caller said that the principal she lives by is "Jesus first, others second, self last." Admirable sentiments, no doubt. But I wonder, might not the mantra be more succinctly (and accurately) stated, "Others first, self last"? Put another way, don't you effectively put Jesus first when you put others first?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A comment on commercialism

Today the Social Gospel Today goes international. ¡I am posting this live from El Calafate, Argentina!

My stay at the estancia has come to and end (there will be many stories and much philosophizing to share), and I leave this afternoon for Buenos Aires. I wanted to quickly comment, however, on my initial reactions upon entering the tourist town of El Calafate (gateway to Argentine Patagonia) after having lived on an estancia literally in the middle of nowhere for almost 3 months. Forgive me for my bad English... I haven't been using it.

Riding along with a stranger who had offered me a ride back to Calafate (people are very neighborly here in Patagonia), I felt eager to be in town and to do the tourist thing. Upon returning, however, I found myself disgusted by the rampant commericalism of everything - the whole town seems to be geared towards pitching Argentine souveniers to wealthy American and European tourists. Having lived without much luxury and commerical exposure for three months, I had feared that I would be especially susceptible to its charms. My reaction, however, was quite the contrary. Not only did I not want to buy anything, but I was perplexed by why people would spend guady amounts of money (to an Argentine, but relatively cheap to a middle class American) on dressed up versions of things that gauchos (Argentine cowboys) use to get by each and every day.

Thank God that I can now appreciate that. My only fear, however, is that it might take 3 months away from civilization to come to this realization. ¿Any way we can get 100 million Americans to spend a couple months on an estancia?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Federal Budget is a Moral Document, Revisited

Congressional Republicans are considering $50 billion in spending reductions that would cut funding for health care, education, food, housing and nutrition. Among other things, they are pushing for $10 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, programs which provided medical care for the poor and elderly. Coincidentally, the proposed spending cuts "are to be followed by a proposal for up to $70 billion in tax cuts." How convenient.

Our continuing ability to "afford" massive tax cuts belies Republicans' claims that spending cuts are required due to this year's hurricane relief. As President Clinton recently remarked, one-time catastrophic spending like the relief for Katrina should never be the basis for permanent changes in the federal budget. The Republicans attempt to exploit Katrina to free up more money for tax cuts is nothing short of disgusting.

As the 2006 elections approach, Christians would do well to remember that our social institutions, no less than our individual actions, are to reflect Godly values. Preeminent among those values must be a concern for the least of our brothers and sisters. Providing tax cuts to the wealthy--or even to the middle class--at the expense of social programs like Medicare and Medicaid does not reflect Christian values.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Cobra Commander & American Foreign Policy

Wizard Magazine recently released a Top 10 list of the best bad guys in cartoon history.
Included in that list were Starscream (#2) from Transformers and Cobra Commander (#7) from G.I. Joe.  These, along with Voltron, were my favorite TV shows while I was growing up in the 1980’s.

These shows depicted a clear-cut struggle between the forces of good and evil.  You had the evil, “bad guys” that always depicted attributes deemed undesirable – such as, selfishness, cowardice, dishonesty, etc.

Then you had the “good guys”; always brave, always heroic, willing to lay down their life for a comrade (or even a stranger).  The good guys always won, but only when defeat seemed closest.

The good guys were often colored in such a manner as to reflect the American flag: red, white and blue.  Some were a little less obvious – Optimus Prime from Transformers was primarily red, blue and a silvery white.  Some were more up front; G.I. Joe flew the American flag.

In the case of G.I. Joe, the enemy was distant, invasive and alien in a way.  The two leaders (for much of the series) were faceless, wearing masks at all times.  These were Cobra Commander and his 2nd in command, Destro.
While in Taizé, France, (summer, 2001) I spoke with my small group Bible study – I was the only American – about our respective countries’ (Spain, Germany, Holland, Bulgaria, Australia, Poland) foreign policies.  We came to an easy consensus that the United States is certainly the most outwardly focused of the countries.

The United States is often interested in being a big brother to (the nice way to say it) or bullying (the not-so-nice way to say it) less powerful nations around the world.  However, among the countries represented, the United States has/had more serious internal issues than the others – things like lack of access to healthcare, problems with public education, a wider gap between the wealthy and the poor.

The conclusion was that the United States is much like the man in Matthew 7.3-5 who sees a speck of sawdust in his neighbor’s eye and offers to remove it, but cannot because of the plank in his own eye.  The other countries represented, for the most part, understand that there are internal problems that must be fixed before they can venture out saving the world that doesn’t know, want, or need to be saved.
I began reflecting on the influence of the cartoons I watched when I was little and started to realize that I am much the same way as my nation.  I am concerned and interested in helping other people with their problems, but like to shy away from addressing my own.  If someone else is being called names, I’ll step in to assist, but take the abuse when directed at myself.  Every other person in my group reflected in their personal lives the understanding that they have/had their own internal issues that needed to be dealt with before they could go around offering/forcing assistance to their neighbors.

The people running this country and the generation about to take it over grew up during the Cold War and all the fear and bravado that came with it.  We group up knowing that there was a faceless enemy on the other side of the world.  It was us against them.  Even our Reagan-era cartoons reinforced that notion.

In the coming years and decades, we must all be aware of that “social-location,” as the sociologists like to call it, from which we come.  We must critically reflect on the world that shaped us even as we shape the world.  Does the world and culture of our upbringing still have effects on us today?

Next time you hit the voting booth, remember it’s not “us against them” anymore.  This is a global community and we’re electing the ambassadors to that community.  There is no Cobra Commander across the sea.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Agape Press on Poverty

A columnist for the conservative Christian news outlet, the Agape Press, has this dubious take on the following billboards cropping up across South Dakota:

"Jesus cares for the poor -- So do we."

He admits that "Republicans have probably not taken the topic as seriously as Scripture does" but viciously attacks Democrats for just throwing money at the problem.

I think he doth protest too much.

If conservative Christians start talking about poverty, I think they've already lost the theological battle.

Alabama State Senator: Hurricanes Were 'Judgment of God' on Sin

Beliefnet has this fascinating story.

Alabama Republican state Senator Hank Erwin from Montevallo, wasn't surprised by Katrina:

"New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast have always been known for gambling, sin and wickedness," Erwin wrote this week in a column he distributed to news outlets. "It is the kind of behavior that ultimately brings the judgment of God . . . . Warnings year after year by godly evangelists and preachers went unheeded. So why were we surprised when finally the hand of judgment fell?"

"If you are a believer and read the Bible, you know sin has judgment," Erwin said. "New Orleans has always been know for sin. . . . The wages of sin is death."

United Methodist Bishop, William Willimon, disagreed:
"I have no idea what sort of senator or politician Mr. Erwin is, but he's sure no theologian. . . . I'm certainly against gambling and its hold on state government in Mississippi, but I expect there is as much sin, of possibly a different order, in Montevallo as on the Gulf Coast. If God punished all of us for our sin, who could stand?"

Instinctively, I find Erwins comments disgusting. My God does not act so vengefully.

But on a logical level, if one believes that God intervenes in the physical world, then how else do you explain Katrina? Surely free will can't explain a severe hurricane striking a major metropolitan area. And there would have been devastation and death no matter how prepared we were. If you accept that God intervenes in the physical universe, then don't you have to also conclude that God either intended Katrina, or just didn't care?

This type of theological trap besets many who face personal tragedy. Personally, I take John Shelby Spong's position--that God is a Transcedent Absolute, a Truth. I take our conception of God as a personal "being" as metaphor--if a generally very helpful metaphor. If God's nature is Absolute rather than Personal, then we can say that the question of why God didn't stop Katrina simply misunderstands the nature of God.

It may be painful to question the metaphor of God as Personal Being, but doesn't adhering to it in cases like this contort our image of God anyway?

Thoughts on Harriet Miers

As the entire country likely knows by now, President Bush has nominated Texas lawyer and administration insider Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court. Much bandwidth has already been "spilled" by bloggers over the nominee, and I doubt anything I have to say will be terribly original, but I nevertheless feel compelled to add my two cents. It seems to me that the Miers nomination is a transparent attempt by the Bush administration to hide the ball. Miers has never served as a judge, and therefore she has no record of opinions which could illuminate her judicial philosophy. Does she reject the Constitution's "right to privacy" as untextual? Does she believe that the New Deal and the 60s Civil Rights revolution are unconstitutional because the federal government's power under the "Commerce Clause" is limited to an 18th century definition of the term "commerce?" We just don't know. We don't know anything about Harriet Miers.

But apparently Bush does. Balkinization has recently written about Bush's "information advantage" on Miers, objecting that Bush obviously knows a lot more about her than any of the rest of us do. Bush and Miers have been bosom buddies since his days as Governor of Texas and she's served as one of his closest advisors since 2000. She's even spent time clearing brush with him in Crawford. Bush knows her thoughts on Roe v. Wade. Bush knows her thoughts on federalism. But we can be assured that neither Bush nor Miers will tell any of us. Not in the "discovery period" leading up to her Senate hearing and not at the hearing itself.

Nominating someone without "litmus testing" their thoughts on Constitutional issues seems reasonable to me when their credentials justify it. But Miers is simply a Bush insider. She doesn't have near the resume of John Roberts or of myriad conservative Courts of Appeals judges Bush could have selected. The President must at least give a good reason for appointing someone to the Supreme Court. And "I know her well and like what she thinks about the Constitution" isn't good enough.