Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Politics of Spectacle and Distraction

Last month I blogged on this site comparing Sarah Paliln's selection as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate to the Harriet Meiers nomination to the Supreme Court, and suggested that within the week the Alaskan Hockey Mom would gracefully withdraw from the ticket, having done her job of confusing an ever-more fickle electorate and distracting attention from the real issues in these critical last few weeks before voters finally go to the polls. LINK to Original Post here (be sure to scroll down through the comments).

Now here comes the Other Shoe. Palin is clearly failin' Big Time -- she's not only out of her league, she's WAY out of her league -- even her own party can see it, it makes me a little sad even to have to witness it; and IF she remains on the ticket, and IF the Republicans should somehow manage to win in November, it is almost a CERTAINTY that Sarah Palin will at some point become the POTUS -- which would make our country more FUBAR than I even dare to imagine.

So maybe it's my turn now to do a little praying. God help us. God help us. God help us. God help us....

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How Racism Works.

A former parishioner of mine just e-mailed these to me, and I found them so telling I've decided to spread them around as much as I can. Hope all y'all will do the same!

How racism works:

1. What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
2. What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?
3. What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said "I do" to?
4. What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

1. What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
2. What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?
3. What if Obama were a member of the "Keating 5"?
4. What if McCain were a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are? This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

Mary M. Gaylord
Sosland Family Professor of Romance Languages and
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Undergraduate Adviser for Romance Studies
424 Boylston Hall, Harvard Yard
Cambridge MA 02138
Ph: 617-496-6027; Fax: 617-496-4682
Jane R. Dickie
Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies.
Hope College.
Holland, MI 49423

Friday, September 12, 2008

Onward and Upward Forever

There's been quite a lively discussion lately both here in the blogosphere and also on the various UUA CHAT-lists to which I subscribe about the new Commission on Appraisal's proposed revisions to our current statement of Principles, Purposes and Sources. I don't have much to add (or at least not much that I CARE to add) to the discussion there, but I do think it might be fun to glance back at the "original source material" for what, historically at least, has been both our most popular and most parodied statement of "Things Most Commonly Believed Among Us To-Day."

[For those of you unfamiliar with Five Point Calvinism, it might help to remember the acronym TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistable Grace, and Predestination. In other words, there is not a healthy bone in our bodies, but God for reasons known only to Himself has chosen to redeem a few of us from eternal damnation. But it is ONLY a few, and even if we would rather NOT be saved we're going to heaven anyway. Furthermore, it was all decided for us since before the beginning of time, so stop fretting so much about Faith and Works and the moral consequences of your actions, or whether or not you have Free Will, and get out there and earn a little more money for the greater glory of God, fer crissakes!...]

"The Five Points of Calvinism and the Five Points of the New Theology" from Vexed Questions in Theology by James Freeman Clarke (Boston: 1886)

“And thou shalt make . . . five pillars, and overlay them with gold, . . . and shalt cast five sockets of brass for them." — Exodus xxiv., 37.

THE number five has acquired as great significance in theology as it has in nature. The largest family of plants is that of which the flowers have five petals; and the most popular theology of modern times is that of Calvin with its five points of doctrine, which relate to Absolute Decrees, Atonement by Christ for the Elect only, Original Sin, Effectual Calling, and the Perseverance of Saints.

Such have been the main and essential doctrines of Orthodoxy in the past. These doctrines have revolved around the ideas of sin and salvation. The creeds are as remarkable for what they omit as for what they assert. They scarcely allude to those truths which Jesus makes the chief burden of his teaching, — love to God, love to man, forgiveness of enemies, purity of heart and life, faith, hope, peace, resignation, temperance, and goodness. It is certain that the theology of the future will dwell on something else than the five points of Calvinism, and I have thought it well to consider the counterparts of this ancient system in five points of the coming theology. Let us endeavor to see what they will be.

I. I believe the first point of doctrine in the theology of the future will be the Fatherhood of God.

The essence of this is the love of the father for his children. Fatherly love is a wise love, a firm love, and a pure love, which seeks the best good of the child. Thus this idea of fatherhood includes that of the holiness, the truthfulness, and the justice of God, — in a word, all the divine attributes. The justice of God as a father is not, as in the old theology, an abstract justice, which has no regard to consequences. God's justice is only another form of mercy. It is the wise law which brings good to the universe, and is a blessing to every creature.

Jesus has everywhere emphasized this truth, that God is a father. We find it pervading the Gospels and coloring all his teaching. We find it already in the Sermon on the Mount, which tells us that we are to let our light shine, not to glorify ourselves, but to glorify our Father in heaven; that we are to love our enemies, that we may be like our heavenly Father, who loves his enemies, and makes his sun rise on the evil and the good. Jesus tells us that, when we pray, we are to pray to our Father, not to infinite power or abstract justice or far-off sovereignty. We are to forgive others, because our Father in heaven forgives us. We are not to be anxious, remembering that our heavenly Father feeds the little birds of the air. We are to pray, confident that our heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask him. Thus, this idea of God pervades the earliest as it filled the latest teachings of Jesus.

This idea of the divine fatherhood goes down so deep into the human heart that it becomes the source of a childlike obedience, trust, submission, patience, hope, and love. It brings consolation to us in our trials, gives us earnestness in prayer, makes it less difficult to repent when we have done wrong. We look up out of our sin and weakness and sorrow, not to an implacable law, not to an abstract king, but to an infinite and inexhaustible tenderness. Thus, this doctrine is the source of the purest piety.

2. The second point of doctrine in the new theology will be, I think, the Brotherhood of Man.

If men are children of the same father, then they are all brethren. If God loves them all, they must all have in them something lovable. If he has brought them here by his providence, they are here for some important end. Therefore, we must call no man common or unclean, look down upon none, despise none, but respect in all that essential goodness which God has put into the soul, and which he means to be at last unfolded into perfection.

As from the idea of the fatherhood of God will come all the pieties, so from that of the brotherhood of man will proceed all the charities. This doctrine is already the source of missions, philanthropies, reforms, and all efforts to seek and save those who are surrounded by evil. It leads men to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, to teach the blind, to soothe the madness of delirium, to diffuse knowledge, and carry glad tidings to the poor. And this doctrine, when fully believed, will be the source of purer moralities and nobler charities.

This truth, also, Jesus has taught by his words and his life. He went about doing good, feeding the hungry, making the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, cleansing the leper, preaching the gospel to the poor. He was the friend of publicans and sinners, of the Roman centurion, the woman of Phoenicia, the woman of Samaria. He was the friend and helper of all who needed him. In the story of the Good Samaritan, he taught that all men are brethren. And his last recorded words were the command to preach the gospel to every creature.

3. The third point of doctrine in the new theology will be, as I think, the Leadership of Jesus.

The simplest definition of a Christian is one who follows Christ. This was his own definition: "My sheep hear my voice, and follow me." "I am the way and the truth and the life." "Come to me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden." When Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, and heard his words, he said that she had chosen the good part, and had done the one thing needful.

A Platonist is one who studies the teachings of Plato, and takes him for his teacher and guide in philosophy. A Swedenborgian is one who studies the teachings of Swedenborg, and takes him for his guide in theology. A Christian is one who takes Jesus as his guide in religion, and who goes directly to his teachings for religious truth.

But hitherto, instead of considering those as Christians who have studied the words of Jesus, and sought to know the truth, the name has usually been given to those who accepted some opinion about him. Not what he himself teaches, but what the Church says he teaches, has been made the test of Christian fellowship. Men have been told to go to Jesus, but on the understanding that they shall learn from him only the same thing which the Church has already learned. Instead of sending us to the teacher himself, we are sent to our fellow-students. We, therefore, in reality take them, and not Jesus, for our leader.

The Athanasian Creed asserts as unquestioned verities certain metaphysical statements in regard to the nature of the Deity and the relations which existed between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before the creation. These speculations are read four times a year in the Church of England, and the people are told that those who do not believe these superhuman mysteries shall without doubt perish everlastingly. Is it not evident that the Church, in doing this, takes the unknown author of the creed as its leader and teacher instead of taking Christ himself? All human creeds which are made the tests of what Christ taught are in reality put in his place. Compared with his teaching, they are all narrow and unspiritual. They emphasize some purely intellectual statements which chanced to be popular when they were written. The makers of these creeds tell us to call Jesus teacher, but to learn from themselves what he teaches. They show thus that they dare not trust us to go to him; and they show that they have no real faith in him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Of course there is no harm in a creed, when it merely states what a man believes at the present time or what any number of men believe at any particular period. The harm comes from making the creed a perpetual standard of belief, a test of Christian character, and a condition of Christian fellowship. Such creeds, instead of uniting the Church, have divided it into endless sects and parties. Let men take Jesus himself as their leader and teacher, and the Church will be again one. Then Christians will come into communion not only with the mind, but also with the heart of the Master. When the whole Church is like Mary sitting at the foot of Jesus and hearing his words, it will be more full of his spirit. Bigotry and sectarianism, which have cursed Christianity, will disappear, and be replaced by the large generosity and ample charity of Jesus himself. We shall then, according to his striking Oriental image, eat his flesh and drink his blood. Instead of merely accepting propositions about him, we shall assimilate his character and feed on it in the depths of our heart. Then will lie fulfilled his saying: "My sheep hear my voice, and follow me. I know my sheep, and am known of mine."

4. The fourth point of the new theology will be Salvation by Character.

Salvation means the highest peace and joy of which the soul is capable. It means heaven here and heaven hereafter. This salvation has been explained as something outside of us, — some outward gift, some outward condition, place, or circumstance. We speak of going to heaven, as if we could be made happy solely by being put in a happy place. But the true heaven, the only heaven which Jesus knew, is a state of the soul. It is inward goodness. It is Christ found within. It is the love of God in the heart, going out into the life and character. The first words which Jesus spoke indicated this belief. The poor in spirit already possess the kingdom of heaven. The pure in heart already see God. "This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." He who has the faith which Jesus possessed has eternal life abiding in him. The water that Jesus gives becomes a spring of water within the soul, "springing up into everlasting life." Do not look for a distant heaven, saying, " Lo! here," or " Lo! there;" " for the kingdom of heaven is now with you." When we come to study the words of Jesus as we study human theologies, we shall find that he identifies goodness with heaven, and makes character the essence of salvation. As long as men believe that heaven is something outward, to be attained by an act of profession or belief, they, will be apt to postpone such preparation as long as possible. But when we apprehend the inflexible law of consequences, and know that as a man soweth so shall he reap; when we see that spiritual tastes and habits are not to be formed in an hour; and that all formal professions, prayers, and sacraments avail nothing, unless the heart is pure, the soul upright, and the life one of integrity, — then a new motive will be added to increase the goodness of the world. Then the formation of character will be the fruit of Christian faith to an extent never before realized.

5. The fifth point of doctrine in the new theology will, as I believe, be the Continuity of Human Development in all worlds, or the Progress of Mankind onward and upward forever.

Progress is the outward heaven, corresponding to the inward heaven of character. The hope of progress is one of the chief motives to action. Men are contented, no matter how poor their lot, so long as they can hope for something better. And men are discontented, no matter how fortunate their condition, when they have nothing more to look forward to. The greatest sufferer who hopes may have nothing, but he possesses all things: the most prosperous man who is deprived of hope may have all things, but he possesses nothing.

The old theology laid no stress on progress here or progress hereafter. The essential thing was conversion: that moment passed, the object of life was attained. A man converted on his death-bed, after a life of sin, was as well prepared for heaven as he who had led a Christian life during long years. And there was no hint given of farther progress after heaven should be reached. Eternity was to be passed in perpetual thanksgiving or in perpetual enjoyment of the joys of paradise. Such, however, was not the teaching of Jesus. The servant, in the parable, who earned two pounds, was made ruler over two cities : he who earned five pounds had the care of five cities. And the Apostle Paul tells us that one of the things which abide is hope. If hope abides, there is always something to look forward to, — some higher attainment, some larger usefulness, some nearer communion with God. And this accords with all we see and know: with the long processes of geologic development by which the earth became fitted to be the home of man ; with the slow ascent of organized beings from humbler to fuller life; with the progress of society from age to age; with the gradual diffusion of knowledge, advancement of civilization, growth of free institutions, and ever higher conceptions of God and of religious truth. The one fact which is written on nature and human life is the fact of progress, and this must be accepted as the purpose of the Creator.

Some such views as these may constitute the theology of the future. This, at least, we see, — that many of the most important elements in the teaching of Jesus have had no place, or a very inferior place, in the teachings of the Church in past times. As the good Robinson foretold, "more light is to break out from the Word of God." The divine word, revealed in creation, embodied in Christ, immanent in the human soul, is a fuller fountain than has been believed. No creed can exhaust its meaning, no metaphysics can measure its possibility. The teaching of Jesus is not something to be outgrown; for it is not a definite system, but an ever unfolding principle. It is a germ of growth, and therefore has no finality in any of its past forms. "Of its fulness," says John, "we have all received, and grace added to grace." The Apostle Paul regarded his own knowledge of Christianity as imperfect and partial. "We know in part," said he, "and we teach in part." Christianity in the past has always had a childlike faith, which was beautiful and true. But its knowledge has also been that of a child. It has spoken as a child, it has understood as a child, it has thought as a child. This was all well while it was a child. The prattle of an infant is sweet, but in a youth or man it is an anachronism. Let us have a childlike faith, but a manly intelligence. "In malice be children, but in understanding be men." Let us endeavor to see God and nature face to face, confident that whoever is honestly seeking the truth, though he may err for a time, can never go wholly wrong.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 +7

Lest We Forget....

"A Mind-Numbing Act of Senseless Violence"

a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Tim W. Jensen
at the Second Congregational Meeting House
on Nantucket Island, Sunday September 16, 2001

If you found this engaging, I continued in this same theme for the remainder of the month of September.

September 23, 2001
September 30, 2001

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"An alert and knowledgeable citizenry..."

This was Ike's (the President, not the hurricane) prescription against the triumph of the Military Industrial Complex, and the domination of our cherished free and democratic institutions by the forces of corporate greed, fear-mongering, and unregulated triumphalist capitalism. And I just wish I'd had the good sense to save the clip of his farewell address from YouTube (where I saw it), so that I could embed it here. Because it was amazing to me: both just how prescient and prophetic Eisenhower's observations have turned out to be, and also how different our society is today from what it was half a century ago.

The Civil Rights Movement. The "Summer of Love." Vietnam/Watergate. Feminism. Stonewall. Earth Day. Pat Robertson, the Moral Majority, and the Rise of the Religious Right. "Voodoo Economics" and the Reagan Revolution. AIDS. The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the End of the Cold War. The End of History and the Clash of Civilizations. Global Climate Change. Oh, and lets not forget about the information technology that has driven so much of the acceleration of our culture: computers, cell phones, the Internet. Or our global addiction to fossil fuels, and the politics of oil which have replaced Communism as the number one perceived threat to our national security.

And yet, rather than an alert and knowledgeable citizenry, we seem to have opted for bread and circuses...or at least cheap fast food and "reality" TV. We complain about the price of gasoline (when it's probably HALF of what it ought to be...), and watch with fascinated horror as the longest and most expensive Presidential Election in history enters its last 60 days, and suddenly becomes Reality TV writ large. Where's Jerry Springer when you need him? As the former Democratic mayor of Cincinati, he certainly should understand what's high in the middle and round on both ends. An election that seemed impossible for the Democrats to lose now looks more and more like a Republican shell game, all coming down to a final roll of the dice in the too-close-to-call crap shoot at the end. It's no longer about issues or policy. It's all just about holding on to power for another four years. If you can only confuse the electorate for another eight weeks.

At least Camille Paglia claims to have a handle on it all...

But what of Palin's pro-life stand? Creationism taught in schools? Book banning? Gay conversions? The Iraq war as God's plan? Zionism as a prelude to the apocalypse? We'll see how these big issues shake out. Right now, I don't believe much of what I read or hear about Palin in the media. To automatically assume that she is a religious fanatic who has embraced the most extreme ideas of her local church is exactly the kind of careless reasoning that has been unjustly applied to Barack Obama, whom the right wing is still trying to tar with the fulminating anti-American sermons of his longtime preacher, Jeremiah Wright.

The witch-trial hysteria of the past two incendiary weeks unfortunately reveals a disturbing trend in the Democratic Party, which has worsened over the past decade. Democrats are quick to attack the religiosity of Republicans, but Democratic ideology itself seems to have become a secular substitute religion. Since when did Democrats become so judgmental and intolerant? Conservatives are demonized, with the universe polarized into a Manichaean battle of us versus them, good versus evil. Democrats are clinging to pat group opinions as if they were inflexible moral absolutes. The party is in peril if it cannot observe and listen and adapt to changing social circumstances.
[ 9/10/2008]

Meanwhile, on an almost completely unrelated note, this is what I looked like back in 1976, just before I took advantage of my opportunity to "exercise the franchise" and vote for Jimmy Carter my first-ever Presidential election. I appear exceptionally alert and knowledgeable in this photography, don't you think? The strong, square chin. The long, curly flowing hair. The six-pack abs. Talk about changing times!

Friday, September 05, 2008


I've never really found myself in the position of trying to apply lipstick to a pit bull. A pig, maybe. Or roadkill. But never a pit bull.

We're asking all the wrong questions about Sarah Barracuda. To repeat an insight I quoted from another blogger in an earlier post to this thread, "I'll be honest: if Sarah Palin was a fiercely pro-choice progressive, mother of five kids, who'd risen from mayor of a small town to democratic governor of her sparsely populated state, I'd be kind of in love with her. Wouldn't you? And wouldn't you, although a little hesitant, be excited about her having been selected as Obama's vice-president?"

The question isn't really whether she will be ready on Day One to take over as President. Few people are; in fact, I question whether ANYONE really is. The real question is whether or not she is ready now to be a candidate for the vice-presidency, whatever THAT means. And that really is something for the voters to decide for themselves.

Personally, I find myself somewhat fascinated by the folksy, small town Alaskan frontier provincialism in which being a commercial fisherman and a snow machine champion somehow count for as much as an Ivy League education...and maybe matter more. I love the schtick about being able to field dress a moose, and selling the gubernatorial jet on e-Bay. And she certainly does a credible job of reading someone else's words off a teleprompter; you can see how she earned her Barracuda nickname.

What I DON'T like are all the things that make her so popular with the other side to begin with: the pro-life, abstinence-only views regarding sex education; the attempted library book-banning; her attitude about the environment and global warming; and all the rest. I wouldn't vote for a candidate who held those positions under ordinary circumstances. Why should a little lipstick make any difference now?

And then there's this. I think little Trig will someday forgive his mom her 60-some day absence in his infancy to run for vice-president. And if she actually wins... what a way to grow up!

But how much lipstick will it take to make THIS look good?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cussometer Rating

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou - Free Dating Site

Thanks James for pointing us all to this. Reminds me of the old joke about how the only time the Lord's name was heard in the Unitarian church was when the sexton hit his thumb with a hammer....

Yet Another Thought about Sarah Palin

M LeBlanc raises some interesting points about Sarah Palin over at her blog, Bitch PhD.

I'll be honest: if Sarah Palin was a fiercely pro-choice progressive, mother of five kids, who'd risen from mayor of a small town to democratic governor of her sparsely populated state, I'd be kind of in love with her. Wouldn't you? And wouldn't you, although a little hesitant, be excited about her having been selected as Obama's vice-president?

Yeah. OK. Maybe... I think THIS goes a little over the top though...