Saturday, May 24, 2008

On the recent California Court Ruling Concerning Gay Marraige

This is the best commentary I've read on the matter.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Talking to People

Earlier this morning, President Bush gave a speech at the celebration for the 60th anniversary of Israel in which he criticized talking to organization with whom the United States is in conflict, saying:
Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
While I have never been much of a fan of Bush's foreign policy, I've become concerned that this "shut up and shoot" form of diplomacy has become so ingrained in our culture that even democratic presidential-hopeful Hillary Clinton has repeatedly tried to discredit Barack Obama for considering the possibility of talking to foreign nations with whom the United States does not see eye to eye. Obama's own response to such attacks is to invoke the names of powerful American presidents who maintained dialog with their rivals; however, I think a more principled discussion on the topic could be had.

While I acknowledge that there are some people who are beyond human capacity to turn from violence, I do not believe this is true for all "terrorists and radicals" and I most certainly do not believe it for the broader social networks that allow them to gain power.

I think Bush's reference to Nazi Germany is a useful one. By the time Hitler rose to power, it is indeed unlikely that a conversation with an American senator would have convinced him to stop his plans for world domination. However, if the victorious countries after WWI had been willing to pay more attention to the unrest in Germany, Germans may have been less willing to elect Hitler in the first place. Indeed, after WWII when the allied powers worked to rebuild Germany and Japan, the two countries became great allies of America.

The great wars between nations of the 20th century are not perfect analogies to our current situation, but I do feel that much could be gained by speaking to the leaders and people of nations and organizations that wish America and its allies harm, and finding out how to address the sources of their discontent instead of shutting off dialog and letting animosity ferment in solitude until it erupts in violence.Clearly, this topic can never be a black and white discussion that applies to all situations, and I'd be interested in listening to people discuss nuances (or flat out disagreeing with me).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cartoon Truth

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Church News of Note

The United Methodist Church has voted to enter into full communion with the ELCA! Now it's up to Lutherans to reciprocate.

Obama and Wright's Cat's Cradle

Recently there has been a lot of controversy over Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright who was the former pastor of presidential candidate Barack Obama. Having been criticized earlier in the year for some of his comments about the United States, 9/11, and AIDS, Rev. Wright has recently gone on a multiple day publicity tour defending his views.

While Obama initially tried to reject Wright's views without rejecting the man, he is now strongly distancing himself from the pastor altogether saying, "“I’m outraged by the comments that were made [by Wright] and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday,” Mr. Obama said. He added: “I find these comments appalling. It contradicts everything that I’m about and who I am.”"

While Obama may consider his relationship with Wright to be changing unexpectedly, Wright told Obama last year, “If you get elected, November the 5th I’m coming after you, because you’ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.”

The story of two great men trying to improve a country, one through politics, one through religion, who started off as good friends and then become bitter enemies reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s novel "Cat's Cradle," in which Lionel Boyd Johnson and Corporal Earl McCabe shipwreck on the fictional Caribbean island of San Lorenzo. The island lacks any natural resources, value, or political organization and is inhabited by an impoverished and demoralized population. In an attempt to improve the lives of the islanders, Corporal McCabe becomes the island's political leader and overhauls the legal and economic systems, and Lionel Johnson creates a new religion called Bokononism, to which the whole island converts. However, Johnson asks McCabe to outlaw Bokononism and Bokononists (everyone on the island) on pain of death. The islanders' existence, which materially never really improves due to the island's lack of resources, becomes spiritually fulfilled as they live out the constant drama of the harsh dictator's brutal oppression and the Bokononists' noble struggle and miraculous near escapes.

The implication is that religion works best when it is actively pitted against the loyal opposition of a "hostile" government. Or in the words of the Books of Bokonon:

"So I said good-bye to government,
And I gave my reason:
That a really good religion
Is a form of treason."

A conspiracy theorist might claim that the tension between Obama and Wright is actually intentional on the part of the two men. But even if it's not, it might be a good thing.